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Cuba Libre! CL

Visiting: Cuba
Trip Duration 15 Days
 

Reviews for Cuba Libre!

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Cuba Libre! reviews verified by reevooReevoo

152 reviews

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Cuba Libre!Scores 8.3 out of 10 based on 152 reviews
(3 out of 10)

Abigail

London
This was my 6th Explore trip. In the past I have always had a good experience, but this trip was deeply disappointing. Explore promised that we would 'get off the beaten track with expert guides.' In fact we followed hundreds of other tour buses on a near-identical itinerary, often staying in generic, mass-market out-of-town hotels, with a guide who seemed to see his primary role as getting us on and off the bus. The fact that we enjoyed ourselves was more due to the friendly dynamic that developed within our group, and the fact that where possible we struck out together without our guide, but with the aids of our Lonely Planets and Rough Guides. We could have done that independently at considerably less cost, and had a more genuine cultural experience that we received on this organised tour.

Explore leader: Armando was polite and professional. He recited names and dates from Cuban history, ushered us in and out of restaurants and hotels, and attempted to answer our questions. However for a well-travelled group that was well equipped with guide books, the added value was practically zero. He volunteered practically no information about the country other than standard-issue communist propaganda, which he recited in a very slow and ponderous fashion, at a level appropriate for primary school pupils. Having travelled to Vietnam a couple of years ago, I accept that this is what passes for history in a communist country, but unlike our Vietnamese guide, Armando seemed unable to move beyond it. He told us practically nothing about society, culture, the environment, international relations, human relationships, daily life etc etc. Trying to extract information from him was like drawing teeth. In the end we just gave up and read our guide books and other holiday reading on Cuba, which provided considerably more enlightening. On other Explore trips, guides have attempted to teach us some of the language, to point out interesting sights from the windows of buses, and to share their personal perspectives on their countries. That, for us, has been a key motivation for signing up to these trips, but it was not offered here. Armando seemed unable to connect with us as people, and baffled by our desire to break out of the standard tourist experience. He did not understand our wish to eat at restaurants that offered more than the basic Cuban food, and made culturally inappropriate remarks about the weights and dietary preferences of certain female group members. He did not understand why, after spending most of the day on the bus, we wanted to spend the evening in town centres not in the generic restaurants of the out of town resorts that Explore unwisely selected for our accommodation. In fact he seemed genuinely confused by what we wanted and incapable of responding constructively or learning from the experience. He seemed to have no concept of the Explore brand. We were just one of many groups that he marches around the country on behalf of foreign tour companies. We recognise that Explore must face challenges in having to partner with a single state-run tourist company, but these should be made plain to customers before they pay the substantial bill for this trip.

Other guides: On the whole these were far better than our tour leader. Our guide in Topes de Collantes was especially good. He was friendly, highly knowledgeable, and interacted extremely well with the group. Conversely the guide on the walk in Vinales was appalling. He spoke no English and compared to the private guide that two of us had hired the day before, he knew nothing and gave many wrong answers to questions. Our driver, Carlos, was very friendly and professional.

Accommodation: The Havana hotel was excellent. The casa particular in Trinidad was so-so: it was not a cultural experience but rather a large, fairly impersonal B&B. The accommodation in Topes de Collantes was, as we were warned, quite basic. Unlike some other commentators on this tour, we did not have a problem with that. We accept that unreliable hot water and occasional plumbing issues are part and parcel of this type of tour and often have to be borne in return for staying in characterful places. So we were a bit upset when our guide frog-marched us - without consultation - out of our of lovely hotel in Sierra Maestra due to plumbing issues, and installed us further down the mountain in a far inferior, characterless concrete block. We also had a huge problem with the hideous, out-own-town, mass market holiday complexes in Santiago, Santa Clara and Vinales – 5 nights in total. I cannot understand why Explore thinks this type of accommodation is appropriate for people who want to get off the beaten track. What’s worse is that we were expected to eat our evening meals there. When we refused (which felt like breaking an unwritten rule, and seemed to surprise our guide) we were left to find our own taxis into the centre of town – which was really quite expensive, although the atmosphere and superior cuisine was definitely worth it.

