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What’s happening in Havana?

What’s happening in Havana?


For the first time in its history, Cuba passed the 3 million visitor barrier reporting an outstanding growth with more than 3.5 million of visitors last year. This is very good news for the Cuban people, who seems to be ready to welcome more and more tourists every year; however places to stay are getting hard to find these days.

Crowded Havana

There is no doubt than since President Obama and Raul Castro restarted diplomatic relations (December 2014) Cuba has been facing a tourism boom. Havana’s narrow streets are feeling the arrival of a new era. Some private and small businesses are growing, “casas particulares” are more and more in demand in the city, where hotels are fully booked until May or even June (so staying in private B&B’s has become the most practical solution and some of their rooms can be easily compared with a five star hotel’s suite). Prices at many hotels have doubled and travel agencies are struggling to find professional tour guides and car rentals. The dynamic of the tourist business in Cuba has changed in barely a year.


The fact is that it isn’t just the Americans filling Cuban hotels. In fact, even when they are the fastest growing market in the island (161,000 visitors in 2015, representing a 76.6% growth over the previous year) the main source of visitors still being Canada. Last year more than 1.3 million Canadians visited Cuba. European countries came second in the list: United Kingdom, France, Italy, Germany and Spain are regular markets increasing their numbers as well. Also Mexico, Russia and Argentina have a strong presence in the Spanish speaking country.
According to investigators, if travel restrictions are eventually eliminated, the real number of American visitors should hit 1.5 million per year. Today Cuba is not ready for this, at least not Havana. In other regions of the country nowadays availability is still manageable; beach resorts such as Varadero or the Cays rooms can be booked within a few weeks anticipation, not as it was a couple of years ago.

 

Malecon sunset
The country is now in a deep investment process. The city is rushing to build enough accommodation to face the new demand. New hotels and resorts are currently under construction in Havana and in some other top regions of the country; big names will soon magnify the capital city: Manzana Hotel, Royalton Plaza, Cathedral Hotel, Cueto, Real Aduana and many others. Even Cuban business owners are in a rush to open small private places and get “positioned” since the beginning of the race.

 

Old Havana

Old Havana

American tourism differs a little bit from those already well-known to the Cubans. Canadians don’t spend too much time in the main cities, they are more “All inclusive” clients, spending an average of 10 days in beach resorts and barely 2 in the city; on the other hand Europeans spend more time in the capital city and other regions of the country, they look for cultural experiences, knowing Cuban people, its history and natural reserves. Normally they don’t complain too much about being in a country where toilet paper isn’t a supplied in public loos, or queuing for an hour in a bank to take out money from credit cards or don’t have internet access in their iPhones during the trip. However American tourists demand a higher quality and top brands, because that’s what they are used to and they like to pay for. Cubans know it, the government and the private businesses too.

Havana Views

Old havana views

That’s the start of 2016 for many Cubans: offering their best to current visitors and getting ready to receive new ones. Also news from Hollywood actresses in Cuba, such as Natalie Portman (winner of an Oscar for playing the part of a ballerina in the 2010 film "Black Swan") visiting Havana and meeting with ex-ballerina and choreographer Alicia Alonso started the year.

SCUK tips!

Our advice if you want to go to Cuba is to plan and design your trip with anticipation so you can visit and stay in top places. We are here to do just that. Visit us www.scuktravel.com or contact us via email enquires@scuktravel.com

 

New halls and a Cava is now open in the majestic Great Theatre of Havana Alicia Alonso

New halls and a Cava is now open in the majestic Great Theatre of Havana Alicia Alonso

Gran Teatro de la Habana

“El Gran Teatro de la Havana Alicia Alonso” (Great Theatre of Havana Alicia Alonso) reopened after three years of restoration. Next to the Capitol, it seems to bless the “renovated” Old Havana. Today, local people and visitors have to make an almost compulsory stop in their daily schedule, and take a couple of minutes to appreciate every single detail of the majestic building with such an eclectic style in the middle of the old city.

