169 independent reviews for Cuba tours

Reviews for Cuba tours

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review 15 May 2017

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Meeting people and talking about life

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Make sure that when you book Casa Particulare that it is a home with the family living there, not just a small hotel with only rooms and a cleaner

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

As payment for the accommodation was to the owner there was a benefit. Environmental Impacts were not minimised. The Guides for the Bird and consevation areas were locals so they could understand the gain from conservation.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Excellent is what I would like to say for all, but the failure of the organiser and his local rep to book homes with families as well as difficult to access and problematic rooms, took a lot of the shine off the tour

Read the operator's response here:

We are happy to read that our travellers had a wonderful trip with good memories and liked the Cuban people & country. About the actual homestay - casa particular situation for future Cuba travellers we place a some information below. All homestays on Cuba carry the name “casas particulares”, they have a licence and a logo on the door and as a client you are registered in their administration. In the past all casas were families living on location and offering 1 or 2 rooms. As the tourism has increased tremendously since last year on Cuba due to the new incoming US tourism, the low season has become high season and the high season top high season with the result that there is a shortage of accommodation on Cuba which there has been always but now more significant. Many Cuban families who had a good homestay and location have therefore decided especially on the Cuban hot spots as Old Havana and Trinidad to move out of their homestay, buy a house in the suburbs of the village or city and rent all the rooms they have of their former house. A homestay can be now a boutique hostel with several rooms with excellent staff service or the owner passing by now and then, it can be a boutique homestay with only 1 or 2 rooms with staff service only without a family, it can be a traditional homestay with family still living at location and it can be a full free apartment for your own with staff service. It is all called “casas particulares”. What you like and prefer depends very much of each travellers tastes and style. We also like mention that staying with a family should not be romantised as a special experience, that all depends of the travellers own input as well and also with a staff at a homestay you can have great chats for many hours as well on many topics. But you do need to speak good to fluent Spanish. The families in traditional homestays usually only speak little or no English, so the idea of cultural exchange only works when you speak at least enough Spanish. We have had many happy clients in a particular homestay in Old Havana with a free balcony and great street views on Avenida del Prado, which is reviewed as a top homestay on various websites. This homestay our travellers did not like as their was only staff present and they missed a Cuban family which we understand. Our team in Havana tried to change this homestay for their return dates as was requested but it is not at all that easy in high season as they comment and they could not manage. Our travellers are birdwatchers and they stayed in a remote ecological mountain lodge in the Vinales area to give them the best location possible at a casa particular to watch birds, however there is no family here and we also informed them about this.This birdwatching location is requested a lot and we were very pleased that we could reserve this ecolodge especially for them. They stayed at a lovely top homestay at the coast of Trinidad with family and located directly at the sea with direct access to the coral reefs from the garden. This homestay they also reviewed very positively so we are happy about this. The sharing with our travellers after their trip made us clear that we need to improve our question lists for the homestay whether they prefer to stay with or without family (or that it does not matter) and what the exact priorities are together with other important decision factors. So that at the moment of booking our team in Havana knows exactly what to do and what the preferences are, depending on the moment of booking, what the availabilities of the homestays are and what the possibilities are with the given budget of course. After all also a very learning experience for us that we are now implementing with our team in Havana.

review 2 May 2017

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

The people and country of Cuba were great. Highly recommend this destination.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

I suggest that travelers find a different travel agency. Ours was very weak in the areas of accommodations, coordination and value for your dollar. We have travel in many third world countries and this was the weakest travel agency we have used over the years.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Besides the money we spent, no.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

We had a very good vacation but our tour operator did not contribute much to our enjoyment.

Read the operator's response here:

We are happy to read that our travelers loved Cuba and its people and that Cuba is highly recommended. We work in a great team with staff in Havana from trip design to implementation of all the travel details. In this case our travelers made use of a tourguide on a roundtravel by private minivan taxi. The tourguides are briefed about all trip details in Havana and they brief the clients every day to finetune about the program on daily basis. Cuba is a great destination when you go with the Cuban flow, passion and style of life. What some travellers do forget that Cuba is a very different destination then other holiday destinations in third world countries. Cuba can not provide the high level of services that USA travellers do expect on basis of previous travel experiences and we always inform our travellers about this before traveling to Cuba. Take it easy and see in the moment how you can bend a certain situation in which some things are missing or lacking into a positive experience for all people involved, that is responsible tourism. It is good to give positive feedback to the Cubans how they can improve their services and help them to grow. From homestays to tourguides and staff in Havana. From a perspective where they come from and where they are. Not from the perspective what the level of services are in the USA or in Asia. A travel on Cuba should be based on giving and receiving and see also how you can help a community to improve and make progress if you feel that this is the case. A first traveller to Cuba does not understand Cuba and especially when used to a high level of services elsewhere might experience that Cuba is not doing well. Cuba comes however from a very different organised society, from a very different economy and people just start learning to be entrepreneurs, they are just at the beginning and this also needs to be understood. We also are continuously involved how the services on Cuba can be improved, how homestay families, tourguides and local guides can improve their skills, based on all feedback we receive from our travellers and our own guiding experience. Our clients stayed in top boutique colonial homestay in Old Havana and at a top boutique homestay directly at the coast near Trinidad at an unique location from where you can jump directly from a garden terrace in the sea to snorkel at the coral reefs, all with nice rooms with beautiful terraces and views, nice staff or family and good home cooking. We were very glad to hear that you enjoyed these homestays so much. Cuba is not easy to understand and even Cubans say that they don’t, so is better to smile, be humorous, enjoy life and improvise wherever needed. It takes several trips to understand the Cuban situation and develop ideas what should be done in the future for Cuba. And this is what Cuba needs, our positive support as the people deserve it. Finally having a great holiday with marvellous memories is a contribution of the whole team from staff in Havana, the office people to guides and homestays, it is all teamwork.

review 28 Apr 2017

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

All of it, it fantastic from start to finish

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Have no worries everything run so smoothly and everyone was so nice.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Hopefully it helped the owners of the casa's

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Excellent

review 14 Apr 2017

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

We really enjoyed the whole experience. Cuba still appears to be in a time warp and we enjoyed seeing all the variety of transport from the old cars to horses and carts. Loved the variety from spending time wandering around the cities, to walking in Vinales & Baracoa to relaxing on the beach. Food better than expected and people very friendly and welcoming.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Learn as much Spanish as possible We were apprehensive about the voucher system and pre-arranged bookings but it worked well.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Yes because we stayed in Casa particulares and when possible ate our meals in the casas.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Excellent trip - thoroughly enjoyed it

review 4 Apr 2017

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Difficult to pick from snorkelling off cayo iguanas or the reverence in which the Cuban people have for Castro.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Make sure you have a car suitable for their roads (our Geely was not up to the job!)

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

It benefited the local population.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

We would describe it as an adventure/experience rather than a holiday

Read the operator's response here:

We are happy that this journey from West to East Cuba (from Havana as far as to Baracoa) has given some wonderful memories to our travellers and that it has been a real journey. What matters is the journey and what it brings you along the way. That Cuba is an adventurous holiday destination outside the all-inclusive beach resorts may be clear, a travel on Cuba requires an open mind, flexibility, a good sense of humour as the Cubans have and knowing how to enjoy the moment. The rewarding of a journey like this can be immense as Cuba, the culture and its people can be an eye and heart opener and a big inspiration afterwards at home. When we make a tailor made selfdrive program we quote all the car classes in one time of the various car agencies. The client decides which car class fits best in their budget. The most basic car on Cuba is the Geely CK at this moment. It is not the best car they have on Cuba , it is a basic Chinese car. If you experience any problems along the way it is best to go to a garage of their corresponding car rental agency. We have had many travellers who went from Havana to Vinales and then from there all the way to Baracoa with a Geely CK and they managed well we are sorry that in this occasion the car was not the right choice.

review 2 Apr 2017

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Lots of fantastic memories, hard to chose one particular one. But the whole experience of discovering old Havana stands out and also our first experience of staying in a Casa Particular in Havana. Such a welcome extended to us by the hosts.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Be aware that you need to take everything with you for your stay as there is very little to buy in the shops. If you can't find a bank to change currency you can always go to a large hotel. Don't expect to be able to access internet easily, very hit and miss.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

By staying at casas we felt we were supporting the local economy.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Excellent, great to experience the real Cuba by staying in casas rather than a large resort.

Read the operator's response here:

We are very happy that the holiday has been a real journey for our travelers. We just wish to add a comment to help new travelers to Cuba about locating Wi-Fi hot spots. With a rental car or a tour with driver you can drive to a public hot spots and connect in the shade of some trees and then continue on with the trip. We recommend buying directly a bigger amount of internet cards on the first Etecsa shop - when possible - as the cards are not always available. And to be very sure that you have logged out correctly otherwise you lose the rest time of your card. One card gives you 1 hr access. Wi-Fi is now available at most boutique hotels along classical itineraries through Cuba (Havana, Viñales, Cienfuegos, Santa Clara, Trinidad, Camaguey, Santiago, Baracoa) and in most of the important squares in all the Cuban cities. You can recognize Wi-Fi hot spots by the concentrations of people chatting and mailing at public squares. When the wifi signal can still be received outside a hotel, you see people around the hotel using their smart phones or sitting against the wall with their laptops. It does not mean that Wi-Fi is always functioning or that it is a quick connection but it is a first step to a broader use of Wi-Fi and Internet in Cuba. You buy Internet cards at the hotel with WI-FI connection, at the telecom offices of ETECSA and homestay owners can also help you with obtaining internet cards for you. At Etecsa offices you have to present your passport as identification. We hope this advice helps

review 25 Mar 2017

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

While age and history of the cities were fascinating, the countryside was beautiful. The full day hike in the Sierra Escambray with our private guide was wonderful. Seeing the national bird, learning the history of the coffee plants and surrounding flora was a day well spent.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

If you don't know Spanish, learn some. Even simple phrases will help a lot. Bring extra cash. Everything costs more than you think. Casa Particulares stays were much more fun and educational than staying in a hotel.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Obviously our visit benefited the Casa Particulares, guides, and private restaurants financially. By staying in Casa Particulares we had some good conversations about life in Cuba.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Excellent. Any small problems were easily worked out. The planning by Marcel and his agent on the ground was very good. Guides in Havana, Vinales, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, and especially Sierra Escambray were informative, spoke English. Renting a car was terrific, roads and signage weren't as bad as expected, but renting the car would have been difficult without the local agents help.

review 3 Mar 2017

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Our holiday was well planned and the connections were mostly very efficient and the time keeping was far better than we expected. We stayed in some lovely casa particulars, the two we enjoyed the most were the artist's house in Soroa where the garden was packed with lovely plants and the evening menu and breakfast were imaginative and the owners were charming. The other casa was the simple but perfectly positioned casa in Playa Larga; right on the sea front with no unwelcome night noises (so common in other villages ie dogs, cockerels and vehicles), breakfast was served on a small wooden jetty with sea mists burning off as we ate. Lovely owners and a pleasant bedroom with a good shower. The best part of our holiday overall were all the guided walks that were arranged for us; all our guides were young, educated, bi-lingual and delightful. We learnt so much from what they told us and their enthusiasm for their country and culture was infectious. We would not have felt so immersed in Cuba without their input and as a result I found myself leaving Cuba with a huge respect for the Cubans and their culture. It's a remarkably safe country, not only are there no dangerous animals or insects (although there are vicious mosquitoes if you are prone to being bitten), we experienced no begging or pickpockets and felt perfectly safe even in the poorest parts of old Havana. Go snorkelling in the Bay of Pigs if you can; the water is so clean and the fish were abundant; it was one of the best experiences of the holiday.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Always check the price of any taxi vehicle before you get in; we were stung for 20 CUCs in Havana for a 15 minute bike-taxi ride. Buy drinking water in the largest bottles you can find as it gets cheaper the larger the bottle - just decant it into smaller bottles for carrying around. Visit the main modern art gallery in Havana; it's on a par with the Tate Modern. Visit the large Botanical Gardens to the east of Cienfuegos; they are free but the guides expect a tip and the one we had was worth every CUC we gave her; a fascinating place. Incidentally, we couldn't understand why Cienfuegos is considered so special; we spoke to other travellers who agreed. It's a large port with an interesting history, but not much that makes it any more special than other large towns. We were glad to leave there. Be prepared to tip wherever and whatever you do; it helps to keep lots of small change handy so you don't find the CUCs draining away too fast. If you have concerns about issues around noise or claustrophobic rooms make sure this is known to the people booking your casa particular as some were better than others and generally the Cubans seem to tolerate conditions that we might find difficult at home. We hired a car for the holiday and then wondered why other holiday makers we met went everywhere by bus or taxi until we got on the roads; they are mostly awful by English standards and are best avoided at night as potholes and poor surfaces are everywhere including the 'auto-route'. Having a puncture was a constant worry; although when we appeared to have one (a faulty valve) we only encountered kindness and genuine support; but it did consume half a day of our holiday sorting it out..

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

I guess our visit benefited local people in that we stayed in their casas and spent money on local facilities rather than large foreign-owned resort hotels. But it's very evident that tourism is the main form of income for many Cubans nowadays and consequently prices are going up. While we are contributing to the local small scale economy it is also evident that our contribution reaches only a small part of Cuban society and those not engaged in tourism are left untouched. We were very interested in Cubans' respect and concern for their environment but I am not sure how we contributed to that other than by taking an interest in what they were doing.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

We loved Cuba and the people and our holiday was mostly well organised. Once or twice small things didn't happen as they had been planned and there was no apology or explanation as to why. The route that was arranged for us from Havana to Vignales, Soroa, Trinidad and back to Havana is a classic tourist route and only our brief diversion to Playa Larga was untypical of this route. Another time we would ask to visit less touristy places as the towns on the tourist circuit are beginning to loose their appeal due to increased tourism, ie Trinidad, which is charming but largely populated by tourists in the old centre nowadays. Havana is interesting for certain features but we found it much too noisy and polluted, mostly by old vehicles that belch out black fumes and the obvious increase in building and renovation around the old city. The countryside is amazing and we were so impressed by its richness and diversity. Although some of the walks we did were about 8 miles they never felt hurried or difficult, it was definitely the best way to learn about Cuba and enjoy what it has to offer.

Read the operator's response here:

We are happy to read that our clients have had a great holiday and enjoyed so much the private guided tours in the cities and walks in the countryside we arranged for them. Few remarks: we recommend our travellers to stay in Cienfuegos as we receive many positive reviews of travellers who would have loved to stay there longer as there is relative little tourism among others. Among the larger Cuban cities, Havana, Santiago de Cuba and Cienfuegos are the most interesting to visit. At Cienfuegos you can enjoy a cultural tour with a private guide, a boat ride over the bay, go to one of the beaches, go diving, visit the botanical garden, go to a lake to see flamingos and other Cuban birdlife and last but not least from Cienfuegos you can visit El Nicho waterfall in the Sierra Escambray as half or full day excursion. From here you can explore the mountain trails around the waterfalls or after a 2-3 hrs visit continue to Trinidad. From Cienfuegos you can also make a half day trip to the NP Zapata in the Bay of Pigs for diving, snorkelling, fishing or bird watching. Further all visits and day walks or trekking's in the Cuban National parks and reserves contribute economically to the maintenance of these natural habitats and their flora and fauna. Our travellers visited four of them and so contributed in this way to support nature conservation. Further all the income out of tourism goes to the Cuban Government and supports the free healthcare and education system on Cuba. Children of poor parents in Latin America will be never be able to study on a University even if they are very talented, in Cuba they luckily can, thanks to the Cuban Government and thanks to all the income generated out of tourism. Also foreign students are allowed to study on Cuba, even professionals as doctors are allowed to specialize further in their profession on Cuba where they are unable in their own country due to lack of funds. So it should not be underestimated in our opinion therefore which benefits tourism brings to all the Cubans, whether poor or rich, although this is not always that visible for a tourist on a short holiday visit. At last but not at least, we recommend self drive programs above traveling by regular bus or private taxi transfers when people prefer and like to drive. It gives much more freedom, you can have a break whenever you like, take pictures, chat with locals, go swimming whenever you want, it is much more fun despite the challenge of watching out for some potholes here and there. Driving at night we always advise to avoid as much as possible or drive very carefully, not only for some potholes but mainly as there can be traffic users as bikers and horse carriages on the road that are not using any lights.

review 12 Feb 2017

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Havana: Hostel Angel, Classic Car Tour, Walking Tour, wandering & taking pictures, particularly on the last day when the ban was lifted and people were dancing. Loved the old cars (throughout Cuba) and the mix of crumbling buildings. Meal at Paladar los mercaderes - Expensive but great food. Vinales: Walking tour of the valley & cigar plantations. Beach at Cayo Levisa. Casa in Vinales - Best Casa food and lovely older couple looked after us. Bahia Cochinas: Casa had a great location with breakfast on the edge of the bay although the food was not great. Cenote Trail, once we found the guide. Snorkelling off Punta Perdiz. Tour of Zapata park was very easy to organise from Bahia Cochinas although we needed to be there for 8:30am. Saw lots of Flamingos & a crocodile. Cienfuegos: Great Casa - Lovely old ladies who looked after us. Famous cocktail bar in the town centre which we desperate for by then!! Walking tour was great - The guide taught us most about the Cuban way of life. Trinidad: Loved the city, cobbled streets & buildings. Also loved the number of bars and restaurants. Meal at paladar la Redaccion. Tour to Topes Coliantes - Great views, greenery and saw a Cuban Trogon etc. Varadero: Beach was nice. Casa host (lady) was great and we had some good chance to practice Spanish conversation as she spoke v little English

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

This itinerary gave us a great experience and the chance to see lots of Cuba. Definitely spend time in Trinidad, Vinales, Bahia Cochinas. Cienfuegos has less to offer. Research restaurants before you go if you wish to eat decent food. Learn a little Spanish - You cannot relay on English everywhere.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Yes - we stayed with local people and ate at least one night in the Casa.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

The holiday was great - Saw lots, spent some good times with the local people, and had some downtime on stunning beaches. The only negative was the timing - The alcohol and music ban following Castro's death is not what you want when visiting Cuba.

review 10 Feb 2017

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Our casa particulars stay in Vinales was awesome! Although she didn't speak much English and we didn't speak much Spanish, Loly was delightful. The food was great and her family made us feel very welcome in their home.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

This is not the USA. Don't expect hot showers consistently. Be prepared to put the toilet tissue in the trash bin, not in the toilet. Overlook these small inconveniences and focus on the fantastic people, great restaurants and bars, and the amazing scenery.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Yes, we enjoyed leaving small gifts at each house, as well as fostering good will by being conscious of water usage, electric usage and generally treating their country with respect.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

We had a fantastic trip and would recommend time in Cuba to anyone willing to take an adventure.

review 23 Jan 2017

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

The best part of the trip was to drive around with a classic car, having the same driver for 4 days allowed us to build a friendship, learn more about the country and have some fun together. We had a fantastic time, feeling safe and looked after!!”

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Be flexible and trust the organizer

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Yes

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Great holiday tailored to my needs

Read the operator's response here:

We are happy to read that our travellers loved traveling across Cuba in a classic Vintage car with a driver for several days. This trip with a driver is the most flexible private driver option in Cuba. Feel free to ask for more information on this tour. Please note that the drivers only speak Spanish - for sure, it is the most authentic Cuban experience!

review 8 Jan 2017

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Interacting with the people of Cuba and see the results of what every Cuban we met referred to as the "failed revolution". We met many highly educated, resourceful and creative Cubans and found everyone to be warm, friendly, fun and engaging, but lacking in opportunities.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Arranging great guides is the most important reason for using an agent.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Locals benefits by our stays and meals in Casas Particulares, use of private taxis, private lessons, private guides, money spent in restaurants and tips. Anyone not directly involved in tourism can barely survive. Unfortunately, we increased the environmental impact because we were compelled to take taxis everywhere - buses were full.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

For US citizens it is important to go to Cuba, to let the Cuban people know that they have friends in the US and that there is hope for improved relations and opportunities in the future. The Cubans we met all believe that the US is there only viable partner for the future. We would not call this a "holiday" in that it wasn't easy or relaxing and the food wasn't very good. But we had good times and found the overall experience highly worthwhile. We needed a vacation from this vacation. We used an agent because of some of the logistic difficulties planning an independent trip and the agent was quite helpful, though some of the provided information was confusing.

