The fabled Marina Hemingway actually has nothing to do with Ernest Hemingway, but everything to do with sailing in Cuba. There are only a few legal check-in locations on the north coast and Marina Hemingway is convenient. The marina itself is old starting construction in 1953 on what was to be an amazing suburban complex with slips where property owners could keep their yachts behind their houses. Then in the late 1950’s, the revolution came along, the complex was nationalized and re-named Marina Hemingway … and allowed to crumble.
These days with the influx of fishing tournaments, yachts, regattas, rallies and other nautical activity, there is some evidence of improvement – new modern electrical boxes are evidence of the trend. However, it’s still old and in need of some TLC. That being said, there’s a lot to like about a stay at Marina Hemingway. First, it’s centrally located, a mostly safe place to leave your boat and handy for travel, whether just to Old Havana or around the country.
Canal 1. I say mostly safe only because if you happen to be in Canal 1 (the closest to the ocean), you’ll enjoy a much better breeze than others, but when a bad norther blows through, you’ll have to attach lines across the canal to keep your boat from beating itself to death on the crumbly concrete seawall. We enjoyed this experience once during our stay and as everywhere, the cruisers came together to make it happen.
The tide swing is maybe a foot, maybe less, so situating lines and bumpers is easy – you’ll want ALOT of bumpers! Some boats even went so far as to construct special wooden “lever-boards” so their topsides didn’t get caught under the concrete overhang when the tide came up. Our bumpers worked just fine for this.
Electricity & Water. Both were available at the modern pedestal next to our slip. We had electricity the entire time, but some parts of different canals weren’t as lucky – some cruisers were complaining that this was their 3rd day without electricity. No big deal for us, we’d just pull out the solar panels and crank up the wind generator.
We opted not to drink the water from the pedestal, opting instead to run our watermaker to fill the one tank that needed filling while we were there. Using marina showers saves on water. The doctor told us the water was “potable” and then proceeded to recommend we drink bottled water. Not sure of the significance, but most boats did not drink the water.
Dockmaster and Security. There are four dockmasters and they stand by on VHF Channel 77 if you need to call them. We find they in and out of their office (where the VHF is) so sometimes they answer and sometimes not. Walking to the office is probably a better choice, but they might be out with a boat, so just be flexible and go back.
Ship’s Chandlery. The Ship’s Chandlery is beside the Dockmaster’s office; however, don’t expect to find boat parts. This is where to find the very best prices on RUM (I know, go figure) and assorted other “stuff” depending on what happens to be in stock the day you visit. Often drinks, juice, soda and sometimes bottled water are available. During our stay, we saw eggs (fresh, not refrigerated) – although they were $9 CUC for a flat, so maybe not the best prices for eggs. 🙂 One day to our total surprise, there was an entire shelf of toilet paper – only the last couple days of our almost a month were paper products available anywhere. $2 CUC for 4 very thin rolls. Depending on who is working, ask about exchanging money. Sometimes you can exchange your first CUC’s right at the chandlery, we exchanged $100 US and got the “going” exchange rate of $87 CUCs. ONLY US Dollars though, no Euros or Canadian dollars, for those you have to get to a bank.
Duty Free Shops. There are three duty free shops at the end of Canal 1. There’s also some sort of warehouse facility on the other side of the road, but it’s not open to the public. The store prices are higher than elsewhere, but convenient for convenience type items in any US convenience store. A butcher counter at the back is full of big tubes of some type of meat, we never paid any attention. Cigars, coffee and rum are for sale at the cigar shop. And there’s a small gift shop.
CUC’s and Cuban National Pesos. More on this in an upcoming post, it gets confusing, but the bottom line is you need CUCs and you can get them many places – a bank, the chandlery, many taxi drivers have a friend that will exchange CUCs on the black market. You’ll get anywhere from the “official” exchange rate of $87 – $95 CUC for US $100. The easiest and quickest place to start is to exchange at the Marina Chandlery.
Dinghies. Marina Hemingway is a large facility. Dinghies are allowed inside but nowhere else. And if you want to go for a daysail (or day fishing trip), you’ll need a special permit from the Dockmaster. We never heard anyone refused, but the permit is a necessity. Call on VHF 77 or just stop by the Dockmaster’s Office.
Showers, Restrooms and Laundry. All available at the “Snack Bar” Yatistas Servicios blue building close to the end of Canal 1. For us it was about a half mile walk down Canal 1. Others farther away sometimes used their dinghies for shower transportation. Good hot water pressure – OK hand held shower heads – some have attachments on the wall to hold it up above, most do not. Four showers in each the Men’s and Women’s, doors optional. Both men’s & women’s had two with doors and two without. The building is air conditioned, although depending on how many showers have been taken, the shower rooms can feel very humid.
The restrooms are another story. Depending on the water pressure that day, they may or may not flush. So they may be backed up and totally gross. But most have doors. No seats was the norm, not only in the marina but everywhere. And maybe one roll of toilet paper out in the washroom – take your own if you chance using the marina bathrooms.
The snack bar serves mostly cold beer, but it’s $1.50 CUC per cold beer. You can enjoy your cerveza fria either in the air conditioning or outside on plastic snack bar style tables and chairs. Be warned, as most places in Cuba, inside is NOT SMOKE FREE! So if closed up rooms and thick cigarette smoke bother you, go outside! The music will often be blaring inside and sometimes there will be some salsa dancing going on — great atmosphere.
