Saturday, April 2, 2011

Cuba's Havanatur on Amadeus

Havanatur Signs Deal with Amadeus IT Holding

HAVANA, Cuba, Apr 1 (acn) Cuba's tour operator Havanatur is looking to
further expand operations with an agreement recently signed with the
Argentinean subsidiary of world's leading IT solutions provider for the
travel industry, Amadeus IT Holding S.A.

According to a communiqué issued by the Cuban tour operator, the
agreement was penned by Havanatur Vice President Leonel Luis Guillot and
Amadeus Senior Adviser Felipe Gonzalez-Abad and it is the first
cooperation with a global booking services provider by a Cuban tour
operator. Amadeus already provides booking services to Cuban airline
Cubana de Aviacion and hotel chains Cubanacan, Gran Caribe and Islazul.

Under the deal, Havanatur agents will have access to the Amadeus
Selling Platform, which is used by 90,000 travel agencies worldwide. The
online service allows users to make reservations with 436 airlines, 87,000
hotels, 103 railroads, 21 cruise lines, and 37,000 rent-a-car agencies.

The Amadeus platform was started, and is part-owned, by European
airlines Air France, Lufthansa and Iberia, says the company's website.

Amadeus, which has had an office in Havana since February 2009, had
also donated a computer lab and access to the system for students and
teachers of the Tourism Faculty at the Universidad de La Habana, said
Prensa Latina news agency.

Cuba's International Group of Tour Operators and Travel Agencies,
Havanatur S.A., has been selling Cuba travel packages for more than 30
years through 50 agencies in Argentina, Bahamas, Canada, Chile, France,
Germany, Italy, Mexico, Spain, Russia and United Kingdom, among others.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

British Cruises

Cuba libre for British cruise ships

Mirror.co.uk (blog) - July 20

By John Honeywell

It's all very well our American cousins beginning to get excited about the possibility of Congress lifting the ban on US citizens travelling to Cuba.

Even if the 47-year-old law is repealed this year, it could be some time before the island develops the facilities capable of meeting the needs of an influx of cruise passengers, according to MSC president Rick Sasso, in an interview in the Palm Beach Daily News spotted by my colleague Jane Archer.

"Right now, they lack the infrastructure and facilities to handle the huge influx of vessels and visitors," said Sasso, who is chairman of the Cruise Lines International Association.

"It'll probably take one, two or maybe three years before the necessary developments are completed. Lots of work has to be done. We also have to be sure there'll be no political backlash."

But Sasso, who has been a senior figure in the cruise industry for a generation and was one of the founders of Celebrity Cruises, seems to be forgetting one thing - the ban applies only to US citizens, and British cruise ships have had Cuban ports on their itineraries for some time.

Fred Olsen's Braemar is a regular visitor, and will be calling at Havana on a number of cruises from November, and through 2011 and 2012, usually for an overnight stay in the island's capital. Santiago de Cuba, in the south of the island, will be another Braemar desgtination in 2012, and Boudicca will be visiting Cuba during a 35-night voyage from Southampton and back in January 2012.

Thomson Dream will be a regular visitor to Havana this winter. The ship is scheduled for a multi-million upgrade in dry-dock at the end of the summer season in the Mediterranean, and after a brief visit to Southampton will be heading across the Atlantic to spend winter in the Caribbean.

Havana will be a turn-round port for Dream, so passengers will be able to spend extra time in the Cuban capital at the beginning or end of their cruise.

And I'm sure they will be able to tell Mr Sasso - and the rest of the American cruise industry - that the Cuban experience is more enjoyable now than it will be after the island develops the infrastructure he thinks it will need to meet the demands of US passengers.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Bahaman Perspective on Cuba Opening

Bahamas Should Brace For Travel Ban Lift

By NIKIA DEVEAUX

The Bahamas, and other Caribbean countries that depend heavily on tourism, should begin to prepare for the possibility of the decades-long ban on United States citizens travelling to Cuba being lifted, according to economists in the region.

With The Bahamas being said to have the highest level of dependence on U.S. tourists in the Caribbean, it is considered the most vulnerable to the effects of the ban being lifted.

The latest statistics show that 80.5 per cent of the country’s stopover visitors in 2008 came from the United States.

Before the trade and travel embargo was imposed in 1962 after the Cuban Missile Crisis, Cuba had been the "playground for" U.S. tourists and the largest recipient of American visitors to the region.

After the embargo, tourism in the neighbouring Caribbean countries, like The Bahamas, surged.

Noted Jamaican economist and former Chairman of the Jamaica Tourist Board Dennis Morrison recently published an article in a Jamaica daily warning Caribbean countries to take the possibility of a lift very seriously.

