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Cuban cooking classes

Cuban food is varied, fresh, and plentiful, full of strong flavours and natural produce. Although there is a huge range of restaurants and bars around the country where from you could sample some Cuban delicacies, there is nothing better than being able to cook it yourself in the comfort of your accommodation in Cuba.

In many of the main cities and towns, you will find local markets that stock all the ingredients that you will need for Cuban dishes, the majority of which would have been grown in the immediate area.

One of the best ways to learn how to cook Cuban style is to take a cooking class. Although you will find classes no matter where your Cuba villa rental is located, the hub of cooking class activity seems to be Havana. There are countless tour operators that offer this as an excursion, and it is easy to find one that meets your preferences.

Taking a class is great way to learn about the daily life of a Cuban, that starts first thing in the morning with a trip to the local market. In Havana, these markets are names mercados, and it is where Cuban people purchase their fruit, vegetables, and meat. Once you have purchased everything you need for the dishes that you will be cooking, your tour guide will take you back to the kitchen to begin your culinary adventure.

There are a range of Cuban dishes that you can try your hand at making, the most common of which include:

  • Ropa Vieja – This is a Cuban-style shredded beef dish that is often served with rice and accented with olives and capers.
  • Chicken Stew – This is not chicken stew that most people know; it draws flavours from the alcaparrado and contains a mix of pimento-stuffed olives as well as capers and sweet raisins.
  • Fish with Escabeche Sauce – Made with lots of garlic, sliced yellow onion, bell pepper, and bay leaves, this dish is a Cuban favourite.

Once you know how to cook some of these amazing dishes, you will never have to leave your vacation rental in the Caribbean again!

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Urban farming in Cuba

Many people choose to rent a villa in Cuba so that they can experience how it feels to step back in time. It is not uncommon to see decades-old cars driving down the street and buildings rich in history, dating to the 1950s. Cuban agriculture is another factor that seems to have stood the test of time.

In 1991, the country’s economy seemed to collapse overnight due to the collapse of its trade partner, the Soviet Union. During this period, Cuba lost its source of affordable agricultural tools and machinery. Lacking this modern equipment, Cuba suddenly had to abandon their former industrial agriculture and make the switch to urban farming. No longer were farmers using chemicals and machinery that required fuel; instead they were forced to transition back to traditional methods such as using machetes, composting worms, and oxen-drawn plows. If you have a Cuba holiday rental in the countryside, you will see some of these methods at work.

Along with farmers, individuals have also begun to utilise any land that they own to grow their own produce and raise animals. During the worst years of the financial crisis, residents could even purchase baby chicks from the government, take them home, and raise them in their backyards.

Although much of the country’s economy has bounced back, it seems like the farming sector has changed for the better, and now there are thousands of urban farms across Cuba.

No matter where you rent a house in Cuba, It is likely that you will see many local homes with windowsills lined with crops, and livestock wondering around in front yards. Local markets burst with fresh, organic produce that you can purchase to cook your own delicious Cuban meals in the comfort of your Cuba accommodation.

If you are interested in this aspect of the country’s history and want to learn more about urban agriculture, there are specially arranged tours available wherein visitors can interact with local farmers to gain a unique insight into their individual histories and methods, a side to Cuban that many people miss out on.

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Havana’s ‘Golden Mile’

While there are many wonderful locations to rent a house in Havana, many long to stay as close as possible to the Golden Mile, right in the heart of the city’s historic centre. The Golden Mile is located at the Paseo del Prado end of the Obispo, a busy pedestrianised street that’s a true hub of activity. 

The Golden Mile is where you’ll find some of Havana’s best restaurants, most lively bars, and even the Tourist Information Office, which can be useful if you can’t remember how to get back to your Havana accommodation. It’s arguably one of the best preserved parts of the Old Town.

When you picture Havana in your head, you picture the Golden Mile. This is a place of old, cobbled streets that feel uneven underfoot, it’s a place of colonial architecture of days gone by, and it’s a place where the  Havana holiday home waits to welcome visitors to Cuba.