For some locals in Havana this theatre shouldn’t be located in the middle of the crowded and always buzzing Central Havana, but in a more refined town; though that’s one of the main reasons that makes it a historical and architectonic Cuban jewel.

Officially inaugurated in 1838 as Great Theatre Tacon, it is one of ancient institutions of its kind in Latin America and since then, it has welcomed top worldwide recognised artists as the ballerina Ana Pavlova and the Italian tenor Enrico Caruso. The main purpose of the building’s construction, back in the XIX century, was to host the Galician Centre of Havana; but since then it has changed name and purposes several times. It has witnessed important events in Cuba’s history and even beyond; was in a hall of this theatre were Antonio Meucci, an Italian inventor associated with Giuseppe Garibaldi, tested the first trials of acoustic transmission that later on led him to the invention of the telephone.

Theatre at night
After years of restoration all the auditoriums has been refurbished and new ones have been inaugurated. The historical Federico Garcia Lorca Hall, also known as “the heart of the theatre” (headquarter of the Cuban National Ballet since 1960 and one of the greatest opera halls of Cuba) has been meticulously revitalized and seems to be living in a golden era.

Garcia Lorca Hall

Garcia Lorca Hall
The Ernesto Lecuona and Alejo Carpentier Halls have also been refurbished and they look just spectacular, according the national press. The Ernesto Lecuona Hall now has 165 seats and still remains Cuban’s cradle of classic and concert music; whereas the Alejo Carpentier Hall nowadays has the same style and accommodation structure of the original designs (in the 1800’s): an open concert hall with a central stage where the orchestra performs bringing their best to the public.


To the traditional spaces new halls have been opened as well: El Tablao Flamenco (The Flamenco Stage) specially designed to host small contemporary dance companies and live music performances. Also Cafe Intermezzo opened to the Cuban and international public, promises an unforgettable experience to the customers, mixing lyric and culinary art.

Capitol
Another plus to this majestic building is the exclusively inaugurated “The Cava”, a fascinating place with a sober design and a seductive lighting, made just for special occasions offering an unequal wine tasting experience in Havana.

Plus one of the recognise symbols of the theatre have changed: the name. It was Great Theatre of Havana but now, as an honour and a privilege of all Cubans it’s been named after our prima ballerina assoluta and greatest choreographer of all times, the one and only Alicia Alonso, current director of the National Ballet of Cuba.

Guided Tours

Guided tours

After three years of restoration now the property is brightest as ever, showing renovated Carrara marble sculptures and taking the breath to those who admire the beauty of such a relevant building in the national culture. From January the 19th the theatre will be open to the public, with guided tours and special offers to the visitors. The Great Theatre of Havana remains, without hesitation, of one the magnificent places in the whole Latin America.

 

 

How did Cubans celebrate Christmas?

How did Cubans celebrate Christmas?

Christmas, as a party and family time, was forbidden for 30 years in Cuba. No-one could have a tree or mistletoe in their homes, they were against the socialist rules. But that was 15 years ago; nowadays the tropical island seems to celebrate it in a different way.

Christmas in Cuba!
Can you imagine celebrating Christmas Eve at 28 degrees, wearing shorts and linen shirts? That is hard to imagine in the cold days of the European winter. Yet the good news is that you can live this experience; in the same hemisphere, Cuba would be certainly a piece of heaven on Christmas day.

As a prominent catholic country, Cuban people use to celebrate Christmas as any other country. In fact, by 1950 Havana was famous for Christmas parties and dinners. It was joy and parties everywhere; famous Hollywood artists moved into Havana to “see in” the New Year in the festive and warm capital city. However, things changed in the following decades. In 1969 Fidel Castro dramatically abolished Christmas because it interfered with the sugar harvest. Cubans weren’t allowed to enjoy or celebrate “Noche Buena” (Christmas Eve in Spanish). However, family members used to have a special dinner on 24th of December, but nothing too striking. It wasn’t until 1998 when Castro declared Christmas a national holiday as a gesture of goodwill in honour of Pope John Paul II’s visit. After the Pope’s visit Castro recognized the holiday again but it still remains a very low key celebration.