He said various studies suggest that Cuba’s tourist arrivals would surge to full capacity at the expense of other Caribbean destinations.

"The low travel costs from the U.S. is seen as one of the major factors that would spur the shift in visitor traffic, but the effect of short-run supply constraints in Cuba’s tourist industry is less clear," said Mr. Morrison.

Minister of Tourism Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace has said on numerous occasions that the country’s proximity advantage to the U.S. is canceled out by the cost to fly here.

In the case of the Family Islands, he noted that it is time consuming to fly here from several states when compared to destinations which are much further away.

The economist made mention of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Working Paper published in July 2008 "Vacation Over: Implications for the Caribbean of Opening US-Cuba Tourism," which suggests it is likely that pressure on Cuba’s capacity would lead to a shift in tourist traffic from European and other developed countries to neighbouring Caribbean countries.

The paper also pointed to the possibility, depending on the timing or pace of Cuba-U.S. tourism liberalisation, that Cuba could seek to hold on to non-U.S. visitors even while preparing to attract increased U.S. arrivals.

"Neighbouring tourist destinations, especially the ones that are heavily dependent on the U.S. [like The Bahamas] would lose the most if they are not prepared for the change. Because of the scope for increased U.S. tourists to Cuba and the possibility that non-U.S. tourists would be redirected to neighbouring countries, the study anticipates that total Caribbean arrivals could increase by up to 11 per cent," Mr. Morrison said.

A committee of the United States House of Representatives voted last Wednesday to reverse the restrictions on Cuba.

Economists and political pundits throughout the region believe the vote by the Agriculture Committee on a bill which covered restrictions on travel and the sale of American commodities to Cuba could be the first step towards Congressional approval to lift the longest trade embargo in recent history.

"Though there has been talk of such a move for some time, the strong, pro-embargo, Cuban-American lobby has managed to stall efforts in the U.S. Congress to ease travel restrictions and was supported by the threat of a presidential veto under President George W. Bush," Mr. Morrison said in the article.

"Relying on the stalemate to keep competition from Cuba at bay, Caribbean policymakers and the industry in the region have yet to lay out a plan of action to manage the consequences of a post-embargo era, giving lip service instead, while carrying on business as usual."

The proposed Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act, which must still pass the Foreign Affairs and Financial Services Committees before being voted on by the full House of Representatives and then by the Senate, is being pushed as part of the drive to boost U.S. exports.

Several powerful business and farming groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, are throwing their support behind the bill.

It has also attracted some Republican support.

The interest in the bill comes after the Obama administration lifted travel restrictions last year, on Cuban-Americans with family members in Cuba.


******************

My comment:

http://www.jonesbahamas.com/news/136/

Dear NIKIA DEVEAUX,

It is up to the chairs of the House Foreign Affairs and Financial Services Committees whether their committees act on the Cuba trade and travel bill. Both chairmen, Representatives Howard Berman and Barney Frank, support the legislation and could allow the bill to go directly to the House floor after the current July 4th recess.

The whole House could vote in July and the Senate as early as September, or after the mid-term US elections in November.

Limits on Cuban tourism infrastructure capacity could make joint destination travel an attractive option for Bahamas resorts and transiting airlines.

More here http://archive.constantcontact.com/fs080/1101047693478/archive/1103535872272.html

John McAuliff
Travel Industry Network on Cuba
Fund for Reconciliation and Development

A Jamaican Perspective on Impact of Opening Cuba

Warning signs from US on Cuba
Published: Sunday | July 4, 2010
Jamaica Gleaner

Dennis Morrison, Contributor

Caribbean tourist destinations which have benefited from the decades-long ban on United States citizens travelling to Cuba, should take as a serious warning, the vote, last Wednesday, by a committee of the United States House of Representatives to reverse these restrictions. The vote by the Agriculture Committee on a bill which covered restrictions on travel and the sale of American commodities could be the first step towards Congressional approval of the lifting of what is the most enduring trade embargo in modern history.

Though there has been talk of such a move for some time, the strong, pro-embargo, Cuban-American lobby has managed to stall efforts in the US Congress to ease travel restrictions and were supported by the threat of a presidential veto under President George W. Bush. Relying on the stalemate to keep competition from Cuba at bay, Caribbean policymakers and the industry in the region have yet to lay out a plan of action to manage the consequences of a post-embargo era, giving lip service instead, while carrying on business as usual.

The proposed Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act, which must still pass the Foreign Affairs and Financial Services Committees before being voted on by the full House of Representatives and then by the Senate - a tall order - is being pushed as part of the drive to boost US exports. The bill is supported by several powerful business and farming groups, including the US Chamber of Commerce, and has attracted some Republican support. It comes after the Obama administration lifted travel restrictions last year, on Cuban-Americans with family members in Cuba.