Street musicians fill the Golden Mile with soft music, and flower sellers add a touch of colour and vibrancy. Cuba is very much a country where old meets new, and that’s exactly what you get when you stroll along the Golden Mile.

But the Old Town isn’t just about the Golden Mile. In fact, there are many reasons to rent a villa in Cuba in this part of Havana. Not only are you near the city’s cultural district by the Paseo del Prado, which features a number of museums, but you’re also just a stone’s throw from the grand El Capitolio building.

Although there are some travellers who enjoy staying close to The Malecón, others prefer being close to the Obispo, and the Golden Mile. However, whatever location in Havana you choose, it’s hard to go wrong. The city is such a fascinating place, with something new to see around every corner!

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Cuba’s long history of baseball

Baseball is the national sport of Cuba (even though many young Cubans would now say it’s football!), and if you’re on holiday in Cuba during the high baseball season between November and May, then it’s well worth catching a game and cheering on the local team.

A Long History

There is a very long history of baseball in Cuba, and interestingly it’s one of the only major aspects of Americana that survived the revolution. There was, however, a very noticeable and dramatic shift from a professional to an amateur system to remove monetary incentive, with revolutionists firmly believing that money was corrupting the sporting world. Baseball remains an amateur system in Cuba to this day.

The Industriales

If you’re relaxing at your Havana villa on a game day, you’ll undoubtedly hear the cheers for the local team: the Havana-based Industriales, or the ‘Blue Lions’ (so named for their blue uniforms). The Industriales are said to be the city’s most successful baseball team, having won the Cuban National Series 12 times between 1963 and 2010. The team’s home turf is the Latinoamericano Stadium, which holds 55,000 people. It’s located in Central Havana, close to many Havana holiday rentals for quick and easy access.

Seeing a Game

If you’re keen to see the Industriales in action, then aim to rent a villa in Havana during the peak season. Bear in mind that schedules can — and do — change regularly.Tickets can be purchased in Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) from the stadium.

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Whale-watching in the Dominican Republic

People from all over the globe rent a vacation villa in the Dominican Republic in the hopes of spotting the beautiful humpback whales during their mating season, which falls between mid-December and the end of March. A boat trip out to witness these magnificent animals is one of the most popular excursions that the country offers.

For the best chance to see a whale, arrange to rent a villa in the Dominican Republic in Samana Bay and the Silver Bank, in the northwest region of the country. Each year more than 2,000 humpbacks come to these waters to mate due to the warmer temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean. A recent study has shown that all populations in the Atlantic come from Iceland, Greenland, Canada and North America, to these waters, so it is likely that you will be able to spot a few whales during your visit.

It is no wonder that some many people rent a house in the Dominican Republic at this time of year as the show is an impressive one. A fairly common sighting is a 40-ton male who jumps out of the water to win the female’s attraction, or sings a long and monotonous song that the other whales can hear up to 30 kilometres away.

Samana

Samana became a sanctuary for the protection of the whales in 1986, and is considered one of the best places in the world for humpback whale-watching. As mammals, the whales have to come up to the surface fairly regularly to breathe, and can be on the surface for up to 20 minutes. During their long trip to the Samana Bay area, the whales do not feed, and even while spending the winter on the shores of the Dominican Republic, they still go without eating. In this time, many will lose up to one-fifth of their original weight.

Samana

The whales need warmer waters because when they are born, they only have a very thin layer of fat, which makes it hard to withstand the cold waters. To form this protective layer, the young will consume approximately 200 litres of breast milk a day.

Safety

Due to the increased popularity of whale-watching in the area, The Dominican government enforces strict whale protection laws and guidelines to ensure the protection of these incredible creatures. It can be an amazing experience for anyone renting a villa in the Dominican Republic, but their protection comes first, and tour companies will not do anything that could potentially harm these creatures.

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What to buy in Havana

What is there to do in Havana? Aside from the stunning coastline to stroll along, handfuls of beaches to discover, and some amazing apartments in Havana that you can relax in and enjoy the views, there are also fantastic opportunities for shopping! Havana is one of the top shopping destinations in the Caribbean, so on your next visit to Cuba, here’s what to stock up on.

