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“Appearances can be deceiving.....for the lover of smaller resort life”

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Islazul Villa Don Lino
Ranked #4 of 4 Hotels in Rafael Freyre
Reviewed 6 March 2012

From February 14th to 28th I had the pleasure of being booked at the Villa Islazul Don Lino, in Playa Blanca, Rafael Freyre, Cuba.

I've been in the Holguin province a fair amount of times before, and stayed at the Luna/Mares, which I also loved. This time I chose the Don Lino due to the affordable cost, and because it was quite small and easier to manuever. I also planned to travel alot so I needed an affordable option as a base camp.

The experience I had at Don Lino was amazing.

The drive from the airport is not overly long, the check in was quick and easy. I was set up in my room before I knew it and able to get cleaned up and check out the property....this will not take long, lol.

On the plus side for this resort -

The staff - are absolutely fantastic overall. The overall majority were very happy, friendly, attentive and just good people. The one or two individuals I encountered who were not, you will encounter anywhere, just in greater numbers.

The food - Once again, I found the food very good at Don Lino, similar to other lower rated Cuban resorts. The selection is not overly large, though what was offered was fresh, tasted good, and prepared well. Alot of food with nutrtion, so I saw many tourists confused as to what to do with it.

Location - If you are looking for a place away from the usual mega resorts, and near more authentic Cuba, then this is a great option. Quiet (when I am not there), peaceful and great for a easy going individual. The atmosphere is enough to get someone to release some stress and appreciate life.


Now - time to note a few of the important points, to me anyway, which can help one decide if Don Lino is for them,

The Beach - the beach here is small, rocky at points, and there are sharp shells and corral in many places. Water shoes are a must, However, there is good snorkelling, and one day I saw thousands of fish.

The Bars - I really liked both bars at Don Lino. I really did not like that they close around 10-11pm. I understand why they do, as they cater to a majority of older clients. My solution was to buy liquor for the evening, and try and find a spot to have a mini party where I did not disturb other guests. Well, I always seemed to disturb other guests, though still had some great mini-partys. I also went into the local towns at night often and let loose there in the evening.

Currency Exchange - Due to restrictions beyond the staff's control, getting money exchanged can be difficult at Don Lino. Also remember, bills with tears or writing on them are often not accepted. It is not the staff's fault, it is a rule they have to follow. I recommend going to a bank in the local towns through the day if you cannot get your cash there.

Tourists - In a small resort, you will get to see and make an impression of your fellow guests in a relatively short time. Most of the guests at Don Lino seemed like good, solid people. Out to have a quiet, relaxing holiday. This is one reason I left the resort often and cut loose elsewhere. However, also remember this. Cost effective, out of the way places such as this also attract another type of tourist. One who perhaps isn't there for the typical reason most people are. I did not see a huge amount of sucio hombre's here, though I did see a couple that I have run into in other provinces. Often, if you see two men travelling together, and they look awkward and out of place, take notice. After watching for a period, you may be able to determine what they are there for. Some are just everyday people who are ok. Others are not.

Fridges - I like to drink, and I like cold drinks. The Don Lino from what I saw of rooms is absent of fridges, so bring a cooler bag and ask for ice. Or drink lots of red wine.


I liked the Don Lino to the degree that I am heading back today. The overall package is just what I have been looking for, and for many others, I think it will be the same.

Room Tip: Ask nicely at the front desk for any options that may be available. Remember to ask nicely.
  • Stayed: February 2012, travelled with friends
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9  Thank ElToroLoco75
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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Reviewed 2 March 2012

Last year's stay at the Don Lino was fantastic; it was small, friendly, and intimate. But the new construction (approximately 18 block house style buildings [25 ultimately]) housing up to 8 persons per building, is a deal breaker. The current capacity is 3 times that of last year...and growing. The new units, while somewhat attractive, are noisy (paper thin walls and floors), and set back from the water's edge. If possible, book an older unit near the water (#37 is the best of the bunch).

Unfortunately, this growth isn't accompanied by a supporting infrastructure. The number of bikes remains the same and so does the size of the wait staff. These folks are severely over worked (but still perform with grace and a smile). Kudos to all the chefs, servers, and cleaners--they're wonderful. The management team also does a lot with very little.

