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Moon Handbooks Cuba (Moon Cuba) Paperback – November, 2000
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Top customer reviews
Christopher Baker is an accomplished "tell it like it is" writer. He has a flowing writing style that keeps you engaged even during the dryer parts of a guide book.
His condensed (38 pages) history of Cuba is one of the best I have yet read in any travel guide. Regarding his sections on Government, Economy, Society and the People, Christopher Baker's writing overshadows the other guides.
After using his guide to investigate, and select,accommodations, food and sights to see in Cuba, I found only one case where the information was not current and that was with a restaurant that had closed. His reviews of accommodations and restaurants were informative, selectively bias and up to date; these are the most important characteristics of a good guide book. He has included superb imbedded blocks of pertinent subjects (i.e., Earnest Hemingway, Chi Guevara, Fidel Castro, the Cuban missile crisis, the special period, sex & tourism etc.), good black & white photos, scores of side bar topics that are full of informative caveats, a good selection of maps and the beginning of web site and Internet addresses.
You owe it to yourself to get the best guide available before you visit Cuba: Get Cuba by Christopher Baker. Highly recommended
The city of Havana takes up another 200 pages or so. Every detail of Havana is covered, from the most exhaulted buildings and museums, to the most trivial and mundane aspects of the city. But organization is sorely lacking. This is a book that is a daunting challenge in any respect to carry around with you (at 600+ pages, the book alone might tip the scales at airport check-in).
One thing we were unprepared for during the trip is the sheer volume of attractions compacted in Old Havana. While Baker cannot be faulted for devoting a good amount of space in the book to these dazzling places and describing their unique details, they are unbelievably difficult to find in the book because they are not organized in the same fashion typical of many guidebooks (i.e., numbered and cross-referenced on a map). Instead, Baker uses the bizarre tactic of organizing Old Havana attractions by street in a straight linear pattern, making it daunting to find his comments on a particular building or museum if one decides to just wonder around. In other words, Baker expects that even if you are staying in the middle of Obispo street, as we were, you should walk blindly through to where the street originates so that then, and only then, you can follow along with his narrative. In fact, he offers no help whatsover in suggested walking tours anywhere in the country. Imagine a guidebook for New York being written so as to describe all of the attractions on Broadway, from lower Manhattan to the upper west side, then immediately continuing by describing the attractions on Greenwich back in lower Manhattan, and you get a good idea of what passes for "organization" in this book. Apparantly, the author and publisher expect you to travel a street in A to Z fashion, then continue on a parallel street back at A, with no numerical cross-references on a map to boot.
I referenced the book while traveling in the area of the Bay of Pigs two weeks ago. First of all, there is not much to see or do in the Bay of Pigs other than to go to the beach (and there are much better beaches), despite Baker's claims and long passages about this area. The museum, which Baker raves about ("superb," he calls it), I found terribly amatuerish (guns...lots of guns...and very poor quality photos and captions). If you have seen one Revolutionary museum in Cuba (and there are much better ones in Havana), then you have seen them all. It is a long detour to go to the Bay of Pigs only to find that there is not much to see once there, unless one is going to go through the nature preserve of Zapata. Buried in the book is a very useful detail that, once leaving the Bay of Pigs, make sure and take the first fork, because the second fork is a road that is unmaintained. Unfortunately, this valuable detail was so carefully hidden amidst other lengthy prose that I did not see it until being well into the bad road.
Further complicating matters, is that Cuba is in a state of massive remodeling. Old Havana's and Trinidad's museums are in a state of massive restoration or adaptive reuse (for example, Casa Brunet in Trinidad is closed for a year of remodeling), and that makes some of Baker's descriptions moot. There are two massive art museums under construction right now. By the way, the architecure museum in Trinidad (and the wonderful guide there) is one of the best museums we saw in the country and gets only scant mention in this book. Also, I disagreed with many of Baker's beach recommendations -- the most astounding beach I witnessed, 23 kilometers of perfect and untouristed sand and water, was near Remedios (Cayo de Las Brujas/Cayo de Santa Maria), virtually ignored by Baker but given a strong recommendation in Fodor's.
Despite its shortcomings, I found much useful information. With better organization, this book would easily be the essential guide to Cuba. Unfortunately, I could never figure out how to retain all of Baker's good details in a valuable way for my journey. This book needed a hard-nosed editor with a whip and a strong sense of organization. I bought virtually all of the guidebooks for Cuba, and a better guide for pratical travel purposes is Fodor's (I am usually not a fan of their books, but their Cuba guide is excellent in all respects).