Playground for US tourists

Prior to the trade and travel embargo which was imposed in 1962 and '63 in the aftermath of the Cuban missile crisis, Cuba had been the playground for US tourists and was by far the largest recipient of American visitors to the region. Jamaica was a major beneficiary of the diversion of the tourist traffic, experiencing rapid growth after 1963, while other destinations such as the Dominican Republic, Cancún, and The Bahamas also surged. These destinations, together with Puerto Rico, The US Virgin Islands, The Cayman Islands, Bermuda and Belize, today attract the bulk of US visitors to the region.

The results of various studies of the likely impact on the Caribbean of the lifting of the US travel ban suggest that Cuba's tourist arrivals would surge to full capacity at the expense of other Caribbean destinations. The low travel costs from the US is seen as one of the major factors that would spur the shift in visitor traffic, but the effect of short-run supply constraints in Cuba's tourist industry is less clear. According to an International Monetary Fund (IMF) Working Paper published in July 2008 [Vacation Over: Implications for the Caribbean of Opening US-Cuba Tourism], it is likely that pressure on Cuba's capacity would lead to a shift in tourist traffic from European and other developed countries to neighbouring Caribbean countries.

It also pointed to the possibility, depending on the timing or pace of Cuba-US tourism liberalisation, that Cuba could seek to hold on to non-US visitors even while preparing to attract increased US arrivals. Neighbouring tourist destinations, especially the ones that are heavily dependent on the US [like Jamaica] would lose the most if they are not prepared for the change. Because of the scope for increased US tourists to Cuba and the possibility that non-US tourists would be redirected to neighbouring countries, the study anticipates that total Caribbean arrivals could increase by up to 11 per cent.

Most vulnerable

Apart from Puerto Rico and The US Virgin Islands, the most heavily dependent Caribbean destinations on the US and the most vulnerable should the legislation to lift the travel ban be passed include, The Bahamas, The Cayman Islands, Cancún, Bermuda, Jamaica and Belize. The Bahamas has the highest level of dependence, with 80.5 per cent of their stopover visitors in 2008 coming from the United States. The Cayman Islands was slightly less at 79.3 per cent, and Cancún at 77.6 per cent.

Of the big players, the Dominican Republic would be by far the least vulnerable, as it has a highly diversified tourism market with only 27.4 per cent of its stopover visitors in 2008 coming from the US. Europeans accounted for 34 per cent, Canadians 16 per cent, and others 26 per cent. Antigua, Barbados, and St Lucia also have highly diversified markets with dependence on the US at less than 40 per cent in each case.

Jamaica, with 65 per cent, would be highly exposed. While Jamaica has reduced its dependence on the US market from over 70 per cent in recent years by doubling Canada's share of our visitor arrivals to 15.9 per cent in 2009, we have hardly moved the needle in Europe. This will require a broadening of our marketing activities and deepening of the partnerships with European investors that have entered the local tourist industry since 2001.

An early lifting of the US travel ban may not happen, but we should be anticipating change. Success in managing the increased competition that would accompany such a move will require accelerated improvements in Jamaica's tourism product. These must cover accommodation, but more important will be those things that contribute to positive visitor experience - public order, attractions that showcase our cultural heritage and natural assets, world-class entertainment, and so. These are the aspects of visitor experience that will give Cuba an edge when the lifting of the restrictions begins.

Dennis Morrison is an economist. Feedback may be sent to columns@gleanerjm.com.


****************

My comment

It is not necessary for the travel and trade bill to go to two other committees (Foreign Affairs and Financial Services). The chairmen, Howard Berman and Barney Frank, support the legislation and can waive mark-up by their committees.

The whole House could vote in July and the Senate as early as September, or after the mid-term US elections in November.

Limits on Cuban tourism infrastructure capacity could make joint destination travel an attractive option for Jamaican resorts and the airline.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Golf in Cuba

Cuba: Is it the 'sand trap from hell'?

By WILL WEISSERT
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS • June 14, 2010

In Varadero, Cuba, two revolutionary icons were playing golf in
fatigues and combat boots. And they weren't playing well.

Che Guevara shot a 127, besting Fidel Castro's 150 on a par-70
course.

Their round in 1961, a month before the Bay of Pigs invasion in
April, was the beginning of the end for golf in Cuba — soon, the
communist government had eliminated the sport from the island almost
entirely.

Only one 18-hole course remains, the Varadero Golf Club in this beach
resort 85 miles east of Havana. On a Friday and Saturday in late
April it hosted two one-day pro-am tournaments featuring half a dozen
Cuban golfers paired with wealthy foreigners.

Organizers say the events are small steps in a campaign to bring golf
back to Cuba, a country that is both the best and worst imaginable
place to play.