Read the operator's response here:

We are very happy to read that it was an interactive and inspiring trip for our travellers. Funny to read that they need a vacation from this vacation. It shows how Cuba is, intense, warm, passionate and a mirror for our own living at home. Our travellers told us that they celebrated and danced New Year on the roof with their homestay family of 4 generations in Havana, a great experience of mixing cultures and customs. We always offer to give a briefing to our customers before they depart and they receive a briefing as well in Havana. This review makes us clear that we really need to remember clients of this extra briefing service so we can take away any un-clarities about Cuba and the logistics of their travel. Cuba is a very complex holiday destination, when even many Cubans do not understand their own country it is more hard for a tourist on their first trip to grasp the Cuban reality. As our travellers were met at the airport and also directly travelled to Vinales this briefing probably was also shorter than usual. We are always happy to receive feedback so our whole team can improve their services. This year we started with a new cultural service based on the feedback of some US travellers. We now will install a local cultural guide explaining on what is going on in Havana and purchasing tickets or making reservations on location when this service is reserved on time.

review 1 Apr 2017

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Buena Vista Social Club. Fabulous performance.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Avoid Via Azul bus service. Everyone was coughing and sneezing on one trip. 4 people ending up getting sick. Our bus broke down twice on another journey. We arrived 3 hours late to our destination. Also many of the seats were broken.Take a mini van. Worth the extra expenditure.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Yes, we loved the homestays and our local guides. Loved the locally owned restaurants.Felt happy about supporting the coffee and cacao production.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

It was a little too fast paced. Some group members were not happy about the unpredictable events. Half the group got sick so that impacted the trip. None of these things have to do with the holiday planning though.

Read the operator's response here:

We are happy to read that our travellers loved the homestays (casas particulares) so much and that they could support to the local economy of the families, coffee and cacao. This trip probably would have been a top holiday if it weren’t for the flu. Unfortunately flu can be picked up anywhere due to the air conditioning. We always try to inform our travellers the best possible way with a briefing before the trip as well as the briefing they have in Havana and we provide a Cuba manual for what they may expect to come across. In the hope to avoid picking up flu we will implement tips in our briefings for bus travellers. Being vegetarian and/or eating only fish, avoiding pork and poorly cooked chicken can also help avoid stomach problems, we mention this also in our manual. The Viazul buses can be new or old, it seems that our travellers only happened to come across older ones and at the moment that is the best Cuba can offer. We are sorry that the bus broke down, unfortunately this can happen from time to time. We always discuss with clients all the possible transfer options during a trip design from rental car, bus, taxi transfers to a Cuban Adventure Tour with a Vintage car. The pace and length of the trip is tailored by the wishes of each client and what we think is a good itinerary. I am glad that you were happy with the overall planning of the trip as the challenge when a trip does not go completely as planned is to enjoy the moment as the Cubans do and make the journey in itself what matters most and I am glad this is what you did.

review 29 Aug 2016

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

It is difficult to pick just one - we loved being in the county in Vinales, loved hiking and snorkeling in Playa Larga, loved our guides, enjoyed learning about the history of the different cities and enjoyed being in nature and experiencing the beauty of the gorgeous country. We loved talking with all of the people that we met and learning about the different ways in which people lived.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Make sure you give yourself enough time to do tours and then time to relax. If you can, bring gifts/essentials for the people outside the homestays, they would really appreciate it. Soap was requested a lot. Kids love American candy. Be prepared to eat a lot at the home stays. The food is amazing - simple, and you'll get a lot of the same things, but we always had wonderful meals that were fresh and delicious.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

By staying in the homestays, going with local guides and eating at the paladars, we were able to benefit local people in every city that we visited. Additionally, we brought art supplies, ballet shoes, sports equipment and musical reeds to give to various people along our travels. Because we did ecotours, our children (and us adults) were provided with good information about how Cuba treats and respect the environment, how their farming practices support organic product, how much love the people have for the land.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

It was an amazing holiday that I will never forgot. Everything about it was a growing experience. We enjoyed the places, the people and the land.

review 30 May 2016

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

We had a great self-drive holiday to Cuba, organised by the holiday provider. Marcel provided us with outstanding support and advice leading up to the trip, and this ensured that everything that was pre-arranged was as smooth as it could be for Cuba. We enjoyed driving around western Cuba, and having our own vehicle gave us flexibility. We loved our homestays, and our hosts and each felt perfectly matched to the town we were visiting. We stayed with Marina in Havana, and the views over Havana Vieja from the terrace were stunning, Vinales was rustic – with a pig on the property next door to Mildren’s. Fidel’s house was right on the beach at the Bay of Pigs, our colonial stay in Cienfuegos with Myriam and Gladys was our favourite (and shortest, we were sad that it was one night only) and we found Ana Mary’s house in Trinidad comfortable. We ate most meals at the homestays, as recommended by the holiday provider, and these were always good quality. We dined out in Havana at San Cristobel, and the food was delicious, in Vinales we had a meal at El Olivio, which was fine but not spectacular. The best food was definitely at Davidmart in Trinidad – the flavours and presentation were excellent. We also ate at Paladar Sol y Ananda in Trinidad, and the colonial house environment was charming. We would recommend the horse ride into the Vinales valley and smoking a cigar at the despallilo. The diving at Bay of Pigs and Playa Ancon were definitely top experiences on the trip! We enjoyed experiencing the towns - cycling in Havana, and having a walking tour in Trinidad and in Cienfuegos, these gave us useful information about the towns and their history.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

If we did the trip again, we would hire taxi’s as we found some of the roads with the potholes, and also giant crabs in the road around the Bay of Pigs a little harrowing. On balance, it may have also been a little cheaper to take taxis. Having the navigation app, recommended by the holiday provider(MapFactor+Navigator), kept our relationship intact, because the signs are not as helpful as they could be. Driving ourselves definitely added to the experience, and we now have great stories to tell our friends… so if you are up for a driving adventure, Cuba definitely gives you that! If we had more time, 4 nights in Havana would have been better as we did not get to see everything we wanted to. If we did the trip again, we would stay 2 nights in Vinales instead of 3, as there was less to do. This slowed the pace down and it was a relaxing stay. We specifically went to the Bay of Pigs to dive, and the coral was beautiful, and the diving easy. We also dived at Playa Ancon, near Trinidad, where the coral was slightly more colourful, so travellers could do either dive location and still have an excellent experience. The equipment was a little tired, but still in good working order. Bringing your own dive computer may be helpful as there were no depth gauges on the dive in Trinidad.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Yes - through the opportunity to stay in Homestays and the provision of local guides.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

This was one of the best holidays we have had, and having the support from Marcel, and Liliana when in Cuba ensured that this was a holiday and we could focus on enjoying ourselves. The manual was helpful, but do take a guidebook along.

Read the operator's response here:

We are very happy to read that our travelers had one of their best holidays ever! For this we work and we therefore prefer to dedicate our time to clients committed to work with us. We and our team in Cuba work on all the details every day to make this happen although we also have to say that Cuba is far from an easy holiday destination to work with. We always try to inform all our clients about the up to date situation on Cuba before booking by a tel or Skype chat, through a Manual and a briefing before going to Cuba so that everyone comes with the right expectations. A few remarks. Private taxis transfers are not cheaper then renting a car unless you travel with a travelparty of eg 6 persons, depends on which car class you also rent of course. We recommend selfdrive about taxi transfers as it gives much more freedom. Besides all the longer stops with taxi transfers need to be programmed before and be included in the quotation before traveling on Cuba. The giant land crabs at Bay of Pigs or on the road from Cienfuegos to Trinidad migrate only in the months at some days during March-April to the sea for production and then return again to the land. The roads can be covered by thousands of crabs depending of the hour of the day. It is a natural phenomenon that can not be avoided as it happens over really long stretches of the roads. At NP Zapata – Bay of Pigs you can decide to drive via the highway when the homestay families inform you when it is better to do so or at which hours to drive to avoid the migration. From Cienfuegos to Trinidad or vica versa you can wait for a bus or truck and drive after them to avoid the risk of having your tyres being pinched by the crabs. This is not always clear at first hand as the holes are small but the day after you may find your tyres being flat. Then at last we are developing new programs at several locations from West to East Cuba. At Vinales there are many daywalks options possible from half to full days with a private guide besides horse riding, going to the beach of one of the keys Cayo Levisa or Cayo Jutias for snorkeling, we can arrange birdwatching from a mountain lodge between the mogote mountains to observe 16 endemic Cuban species of the total of 26-28 Cuba has. And we have developed now a new 2 days trekking through a less visited area of the Vinales valley, staying overnight near the mogotes in a lodge and continue the second day into less known areas. So many things to do at Vinales, same for Havana, Soroa, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Santiago and Baracoa. Best regards, Marcel

review 18 May 2016

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Vinales was stunning, and the night life of Havana was great fun.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Learn as much useful Spanish as you can. Although many Cubans speak good English, you can't rely on that everywhere.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Definitely benefited local people, but not so sure about the environment and conservation.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Amazing, can't recommend Cuba highly enough.

review 14 Apr 2016

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

There were many high points. We enjoyed the guided trips in the mountains near Trinidad and the cave of santo Tomas near Vinales.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

We did not self drive. We took buses, transtur. Everything was very well coordinated by the holiday provider. While the buses were well run, easy and comfortable, for more money private taxi transfer would be a nice option. Following the tour outline worked great.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Yes, the local people are exposed to other world views and we to theirs. Interesting conversations abound. The people are very inventive concerning maximizing the benefits of what they have. They reuse disposable diapers by removing the inner stuffing for instance. We tried to model putting trash in the proper place but they don't have a lot of cans. Because of the level of development, there may be an ultimate negative effect of increased tourism in mega resort areas. Staying in casa partculares helps.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Excellent. Again, the trip was very well coordinated. Marcel was excellent with communication and the itinerary was well detailed. Everything went as outlined. The agent in Cuba was also excellent with personal attention. We were cautioned that sometimes things happen because it is Cuba but everything was smooth.

review 10 Apr 2016

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Stepping off the catamaran ladder into an aquamarine, warm sea, looking down through my snorkel straight at bright blue and yellow striped fish meandering through a coral reef. (At Cayo Iguana)

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Have a VISA card to use in the queue-free ATMs and bring chilli sauce if you like your food spicier than others

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

All guides and home stays were run by local people. Conservation and the environment are thankfully tightly controlled by the Cuban government too.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

I'd say I benefited from some awesome planning and management which was essential for a stress free (though still engaging) holiday in an amazing country as it avoided the bureaucracy that could have worn you down.

review 1 Apr 2016

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Talking to people - the guides, the casa owners, the taxi drivers, and anyone else we came into contact with. People were very friendly and happy - especially if you spoke a little Spanish. Cuba is a vibrant place, full of colour and music.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Very little - Marcel provided extensive knowledge before we went out, so we felt well-prepared. If anything, it would be to say 'Don't worry'. We were nervous because we thought the holiday could become complicated (credit cards wouldn't work/no mobile phone coverage/cows wandering across highways etc...) But it all works out, as long as you're relaxed and don't rush. It all went smoothly.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

I hope so - the tourist industry in itself is important to the local economy, and we tried to spend (and tip) local. We were interested in learning, and I think this was appreciated, although I'm not sure it benefited anyone...

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

It was excellent - Cuba is an amazing place, and I highly recommend it. However, it's worth investing time and effort in this holiday - we wouldn't have got as much out of it if we hadn't had opportunities to talk to people and make an effort to move out of our comfort zone.

review 14 Dec 2016

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Our visit to Cuba was well planned and provided with competent and pleasant guides.We regret not having more time in Havana (we had 4 full days out of our 10 day stay) ...for us Havana was the highlight .Also, less time in Trinidad (1 night, not 3) and at least one night in Vinales would have improved our Cuba experience.We recommend the holiday provider very highly.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

As above

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Hard to comment

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Excellent

review 1 Dec 2016

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Horse riding in Vinales..silent valley..views.. cocoloco... Trindad history and clubs..

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Take a picture of the hire car when you collect it also if you buy works of art be aware that at the airport you will be charged a further fee - community property.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Yesh..bought food - used local shops.. stayed with families

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Excellent.

review 5 Nov 2016

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Visiting the local families and being welcomed by them, exchanging info on our different countries and lifestyles and finding out more about the culture and history that makes Cuba the country it is today

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Don't expect conveniences as you may have at home. Be ever mindful not to compare Cuba to other countries in current times. Be amazed at their simplistic life so reminiscent of 50 - 70 years past.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Yes, I believe our holiday greatly benefited the locals we stayed with, both in exchange of cultures but also in monetary assistance. We found the tour of the Botanical Gardens with a botanist extremely interesting. We could have kept talking to her for hours.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

It was confronting, challenging but beautiful, a cultural time-warp. It was jaw-dropping and a culture shock which I wouldn't have missed for quids.

review 1 Nov 2016

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

I loved the cultural experience: being in a country that's struggling yet mostly taken care of, with a variety of different opinions of Fidel Castro, surrounded by beautiful yet run-down buildings.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Take dance lessons. It will be hot, so only pack light clothes.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Absolutely.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

9.5 out of 10.

review 31 Jul 2016

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Arriving (in a torrential thunder storm) - seeing the smiles and being very thankful the pick up worked so smoothly after a 33 hour journey. :-) The Chevrolet tour - great fun All of the casas Dinner on the terrace in Vinales The walk at Topes de Colantes The walk at Soroa with my travel companion on a horse due to a broken foot - so kind of Aliuska to think of that. Climbing to the Mirador at Soroa alone (Soroa was Marcel's suggestion and it was a highlight for me with the beautiful casa and lovely scenery.) Lobster dinner and massages at Playa Larga Mojitos on the roof of the Hotel Union in Cienfuegos as suggested by our hostess Esther Leaving (in another torrential thunderstorm) with a flight delayed five hours, two and a half of which were spent standing outside the terminal as we were not allowed inside :-( There was lots of time to reflect on the joys of the holiday. :-) :-) Actually it was all memorable.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Listen to Marcel's ideas. Don't rush - take a bit more time than we did in each place. Eat dinners in the casas, especially in Vinales - great food. Download an offline map before departure.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

I guess we benefitted those in whose casas we stayed and those from whom I bought handicrafts in the market in Obispo. We were able to respond to requests for toiletries, mainly in Trinidad. We gave lots of tips of one kind or another.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

It was great! The organisation was fantastic - everything went very smoothly. It was comforting to know that Liliana was tracking our progress daily. We were able to pick up our car with the minimum of hassle and allowed to keep it overnight on the return day (though we did not do this), an arrangement which made our return to Havana far less stressful than it would have been with a strict 5pm delivery. I would love to revisit Cuba and to relax more there but it is so far from Singapore . . . . :-( I cannot praise Marcel too highly. He had good suggestions, and was constantly very prompt in responding to email. The information he sent us was a great help, especially the directions to various places.

review 19 May 2016

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

It was more than a holiday. It was a life experience. Not only was there a lot to see in the lovely country, but there was also a lot to learn. The social and political aspects of the holiday were intriguing and eye opening. The trip caused me to question and reconsider a number of principles and perceptions. Everyone I have spoken to about the trip wants to hear more. I will refer them to you!

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Do not take US dollars to exchange. They charge an additional 10% to exchange from dollars to CUC's. There is very little wifi. You need to buy a wifi card. If you see a shop- buy the card. The shops are few and the queues are long. Speak to fellow travelers and get their recommendations. This is a great way to chose restaurants and see interesting things not mentioned in any books.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Yes- definitely. We stayed in peoples homes and ate at private restaurants and tipped our guides personally. This money you know is going to the people and not the state and the service is so much better as a result!

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Excellent! We could not have done this trip without the assistance of your services and Marcel in particular. The combination of a completely different culture, lack of easily accessible internet and the language barrier would have made the trip impossible for us. Each guide we had was friendly and well informed and arrived on time. Similarly the taxis all came on time and got us to where we needed to go. Public transport or self-drive would have been a challenge. We would also not have managed to secure acceptable accommodation as our means of evaluating accommodation does not translate to the Cuban environment. The Cuban manual was very useful.

Read the operator's response here:

Very happy to read that this was more than a holiday but a real life journey! About Wi-Fi on Cuba. Homestay families or their staff can be asked to buy a whole package of Wi-Fi cards in Havana for the start of your trip, they earn a little with this and you support the local economy. When we inform them on time they can anticipate to obtain the Wi-Fi cards. You can use these cards at hotels & Wi-Fi hotspots all over Cuba and you can use them for 1 hr. Cuban families are inventive with the help of their relatives in Miami who supply the tools, new is that they capture the Wi-Fi signal from Wi-Fi hotspots or hotels at the roof of their house or building and bring it in 2 steps inside their homestays, accessible for the whole family and for their clients. Best regards, Marcel

review 18 May 2016

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

It was all great. We travelled around for two weeks by car. It was so varied, and everyone was very friendly despite our limited Spanish.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Car travel was easier than we thought it would be. Some reports make it sound terrifying. You do need a good map though, we used the one that was recommended and it was very helpful. I would also say to travel around if you can, and look carefully at flights. We were advised to fly back to Havana a day earlier than we planned as flights can be delayed. The flight left 3 hours late, and this didn't seem to be unusual.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

It was nice staying in casas, which obviously support locals rather than big corporations. Cuba takes it's conservation seriously, and the guides are very knowledgeable.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Fabulous country! I would definitely return if there weren't so many other places on my list...

review 28 Apr 2016

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

The insight we gained into a fascinating country, its culture and the life of its people as a result of a well-crafted itinerary, staying with locals in 'casas particulares' and having excellent guides.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Self-drive is made easier with this company because their ground agent accompanies clients to collect their car and makes sure everything is in order. Having our own car was right for us - we liked the independence it gave us and we were happy to take on the challenges of route navigation, potholes, punctures and Cuban road etiquette, none of which should be taken lightly. We chose to stay in 'casas particulares' throughout the trip and relied upon the tour operator to select and book them. We were impressed, everywhere, with the standard and cleanliness of the rooms and the friendly service from our hosts. Guided walking tours proved well worthwhile in Havana, Vinales, Cienfuegos and Trinidad. The guides spoke good English and were friendly and knowledgeable and happy to answer our questions. We learned far more from them than we could have done from a guide book..

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Staying in 'casas particulares' certainly benefited the local people in whose homes we stayed. We ate either in the casas or in 'paladares', the privately-owned restaurants which are beginning to develop in tourist areas, and avoided the hotels which are all state-run. We chose to have guides whenever we could and they were all locals, most of them freelance, so we felt that our payments and tips to them made a contribution to the local economy.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Excellent. We could not have wished for a better holiday in Cuba. The holiday provider has excellent links and contacts in Cuba which meant that all the arrangements within our tailor-made itinerary were 'responsible' and of a high (for Cuba) standard. Comprehensive information about the holiday, what to expect and how things work in Cuba was provided in written form and on a special briefing phone call before our departure, and was extremely useful. And the staff on the ground in Cuba were exceptional, checking and confirming all the arrangements for our itinerary on a daily basis so that everything ran smoothly - casas were expecting us, guides turned up on time (and so did we) and reservations were as we had been told.

review 26 Apr 2016

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Hard to say what was the most memorable as there are lots of lovely memories which are all different as we travelled through Cuba. So I guess the fact that every day bought different sights and experiences, from beaches to mountains to history and being Cuba never knowing what surprise you might find round then next corner!

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

It was a really well put together itinerary. Use the guides as they were all great.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Definitely benefited local people as in a lot areas tourism both enables them to earn a living and brings them in contact with the wolrld outside of Cuba

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Great holiday - can't stop talking about it. We learnt so much about Cuba and its people and the journey they have been on.

review 17 Apr 2016

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

A trip to El Cubano in the Escambray mountains just outside Trinidad. With two small children in tow we followed a well trodden undulating path to a beautiful waterfall where we all swam in the cool water before heading back. Unforgettable.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Take small gifts from home to pass on to hosts you stay with - healthcare is free but medicine is very expensive so medical supplies are much appreciated: plasters, paracetamol; ibuprofen. Chewing gum was also requested as it seems this is hard to come by!

