Take me back to Cuba

Take me back to Cuba

Yes, I know my first few posts after coming back from Cuba sounded like I was a nerve wreck. I probably was. I admit I did not get much of Cuba while there, and with my “rich white girl” (ok, I am a girl and I am white but I am definitely not rich) it was hard to understand the point of view of someone whose daily life is a challenge to get by. All I did while there was trying not to get ripped off, which made me defensive and not very communicative. I should have relaxed, and live like a Cuban, I suppose. Quite simply, enjoying whatever I could get.

Now, sitting in front of my computer screen all day, living the hectic life, feeling the need to communicate whatever I do, however I feel, and to check what’s happening in the world, now that I have embarked on yet another task which keeps me connected with the world – this very blog – I can say I miss Cuba, and I want to be taken back there. I miss that simple life, where people talk face to face, or by phone. Where computers are not a must-have, where food is bought fresh every day, and there are only local products, where there’s not the problem of having to choose between a million kinds of cereals, shampoos, lotions and what not. Yes, I miss all that. I miss that tranquility.

And the mojito I made yesterday for my friend who celebrated her birthday at a local bar is only a demonstration of that. She’s been to Cuba several time, she is terribly in love with it too. She knew this was going to happen to me too. And when I was acting as a bartender and I handled her the fresh mojito, and told her “take me back to Cuba”, she laughed, knewing this was coming.

If you want my two cents, I think that every single day you spend in Cuba you should try to put yourself in the shoes of Cubans. Try to communicate, try to appreciate their life, try to understand their problems and share yours. Ask, listen, don’t act like a typical tourist, don’t expect to “buy” things as you would do in your own country, don’t expect the same kind of services you’d get back home.

No matter how much money you have, you can’t buy Cuba, Cuba is not for sale.

Take a holiday break – relax in Cuba

Take a holiday break – relax in Cuba

Forget cell phones, whatsapp, facebook, wireless connection: just have a good time!

Ah, the pace of life as it used to be back in the days – how I miss that.

Before travelling to Cuba, my friends recommended that I stay in touch with them! After all – they suggested – you are going to log on the internet every now and then, check your email, look at your facebook page.” You see, I sit in front of a computer screen all day, every day – or so it seems. I thought to myself: what is the point of going on holidays to exotic places if I end up living the same life I live at home? I promised myself that I would cure my facebook and cell phone addiction, knowing it would be fairly easy to do in Cuba. I purposedly only topped up my cell phone with 15 euro, knowing I would most likely be unable to top up from Cuba, and warned my parents and friends not to call me, but at most send text messages (roaming is waaay too expensive), and I promised I would send a text home every so often. It is very difficult to get Cubacell sim cards for foreigners, so I had to make do with whatever credit I had on my cell phone.

Wireless basically does not exist in Cuba, so checking emails on the cell phone was not an option. And bless for that! People in Cuba like talking on the phone. Anything is done over the phone. Want to book a room in a casa particular? You call, ask questions, see what they have to say. Want to have informations on buses? You call, or go to the station. Front desk at travel agencies have no computers. When you book a tour, everything is done manually, and via phone. Computers are so rarely seen, and the internet connection so slow anyways, that I never even considered for a moment to get on the web. It would have been a waste of money, time and energy. So, I relaxed.

Whenever I wanted to call home, I would go to an Etecsa point, top up an international calling card, and make the phone call from a phone booth. If Etecsa was closed (such as at weekends, or after office hours), I would have to wait till the day after.

I learned to wait. I learned to switch off, to forget about my phone (I left it off for days!). I learned to take my time in talking to people and ask for directions and explanations – after all, there was no google, wikipedia, or anything similar to easily access information. I had to take it easy, one way or another. So I did.

With all the difficulties I found in travelling around in Cuba, where there hardly is any free commerce, where even when you have enough money you can hardly find what you need, I can say that the lack of easily accessible communication made my life nicer and my holiday a real break. At times the electricity would go on and off and at 9:30 I had to be in bed, nothing else left to do but talking to my just as exhausted sister. Have I missed anything? Has the world stopped just because I could not observe it through a computer screen, a cell phone, tv, read it on a paper or whatever else? Surely not. But I can promise you, the day after I was so rested.

