- Overall, an excellent trip, with great travelling companions and a really good guide (Jose Luis).
Flights: I was offered a flight that was not direct (with Air Europe I think), but when I asked about direct flights, the Virgin Atlantic flight from Gatwick to Havana was no more expensive, so I cannot think of any reason why you would offer the other flight.
Accommodation: we were put in casas particulares rather than in hotels in Havana and Trinidad, and I think this was better than staying in hotels, besides being a lot cheaper. In Havana, the houses were very close together, which meant it was easy for the group to meet. The houses I stayed in were very good; both Mara's Home in Havana (with beautiful terrace for eating and relaxing) and Casa Azul in Trinidad had nice rooms with ensuite bathrooms and were run by very friendly people. My only criticism would be that in Trinidad the houses were a bit far from the centre; it would have been nice to be able to go back to the house and then do a bit more exploring, but this seemed a bit of an effort - perhaps I should have tried walking into town; on the coach and by bici taxi the way seemed very complicated but this may have been due to a one way system that would not bother a walker. The hotels in the other places were fine, although in Santiago de Cuba it was a long way from the centre, which was a pity as the centre of town was nice and there were several museums to visit - everyone chose to take the coach back to the hotel rather than find the way back ourselves so we missed out.
The itinerary was good - I liked Vinales, Las Terrazas and all the places we stopped between overnight stops, such as Cienfuegos, Camaguey, Che Guevara's memorial. We saw so many places that I can't think of them all! The trek to Fidel Castro's hideout in the mountains was also good. When we arrived for the 3-night stay at Cayo Ensenachos, I was thinking that perhaps 2 nights would be enough, but there had been a storm overnight and the beach was closed - if we had left a day earlier, we would not have been able to use the beach at all, so in the end I was pleased to have the extra day. And interesting to see another side of tourism in Cuba - the all-inclusive package attracting Canadians in droves.
The thing I liked least (an optional activity) was the Buena Vista Social Club evening, which was expensive, uncomfortable and had a long show, which would be great if it's your taste in music.
Jose Luis was a brilliant guide. His English was excellent and he was very humorous. But he also told us all about the history and present day life in Cuba as well as answering the many questions of an inquisitive bunch of Explore tourists. He was also around to help us if necessary.
Best to bring pounds sterling rather than try to find ATMs. Although at the end of the trip I found that I could get money from the bank by having a debit card and passport, although all bank visits require quite a lot of time - it seems only one person is allowed in the bank at a time, so queuing outside required.
In all, a fascinating trip that has broadened my knowledge of Cuba. I am now pondering how to run a centralised economy successfully and how to survive without succumbing to the influence of more powerful countries.
Full marks to Cuba for not having advertising hoardings!
Published on: 04 February 2017