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

We hope so

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

9 out of 10.

review 15 Apr 2016

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Its hard to chose a favourite. Cuba has much to offer. We travelled from west to east and each town was unique and each part of the countryside had its own beauty.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

There is not a lot that we would have done differently. There is a lot to choose from and each individual must decide for themselves (with a little guidance from their travel agent)what they would like to see.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

We did not stay at any resorts or any hotels. We only used casas and as you pay directly to the owner of the house your money is going directly back into the community.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

We had a fabulous time. Marcel could not have been more helpful in assiting us to get our itinerary just right. Enabling us to make the absolute most of our time in Cuba and to see as many of the places on our wishlist as possible. We love it. If there wasn't the rest of the world to see I would return to Cuba in a moment.

review 9 Apr 2016

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

The whole Cuba atmosphere and variety (cities, countryside, beaches)was exciting. The people, the music, the history and the Mojitos.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Enjoyed the 'unpackaged' nature of your holiday. Avoid driving at night - large potholes, cattle crossing the motorway, and even thousands of large crabs crossing. Don't forget insect repellent. Be prepared for really basic accommodation and creature comforts: no internet, heat, insects, etc. but don't let these put you off.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Local people rely on tourism for much needed convertible currency. Cuba is trying to restore forests that had been damaged by monoculture and tourism is a direct contribution to this effort.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

It was a great experience - unpackaged and not always comfortable, but totally immersive and a real 'break' from the urban life we are used to.

review 6 Apr 2016

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Finally getting our bags at Havana airport (just joking). The whole trip was memorable but, for me, the 2 highlights were the Havana tour in a vintage Chev as we got to see parts of Havana other than the old city and drinking Mojitos in a small bar looking out onto the main square in Trinidad.The Vinales valley walk was also very good.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Be prepared for a long wait for your bags if arriving at Havana airport on the week-end. Take private taxis if you can afford them as they are always on time (at least for us). Don't be worried about changing money (except at the airport) as there are plenty of places to do it and you will not have any problem getting small bills. You can also change your CUCS back into Euros after passing through immigration on departure, they do not change into $US. Cuba is very hot in April and gets even hotter in May. Restaurant service can be slow at times but it will eventually happen so shift down a gear or two in expectations.Try to book your accommodation in advance. There are a lot of tourists in Cuba and not a lot of hotels. Cien Fuegos and Trinidad were almost totally booked out when we were there.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

It certainly benefited local people as we stayed in casas particulares, ate in small, family run restaurants, used private guides for our tours etc. I doubt it reduced environmental impact as those old American clunkers emit a lot of exhaust gases and leak a lot of oil.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

It was a very different type of vacation. Cuba is an interesting country and the people are warm and friendly. The food was surprisingly good which was unexpected. All our guides were knowledgeable and University educated so I would rate it as a vacation that met all my expectations.

Read the operator's response here:

We are happy to read that our travellers enjoyed their Cuba trip and that all their expectations were met. One small note for other travellers going to Cuba: when departing from the Havana airport you can change back small amounts of CUC ( not more than 400 CUC would say) into EUR, USD and GBP. It all depends of the moment with arriving and departing flights which currency they have available in stock. You have exchange offices before and after customs. After customs the office is not always well occupied so in general recommend to change the main part before going through the customs and keep only a small part for tax free shoppings, a drink or sandwich.

review 27 Mar 2016

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

On a personal level I particularly enjoyed the horse riding at Trinidad. I had never ridden before but the horses are so calm that I quickly gained confidence. We had a guide to ourselves and for the low cost this seemed far better than joining a tour with 8 or 10 people. We also had walking tours with personal guides in Trinidad and Vinales. On both occasions the guides were knowledgable and keen to share this. The walks were not particularly challenging but fun. The catamaran trip to Cayo las Iguana was a nice lazy day out. We were lucky to have fantastic weather and it really was serene.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

If you are going to see the flamingos at Lake Guanaroca, arrange it yourself through the owners of the casa rather than on the tourist trips. They'll arrange a return taxi (20 CUC) and it's 10 CUC to get into the park. We got to the lake for 8.30 and were on the first boat out. There was no queuing and we had th boat to ourselves. If you go to Cayo las Iguana pay the extra 10 CUC and have the lobster. It is very good.(one is probably enough for two people). The Casas are generally more than adequate although the one we stayed in at Trinidad, had it's own rooftop terrace which was excellent. Be careful when ordering fruit juices. It is fruit juice blended with ice and water. The Casa's are aware of the sensitivities of non cuban stomachs but not all of the cafe's are.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

By staying in Casa Particulares I felt that the holiday spread the tourist wealth amongst the local people rather than a faceless multinational hotel chain. we also used the Taxi particulares and bicycle taxis to get around again helping the solo operators. We wanted a walking, outdoors type of holiday and the guides benefitted by supplementing a comparatively low salary from tips.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

My wife and I are extensive travellers and we holiday probably 4 or 5 times a year. In my opinion this is in my top three holidays of all time. Cuba feels very safe which is at odds with much of the Caribbean. I would hope to return in the future and explore the eastern side of the island.

Read the operator's response here:

We are very happy to read that this trip was one of their best holidays ever. We really recommend everyone that is interested in going to Cuba or already has been not to wait too long with going to East Cuba and enjoy the scenery, ambiance and nature programs at Baracoa. This area is still very remote and pristine which is difficult to find in the Caribbean. This is going to change drastically when Cuba opens up for property investors and daily direct flights will bring tourism from the USA to Baracoa.

review 29 Feb 2016

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Staying with Cuban families!! Our host families were very nice, they prepared great breakfast despite the facts that foods are not easily available in Cuba. The family in Vinales made lovely sandwich for breakfast, while the family in Havana cooked lobster for dinner.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

You must know what you want and communicate this to your agent. In our case, we communicated intensively with Marcel via email and Skype. We clearly described what we want to see and experience, as well as what we don't want to. Our trip was a combination of guided tour and free time. Just perfect for our group of three ladies who love photography.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Yes. Life in Cuba is not easy, and by staying at local families we, somehow, helping them to earn more. The use of local guides also great. Overall, Cuba is relying so much on tourism.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Fantastic holiday!!! Have been dreaming of visiting Cuba and Marcel from the operator simply made it happened.

review 21 Feb 2016

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Everything was memorable and exiting : Traveling through Cuba, being taken round by private guides, seeing how people live, being taken everywhere without having to drive or take public transports, being invited inside the house of a family, being exited at discovering colonial houses and the food offered in the casas particulares. The excursion at Topos de Collante by jeep, visiting Ernest Hemingway house, the excursions in open roof taxis allowing you to enjoy the architecture. Above all, discovering the Cuban way of life, the gentle people and their dignity. Their wit, pragmatism, sense of fun, musical abilities and pride in their history, particularly being aware of their excellent medical, educational, ethic systems (no racism). We were also struck by how clean places were, although they were in poor condition of repair. Let's not forget the landscape, incredible colors everywhere, perfect beaches, and wonderful palm trees all along the way.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

This holiday is extremely well organized in the first place. So, we can't give many tips. However, according to which country you come from you may have to rest the first day after your arrival. So don't go on excursions on the first day, you may even fall asleep ! Moreover, make sure that you do not eat too much fruits, drink fruit juices if you are not used to do so regularly, you will be sick. Only drink bottle water, making sure that it is a proper bottle (not a re-used one with tap water). Drink regularly, don't go out in full blazing sun if you don't feel well. This, combined with diarrhea, will dehydrate you and you will end up in the local International Hospital (giving you the opportunity to benefit from their excellent medical care... to be avoided anyway...). So check you drinks and food and concentrate on your pipes and drains. The first few days are the worst if you don't pay attention.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

In as much as we tipped generously, brought toys to children, ate and drank in local places, bought a few souvenirs, yes it benefited local people. Regarding the transport, we used official taxis which emit far less fumes than the many other cars, trucks, motorbikes, yet that was not definitely green at all. Traveling on foot, by bike or by horse would have been better...

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

It was an amazing experience. A total change of scene from what we are used to. The history of the Revolution was very interesting, the concepts and struggles behind it. It made us reflect about Cuba's position in history in relation to their big neighbor, their future. It was also like seeing the way our forefathers lived when agriculture and transports were based on employing many hands, animals, etc. What was striking were the incredible amount of people everywhere, along the road. The crowds waiting for transport are very patient, don't look stressed. Very different from the rest of the world. This holiday combined culture, climate, history, contact with people, sense of discovery and a better understanding of the international political scene and the plight of small countries.

review 20 Feb 2016

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Visiting Cubans in their homes and getting a better understanding of life for them. Spending time with the guides and talking about their home lives as well as the sights they were showing us. We thought Ingid in Havana, Ruben in Vinales, Giovani in Cienfuego and Lis in Topes Collantes were all excellent.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Stay in the casas. Relax, talk to people and be prepared to be surprised.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

The local guides and the casas did seem to appreciate the benefit of our business.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Excellent. The organisation and care in the preparation of our trip and the support and arrangements in Cuba were perfect. Marcel from the tour operator had made a detailed itinerary covering all we wanted to do and his agent in Cuba ensured it all went very smoothly.

review 19 Feb 2016

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

We especially loved the music of the country. The hike in the Park El Yunque across the Duaba River and to the falls was exciting and lovely. We also loved learning about flora and fauna from Omar and Norge. The reefs at Playa Larga were spectacular. Also, the homestays were a wonderful way to meet local people and experience local culture. We really enjoyed our experiences in these diverse homes.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

We did not need power adapters from the USA. Bring any medications you might need as these were hard to find. Even in the hot spots with locally purchased internet cards access was iffy. Be prepared to be unconnected. There was no health insurance offered for sale in the Havana airport, so purchase it ahead of time. Hot sauce and toilet paper are scarce (: .

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

We felt a lot of work could be done on these fronts. Recycling and better trash collection would be a great improvement(needed in the US as well) That said, it was inspiring to see preserved and unspoiled natural areas. We also encountered no homeless people. Staying in homestays promotes cultural exchange and benefits locals financially.Our contribution was simply to discuss ideas with those we met.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

This was certainly one of the best trips we have ever taken. It was well organized and well guided. Thanks, to the tour operator, for a splendid family holiday and adventure in a country rich in culture and beauty.

review 3 Feb 2016

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Meeting the people of Cuba. As we speak Spanish we had wonderful conversations with children, owners of the casas and people on the street.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

These recommendations are for self drive: Be aware that the roads are not great once off the national highway. They are particularly bad in small towns. Avoid driving yourself to the Playa Maguana beach outside of Barracoa as the road is dreadful. Make sure your gps directions within the small towns to where you are staying. If going Baraccoa on a 20 day itinerary and driving, take a day off before then. driving in Cuba is tiring. Also you need Spanish to ask directions of local people.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Yes. Staying at Casas particulares helped the owners, local food suppliers and workers hired to work there. Also when one Casa was full the owner recommended others in the town.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Extremely interesting. Again the people are what we loved about Cuba. Everyone friendly and wanting to talk. Also enjoyed learning about the history.

Read the operator's response here:

We are happy to read that our customers loved Cuba and it's people. We like however to place some remarks about the roads. How good or bad the roads are depends on what you compare them with and what you are used to. For Latin American standards the roads in Cuba are perfectly fine in our experience and opinion of many others. Only some road trajects are really bad. In that case we don't send the clients over these parts or in case there is no alternative way we inform our travellers about the situation that might be present. The road from Baracoa to Playa Maguana is not perfect but very well to do, every day taxis and cars go this way or to the beach Maguana or further away along the northcoast to Moa, Cayo Saetia & Holguin. The road becomes bad a little after Playa Maguana going to NP Humboldt and becomes fine again a little before the city of Moa. The beaches and nature are however that beautiful here that driving a little bit slower and open the windows of the car with some music on is also a good way of enjoying all this beauty around before arriving to destination. Further in our experience of traveling over Cuba the situation of the roads in villages and cities is fine. The road deck can always be improved of course but placing in in the right context of a country that suffered so much and has no high budgets it is as it is. About GPS Navigation. The Cuban authorities make a distinction between smart phones / tablets with a GPS app which is allowed, and individual GPS devices as a Garmin which are not allowed. All smart phones & tablets have nowadays GPS as extra application. According to all updated information from our partner agency in Havana, national Cuban guides working for the Ministry of Tourism & the Cuban customs smartphones with GPS apps are fully permitted and no problem at all. However using an independent GPS navigational aid is still officially forbidden and may be confiscated by customs at the entry or departure of Cuba. In case you have a self drive program and/or just like to work with a GPS app on your smartphone as bus traveller, we suggest to find out at home which application(s) are best to use for your smartphone and if you can download free maps of Cuba with this app or that you have to buy maps of Cuba. We can highly recommend the free Navigator app (this is for Android based smartphones), it has good free maps of whole Latin America and also the map of Cuba can be downloaded for free. Search on Google for Mapfactor + Navigator via Google Play. Take care that you already download all the points / cities / villages you are going to visit in your itinerary on your smartphone at home! You only need your GPS function to be on and no wifi which makes this app so practical. Make sure that data roaming via your mobile on Cuba is switched off all the time and double check this now and then! (nb: there are also special apps to see quickly your data usage by wifi and mobile roaming, one is called datamanager). We have used Navigator in several Latin American destinations and so far all is good.

review 28 Jan 2016

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Enjoyed it all but Trinidad was a special highlight -- the architecture, the music and its proximity to both mountains and beach.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

If you're going in high season, you need to book restaurants in Havana WAY in advance.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

It benefitted those local people lucky enough to be involved in the tourist industry. If you have a casa particular, a paladar or work as a guide, you are in a different earning economy to other Cubans.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Hugely enjoyable and eye-opening. Highly recommended, though you can expect plenty of surprises.

review 11 Jan 2016

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Cuba is an amazing and very different place. It's not just about checking out the fantastic beaches. We travelled from Varadero to Trinidad, Cienfuegos, Vinales and Havana. We travelled mostly by bus, which was pretty comfortable and just going through how buying a ticket and getting your seat is organised is fascinating. We also stayed in "homestays" throughout and again this was a window in how Cuban's live as well as being very pleasant. We never had a bad experience and the families were very welcoming. We particularly liked hiking in the Sierra Escambray to Codina. The guide was exceptional, and was constantly going off into he "jungle" to bring us tropical fruits - Guava, bananas and types of citrus fruit. Swimming in the "bat cave" was very special. The guided tour of Trinidad, particularly going into so many private homes was really insightful and engaging. We tried snorkelling at Cayo Iguanas (from Trinidad) and also Cayo Levisa (from Vinales). As a first time snorkeller I found this great, but the trip to Cayo Iguanas is long (2 hours) and the snorkelling only about 30 mins - though you get 90 mins on the Island. Horse riding in Vinales to the silent? Lake was very worthwhile as you can take a dip in the lake. Seeing a farmer roll cigars for us in Vinales was also very entertaining. Our homestay in Havana was really well located on the Prado. The old town is a melting pot of new and expensive and really poor and run down.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Travel by bus, stay in homestays. Generally the guides we had were very good. You can just wander by yourself but you miss alot without a guide.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Certainly the people offering homestays benefit massively. Given we were told that 20 CUC is a months salary from the government. Tourism is clearly a very big and growing part of the Cuban economy. The only worry which we cannot help is that there is a growing disparity to those with a source of CUC and those who don't. Some of the coral diving I saw was very careless with respect to the coral.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Excellent but not cheap. Only small downside was our guide in Havana who was well below the quality we had everywhere else. Marcel from the operator did a great job with the itinerary and his partner on the ground in Havana was on top of everything in Cuba. Everything worked very well, was punctual and reliable - which I hadn't expected.

Read the operator's response here:

On Cuba they are very careful with the coral gardens and as far as we have experienced we have not seen any bad treatment of the corals by divers or snorkelers. When you dive or snorkel around coral gardens you may see a lot of coral debris, but that is part of the natural process and caused by the strong storms and hurricanes that visit the island in the hurricane season. On the contrary according to scientific research Cuba's thousands of miles of coral reef ecosystems appear to be healthier than the other reefs found in Caribbean waters. From assessments by Nature Conservancy scientists, the reefs do not appear to exhibit the widespread disease and mortality occurring in places like the Florida Keys, Jamaica and Mexico. It is because Cuba’s healthy reefs could stay in good shape thanks to limited coastal development as well as limited agricultural practices with fertilizers.

review 4 Jan 2016

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Discovering what a diverse and fascinating country Cuba is - lovely people, some beautiful architecture and great music.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Go for self-drive as it gives you so much freedom. Don't listen to other agents who advise against. Try and spend at least 2 weeks preferably longer. Stay in Havana at beginning and again at end.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Yes we did feel we benefited local people and supported conservation. Not sure about environmental impact though.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Excellent.

review 2 Jan 2016

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

I was unable to go on the trip that I planned due to a death in the family. My travel companion did however go to Cuba and had a wonderful time. It was a great relief to her that the Cuban staff on the ground was very efficient and reliable. All private taxis were on time and home stays were very good.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Use this operator.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Not having undertaken the trip, I can only comment on the aspect related to private home stays and the positive effect that must have on the local people. Not only do the immediate families but those that they employ as cleaners and helpers benefit from work and income.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

The organisation of our bespoke tour of Cuba by Marcel from the operator was excellent!

review 25 Mar 2016

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Havana, the scenery everywhere, the music ... above all, the variety and beauty of the scenery, which we hadn't really expected somehow!

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Travel light - there are lots of uneven roads and steep stairs to negotiate. Take hand cleaner alcohol. You can't buy it there and you will need it. You might be better to leave excursion booking until you get there - it looked as if it would be quite easy to do at the main centres and via hosts. The advance booking sometimes didn't work out that well. Wires crossed etc. Having said that, the Havana tour at the beginning and the excellent guide we had really added to our enjoyment of the whole holiday and the long Sierra Escambray hike was great - also with an excellent guide.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

We stayed in casas and travelled by bus, so yes, it benefitted local people and, apart from the flight there, was relatively light environmentally. Visits to national parks supported conservation, I hope.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Very enjoyable and interesting. Much 'easier' than we had anticipated. The coaches were interestingly erratic but comfortable and the casas friendly and welcoming. The Cuban people we met were charming. It was easy booking through this company and nice to have the support when we got there.

Read the operator's response here:

We are happy to read that our travellers enjoyed the Cuban scenery and Caribbean charm of Cuba. A small remark is on its place for new Cuba travellers. Cuba is a special holiday destination that is rather complex. A trip on Cuba requires extra attention from a specialized operator for realizing all the details of a tailor made trip. Since the opening of Cuba for the US market last year and a significant increase of tourism, all services in tourism on Cuba are under pressure. As a consequence there is a shortage in good English speaking guides. As is mentioned in this review that excursions can be booked locally, that is true of course, but it means that you will end up in standard excursions with large groups. When you look for a more authentic experience you really will have to plan and book your trip ahead nowadays. With this shortage in English speaking guides on Cuba, the local agents place namely all their clients together in large groups to cover their logistical planning. They have no private guides available as these guides have started their own micro-business and are fully booked on time. It may look like that private guides are arranged via local coordinators that is correct, but they were reserved via us and Havana many months ahead depending on the moment of booking. We make use of several levels of organization on Cuba. When you look for a tailor made trip with distinctive excursions you will need to have private guided tours that can not be purchased anymore at the last moment while you are traveling. This is just to clarify. It all depends of what kind of experience a traveller is looking for. Best regards, Marcel

review 23 Feb 2016

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

The people, the cars, the buildings, the music and the homestays. We felt very safe too.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Be prepared to visit a poor country. It can be stressful at times. Take a good road map or download a map app if driving. Take cereal bars, nuts and raisins and chocolate as not many snacks can be bought. There are a lot of tourists at the moment and there is a lot of over booking in hotels and even in the Homestays. Keep relaxed and keep smiling.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

It certainly benefitted the owners of the Homestays and the tour guides.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

It was fun, interesting, fascinating and stressful at times! We have a good understanding of Cuba now.

