- An amazing cycle trip around central Cuba with a great group and Cuban leader, Arli.
As you arrive in Havana airport you first experience the more casual lifestyle.
Our baggage was on an unnamed carousel that catered for all the flights. Ensure your case is well individualised for easy recognition as sight/access is restricted. It is very hot and there is no water available so take some from the aeroplane.
EXPLORE should have noted that we were required to fill in a custom form at the airport as it was very hit and miss if you were handed one. It wasn't until queueing to leave the arrivals that it became apparent.
We had booked in a group of 6 and were driven to our first night in Havana. We had no idea where we were going ( and the non English speaking taxi driver was not much the wiser).
EXPLORE please could the address of each overnight stop be available
(at the time. It is appreciated that it changes).
EXPLORE please provide water for the transfer
as some in our group had no Cuban money, food or drink until breakfast the next morning.
EXPLORE please say in your notes that the Cuban leader will take you to an ATM the next morning. We found having stirling was no use.
It is suggested at your first meeting with your Cuban leader, Arli,
that each person pays into a kitty for water, tips etc.
A detailed account is given to a group member at the end of the trip to audit.
We packed a lot into our long days, starting early (which is fine because of the time difference of 5 hours) and not arriving at our final destination until 730pm each night. It would have been good to know these late timings each day. We stayed some nights at large complexes where dinner was served, too.
Some evenings we were in guest houses and although Arli collected us from there and took us to suggested restaurants in which to eat, it was often via another town feature, so the route back to our 'casa' was not obvious. Again, a town map with the guest house address would be useful. It was particularly windy one evening and we were sitting on the roof which many found to be really chilly. Eating under cover is advisable.
The meals were limited but OK. Taking a black pepper grinder with you enlivened much of the food. Mayo and salad dressing were also in short supply! I did enquire as to the seasoning (herbs and spices) they used but it was suggested the lack of use was to appease the tourist's palate!
It was a lovely temperature during the day, but when the sun set at 5-6 then you soon needed another layer to have available . It was also useful to have your passports in the day bag/coach for easy book ins at the your evening stops.
Our guide certainly knew his Cuban history; our days were filled with interesting visits, culminating in the death of Fidel Castro as we left Havana! There was not weeping and wailing and life continued as usual; we saw no visual signs of their anguish as suggested on the BBC website.
There were substantial differences in the cycling days; most of the group felt that the first 2 days could have been longer. The furthest day was jolly hard work as there was a headwind which felt like cycling in porridge. At least you could see the gentle undulations ahead.
EXPLORE There was a query as to whether the tour could have been reversed,
as the wind always seemed to be facing you?
The standard of toilets left much to be desired but if you always had with you tissues, baby wipes, hand sanitizer then the fact that there was no door/toilet seat/ water /soap was OK!
There were panniers available for the bikes but EXPLORE bells would have been useful.
Also a general code word call for pot holes/sudden stopping en route
Enclosed toed sandals were great for cycling.
We had 2 beach stops: one was near the day catamaran opportunity,
which was empty but for other Brits! Playa Ancon beach was noisy in front of the hotel, but if you turned left then the blaring music was much less in evidence. A travel towel was useful and so much smaller than normal. There was a beach bar further right. It was a good relaxing time there and a pleasant cycle back into Trinidad (with headwind!)
We asked for a map to guide us back.
EXPLORE a map should have been mandatory.
The second beach stop was at an all inclusive resort on Cayo Santa Maria, where we ate lunch and spent the afternoon. Many of us felt this was an unnecessary hour detour each way, out of our way; it was a nice resort by the ocean and the food OK but they couldn't make a gin and tonic (lemonade!) or a mojito and the wine was watered!
EXPLORE We could have cycled further that day and then driven to our night stop via Remedios. This was a resort where we could actually have relaxed before dinner, rather than our usual arrive, change, eat dinner and go straight to bed ready for our prompt departure the next morning.
As mentioned the food was adequate but if you normally snack on cereal bars etc then take them all with you. The first shop we saw was in Sancti Spiritus, half way through the week.
This was our first experience with EXPLORE and we look forward to becoming acquainted another country with them in then future.
Published on: 10 January 2017