Just… chillax!

Care to know more of my Cuban adventures? Read my other posts.

Sardinia dos and donts: what to do in Sardinia

Sardinia dos and donts: what to do in Sardinia

Best beaches in Sardinia: Crazy gorgeous fjords of Cala Domestica

Best beaches in Sardinia: Crazy gorgeous fjords of Cala Domestica

Things to do in Sardinia: watch the Sartiglia

Things to do in Sardinia: watch the Sartiglia in Oristano – photo courtesy of Marcello Treglia

Things to do in Sardinia

Things to do in Sardinia: watch the Sant’Efisio parade of traditional Sardinia costumes – photo courtesy of Marcello Treglia

Where to go in Sardinia: Roman ruins and lighthouse in Nora

Where to go in Sardinia: Roman ruins and lighthouse in Nora

Visit Sardinia: Barumini

Visit Sardinia: Su Nuraxi – Barumini

At the heart of the Mediterranean, Sardinia will make you feel like you are a world apart from the rest of the world. Here you can switch off from your daily routine, without having to cross an ocean; you can enjoy lush nature, incredible beaches, wild mountains, tasty food and a secular cultural traditions. The good news is that although it is almost mythologically described as a place for a few rich people, it can actually be visited on a budget and there are so many things to do in Sardinia that you could spend a year without ever getting bored.

Here are a few simple rules for your low budget holidays. For more ideas on things to do in Sardinia, check my post “A Local’s Guide To The Things To Do In Sardinia”.

Dos

Do book your flight in advance, making sure you catch one during the week (avoid weekends) and playing around with the dates (be flexible). This way you can even catch a round trip ticket for less than €50. There are three airports: Alghero, Cagliari and Olbia, all a great starting point for a tour of the island. Most budget airlines have fights to Sardinia from a number of cities in Italy and Europe.

Do use public transport: it links the main cities, villages and tourist destinations. While a bit slow, it is cheap enough, and once you get to your destination you can walk, rent a bike, or participate in organised tours that offer pick up services. For information on bus and train schedules visit the pages of ARST and Trenitalia.

Do consider a car rental. A splurge if travelling alone or as a couple, but if there is a few of you it may actually turn out cheap and you will have the opportunity to roam around independently. Most well known agencies have stands at the airport and are quite convenient. But book in advance to catch special deals.

Do book your accommodation early. Most cities have budget places and all tourist destinations provide camping sites. Rooms are easy to find in the low season, but during the summer, when Sardinia is at its peak season, it may be harder to get cheap accommodation. Camping sites are good options if you can carry your tent, and they often have bungalows for rent.

If travelling in a group, do consider holiday home rentals: prices are surprisingly cheap and estate agencies and apartments can be easily found online. Considering you will have your own kitchen, your budget will benefit in the end.

Do enjoy your days at some of the best beaches in Sardinia, which all have free access: carry your umbrella, towel and plenty of sunblock and relax for free.

Do go on a boat tour: some of Sardinia best beaches, especially in the Golfo di Orosei or La Maddalena, can only reached this way. Although not too cheap it is completely worth it. Do book a day or two in advance!

Best beaches in Sardinia: Cala Luna

Best beaches in Sardinia: Cala Luna

Do go on a free trekking: hiking is one of the best ways to visit Sardinia. There is a gorgeous path to Cala Goloritzé leaving from the Altipiano del Golgo; a well signaled hike to Cala Domestica; a roughly 2 hours walk from Cala Fuili to Cala Luna; or try any of the trails in Isola dell’Asinara.