Read the operator's response here:

We are happy to read that our travellers enjoyed Cuba and felt very safe. It is true that on Cuba you need to have a laid back attitude, relax, go with the flow, smile, dance, improvise and make jokes with the Cubans. When you expect all to be perfect on a holiday Cuba is certainly not the right destination. Cuba is all about enjoying the imperfection and mingle with the Caribbean way of life. When you allow that to happen traveling on Cuba and being with the Cubans can be a live changer as it is still another world, another universe. Cuba looks indeed as a poor country, the people, culture and history are however that rich that it feels like an honour to be a guest. With your presence you can support the Cuban communities where ever you can. You can leave behind whatever you like from toothpaste, second-hand mountain boots, clothes, notebooks to usb sticks etc, really everything is welcome and finds its way over the island via the homestay families and local guides that you will meet.

review 30 Nov 2015

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

I don't know if I could narrow it down to one part. For Havana it was the custom car tour including Ernest Hemingway's house.The food at the house was amazing!! Also my salsa dance class over looking the Prado. Vinales was my favourite place. The house I stayed in was hosted by amazing people with some of the best food I have ever had. My horseback riding day was my favorite day of the whole trip. My guide, horse and scenery was beyond the best. I loved my bird watching time in Playa Larga. Trinidad was my favorite city. I liked just getting lost walking there after my guided tour that gave me the history.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Don't stay in hotels and don't eat in restaurants. Being in people's homes and eating their food is how to experience Cuba and the people. Don't be afraid to explore night or day. Have a flexible plan so you are not wasting time figuring out places while you are there. Get a guide the first part of your first day because it is amazing to get the history and it's a great way to get a lay of the land in each city

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

I'm not sure how money works with Cubans so I took and donated to each home items I felt could be helpful. Pencil,pens, asprin, tooth paste, crayons and color books etc. I was hoping to make a positive feedback straight to the people

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

I had a trip of a lifetime but I do not believe it could have been possible to have it be so amazing if it wasn't for the help of responsible travel and the holiday provider! The help of my preplanning and the help I received while traveling was what made my trip possible, smooth, fun and memorable

review 27 Jul 2015

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Every individual guided tour. Hiking in Vinales, riding into the Quiet Valley, learning the history of Cienfuegos,all of it was so memorable. No advertising,very few cars,highly educated people, few tourists ,no western brands/shopping malls, no internet or mobile reception for us make Cuba an exceptional destination

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

The holiday company itinerary and organization exceeded our expectations in every way.I do not think it would be possible to plan such a satisfying but also time efficient trip to Cuba without such expert help. Do as many of the guided tours as you can fit in,the guides are highly educated and extremely interesting,they will truly add to your experience and you are benefitting them financially. Self drive car was fine.There is little traffic so it's not too challenging.The main roads are fine too, much better than we expected. DO download the map apps that the operator advise you to.Signage is limited.The home stays were all fine,private bathroom and air con,but don't expect anything lavish. We appreciated being in a hotel in Havana at the beginning and end of our trip. Cuban food is fairly basic and the same wherever you go. There are some exceptions but if your idea of a great holiday is exciting dinners and lots of shopping its not the right place for you. The mojitos and cigars are fab. Let your hair down and enjoy both daily. We regret not having a salsa lesson at the beginning of the holiday.We relaxed so much there that by the end we wanted to be up and dancing,even my somewhat reluctant husband.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Yes,through supporting home stays and local guides.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Outstanding. Stimulating, relaxing, a total change to western consumerism and our daily lives

review 12 Jul 2015

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

We loved the salsa lessons in both Havana and Trinidad. The day trip to Sierra Escambray was another highlight- a fun-packed day! The accommodation at Playa Largo was amazing! It was wonderful to walk out of the house onto a beautiful beach, just 3 meters to the water. Cueva de la pesces was beautiful, I wish we had spent more time there. I really loved cuban culture, all the old cars, the no advertising and all the top class cocktails.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

The car rental was fine. the GPS was a life saver, especially since we had very basic spanish. The motorways are empty and fueling stations are few and far between. Bring comfortable shoes for the guided tours and treks. An extra battery pack for electronic charging during long road trips i.e. GPS. Homestays are way better, more economical than hotels and the food is much tastier and delicious there.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Yes it definitely benefited local people.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Excellent memorable honeymoon, loved every minute of it, would recommend this holiday provider

Read the operator's response here:

We are very happy to hear that you had a great honeymoon and we like to thank you for the review.

review 27 Apr 2015

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

The people were very friendly, the landscape was stunning, the music/food and culture were fantastic.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

A great way to travel independently, all the logistics were coordinated by the travel company and I was free to explore the country without the anxiety.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Yes, I felt that this holiday more than any other helped the micro-economy of the places I visited.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

It was fantastic, I wouldn't change anything.

review 13 Feb 2015

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

It is really hard to say which was the most memorable part of our 18 days trip through Cuba. But what I most liked was the catamaran tour from Trinidad to the island Cayo Iguana. When we arrived there we decided not to snorkel with the other tourists and to get off the catamaran. We just realized that we were all alone on the little island. It was so breath-taking. Suddenly we realized that we weren`t alone. Noooo... plenty of cute Iguanas and Tree rats came to join us. That was the first time I have ever seen such a beautiful Island. So thankful.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

I'd stay in casa particulars instead of hotels. Cubans are really nice and open minded people. You eat better than in any hotel restaurants. I really liked the private guided tours instead of the group tours to the landmarks. I'd love to stay one day longer in Cienfuegos. One day wasn't enough. Fell in love with this city.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Our holiday definitely supported local people. We chose to stay at the home stays. We always tried to buy from the local traders, supporting the private taxis, bars and restaurants. I think that was the best we could do.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

It was the best holiday we ever had. Our family and friends asked us a lot, but we couldn't explain by pictures and words what we felt during this awesome trip. We simply fell in love with the people and the landscapes. A big thank you to our Operator who helped us and made it so damn easy for us to travel.

review 5 Feb 2015

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

We had a truly amazing time in Cuba and loved the country. There was no one part of the holiday that was most memorable as the holiday from start to finish was memorable. Below are some of the highlights. Havana - going into a bar and listening to a band playing music and dancing. We enjoyed the homestay in Vinales, Mildre and her family were very welcoming and made us feel very welcome. The home cooked food was delicious too and the horse riding excursion was excellent, especially having a drink with the guide after our excursion finished. Trinidad was beautiful too, especially the salsa party in the old part of Trinidad.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

The journey from Vinales to Trinidad was a very long drive, it might be an idea to break it up with a stay in between depending on how long you are staying in Cuba. Would definitely recommend seeing more than just Havana, there is lots to see/do in Cuba. If you include some time at the end of your stay in an all inclusive resort in, for example, Cayo Ensenachos, bear in mind the travel time from there back to Havana, especially as internal transfer times can be changed on the same day.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Yes, the homestays in particular.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

As I said above, an amazing country, would definitely recommend a trip to Cuba.

Read the operator's response here:

We usually design the travel from Vinales to Trinidad in several steps in case of a self drive / private taxi tour. In such a way that travellers have 1 or 2 nights either in Soroa, in Playa Larga at the Bay of Pigs or at both places. It depends on interests and how much time the travellers have for a West-Central Cuba itinerary. When it is a bus trip people usually travel directly from Vinales to Cienfuegos and stay overnight there or go directly to Trinidad. Recently there have been new Viazul bus connections added through the area of the Bay of Pigs and NP Zapata with bus stops at Playa Larga and Playa Giron which gives bus travellers as well the option to stop over here and make use of local taxis to visit this area. These bus connections are not guaranteed as the bus time schedules have been changing several times. A self drive program has been so far the best way to visit this area of the Bay of Pigs and NP Zapata on the way to Trinidad (or vica versa).

review 9 Dec 2015

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

The trip involved homestays, rather than hotels, and a self-drive hire car. This proved an easy and flexible way to travel. It allowed escape from the somewhat insulated (and more expensive) world of fancy hotels. It also permitted us more easily to escape from the major tourist centres and see more of the country. We enjoyed Santa Clara and Camaguey for this reason. But the highlight for us was Baracoa. On our next visit, we would wish to spend a week there and then travel to towns that see fewer tourists than in the large cities.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Homestays are comfortable and worthwhile. They are also very varied in terms of the people that one stays with, which is interesting in itself. Some are more like boutique hotels, whereas others are rooms in people's houses. The latter are the more interesting. Driving in Cuba is relatively easy at present, as there is little traffic on most roads. The Rex car company was very efficient. We had a minor accident in Camaguey (A bus ran into us from behind at a roundabout). We went through all the necessary procedures and were on our way in a new car within two hours. (There is one scam frequently tried at petrol stations, which drivers should be aware of: saying the premium pump is not working and supplying petrol from another which is unmarked, probably lower-grade and doesn't have a meter. Insisting on being served from the 'broken' pump always brought about a sudden cure. Such things are to be expected when the disparity in income between tourist and populace is so large, but are not the generality of one's experience of the country). Driving enables one to be more imaginative in choice of destination. We drove from Havana to Baracoa, staying in Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Santa Clara, Camaguey, Santiago and Baracoa in a fortnight, before getting a plane from Santiago back to Havana. We had individual tours booked in several cities. These were in general of good quality and well worth taking. We ate in homestays (most of which provided home-style cooking), and in paladares, which these days include a variety of imaginative and good-quality restaurants at reasonable prices. Learning even a small amount of Spanish would prove helpful out of the large cities. Bear in mind that Cuba, whilst good value, is not a particularly cheap destination.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

The holidays are evidently organised with such principles in mind.The basic design - staying in homestays and eating in paladars, benefits the local economy. Visiting national parks supports conservation.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

The holiday was excellent. It was very well organised. Given the state of the Cuban infrastructure, one has to accept that arrangements may occasionally break down. This did not happen to us, but we had full confidence in the company's organisation, should any problems have occurred. Cuba is evidently in a state of transition, and the large numbers of tourists this year place some pressure on available facilities. However, it is a good time to go there, before a period of what is likely to be rapid change.

review 1 Dec 2015

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Staying at home stays and meeting our hosts and their families. All were extremely warm and friendly, especially since our Spanish was really basic. We had four special guides for trips; all were very knowledgeable and helpful. There were great opportunities for photography.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Get a rental car. It really wasn't at all difficult to find our way around despite the warnings that we would get lost. We did miss a couple of turnings but realised it straightaway - total time lost over the fortnight -15 minutes.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Yes, by staying at home stays.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

A fantastic success. We were very impressed with the organisation and support of the company. Would be very happy to go to the other bits of Cuba we missed!

review 24 Oct 2015

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

The fantastic view from our homestay in Vinales.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Go with the flow.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Staying with the local people was amazing.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Amazing because Cuba is so different. No internet very few shops in the towns and a way of life that takes you back 50 years.

review 29 Sep 2015

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

I really enjoyed meeting Cuban people and hearing their stories. I chose to stay in ¨Casas Particulares¨or private homes, which meant I had the opportunity to talk to the home owners. It helped that I speak Spanish. I also really enjoyed the Spanish and French architecture in all the cities I visited, the scenery, the culture and music, which could be heard, live everywhere but most of all in Santiago de Cuba. I love salsa dancing and Cuba is an ideal place to get to dance.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Stay in Casas Particulares as it gives your hosts the opportunity to earn some much needed money and it gives you the opportunity to see how people live. If travelling by bus, take a warm jacket as the air conditioning is sometimes too cold. Take a fan as it can be very hot and humid, especially in the summer months.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Tourism provides Cubans with the opportunity to earn an income, whether it is at Casas Particulares, taxis, guides or restaurants. I always left a tip and hope that made a difference, too. I made a donation to Green Fleet to compensate for the long flights I took and hopefully reduced the environmental impacts in fuel consumption.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

I had a marvellous, unforgettable holiday. The holiday provider organised the trip for me and I appreciated their knowledge and suggestions before I left. Everything was taken care of: the accommodation, transportation, getting to and from Casas Particulares. Every single guide was excellent and had thorough knowledge of the area, its history and the environment.

review 7 Jul 2015

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Some lovely walks in the mountains, meeting and staying with local people, experiencing a very different culture. Trinidad in particular was lovely to wander around

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Speaking a little Spanish definitely helps when staying with local families. Some spoke very good English - others didn't - and even a little Spanish helps.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

We stayed with local families and used local guides.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

A fun and varied trip

review 21 Jun 2015

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

When we encountered a big bush fire coming towards us both sides of a 2 way-single lane road and our car got stuck in a rut and couldn't get out! Very exciting and kudos to our taxi driver for being very responsible and quick minded in reacting to the whole incident and taking care of us.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Read up on the history a bit before coming. It is truly a fascinating country and to understand why/how it is at present you need to know what has taken place over the last couple of decades. I would also say try and learn some Spanish basics to be able to communicate with your home stay hosts more than just the "hello thank you goodbye".

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Sure. I like to think that doing homestays, trying to eat more at paladars and hailing cabs (all the different types), tipping for good service helped to benefit the community more directly that patronising only the state-owned hotels and restaurants.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Great!

review 28 May 2015

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Walking the streets and talking with locals—drivers, guides, restaurant owners, musicians—and hearing their perspectives on living in Cuba, their dreams and aspirations. Hearing and seeing (and dancing to!) live music everywhere

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

All of the recommendations by the holiday company / Responsible Travel were great. Stay in home stays as much as you can. You’ll see more, hear more, talk more. Hotels are nice as well, but you’ll only interact with other tourists there. At home stays, you meet locals and see how they and their neighbours live. Be respectful of resources and how hard people are working to earn a living. Remember to check travel times between towns so you can avoid spending all day in the car and explore! Read the manual—it’s helpful!

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

I feel our holiday benefited local people since we stayed with families, connected with guides, drivers, and local people, ate at their homes, etc. Visiting museums and local historic sites probably helped fund conservation of important landmarks. The art scene was much more extensive than I expected, and we bought some unique and wonderful pieces of art.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Our local hosts and tour managers were very responsive, helpful, and professional at all times. I couldn’t have asked for better communication and support! Cuba was so interesting, lovely, unique, and safe. I hope to go back every few years to see it over time.

review 23 May 2015

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Havana and Trinidad. Visiting the places and meeting the people

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Follow our plan. Stay in casa and go to nightclubs

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

The interaction was very nice. They learned about us as we did about them. No effect on environment or supported conservation

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Great, fantastic experience. Wonderful place to visit and learn about

review 11 May 2015

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Exploring as much of Cuba as possible - our itinerary was so varied - we loved the people and architecture of Havana and Trinidad and the wonderful restaurants recommended by the operator, the amazing theatre and ballet performance as well as the charming colonial home stay in Cienfuegos; walking in the mountains in Vinales, the beautiful sea life and superb Iberostar hotel in Ensenachos. I could go on ...

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

If you want to experience the different aspects of the country and get to know the people take time to savour it without rushing. Make sure you have a hat or scarf to protect your head from the sun. Always ask and agree the price before you get into a taxi and confirm the number of people Make sure you are familiar with the exchange rate and currency

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Definitely, yes although I am not so sure how much we reduced the environmental impact!

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

It was a fantastically organised holiday which we couldn't have enjoyed more

review 29 Apr 2015

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

A tour around the hills of Vinales in a classic Chevy, the warmth and friendliness of the people we stayed with. The home cooking. The weather. The scenery. All of added up to a fantastically memorable stay.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Relax, do not expect everything to work with the speed and efficiency of home, but you will get there! Locals are very friendly and willing to help. Try avoid getting involved with the Cuban police, they are just as likely to treat you as guilty as a victim and are everything that the local populace are not. Also take loo roll!

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

I like to think that we benefited local people by staying in casas, eating in the casas and local restaurants and using local taxis where possible, rather than staying in Hotels.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

We had a fantastic time thanks to Responsible Travel. Cuba is one of the most interesting and beautiful places I think we've ever been and our trip was certainly one of the best holidays we've been on.

review 25 Apr 2015

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Cuba, organised by Marcel from the operator, was superb. The guides, the people we met, the sights all contributed to building up an insight and understanding of the REAL Cuba. That is, for me, what is most memorable. As regards special activities, I loved the catamaran trip to Cayo Leguano as the snorkelling was good, the leguano were amazing and what can beat a whole day on a boat in the sun? My friend loved her guided walk in the Sierra Escambray, especially the variety of flora and fauna and the bird song - totally unspoilt. I felt we did things that we might not have done with other companies.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Staying at homestays enabled us to meet the local people. They were comfortable, had air conditioning and in the majority of cases had fridges for cold drinks. We had guided tours which not only gave us knowledge about the place but gave us more personal insight. Using pre-arranged taxis as our main form of transport made travelling easy. Our main practical tip is take lots of snacks with you as choice is limited in Cuban supermarkets. A little Spanish would have definitely added to the trip though we managed without!

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Tourism definitely benefits the country. Staying in the homestays, using local restaurants, guides, boat trips all must help and have a knock-on effect.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

The holiday was excellent. Marcel from the operator is fantastic. He knows the country intimately and planned a personal itinerary for us. He is extremely conscientious and well organised and everything went to plan. His Cuban representative is equally conscientious and committed to providing clients with the best. Before your trip, Marcel sends a detailed itinerary and a general information pack on Cuba which includes an incredible amount of practical information. I cannot rate Marcel and the Cuban representive highly enough as they arranged this holiday for us at extremely short notice. I would totally recommend them. (I have rated the holiday with four stars and not five stars as I have travelled to many places but the holiday itself in its organisation and enjoyment was five star).

review 24 Apr 2015

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

It would be impossible to choose just one thing! We were absolutely enchanted by Habana, the stately old streets and buildings, some of them crumbling, everywhere pulsing with energy and life and music, music, music; we even found the street hustlers entertaining once we got used to them. Agnes was a lively and informative guide and she gave us a wonderful introduction to Habana. We really enjoyed the homestays with Grisel y Andres in Habana and Ana y Pablo in Trinidad. Giovanny showed us around Cienfuegos and we had a great time with him. We loved Trinidad and wished we had more time there. Guillermo gave us a guided tour of Trinidad that was wonderful and very educational. Jose drove us from Habana to Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Santa Clara and back again . He kept us on schedule and was a charming companion over many miles.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

As I could not contact anyone in Cuba directly, I put my trust in Marcel to make all the arrangements for our trip. He was extremely knowledgeable and really helped me make good choices that fit within our limited time frame. His paladar recommendations and suggestions of things to do were spot-on. He did an outstanding job and I will be contacting him to help with our next trip to Cuba!

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

It was our understanding that the money we spent at home stays, paladars and guided tours went directly to the people we interacted with and we were very glad that we could help contribute to extra income for them. The benefits really worked both ways as we were made to feel so welcome and learned so much about Cuba.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

One of the best holidays ever! We fell in love with Cuba and we are very eager to return. We are so glad that we did this trip on our own instead of with a larger tour group. We could not have done it without the help of Marcel and the excellent work of everyone he connected us with. We really feel that we met everyday Cuban people and gained some understanding of their lives. Many, many thanks to all involved!

review 14 Apr 2015

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

All of it - being in a different country and culture in warm weather. Havana is a beautiful city but the other parts of Cuba are equally interesting in their own right

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Stay in casas particulares wherever you can. The accommodation and food are excellent value for money, and much more Cuban than the hotels. Have a couple of days in Havana at the end of your holiday, to relax. Be careful swimming on the south side of Cuba - there are more jellyfish here than in the north! If you want proper time on a beach, book some extra days at a beach resort specially.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Yes. Staying in casas puts money directly in the pockets of Cuban families, whereas most of the hotels are run by the state. Travelling by tourist bus where possible saved the additional pollution from a taxi. The hotel in Havana did recycling. We had 3 walking excursions in mountains, all of which supported local conservation efforts and enables us to buy drinks from local farmers.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

4.5 It was truly excellent but your over-the-top definition of five stars prevents me from giving that! I have had other excellent holidays but that doesn't mean this was worse.