The Tourism Ministry says it would like to build 10 new courses
around the country and attract high-rollers from Europe, Canada and
even the United States should Washington ease its decades-long trade
embargo. Investors in Europe and Canada have long clamored to build
courses, presenting plans that include luxury hotels, apartments and
health spas.

But those proposals have remained stalled for years, with not even
one foreign-financed project having broken ground.

American nationals are currently not allowed to spend money in Cuba
without securing a special license. However, many U.S. citizens
travel without a license, doing so by way of other countries that
have routine flights to and from Cuba, such as the Bahamas, Canada
and Mexico.

In an open letter earlier this month, a group of 74 Cuban dissidents
urged the U.S. Congress to pass legislation which would allow
American citizens to travel to Cuba freely.

Cuba is "the sand trap from hell," said John Kavulich, senior policy
analyst at the U.S. Economic Trade Council in New York.

"The conflict is imagery versus profit," said Kavulich, whose group
advises U.S. businesses on trade with Cuba. "Concerns about the image
of golfers in the worker's paradise. And, if accepted, how does
Granma (the Communist Party newspaper) explain the obese U.S. golfer
with poor clothing color coordination, running about in their golf
cart, betting on each hole?"

It does indeed seem hard for Granma to stomach golf, with its refined
decadence. But Antonio Zamora, a Miami attorney and expert on Cuban
real estate, said the government has overcome old ideological
concerns and sees the sport as a way to get foreigners to visit the
countryside, rather than simply staying in Havana and other cities.

The state-run tourism concern Palmares is developing golf, but Zamora
said it has moved slowly because it plans to build courses in
clusters of three or more, enticing players to stay in particular
areas long enough to try all courses.

"There's been a lot of work done. This is not just "blah, blah,
blah,' " Zamora said.

Among those playing in the one of the April Advertisement tournaments
was Canadian Graham Cooke, a top golf course architect. At a similar
event last year, three-time major winner Ernie Els made an appearance
to represent his development company.

In June 2008, Britain's Esencia Hotels and Resorts announced the
Tourism Ministry had approved construction of the Carbonera Country
Club for around $300 million on a stretch of beach not far from
Varadero. In addition to an 18-hole golf course, the development
calls for 800 luxury apartments and 100 villas.

Cuba does not recognize the right to buy or sell property and
prohibits foreign ownership, but Esencia said it was hammering out a
75-year lease on the property. Construction was slated to begin in
2009, but has now been postponed indefinitely.

On the Friday, Esencia CEO Andrew Macdonald took a group of investors
to the site where the Carbonera project would be built, offering a
tour of a windy beach amid high reeds that faced a rocky and narrow
blue lagoon.

"It's spade-ready," he said, offering a map showing that where he
stood could one day be a small wooden pier in front of a luxury
hotel. "We could go tomorrow."

Macdonald said the proposal has been endorsed by Cuba's Tourism and
Foreign Investment Ministries, but that more than 20 other government
ministries have to approve the plan before it can go ahead.

"If you haven't done anything for 50 years, you want to do it right,"
he said. "They're totally committed to this. It's just a timing
issue."

Macdonald said the golf course and some of the homes could be built
in two years once the project is approved, but he is through
speculating on when exactly that might come.

Gilberto Avila, a Tourism Ministry promotional communications
officer, said Cuba solicited foreign companies for proposals to build
10 golf courses across the island, and had received at least 11 such
proposals since 2007 — though he offered no explanation on why none
has moved forward.

Cuba's vacation industry set records for foreign visitors each of the
last two years, despite the deep recession. In 2009, over 2.4 million
tourists came, mostly from Europe and Canada. But many stayed fewer
days than usual, and tour operators offered deep discounts to keep
them coming, meaning revenues slumped nearly 12 percent.

Golf could bring tourists ready to spend regardless of how dire the
world economy looks.

"You've got a cigar and you are playing golf with the beach right
there," said Jose Tovar, general manager of the Varadero Golf Club.
"It's perfect."

There were about a dozen top-flight Cuban courses before Castro came
to power on New Year's Day 1959. The PGA Tour hosted an annual Havana
tournament in the 1950s that attracted Arnold Palmer, among others.

Castro and Che's round at Havana's Colinas de Villareal course was
meant to thumb their noses at the Kennedy administration. Many claim
Castro wanted to eradicate the game because he wasn't good at it,
something his son Antonio has denied, saying his father liked trying
all sports.

The grounds of the Havana Country Club were converted into a music
and dance academy, and another course, the Havana Biltmore Club,
became a military zone where Castro now is believed to keep one of
his many homes. Colinas de Villareal also became a military camp.

