This was a very enjoyable, well planned and interest packed holiday, which can be enjoyed on a number of levels. You can just sit back and soak up the tourist attractions: historic towns, beaches, countryside and revolutionary history which are provided in bucket loads, or you can delve deeper and try to understand the unique and enduring culture of the Cuban people. There are some long drives, but apart from one repeated section, the countryside is so interesting it’s never boring, and you can always “classic car spot” along the way. Both the food and the hotels were far better than I’d expected, and almost every night there were opportunities, if you wanted, to join in social activities with live music, dance and irresistible Cuban cocktails. Who could ask for more?
Please note that the decision was taken last year to stop staying in Holguin and travelling along the coastal road to Baracoa based on feedback from our local drivers and leaders that the road condition had deteriorated to an unsuitable state. It was raised at our Cuban leader’s annual meeting that they were unhappy taking that route due to the growing risk of the bus getting stuck in potholes and being stranded in a remote location. The journey was already long and getting longer due to the slow speeds that had to be driven, so it was adversely affecting the itinerary in terms of timings and drawing some client complaints about the amount of time spent on the bus.
It is true that we now take the same road route between Santiago and Baracoa in both directions, and the journey is broken each time by weather-dependent beach stops near to Playa Imias. There are no set beaches that we visit, instead each guide has their favourite places to stop off and we find that flexibility usually works best. Journey time is now reduced along with the risk of enduring frustrating delays.
Staying in Bayamo on the way down rather than Holguin is a slight improvement in terms of what the town has to offer to visitors. Most groups don’t have a second night in Bayamo – After two nights in Santiago we go to the Sierra Maestra where our preferred and usual accommodation is called ‘Hotel Villa Santo Domingo’ in a rural setting just on the edge of the mountain range. Due to the popularity of the area, combined with a lack of accommodation options and the administrative challenges of making reservations with state-owned lodgings, we are sometimes unable to get space here and so, as per the trip notes, have a second night in Bayamo instead.
The optional excursion to Vinales at the end of the trip has until now been operated separately on a group share basis by the governmental tourism agency rather than being run by Exodus. The standard of the excursion recently fell below our expectation level in terms of service and so we are no longer recommending it (although clients still have the option to join it should they wish to). In 2015 we will be operating our own improved version of the Vinales Valley excursion so that clients can travel privately with the Exodus group leader as per the rest of the tour.
If anyone has any questions about 'La Isla Grande' itinerary or other Exodus trips in Cuba then please feel free to get in touch.
- Trip Manager