Monthly Archives: February 2017

Cuba to Rio De Janeiro – NCL Norwegian Sun’s Cruise

Leaving Cuba wasn’t easy but I’ve no doubt I’ll be returning to a different country in the future.

Arriving and leaving Havana with LATAM was seamless and onto Lima for great connections to other destinations within South America. I’m off to Rio De Janeiro for a few days before taking a cruise with Norwegian Cruise Line down the east coast to Argentina.

LATAM has been my airline of choice every time I’ve visited South America, not just because they are part of the Oneworld Alliance, but they have a great network and numerous destinations to choose from. The service onboard is exceptional with all meals and drinks being included. The experienced crew were extremely helpful and English spoken perfectly. I really like their uniforms as well which are stylish and look quite professional.

Heading into Christmas in RIO is very much what it’s like at home in Australia – hot, hot and hot. Taking a walk along Copacabana beach allows you to enjoy some of the most incredible sand sculptures, and then when you feel thirsty, try some of the agua de coco straight from the coconut.

I love Copacabana Beach, it’s one of the best and most famous – not just for Brazil but it’s world renown.

Great for people watching too, especially with the mix of bike riders, dancers and games being played on the sand.The view to the left of Copacabana beach is the towering Sugar Loaf Mountain and while the beach runs for 2.2 miles (4 km) in an east west direction running from Postos Dois to Posto Seis there’s plenty of other sights to see. Stop by one of the several beach bars and enjoy a gold cup of chopp (draft beer) and refeicao (herbed meat and fried onions).

Or you might just stumble across the commemorated song/music writer Jobim. He was a primary force behind the creation of the bossa nova jazz style and one of the most memorable songs ever written – Garota de Ipanema. In English ‘The Girl from Ipanema’ was a worldwide hit in the mid-1960s and won a Grammy for Record of the Year in 1965. It was written in 1962, with music by Antônio Carlos Jobim and Portuguese lyrics by Vinicius de Moraes.

Think this sculpture may have had his head and toes rubbed a few times.

From the beach and on the right is Copacabana Fort which dates back to 1914. It houses the Army Historical Museum and worthy of a visit with plenty of cafes and restaurants looking back over to the waves pounding the beach and swimmers alike.

Football is the most popular sport in the country, it’s well respected and defended by the adoring locals. Just don’t mention Argentina … In fact, some employees are even given time off to watch important World Cup matches when Brazil is playing.

And if you can’t make it to the Mardi Gras held in February each year, don’t panic, there’s festivities going on most weekends in Rio De Janeiro along the beach. Music, dancing and performers showcasing in their best frocks – doesn’t matter it’s over 30 degrees Celsius here early in December – just a great vibe all round.

Now it’s time to head to the port and I’m taking the light rail VLT which is easy enough and slices through the traffic. VLT do Rio de Janeiro or VLT Carioca, is a 30 km (18.6-mile) light rail system linking the region to the subway, ferries and bus stations. The project covers seven neighbourhoods spread out over five million square meters (1.9 million square miles): Centro, Santo Cristo, Boa Saúde, Gamboa, São Cristóvão, Cidade Nova and Caju.

Buy your card for about BSL3.00 and then top it up. One sector is about BSL3.70 regardless if it’s bus, train or light rail. The port for ships to dock is one of the last stops and you just walk over to the check in area.

Please note: Australian passport holders require a visa to enter Brazil and also must pay a Reciprocity Fee online to enter Argentina prior to boarding.

There’s my ship! Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Sun which has one of those itineraries I’ve wanted to experience for a very long time. I’m heading onto this passenger cruise ship which carries just under 2,000 passengers and wondering what I’m in for over the next ten nights. Yes, I know I’ve been selling cruises for many years but this is my first cruise on this size ship. Nervous excitement? Yes definitely now that I’m looking at her and wondering about my upcoming journey.

Balcony cabin is perfect with space in the centre which is what I like personally; even with hotel rooms. Ok, I know I’ve had a nana nap and the staff in the evening tidy up the cabin which is really lovely with all those funny towel impersonations of different animals. So far, so good.

A lovely gesture from the Captain and a most welcomed treat … Lots more blogging coming up from this cruise. Stay tuned as we sail down the coastline towards Buzios and Ilha Grande in Brazil in my next blog post.

Havana to Varadero via the Eastern Beaches, Cuba

Ready for a beach experience in Cuba? My very willing model Stephen is all for enjoying the outskirts of Havana – and as much as he loves the city, the beaches are in close proximity and it’s about having the best of both worlds.

Photo courtesy Stephen Catchpole, Canada

Ready to leave Havana, take a Chevy as a taxi and negotiate the price? No problem at all.

As mentioned, Havana doesn’t have a beach and just to the east are some of the best anywhere. Heading to Santa Maria and it’s under half an hour by bus or cab. If you negotiate with a cabbie you might pick up a ride from $15-20 CUC one way.

Cuba’s eastern beaches from Havana to Varadero can only be described as a juxtaposition to the abundance of Australia’s heavenly stretches of sand … All along the coastline the beaches are ablaze with a hot sun, cool refreshing waves and a smattering of beach chairs coupled with a charitable number of colourful umbrellas.

The eastern beaches are much quieter if that’s what you’re seeking in a holiday.

Like me you don’t have to be a ‘swimmer’ or a surfer – you can enjoy standing in amongst the tame pull of the waves and feel quite safe. Splashing around and dog paddling are just as much fun here.

If there was such a colour as ‘opalesque’, then this is it – beaut shades of blue which change with the depth of the sea. A good indicator of how far to go out if you’re not a confident swimmer, or have youngsters.

Many resorts have an all-inclusive rate which is something Aussies do love. Even on the beach side they sometimes have small bars set up to help out with thirsty guests.

Small markets along the shore front also make Cuba’s cigars accessible, even if you don’t smoke.

These little fellas are around and about and seem harmless. I think?

In Varadero, the number of properties available is tremendous. In fact, I don’t believe I’ve ever witnessed so many in one location, especially on the peninsula. You might not think you’re in Cuba when staying here, but hey it’s safe and families love it. Varadero is a two-hour one-way trip from Havana and perhaps one of the most touristy in Cuba.

And yes, Varadero is populous with resort style, all-inclusive accommodation. Because the high season starts to ‘heat’ up around early November onwards, my advice is to book early to avoid any disappointment. In Veradero you’ll find hotels which are high quality, very competitive and far more appealing then you’d expect.

Quite a number of small museums and parks, book and music shops like this one make it interesting to visit.

No shortage of classic cars here either …

Oh and look at that sunset. Just one of many.

And, when you’re done in Cuba, make sure you take home those memories with a 120 year-old box camera. And yes, I’ll be back, most likely to quite a different place. But at least the music and dancing will resume by then.

Photo courtesy Stephen Catchpole, Canada

To visit Cuba and further information, see my visa link tab on this website for entry requirements which are constantly updated for Australian travellers.