Carved Wood

Driftwood is a very common sight at Cuba’s beaches, and the locals can be seen collecting it and whittling away, creating intricately decorative souvenirs out of the wood. Some of these treasured items can be purchased from a small craft market called Almacenes San, located near the ferry terminal.

Cuban Serrano Coffee

For many people, the first thing they do when they wake up in their Havana holiday rental is make a big cup of Cuban Serrano. It’s a medium roast coffee that’s renowned for its full-bodied flavour. If you forget to pick up a bag while in Cuba, you can usually find some at the airport before you leave.

Sugar

Cuba was once the world’s largest exporter of sugar, and the quality of the sugar on the island really is second to none. You may notice the hosts at your casa particular in Havana add a little Cuban brown sugar to their meals for a touch of added sweetness. You’ll be able to pick up a bag at most stores.

Import Regulations

Keep in mind that there are restrictions on what you can bring home from your Cuba vacation (and restrictions on suitcase size, too!), so always check the import regulations of your country before you travel. If you plan to try all the different varieties of Cuban rum, for example, you may want to enjoy it by the pool at your Havana villa, and bring just one or two bottles of your favourite back home.

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Celebrate Easter in the Dominican Republic

Easter in the Dominican Republic is one of the of the most celebrated holidays of the year. The majority of people who live on the island are Catholic, so it is considered a time of both reflection and significance. Whenever Easter falls, it is a lovely time to rent a vacation villa in the Dominican Republic and take part in the festivities.

Easter week is also known as Semana Santa and is the perfect time to sample some traditional foods of the area. Habichuelas (sweet cream of beans) is a delicious dessert typical of this time of year, and it is one of the most loved and distinctive treats of the country. No matter where your Dominican Republic vacation rental is located, you are sure to find somewhere that serves this delicious dessert.

Habichuelas con dulce

Good Friday is often referred to as the calm before the storm. Many of the locals retire to their homes to spend time with friends and family. Loud music is frowned upon and if possible, motorsports are also limited. The sales of alcohol near beaches and public spaces is prohibited as part of religious tradition.

On the north coast, it is best to book a Dominican Republic vacation villa well in advance as accommodations fill up fairly quickly. Roads and beaches can be packed with people enjoying the season’s sunshine. As the weekend continues, expect picnics and music and a celebratory atmosphere as at night, with stages set up on the beach and music blasting until the early hours of the morning.

Church Convento de los Dominicos, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

Many local churches take part in a religious theatre piece to commemorate the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ,

Cool off from the heat and excitement by retiring in your Dominican Republic villa with a private pool. Additionally in cities like Santo Domingo, it is not unusual to find many streets scattered with inflatable pools!

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Dominican Republic festival guide

A holiday in the Dominican Republic wouldn’t be the same without witnessing at least one of the many annual festivals and celebrations. The ‘Fuestas Patronales’ range from crazy street parties complete with costumes and dancing to complex religious ceremonies.

The festivals are a great way to experience the cultural influences that help make the country so unique. The seemingly never-ending celebrations will certainly keep you busy. After a crazy day, a villa with private pool in the Dominican Republic will be exactly what you are looking for.

Here are some of the best festivals that the country has to offer.

Carnaval de Santo Domingo

Santo Domingo Carnival

If you have a vacation rental in the Dominican Republic in the Santo Domingo area, you shouldn’t miss the annual carnival celebrating, which, takes place in February. It is the biggest annual celebration in the whole country, with a street party taking place every Sunday of the month. The festivities culminate in a huge 24-hour party along the sea front, complete with processions, music, floats, and more!

Cabarete Sand Castle Festival

Also taking place in February, Cabarete is transformed into a giant sand sculpture park for 10 days! The work is of amazing quality with sculptures of all shapes and sizes and of varying themes.

