An enthusiastic couple of keen travellers who best like their experiences as raw and authentic as they can get, recently explored Cuba during a long and adventure-packed, two-week road trip that saw them moving around the island’s long and narrow topography.
Seeking to interact with locals as much as possible they planned to drive around Cuba and stay at “casas particulares” along the way with stops in Havana, Trinidad, the Vinales Valley, Camaguey, Santiago de Cuba and Cienfuegos. They also took time to get to grips with some of the country’s colonial history at the Valley of the Sugar Mills and discovered some of the island’s endemic riches at the Zapata Peninsula.
They walked, they hiked, they biked, they drove, they climbed, they toured and followed in the footsteps of Fidel and his rebels in the Sierra Maestra mountain range. Want to find out more about what this intrepid couple got up to in Cuba and what tips they have for fellow travellers seeking similar experiences in Cuba?
In this blog post we interview Hugo and Christina from Breathe with Us, the travel bloggers and adventurers who wanted to get under Cuba’s skin and discover sights and sounds beyond those typically advertised or sold in tourist packages. We asked them how they managed to see and do the things they wanted and whether or not Cuba proved easy to navigate and what limitations they encountered. Read on to see how they made their way around Cuba on their own and see for yourself how rewarding Cuba can be.
1. What inspired you to make Cuba your next destination?
Curiosity. With everyone talking about how Cuba would change with the embargo slowly getting to an end, we decided it was time to go. Not just “before things change” but also because we wanted to experience more of Cuba outside the main tourist hotspots of Havana and Varadero. And we’re glad we did. We found Cuba to be very diverse and with a lot of amazing places to visit.
2. What wouldn´t you leave out of your suitcase when packing to go to Cuba? Of the things you did pack, which items proved the most useful or essential?
It’s not very hard to pack for a trip to Cuba. The weather is great throughout the year and we only brought the essentials with us - comfortable clothes and shoes. It does rain a bit and our rain jacket was very useful a couple of times! Swimming/Bathing gear is a must.
3. Everyone says Cuba will change with the mass arrival of US tourists. Did you feel Cuba was already losing that distinctive spirit that attracted you to it?
Not at all. I felt that everything was still very authentic yet open to change. And by change, I mean more people coming to visit and not to change their culture and way of living.
4. In what ways would you like Cuba to change? In what ways would you want it to stay the same?
Not a lot. Yes, Cuba needs better infrastructures to improve the quality of living of the majority of Cubans. The authenticity needs to remain there and that’s what make the country attractive. Hopefully the increase of tourism won’t make Cuba an unsafe place to visit.
5. What made Cuba “the experience of a lifetime”?
We were very surprised with the nature side of Cuba. Lot’s to do; mountains, nature reserves, diving and snorkelling. It was a pleasant surprise how diverse the country is. With such a rich history, Cuba is also very good place for cultural tourism. The colonial towns are a gem.
6. How easy was it to keep off the beaten path and go off the tourist trail? What would be your key pieces of advice to other travellers seeking the same kind of experiences in Cuba?
Quite easy. Like I mentioned, we wanted see Cuba outside the main busy places and it’s not difficult to do so. Havana is a mandatory stop, but, for example, there are far better beach places than Varadero. Cuba is a big island!
The key to experience Cuba off the beaten path is not to be afraid of going to the places that are not listed on the usual tour routes. Research and ask locals what they recommend. If you’re staying in a casa particular, they will gladly recommend you nice things to do.
7. What kind of traveller would you say Cuba isn't for?
Cuba is for everyone. Most of the tourism of Cuba seems to be connected with group tours and beach resorts. If you’re used to a high standard of accommodation or service, you won’t find it everywhere.
8. What were the biggest challenges you came across driving from Havana to Santiago and back?
Nothing major. We initially thought that the roads would be in worse condition but they were actually in an acceptable state throughout the county. The lack of signs is probably the biggest issue, plus the GPS ban. On the upside, there’s barely any transit and Cubans are really helpful when it comes to asking for directions.
9. Did Cuba meet your expectations? In what ways was it or wasn´t it what you were expecting / looking for?
To be honest we weren’t quite sure what to expect. It’s a different reality and although we have a lot of traveling experience, Cuba promised to be a unique place. It delivered. We were happy to travel all over the island, how safe it was and how friendly everyone seemed to be.
10. Would you go back? Why?
Definitely. There’s a lot to see and do in Cuba and we stayed in places we wished we could have stayed longer, like the Sierra Maestra. Also, we would love to visit the area around Baracoa.
That wraps it up. We hope you find our questions and their answers helpful and insightful if you’re planning a similar Cuba holiday. For more information on any of the Cuban cities, places and attractions they visited check out their blog posts on Cuba where you’ll find more detailed insight into each of their different adventures. From great tips on renting a car in Cuba (which you can and should do well in advance online as car availability is limited) and driving all around the island to staying in “casas particulares” with local hosts and a list of some of the most useful words in Spanish for asking directions and getting around, this is one savvy couple who certainly knew how to make the best of their trip to Cuba.