Sunday, 18 December 2011

  I wanted to share my first experience of diving on a sunken ship, the experience was so amazing that it deserves it's own post.
The wreck in question whose name I do not even know lays on Her side sloping downwards from bow to stern. Her bow is in about 80 feet of water and Her stern at 130 feet.  These depths are on the limits of most divers certification and certainly 130 feet is considered on the limit of sport diving period.

I was fully aware that this wreck dive would push me to exceed my level of training and even the level of experience I had.  The dive would not have been thinkable for me without the intense confidence I had in our Cuban instructor Julian.

The wreck is very well prepared as a dive site, the holds have all been cut open for ease of access and to allow penetration of the deeper parts of the ship.  The bridge and wheelhouse are permanently closed, and with good reason even on a ship of this size (She is over 150 feet long) the bridge is a tight and dangerous fit for a diver.
The catamaran we used to arrive over the wreck is the type of party boat you see everywhere in vacation paradise, twin hull with a covered deck and a cargo net stretched between the front of the hulls, lots of cold drinks and music.

Most of the people on board were on a day trip to Santiago with a snorkel stop close to the wreck.   The dive group was small which seemed best to penetrate a wreck.

I will never forget my first sight of Her we emptied our BC's and dropped down to 80 feet as we swam forward her bow materialised out of the dark blue and my breath caught in my throat, the scene was so reminiscent of the opening scene of Titanic that I mentally screamed "I am the King of the World" well not really but it makes for a great anecdote.

We swam forward towards the huge bulk of this ship so incongruous laying on the bottom and in many ways very sad.  We entered the wreck through one of the upper forward holds and swam through 3 or 4 separate holds all of them cut open with lots of places to see out.

After only a few minutes inside and a couple of turns we exited the wreck near the stern we were now in 130 feet of water with a bottom time in single digits, the feeling of being at such a depth relying solely on my training and the safety margins of your equipment is an experience few will ever have but I can say it is intensely satisfying and intensely addictive.

After a short stop to view the propeller we had to ascend our too short visit to the depths was over. As we rose I looked down between my legs watching Her vanish into the deep blue. I wanted that moment when She would disappear from view locked in my mind.

And it is.

Scuba Diving in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba

Recently I became a PADI certified SCUBA diver.  I immediately fell in love with this fantastic sport and wanted to be able to share the experience with like minded divers.
  We started offering group dive excursions at Havana Discovery Tours
and have had the great pleasure of taking our first 2 groups to Santiago de Cuba.   Our excursions were booked into a great gem of a resort called the Gran Caribe Club Bucanero, about 30 minutes from the Santiago Airport.
This resort was chosen for a lot of reasons proximity to Santiago for day trips a smaller resort with great customer service a highly recommended dive staff and most important fantastic diving.

All of our criteria were met and even exceeded by this resort and its staff.

 Most of our group dove everyday we did shore dives and boat dives and even 2 night dives, but for me the most exciting were the wreck dives.  Just a short boat ride east of the Hotel are 4 wrecks that were sunk by the Cuban Government to attract marine Life and divers to the area.

The dive was taken on a catamaran which was arranged primarily for snorkeling in the area but we used it as a great dive platform.

The excursion included a trip to Santiago on the catamaran lunch in a restaurant on Santiago bay and a short visit to the City itself.  The group boasted several excellent photographers who photos are posted on our dive group facebook page!/pages/Havana-Discovery-ToursDive-Tours/278679772155978?sk=wall

Our experience as a group was fantastic and all agreed on the desire to come back and dive this location again. The fantastic dive instructors Julian and Manuel were perfectly suited to our group, all of whom had different levels of experience.

We were all pleasantly surprised at the level of care given to us and our equipment all of it taken care of at the end of each days diving.
The area abounds with sealife and was a constant fascinating view of Caribbean fish and crustacean.  We were fortunate to see fantastic Moray Eel and even Octopus in the waters close to the resort beach.

There are even 2 small caves that can be visited 1 that also has an above water entrance and is the Home of a large number of bats.

We were fortunate to take 2 separate groups to the same resort in just 3 weeks and will be offering the same excursion in the New Year.   Without a doubt we all highly recommend the resort its staff and the diving in and around Santiago de Cuba.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Buildings and Architecture in Havana

My first visit to Havana was like most Tourists in Cuba as a day trip from an all inclusive beach resort.   I am not really sure what I expected to  find in this City that for all of my Life had been the Capitol of a Country that had all those missiles.   
 What I did find was an incredible City of Colonial Architecture occupied by the most hospitable people I have ever met.    Some visitors will say they think Havana is a crumbling shadow of Her former glory, I disagree.   I feel that Havana is the absolute hidden gem of the Caribbean. 
  Bursting at the seams with fascinating places and incredible buildings. 

