I don’t remember when Cuba became part of my “travel bucket list”. It has been there for years though. Recently I have actually started feeling a sense of urgency when it came to visiting the country. I think I’m already a few years “late” to the party, but it’s also nice to see a country that’s a bit more in transition than it used to be before. There are people who are adamant that Cuba was better ten years ago, I don’t know about that. All I know is that I loved my visit and that it’s on top of my list of favourite countries.
I think a part of why I love the country so much is due to my mode of travelling. It was the first time I joined a group tour (I’m not counting trips during my university years with fellow students), and I have to say I have become quite a fan. I will test this formula in a few weeks when I travel to Peru with another group tour.
I chose Djoser as tour operator. There are a few companies in the Netherlands that are known for their easy-going travel. Their itineraries are not filled to the brim with activities and there is plenty of free time.
The companies I decided between were Shoestring, Sawadee, G-Adventures and Intrepid (which are both international). The reason Djoser won was mainly due to the timing of the trip in November. I have never used any of the other companies before, but I’m sure I’ll test them at another time.
It might be good to note here that I’m not sponsored by Djoser. I loved the travel style, the people who joined the trip, the itinerary & the country itself, and I’m writing this post as an outlet of my enthusiasm.
Djoser offers two main options when it comes to trips to Cuba. One is a 14-day trip and one a 20-day trip. I opted for the 14-days in order to get a taster of the country and to focus my attention on the west part of the country only.
Where will you go?
The Djoser tour is jam-packed with fun destinations & places to visit.
Havana is the first stop of the trip. The standard excursions included a walking tour of Old Havana & a trip to Fusterlandia. We also had the option to sit in an old-timer to enjoy the city and to cruise along the Malecón. Who am I to say no to that?
Read more here: All my posts about Havana.
Pinar del Rio
We had the most stops in Pinar del Rio. Here, we visited cigar factories, rum factories, orquidearios in Soroa, natural pools in Las Terrazas, a beautiful beach in Cayo Jutias and the beautiful karst landscape of the Vinales Valley itself.
If you take anything away from this post, it should be that Vinales Valley and its surrounding area are worth a visit.
Read more here: Viñales – What to do in and around the Valley
Guajimico itself is a nice and remote place with bungalows (more about that in the “accomodation” section). The road there took us past Bay of the Pigs (Playa Giron) and Cienfuegos. Great places to visit when you’re on the road in Cuba and you’d like to learn more about its history.
I have already written a book-long post about this destination, which you can read here. In short, Trinidad is everything you would imagine Cuba to be. Quiet cobblestone streets, old-timers & friendly locals.
Varadero was a destination I would have loved to skip, since it’s all about its resorts. I did love our journey there, which took us past Manaca Iznaga – a sight with a tower which offers a view over the former sugar plantations – and of course Che’s Santa Clara. This was one of my favourite sights of the trip. Not only can you find the train here which Che has derailed during the revolution, but also his mausoleum.
If you’re interested in the east of the island, you could opt for the 20 day tour, where you will visit both the aforementioned sights and also Sierra Maestra NP, Santiago de Cuba & Guardalavaca. These are sights which I will definitely visit another time in order to satisfy my Che Guevara related cravings.
Where will you stay?
Djoser picked a great mix of state-run hotels, privately run casas & bungalows to satiate everyone’s needs.
We stayed in hotels in Havana (3 nights) & in Pinar del Rio (2 nights). Havana’s hotel was terribly run-down and I didn’t enjoy waiting in line to sit at a roastingly hot morning buffet. I was lucky enough that my room didn’t have broken showers, or cockroaches which the other travellers did suffer from. Hotel Vueltabajo in Pinar, however, I can highly recommend!
We stayed in a bungalow in Guajimico for 2 nights, which I can also highly recommend especially if you’re travelling with a group. It’s quite remote, so if you’re with a group or a family that means that there are plenty of occasions for debauchery and fun.
We stayed in privately run Casa Particulares in Trinidad for 2 nights, which is a great experience. You stay with a family in the casa which is a sort of B&B. It’s not easy for Djoser to arrange, because three to four people can stay in casas; so I can imagine it takes some logistic shuffling. The experience for the travellers is great though.
Finally, we stayed in an all-inclusive resort in Varadero for 2 nights. I would actually like to recommend people to not visit Varadero. I would instead opt to visit the cayos a bit more rather than this resort-y town.
Who Are Your Fellow Travellers?
Djoser’s groups have an average of 16 travellers. The minimum is usually 8 and the maximum around 20-22. The minimum age is 18 and there is no age limit as long as the person is healthy enough to enjoy the somewhat more adventurous tours Djoser puts together. Our tour had a perfect mix of young & old and singles & couples.
Most of the props are also due to our great Djoser guide & lcoal guide (which is required in Cuba). They really made sure everyone was participating and was having fun.
When to Go?
Cuba can be visited all-year round. It’s in the tropics so it’s almost never colder than 25 degrees Celsius. The dry season is in our winter from October to April. It rains occasionally from May until August.
What to Eat?
I was slightly worried about the food in Cuba, because I had heard so many negative stories. In the end, I had a delicious meal everywhere we went. The options are often limited to chicken, pork & fish, if you’re lucky restaurants have lobster for example – vegetarians will not have a great selection in the country. You should be ready to eat a lot of rice & beans.
The food options might be limited, but Cubans are great chefs. You never get plain-old chicken without delicious flavours!
Cuba has two different currencies. One is the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), which is almost 1:1 with the US Dollar. You need to bring either Dollars or Euros with you and at the airport you can exchange these for CUC. Don’t take CUC home with you with the plan to exhange them, because you can only exchange this currency within Cuba.
The other currency is the Cuban Non-Convertible Peso (CUP) or Meneda Nacional (MN) or National Peso, there are approximately 24 CUPS to one CUC. The bills are very similar, so be sure to look at the wording closely, especially when getting change from a CUC bill.
All foreign visitors require travel insurance when travelling to Cuba. I requested a written document from my travel insurance so that I could bring it with me. If you are asked for proof that you have insurance and you don’t have a valid document you will be required to purchase Cuban insurance for the duration of your visit.
Cuba is a great country for a digital detox. It will be very hard to find wi-fi points around the different cities. In some of the major hotels, you will find solid internet but due to the amount of people trying to access it, it will be slow.
Bring Medication & Essentials
Cuba is limited on supplies.
It might be cliché, but most of all: just enjoy! Take it easy & surrender to the Cuban’s way of más o menos (more or less). If you do that, you’ll be guaranteed to love the country and its people!