We decided to do a tour for the majority of our time in Cuba. It definitely isn’t the cheaper option but it allowed us to see a lot of the island in a short space of time. We started in Havana and then made our way to Vinales, Cayo Jutias, the Bay of Pigs, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Playa Ancon, Santa Clara before ending back in Havana (all that in a week!). This isn’t to say you couldn’t move around and visit lots of places without a tour, we met up with our old housemates who also happened to be there at the same time and they were doing their own thing – travelling between places via taxi.
However, I learnt so much from our tour guide who had fabulous English, was incredibly knowledgeable, patriotic and happy to answer all our questions, no matter how insane. Tourism is currently Cuba’s second biggest industry and is expected to become number one in a few months’ time. For this reason, a job in tourism attracts the most intelligent and hardworking people and our tour guide was both. From her we were able to learn about the history, revolution, education, healthcare, politics, music and culture. Therefore, when we were at certain places I think got more out of it as I had a better understanding of where we were visiting, she could translate (for example the Bay of Pigs museum is completely in Spanish) and help us out if needed.
I’m glad I did the tour, we met some lovely people but travelling in such a big group also had its downfalls, such as everything taking time to happen. From the group making a decision to us all buying water and using toilets at a service station (slowness is also part of being in Cuba anyway so you can imagine what it was like with a tour of 18 people). We had issues with bills (see my later post about scams) and the tour itself had a lot of “added extras” that can quite easily add up – for example the day we went to a national park just outside Trinidad we had to pay the coach driver to take us there. It definitely wasn’t a cheap option and if you add up what we paid in flights and spending money this was not an inexpensive holiday overall. Which seems crazy when you are there and the mojitos are less than £3! I think it does help that the tour and flights were paid for a few months ago so it didn’t hurt the wallet quite so much at the time. And the convenience of being taken from one place I wanted to visit to another with minimal effort on our parts definitely won out for me. If we had more time I think we could have done it on our own (for example there’s a tourist train between Santiago de Cuba and Havana that only runs once a week) but we also may have missed out on some amazing moments through our lack of knowledge of the country and our very minimal Spanish skills.
If anyone out there is thinking of doing a tour this is the one we did and I do recommend; G Adventures Cuban Rhythms Tour