Cabarete Sand Castle Festival

Semana Santa

You will have to be in your Dominican Republic villa in April to experience this Catholic Easter celebration. Fused with Afro-Dominican Vodu celebrations, these two festivals make April a very interesting time to travel to the country. The inhabitants of the town of Cabral dress as devils and ‘mock’ those that are passing by. Although this may not be the best idea of a festival to some, it is a great example of the fusion of two different cultures in the Dominican Republic.

Festival de Merengue

This festival takes place in Malecon in July and August, and is a music lover’s dream. The music is pumping all night and when you get tired, there are many food and drink tents where you can enjoy some delicious Dominican fare.

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Top 4 beaches in the Dominican Republic

When imaging an ideal vacation spot, the Dominican Republic fits the bill as a relaxing getaway where you can unwind from your normal life. The paradisal beaches of the Dominican Republic offer myriad opportunities for such repose, including the top four that are listed below.

1. Bavaro Beach
White sands, crystal clear water, and gorgeous palm trees are just a taste of what Bavaro Beach offers! Grab your beach chair, towel, or rent one of the many lounge chairs available. You can even find tropical umbrellas for your lounging needs! There are miles of beach with plenty of watersports, restaurants, bars, and resorts to satisfy every need.

Bavaro Beach

2. Macao Beach
If you prefer a quieter, more secluded experience, you’ll love Macao Beach with its cliffs, white sands, clear waters, and tropical foilage. Although there are fewer restaurants, it also means there will be fewer people around, so if you want to escape the world and relax in a private-feeling beach, Macao is a magnificent choice.

3. Playa Bonita
Playa Bonita offers a unique experience. Though it still has the beautiful sands and clear water typical of the Dominican Republic, you’ll also find beautiful tropical nature with walking paths, green areas to sit and sun yourself, old trees sea-logged on the sand, and coral reefs that are perfect for snorkeling! This beach is also more isolated than some of the other choices because it sits on the edge of town, therefore giving you a quiet, relaxing time away from the world.

Playa Rincón

4. Playa Rincón
Mountains in the background, turquoise waters, rocks scattered here and there, white sands, and luscious tropical plant life make this beach a gorgeous stop on your tour of island beaches. Playa Rincon connects to the nearby Caño Frío (a river) which offers a secondary environment for you to enjoy.

When you’ve explored these four amazing beaches, you’ll be ready to return to your rental villa in the Dominican Republic to continue the tranquility.

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All about Cuban art

With African, North American, and Spanish influences, as well as some South American and other European aspects thrown into the mix, Cuban art is something completely unique. You won’t find a style like this anywhere else in the world, so make sure to take some time to appreciate the art during your holiday in Cuba. You’ll notice that there are few competing but well-blended concepts, with a heavy focus on modernism.

Work by Jose Salazar Vazquez.

Post-Revolution Artwork 

Following the Cuban Revolution, the government began to sponsor artwork, which is why art has remained an important cultural aspect of Cuba and why Cuban art is so famous today. However, the arts scene, particularly in Havana, has changed in recent years. Today, there is a big street art scene, which makes Havana one of the most photographed places on the island. In fact, many people book a Havana holiday rental solely to photograph the local graffiti, which helps makes the city so colourful.

Famous Cuban Artists 

There are many renowned artists who were born in Cuba or worked in Cuba. Amelia Peláez and Federico Beltran Masses were known for their paintings, while Wifredo Lam was famous for his unusual Afro-Cuban designs. There is perhaps no one more well-known that photographer Alberto Korda, who took that iconic black and white picture of Che Guevara back in the 1960s.

The Best Places for Cuban Art

Simply take a short stroll from your Havana villa and you’re sure to see some amazing street art or bump into local sellers exhibiting their latest pieces. If you want to visit some studios, there are two amazing places in Cuba that are well worth seeing. The first is Yudit Vidal Faife in Trinidad. It’s quite a journey from Havana, but worth the trip. You can even take a tour, conducted by artist Yudit herself!

A little closer to most Havana accommodations, and perhaps easier for most visitors to get to, is Lolo Galleria-Taller, which is located a short distance away in Matanzas. This studio displays world class art, with a heavy focus on sculptures and ceramics.

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