Food: We had been warned that Cuba was not a gastronomic paradise so were not expecting too much. However except on free days, we were given no choice at all about where to eat lunch, and practically no choice over what to eat – so I cannot understand why these meals are not included in the tour price. Eating door-stop sandwiches for lunch, day after day, with little choice of filling and hardly any vegetables gets quite demoralising, and these were not cheap. When I asked for cheese salad instead of cheese sandwich our guide made me feel like an outcast and made inappropriate comments about me being on a diet. In the evening, our guide expressed disbelief when we requested some variety in our cuisine. Having identified a pizza restaurant in Camaguey we asked to go there: he simply said he did not know the restaurant and left us to it. It was excellent. In fact the best food we ate on this tour was in the restaurants we identified for ourselves, with the help of our guidebooks, and to which we travelled by taxi, under our own steam, having rejected the hotel restaurants where our guide wanted us to eat. The nadir was in Trinidad when he took us to Taberna El Barracon. Two of our group had eaten there on previously on a free night,and reported that the food was very good, so we were looking forward to it. However we were only offered a choice of several, very expensive, 3-course menus. When we asked to see the other menu the restaurant staff denied that it existed – despite one being displayed outside of the front door. When I said I did not want to eat a 3-course meal, our guide simply shrugged and said that this was the only menu that he knew of. If we had been warned that as a group of 8, we would have to eat a set menu, we might have accepted that or chosen to eat elsewhere. As it was we were forced to spend a lot of money on mediocre food that we did not want.

Itinerary: One reason for signing on this tour was to see more of Cuba than would be possible in a fortnight were we to travel independently. In fact the tour tried to cover too much ground. We seemed to spend many days on end on the bus, disembarking only for an unsatisfactory sandwich lunch, with nothing to see at the other end apart from a generic out of town hotel - although perhaps with a better guide the towns in which we ate lunch could have been brought more alive. It would have been better to go to Vinales first, then fly from Havana to Santiago and work our way back by bus. Santa Clara could be cut out altogether. I really enjoyed Topes de Collantes, thanks particularly to the excellent local guide. This was also the sole point on the trip that we got off the beaten track. The trip to Fidel’s hideaway in the Sierrra Maestra was fascinating, and I enjoyed Santiago, Havana and Trinidad. Vinales was also excellent but there just wasn’t enough time there: I don’t understand why, having spent ages getting there (and being dumped out of town, again), we were scheduled to spend the whole of the next day on a beach somewhere else, leaving just a couple of hours in and around the town on the day after that. In fact all but 2 of us rejected the day on the beach and spend a wonderful day touring Vinales using the tourist bus that ran up and down the valley (again with no help from our guide but lots of support from the Rough Guide). That day we hired our own guide and went for a lovely walk. By contrast the scheduled walk the next day was awful. There were at least another 30 walkers and 30 people on horse-back treading the same 1-mile circuit. So much for Explore getting us off the beaten track.
Confirmed traveller: 23 April 2017
Published on: 28 May 2017

Thank you for your feedback on this trip. I am sorry you didn’t enjoy your visit to Cuba. On a comprehensive trip, as you can appreciate, it’s a little more difficult to get off the beaten track as there are iconic locations that are expected to be included. As such this itinerary is full-on to get as much exploration in as possible to balance both aspects, so I am sorry we didn’t get this quite right for you. As you mention, Cuba is suffering a boom presently as everyone wants to visit before it inevitably changes and sometimes the drive forward can alter local interactions. This being said, we are confident this isn’t the norm. The leaders are, indeed, from a state run company and generally not from a culture of customer service. We agree this has challenges but we do mention to fully enjoy the Cuban experience you should travel with a willingness to expect the unexpected and, above all, an adventurous spirit.

(8 out of 10)

Frances

Southend.
Excellent well paced tour. Highlights - Havana, Camaguey, Trinidad, Vinalles and trek to Castro's headquarters.
Tour leader could have been a bit more forthcoming about planning and letting us know the itinerary for the next day, ideal clothing and footwear etc. Information about where we could meet change money and when we could get water etc would have been useful. One occasion where I would have not known what time we were leaving the next day if it was not for other people on the tour. Also tour leader seemed to struggle with translation. Tour leader was not very enthusiastic.
Two long days travel at the end. Is there the possibility of an internal flight?
Very few people wanted the day on the beach after 2 days travel.
Good to have hotels in the centre of places so have easy access to explore and experience local culture in the evenings e.g in Santiago and Vinalles hotels well away from town centre and nightlife/restaurants.
Confirmed traveller: 23 April 2017
Published on: 30 April 2017
(9 out of 10)

Elena

Yorkshire
Overall this tour was a great way of seeing a lot of Cuba in a limited amount of time. There was a great variety of activities and this meant you got to explore the countryside as well as the cities. There were lots of things about Cuba that are confusing to an outsider but as one guide helpfully pointed out to us, don't necessarily try to always understand Cuba, just enjoy it!
Confirmed traveller: 18 April 2017
Published on: 20 April 2017
(4 out of 10)

