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Destinations Caribbean Cuba

Small group adventures in Cuba

Cuba is one of those countries that really lives up to all of the hype. It's such a mass of contradictions - we hear stories in the press of trade embargos; of locals clamouring to leave by the next boat, while others staunchly live by the Revolution, and Fidel Castro has gained almost mythical status around the world. The reality is that this enigmatic country really does live up to all of the cliches, but underneath the amazing American classic cars and the infectious live salsa music, a holiday in Cuba uncovers a much more varied and complex country. It's really quite amazing to think how long the revolution has lasted in the Caribbean sunshine.

The colonial mansions and faded art deco grandeur in the cities of Havana and Trinidad are the perfect location to start your Explore holiday to Cuba, amid the smell of cigars and the taste of Havana Club rum. You can listen to the strains of 'salsa y son' in the local music halls, where the wonderful locals are always keen to encourage even the most nervous of salsa dancers to join in. If you'd rather concentrate on liquid pleasure, there are cocktail making classes on offer where you can taste some of the local rum and become the master of mojitos.

Outside of the cities are natural highlights that are often a surprise for visitors to Cuba who expect a bleak Communist landscape. In the west of the country, near the town of Vinales, lie spectacular and steep limestone hills next to vast tobacco plantations. To the east are the mountains of the Escambray and Sierra Maestra ranges, where gushing waterfalls tumble down amid lush rainforest, and you can sleep out under the stars. Meanwhile, conjure the image of the perfect Caribbean beach holiday and you'll find a 'playa' in Cuba to fit the bill. The secluded sands around Cayo Ensenachos create a more exclusive destination, while the proximity of Playa Jibacoa to Havana makes it perfect for a relaxing and easily accessible beach extension.

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With several different types of accommodation on offer in Cuba, it's important to understand the difference before you book your holiday.

Casa Particulares

A Casa Particular is a type of homestay unique to Cuba. For many years now the Communist government has given Cuban citizens the opportunity to earn private money by letting out rooms in their houses to tourists. Staying in a casa offers the visitor a special opportunity to experience Cuban hospitality in local accommodation adapted for tourism. The number of rooms, quality, facilities and access to other areas of the house such as the living room varies massively but as a general rule the majority of Casas are clean, basic, centrally located and can host only a handful of guests. Casas are generally run by the owner and members of the family that live there and the standard of English spoken will vary from zero to fluent, which is a good opportunity for you to practice your Spanish. They are often full of history, family photos and memorabilia, providing you with a deeper insight to Cuban life than a hotel stay.

On an Explore holiday to Cuba you can choose an itinerary that only uses Casas Particulares in certain destinations, or we also have a trip where you can stay for 7 nights in homestays and really integrate yourself into everyday Cuban life.

Hotels

Cuba benefits from a range of different hotels, from the large colonial-style properties in Havana to the smaller accommodation in towns like Vinales or Santa Clara. It's worth remembering that hotels are mainly government owned, so infrastructure and service levels can be erratic. Cuba benefits from some stand-out accommodation, like the famous Hotel Nacional in Havana, which you can stay in on our Premium trip to the island - a holiday that explores Cuba in style.

All-inclusive Hotels

Explore's normal hotel policy is not inline with staying in all-inclusive resort hotels that don't encourage exploration of the local area. However, we do have two trips in Cuba where this is simply the best option available in two specific destinations, integrated into itineraries where you are exploring the rest of the island with local guides, a local Tour Leader and eating in local restaurants. On our Family trip to Cuba, for example, you can stay for two nights on Ancon Beach, giving your children chance to take part in a host of different beach activities like kayaking or, if they are old enough, diving.

It goes without saying that there is so much more to Cuba than simply a beach destination. Given the mountain ranges to the east, and the long stretches of flat land connecting the length of the country, Cuba is a fantastic location for biking and hiking holidays.

Cycling

The Cubans don't generally have enough vehicles, and this (selfishly) makes for wonderful cycle tours where you encounter more horses and carts than cars. A cycle holiday in Cuba isn't just about rushing from point to point as fast as possible. Cycling through Cuba is a great way to get under the skin of the country and interact with locals, taking in the impressive landscapes of limestone 'mogotes' (hills typical to the Pinar del Rio region) and rolling tobacco fields. Riding through the small towns and villages, the locals shout their 'hola's as cyclists pass by, and the occasional fresh fruit stall pops up around the corners, just perfect for something juicy and refreshing during a riding day. As a sustainable, enjoyable way to travel around Cuba you can't beat the freedom of being on two wheels.

Walking

If cycling isn't for you, but you enjoy being active and outdoors, a walking trip in Cuba can also tick those boxes. We recommend the area around Trinidad as having some of Cuba's top hiking spots, particularly in the Topes de Collantes nature reserve park in the Escambray Mountains, Cuba's second-largest mountain range. Here you can find the best network of hiking trails in Cuba, covered with mossy vines and leafy jungle which hide a multitude of bird and plant species. Most hikes here tend to end at a waterfall, so despite the humidity you have the chance to cool off.

The best time of year to visit Cuba is between December and May. Very little rain falls in these months so you can expect warm days and beautiful clear blue skies. June signifies the start of the wet season but don’t write off visiting Cuba at this time of year, as it’s not the wet season we are accustomed to in the UK. The weather is still warm and travelling to Cuba out of peak season means fewer people and an even warmer welcome from the Cubans that you’ll meet along the journey.

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