Airports/Clips 0f drives
What follows are a number of clips of both the Havana and Varadero airports as well as the drive to and from these airports . These all provide a general first impression of Cuban airports and countryside and highways. The first of these are about Varadero and then Havana.
Tour of Main Street Guanabo
This section of the site are drive throughs Main street downtown Guanabo. You will see old cars, Cubans, restaurants, stores and buildings both quite nice and slightly ramshackled. While I have tried to capture the spirit, pace and flavour of Guanabo through film, it still does not do justice.

What these videos will demonstrate is a quiet and very Cuban pulse. In general there is not a lot to do in Guanabo. For me the biggest entertainment is to just watch Cubans (families, singles, children and elders) going about their life. There is of course a beautiful and very long beach which is miles and miles long (there is another section below on the beach).
Beach in Guanabo
The next series of video clips are of the beach. Guanabos beach is beautiful and continues for kilometers and kilometers in either direction. It is the only real openly Cuban public beach that is as close as possible to Cubans from Havana. While there are other beaches closer to Havana they seem to me belong to private hotels or are rockier in nature. So as far I can tell the hundreds of Cubans that come by on the winter and the thousands that visit Guanabos beaches in the summer see this as a purely public and Cuban town and beach.

There is no real noticeable tide and the water is shallow and very clear on a normal day (i.e. when there is no big wind), and you can go out almost 150 yards before itís over your head. There are even underwater like dunes every 10 yards or so. And itís all very fine sand.

If its summer the first thing you will notice are thousands of Cuban families enjoying the ocean and getting way from sweltering Havana. It is an unbelievable and exciting site. However in the seasons between summer In my experience both the temperature and water are very warm but the beaches are very quiet. Yes there a few tourists and Cuban families and it is very comfortable, but just does not compare to the densities experienced during the summer months. Regardless it is still extremely hot in January and February Ė but that may not be guaranteed. And as mentioned before it is very easy to meet and chat with Cubans on the beach (even if you only have a few Spanish words at hand Ė somehow it works out in broken English and Spanish). You will also see some almost bombed out like huge buildings that have been ravaged and abandoned long ago. These are a bit of an eerie site but also fascinating just imagine who once lived in these palaces and what happened to them.

Much different than other Cuban tourist beach sites is that there are very few amenities or activities such as power boats, paraglide, parasol rentals, bars, restaurants and bathrooms, nor for that matter Cuban beach sales or knicknack hustlers. Across the stretch of About 15 miles of beach there is really only one spot on the beach nearby downtown Guanabo where you rent a parasol, peddle boat, catamaran and buy a drinks. And its fine and quiet in the off season

As you peruse these beach videos, assume that when itís less congested that this is during fall, winter and spring. As the beach becomes overwhelmed it is Cuba in the summer time. Both experiences are amazing, but really depend on your interest, curiosity and lifestyle.
Hotel
First before focussing on Hotel Miramar (my favourite) I will generally describe the Guanabo hotel environment. But a bit of context of Guanabo and the environment around it.

As mentioned my favourite Hotel is Miramar, with Hotel Playa Hermosa close second. Both have pools, very secure (gated with security guards and with hotel safes), TVs, air conditioning a pool and a lot of music and dancing. And again with almost entirely Cuban guests and staff. They are also the same rates (i.e. $15 per day and a free breakfast) and of course free access to all of the hotel activities.

While Playa Hermosa is a close second I think that my preference for Hotel Miramar is a bit sentimental as it was my first stay, also because I find there is more staff, a tad bit more English, up a hill with a bit more of a breeze, and a bit cosier in terms of staff Ė meaning just a bit more open or rather more curious staff. While I have no videos of Playa Hermosa I will work on getting a lot more to add when I update this site.

Back to Hotel Miramar. I actually think of it as the University of Miramar (in fact the rooms are almost like university residences - clean but a bit sparse). The staff have taught me so much about Cuba and Guanabo. My expectations and daily routine are very, very simple. First of all I need to be completely dis-connected from the real world. I donít use the TV, I donít bring a watch, I donít read newspapers and I donít want any internet or my blackberry Ė I really want to relax and completely shut myself from my life at home and work. So with that in mind, I can better explain my routine and appreciation of Guanabo and Hotel Miramar.
Hotel Pool
The next series of video clips is of the Hotel Miramar pool. Cubans apparently love swimming pools even if there is a beautiful blue ocean just down the street. Pools and their bar and music attract families, singers, dancers, men and women to party and relax and celebrate in some sort of exclusivity not found on a beach. Itís a great atmosphere to find yourself in. Again there are very few non-Cubans tourist here, so Spanish is all you hear.