Beware some of the new practices adopted by guests. They include hoarding bicycles (hidden in their rooms all week), so that others can't use them despite booking them. Also new is claiming a beach lounge chair by throwing a towel on it first thing in the morning, and not using it at any point during the day. These resources are now at a premium with the increased capacity, made scarcer yet by unthinking and selfish louts.

Also beware the overbooking policy and practice. Some guests, traveling as a group, were split up (and sent to a VERY poor hotel in neighboring Guardalavaca--not even in sight of the ocean because the Don Lino was said to have been overbooked). They dug in their heels and were eventually returned to the Don Lino a couple days later.

Things have changed...and dramatically. The charming animals that used to wander the rounds are gone. Much of the friendliness and grace and class that was a hallmark of prior clients is gone. There's now an over abundance of loud and disrespectful guests (the majority being chain smokers). One really can't escape the clouds of Export A and Gitanes cigarette smoke, even at dinner. And if I see another portly middle aged idiot, packed into a Speedo (picture an overstuffed sausage casing) loudly pontificating, drink(s) in hand just before the dinner hour.... Well, you get the picture.

Will I be back? Probably not. I'll miss the staff and some of the repeat guests. Too often, as in this instance, a good thing has turned sour. Doubtless, the planners meant well. But too many of the changes are negative.

Room Tip: Rooms on the water (units in the low #20s to high #30s) are the quietest and offer the best views.
  • Stayed: February 2012, travelled solo
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5  Thank Tobias P
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 2 March 2012

Perfect for getting away from all the other Cuba party goers. However the food at supper time should be skipped it is pretty bland.
Breakfast, lunch are much better than expected.

  • Stayed: February 2012
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Thank Bobbdigi
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 28 February 2012

First of all Don Lino is the place to be if you wanna experience Cuba. The resort is cozy super friendly and the staffs is very accommodating, if you want to visit whatever you want just ask and they will help you. I went couple of time to the beach PARTY at Guardalavaca which was AMAZING I danced sooooo much it was so much fun and then back into our hotel where you relax in peace, you don’t have to worry about hundreds of kids running around, it’s really an oasis .There’s also a village close by if you want to feel the Cuban vibe which we went by horse ride :-p. The food was good nothing super fancy but that was definitely not a deal breaker. Don Lino really exceeded my expectation the rooms are clean the pool clear everybody down to earth. I came back with such peace, relax and a tan of course!
Miss you Cuba!

Stayed: February 2012, travelled with friends
4  Thank Amal-Amelia
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 27 February 2012

I've been to Don Lino many times, both by myself and with my family and have seen many changes. The food this year is much improved in quality and there was quite a lot more fresh fruit to be had. It is a calm, quiet family resort with many older people there as well as multi-generational family groups and young families with well behaved small children and babies. I love it there and will definately return.
I do not like the new buildings as they will double the number of visitors and I am afraid will permanently change the feeling of Don Lino being a large family but I understand why it is necessary. The problem with the new buildings is also that the plumbing leaks and there is no sound barriers in the walls or floors. This is something that must be remedied quickly.
My preferential accomodation is the cabins behind the dining room, just across from the pool. They are clean (but basic), have plenty of hot water and a mini patio where you can sit and listen nightly to the Cuban band playing. My other choice would be the older cabins on the ocean front. They have a little sitting room in front and a bedroom behind a divider.
If you are coming for night life, don't. This is a quiet resort where reading, swimming, horseback riding and day trips are the norm. Bring your googles to look at the fish and your water shoes so you do not cut your feet on the coral. There are decent coaster bikes available and lots of places to ride them.
Do not count on the listed activities taking place. I did not see any Spanish lessons or aquafit classes but there were dance classes at 5:00 PM 3 or 4 times.
Most of the staff treats you like family, especially if you have been there before. You might even get a towel sculpture on your bed, if you are lucky!
Both the bar in the reception area and by the dining room is open until 10 pm and there is plenty of seating available at both.
Make sure that you check with your travel agent before you go, that you are going to Don Lino, as all the tour groups overbooked while I was down there and many people were forced to spend a night or two elsewhere. One woman at the airport told me she and her husband never even got to Don Lono although that was where they had booked. That is not Don Lino's fault but it does give bad optics.