Just one golf course survived in the capital, the Advertisement
nine-hole Havana Golf Club, located off the road to the airport. The
course was originally the British-owned Rovers Athletic Club and was
spared mostly so foreign diplomats could play, said Johan Vega, the
local pro. Sticks and tree branches are used as flag poles on some
holes and an antiquated irrigation system makes it difficult to keep
the grass from turning brown.

Vega was not invited to the Varadero tournaments. He doesn't believe
golf is too capitalist for his country, but said he's not hopeful it
will take off in Cuba because "there's no national golf culture."

Things are far less bleak at Varadero, the only golf course built
since Castro's revolution. It opened in 1999, after more than five
years of construction and with the Cuban government financing all of
its $20 million budget, said Tovar, the general manager.

The course's clubhouse, high on a bluff, used to be "Xanadu," an
11-bedroom mansion built by U.S. chemical tycoon Irenee DuPont.

There was a seven-hole golf course on the grounds — two holes were
destroyed by a hurricane — until the Soviet Union disbanded, ending
its billions of dollars in annual subsidies to Cuba and bringing the
island's economy to its knees. Officials then embraced foreign
tourism and built the full-size course to attract golf-hungry
visitors.

Varadero hosted qualifying tournaments for the European Tour in 1999
and 2000, but since has been unable to afford to stage more, and
efforts to promote golf languished until pro-am tournaments this year
and last.

But Tovar said Cuba can no longer afford to not build more golf
courses, given the sport's global popularity.

"From a golf course, it's a different view of our country, maybe it's
not so cultural," he said. "But it's still Cuba."

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Climbing in Cuba

Mountain Project

Submitted By: Armando Menocal on May 25, 2010

http://www.mountainproject.com/v/international/north_america/cuba/106775390

Climbing in Cuba isn’t like climbing in any other place. The climbing is superlative, cracking jugs and pockets in chiseled karst limestone on improbable lines through stunning overhangs of stalactites and tufa columns.

Its multi-pitch classic climbs define big wall sport climbing with their remote locations and mandatory techniques like tag ropes and back clipping on rappel.

Climbing in Cuba is as much about Cuba as it is about climbing.

Few visitors to Cuba come away equivocal. Most become passionate about Cuba. The first Americans climbers went again and again, obsessed to keep returning, despite U.S. law threatening $250,000 in fines and 10-years imprisonment. The visiting climbers donated gear, clothes, even drills and bolts, and as a result, perhaps unlike any other climbing destination, the vast majority of first ascents have been done by locals.

Its lighting fast development and passionate popularity indicate that Cuba is quickly becoming one of the finest sport climbing destinations of the world.

It has seen an influx of leading climbers, such as Lynn Hill, Neil Gresham, Timmy O’Neil, and Jim Donini, and the development of a strong contingent of Cuban climbers, who are eager to climb with visitors.

Travel, digs, food, and climbing partners are no sweat. The beta on Cuba is at hand in guidebooks, websites, even Facebook.

American climbers need to realize that Cuba is not isolated from the world; it is Americans that are isolated from Cuba.

Perfect climbing days, mild weather, and everything from isolated beaches to caving and cockfights on rest days make for a one-of-a-kind adventure. Add an exciting, sensuous nightlife, the gregarious, vivacious Cuban people and the country may already be the best outdoor experience anywhere.

The Crags: Valle de Viñales


The focus of rock climbing activity in Cuba is the Valle de Viñales in the western, mountainous province of Pinar del Río. The Valle de Viñales is a national park and a World Heritage Site.

The mountains around Viñales have over 250 routes (300 pitches of climbing) with potential for hundreds more. The majority of routes lie within three main areas in the Valley: Mogote del Valle, El Palenque, and La Costanera.

More than 80 percent of the routes in Valle de Viñales are on the walls of Mogote del Valle. The closest routes are about one kilometer from town, and the golden walls and caverns of Mogote del Valle can easily be seen from the town of Viñales.

El Palenque lies four kilometers north of town and is easy to reach on foot, cab or bike. El Palenque was the hub of the first routes put up in Cuba. It may be the cushiest, most indulgent advance base camp in climbing. El Palenque is a bar by day and disco at night, under an immense hemisphere of limestone stalactites, pockets, and knobs, offering gymnastic bouldering on its walls and ceilings, and apre-climbing super-chilled beer or lush, frosty mojitos. You can return for the evening extravaganza and spectacularly clad mulata dancers. El Palenque provided the first American and Cuban climbers with rest and refreshments after a strenuous day of route-building, and new climbs were named for the disco songs that wafted out over the fields. Those days have passed, but El Palenque still offers uncommon diversions and high quality climbing.

