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Stepping back in time in Cuba

Cuba is as timeless as it is iconic. We were lucky enough to catch up with Nadine, who joined our Cuba Libre! tour. Read on for her take on this one-of-a-kind destination:
Written by Aimee White, who interviewed Nadine
Date Published: 30 May 2024

Our Cuba Libre! tour encompasses Havana city tours, Che's Mausoleum in Santa Clara and unique biodiversity in Topes de Collantes. This small Caribbean country is famed for its Revolutionary sites, wild landscapes and classic cocktails. It's truly a destination like no other; find out what happened when Nadine joined our 15-day Cuba tour:

Describe Cuba in one word?

Retro. Touching down in Havana felt like stepping into a time machine, complete with 1950s-style Cadillac cars, vibrant architecture and waves of salsa music filling the streets. We wandered along the cobbled streets of Trinidad's old centre, taking in its palaces, churches and cafes; today, it forms a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We also paid a visit to the Che Guevara Mausoleum near Santa Clara, close to where the last battle of the Revolution took place. With this and so many more places we visited, this Cuba tour truly felt like seeing where history was made.

What was your highlight of the trip?

My highlight was hiking in Topes de Collantes Nature Reserve Park. There aren't many Cuba tours that show you the country's great outdoors, so it felt tremendous to spend a couple of days embracing the nature and wildlife.

Along the route, we jumped into freshwater swimming holes, followed riverside trails leading to gorgeous waterfalls and camped out under the eaves of the hacienda's veranda.

Did you learn any new skills or try a new activity?

One night, our tour leader took us to Casa de la Musica in Trinidad. This is an open-air performance venue located on Plaza Mayor, and every night there's live salsa to watch and take part in.

After watching the locals perfect their moves, we joined in. We told ourselves that it didn't matter whether we knew what we were doing, as we focused on simply having a good time together!

How did you find your tour leader?

Alberto went above and beyond to ensure we got the most out of this trip. He was very patient and attentive, taking the time to explain Cuba's history as well as day-to-day practicalities, from navigating the currency to getting off the beaten track.

I think you'd miss a lot of the nuances and context if you didn't have a tour leader in Cuba, especially if you want to venture outside of Havana.

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What was your favourite thing you ate or drank?

Havana is famous for being the birthplace of the mojito cocktail; it's said that author Ernest Hemingway particularly enjoyed them at La Bodeguita del Medio. The daiquiris were delicious, too. It was the sharp, citrus flavours of the drinks that really blew us away. Cuba's food, meanwhile, is more simple, with meals largely consisting of meat, rice and beans.

What were your fellow Explorers like?

There was 10 of us in our small group Cuba tour, and except for two couples, we were all solo travellers. Everyone got on well and we grew close over the two weeks.

In fact, someone from the group contacted me recently to tell me that he'd booked another Explore tour - and hoped that his tour leader would be as great as Alberto!

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What extras did you have to pay for?

We set up a kitty (tip jar) for our tour leader, the bus driver and porters. You pay for any optional activities you want to take part in - like riding an iconic classic car in Havana - and any meals that aren't included in the trip price.

Next, I'd love to join the Central America Explorer tour. It's 25 days through Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama. Bring it on!

What would you recommend packing for this trip?

Situated to the south of Florida and the Bahamas, Cuba is a Caribbean country with a tropical climate, so pack for hot, humid weather. While Explore don't operate many trips in the rainy season, it may be practical to pack a rain jacket or poncho for wetter spells.

For this Cuba tour, I'd recommend packing hiking shoes or comfortable walking shoes. Some of the hikes are rocky, so you may want to consider walking poles, too.

What’s something you would advise others before going?

From east to west, Cuba is longer than England is from north to south. With this in mind, the Cuba Libre! tour is essentially a road trip.

We travelled by minibus (which had air conditioning) and our driver was excellent; he knew how to safely navigate the roads, as they're not all as well built-up and there are lots of potholes and animals.

Take me to Nadine's trip

Nadine's top tips for visiting Cuba

  1. Research: Read up on Cuba's geopolitical situation before you go. Doing a little research goes a long way, although there's plenty more to discover (with the help of your tour leader) once you arrive.
  2. Medical supplies: Bring all medical supplies you think you'll need. It's very difficult to buy these items once you're in Cuba, as the country has limited access to these supplies.
  3. Cash: ATMs are hard to find, so I recommend bringing enough cash with you for the trip. Both Euros and US dollars are accepted, and the rate is better than the local coin.
  4. Supplies: This tour involves a lot of driving, and the service stations don't stock many supplies, so pack a toilet roll, hand sanitizer and snacks to keep you going.
  5. Facilities: Hotels in Cuba are state-run, so the quality and services may not meet the expectations you'd have back home. Expect brief power outages and breaks in hot water.

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