Do enjoy free festivals and cultural events. If you are searching for what to do in Sardinia and feeling in the mood for some cultural activity, you will be glad to know that on first of May Cagliari hosts the spectacular “parata di Sant’Efisio”: people from villages all over Sardinia, wearing their traditional dresses, go on a march in honour of the Saint patron of the island (Sant’Efisio). In February, the beautiful Sartiglia takes place in Oristano: men (and women) wearing traditional carnival costumes gallop down a street mounded with sand as fast as they can and attempt skewering a hanging star using their foil – pure adrenaline.

If you are a jazz and nature lover, don’t miss Time in Jazz in Berchidda, patroned by trumpet player and native Paolo Fresu. Picture a whole week of jazz, across a number of villages in the area, with open air concerts (free to attend) and the possibility to stay in camping sites. This is only one of the many jazz festivals here: listening to live quality music is one of the things to do in Sardinia.

Do enjoy nightlife in Cagliari: locals go out no earlier than 10 pm. You can either walk around Largo Carlo Felice, or, for some fresh air, Libarium, in Castello, which has a great terrace and view of the city; or Caffè degli Spiriti or De Candia in the Bastione – the lattest occasionally have some live concerts: look for local bands such as Sikitikis for real fun. Cocktails cost between € 7 and 9, wine and beer are cheaper (around 3 or 4 euros).

Do enjoy a romantic dinner at Quintilio, right outside Alghero, and admire the great view of the city, the bay and Capo Caccia. Sunset is the best time to go. Do book in advance to seat outside.

Do try traditional Sardinian food: piglet on the spit, malloreddus (small gnocchi), mussles soup, fregola (a sort of cous cous made with seafood), pecorino cheese, seadas (sweet fried pastries filled with cheese and topped with honey)… There is a lot of variety.

Donts

Don’t miss Isola dell’Asinara, originally a fishing community, later on a criminal colony, a peasant colony and leprosy centre, and a maximum security jail; it was finally turned into a National Park in 1997. Should you not have much time to sleep on the only hostel in the island (highly recommended!), book a guided tour on a jeep. This will allow you to visit the sites of historical and natural importance, such as the historic jail of Cala d’Oliva and of Fornelli, and some of the best beaches in Sardinia, such as Cala Sabina, Cala Trabuccato and Cala d’Arena. You can also go on one of the many hikes (free and well signaled) or opt for a bike tour.

Where to go in Sardinia? Asinara, for sure!

Where to go in Sardinia? Asinara, for sure!

Asinara - Sardinia

Donkeys are the only inhabitants of Asinara, together with boars, cats, goats…

Don’t miss a sunset walk on the beautiful bastion overlooking the sea in Alghero. The same goes for Cagliari and its lovely bastion or the Poetto beach: they are gorgeous at sunset. You can’t visit Sardinia and miss a sunset here!

Don’t think Sardinia is only beautiful in the summer. It is just as nice in the winter, although weather in Sardinia can be brutal in the winter months. But of course summer is the best season to enjoy the beaches.

Don’t litter: all beaches have bins for garbage and if they don’t, carry your garbage back with your and throw where appropriate.

Don’t forget to try “gelato artigianale”: ice-cream made from scratch. Tip to know it is the real thing: it melts really fast!

Don’t miss a sip of mirto or fil’e ferru: the first one is a strong liquor made of myrtle berries. The second is more like a grappa. They are very much Sardinian!

Don’t miss the archeological sites such as the beautiful roman ruins of Nora, are easy to access from Cagliari, or the many “nuraghe” which are unique to Sardinia such as that of Barumini. Take lots of pictures!

Don’t miss some off the beaten path places, such as Is Aruttas beach, with its incredible white tiny pebbles; S’Archittu, with a rock formation in the shape of an arch, Masua Pan di Zucchero, Buggerru and Cala Domestica, and Porto Pino, famous for its sand dunes.

Sardinia best beaches: Masua Pan di Zucchero

Sardinia best beaches: Masua Pan di Zucchero

Don’t be afraid to communicate with Sardinians, as they are very friendly. They may not all speak English, but they will always help out.

Don’t forget to read my other posts on Sardinia for more information and to ask me if you have any more questions!