Read the operator's response here:

Nice to hear from our travellers that their holiday was excellent. One remark about Cuban beaches and possible accommodations. Cuba does not have small boutique hotels on a beach, there are some small beach hotels though but they are an exception. In case people like to have a beach stay we provide a list of all possibilities there are within their time given and itinerary. The beach stays can be at the beginning, end of holiday, or placed in the middle, depending on its location and tailor made itinerary. For people who don't like to stay in all-inclusive resorts or smaller beach hotels there are alternatives of course as staying in homestays and make use of local taxis to explore the beaches in the area for relatively little extra costs. There is only one place in Cuba where you have homestays directly on the beach. There are some differences between the north coasts at the Mexican Gulf and Atlantic Ocean and the south coasts at the Caribbean Sea. The seawater on the south is in general 2 degrees warmer then on the north side and the sea is usually less windy. You can distinguish more or less three to four different areas considering the water temperature and currents around Cuba: on the south side is the Caribbean Sea and the waters are warm during the whole year. Which is more or less the same with the western and a small part of the northern shore close to Florida as the Mexican gulf and Caribbean Sea do mix here and only in winter the sea gets marginally cooler. The east coast of Cuba is affected by currents coming from deeper waters in the Atlantic so here the sea can be slightly cooler during the whole year. The sea life for snorkelling (directly from the beach) on the south side is more abundant according to reports of travellers. Maria la Gorda on the extreme west side of Cuba is a top location for snorkelling and diving and lies in the warm Caribbean currents and is situated in a national park. The jellyfish issue on the south side mentioned in this review must have been a local situation and seasonal moment as there are also reports who describe the reverse that there are jellyfish on the north coasts and not on the south side.

review 7 Apr 2015

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Beautiful beaches, amazing architecture of Havana, some very helpful local people

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

It's hard to make any recommendations as our 3-week holiday was totally tailor made but it had a great balance between experiencing real, unspoiled Cuba and trying out new, modern resorts, hotels and restaurants.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Yes we stayed at 3 private houses and several times between sites travelled using local private taxis (vintage cars) instead of official ones. We also booked several private salsa lessons directly with teachers.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

It was very good, we are already thinking of going back to Cuba

Read the operator's response here:

We are very happy to read that this holiday which was a honeymoon has been a great success. When clients feel attracted to the authentic Cuba we always recommend them to go for a second time as well to East Cuba and visit the area of Baracoa before it is too late. You have tropical mountains here, beautiful beaches, the Cuchillas del Toa Biosphere Reserve, Yumuri canyon and the Humboldt National park. We have developed in this area new nature – culture programs with walking, biking, waterfalls with some rafting, horse riding, visiting farmers, coconut keys and all about the cacoa culture and how the families make chocolate.

review 19 Mar 2015

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

So many different things: the people,the history, the landscape, the architecture, the music. We loved just wandering around in Havana, our lovely hosts Ana Mary & Pablo in Trinidad, enjoyed the trip to the coffee gardens and the Sierra Escambray and the boat trip trip to Cayo Blanco. Our ten year daughter loved the hummingbirds that came to our balcony and the iguana at the beach and all the other plants and animals she'd never seen before. But what mainly stays in the memory are the Cubans themselves - their kindness and joie de vivre.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Take cash, don't expect your cards to work, ours didn't. Go soon, it's marvellous now, and things will change once the blockade is lifted.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Certainly benefited some local people with home stays and paladars not so sure about reducing environmental impacts with that long flight...

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

We absolutely loved it! Everything very well organised by the operator (the only very small hitch we had, about a taxi fare being included or not, was sorted out straight away). Our casa particular hosts were all very friendly and really charming and their houses well located. It was a great trip.Thank you to everyone involved.

review 14 Mar 2015

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Probably, the hike in Baracoa. The local guide was absolutely lovely and we had such a wonderful and varied day, and we will both remember the day forever. However, all the casa particulaires were great and gave us the best opportunity to talk with the local people,hear about their lives and experiences and understand a little about the current situation in Cuba. The itinerary we had worked out meant that we saw such varied cities and parts of Cuba...for instance Havana is so different from Santiago or Trinidad we were really glad that we had gone that extra distance from west to east, and had not restricted our options.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

We would always recommend the casa particulaires. They were simple, but always clean and the hosts were welcoming and helpful. The food was good and satisfying. We always tried to have at least one evening meal at the casa and they were great value. All the information supplied by the tour company was extremely helpful, from how to negotiate driving in the various towns, optional excursions not included in the itinerary and restaurants in the different towns.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

We hope so. Staying in local homes meant that the hosts were earning additional monies that is very important for them. Also, the tour operator had suggested that we take items to give to local people, particularly in Baracoa. We had taken lots of very cheap reading glasses, that were invariably received with great delight.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

It was a great holiday...the organisation was very good....no problems at all except the flight from Santiago back to Havana was delayed by 5 hours, but this could not have been anticipated. We always felt that should problems arise we had a local contact to sort things out for us. So overall,we would rate this holiday very highly and would recommend it to anybody.

review 11 Feb 2015

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Pretty much all of it! Havana deserves its reputation, but everywhere we went had its own distinct personality and atmosphere while still be being obviously Cuban. There are all the things you think you know about Cuba - the music, the revolution, the cars - but there is so much more to it than that. For us one of the most exciting parts of the holiday was having the opportunity to find out more and add reality to the myths - without skimping on the rest and relaxation.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

First tip - Be prepared to be surprised. Second tip - enjoy street life. Cuba has its street hawkers, but they are some of the friendliest and least persistent I have ever met

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

I hope so. I'm not sure we had any positive impact on the environment or conservation, but it was clear that our tourist money was going directly to local people running small businesses.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Loved it. It was the perfect mix of independent travel and local back up: effort-free accommodation in some brilliant homestays, local hints and tips, beautiful beaches, and some great local guides who really knew their stuff. It all made for a brilliantly stress-free and really good fun holiday.

review 18 Apr 2015

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Meeting various people in Cuba and explore with them Cuba 2015.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Carefully read the manual provided by the holiday company and ask more about Cuba prior to your trip. Marcel was really helpful for that matter. Upon your arrival, consult your local tourist agency about the tour plan, timetable etc. They have 'a foot on the ground' and are ready to help. We fully understand the difficulties for arranging such a tour while sitting abroad. The chain of information starting at a travel agency and ends up when you meet your guide in Cuba is complicated. If you want a tailor made excursion, re-check it once you reach Cuba, prior to the tour day.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

A short glimpse of Cuba, yet a unique experience.

review 22 Feb 2015

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

The unique impression of Cuba is The People and their ability to conduct normal life and survive

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Feel the atmosphere, interact with people and enjoy the music

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Yes

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Great!

review 22 Apr 2014

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Every day of my trip brought something interesting and memorable. Cuba is a beautiful country rich in natural assets, history and culture with lovely, helpful people keen to show you all their country has to offer. I enjoyed staying in local homes and meeting with such a variety of people. The excursions around Baracoa and to Mil Cumbres were probably my highlights thanks in part to the excellent guides there but then so were Soroa and Cabo San Antonio. There were just so many wonderful and different places.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

-Although you can get by without any Spanish as most of the casa hosts have some English and the guides are fluent, obviously the more you have the better you will be able to communicate with the people you meet. -Give yourself time over the first day or so to adjust to the different lifestyle and way of doing things. It's useful to have found out beforehand some facts about the history, politics and economic situation to aid your understanding. -Follow the detailed briefing manual Marcel sends before your trip and you can't really go wrong. There's always the agent in Havana in any case to sort out whatever difficulties might arise and can't be sorted locally. - There are more ATMs and banks in the main towns and cities than I had thought making it easier to use credit cards to obtain currency as you travel around rather than changing cash all at once on arrival at the airport. -Cuba is much safer than a lot of other countries and you can walk around on your own (obviously taking basic precautions like not flaunting expensive gear or carrying a lot of money). I often got a bit "lost" but most people were very helpful when I asked for directions and were curious as to where I was from and what I thought of Cuba and their specific area. It's well worth going down the back streets to see more of Cuban life especially in Trinidad, for example, where the centre is so touristy. -Any "hassle" in the cities comes from people offering services such as taxis, guides and selling things but you would expect this anywhere. As an older woman on my own I did not find it a problem. We visitors are potential sources of hard currency after all and life is pretty difficult without it. Just saying no with a smile or joke if you didn't want anything was respected. - Being vegetarian is very easy. I was very well catered for especially in the casas with tasty, varied meals. It was so healthy with all the fresh fruits, salads, homemade vegetable soups and stews and my favourite beans and rice. The only "problem" was being given too much and having to ask for smaller portions! - If driving from Maria la Gorda to Cabo San Antonio check out, if the season, what times of day the land crabs are likely to be crossing the road from the forest to the sea and vice versa. Then plan accordingly to avoid punctures although looking for the puncture repair man provides another opportunity to observe village life!

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Staying and eating in local homes definitely directly benefited those people. Other locals such as taxi drivers, bicitaxi pedallers, restaurant, bar and shop owners and staff recommended by hosts also benefited. Tips are important because costs are high compared to average salaries. Cuba sets an example for other countries to follow in conservation and environmental protection in its many national parks. The small charges to visit them contribute to this work. (No glossy brochures, just email communication with Marcel and only printing out what is absolutely necessary is also environmentally friendlier than most other travel companies)

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

I had an amazing time travelling round Cuba in February-March this year and can't praise Marcel enough for arranging such great itineraries (3 weeks on my own travelling by bus followed by 2 weeks with a friend and renting a car). He knows first hand all the casas and guides he books for you. There was a good balance of planned activities and time to relax or choose to do more. I experienced and learned so much as well as having small adventures and a lot of fun along the way. I was very well looked after in the casas and the phoning ahead to the next place and being met at the bus stations worked well. Marcel's agent in Havana, was also most helpful with the initial briefing meeting and then keeping a check throughout the trip that all was progressing as planned. This was an outstanding holiday. Cuba is a fascinating country in so many ways and I am now desperate to return! In the meantime I've joined the Cuban Solidarity Campaign back here in the UK. I highly recommend the excellent service provided by Marcel. With his extensive knowledge of the country, his local contacts and the ability to include any requests and interests you may have, he will undoubtedly create the ideal, memorable trip for you as well.

review 18 Jan 2014

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Camaguey, Camaguay and Camaguay; it was like everything about Cuba at its best. Fine arts, architecture, history, music, dancing, ongoing restoration, excellent guided tours, ambiance, very obliging hostesses/hosts, fantastic food (mainly at cassas particulares). Having been given the chance of a glimpse of what it could/will be like when all the restoration is done - magnificent. ie. seeing what Camaguey could be like gives an idea of what other Cuban cities could be like if they are repaired and restored like Camaguey. The vibrant atmosphere of Camaguey is instantly infectious - its just a different pulse - the only place we saw construction workers wearing protective gloves.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Look out for holes in the footpaths and roads, be prepared to walk slowly. Don't worry about the roads, the drivers know them thoroughly. Always make sure your next hosts know when and where to meet you with your names. Easy, flat walks are not always that flat or easy and may change due to circumstances beyond your and your guides control. Know as much Spanish as you can. Though all hostesses/hosts and guides had good English. Realise how difficult it might have been to obtain and prepare your food which is always prompt, abundant and beautifully presented.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Yes. Local guides (particularly I rural areas), Hostesses/hosts. It is good to know so many protected areas exist though not being a sterile museum. Because I speak Spanish I was able to have more discussion with people in general and exchange opinions.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

It was our home whilst we were there - in each casa - we were made to feel we were really at home whilst still being free to come and go wherever and whenever we wanted. "I can't understand how things get done, but they always do." As a fellow tourist said. eg. an internal flight was postponed from 22.20 to 03.20, one bus was three hours late (puncture on the 300 mile journey from Habana before picking us up - obviously not their fault) and one bus left half an hour early - everyone was there! Fantastic to be away from the otherwise all pervasive influence of International Capital

review 30 Dec 2014

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

We have wanted to visit Cuba for a long time. Our trip met and exceeded our expectations. We really felt that were able to get a deeper understanding of the places we visited and the lives of the people we met. This was achieved through taking up the offer of arranging in advance individual guides to show us around (cities and forests), and through staying in home stays rather than hotels (apart from our first night – when the anonymity of a hotel is beneficial to acclimatising to a new time zone and culture). The memorable parts were all related to experiences with local people, seeing local wildlife and visiting areas of outstanding beauty. The excitement came from travelling independently – but with the confidence that comes from knowing that experienced local agents of were available to call upon if things went wrong. (For example when we experienced a mechanical fault with our hire car – and found that the ‘helpline’ was manned by Spanish only speaking staff – a quick call to our local contact, resulted in a repair truck being with us within 40 minutes.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

We found the advice and sample itineraries offered invaluable in allowing us select experiences that we knew we would enjoy – using the skills and experience of local people to show us the places we would inevitable miss otherwise. This also meant that we were put in touch with those who could channel our ambitions of contributing to rather than exploiting Cuba through our tourist activities. Therefore, the first tip - is to listen to the advice given (both in terms of possible plans and from reading the very detailed background and specific information provided once the holiday planning starts to take shape). We really enjoyed having an itinerary that took us to a variety of different places within our trip. The result was the feeling of having five or six holidays in one. The related tip would be that you should get a balance between seeing different things and pacing yourself to a level that you will find comfortable Hiring a car provides the opportunity to have an additional measure of independence. It is well worth doing this through the agency. Their local contacts are able to ensure that a good deal is struck and that the car is provided. (There is high demand for rental vehicles – so having a fluent Spanish speaker who has developed good working relationships with the rental operator working for you is a definite plus.) We discovered an ‘App’ called ‘Cuba Offline’. It works on Android and Apple devices. We loaded it onto our IPad before leaving the UK – then downloaded a very detailed map of Cuba. On arrival we enabled the ‘share position’ option and also the ‘movie record with audio’ function within the settings section of the app. This then used satellites to locate us in real time onto the downloaded map (expandable to street level) without the need for an internet connection or local sim card – hence no fee. This was absolutely invaluable in navigating our hire car around Havana – along country lanes and to each home stay. The beauty of it was that if we took a wrong turn – we were aware of it within 50 metres, and so could compensate quickly. This was particularly useful when coming to junctions near Vinales and Trinidad – when some Jineteros (hustlers) were keen to deliberately gesture the wrong direction in order to get us to stop and give them lifts etc (which we were expressly advised not to do by the car hire company and also by our travel guides).

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

We were delighted that we could make a positive impact through tipping, giving gifts and items not readily available due to the long running embargo to guides, local people, schools and musicians. The information provided by our agent in advance of our holiday ensured that we collected some of items that would be of most use (toothpaste, toothbrushes, books, pencils, toiletries etc) which we were then able to pass out to people as we travelled. These gifts were graciously accepted, and at no time we get a sense of being patronising in the process.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

We had a fantastic time. The people were wonderful. The experiences were varied, interesting and fun. At no time did we feel any sense of threat, and the memories will remain with us for a long time. We would love to return.

review 28 Dec 2014

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

The tropical beach location of the home-stay in Playa Larga, barely a couple of meters from a beautiful sandy beach was the lapping Caribbean with coconut trees and a glorious sunset and sunrise to live long in the memory. The exciting monsoon downpour that occurred while we were walking to the restaurant, in Havana, that resulted in an exciting ride in a cycle rickshaw through roads that had become rivers and lakes. We cycled through Havana at night to our hotel and it felt amazingly safe, especially when we came across an old American car jacked up and being repaired in the middle of traffic junction. When we stopped in the woods for some shade on the road through the Zapata swamp and were amazed to find it densely populated by huge crabs of amazing colours. Dancing Salsa to the live band on the steps in Trinidad will stay with us forever!We also found some brilliant salsa teachers in Trinidad, where we arrived as customers and left as friends.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

We booked a custom cycle touring holiday in Cuba for just the 2 of us. This was our first cycling holiday outside of Europe on our own and we were a little nervous of the travel and accommodation arrangements before we left. However, we need not have worried as everything ran like a dream and we arrived at our destinations mid afternoon with plenty of time to explore and enjoy the varied home-stays the had been arranged for us. The local agent was in contact with our host to make sure we were expected and received a warm welcome, she was quick to resolve a slight problem when I could not find the right vouchers for the hotel. The roads in Cuba are quiet and safe, even the motorways, but it was difficult to obtain roadside food outside the towns and tourist destinations. We took some energy bars and a water filter and had to make use of them on a couple of occasions. We suggest you take advantage of food and drink stops when they are available. The road were as good as British roads with a few pot holes and the occasional washed out section, but we had no mechanical problems or punctures in 500km of riding on road bikes with 28mm tyres. The mountains roads we rode were steep in sections but never lasted long and tended to be rolling with long straight sections. However distance between towns are considerable and to see the popular towns you either ride along them or take a taxi. We rode from Playa Larga to Cienfuegos, about 100Km, and it was totally flat with very little shade and a headwind all day, think carefully about you route!

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Cycling through Cuba let us interact with the local people who only see tourist whiz past in buses and taxi. We could spend some of our pesos in the villages rather than the big tourist towns. However, there does now seems to be money in the countryside as we saw lots of building improvements and new modern cars. The conservation work in the forest areas does seem good for the fauna.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Our Cuban Holiday was a great experience, we met lots of friendly people and saw lots of interesting sights. Our favorite city was Trinidad and the beaches and sea were just fantastic.

review 10 Nov 2014

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Exploring the streets and squares of old Havana and soaking in the atmosphere of the Bodeguita del Medio whilst the heavens opened outside. We just had to stay for another Mojito! We found the guides who took us on city tours unusually well informed; we had some interesting and insightful conversations with them about their country.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Cuba is currently a great place if you enjoy third world countries. Go before the Americans lift their trade embargo which will doubtless open the gates for international brands to invade! Don't expect to be able to readily use the internet or credit cards!

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Yes, it benefitted local people. Direct injection of tourist funds into the economy is essential to many Cubans wellbeing and this tour operator actively supports local enterprise.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

We would definitely recommend this company who went to a lot of trouble to plan and prepare our itinerary and give us lots of useful information

review 13 Aug 2014

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Visit and stay in Old Havana, and certain dives at Isla de La Juventud.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Relax, enjoy beauty and warmth of Cuban people and country. Make contact with the little person, avoid people trying to sell you something.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Yes

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Would do it again in a heartbeat minus the rough edges.

review 5 Aug 2014

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

The entire holiday was a wonderful experience, brilliantly organized and executed. It exceed our expectations by a long way (excluding the beach resort). Vinales homestay was a wonderful experience. Trinidad - dancing on the steps and listening to music great. On our last day the scuba diving was exceptional and a delightful way to end our holidays. Every hour was enjoyable and a new experience. Everything we did was wonderful and kept exciting us.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Avoid the 5* beach resort or only spend a few days there. We spent 6 nights, 5 days and it was too long with a wonderful country waiting to be discovered outside. Be warned - there is very little internet access anywhere - our teenage daughter had withdrawal symptoms! Load your kindle with lots of books before leaving home - you have little chance of doing it in Cuba. Food is pretty boring but we did have wonderful food at the home stay in Vinales.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Yes - we brought old laptops with us and gave them to a school of 500 children who did not have a single computer. Also brought pens, toothpaste and memory sticks which were very well received.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Probably the best holiday we have had. The kids would not agree at the moment but I think on reflection they will realise how great it was. They missed computer access and being out of touch with friends. For my husband and I we felt we had been away for a very long trip as we were unable to access any work whilst travelling.

review 2 Aug 2014

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

The walking experience in the Sierra Escambray was wonderful including the overnight stay in a tent on the verandah of the hacienda! We found that the further away from Havana we were travelling, the more we liked the other provinces.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Be prepared for any eventuality! Be wary of too much engagement with Havana locals, we were hustled. Go with an open mind and enjoy the Cuban experience, the food, the passion. Take your own insect repellent, not easily available. Travel by bus, pony & cart, taxi, bici-taxi - all good fun.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Certainly benefitted local people, I would like to think hardly any adverse environmental impacts (other than cars!) and the Cubans by and large support conservation. They have not really exploited the potential of their country natural resources I don't think but it will come.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

We had a fantastic 16 nights throughout Cuba although in such a vast island we only got to see a fraction of what we would like to see so will return in the future.

review 27 May 2014

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

A lovely restaurant in the forest near the coast. Discovering Trinidad, Cuba which was really a little jewel with lovely architecture, showing this is not confined to Havana, good restaurants and a lot to do in the surrounding area. Cubans are very friendly and open and will invite you into their homes.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Ability to speak Spanish, almost a must if you rent a car and drive: road signs are poor to non existent so being able to ask the way and understand the directions given is important if you don't want to get lost. Do try the locally owned (non-government) restaurants: they are very welcoming and some are extremely creative with limited ingredients. It was very easy to get cash using an ATM in a bank. We took the usual precautions, but never felt unsafe wherever we went.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Cubans are generally extremely poor. Being there gave those we met the opportunity to add to their tightly controlled incomes. This was especially true of the guides who were well educated professionals, who earn very little. We bought from several individual crafts people and used privately/family owned restaurants whenever we could.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

The experience in Cuba exceeded our expectations. Marcel from the operator was constantly in touch with us as we made the arrangements and he had to cope with the many changes that arise when dealing with Cuba!! All the arrangements worked as planned. We would certainly recommend him.