La Costanera is a spectacular cathedral chamber of limestone. Its north facing walls are the best place to climb when it is hot. Usually, the north coast and ocean can be seen from the upper belays of La Costanera routes. Its 120m walls have yielded the greatest number of long routes of 4 to 5 pitches.

Getting Settled in Viñales

The town of Viñales has remained a cozy, rural village of just a dozen streets or so. Despite its popularity with tourists, Viñales itself has no large hotels, restaurants, or souvenir shops. The majority of the people live in traditional thatched-roof Cuban "bohios" (huts) on the farms that are enveloped with rich red soil, perfect for growing tobacco. About 10,000 people are scattered throughout the valley. Plows and carts are ox- or horse-drawn and the local farmers—"guajiros"—are seldom without a horse and machete. After a couple of days in town, you will feel at home and at ease finding your way around.

One of Cuba’s charms is its people. The quickest way to meet them is stay in the homes of Cubans who rent rooms. These are called “casas particulares,” and almost any casa particular is better than the hotels. Camping? Don’t ask, unless you want to spend your time as camp-guard.

Staying in a casa particular in Cuba is not the same as a bed and breakfast elsewhere. Cubans are accustomed to large family settings and share whatever they have with family, friends, and neighbors. When you are their guest, they naturally accept you as another family member or neighbor.

Climbers have a few favorite casas. In Havana, it's the home of Esther Cardoso, the mother of Cuba's first climber, Aníbal Fernández. Esther, an actress, has a beautifully reconstructed colonial home with high ceilings, balconies and shuttered windows. Phone: 53-78-62 04 01. E-mail: esthercardoso@hotmail.com, and esthercv2551@cubarte.cult.cu.

In Vinales the climbers' base camp is at Oscar Jaime's. This casa particular is exceptional, and the house, amenities and food are all excellent. Oscar welcomes visitors with open arms and acts as host, friend and protector while you stay in his village. The compound of several houses includes grandparents, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews and cousins. There are numerous casas particulares in Viñales and if Oscar is booked, he'll ensure that a quality alternative is made available. Phone: 53 486 95516. E-mail, ljaime@uci.cu, or at oscar.jaime59@gmail.com.

Getting to Viñales is about the easiest transport in Cuba. There are two bus lines, each with one bus a day, seats on demand, and lots of taxis. Renting a car is expensive and is not necessary. Within the town of Viñales everything can be reached on foot. All the climbing areas are within walking distance or a short cab ride.

Getting There


There are flights to Cuba from the Caribbean, Latin America, Canada, and Europe. Canada has the cheapest charters, although almost always to isolated beach resorts. Usually the cheapest flights are on Cuban Airlines, the state-run carrier that occasionally still flies ancient and scary Soviet-era planes.

Cuba welcomes tourists. Travel to and within Cuba is not restricted. A valid passport, which does not expire within six months of traveling there, is required for entry. Visas are not necessary. Instead your travel agent or airline will sell you a tourist card ("tarjeta de turista"). Cuban immigration stamps the tourist card rather than your passport. The latest info on flights, currency, ATMs and credit cards, and security are spelled out in the Cuba Travel page at http://cubaclimbing.com.

Season and Weather

Cuba can be hot, but it is not the sweltering, muggy sweat-box of Southeast Asia. Nowhere in Cuba is far from the moderating, gentle tradewinds. December through March are perfect. October and November, the tail end of the hurricane season, and April have proved pleasant for climbing. Summer is a rainy season, but with overhanging routes and north facing walls, climbing is available all year.

What to Bring

You can climb in Viñales for a week with just a dozen quickdraws and a 60-meter rope. You'll be finished packing if you throw in a couple of T-shirts, some shorts, insect repellent and sun-screen. Not much else is necessary, as any casa particular will wash your clothes as soon as they hit the floor. Also, it’s warm enough to make rain gear pretty much dispensable. A few nights in January and February might get cool enough to warrant bringing a sweater or expedition-weight fleece.

Sport climbing in the tropics does not require much, which is a real bonus in this era of disappearing baggage weight allowance. Take advantage, and bring gear for the Cuban climbers.

Gear Donations

To sustain the local climbers, please pack extra climbing gear and leave it all behind. The Cubans need climbing equipment, as it's impossible to get it locally. The majority of visitors now follow the tradition initiated by the first visiting climbers, who left their rack, ropes, shoes and harnesses in Cuba. Try it—you will feel very gratified. Some suggestions: Most useful are the basics: shoes, harnesses, ropes, chalk, pads and packs. However, the single biggest need to propel Cuban climbing forward is bolts and hangers. Check cubaclimbing.com for the latest recommended contact and donations.