Visit Sardinia on a budget: the East Coast and the North

Visit Sardinia on a budget: the East Coast and the North

Where to go in Sardinia for your budget holiday

Su Gorropu and Golfo di Orisei:

If you are looking for some of the best beaches in Sardinia, head to the East coast. From Costa Rei, you can catch a bus (ARST) to Tortolì and once there go to Baunei.There are so many things to do in Sardinia, that the area also offers some of the best hikes in Europe: from Cagliari you can join one of the many guided tours to hike the Gorropu Canyon (the deepest in Europe).

Hiking Su Gorropu is one of the things to do in Sardinia

Things to do in Sardinia: go on a hike!

The trek is not difficult, but it is easy to get lost so better having a guide. For more information, ask the cooperative that watches over the canyon. Make sure to wear appropriate hiking shoes and to carry plenty of water and food. Although the path is often shaded, weather in Sardinia can get pretty extreme and it does get really hot in the summer season. Once you finish the hike, you will be in the area of Dorgali.

You can stop in Dorgali for a few nights, and stay at agriturismo Canales, completely immersed in the nature and with a gorgeous view over the lake Cedrino, and which offers delicious traditional Sardinian food. It also rents kayak to reach the source of Su Cologone.

Kayaking on Lake Cedrino - one of the things to do in Sardinia

Kayaking on Lake Cedrino – one of the things to do in Sardinia

From Dorgali, you can go to Cala Gonone, from where numerous boats leave daily to the spectacular Golfo di Orosei, taking you to some ofSardinia best beaches, that can only be reached via boat or via a hike. There are many hotels and bed and breakfasts and there is also a camping site for travellers on a tight budget. In Golfo di Orosei, do not miss the long, sandy beach of Berchida.

Berchida is one of the best beaches in Sardinia

Berchida is one of the best beaches in Sardinia

From Cala Gonone, you can reach Cala Fuili, from where you can start the free trekking to the beautiful Cala Luna, set of a number of movies including the recent “Swept Away” featuring Madonna and among Sardinia best beaches.

Swept away in Cala Luna, one of Sardinia best beaches

Swept away in Cala Luna, one of Sardinia best beaches

Alternatively, you can go to Baunei and reach the plateau of Golgo (Altipiano del Golgo). From there, you can join together some of the best things to do in Sardinia – going on hikes, rafting, diving in freshwater underground caves, and visiting some of the best beaches in Sardinia. The wild wild east of Sardinia, as Lonely Planet calls it, is the best for outdoor activities. There you can sleep in a wonderful hostel immersed in nature and surrounded by animals left free to roam (there are rooms for any budget, including rustic cabins or pitching your tent, which only costs 5 euro per person per day). It is run by Cooperativa Goloritzè, which is the same that organises boat tours around the Golfo di Orosei leaving from Santa Maria Navarrese (around € 40 for the whole day, carry your own lunch), a number of hiking tours and the beautiful 7 day long backpacking trip “Selvaggio Blu” (wild blue) which takes you from beach to beach in a path across nature.

You can eat in the delicious restaurant of the hostel (between €20 and €30 per person for a set menu which is enough for 2 people, actually – so be clever and order just one and share, you will not regret it and food will not be wasted; or else, you can pay a la carte). There is also a packed lunch service. If you manage to get a tip, get the number of one of the local shepards and go have dinner at his place. It will be a rustic set meal for about €25 (including drinks), where you can fill on his production of cheese, season vegetables, culurgiones di patate (potatoes and cheese filled fresh pasta, which is a local specialty), piglet and seadas (sweet fried cheese filled pastries served hot with honey).

Things to do in Sardinia: jumping off cliffs

Things to do in Sardinia: jumping off cliffs

From Golgo plateau, you can do a number of independent and free activities, as there are hiking trails to some of Sardinia best beaches (calculate that you will be going downhill on the way there, and uphill coming back, but the duration is roughly the same) which you really can’t miss when you visit Sardinia, such as Cala Mariolu, Cala Sisine, Cala Biriola, etc., including what I value as one of the most spectacular beaches not only in Sardinia, but in the entire world: climbing paradise Cala Goloritzé.