Read the operator's response here:

To find your way on Cuba with a selfdrive program, we suggest to find out at home which navigation apps are best to use for your smartphone, if you can download free maps of Cuba with this app or that you have to buy digital maps of Cuba via TomTom for instance. Having a good physical roadmap with you stays still very handy of course as you have a direct quick overview. Driving with a navigation app it is not a must to be able to speak some Spanish, with just carrying a pocket phrasebook with you, everyone will find its way. However the more Spanish you speak the more you will be able to make of your holiday as you will be able to communicate with the homestay families and all people you meet along your journey. The guides we arrange for culture and nature excursions on location always speak very well English so they will be always able to explain you all about Cuba! And to take away any concerns of starting Cuba travelers: since we have started with offering tailor made and selfdrive holidays on Cuba everyone arrived on the destination on the day they had to. We can highly recommend the free Navigator app for Android, it has good free maps of whole Latin America and also the map of Cuba can be downloaded for free. Search on Google for Mapfactor + Navigator Tip: take care that you already download all the points / cities / villages you are going to visit in your itinery on your smartphone at home ! You only need your GPS function to be on and you do not need any wifi which makes this app so practical as on Cuba there is no wifi anyway up to now (only at some 4-5 star hotels). Make sure that data roaming via your mobile on Cuba is switched off all the time and doublecheck this now and then! ( nb: there are also special apps to see quickly your data usage by wifi and mobile roaming, one is called Datamanager). We have used Navigator on Cuba and in several Latin American destinations and so far all good. Another recommendation from travellers is to download some streetmaps of Google maps on your tablet or print them out at home so that navigating in Cuban cities is made easier. However for realtime navigation with Google maps you need wifi so for navigation on Cuba this can’t be used.

review 26 May 2014

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

It is hard to decide as so much of it was amazing. We loved trekking in the Escambray Mountains with Jory the most enthusiastic of guides. He knew so much about nature and the environment and the history of the area. Staying in the Casa Particulares (homestays) is highly recommended as all were comfortable, the food was delicious and the families lovely. We loved the different architectural styles, from the faded grandeur of Havana, to the picture postcard pastel painted places in Vinales and Trinidad. We very much appreciated going to a farming cooperative and seeing how the Vinales population benifited from this arrangement. The eco-farm there has the most amazing food and drink. The beaches were clean, not too crowded and beautiful. Last but not least we learnt to salsa the Cuban way x

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Make sure to take some Western luxuries like soaps to give away as they will be greatly appreciated. Take salsa classes at the start of the trip rather than later as the Cubans love to salsa and every bar seems to encourage dancing. Always use local guides as they really know their areas and are happy to take you off the beaten normal tourist tracks. Take ear plugs for the homestays in the more rural areas as the cocks, pigs and dogs wake up very early and make a loud noise! We stayed at the Hotel Raquel which was beautiful and we would definitely return - but it has no internet access and mobile phone reception is patchy (I saw this as a bonus). Take toilet paper everywhere with you when you are out as it is in short supply or you are charged for it. At the airport a toilet assistant tried to charge us 5 CUC for some toilet paper- totally outrageous.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Marcel from the operator always uses local guides and his contact in Cuba is a Havanan lady who really knows her stuff. We felt the trip benefited local people as we stayed in homestays, used local taxi drivers for transport and guides local to the areas we visited, whose lifestyles depended on tourist tips. We ate in the homestays most of the time as this helps them greatly financially now that there is so much competition from the restaurants. When trekking the guides are very aware of the impact on the environment and strived to minimise the negative impact tourists have on it. I would say to go to Cuba sooner rather than later as change is happening there and some of the old sights may disappear in the non too distant future.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

I would rate it highly and would definitely recommend this operator as a company to use. Marcel was very informative, listened to our needs and tailored the trip to suit our requirements. The homestays he booked were excellant and everything ran smoothly. He sent a booklet out once we booked but prior to going - a large amount of information explaining all the intricacies of the Cuban culture and way of life and what to expect , which was extremely helpful. We felt that if anything were to go wrong we had someone we could always call to sort issues out - although thankfully this wasn't really needed. We will be certainly be recommending this trip to friends.

review 15 May 2014

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Each place we visited was memorable in its own way. We loved Vinales for its 'wild west' feel, and the beautiful scenery. We loved Trinidad for the beautiful buildings and friendliness and the Casa de la Musicia is a must see. Our favourite moments were the spontaneous, unexpected ones, particularly being given shelter from the rain in a palador in Trinidad where a massive party ensued, ending the night dancing in the cave disco!

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Stay in casas and don't be worried about their quality, ours were all spotlessly clean, safe, and comfortable with plenty of privacy. Take a walking tour in Trinidad, extremely informative and pleasant. Take good shoes though the cobbles are unsuitable for flip flops! Take small presents such as mini toiletries, lots of small bags of sweets. don't give them to maids in hotels as they get plenty already. You are not obliged to tip to use the toilets. The tip is for toilet paper so if you have your own you don’t need to pay. I recommend you take your own as theirs is very poor quality.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

We visited the Topes Collantes which was a conservation site. We tipped local guides and paid cash to local casa owners.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Exciting and surprising. Each day brought a new story and memory. We loved mixing with the local people and never felt unsafe. I would highly recommend it.

review 23 Apr 2014

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

The trip was exciting. Got to meet interesting people within a different culture.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Whenever possible, consider bringing clothes and books to leave behind. I'd also bring some energy snacks, dried fruits and plastic bags.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Conversations with local people were held whenever possible, tried to understand their different points of view.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Great holiday in most aspects. We only stayed at casas, and enjoyed the hospitality and caring of casas owner and occasional local people.

review 22 Apr 2014

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

The best were : Ancon playa near Trinidad, Topes de Collantes, Tour to Vinales valley.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

When you come to Cuba stay only the first day in Havana and at the end 2-3 days more. Don’t dare to go in Havana to "Tropicana" for us it was bad (Tourist trap). If you can book hotel:"Conde de Villaneueva". You can give up the restaurant : El Mirador.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

The Cuban people were very welcoming, polite, did most of the time the best to help. It was for us a very interesting country to visit, showed to us different way of life and thinking.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Some wonderful memories, I would not hesitate to recommend it to a friend. I had to give an excellent rate and recommendation to Marcel that planned and designed the Vacation. I also want to give a high rate to our young tour guy in Cuba : Julio Ceasar He did his best to explain, and to feel the atmosphere in Cuba. GREAT VACATION.

review 8 Mar 2014

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

We loved the contrast between Havana and Trinidad, and the fact that both places are so different from anywhere else we have visited. The Sugarmill Valley near Trinidad has stunning scenery but we also got a real sense for the terrible treatment & hardship suffered by the slaves. The Napolean Museum in Havana is a real treasure. The collection is unbelievable and such a surprise to find this in Havana. We loved the beauty of Baracoa's mountains and of course the coast.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

You will need to take lots of money as Cuba is very expensive. Try to get the Nacionales Currency (CUP) as well as CUC as it is much cheaper to buy food in CUP. The food is fine and plentiful but very plain, so maybe take a jar of your favourite sauce. The airport Bureau de change is happy to take sterling when you arrive in the country but will not change CUC back to sterling when you leave.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Yes we paid the owners of Casa Particualres direct and always paid tips. We took clothes and other items which we gave away to locals.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Expensive but an amazing experience.

Read the operator's response here:

We are very happy to read that our travelers loved the trip and Cuba, still a few remarks as other readers and new Cuba travelers might not have the full context or inside information. If Cuba is expensive or not expensive depends on what you compare Cuba with. The rent of a homestay is 25 – 35 CUC per room per night not including yet breakfast. For breakfast, lunch and dinner including some soft drink, beer or cocktail you should calculate around 30 - 35 CUC pp per day for an adult when at a homestay depending on type of meals and how many drinks, eg a good full vegetarian dinner with soup and dessert costs around 7 CUC pp. A 3 course dinner with lobster might be around 12 – 15 CUC pp. The homestay rooms have 2 twin beds, or one big bed per room, airconditioning and ensuite bathroom. At some homestays the twin beds can be big enough to have 2 children in one bed. As a family with small children you can stay therefore in only one room in case it is a family room with 2 bigger twin beds and save on costs. And there are homestays who do have two or more adjacent rooms. This can be of interest for families with bigger children. Further by Cuban law homestays are allowed to accept more than 2 persons per room. However most Cuban homestays have no extra sparebeds or triple rooms. A creative solution for a family of 3 kids is that you can always bring an inflatable matresses and have all the children together in one room without paying extra for another room. Traveling by bus over Cuba is really very economic. But even sharing for instance a middle class rental car among 4 friends is very good value for money having at one hand a luxury car combined with staying at homestays and sharing rooms. Cuba is unique, in whole Latin America there is no other country with such an excellent network of high quality homestays as Cuba has. In the rest of Latin America as budget traveler you will have to stay or in cheap hostels of low quality, or stay in the better but more expensive hotels. We think therefore that Cuba has a really very good value for money ratio when you stay at homestays / casas particulars. Last but not least, a part of your travel investment directly gets ploughed back into the local Cuban communities and in this way you support the Cuban families. Cuba has 2 currencies the peso convertible (CUC) and the moneda national (CUP). Most travelers only get in touch and only do need the peso convertible or CUC. The moneda nacional is still used as a currency in the national / local Cuban economy, however it will disappear sooner or later and its importance is becoming every year less due to the changing economics on Cuba. You only need this money when you want to use a Cuban bus or ferry or want to make use of another local service, but nowadays in almost all cases you can pay in some way or another pay with small coins of CUC for whatever you need or may com across. Most Cuban travelers however will not meet situations in which they are going to need moneda nacional. It is true that when you pay in moneda nacional for instance for a phone card of Etecsa that you get the local Cuban price and that when someone would accept to change CUC into CUP you pay a little more. For foods on the street the price is similar or the difference is very small, it all depends if you have small coins of CUC with you. When you dont have small coins of CUC you pay up ending for everything from some fruits up to using a toilet always as a minimum 1 CUC. When it interests you can easily obtain moneda nacional in a bank, or ask your local guide to change for you. The official rate varies around 24 - 27 pesos moneda nacional for one peso convertible. It is said that both the CUC and moneda nacional will be replaced with a new currency, however so far there are no signs that this is going to happen very soon. When you receive CUC money you should ask for small notes as you need them for most sorts of transactions. Notes of 50 or 100 are often not accepted by small shops or services as they don’t have enough change. So, make sure you always have small notes of 1, 3, 5, and 10 CUC with you. Notes of 20 CUC are usually still accepted. And you should always try to collect small coins of 25, 50 centavos and 1 CUC, especially for making small purchases and giving tips. When returning home the bank at the airport may not have GBP to change your CUC back, this depends on incoming flights and available currency stock on the airport, but they always have USD (and a limited amount of EUR) in stock, so you can always change back your CUC at least in USD! When you still have a considerable amount of CUC to change back at the end of your holiday, best is to change already a part the day before you depart at one of the Cadeca banks in Havana or at an all-inclusive beach resort.

review 4 Mar 2014

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Our family of 5 travelled in Cuba for 9 days using taxis for transfers and staying in casas particulares. I especially enjoyed our 4 nights in Trinidad as it offered a good blend of sights, beach and culture. Havana was amazing for its architecture and night life.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Definitely stay with local families and eat at their place on at least one occasion. Learn some Spanish before you go. Take a dance or percussion class.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Yes definitely. By staying with local families and eating with them, money goes straight to the family. We also did laundry via the family. We did hikes/snorkelled/swam as much as possible which showed we (as tourists) valued the natural environment and supported conservation. I would encourage each casa to have a large supply of filtered water so there is no pressure to buy large amounts of bottled water.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Fabulous. Exciting, different and relaxing. Marcel from the operator organised everything so well from our arrival at the airport where we were met by his partner on location, to our final taxi ride to the airport. The voucher system worked well for the activities. We were always dubious that a car would find us at our casa but sure enough they would be there right on time every day. Marcel’s partner worked hard behind the scenes when there were occasional glitches.

review 22 Feb 2014

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Staying in homestays in Cuba and taking part in an organised bird watching day in the Zapata peninsula, and going on a mountain walk in Soroa.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Be aware of what you want to get from the holiday so that that can be taken into consideration in planning the trip before you go. Make sure you are aware of the distances involved and that you have an accurate idea of costs ( important in Cuba as credit cards cannot be used)

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Certainly benefited local people as we stayed in people's homes and often ate there in the evening. We payed them directly in cash. Our guide in Zapata worked for the National Park and his fee went towards supporting conservation in that area.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

This was a wonderful way to see Cuba and learn about its history, geography and the way people live now.

review 17 Feb 2014

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

The two hour convertible car tour around Havana. It’s a great welcome to the city

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

The food can be bland, bring pepper(not Salt) and other seasoning. It's tough if you are a vegetarian. Bring throw away cloths and small toiletries which you can give out. Tips need lots of small change or you end up giving 1 CUC which adds up over the holiday. Always agree a price before.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Staying at Home-stays is great They are friendly and knowledgeable. Eat in at least one night. The food could be better, it's certainly more plentiful.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

We arranged the detail via email so you never know if it will work. However everyone was perfect. We were met at the airport, spent a couple of days in Havana. Then on to Vinales and then on to Cayo Levisa (beach holiday). All the travel arrangements were good. We were expected at all points.

Read the operator's response here:

It is a good suggestion to bring spices and flavourings with you. You can even bring them with you to donate and many Cuban households will be delighted with it ! In Cuba, if you are a semi-vegetarian and do eat fish, you’ll have plenty of options to choose from and nothing to worry about. When you are a strict vegetarian you are going to have a limited range of dishes during your holiday. When staying at homestays – casas particulares you can indicate what, when and how you want to have your meals, including breakfast. In this way as (non) vegetarian you can create your own meals exactly as you like to have them and this works out great, so as a vegetarian you can really enjoy Cuba as well! For a vegetarian it’s best to ask for rice, beans, fried platanos (bananas), fruit salads, boiled or fried eggs, yuca & malanga – a very nutritious root like yam. Soft boiled yucca, and malanga con mojo, a garlic sauce really delicious. Nowadays there are some top restaurants that prepare interesting dishes for vegetarians with just a little different touch. There is one organic restaurant in Vinales that according to our travellers on group trips from West to East Cuba in 19 to 23 days is chosen as the best restaurant of whole Cuba for the freshness, abundance, variety of vegetarian dishes and not to forget the dedication and love of the people who work there. So it is possible as vegetarian to have a nice gastronomic experience on Cuba but you need to know the places where to go to. This we share with our clients who book with us in the worked out itineraries. The Cuban bean soup is unbeatable delicious, many people will agree. When you’re a strict vegetarian, note however that in many cases the soups in Cuba are prepared with a meat base even if they call it a vegetable soup. The same may apply to vegetarian called bean dishes or soups, which may contain meat. So use your own common sense and do ask very specifically if it contains any animal meat or animal fat instead of asking if it is vegetarian, as Latin Americans in general don’t understand the ins and outs of a vegetarian life-style and often may not consider pork or chicken as meat.

review 15 Feb 2014

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Fascinating country. We loved walking in the country, home stays, Trinidad. Also learning how the country is changing politically - the challenges are quite fascinating but daunting for the people.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Recognise how great home stays are. Visit Trinidad

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Plenty of local people benefited from our stay - home stay owners, guides, taxi drivers, local restauranteurs. I doubt we did anything to aid the environment or support conservation.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Read the operator's response here:

When travelers make use of guided daywalks or trekkings in Cuban National Parks and Biosphere Reserves with the official governmental organisations a part of the income of the excursions is used for environmental education of the communities that are dedicated to farming inside the natural reserves, for scientific studies and for maintenance of the infrastructure and of the natural reserves itself. The whole organisation and all issues of nature conservation will be not so clear for the daily visitors to the National Parks and Biosphere Reserve of course as they are focused to enjoy the wonders of nature. But when the guides are asked to talk about how their organisation operates within the Biosphere Reserves they will explain with pleasure and in detail how everything functions. In this case the clients visited Sierra del Rosario Biosphere Reserve, the Valley of Vinales, declared as Cultural Landscape Heritage sites by UNESCO for the rural life centered on its tobacco farming, they made a tour through the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of Peninsula de Zapata (located around Bay of Pigs), they had a dayprogram and walk to hacienda Codina departing from Topes de Collantes which is a nature reserve park established in the south-eastern ranges of the Sierra Escambray Mountains, and they visited the Valley de los Ingenios (Sugar Mill valley) developed at the south-eastern foot of the Escambray mountains as UNESCO World Heritage Site together with the colonial village Trinidad. They visited many protected and well preserved nature sites and this is only a still a small part of all the natural beauty and Biosphere Reserves you can visit on Cuba !

review 27 Jan 2014

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

There were so many parts this is tricky. The island is really beautiful and exceptionally photogenic, we spent too long looking through our cameras but we do have fabulous photos and memories. It’s a cliché but we really enjoyed a trip in a vintage car through the tunnel to the other side of Havana to see the Christ statue and Che's house. We had a guide and a driver who we had met and negotiated a price with on the street. Once the business part was over they really tried to show us the city and to make sure we enjoyed ourselves, the two hour trip extended to well over two and half hours and was great fun, including a trip to a forest area and a rum cocktail. The view of the city from the Christ statue is fabulous and should not be missed. We enjoyed visiting Santa Clara for the Che museum and Mausoleum (the interior of the latter was beautifully understated). We also enjoyed the drama of the Monumento a la Toma del Tren Blindado in Santa Clara. We found a few perfect beaches, with silky white sand, crabs and a clear sea, usually with no one else around or just a small number of people - absolute bliss. The guided walks at Soroa and Topes de Collantes, outside Trinidad were a real highlight, both for the flora and fauna but also for the guides who were real enthusiasts and were delighted to share their knowledge.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Most people are really friendly and the best way to get on even with those who may intend to profit from you, is to keep things light, lots of smiling and laughing work a treat. We had some lovely interaction with people. You can wear American clothing, we left anything that was vaguely American at home fearing that it might offend but we encountered no anti-American feeling and lots of people were wearing clothing with American football, baseball logos etc. If you are travelling with this company, take heed of Marcel's advice! If you are travelling around by hire car, be aware that no-one can stop you except the police. Some people will try to wave you down to ask for lifts, tell you that roads are closed or you can't go that way, etc

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

We were pleased to pay the home stay hosts directly and made a point of eating dinner at the homestay at least once during our stay, we had some fabulous food. We gave tips to all and sundry because it is the thing to do, so we knew that some people had benefited from serving or helping tourists. You could not help be aware however that there were many not receiving any tourists CUCs. It was great to see the guides share their tips equally with the drivers and cooking staff on the trips.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

It was one of the best holidays we have had as a family and I would definitely recommend this company to anyone who was thinking of going to Cuba who wanted to travel around. Marcel gave us good guidance during the planning stages and several times during in our trip we were pleased that we had taken his advice and not that offered by the guidebooks. His agent was extremely efficient and we felt confident that if we had any problems she would know how to sort them. In fact we had no problems, the trip was pretty much stress free, the history is fascinating, there is lots of art too, we met lovely people, saw beautiful landscapes and unusual wildlife and enjoyed wonderful fresh food. What could be better?