For laundry, just take your bag to the snack bar early in the morning. It’s $5 for wash and dry. They’ll do it and fold it – you pick it up later in the day, depending on how many other bags are in front of yours.
Fuel. There’s a very nice modern fuel dock with both diesel and gasoline as you come in from the customs dock. I assume you have to tell the Dockmaster when you’d like to go to the fuel dock, but we never saw anyone other than cars actually go there.
Swimming. To swim at the Hotel Acuario, the closest pool, you must pay a fee. We never really determined where the fee was paid – everyone we asked had a different answer, and when we went to the restaurant which seemed to be the consensus (not the restaurant BY the pool though, that would be too convenient). Bottom line, it’s a nice pool, but boaters must pay either $10 per person per day or $30 per person per day, which includes a food buffet. No thanks.
There’s a better alternative. Turning left out of the canal road will take you along the “outside” road by the water which curves around and ultimately ends up at the customs/immigration dock with houses which look like they might have been nice once, but a nice arrow shaped swimming pool, bar and even some snacks/food. The fried chicken here (1/2 chicken for $6 CUC) looked and smelled amazing, but we were never there at a mealtime. The swimming was refreshing and we bought drinks – sometimes. They always have beer, but not always other stuff. Once I got sangria, once some vinegary red wine (they didn’t have the juice to make sangria) and once there was nothing if you didn’t want beer. Se la vie! Enjoy the pool! This pool will often have Cubans enjoying their music (full blast of course) and musical gyrations, which we always found entertaining. There will likely be several children joining in the fun as well.
Hemingway Yacht Club (Club Nautico). A nice facility, we found it to be very friendly – open at 11 AM and there’s a bartender who speaks passable English. Technically you have to be a member to have a drink, but other boaters told us to go into the bar and ask for a mojito or beer and we’d be served. Sure enough, we enjoyed a few pleasant evenings sitting outside at the yacht club. Drink prices were not expensive, $2.50CUC per mojito.
Options to Eat in the Marina. The marina is not central, but within walking distance of both Jaimentios and Santa Fe. There are paladares within a mile or so that are walkable. The marina grounds itself contains a few bars, but few options for food. The pool bar at the “far” pool had fried chicken that smelled amazing. The “restaurant” at Hotel Acuario was located on the other side of the street from the lobby and we heard nothing good about the food – especially the pizza, two different boats told us they just left money and couldn’t eat the pizza. There’s a buffet at the Hotel Acuario, but no one I know tried it. Not sure if the disco served food or not, it was always closed when we were there – being the “old” before 10 PM crowd. 🙂
There is one GOOD option for food in the Marina. Papa’s. The Dockmaster told us it had delicious CHINESE food. Huh? But out of desperation one day to beat the heat and excessive humidity, we went up to have a drink and an appetizer. It’s upstairs – just walk beyond the snack bar, through the empty building and look left. There’s a good view of the channel. The restaurant is air conditioned AND SMOKE FREE! Very unusual in Cuba. The egg rolls/spring rolls were average. Vino Tinto (red wine) was $4/glass and a beer was $1.50 (all prices are CUC). BUT the Chicken Fried Rice was the star … $4 and humongous – more than enough for two people if you like Chicken Fried Rice. You can carry out – just ask for “Para Llevar” and be prepared to pay the .50 for the styrafoam container, not a big deal.
Hotel Acuario. Exchange money and buy WIFI cards. They will exchange US dollars anytime they have money – usually $87 CUC per $100US. They will also exchange Canadian, Euros and some other currencies, but only during weekdays when the markets are open so they know the latest exchange rate. The exchange rates were not great, but comparable to what we were getting in the banks when we used this service.
WIFI … buy wifi cards with a code at the lobby desk — when they have them. $2 CUC/hour. You can use your own laptop or other device. When you sign on, it will pop up a window asking for the code and password (which you scratch off the card). It’s slow but usable. We were able to use it from our spot in Canal 1 if I was in the cockpit. The fishing boat in front of us reported no trouble using it inside with their wifi booster antenna.
Important caveat — it works when it’s working. Probably half the month we were there, it wasn’t working. Another caveat – make sure you sign OFF, otherwise it eats up your entire hour when you only used 10 minutes to check & send e-mail. Gggrrrr… Don’t close the sign on window, keep it open or minimalized and click DONE when you’re finished. I also turned off the wifi on my laptop when I was done. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it ate up my time anyway. Frustrating, but at least it was available.
Tours.There are several options for travel. A future post on CommuterCruiser.com will detail the best ways to travel into Havana and other places; however, the Hotel Acuario does have pick ups from most of the commercial bus tours. Even if you book a tour elsewhere, be sure to ask if they will pick you up at Hotel Acuario.
The lobby has a tour desk for TransTour, which is almost never staffed, so you’ll have to find a larger hotel or the actual tour company office in Havana to book a tour. We liked Gaviota Tours – comparing our tour to Vinales with friends that took the same tour on the same day with TransTour – similar itineries however we had a tour of an actual cigar factory (one of the highlights of the day) and they only visited the “farm” growing tobacco. We had good food, they complained about how almost inedible their food was. All in all, for the same price, I’d recommend Gaviota Tours – not that they were perfect, they “forgot” to pick us up at Hotel Acuario, but came back and got us.
That about wraps up Marina Hemingway. Please ask questions or post comments and I’ll try to answer. More Cuba posts to come … “How Much Money To Bring to Cuba” and “Transportation: Getting Around Without Breaking the Budget” are upcoming. If you want me to write on a specific subject, please let me know! Cheers! Jan