To give you a sense, the pool is the central location of the hotel. It draws Cuban tourist and local residents. While I will speak more on Hotel staff later, the pool is animated by two DJs that pump the Spanish music and encourage families et all to dance and sign. You will note in the videos that Raphael (blue shirt and straw hat) is the main DJ/hotel entertainer (a skill/vocation you go to university for in Cuba). He gets everyone going and has a great Cuban music collection and he his a great comedian and his sidekick Alfredo is a great singer. Watch as he gets the crowd of mothers and daughters singing and dancing.

Bottom line is that every day is different at the pool. But always interesting.
Hotel Staff
When I first showed up at the hotel Miramar on my own, I was not only in a strange or very different environment, I was also a tad shy and bit overwhelmed. What I noticed right away when having my first drink at the bar was that it was small, quiet and had many staff working hard to get the place ready for that day and night. It felt somewhat cozy and comforting. I decided to spend the night (even though I was already booked at another more mainstream AI hotel on beach a few miles away).

Slowly, very slowly I got to talking to Miramar staff. As very few of them know English, between my shyness and lack of Spanish we got to talking. Generally how it works is that the front desk staff have the most English so that I can communicate quite well/sufficiently to describe the hotel, activities price ect... And then finalize arrangements (i.e. payment, walk through, receipts etc...).

How it works like is this. First off all there is the front desk staff (4 women) who rotate their 24 hour shifts. Along with them there are about 3 night/day security staff. Next up are the apartment cleaners, there are about 3 or 4 of these who will for a small fee take your clothes home to clean. Next are the kitchen staff of about 3 to 4, who are all wonderful and helpful but initially very shy. But after a while we now have a great relationship between myself with them and their families I think they are as curious about as I am about them. They are also great and hard working chefs, and take great pride in their work, particularly given the food and spices they have.
Hotel Miramar Nightlife
The next clip is of the night life at the hotel Miramar. Not sure exactly how it works, but I think they hold these Saturday and Sunday (at least during the summer) there is a show in the hotel dining room that many villagers drop by to see. Its a big event, and they along with the professional Havana entertainers sing, laugh and dance the night away. And again they are all curious about the lone non-Cuban tourist. How many times I have declined to dance. They are just far too good and I am quite shy. Not sure if the video is very clear but the room is full of Guanabo families and people. And you can see how young Cubans start dancing. Moms and dads encourage their kids to start dancing before they can even walk it seems.
Club nightlife in Guanabo clubs
This club video tries to capture the essence of the main bars or clubs in Guanabo, other than the shows at the hotel. The two bars are called Club Guanabo and Club Guanimar.

The latter is downtown and on main street. It is the larger of the two and is pretty impressive in-door and out-door show club with lots of live acts, DJs and other shows. In the summer it is largely attended by lots of locals, although in the winter you spot a number of non-Cuban tourist from nearby AI hotels just outside of Guanabo. There are a lot of Cubans, friends and families. As well as a lot of single Cuban men and women eager to meet non-Cubans. Cover is about $3 to $5. Drinks are roughly $1.50 a beer and $2.50 for Rum and coke. At the end of the shows all the Cubans get up and start dancing like crazy. If you get there early there is a little pub just outside where a number of people gather to start off with some drinks and to meet folks.

The other bar, Club Gaunabo is in town but just up a hill off of main street. If you donít feel like walking the fifteen minutes, it costs about $2 by horse cab. It is smaller but often has great music and is also packed with all kinds of people partying and dancing. These videos donít do a great job of demonstrating, partly given my poor video talents but also given the darkness. But take my word these places are very friendly and filled with dancing and go until about 3 or 4 in the morning. Not captured is the wide variety of talent and types of acts from DJs, to singers, to dancers to comedians to whatever. And generally after each show all patrons get up and dance like crazy. Club Guanabo is smaller than Guanimar, but it is also half in-doors and half out-doors and it also has very interesting architecture. From my assessment it seems like it is built into and old and beautiful huge almost mansion sized house. It is also a tad more tighter and sometimes getting by all the beautiful locals for a another drink is an interesting challenge.

There are several other disco/clubs in and around town that I have not had a chance to visit but will try to do next time and update. And throughout downtown there are outside bars to just get a drink and bite.
Spear-fishing in Guanabo
As mentioned earlier if you wake up early enough (about 8 or 9 a.m.) and take the small stroll down to the beach you will a small number of Cubans fishing either with a net or with a fishing rod. You can easily go up and chat with these fisherman and just ask what they are doing or just simply watch them. You might even be offered to buy some of the very fresh fish.