Read the operator's response here:

For detailed and up to date information about whether take hitchhikers with you or not, about the do’s and don’ts on a selfdrive program and this issue raised here please ask us after having booked. We always offer a briefing on the day to day itinery by tel or Skype before the departure of our customers. It is true that people who try to stop the car in an active way should be avoided as they have intentions to deviate travelers to their business and homestays / casas particulares. A local tip from one of our homestay families in Trinidad is in case you happen to come across one of these so called house hunters (which can be boys, girls or even young mothers with children) is to tell them that you are booked in a hotel and their interest in you usually disappears directly.

review 17 Jan 2014

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Havana. It is the most spectacular example of Cuba's survival without resources. The crumbling buildings, cars, roads, remain bustling as people find a way to carry on with life, despite a great lack of material resources.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Good maps would be helpful if you are driving in the country. Or an off-line GPS program. I used one by Kaart for iPhone, but it wasn't very good. When you needed it most, it completely was lost.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Definitely. The best thing you can do for Cuba now is go visit. I think everyone needs a connection to tourist income to survive, as official economy wages are inadequate. Most of the money we spent went to individuals.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

4 stars. But, 5 would be a lot to ask.

Read the operator's response here:

In case you have a selfdrive program and/or just like to work with a GPS app on your smartphone, we suggest to find out at home which application(s) are best to use for your smartphone and if you can download free maps of Cuba with this app or that you have to buy digital maps of Cuba. We can highly recommend the free Navigator app (the one we use is on Android), it has good free maps of whole Latin America and also the map of Cuba can be downloaded for free. Search on Google for Mapfactor + Navigator or follow the download via Google Play via this link: http://navigatorfree.mapfactor.com/en/download/ Tip: take care that you already download all the points / cities / villages you are going to visit in your itinery on your smartphone at home ! You only need your GPS function to be on and you do not need any wifi which makes this app so practical as on Cuba there is no wifi anyway up to now (only at some 4-5 star hotels). Make sure that data roaming via your mobile on Cuba is switched off all the time and doublecheck this now and then! ( nb: there are also special apps to see quickly your data usage by wifi and mobile roaming, one is called Datamanager). We have used Navigator on Cuba and in several Latin American destinations and so far all good. Another recommendation from travellers is to download some streetmaps of Google maps on your tablet or print them out at home so that navigating in Cuban cities is made easier. However for realtime navigation with Google maps you need wifi so for navigation on Cuba this can’t be used.

review 15 Jan 2014

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

We enjoyed all of our holiday. What made it great was not one specific part but the fact that we did so many different things from cultural aspects to hiking and relaxing on a beach.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Stay in casa particulares and eat there when possible, it was a really nice experience even if we were not able to speak Spanish

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

The salaries paid by the government are so low that any money that people can make by renting a room, being a guide or a driver improves their lives a lot. So any money paid by tourists directly to local people is a great help for them.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Great holiday, great organisation, everything was as planned and fine. Beautiful country. We recommend Marcel from tour company who organised it all for us.

review 14 Jan 2014

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Driving on Cuban roads - quite a challenge.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Definitely include homestays in your trip. Try to travel independently - driving can be tricky in places, but it's nowhere near as bad as some internet forums make out. Take a bottle of Tobasco sauce with you; after a couple of weeks of Cuban food, you'll want something to add a strong taste.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Certainly benefitted the local people we stayed with, and the independent guides we used.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Excellent, but challenging at times

Read the operator's response here:

We receive a lot of questions about selfdrive on Cuba, therefore we like to give some further comments so that more travelers can read about this. 1) The roads are relatively very empty on Cuba, it is a real pleasure to drive over Cuba and explore the island in this way as long as you enjoy driving and experience finding your way as a part of the adventure and holiday. A laid back attitude on Cuba and in the Caribbean in general is always better to enjoy your holiday whether you travel with your rental car, by private taxi or by regular bus. 2) Most roads are completely fine on Cuba. On some specific roads in the countryside you may encounter potholes or damaged road decks, when this is the case we always inform our clients in the road descriptions they receive from us and eventually alternative roads to take. 3) When you have a selfdrive program and/or just like to work with a GPS app on your smartphone, we suggest to find out at home which application(s) are best to use for your smartphone and if you can download free maps of Cuba with this app or that you have to buy digital maps of Cuba. We can highly recommend the free Navigator app, it has good free maps of whole Latin America and also the map of Cuba can be downloaded for free. Tip: take care that you already download all the points / cities / villages you are going to visit in your itinery on your smartphone at home ! You only need your GPS function to be on and you do not need any wifi which makes this app so practical as on Cuba there is no wifi anyway up to now (only at some 4-5 star hotels). Make sure that data roaming via your mobile on Cuba is switched off all the time and doublecheck this now and then! We have used Navigator on Cuba and in several Latin American destinations and so far all good. Another recommendation from travellers is to download some streetmaps of Google maps on your tablet or print them out at home so that navigating in Cuban cities is made easier. However for realtime navigation with Google maps you need wifi so for navigation on Cuba this can’t be used. 4) Only as a beginner traveler on Cuba we recommend our customers that it is better to not drive at night. Unless you drive very carefully, have become an experienced Cuba traveler or have no other option. This is for two reasons. Firstly, some roads in Cuba can be in a bad state. There’s usually no street lighting and/or white reflecting lines so you might hit a deep hole and damage the car. Secondly, many road users either don’t have or don’t use lights just simply as they do not have the batteries or equipment. So this might get you into a difficult situation when you drive to hard! In case of an accident you will usually be considered to be the one who is responsible. You can come across people on horses, horse and carts, bicycles, motorcycles, all kinds of pedestrians and hitchhikers. When there’s no street lighting, it is really very dark in the rural areas after sunset, much more so than in your home country. Sunrise and sunset times at your travel time can be easily checked for Cuba at different times in the year via http://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/sunrise.html 5) Then the car insurance, this is obligated on Cuba and always included with a car rental. The insurance covers all damages or robbery even in case the driver is responsible of the accident, as long as you can present a police report to the car rental agency. 6) For those who prefer not to selfdrive, prefer not to travel by regular bus and like to explore still off the beaten path we arrange private taxi transfers in which cultural visits, lunch, swimming and/or snorkeling-diving breaks can be all included. We indicate per traject-itinery which stops can be included and can be interesting for the travelers involved according to their interests. We can also arrange taxi transfers with classical American cars in case you stay at homestays and wish to have this experience of traveling in the old Cuban style. 7) At last but not at least, on some fora some travelers warn and do not recommend to selfdrive on Cuba as in case you have a serious accident you have to stay on Cuba until the accident has been fully investigated. This is true but as long as you drive with caution and avoid driving in the dark (see point 4) there is little to fear about. When you prefer to drink without having to think whether you can or not, we recommend people always to make use of private taxi transfers. Traveling on Cuba and enjoying your holiday is all related to expectations and having the correct information of what you might meet before you start. We always offer our customers to have a briefing by Skype or tel chat before they depart and have them informed as good as possible in this way and through our Cuba Manual. Besides that they receive a briefing in Havana from our partner on their second day. Still traveling on Cuba stays an adventure but that is we think part of traveling on your own and the holiday fun. We also like to mention that in case people look for a complete guided tailor made itinerary in which they do not have to bother about all kind of minor or major details, in which they just can surrender to an overwhelming experience of the authentic and seductive Cuba – which Cuba can be and many times is - we offer to guide travel parties of 4, 6 or more people up to 20 persons. We have guided many travel parties over the last 14 years together with local Cuban guides and in this way Cuba has become also a family of us. You can contract us for a specialized tour leader service so that you have an amazing holiday with your travel party and all typical Cuban issues are smoothly solved at location. This is not only valid for Cuba but is also offered for roundtrips in Argentina, Peru, Brasil, Bolivia, Chile & Colombia.

review 29 Nov 2013

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

The travelling round cuba and how well it was organised from the time we stepped of the plane, right up till we boarded the plane to go home we were so well looked after, and we saw everything we had asked to see, it was five star all the way, all the guides and hotels were first class, cannot praise Marcel enough for the organisation.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

The only tip I can give is just to say where you want to go what sights you would like to see, then sit back and Marcel will make it your most unforgettable holiday.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Yes I feel we benefited the people in cuba even though we stayed in hotels and not with families, we helped many people there and brought local produce, and we saw the real cuba which was what both myself and my husband wanted.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

The holiday was excellent, just what we asked for and very well looked after from beginning to end, everything was done on time and all guides were first class.

review 27 Aug 2013

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

We had an absolutely brilliant time in Cuba. Dancing, I don't know where to start It was the best holiday I have ever been on. We had so many unexpected experiences that it is so difficult to say which is the most memorable. We encountered a huge storm in Trinidad that caused the roads to be flooded. We came across a small music group in a little bar in Playa Larga who were brilliant. We had an hilarious evening in bar 1514 in Trinidad with dancers and musicians, so many

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Learn some spanish! Travel around, and dont be afraid to have free days just wandering around. It makes it easier to allow responsible travel to book up guides and trips, then you pay for them in advance and you don't worry about the cost! There are some depressing stories and warnings to take into account but in reality very few happened, but it is good to be aware!

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

The money mostly goes to the government but as this is a socialist country that is not surprising. By staying in Casa's we were contributing to the economy, we used local restaurants and guides, Tipping was appreciated and we gave away clothes and hard to get goods. The country has an excellent environmental policy and we felt we were contributing throughout.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

It was wonderful, I want to go and visit the other half next time, the travel by car was amazing because we travelled down empty roads and saw the small towns and the way the people lived in the countryside. The people we met were all lovely and we felt like part of the family in some cassas. It was great to meet people but we must learn more Spanish. The history of the country is fascinating and so good to see the museums. The landscape is tremendous and so varied.

review 22 Mar 2013

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

So many. One of them, is this sunset on the sand band between the river Toa and the beach. Incredible beauty. But also a great memory at Casa Trova in Santiago de Cuba, and Baracoa. Cuban music is very passionate.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

- Make your plan to stay as long as possible because it's never enough :-) - Stay with homestays and eat with them: People are so nice and cook so well - Ask Marcel from the operator to organise the best guide in Baracoa for you - It's a plus if you like the colonial architecture and retro cars. So good cameras to take plenty of photos and wear good shoes because it's really worth to do a lot of walking in the city. - Bring small gifts for the kids.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Yes, we do (see above)

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

UNFORGETTABLE - BREATHTAKING - FUN - EMOTIONAL - EDUCATIONAL

review 4 Jan 2013

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

The Cuban people -- warm, welcoming, helpful

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Definitely stay in casa particulares -- the best way to meet people and see the real Cuba

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Yes, the proprietors of the home stays and the local guides benefited

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Excellent; an experience of a life time. Marcel arranged the perfect trip

review 22 Dec 2013

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

The homestays were exceptional. They walked the extra mile to make us feel like at home.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Avoid state run resorts like Maria La Gorda. They aren't run very well and the service isn't great.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Yes, throughout all our holiday we felt local people was reaping the benefits of our stay.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

We got out of our holiday exactly what we were looking for. A great experience, a bit of activity, contact with locals, getting to know the culture, the real situation in Cuba and relaxing at the end in a fantastic beach.

review 22 Sep 2013

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Beng able to travel around Cuba on our own steam and stay with Cuban families in Casas particulares.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Don't be afraid to go off the beaten track a bit especially with all the wealth of advice from the organisers

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Staying in and paying directly for our lodgings and having meals in our Casas Particulares really helps local people and the guided walks were fascinating and supported conservation projects.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Excellent - enjoyable and informative, varied and well organised

review 15 Aug 2013

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

The city of Trinidadian and its surrounding towns. Beautiful cobbled streets, old colonial buildings, friendly people and a very safe environment. All the experiences of Havana are possible but in a less hectic setting with fewer tourists. My hiking in the sierra escambray area was really memorable and the coffee and tobacco farms were great to see.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Definitely make the time to go to Trinidadi. It's a great way to see the heart of Cubans and their lifestyle.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

There was definitely benefit to locals in terms of home stays, taxis, bici taxis, bars, restaurants and dance/music teachers.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

A great experience, a fascinating country and to be seen before it changes!

review 11 Aug 2013

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

We loved Cuba, its people, its music, its history. The weather was a blessing, beautiful landscape, snorkeling in cayo blanco superb and the Cuban vibe simply irresistible. We will definitely go back again!

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Read about Cuba before you go. It’s important to understand the context in order to have a memorable trip.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

I think we did. It was great to have stayed with a Cuban family and meet local people in a way a package holiday wouldn't have allowed us to do. We loved it.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

9/10 on this occasion as there were a couple of details that caused a delay and missed a visit to a museum, and caused the snorkeling break at cueva de los peces to have Been a bit rushed. We know its Cuba and it happens. It could easily have been 10/10. Thanks to this operator and our local host for all their help.

review 19 May 2013

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

To stay in people's homes makes for a much more diverse and interesting, and indeed pleasurable experience. Most homes have only one or two available rooms but landladies operate a cooperative and all seem to know each other well. We occasionally were unable to stay in the same homestay as our friends but were always nearby, either next door or a short walk away and were able to have meals together. Understanding such arrangements in Spanish, which none of us spoke, was all part of the fun! In every case we felt very well looked after by our host family who happily phoned ahead to confirm our accommodation booking the following evening and were happy to reconfirm or book taxis. We had a private tour for two weeks. We stayed in people's houses and travelled around (4 of us) by tourist bus and taxis. We had a brilliant holiday, the homestay accommodation was always excellent even if it was not the house we were expecting to stay in. We stayed in Havana, Vinales, Cayo Levisa, Soroa and Trinidad. These provided a variety of experiences and we went on various day trips, all were booked in advance and were of a high standard. All our homestay meals were delicious and the portions were very generous. Live music everywhere, wonderful! Cuba was a very interesting country to visit, different to anywhere we have ever visited before. 2. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation? Yes. By touring around Cuba, staying in home stays and using local guides we felt that the regional areas we visited benefitted from tourist currency and income. All our guides were very knowledgeable and informative. Although it is possible to hire a car, we were very happy with the local taxis and tourist busses. 3. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall? We have rated our holiday very highly. The arrangements made on our behalf by the operator were perfect and it was very reassuring to know that the representative in Havana was at the end of a phone in case there were any glitches.

review 13 May 2013

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

I can't select one sole part, moment or component of the trip. It was a present to me from my family for my 60th birthday. They know, that my teenage has passed with emotions connected with the Cuban revolution and its heroes. Many years has gone since then, I have missed chances to visit Cuba earlier, but I have read a lot about its recent history and development, and one time inspiration and fascination have gone away. Nevertheless, in no way it was not a banal vacation trip. And I am deeply thankful that by chance I spotted Marcel who, after I was almost disappointed facing refusals from many other tourist agencies to organize my ambitious itinerary, made what seemed impossible. Thus, my and my wife were able to see in ten days 100% and even more of what I wanted to see, and a good deal of the numerous valuable to be visited places in Cuba.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

My aims for and expectations from the trip were too special, that certainly there will be few other travellers to match them. Most of the tips for the travel to Cuba are listed in the good tourist guides, and they generally refer to what tourists need to avoid elsewhere - outright trust to what locals offer you in the street, avoiding eating and drinking of food and drinks from unreliable sources, and eluding involvement in any argument concerning visited country's political regime. And certainly, I'll recommend to everybody who seeks not an all inclusive packages for trip not only to Cuba, to approach this operator or Responsible Travel.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Probably not enough, but I believe we did our best to benefit local people with staying exclusively at casas particular, and eating at paladors. Our family's credo is to live according to strict reduction of environmental impacts. As for supporting conservation, first, only small part of the trip was in the natural environment, and because of our age and physical impediments we did most of that part by a car, which is real shame, but we met there Marcel’s local contact, a guide and person who is an exceptional cognocsente of nature and its admirer, and we felt that with such people Cuba's conservation cause has a promising future.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Great, exciting, reflective!

review 4 Apr 2013

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Singing the Hokey Cokey with school children in Soroa.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Be prepared to have your ideals about socialism challenged! Learn Spanish. Remember it's Cuba not England

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

It benefited the homestay owners and the guides and the Cuban economy.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Excellent. Plenty of variety. Some insight into the culture and politics. Met some lovely Cubans. Information and attention from Marcel was excellent - before and after.

review 24 Mar 2013

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Meeting Cuban people.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Don't rush it. Give yourself time to settle into each community.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Yes, in that casa owners are small entrepreneurs, and we were supporting their initiative by staying with them. But we also consumed far more food, energy, etc than they do. By using (and generously tipping) local guides, we tried to show support for their knowledge and the conservation areas where they worked.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

It was eye-opening - definitely another side of Cuba from the resort holiday.

review 22 Mar 2013

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Biking across Cuba was a great way to see the country. It was a completely different experience than riding in a tour bus and staying in tourist hotels. The most memorable part was riding through the countryside, seeing how people live and work, stopping in the small towns and villages that have few tourists.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Carry tools to do most bike repairs. Bikes must be broken down somewhat for in-country air travel and bus travel. Bike repair shops are few and far between, although we did find an excellent mechanic in Cienfuegos. On the domestic flight Cubana de Aviacion did not charge any extra baggage fee to transport our bikes. If you are biking long distances as we did, pay attention to the temperature. Plan to leave early on hot days to get your ride in before the hottest part of the day.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Travelling by bicycle is about as "green" as it gets. As an added gesture, consider taking a bicycle that you are about to get rid of. Ride it in Cuba and then give it to a local person rather than transporting it home.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

We had a wonderful trip. Marcel, our tour planner was very knowledgeable about terrain, sight-seeing and accommodations. The casas particulare in which we stayed were all clean, friendly and adequate in every way. We were completely comfortable. The bicycling was excellent, the people were friendly and we felt safe everywhere we went.

Read the operator's response here:

We are very happy to hear that Noreen and Mark had a wonderful holiday and wish to thank them for all their comments they made to us. It made us clear that we should explain certain issues specifically related to bicycle holidays. We can organize tailor made bicycling trips on Cuba from 3 to 28 days (or more) with culture and nature excursions. From Havana in West Cuba to Santiago or Baracoa in East Cuba, or the other way around, in case when you have 2 or more weeks. When you have a limited amount of days you can bicycle eg from Havana to Trinidad over the Bay of Pigs and return by bus or taxi, or from Havana via Soroa to Vinales. You always have to bring the bicycle with you from your home country. The protection case you can leave behind in Havana at a hotel deposit, or at a homestay and use it again when you fly back home. For the larger itineraries a domestic flight can be integrated eg from Havana to Holguin or Santiago and start biking from there. So far, Cubana de Aviacion does not charge any extra for the transport of a bicycle but that can change of course in a short time. You can take the bicycle with you on the same flight, but you have to take off the handle bars and saddle. If you do not have the tools at hand to make the bicycle smaller, the bike will not pass through the X-ray and will be send one day later with the risk of even more delay. On location we do organise transfers with minivan taxis to skip the long distances that are not interesting and to enjoy at the fullest the best possible routes for bicycle holidays. You can also make use of minivan taxis to bring you to the top of some mountain passes in case you prefer to avoid strong climbing. You can travel with the bikes on the regular tourist buses of Viazul to travel some larger distances. They are put below in the bus and you pay only a little amount extra. The network of Viazul is however limited to the bigger cities and some tourist destinations, so it will not always serve you. For this reason a well thought and well planned itinerary is of great importance to start with. We can offer homestays (casas particulares) all over Cuba, as well as all levels of hotels and/or all-inclusive beach resorts. You can make use only of homestays or have a mix of both. The homestay network on Cuba is very widespread through the whole country and the best network of Latin America so far.

review 21 Jan 2013

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Being transported back in time to many things from the 50's rekindling forgotten childhood memories. As well as the obvious things like cars there were household items like plastic fruits & flowers,plastic 'lace' table mats & cloths,plumbing systems kept working thanks to Heath Robinson adaptations. Elegant buildings which looked derelict yet at night revealed through internal illumination that they were still being occupied. Elegant buildings brought back to their former splendour following restoration. Dancing on the stage at the Tropicana Club.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Stay in Casa Particulars rather than hotels. Not only does this put much needed income in to the hands of local people but it offers an insight in to Cuban family life. The food is far superior too! Do not try to see all the island in 2 weeks. Far better to see half but in greater depth.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Yes. We benefitted local people by staying in private homes & using local guides.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Very highly. Much care & discussion went in to tailoring our holiday to suit our interests & needs. All recommendations lived up to promise. The itinerary flowed seamlessly thanks to rigorous liaising between our operator & each accommodation.....not an easy feat in the light of poor telephone & internet connections.

review 6 Feb 2013

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

We loved our time in Trinidad, exploring the old town, listening to the music and learning about life in a small Cuban town. We even managed to see a wedding and a funeral. Most of our evenings in Trinidad were spent at Casa de la Trova listening to a variety of son and trova bands performing the music for which Cuba is famous and watching the locals (and some tourists) dancing salsa. Most enjoyable was our four days staying at the all-inclusive Iberostar Varadero at the end of our holiday - a comfortable room, beautiful beach, good food and very relaxed atmosphere.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Stay at casas particulares and eat at the casas or in paladares. The service and food is much better than anything from state run hotels or restaurants. We felt we got closer to the real Cuba in Vinales and Trinidad than in Havana. The tour guides took more trouble and the people we met were more open and friendly. Although you must spend a few days exploring Havana Vieja, make sure you also travel to the rest of the island. The tourist buses provide a good service; but a hired car enables you to get off the beaten track. However, take care to hire a car in excellent condition.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

By staying in casas perticulares and taking local tours, we were able to provide some benefit to local people.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

We asked Marcel of the operator offering this holiday to design and arrange our programme; but the partner Cuban agency in Havana managed and delivered our programme in Cuba, sub-contracting our tours and transport to other Cuban agencies. And we paid direct for our accommodation and car hire. With so many agencies involved, we had the impression that we may have paid more than we should for some of these services. However, we had a good holiday with some ups and downs - which is probably what you should expect in Cuba. Overall we had a good holiday.

review 7 Mar 2012

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

There were many highlights, but the best thing was meeting various Cubans across the country, and getting a feeling for them, their country and their culture.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

1. Take the opportunity to talk to people wherever you go - Cubans are very friendly and want very much to talk with everyone. 2. Tip widely, especially where tips are not asked for or expected: a little way to spread the wealth a bit. 3. Take ear plugs, particularly if staying in town centre casas particulares (rooms can be by the street, and therefore noisy)... 4. Finish your stay with a couple of nights in Cayo Levisa (luxury cabins on an exclusive tropical island with beautiful pearl-white sand) followed by a couple of nights at the Hotel Nacional to regroup before flying home. 5. Eat at La Guarida in Havana for a totally different dining experience (as compared to the rest of the country).