Patricia

Problems:
Group too large (18);
Leader inexperienced (his first tour);
Accommodation either faded, trying too hard to be sophisticated (and failing), "functional" but not functioning, with exception of casas particulares and hacienda where "modest" and "adequate" were expected and acceptable.
Could have done with spending more time off the beaten track.
Air Europa economy class ghastly! Never again!
Confirmed traveller: 02 April 2017
Published on: 04 April 2017

Thanks for your comments Patricia, I’m sorry to hear you were disappointed with your trip to Cuba. Generally the group size will vary on every trip, but we do give a guidance of the size in our trip notes – it is 12-18 on this trip. We also advise that the standard of accommodation can be basic, particularly in rural areas, as there is a lack of investment in the infrastructure, despite the increase in tourism over the years. However, most of our customers feel that this is part of seeing the ‘real Cuba’ though I have noted your disappointment.

(7 out of 10)

Sandra & Stephen

Birmingham
We knew this tour was going to be 'full on' and it was! It was a very ambitious itinerary and we packed a lot in. We are glad that we went early and had some extra time in Havana as we felt that the time allocated in the trip isn't enough to do it justice. It is an exciting city and there is so much to see. There were so many interesting and different things to see and do in Cuba that it is difficult to choose a highlight, however we particularly enjoyed trekking in Topes de Collantes National Park and experiencing the Haciendas. Generally we enjoyed the history, colonial architecture, the cars, birds, rain forest, beaches, sun and the rum.
The local guides were all articulate and very well informed. Floyd in Vinales was funny and particularly informative.
Although our main tour guide was a very pleasant person and was very attentive when one of us was taken ill (for which he deserves commendation) he did fall below our expectations of an Explore tour guide. This was clearly his first tour for Explore, his understanding of English was barely adequate for the purpose and he was inadequately informed and equipped. He did not have a copy of our itinerary. He did not have his own boots to go trekking in. Sometimes he told us what was going to happen in the wrong order. Our holiday would have been hugely enriched if he had been able to tell us more about what we were looking at. It is fortunate that we had a Rough Guide to Cuba with us. We feel that he has the potential to be a good tour guide but needs support and guidance to be able to achieve this.
Confirmed traveller: 01 April 2017
Published on: 10 April 2017
(9 out of 10)

Josephine

Battle
This is an excellent trip to give an insight to Cuba. By the end of the trip you will have a feeling for Havana; yes there are old cars and elegant, if a little dilapidated sometimes, buildings but so much more. We had opportunities to explore important places like Revolution Square and also view from the bus window the life of this capital town.

A joy of this tour is seeing so much of the country, north /south/east and west and being taken to a number of towns. The bus was comfortable and well driven. Of course a major highlight was trading in Castro's footsteps as we trekked up to his hideout. Seeing this, well preserved, was exciting but so was the fact that we walked through the tropical rain forest to get there.

The variety of accommodation from elegant hotels to home stays to sleeping in the open on haciendas just added to my awareness of the country, its history and current lifestyle. It is a pity that the tour notes do not suggest taking a small bag for the hacienda visits as they do suggest a sleeping bag. The latter was essential. It would also have been useful to know that bathroom cosmetics were so difficult for women to obtain as most of us would happily have taken some small hair shampoos, shower gels etc rather than the normal pens and pencils which are not hard to obtain.

I came home full of memories but also would like to go back in say 10 years. Alas old age might catch up with me and there are so many other places to EXPLORE!
Confirmed traveller: 19 March 2017
Published on: 29 March 2017
(9 out of 10)

John

St Albans
A very interesting tour as Cuba now seems to be at a crossroads between socialism and global capitalism. I wished I could speak a little more Spanish as the Cuban people are open, friendly and with a Latin joie de vivre. They live on the streets, with their front doors always open to passers-by.

I didn’t wish to travel via Madrid, Paris or Amsterdam; so booked a direct flight from Gatwick to Havana with Virgin Atlantic adding a couple of extra days to the beginning and end of the tour. I appreciated the extra time in Havana and stayed with a friendly family in a Casa Particulares.

The treks were really enjoyable and we had the benefit of two knowledgeable local guides who explained some of the flora and fauna unique to Cuba. Finding Fidel’s mountain hideaway (still with kerosene fuelled refrigerator, used for storing food and medicines) was definitely one of the highlights. We were also privileged to visit his tomb in Santiago de Cuba following his recent death, aged 90.

