I’m happy to try to give some feedback about our week in Santiago de Cuba.
First, Waldo was fantastic as a guide. We really valued his advice, and he knew all the best places to go and found a wonderful taxi driver for us.
You asked about safety. There was no problem with safety. There were people in Santiago de Cuba who kind of hassled us and would not leave us alone, but they seemed to be looking for a handout. We did not feel endangered, ever.
Shopping – kind of baffling at first, but no real problem.
Communications – no real problem here. I should have enquired about getting a cell phone I could use there. It would have been a good idea. But we were fine.
Transportation – I do not think we could have arranged our own. We were really grateful to Waldo for arranging it. The issue would have been trying to negotiate a fair price. We would not have know what was reasonable. Also, the city is kind of confusing. We could not have given directions to a driver. Walking near our casa was no problem even on our own.
Money matters – we arrived on a holiday which created a little problem. Waldo had to lend us some money the first night and we paid it back the following day. The bank closes at 3, which is different from the USA where they are open until 5.
Language – no real problems here. Everyone was very patient with our minimal Spanish.
Socializing – we interacted with so many friendly people. It was a special treat to attend a class of students learning English as a professional collaboration. We had a question and answer session, first in English and then in Spanish. They were shy about speaking English and then really opened up in Spanish. I hope it was a good example for them that we are struggling with a new language, too.
Constructive criticism – flying through Haiti was cost effective, and an adventure in itself. For other travelers who have an overnight layover, I would recommend the Servotel Hotel because it is very close to the airport and has a restaurant. On our way home, we stayed and the Karibe instead, which is gorgeous but hard to get to. Port-au-Prince is a mad house. It might be good to have a local contact to help travelers if possible.
Our casa particular – the ladies (Barbara and Anna) were incredibly sweet and helpful. The house, though . . . Our room had a wardrobe, but it was entirely full of the owner’s things, so we had no drawers or hanging space. We had to keep our things in our suitcases the whole week. We had a sequence of problems with the bathroom, which might be normal for Cuba. I don’t know. The toilet flush mechanism broke, then a pipe broke in the process of fixing it so that water was leaking onto the floor. Then we ran out of water a couple of days before our departure. (Being from the desert in New Mexico, Victoria and I are very water conscious, so I do not think this was a result of us wasting water.) So I really don’t know if I could recommend the house. The location is fantastic, though. I will say that.
Spanish classes with Cecilia – fantastic! I think if it could be squeezed in, it would be good to do a lot more time with her.
Salsa lessons – very sweet boys and a nice rooftop studio. However, I just stink at salsa. I thought it might help to have a female instructor in addition to the male dance partner. This is because I think a woman would be better able to explain how to move your body, not just move your feet.
I hope this is helpful.