  • Stayed: February 2012, travelled solo
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9  Thank jopieb
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 27 February 2012

Well staying at Don Lino was an experiment as we had stayed at Brisas Guardalavaca 4 years in a row and wanted to try something different. The price made it very appealing. Half what we paid for Brisas! SO...is Brisas worth the extra? I asked my wife about day 5 and she said yes. There are some good points to Don Lino and there are some bad. The first "good" was already mentioned. The Price. The second is that they seem to be trying to improve the hotel. It is a small hotel that has been there since the 60's. It became a military camp for a while in the 90's(we were told this by a lady that's been visiting D.L. since 1971) As you have read by now(or will) they are building new wooden - 4 unit buildings that remind me of a ski-lodge. All wood with dark stain. The smell of the stain is a little heavy at first but you get used to it. The units are new. We travelled with 7 people. Some had these new units and some had the old stone units closer to the beach. These older units were quite musty (moldy) smelling which I would not have wanted to stay in. However they are quite unique looking with all the beach rock walls inside and closer to the water. Although the newer units are much nicer we had a few issues like dripping a/c (the bed, end table with lamp and phone were heavily stained on arrival. They were moved unplugged and not used for the duration. So no phone! yahoo!) Also a water drip from above unit into shower made for a cold surprise each and everytime a drip hit you while having a shower. Also I agree with previous posts - people staying in the bottom units will hear people above them walking around, coming and going etc as the floors are wooden like a barn floor. I am not a carpenter but they should look at something with these upper floors. Very "creaky".
Anyhow - These cuban inconveniences we always shrug off. I put earplugs in and unless you have a bunch of party animals above you(why would they ever go to D.L.?) you should have no issues.
You can't go to Cuba and be seriously wanting things to be perfect or even close to amenities back in Canada or germany or England. They do what they can. This hotel was over booked and had approx 125 guests while we were there. A usual occupancy is about 80guests we were told. A more serious problem while we were there was that my mother - who is in her 70's - had to come to my unit to shower each day as her new unit had no hot water. She mentioned this to the front desk 3 times, they finally moved her about day 3 or 4 and the new unit she moved into didn't have hot water either. It was my mother's 2nd trip to Cuba and she said she would rather stay at Brisas next time. So they have some wrinkles to iron out at D.L.. Location was away from everything and oh so so quiet. Small private beach (yes u do need the shoes. The coral is beautiful to look at as the tide goes out and then comes back in but its hard on the feet.) We didn't swim here but we did walk down to the public (bonita) Playa Blanca (10-15 minute walk or 5 minute horse and buggy ride).
We took a cab back to see friends at Brisas Guardalavaca (7 of us 2 cars for 80 pesos!) We also went into the town of Rafael Freyde many times to visit friends (much closer and cheaper cab ride than Guarda) and found shops etc. So we wonder if we would go back to D.L. next time. Its a hard decision but if it comes down to price and its half the others again - we may. I am leaning towards trying another place. Possibly Playa Pesquero or Sol Melia. The food and entertainment I did not mention cause my mother told me if you don't have something good to say don't say anything at all! Contact me if you have questions. I have left out many other points as I don't want to write a novel. lol. A couple quick ones though - Pool small but nice, and the loungers are new-ish and very nice. The tables and chairs in the dining area are also new-ish. VIVA CUBA!

Room Tip: I guess the wooden bungalows are the best and ask for a top floor room overlooking the water.
  • Stayed: February 2012, travelled with friends
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3  Thank IslaBonita2007
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 26 February 2012