A walk in the woods, which will eventually open up to reveal the most crystal clear, transparent water you can imagine. The beach is tiny, a real gem where several sources of fresh water end, making the sea very cold but pleasantly refreshing on hot days. Cala Goloritzé is famous for its 143 meters spire hanging over the beach, which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. Carry plenty of water and some food, there are no services at all on the route and at the beach.

Costa Smeralda, Arcipelago de La Maddalena, Santa Teresa di Gallura and Castel Sardo:

Going to the North of Sardinia, you can reach Olbia from Tortolì by bus. This is as a starting point to visit the world famous Costa Smeralda, home of some of the best beaches in Sardinia. If you enjoy a good nightlife, stay in San Teodoro, a lively village offering many shops, restaurants, ice cream parlours and bars. There are hotels, bed and breafasts and apartments for rents, and for those on a tight budget even a camping site. There are many beaches that can be visited in this area and, guess what?, access is free in all of them. If you travel with your own car, you will at most have to pay for parking.

You can pick among many: Cala Brandinchi, Capriccioli, Baja Sardinia, Cannigione… and go for a walk in Porto Cervo. Amongst boutiques with prices accessible only to the richest, you can still go window shopping and have a gelato (which, by the way, will cost just like anywhere else). If you wonder where to go in Sardinia for something slightly, make your way to Porto San Paolo and catch the 10 minute ferry ride for a day trip to Isola di Tavolara: nobody lives there, there is just a small hostel and a kiosk!

Tavolara is where to go in Sardinia

Tavolara is where to go in Sardinia

Further North, Palau is where to go in Sardinia to catch one of the boat tours the Maddalena Archipelago, offering the chance to visit Spargi, Budelli, Caprera and a famous beach known locally as Tahiti.

Can you deny Spargi is one of the best beaches in Sardinia?

Can you deny Spargi is one of the best beaches in Sardinia?

For information and prices, you can visit the sites www.giteinbarca.it and www.elenatour.it. Asking locally, you may be able to find a private company and local guide. This is more comfortable and faster (not to mention, there are less people on it) and if you are in a large group you may save considerably – the more people, the cheaper. Calculate an average price of € 40, but it will be totally worth it. Finally, you can rent your own small zodiac (the small ones do not require you to have a special license) if you are up to manouvering it!

Not far from Palau, there is the lovely village of Santa Teresa di Gallura and, near it, the promontory of Capo Testa. The Torre di Longosardo (built around the 14th century under instructions of the king of Spain Philip the Second) is an interesting place to visit, and is found on the outer edge of the village. Following on the same route you can reach Castelsardo, with its beautiful Castello dei Doria, a castle built in 1102, and many other monuments and places of interest.

Check out my post on the best beaches in Sardinia and read “A Local’s Guide To The Things To Do In Sardinia.”

Best beaches in Sardinia: Costa Rei

Best beaches in Sardinia: Costa Rei

Feraxi, Muravera - one of the best beaches in Sardinia

Perfect for snorkeling – Feraxi is one of the best beaches in Sardinia

Snorkeling around Feraxi, one of Sardinia beaches

Snorkeling around Feraxi, one of Sardinia beaches

Costa Rei: one of the best beaches in Sardinia

Have you visited Cagliari and its surrounding, and are now looking for more things to do in Sardinia and now feel the urge to just lay at the beach, take long walks, have nice meals and a refreshing beer at sunset and just cool down after dinner? Are you looking for where to go in Sardinia? Look no more! Costa Rei is a top holiday destination where you can be a total beach bum and it is quite easy to reach from Cagliari. And, guess what? It is one of the best beaches in Sardinia, so much so that Lonely Planet states that beaches in the area are “out of this world” .