Santa walking in Old Havana's street

After 1998 Christmas in Cuba became more festive but nothing like it used to be. Also churches, which normally carry and explain many of the traditions during Christmas, were stranded for money. But in the past few years external influences as European tourism and Cubans living “outside” the island are bringing back the traditional festivities.

After 1998 Christmas in Cuba became more festive but nothing like it used to be. Also churches, which normally carry and explain many of the traditions during Christmas, were stranded for money. But in the past few years external influences as European tourism and Cubans living “outside” the island are bringing back the traditional festivities. Today we do have Christmas! The cities aren’t very ornate and stores don’t provide a wide stock for Christmas’s preparations, but we are still managing to serve a tasty dinner though; on the 24th people wake up looking forward to make that night an unforgettable one.

A traditional Cuban Christmas meal? Well, we don’t have turkey that day, we go further and tasty: the starring role goes to the roasted pig. It’s almost compulsory…you wouldn’t have a Christmas’s meal in Cuba without a piece of juicy and delicious roast pork. Along with it we had black beans, white rice, “yuca con mojo” (mojo is a type of marinade with garlic, onions and sour orange), vegetable salads, fried plantain and of course, lots of desserts.

Traditional roasted pig
Christmas dinner is also the perfect time to catch up and update. The party starts early in the afternoon, and everyone brings something to the table. Music, dancing, beers and mojitos cannot be missing, of course. For desserts it is very traditional home made “cascos” of orange, guava and grapefruit (skin in sweet and heavy syrup); baskets of “buñuelos” (fried sweet dough), “flan” (a type of pudding made by egg and milk) and “turrones” (a nougat made of nuts and honey).

A tip for our visitors

Also many restaurants prepare special meals for that day. One of the greatest experiences you can enjoy while being in Cuba those days is the spectacular Christmas dinner at the Cathedral; every year it’s becoming more and more joyful and outstanding. Like a tradition it’s seems that Old Havana reborn that day…literally!

Havana's Cathedral in Christmas

Cathedral of Havana in Christmas Eve

For information/reservations call San Cristobal UK Travel; London office Antonio +44 (0)72652025 or in Havana Danilo will take your call +53 78667569 or email enquires@scuktravel.com

Crystal Tower in Cayo Coco, the first climbing park in Latin America

 Crystal Tower in Cayo Coco, the first climbing park in Latin America

Cayo Coco is getting ready to push the boundaries and welcome brave visitors looking for new experiences. The opening of the climbing park "Rocarena" or "Crystal Tower" further strengthens the potential of the Cuban tourist destination and it’s the first climbing park built in Latin America.

Climbing park cayo coco

Cayo Coco is a 370 square kilometre cay, featuring lonely beaches and the intact memory of the way that land might have been in the origin. The legend says the American writer Ernest Hemingway examined the place in a search for adventures, and registered it later in the book Islas en el Golfo (Islands in the Stream).

Cayo Coco is part of the Cuban province of Ciego de Ávila, more than 400 kilometres from East of Havana. In the shallows of the sea live more than fifteen thousand species of pink flamingos plus 200 species of birds. This piece of land seems to be heaven in an unspoiled location surrounded with the warm water of the Caribbean (the annual average temperature is 28 degrees). The area also hosts a very well preserved coral reef which offers an incredible opportunity for those photography lovers.

Cayo Coco nature

Flamingos in Cayo Coco

Despite the fact that the beach resort of Varadero is the most well-known to tourists, a paradise site of the island such as Cayo Coco still being one of the top attractions for tourists from all over the globe. But this cay is going beyond the typical features of Cuban cays. Opened in mid-2015 the climbing park “Rocarena” or “Chrystal Tower” is the first of its kind in Latin America; its construction was carried out by the German company CON-IMPEX representative in Cuba of the firm Kristall Turm, creator of modern climbing routes in the world.