Planning Your Trip

cubaclimbing.com

Perhaps the only thing Cuba lacked to make it a “must see” climber’s destination was a world class guidebook. Now, the first guidebook to Cuba has been published. Cuba Climbing (Quickdraw Publications, 2009); however, is much more than merely descriptions of routes and approaches. As one would expect following the initial decade of climbing in Cuba, the guide reflects Cuba’s history of commitment and devotion. Its authors, Aníbal Fernández and Armando Menocal, are the first Cuban climber and one of the first foreigners, albeit a Cuban-American, to “discover” Cuba’s climbing potential. This guidebook is unique, intended to be a keepsake, a souvenir of a visitor's Cuban experience. Every photo, map, and topo is full color.

The guidebook authors also maintain an up-to-date website, http://cubaclimbing.com, with last minute climbing news and featured routes. A highlight is a page with every article ever written about climbing in Cuba
- over 30 articles in all! The young Cuban climbers in Viñales have also created a useful website, escaladaencuba.com. On Facebook, you will also find pages for cubaclimbing.com, Escalada en cuba, and Cuba Bouldering. Cuba is a major tourist destination, and there are many good travel guidebooks available including Bradt, Eyewitness, Fodors, Footprint, Insight, Lonely Planet and Rough. Our recommendation is the Cuba Moon Handbook.

Legality and Access

The first question for Americans, Is it legal? Technically, it’s not illegal. If that is, you do it without spending any money. Don’t start dreaming up scams, like your partner paid or it wasn’t U.S. greenbacks. Those will get you trapped -- and then fined a grand or more. Bottom-line: almost no one is caught, and if you don’t say anything or lie, nothing more will happen. The rules of the game are spelled out at http://cubaclimbing.com.

Interjection: For more than two years, there has not been any action taken against individual travelers. Immigration and customs staff at a few airports harass people, but at worst they can confiscate goods brought from Cuba except art and music. J McA

Cuba says, please come, and we will not even stamp your passport. However, the Cuban government’s approach to climbing has been ambivalent. This is the current situation (2010). Visitors are free to climb, in Viñales and elsewhere. The government has put the Cuban climbers on notice, however, that they are not to climb in the Viñales Valley, and if they do climb, they face imprisonment. It is beyond us to explain why the government would permit foreigners to climb, but threaten Cubans with imprisonment if they climb. The Cuban climbers had taken this in stride. Just another of the paradoxes they face every day. If you hook up with the Cuban climbers you may get to climb in the areas outside the valley that they are pioneering.

Recommended Climbs on Mogote del Valle
4s and 5s

El Asegurador Cuenta, 4+/5.8
En la Sombrita, 4+/5.8
El Repaso, 5/5.9
Ojos Carmelitas, 5+/5.10a
Torre Blanco, 5+/5.10a
Psicologia Infantil, 5+/5.10a
Mi Cusi, 5+/5.10a

6s

Pitú, 6a/5.10b
Chipojo, 6a/5.10b
Fantasta de la Ópera, 6a/5.10b
Guao, Guano y Espina, 6a/5.10b
La Cuchillita, 6a/5.10b
Calentando Baterías, 6a/5.10b
Tarentola, 6a+/5.10c
Filo de Cuchilla, 6a+/5.10c
Más Tarde, 6b+/5.11a
Aserejé, 6a+/5.10c
La Mulatisima, 6a+/5.10c
RM, 6a+/5.10c
Puro Cubano, 6b+ /5.11a (1st pitch)
Fernando's Hideaway, 6c/5.11b
Ana Banana, 6c/5.11c
Psicosis, 6c, 3 pitches/5.11c
Huevos Verdes con Jamón, 6c+/5.11c

7s

Summertime, 7a/5.11d
Calzo de Guagua, 7a/5.11d
Cuando los Angeles Lloran, 7a/5.11d
La Vida es Bella, 7a/5.11d
Catamarán, 7a+/5.12a
Brutus, 7a+/5.12a
Malanga Hasta la Muerta, 7b+/5.12c
Wasp Factory, 7b+/12c
Romeo y Regleta, 7b+/12c
Pichulina San, 7b+/12c
Medio Bandidos, 7b+/12c
Cuando el Mal es el Cagar, 7b+/12c
Amigos en el Tope, 7c/5.12d

8s

Hay Papito, 8a/5.13b
Esplendidos, 8a/5.13b
The Colony, 8a+/5.13c
One-Inch Punch, 8b+/5.14a

Monday, May 31, 2010

Tourism Minister Reviews Travel Industry in Cuba

Cuban Tourism Boosts Development

By Roberto F. Campos *

24 de mayo de 2010, 13:32Por By Roberto F. Campos

(Prensa Latina) Detailed information by Cuban Minister of Tourism, Manuel Marrero, disclosed why the growing spiral of this industry in the Island, despite the hard impact of the global economic crisis.