You just need to hop on an ARST bus from the main bus station in Piazza Matteotti. Should you have your own car, you just need to drive towards Strada Statale 554 and then follow the directions to Muravera to reach Strada Statale 125, then take the exit “Costa Rei”. Driving should take no longer than one hour. The bus ride is longer as it goes along the coast, but those 2 hours will fly away while you enjoy the amazing view over the many small beaches of the gulf.

Sardinia best beaches include Costa Rei

Sardinia best beaches include Costa Rei

I admit I am a bit biased when it comes to Costa Rei, I have been coming here since I was a toddler and I have so many memories of this place. It is mostly geared towards families with children. It offers little in terms nightlife (just a few bars, a market, some live music in Piazza Italia – for more action head to the nearby Villasimius), but the long, white, sandy beach and the crystal clear water are free to access, making it an excellent cheap holiday destination.

No wonder a lot of people who visit Sardinia head straight there. If you are looking for things to do in Sardinia, besides snorkeling, you can also splurge and try all sorts of water sports – including water skiing, windsurf and kite surf. Just ask at any of the kiosks at the beach; they can also organise boat trips to the nearby Isola dei Cavoli and the various other beaches in the area (prices should be not over €40). Another option is asking at the information desk Butterfly Service.

If you have your own car or a bike, it will be easier to reach Cala Pira with its Spanish tower, Cala Sinzias, a nesting spot for caretta caretta turtles,

Cala Sinzias, one of the best beaches in Sardinia

Cala Sinzias, one of the best beaches in Sardinia

the tiny Monte Turnu and the further away Punta Molentis

Crystal clear water in Punta Molentis - no wonder it is one of the best beaches in Sardinia

Crystal clear water in Punta Molentis – no wonder it is one of the best beaches in Sardinia

and Porto Giunco (nearer Villasimius). If you have a taste for skinny dipping, closer to Capo Ferrato you will find a nudist beach – ask around for information.

A more hidden spot – slightly harder to reach – is Feraxi. From Costa Rei, follow the directions to Capo Ferrato, then drive further along following the signs to Feraxi. The road will turn into a dirt one, and you will eventually get to a parking lot which is on the right hand side. From there, it is a short – if only slightly slippery – walk to two small beaches. One is longer and sandier, the other one is encaved among rocks and is perfect for snorkeling. This is also a great mountain biking itinerary, and you can easily rent bikes at Butterfly Service in Costa Rei.

If you are looking for what to do in Sardinia on a late afternoon, you may want go on an easy hike near Costa Rei, opt for the lighthouse of Capo Ferrato: plan to be there around sunset time for the perfect view.

Where to stay and eat

Most people who go to Costa Rei either opt for an all-inclusive village or rent a flat. There are many local agencies that can provide information – you can find them all by doing a simple google search. The cheapest option are camping sites where you can pitch your tent or rent a bungalow. Among them, Camping Capo Ferrato and Camping Le Dune.

As in any cheap beach holiday destinations, there are many restaurants for all budgets. Chaplin is specialised in seafood and is among the cheapest. You can have a good pizza at Escargot, which has a great terrace overlooking the sea. Sa Cardiga e Su Pisci is the priciest and most reknown restaurant in the area. I Menhirs, near Olia Speciosa, offers a traditional Sardinian menu with organic, locally grown produce, with appetizers, freshly made pasta and meat dishes (such as the traditional piglet), dessert and drinks for around 30 euro. Su Tostoini, on the way to Villasimius, is a cheap pizzeria very popular with the locals. Arrive early to get your table or put your name on the list and wait patiently.

Festivals and events

If you care for more cultural things to do in Sardinia that show a good part of the local traditions, the Carnevale di Muravera takes places around 10 August each year. Muravera can be easily reached from Costa Rei (about 30 minutes drive, or via public transportation). There are other village festivals in Castiadas and Villaputzu, also not far from Costa Rei.

Find out more things to do in Sardinia on my post “A Local’s Guide To The Things To Do In Sardinia.”

To read more about the incredible beaches in Sardinia, check my post “The Ultimate Guide To The Best Beaches In Sardinia.”