The Tower has 90 activities with different degrees of difficulty to scale and it’s an attraction for any client (including children), which could well join the list of extreme sports. The framework is 13 metres high with a capacity for 120 people. The third level has a platform that serves as a lookout and does not require a safety belt. The first level is intended for children between four and eight years of age.

A unique experience!

Nature Cayo Coco

If you are looking for something unique to do in Cuba, well here is my advice: you must visit this climbing park! There are incredible hotels in Cayo Coco: Melia Cayo Coco or Pullman Cayo Coco are top ones in the whole country. Even for us, local people, it’s a “must go” place. You won’t find anything like this in other region of Cuba; well I could go further, not even in the whole Latin America! If you want to live this experience, San Cristobal UK travel agency can make it real for you!

 

 

The “Manzana de Gomez”, a future five star luxury Havana hotel

The “Manzana de Gomez”, a future five star luxury Havana hotel


Latest news from Havana assures the opening in September 2016 of a new hotel in Old Havana; the location is the Manzana de Gomez, one of Havana’s most intriguing landmarks. Originally, this impressive building was Havana’s first and biggest indoor shopping centre; is about to being renovated and converted to a five star luxury hotel with more than 240 rooms.

Hotel Recreation


The Manzana de Gomez was constructed in 1910; the former building crossed two internal diagonal streets providing an easy access to those walking around Old Havana. The property is enclosed within four busy streets: Neptuno, San Rafael, Zulueta and Monserrate streets.


It was once the centre of Havana’s retail trade and it was the first building in Cuba to occupy an entire city block. The building’s original concept was the retail vision of a developer and real estate magnate, Cuban Gomez Block. The construction was completed by builder José Gómez-Mena Vila and marked the first European influenced shopping square on the island. It was a conglomeration of stores, restaurants and office spaces; eventually it lost its retail base, later was converted to a consulate and at one time an embassy.

Future five star hotel in the heart of Old Havana

Manzana hotel

Until the Revolution in 1959, Manzana de Gomez was one of the favorite places for American shoppers to spend several hours; even some visitors from America planned shopping at “the mall” as part of their holiday in Cuba.
The property will be developed and managed by the Swiss luxury hotel company Kempinski. The new hotel is expected to be completed and fully operating by September 2016. It’ll be Kempinski’s first in the Caribbean and is a joint venture with Gaviota S.A. The Swiss hotelier has a very strong presence in Germany and is currently spreading to Eastern Europe, the Middle East and also Africa. The hotel brand currently managing more than 70 hotels in 30 different nations.

During the Trade Fair FitCuba 2014 one of the directors of Kempinski Hotels travelled to Havana to complete negotiations with Cuban authorities; in a press conference he confirmed that his company was working in this new project as one of their most important in the next years. In his own words: “We want Kampinski’s Manzana de Gomez to be proud of the nation. None of our hotels are similar; we have a different conception about what is luxury”.

Commercial gallery

Shops

The existing structure is currently under reconstruction; it was partially destroyed even though it hosted a shopping gallery in the ground floor before the renewals projects started with the Swiss company. According to statements from the hotelier the ground floor will remain a commercial gallery, but this time with international name labels, mainly fashion houses and top brands boutiques.

A unique location for such an outstanding property

The property is incredibly well located: in front of Parque Central hotel, next to the Museum of Arts and the Hotel Plaza (also under restoration projects) and barely 50 meters from the historical bar Floridita.

Views from hotel

 Also, it is situated 3 minutes walk from the majestic Garcia Lorca theatre (house of the National Cuban Ballet) and just next to this one you find the Capitol of Havana. This new luxury hotel promises to be one of the top places to stay in Old Havana in the coming years!