Cuba's recreational industry is consolidated nowadays, and grows, notwithstanding the world economic and financial crisis, Marrero asserted, upon opening in Havana the XXX International Tourism Fair FITCUBA 2010 (May 3-8), in front of some two thousand participants from 30 countries.

In his report, entitled Tendencies and prospects of tourism development in Cuba destination, he stood out a growing support of the world investment community when May 10 will mark the 20th anniversary since Sol Palmmera Hotel was opened under the management of Spanish group Sol Meliá.

At that time, foreign investment related to this sector started in Cuba and there are already 66 hotels with 27 thousand 909 rooms managed and commercialized by 13 international chains, he said.

Plus, he stated, there are five thousand 500 rooms in operation with international economic associations, while new projects and investments under this modality are getting ready.

The spirals keeps on going up

The minister pointed out that this Island, because of its values, is a place where staying turns into pleasant memories due to the conversion of what is colonial and modern into contrasting nature, excellent beaches and capes, seabeds and syncretic culture.

However, he stressed as one of the main causes for foreigners to spend vacations in Cuba the values of a charismatic and hospitable people.

He said that although Cuba does not have access to 50 percent of the Caribbean tourism market (in reference to the United States), it has registered development in this industry in the last 20 years, and has become one of the most important and dynamic markets in the Americas and the Caribbean itself.

He affirmed that, in 1990, the country held place 23 in the region regarding the number of foreign visitors received; whereas, at present, it appears in the ninth position.

Twenty years ago, 340 thousand foreign tourists arrived in the country, and for the last six years, consecutively, the figure has outdone two million. Moreover, the number of tourists coming from more than 70 countries has reached 29 million in the last two decades.

Canada keeps on being the first sender of travellers to this country with nearly one million people a year, and, concerning the other markets, spain is the only one showing growth.

Argentina shows a significant growing trend, while Colombia, Chile and Peru are growing at a time, though the minister deemed Brazil, Venezuela and Mexico important and still not fully exploited.

He mentioned Cuban émigrés as a segment growing in importance and said that strategies for all these markets are under preparation.

Crisis and Cuban tourism

He stated that tourism's resistance capacity had been tested by economic crisis during 2009 with a global 4,3 percent decrease.

He declared that the most important recepients of tourism moved backwards and just a few countries; Cuba among them, had been able to overcome the trial (the Island increased 3,5 percent).

He avowed that 2010 did not start in full swing, however, a strong recovery in tourism was attained between March and April by this nation, which closed its first four-month period as its all-time best regarding this industry.

He broached the recently new tourism campaign christened Authentic Cuba, aimed at displaying the people in this country just as they are like.

Nowadays, Cuba can make use of 50 thousand rooms for tourism, out of which, 65 percent belong to five-and-four-star facilities, and in the next five years, growth points at about 20 thousand more.

He announced construction of new hotels in Varadero, Cayo Santa María, Cayo Coco, and preparation of some virgin keys in the northern zone of the country.

Construction of four five-star hotels with local capital is making stride in eastern Guardalavaca beach, Cayo Coco, Varadero and colonial Trinidad city, where a 500-room, five-star hotel on Ancón beach, plus other three facilities, are being planned.

The idea of C (cHARM) or heritage Hotels is underway, and this week one of them, named Royalton, will be opening its doors in eastern Bayamo, and this year works on Barcelona, in Remedios, and on Velazco, in Matanzas, will come to an end.

Added to that list is Camino de Hierro hotel, in eastern Camagüey city's historical center, and there is already a project for Ronda hotel, in Trinidad.

He reminded the recent opening of a luxury five-star hotel with 670 rooms, in collaboration with China, in the city of Shanghai, whose counterpart will be built in Marina Hemingway in Havana.

Right now, the Varadero resort's master plan is being updated and the recovery of Old Havana, which will have six new hotels, is making progress. Furthermore, Havana's Malecón will be restored.

He added that Havana Harbour's tourist development, including Mariel seaport, further west, is being drawn up. While an increase of flights and development of important investments in airports such as the one in Varadero and Terminal two in Havana are under study.

In the list of advances, the first stage in the recovery of Zapata Marsh and the Sugar Mill Valley in Trinidad were included.

Regarding the sea, he mentioned the recovery of Colony International Diving Center, in western Isle of Youth, and the perspective of enlarging that in María la Gorda, in Pinar del Río, plus broadening Varadero's Marina and mooring capacities in that of Hemingway.

Prospects also encompass the development of golf, for which studies and negotiations with likely foreign partners are underway.

Celebration of events and their promotion were regarded as in progress with their hub in the capital, where there have been 75 of those meetings this year, either dealing with tourism or other specialties.

http://www.plenglish.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=191124&Itemid=1