We pre booked our Cuban holiday with Marcel from Soultime travel whom we found through Responsible Travel. The whole trip was very easy to set up and Marcel was very fast in responding to email queries and setting up phone conferences.
We flew into Havana direct from the UK with Virign airways in April 2012. We had 2 nights in Havana/ 3 in Vinales/ 2 in Soroa/ 2 in a Trinidad casa/ 4 in a hotel on the beach just outside Trinidad/ 1 last night back in Havana.(2 week trip in total)
Overall our holiday was fabulous and it was easy to travel around with our 2 children (aged 10 and 7) We loved Cuba, the warmth and openness of the people , the beauty of the countryside / beaches/ cities and of course the music. We were very impressed with the guides on all the excursions and the format of these trips and we particularly loved staying with families in the casas. All transfers were efficiently organized.
We found It is very important to tip in Cuba and tipping was very much appreciated by recipients.
Our only main issue was that we had been led to believe that all 4 of us could stay in one room, but in many provincial hotels in Cuba this is not possible because maximum number of beds 3.(We had issues at Hotel Soroa and would have done at Costa Sur Trinidad if a last minute upgrade to a bungalow had not been secured) .
> Hotel Sevilla in Havana – -very well located hotel; friendly staff, great pool and fabulous roof restaurant with amazing views. 4 beds in one room.
>Casa in Vinales ( Esther and Domingo)– amazingly friendly welcome and fabulous fresh food/ juices . 2 double beds in one room.
>Soroa Hotel– beautiful location/ friendly staff next to lovely orchid gardens and great viewpoint walk. The hotel had a huge swimming pool – it was green the day we arrived and we only realized how bas it was when it was cleaned and suddenly became blue the next day! ; the hotel also had no money change for 2 days which left us seriously short of money because we had not anticipated this and were not near a town (8km). We stayed in 2 double rooms.
>Casa in Trinidad (Ana and Pablo)– – lovely room/ terrace and friendly welcome. 2 double beds in one room. Very central and easy to explore this beautiful colonial town of Trinidad with its bustling markets/ craft shops/ night time music and lovely viewpoint tower.
>Costa Sur hotel, Trinidad -– bungalow was lovely (2 double/ 1 single) , but otherwise a very disappointing hotel.(to guarantee a bunglaow we found out you needed to book in advance from abroad rather than through a local agency)
>The food was very poor buffet style – a large choice, but we found very little tasty food to eat (the A La Carte restaurant we went to 1 day was better) . With a few exceptions (which we tipped) the service was poor in the main restaurant , though much better in the bars.
>The hotel had a real issue with mosquitoes. While they sprayed the hotel, bungalow doors were left open during cleaning and we returned to find over 100 mosquitoes in the room. There were no nets for sleeping and no sprays so we killed them all (not fun)
>The setting on the beach is beautiful, but the beach was taken over by large groups of Cuban families the whole time and particularly at the weekend when we were staying . The beaches are available for everyone in Cuba but there are signs saying that only hotel guests can use loungers etc which was not enforced by hotel security staff making it hard to find somewhere to sit one day! In retrospect I would select a 1 day visit to the beach in Trinidad and would have selected my beach stay elsewhere (perhaps Cayo levisa)
We travelled by public transport (bus) and this worked really well and was definitely the way to travel between the main towns for us . In particular the Transtour buses worked very well in that they picked up from a hotel and dropped off at a hotel (it was even possible to go from Vinales to Trinidad by passing the centre of Havana which we were not aware of). Time was lost while drivers took their breaks at Cubanacan service stations but otherwise this worked fine.
Our excursions really made the trip and were fabulous. We were so impressed with the local guides, their knowledge and openness. Most of these excursions could easily have been organised on site and not necessarily in advance, but with the children we found it was easier to be sorted upfront.
Ø Havana – very informative walking tour with amazing tour in open top car. As it was hot the 3 hour tour as a little long for our 8 year old and perhaps a slightly earlier start would have helped.
Ø Vinales – walk round the tobacco fields with alexis. Brilliant. Really informative with chance to see cigars rolled and taste pina coladas.
Ø Soroa –Alberto’s tour –6 hour personalized walk through the to a local house where we had lunch. Incredibly informative and very special experience
Ø Trinidad – Toppens. The tour we did to waterfalls/ Rambo tour through the water was excellent .The guide was very knowledgeable about the forest, flora and fauna and very good with the children. Good lunch.
Ø Boat trip to Iguanas from Trinidad–they did try to get us to cayo blanco and our trip was 1 day delayed because of a motor issue but, the next day we went to Cayo iguanas (2 hrs by boat) and loved it – a very special trip where iguanas and big rodents greeted us on the beach as we arrived!