The tour includes a lot of mileage (Cuba is big – many times the size of Jamaica) but in very comfortable air conditioned transport and with a steady driver. This enabled us to see every corner of this varied island.
Confirmed traveller: 18 March 2017
Published on: 19 April 2017
(4 out of 10)

Penelope

Lingfield
The tour seemed quite expensive for what you got. Although not expecting luxury, I was expecting hot showers at the end of the day. I only got that in the Hotel Sevilla in Havana. Even the cold showers were little more than a trickle. The tents, especially at the hacienda Codina, were not fit for purpose. Only one had a working zip. Since, from reading prior reviews, this seems to be a common complaint, I would have expected Explore to have taken action to improve matters.
I was prepared for the rather boring cuisine and the limited range of sandwiches but didn't expect to pay the tourist prices which were way above what the average Cuban could afford. I had read that most entrees in state restaurants are priced at about 2 to 5 CUC but our guide nearly always took us to places where prices were often 15 CUC and above. One of our first lunches cost 18 CUC - we were taken there en route to somewhere by the guide and offered no alternative. There was no menu and no mention of price until the bill came. Should Explore guides be doing this? They should be upfront about the places and give us informed choices of restaurants. We got better at asking about buffet prices in hotels (best value generally) but still didn't always get the chance to make our own arrangements. I feel that the guides should be trained to have our best interests at heart and not that of the Cuban economy. The trip is advertised as getting to know the real Cuba - not to be treated differently as a tourist!
The information about the Revolution was interesting but seldom was there any written explanation in English - not very useful unless your guide sticks with you and interprets from Spanish. It was very frustrating, especially at Che's museum, where our guide wasn't around to translate his letters or anything else. Not much point in visiting.
Highlights of the trip were the treks in the Topes de Collantes Nature ReservePark (despite the tents!) and the trek to Castro's hideaway. Also, the walk around Vinales was enjoyable and gave a true taste of the life in a farming community. Each local guide was very good and entertaining.
There were good parts to the trip and the group itself was very nice but for the reasons above, I can only rate the trip as I have done. There was no comparison with our first excellent Explore trip to Vietnam and Cambodia in 2015 with our wonderful guide Theo.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
Confirmed traveller: 18 March 2017
Published on: 21 March 2017

Hi Penelope, I am sorry you didn’t have hot showers in at the end of the day, that doesn’t sound ideal at all. We do go into quite a bit of detail in the trip notes regarding Cuba’s infrastructure issues and unreliable water service. Though it’s unheard of to have a lack of water across so many days – we have picked this up with the leader to specifically check with our customers, mainly as no one else reported such issues, so she could have rotated you to a room with a working supply.
I have discussed the tents with our agent as, due to previous comments, new ones were sourced in November so it’s a shame that they have not got working zips again. We will see if there is an alternative fastening system that can be used as the zips don’t seem to agree with the environment.
Visitors have a wider selection of food in a standard more in line with tourist expectations and are charged a premium for this. 2 CUC would have been for a local to eat - 10 to 15 CUC is more in line with standard tourist prices. I’m sure you’ll agree that it would be particularly unfair to insist that tourists – who have a greater selection, larger quantity and higher quality food in abundance – only be charged the local rate of an individual who is subject to rationing.

(8 out of 10)

John

Luton
I've just been looking at some of my photo's as when we were asked at the end of the tour to mention highlights, my mind went blank. Even now it's difficult as we packed so much in to the holiday. I've come back for a rest!!

This was my first Explore holiday and I would definitely travel with you again. The variety of the accommodation, the times in the "jungle", the knowledgeable guides, the foray in to an ordinary market to see how the locals shopped were all part of an extrodinary experience. We also had some "R&R".

My only negative comment was that I lugged a two saeson sleeping bag to a warm climate. Please will you tailor this detail to the time of year as my other back and the blanket which was provided would have ensured a much better night's sleep!

All in all, a good holiday.

John
Confirmed traveller: 12 March 2017
Published on: 24 March 2017

Hi John, great to hear that you enjoyed your first Explore experience! I’ve updated the sleeping bag info on our website - with a blanket the 1-season bag should be sufficient for the haciendas as you recommend. Otherwise, I hope to see you booked on another trip soon. 

(9 out of 10)

Elizabeth

Exeter
Tour leader enthusiastic about showing us his country and keen to give us the best experiences. A very experienced and safe bus driver accompanied us throughout. Individual guides in the National parks were excellent over plants, birds and wildlife in general - or Cuba's dramatic history and personel. Home-stays and camp-sites were all part of the experience, although the state of the tents provided was less than ideal. And we felt that the recommended sleeping bags proved far too hot.
I loved the trekking in the mountain areas - and walking into Fidel and Che's camp. The orchid garden en route was a highlight. A comprehensive overview of the island inevitably meant some long drives and the group wondered if there were some other way of reordering the route. Overall another good explore holiday!
Confirmed traveller: 12 March 2017
Published on: 14 March 2017