Initially, we had problems with our booking with Nolitours to Don Lino as they were over-booked much to our disappointment on arrival at the airport. Nolitours instead informed the group of people affected by this overbooking that they would drive us to an "equivalent" 2 star place called Villa Cabanas in Guardalavaca and provide us wristbands to club amigo. When we got there we were flabbergasted at what they were allocating for us. I have backpacked in India 25 years ago and Villa Cabanas was on par with that. Dingy dirty dark rooms and horrible toilets with no seats and a great view out the door to a street with cars lined up on it! The Nolitours rep insisted that they were no options as all hotels in eastern cuba as far as Santiago were completely booked! Well our group of fellow travelers (none of us knew each other but we became friends through our shared experience) staged a "sit-in strike" for 5 hours and refused to check-in to these rooms and insisted that Nolitours find a solution. Throughout it all the Nolitours rep insisted that this place was equivalent to Don Lino and spinning what a good deal we had that we had access to Club Amigo! Finally, it was agreed to house us in the Blau Coste Verde for 1 night and then on to Don Lino the next morning. There was no apology nor compensation from Nolitours for basically 1 lost day of a 7 day vacation.

Anyway, once we got to Don Lino the next day, it lived up to our expectations and more based on the positive reviews we read here. My wife and I were housed in the 2 storey buildings at the back. The room was on the top floor and was new and very clean. The downsides were that it is not sound proof at all but luckily we had quiet neighbours. Also there was major construction of a new building next to us with power tools operating all day from 7:30am to 5:30pm every day except Sunday. Not a huge issue as we were generally out most of the day anyway.

Don Lino is a very low key kind of place which suited us. There were hens and a couple of dogs wandering around which contributed to the relaxed air of the place.

The food was ok if you are not too picky, with pasta and mixed veggies as a default option if you are vegetarian. Some days were better than others. If you are hungry between lunch and supper you could always get a plate of fries. Incidentally, they have great grilled fish and fries at the bar available for lunch. The staff are generally friendly and helpful. The bar shuts down at 10pm so get your drinks filled up before then.

In terms of activities, the beach is fine for lounging around albeit rather windy and cool in the shade even on hot days. There were enough loungers/umbrellas even though the resort was at capacity while we were there. If you go to the extreme right side of the beach, it is less rocky in the water and you can snorkel there with interesting fish to see (I even saw an octopus hugging a rock underwater).
One big plus is the free horse riding you can partake twice a day (morning to playa blanca and beyond and afternoons to another location with interesting landscapes and views to playa pesquero in the distance) for 1 hour. Recommend a tip of a peso or 3 for the guide. There are also free (but old) bicycles to borrow.

Nightly entertainment is something we were never interested in at other resorts (too much blaring song and dance shows). At Don Lino it was different. Every night it was the same combo of 6 musicians performing cuban music/songs. Really good musicians and great to hear them around the pool or bar.

This is a small place with mostly older guests (although there were some young couples too with kids) and you get to know everyone after a week which is nice.

Another big plus of Don Lino is the area it is situated in is very interesting both in terms of scenery as well as seeing a slice of authentic cuban life.

One last thing, there is another beach called Playa Blanca which is 2 km away along a quiet road with a small village en route. We also walked there once along the coast but it takes twice as long to get there (about 45 minutes in the left direction from the Don Lino beach) mainly due to the tough walking conditions of the sharp coral rock). The Playa Blanca beach is very nice and sandy but not interesting for snorkelling. You can ride the bike there or easily walk to it on the quiet road in 20-30 minutes.

Things to bring: water shoes, cups, snacks, old clothes etc for staff.

Also recommend calling the hotel to verify that they expect your arrival and avoid any nasty surprises on arrival in Cuba.

Room Tip: To be closer to the beach, you can ask for 1 of the bungalows. Otherwise ask for he top floor of one...
  • Stayed: February 2012, travelled as a couple
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7  Thank otttraveller22
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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Additional Information about Islazul Villa Don Lino

Address: Playa Blanca, Rafael Freyre, Rafael Freyre, Cuba
Region: Caribbean > Cuba > Holguin Province > Rafael Freyre
Amenities:
Bar / Lounge Restaurant Swimming Pool
Hotel Style:
Ranked #4 of 4 Hotels in Rafael Freyre
Price Range: $79 - $154 (Based on Average Rates for a Standard Room)
Hotel Class:3 star — Islazul Villa Don Lino 3*
Number of rooms: 36
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Also Known As:
Villa Islazul Don Lino Hotel Rafael Freyre
Hotel Islazul Don Lino
Islazul Don Lino Hotel
Islazul Villa Don Lino Holguin Province, Cuba

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