Perhaps because I restore and renovate Heritage Homes myself I fell immediately in Love with Havana.   It is to be honest a renovators dream,  everywhere you look are incredible examples of Colonial and Moorish influenced Architecture.    Much of it in dire need of a helping hand.  
When Old Havana was declared a UNESCO World heritage site in 1982 Havana began Her long road back to glory.   The restoration is massive and ongoing, but of course there is still much to do.   There are quite a few People who have expressed the thought that  Cuba in general and perhaps Havana in particular should be left to rot and die alone.    

That would be a tragic loss for everyone who has ever visited this place and who someday might like to.    There is no other place on earth that has the density and quality of Colonial era Architecture.   It is important for all of us that it be restored and preserved.  
 Imagine the loss if the former Presidential Palace that now houses the Museum of the Revolution were allowed to crumble.   This incredible Masterpiece was decorated by Tiffany of New York and is an absolute wonder to behold, from it's soaring 6 storey rotunda to the incredible marble and mosaic floors. 
  Everywhere you look in Havana you see incredible examples of Architecture and the results of Master Craftsmen.  That is why Havana is one of the best places in the World to walk.  There is something new to be seen around each corner.

Without a doubt there are many things in Cuba that need to be changed or modernized but Havanas Architecture is not one of them. 

The best way to experience these wonders is with one of our very popular walking tours.  Come and check out what we have to offer.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Havana Hotels

 Havana is a City of many Hotels there are the Classic Colonial era buildings in Old Havana that house some of Cuba's best Hotels.
Of course you can never talk about Havana Hotels without mentioning the ones built pre-revolution with American investment, some of it from Organized Crime.
The Hotels Riviera and Capri along with the Hotel Nacional were in part or in whole financed by Mob Money.

There are also the more modern Hotels that were built during the era of cooperation with the former Soviet Union.
  They are all in their own rights incredible pieces of Cuban History.

The Hotels I have featured here are all worthy of mention. Our first Hotel is the Hotel Tropicoco which is just outside the Havana City limits on the Beach at Playas del Este.

This monument to Soviet era Architecture was envisioned as a complete vacation destination that would meet all the demands of Eastern Bloc Visitors.  It's vast grounds include a small race track that is now used for go-karts. There is also an outdoor amphitheater with what must have been a huge movie screen in it's day. There are also tennis courts and handball courts on the grounds.
 The next Hotel on our list is a Hotel of incredible Historical significance. It is the Hotel Ambos Mundos, this is the Hotel where Ernest Hemingway lived for several years before purchasing His own Home called Finca Vigia.  Hemingway's room is still preserved today exactly as he left it so long ago.  The exterior of this beautiful edifice is painted in a most pleasing shade of coral pink as it always has been.  Maintaining this type of Historical continuity is what draws many people to Havana and this Hotel will immerse you in a not too distant past.
The Hotel Nacional de Cuba is the Crown Jewel of Cuban Hotels, it is not considered to be Havanas best Hotel nor its most expensive but few other Hotels anywhere can match the History and grandeur that suffuse this incredible Hotel. The Hotel Nacional has welcomed guests both famous and infamous for more than 75 years. The grounds are extensive and an afternoon spent in the garden sipping mojitos overlooking the Malecon is time well spent.

There are Hotels in Havana for all budgets and tastes as in any Major City, but there is no other place on earth that can offer the combination of History Character and Beauty that only Havana has to offer.
Let us help you choose the Hotel that is right for you contact us at:


Thursday, 5 May 2011

Cuban Cigar Culture

Cuban Cigars are perhaps the best known and most appreciated of all Cuban export products. They are known Worldwide as the best.
The quality can be attributed to many factors like the quality of Cubas rich red soil or the gentle breezes that blow through the Tobacco growing regions or perhaps it is the heartiness of the plant and the Expertise of the Cuban Farmer.

More than likely it is a combination of these and many other unquantifiable factors.

 It's not important to the appreciation and enjoyment of a fine Cuban Cigar.  Of course an insight into the History of Cuban Cigars is helpful to a better understanding and perhaps a more enjoyable experience.

Christopher Columbus first saw the usage of Tobacco shortly after arriving in Cuba, at the time the Native Indians used the burning plant mostly as a way of perfuming their skin. It is also noted that it may have originated as ancient bug repellent but later became custom and fashion.

It is unclear when exactly Tobacco was first rolled and smoked in the Old World but we do know that at about the time of Columbus arriving in the New World the Aztecs were already rolling and smoking Tobacco.

Around 1623 Cuba became the Tobacco hub for the diffusion of the plant to the four corners of The Spanish Kingdom.  
From that point forward Cubas Global importance in the Tobacco trade was secured.  For Cuba a Country that now relies heavily on Agriculture and Tourism for their Foreign exchange Tobacco has a status rarely seen amongst Agricultural cash crops.

