Monday, February 25, 2008

Planes, rooms and automobiles in Cuba

Planes, rooms and automobiles in Cuba

Car at auto show in Havana"Cuba's tourism infrastructure has improved in
leaps and bounds over the past decade," said Christopher P. Baker,
author of several Cuba guidebooks, as well as "Mi Moto Fidel:
Motorcycling through Castro's Cuba" and "Cuba Classics: a Celebration of
Vintage American Automobiles."

However, Baker noted in an e-mail Wednesday, tourism peaked at about 2.5
million visitors in 2005, then dropped to 2.1 million in 2007.

The current trend, he said, "is toward more deluxe hotels. The large
all-inclusives that continue to be added in Varadero, Guardalavaca and
Cayo Coco are almost all upscale, with Sandals, Iberostar and Sol Melia
the preferred management partners. Within cities, the effort is toward
restoring historic properties and converting them into charming boutique
hotels that play on a colonial theme."

And though the many locals may still be cruising in 50-year-old
vehicles, rental cars (from Hyundais and Toyotas to VWs, BMWs and Audis)
are available nationwide, Baker said. (But he warned that maintenance is
"a problem, and contracts that include rip-off clauses are an irritant.")

Baker also noted that Cuba has "an efficient, high-quality tourist bus
service called Viazul and has just signed a deal to overhaul its rail
networks with 100 locomotives from China and rolling stock from Iran.
But when it comes to domestic air travel, Baker cautions, planes are
"unreliable and uncomfortable."

The food? "A few excellent restaurants with consistently good meals are
to be found in Havana, and a fistful of other top-quality hotels are
sprinkled around the isle," said Baker. "But for the most part, food
remains one of the serious weak links, as are pilfering of guests'
belongings by hotel staff, lousy Cuban management of hotels and tourist
entities, and low-quality service at every level."

— Christopher Reynolds, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

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