On one occasion I was fortunate enough to be invited by some local Cubans to go spear-fishing off the coast of Guanabo. While they were prepared to swim out a kilometer or two to fish, I certainly was not. So we agreed to rent a pedal boat to reach the fish. And I was happy to pay the $20 for 4 hours. Even at that distance out, the water is relatively shallow and extremely clear down to the bottom. While I floated at the surface I could clearly see through my mask the seafloor, rocks and fishing. While I was very delighted just floating at the surface below, I was amazed and highly entertained just watching my Cuban friend`s skill, technique and ability to hold their breath for so long (sometimes it seemed well over a minute). After about three to four hours of an amazing time and beautiful morning, we came back with an armful of fish. These were immediately cooked back at the hotel and were shared among all friends and staff.
School in Guanabo
One of the most unique aspects of Cuban life is all of the students. You see them everywhere wearing different uniforms ranging from red, blue and beige. Girls wear skirts and boys wear pants, and all have a similarly scarf. Education is a very important element of Cuban society, and is made all the more evident with all these uniforms. It also seems that the Cuban clock is centered around mothers and fathers walking their kids to and from schools everyday of the week. You can almost set your watch to it.

Again as a result of being in Guanabo and the ease in which it is to befriend local Cubans, I was invited to an informal tour of Guanabo`s local school. The campus was comprised with both a primary and junior high type schools. I was surprised during my tour to be encouraged to actually enter and speak to several classes (teacher and students). The kids were equally as curious as I was. Very few of them meet English foreigners so it was an excellent exchange. I think we were both quite shy.

What struck me right away is how much of the school is exposed. While classes are enclosed, hallways are exposed to the outdoors. While not surprising given the heat in Cuba, it still is refreshing to see.

Again an excellent and unique Cuban experience. All were extremely friendly and curious.
Havana
As explained earlier, Guanabo is a great base-camp for excursions or outings. Personally I like to relax in a quieter village setting. Big cities are not a draw for me. However they are very interesting to visit for a short one or day stay. At least in my case. Once I get a week under my belt in Cuba, I begin developing my Guanabo legs and begin to very zen and lazy. After some time the thought of visiting the big, bustling, noisy and congested city of Havana becomes too distant. However outings to other points in Cuba can be very interesting and enriching.

As one example Havana is just a short 30 minute bus or taxi drive away from Guanabo. Havana is a huge city. If you take a proper tour you will get a sense of its size, the significant contrast between rich and poor neighbourhoods.

While most tourist only visit Old Havana, I have been all over the city. The economic and architectural contrast between some neighborhoods is significant. Personally I find Havana somewhat intimidating, largely because I am my own and because there are many savvy swindlers. While not dangerous its more of a nuisance. Some Cubans in Havana can spot a tourist a mile away, and try to befriend and manipulate tourists to pay out more than necessary for supposed tour services and/or drinks etc... Like I said is more of a nuisance. For the habituated tourist or ex-pat its not a problem as they know all the signs and lines and brush these aside, but for the un-initiated it can be unnerving.

Hence when I was invited by some Cuban friends (hotel staff) to join them and their daughters for a shopping trip to Havana I agreed quickly. It was a great way to see how real Cubans weave their way through such a large city. By doing so I was also shielded from all hustlers. I sensed that by walking among mothers and daughters locals assumed I was with family or surrounded by those that knew how to deal with them, or even perhaps that I was already spoken for. Whatever it was, it was great way to get a guided and natural tour of Guanabo. In fact I have used this approach a couple of times to great success. For me its a win and for my friends it was wine as I paid for the taxi to and from ($10 each way for about 6 people) and lunch. For them they got to entertain their kids and access greater shopping opportunities and goods. Apparently Guanabo is limited in terms of varied shopping and the prices are much better in Havana. For me I got a glance at them relishing the great and varied shopping in Havana and I got to at some point to go on my own and settle down in a great bar overlooking all the people and action of the old Havana square. Another great experience!

The associated videos are drawn from one of these trips. Next time I think I will get some Cuban buddies and we sample the nightlife and spend the night or come back really late, as its only a cheap taxi ride away. Once I do I will update this site with new videos.
Matanza
Another outing was to Matanza. Matanza is a fairly large city (but much smaller than Havana) located between Guanabo and Varadero. It is approximately a 1 hour drive from Guanabo. A taxi drive can range from $30 to $40 each way with some bargaining. The city has both some remarkable and typical worn down architecture and has several bridges over a river that runs through. The city also rests on the ocean but within a huge bay. At the centre of town is an extremely ornate and historical hotel right on the main public square. The Hotel Valesco costs about $50 a night and worth every cent. At night on or both Friday and Saturday night it seems like hundreds of families come out to gather and chat in the care. While Matanza is a city the park provides a very villagy experience. I also found several Cuban clubs which were very relaxed and filled with lots of dancing and music. I would suggest going over a weekend to experience the above, but whatever day you go it is very interesting to walk around and explore the city. There are many open markets, shopping avenues and sites to explore.

Also included are videos of a nearby beautiful river and plush forest. I believe the name of river and associated provincial park is called the River Canimar. Again this is largely a Cuban tourist location as I did not see any non-Cuban tourists. If you have the time this a very interesting day trip. The videos give you a sense of the plushness, the animal farm and other interesting scenes.

So for some who like to see and experience a lot, a three day excursion is warranted.
Cojimar Village
Guanabo Casa Clarita