The Cuban Cigar has taken on legendary and even mythic proportions in the minds of Cigar Aficionado's. The time of year the Cigars are rolled and the factory they are from are all very important. There are even disciples of the Cuban Cigar who will fly anywhere in the world for the chance to purchase Cuban Cigars rolled by well known Master Rollers.

And perhaps most interesting to myself is the process by which Cuban Cigars get their names.  When you take our  Cigar Tour in one of  Havanas Cigar manufacturers at:
 you notice that at the head of the cavernous room where most rollers sit is a raised platform with a simple table a chair and a microphone.
Our Guide will tell you what this platform is for. To this day Cuban Cigar rollers are entertained by a designated reader who reads aloud to the captive audience.

In times past the rollers did not want to listen to the news of the day or the state of the Union they wanted adventure, and adventure is what they got. Day after day they heard the adventures of the Count of Montecristo and the tragic Love story of Romeo and Juliet.
 And at these times that coincided with the creation of new types of Cuban Cigars the name of the new Cigar was chosen from the title of the book being read to the rollers.
And so today we have fantastic brands of Cuban Cigars that are known to the World as Montecristo and Romeo y Julieta.

An absolutely fascinating History and Culture that can better be explored and understood through one of our Cuban Cigar Tours at:

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Cuban Rum, a favorite pastime.

 An appreciation for Cuban Rum can sometimes come through the strangest of avenues. In my case it came by ways of a free drink, everyone loves a free drink and in my case a new found love of Rum was included.

One evening while enjoying a fantastic dinner at Havana's famed Paladar (Cafe El Doctor  #111 28th street Miramar, Havana) I found myself in the mood for a Cognac the apologetic Manager explained to me that they sadly were out of Cognac but a complimentary glass of barrelproof Havana Club Rum could be a fine alternative.

That glass has led me on a years long path of discovery in the wonderful World of Cuban Rum. There are so many brands that it is in fact a lifelong odyssey to try and experience as many as you can. This of course comes with a cost. The most expensive of Cuban Rums are the extremely rare and very old oak aged Havana Club products that are very hard to come by. A good if expensive alternative is Havana Club 15, but at a cost of $150 cuc is far beyond the means of most People. 
 Let us instead concentrate our interests on the fantastic products created and sold under the Santiago brand. These are in my opinion the best Rums in the World. My personal favorite is the 11 year old bottle pictured here. It has been explained to me that Santiago Rum is the process and recipe abandoned by the Bacardi family when they fled Cuba around the time of the Revolution.

Cuban Rum that is considered good enough to undergo the aging process is always stored in American white Oak barrels that have all been used in the making of Bourbon. Yes that is in fact the case every drop of properly aged and produced Cuban Rum owes a debt of gratitude to used Oak barrels that once held American Bourbon, how ironic. And delicious.
I will profess a love for fine Cognac and fine Rum and will say that in my opinion well aged Rum equals or surpasses most French Cognacs in taste and ease of drinking.  The difference in cost is of course the icing on the cake, for even the best Cuban Rum is a great bargain when compared to even a mid range Cognac.

Of course most people outside of Cuba and many inside will never get the chance to sample these incredible Spirits that is why at: we arrange individual and group Rum appreciation tours.

Visit our Custom Tours page at: and tell us you appreciate Cuban Rum and want to learn and sample more.
We will be glad to arrange a tour and join you in the tasting.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Havana's suburban beach

Havana has a great geographical location in Cuba that provides an amazing array of natural wonders.
Havana Bay is the widest and deepest natural sheltered bay in the Caribbean and is surrounded by incredible Colonial era Fortresses.
The most beautiful and probably most visited natural wonder is Havana's suburban beach.
 Santa Maria Beach or Playa del este as it is also known is a pure white sand wonder that stretches 12 kilometers along the Coast of Cuba.
 Starting just outside the City limits of Havana all the way to a picturesque Town called Guanabo.
This stretch of Beach easily rivals that of the better known Varadero Beach in terms of warm white sand and beautiful azure waters.
One of the best reason's to visit  Playa del Este is the weekend party that is attended by thousands of Beach Loving Havanitos.
This is an informal gathering that attracts thousands who love Sun sand limpid blue waters and the occasional glass of fine Cuban Rum.
Every weekend like clockwork the Beach swells with people both Visitors and Locals alike.
 The sounds of delightful Cuban music played Live by strolling bands can be heard.

And of course the people watching does not get any better than this, Playa del este is where you come to see and be seen. It is a gathering place for Havana's Youth and a place to check out all the Beauty that Havana has to offer.

At we offer guided visits and private drivers to deliver you to and help you enjoy this Natural wonder.
 Something that must be seen to be appreciated whether on the weekend to indulge in the party atmosphere or during the week when the pace and the crowds are at a slower quieter pace.