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

Yes - throughout the trip we had the opportunity to interact with local people, to buy from craftspeople and to see traditional ways of living.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Excellent - a really eye-opening and thought-provoking experience. Marcel was very helpful in putting together our itinerary and ensuring we had on-the-ground support in Cuba. Would recommend anyone to use this tour operator.

review 6 Jan 2012

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

We have so many great memories from our holiday in Cuba... the casas particulares were all different, welcoming and provided great food. We found empty beaches on the drive to Trinidad and had private salsa lessons once we arrived. Everyone was very helpful and flexible, the tour guides were knowledgeable. The Rambo tour on the 2-day trek was excellent - as was Yuri our guide.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Review your itinerary carefully and feel free to make suggestions and tweak it until you have exactly what you want. I don't think we could have bought the variety we had in our holiday from anyone else; we really did get to do everything we wanted; visited coffee farms, a cigar factory, trekked in hills, swam in pools and under waterfalls, in the sea and lazed on beaches, drank all the famous cocktails, had our 1950's car tour of Old Havana, hung out in cities and villages, watched locals on the maricon, ate gorgeous seafood, danced salsa, walked, drove and cycle taxied all over.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

We were able to meet lots of local people, the casas particulares owners were clearly benefiting from tourism, but particularly on the 2-day walk in the hills above Trinidad we had chance to see the real coffee families and they saw a benefit from the tips we left in CUCs. We didn't support any of the larger hotel complexes and that felt good.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Fantastic. Cuba was wonderful, the variety, weather and people were fabulous. I've been recommending it to everyone since I got back.

review 5 Dec 2012

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

The stay in Trinidad because of the visit to the mountain and nature trek.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

JUST DO IT ! Well worthwhile.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Yes it certainly benefited the locals and, since we travelled around Cuba by bus we like to think that we did reduce our carbon footprint from what it might have been.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

First Class! We cannot fault the arrangements by the holiday’s operator or their local Cuban agent. Marcel is a really good arranger and the Casa Particulares he chose were generally good. We have already spoken with him since our return to tell him about the ones that were not so good. On her part the travel arrangements by the local Cuban agent were first class.

review 1 Jul 2012

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Being exposed to the lively and unique culture of Cuba, and meeting the locals who have such an esprit de vivre.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Having Marcel as our guide throughout the holiday made all the difference to our trip. If you have the budget to have a private guide with you for the whole trip (we had a large group and could share the costs), do go ahead with asking Marcel to be your guide. Without him, we would not have experienced half of the things we did in Cuba. Through Marcel's language skills, knowledge of the Cuban culture (and its constant changes) and the connections, he has established in Cuba throughout his many years running tours in Cuba, we were able to see, meet and experience parts of Cuba that would simply have been inaccessible to us had we decided to explore the country by ourselves.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Yes.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Excellent and highly recommended.

review 13 Jun 2012

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

So much was memorable: the architecture of Havana the variety of modes of transport throughout the variable Casa Particulaires; some health & safety night-mares but always welcoming, friendly and excellent value, wherever you end up! the roads, Vinales & Soroa, crabs crossing outside the Military base on the road to Maria la Gorda. Almost empty hotels: Isle of Youth particularly. Diving by day boat - only 2 dives - very gentle & relaxing. Very quiet. Maria la Gorda busier with more diving options; delighted to see turtles unexpectedly. Fabulously responsive transfer services - not so great car hire arrangements.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Learn some Spanish. Don't expect the menu to match what's available in hotels. Food much better in restaurants/paladares and Casa Particulares. Print itinerary/cost for meetings. Driving (with care) was not as scary as feared!

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Certainly expect our business to have benefitted local people. All tours include shopping opportunities!

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Fabulous, a really interesting variety of experiences. Only managed to see a small proportion of the island. Met some lovely people; both Cuban and tourists & all sharing enjoyable experiences.

review 16 Apr 2012

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Lots of memorable parts to our holiday but I think the most exciting was just looking forward to what we were going to be doing the next day. I have to say it exceeded all my expectations and was extremely well put together. Every day was different and brought its own memorable highlights.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Definitely stay in the Casa Particulares / Homestays - you will have a wonderful experience and the people are so friendly and welcoming. Ensure you have a good map to find your way about if you are driving!

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Definitely felt the holiday benefited local people. Eat with them, let them do your washing etc and you will also benefit.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Overall the holiday was a brilliant experience. We enjoyed every single day and feel we made some excellent friends.

review 19 Mar 2012

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Old Havana was so full of vitality, street entertainment and contrasts but a strong memory is of the Sunday morning Art market; the whole length of the Prada round each artist, pen, pencil, paintbrush in hand, were groups of young people learning to sketch and paint. But the most memorable was at La Guama. After a night sleeping in our own private hut on stilts on the lake, we were picked up in a rowing boat at dawn. Out on the misty lake we heard the dawn chorus as never before and as the sun rose over the mangroves we saw Spoonbills, Ibis, cormorants, osprey and many many more.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

If you only have two weeks, like we did, accept that you can’t see it all. Cuba is a large island . We wanted some birding days as well as city days and we had 3-4 nights in each place- apart from the one night at La Guama. Also stay in Casas Particulares - and eat there too. Good food, good company and good value.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

Yes. Because of the dual currency in Cuba, it really helps families if you stay in Casas Particulares as the tourist currency goes directly to your host family. Better still for them if you eat at least one meal there. All our excellent Birding and City guides were Cuban.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Excellent. We had a tailor-made budget holiday. We wanted a mixture of city days and birding / walking days with some free days for us to explore on our own. We did not want to drive. After discussing this with the operator, they gave us several options and costings and we were able to keep our costs down (we are in our seventies and did not want the horse-riding and snorkelling options).We were to have several journeys by taxi and were delighted that we had the same driver throughout the trip. We learnt a lot about Cuba. We always felt safe. The Cubans are very friendly and welcoming even if your Spanish is weak.

review 25 Jan 2012

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

There were many: starting with Havana visit (especially Old Havana and Central Havana), driving along the Malecon in an old american cabriolet, wonderful people that we met in the casas we stayed at (with a special mention to Ania and Eberto in Remedios, and Esther and Domingo in Vinales) or that we met elsewhere, Santa Clara for its "pay-a-tribute" atmosphere, Cienfuegos for its architecture and its wonderful botanical garden, Trinidad for the true Cuban feel, the little mountain hike in Topes de Collantes, the cruise to island Cayo Leguano and its iguanos and hutias (tree rats) everywhere, the amazing diving at Playa Larga (Cueva de los pesces) and Maria La Gorda, the stay and landscape at Vinales (maybe our favorite town) and the nice visit to the cave Santo Thomas and, finally, the beautiful waterfall and scenery in Soroa and Las Terrazas

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Chose to stay at casas particular rather than hotels, don't miss such paladars as La Guarida and Dona Carmela (both in Havana), Davidmart and Sol y Ananda in Trinidad. Learn a few words of Spanish (that might be especially helpful if you drive on your own as you'll lose your way many times!). If you are travelling with children and are diving don't hesitate to ask the instructors whether they'd accept to instruct your children (mine are 10 and 12 y.o. respectively) and dive in shallow waters. And last, but not least, I only regret that we stayed the last night in Soroa as it is a place really worth visiting (waterfall + orchids park) but the hotel was "so-so". In the morning, on the way back to Havana, we drove to Las Terrazas which is a wonderful place nearby that we discovered by chance and understood that we'd better had stayed there, probably in the eco-cabin (great fun for the kids!)

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

Frankly, it is hard to say about minimized impacts on the environment but we truly had the feeling that our money spent in the country would benefit the local people, especially the casas particular and paladars owners as they have to pay high taxes for the right to manage their own businesses and really rely on tourists like us.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

10 and higher if I could!!! I would have given 5 stars herebelow if it wasn't saying "the best holiday I have ever been on" - there are many other places in the world that I found fantastic but Cuba directly enters in the top 5 categories (and I have been in more than 40 countries...)

review 25 Jan 2012

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Meeting the people of Cuba, enjoying the music and understanding a bit more about a society run on completely different principles than our own.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Number one tip for anyone going to Cuba, what ever type of holiday you plan is; the more Spanish you know the better you will be able to interact with the people and be less bewildered by both the personal and political issues you run into. You will also get the best out of the Cuban people who are anxious to engage with you. With out it you will just benefit from the sun and the rum..... Specific to our holiday there were some delivery problems. Our plan was a tailor made holiday, exploring independently, mixing walking in the mountains and countryside with the enjoyment of the music and culture of the big cities. We wanted to both hire a car and use public transport to get about. We also wanted R&R on the fine Caribbean and Atlantic beaches. We did quite a bit of research and discovered that although Cuba was moving a head in leaps and bounds in organizing things for the independent traveler there is still potential for quite a few mishaps, cancelation of bookings and shall we say 'Cuba moments' when the best laid plans fail..... We choose this travel company because they presented themselves as knowledgeable about tourism in Cuba and they were clearly sympathetic to the people. They had also run tours in Cuba for 5 or more years and are familiar with both the state sector, which you have to use to book guides, walks, car hire, internal travel (coaches & planes) hotels, and the private sector which can now run restaurants and B&Bs (Casa Particulars). The latter we were particularly keen to use as it gives you the opportunity to stay and talk with Cuban families. However as there is no way to confirm bookings in Cuba before your arrival with a cash deposit, bookings are all down to trust. Families running Casas have to pay a hefty tax whether rooms are occupied or not, so Cuban landladies work on the bird in the hand principle and let out their rooms to who ever shows up first on the day. So in all the travel books and all the advise we got said a 'firm' booking in a Casa is not what we generally think of as a firm commitment, being bounced is very common, we were hoping to avoid this by using this experienced company... We were bounced 3 times out of 5 booked and this is where the problem arose. We were clearly under the impression that because the agent indicated he had an established relationship with a network of trusted Casa Particulars this would not happen, (especially if, and we did, re-confirm our bookings the day before arrival). In discussions after our return with the agent he said a 100% guarantee of not being bounced can not be given, but an equivalent Casa Particular will be found by the owner who has bounced you.. This was not clear to us and we felt let down at having to check out several other Casa's at the end of a long day with the added inconvenience of having to drag our bags round. Many were clearly below the standard that had been booked for us and it was down to our determination to put pressure on to get a Casa similar in quality to what had been booked, which we got in the end. Many people may not feel that comfortable challenging the Casa owner and settle for something not to their liking and will be unhappy. The potential for this situation needs to be made much clearer by the agent. The agent has to work with a Cuban agent from the state Tourist agency to book car hire, guided tours and internal travel. These agents can vary from the indifferent to the good. The one we had we were told is one of the best, but we had probably 6 failures, varying from not being met at the airport , wrong dates for car hire and transport errors on tours we had booked. The only advice here is keep telephoning the Cuban agent while you are there to check everything is still in place. This again is outside of the control of an external tour operator and needs to be made clear One particular point that can be resolved by the agent. All the tours and travel arrangements that are booked for you have a voucher, these are given to you by the Cuban agent when you arrive. They can not bee sent in advance, you can only get them in Cuba . These vouchers all look identical and you have to take copious notes on exactly what each voucher provides, only the very basic in Spanish is written on the voucher. These vouchers are scrutinised very closely by those you give them to who provide the service. If it is not on the voucher you don't get it. So it would be very useful if the agent provided a detailed list before departure of what to ask and check you are getting when the vouchers are handed over. We thought we had checked all the details but we handed over a voucher on two occasions to be told a jeep we had paid for was not listed. We have to say in our subsequent discussions with this tour company they were very concerned about all these issues and are anxious to clarify these problems to new clients in the future Also it has to be said in our experience most things worked out fine in the end, just go with the Cuban flow! 3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimised impacts on the environment? Cuba has wisely organised things that the visiting tourist gets nothing for free. Everything from using the toilet to taking photos is a chargeable event and everyone is anxious to get the hard currency (CUCs) out of your pocket and into theirs. Cubans do this with style and determination. This can be a bit trying at times for the visitor but is the correct policy if local people are to benefit from tourism (other countries would do well to take a leaf out of Cuba's book). As for environmental impact, impossible to say, you fly in on a Jumbo jet, hire a car to drive about, get in what is by western standards pretty polluting taxis and buses so you are probably burning it up a bit. But overall Cuba is such a low consumerist economy by western standards, they must have a pretty small footprint and the tourist element is therefore small too I suspect.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

It was very enjoyable, would certainly advice people to go with the above providers.

Read the operator's response here:

A) First of all we would like to thank our customer for all feedback and discussions we have had, so that we have been able to learn from their experiences and help us to improve our Cuba Manual & services for future travelers with a tailor made itinerary on individual basis. We also like to mention that travel parties of 4, 6 or more people can contact us for a specialized tour leader service so that all typical Cuban issues are smoothly solved by a TC directly at location. In Cuba we work with home stay coordinators for every city or village. They have their own home stay which has received a rating from 7 – 10 from our clients for hospitality, ambience, gastronomy & services. They work with a high quality network of home stays in their direct neighborhood with similar standards in case you can’t be placed in their home stay. The home stay coordinator / family receives you at the bus station in case you come by bus when this is indicated in your itinerary (when this is not indicated please call and check with the family the day before), in case you travel by rental car they can pick you up at an easy to find meeting point in case it concerns a big city to help finding your way, or you drive directly to their address. The system of booking home stays on Cuba via home stay coordinators is very common and is functioning, but it is not perfect as you can have read above. We offer this extra service so that you can have an experience of a more authentic Cuba then by only staying in hotels or all-inclusive resorts. The home stays are private owned micro- enterprises with their own internal market mechanisms. We do our very best to offer a great experience to our customers and select friendly and good home stays and committed coordinators. We support in this way these families and an income is going directly to the local people, that is a good thing and usually it goes all well. In case of any problem it has to be solved on location with the home stay coordinators who are more than willing to help you. Many travelers have very positive experiences with staying at the home stays as you can read in the other reviews on this page. So what happened here? One is that our customer had another expectation of how it would work with making the reservations through us. Although we had this all written out clearly and in detail in our Manual and worked out itinerary it has shown us that the texts and explanations needed further improvements which have been implemented by now. What they experienced as being bounced, was actually that they were received by our coordinator and brought to another casa in their network. It was in the peak of high season and this can happen, at low season you usually always stay at the casa of the coordinator. Then what happened was that this home stay offered by our coordinator was not according to their liking and they requested to our coordinator to find another casa, they did and in the end were very happy with the new casa. This took some time of course and created some anxiety with our customers which we understand. So also here we inform our travelers now in our Manual that this is an option to consider (although the consequence is that it will take some time for all being re-arranged) and the coordinating families are very committed in helping each traveler and have the network of casas functioning in the interest of all parties involved. They select their network, families and home stays, have usually many years of experience and any family that let them down is taken out directly from the network, so here solidarity on Cuba is of great importance for long term success as a home stay. In the last case at Baracoa an older woman at the casa did not remember about their reservation which is of course not a nice experience after having arrived after a long journey, maybe it is because of memory loss due to her age or a lost note made when she received the phone call for reservation, we could not find that out. Anyway, we have taken out this home stay directly from our database and have it replaced by a very friendly Cuban family with excellent home-cooking and where we always dinner with our customers. The home stay we offered to our customers had a great view over Baracoa – this is what we wished to share - but in case of a failure of this kind we prefer to go for a committed and to be trusted family. B) Agent in Havana Cuba is far from an easy destination for operators to have tailor made travels work out perfectly in all details. We inform our travelers as much as we can in our Manual how to deal with typical Cuban issues and are offering now a personalized briefing by phone or Skype to every client before going to Cuba. They receive also a briefing in Havana from our partner but this is more about the vouchers, transfers, bookings and all logistical aspects. Many operators only offer standard packages and hotel holidays. We take this challenge to offer tailor made holidays with hotels and home stays as we think that Cuba needs to be explored, fully tasted and be enjoyed in its authentic way. We are very happy with our partner we work with in Havana and in case something is not going well it is all about communicating directly to her mobile or even call her in the evening at home as mentioned in our Manual. She can be called anytime on her mobile or at home in case of emergencies or other issues, and that also expresses her dedication to make everybody’s travel a great holiday. Our partner has gained a lot of experience over the years in tailor made trips with ecotourism, which is one way of exploring the authentic Cuba off the beaten path. All original & attractive programs are sooner or later copied by other agencies, we can not avoid that, but we try to offer true and authentic experiences with local people on Cuba. Things can go wrong in Cuba as everywhere in the world on a journey, although Cuba has its specific difficulties, but in most cases it is all sorted out with the help of our partner at Havana, local guides, taxi drivers, local home stay families or any helping hand on Cuba. C) Vouchers In Cuba you receive your vouchers on the second day of arrival, vouchers are used on Cuba for everything. They can not be sent before by mail in digital form, as is done on other Latin American destinations, this is not how it works on Cuba with the Ministry of Tourism. So we recommend all travelers to make notes on the vouchers during the briefing with our partner on the second day, in order not to forget which voucher is for what use to avoid any mis-understandings, and to avoid that a local guide or taxi driver takes out the wrong voucher as happened to our customer. This is all mentioned in the Manual and has been given now extra attention again due to the experiences of our customer. D) Individual VS group travel In the end we would like to express that individual tailor made travel always requires, in some extent, some improvisation, creativity and a laid back attitude coupled with being attentive and sharp on the right moments. We can not be there with our customers and tell them what to take with them, what to put in their day backpack, how the weather will be etc etc. We try to foresee things for our customers of course and are now offering a personalized briefing by phone or Skype before their departure. We also like to mention again as we did in the beginning of our response, that in case people look for a complete guided tailor made itinerary in which they do not have to bother about all kind of minor or major details, in which they just can surrender to an overwhelming experience of the authentic and seductive Cuba – which Cuba can be and many times is - we offer to guide travel parties of 4, 6 or more people up to 20 persons. We have guided many travel parties over the last 12 years together with local Cuban guides and in this way Cuba has become also a family of us. You can contract us for a specialized tour leader service so that you have an amazing holiday with your travel party and all typical Cuban issues are smoothly solved at location. This is not only valid for Cuba but is also offered for roundtrips in Argentina, Peru, Brasil, Bolivia, Chile & Colombia.

review 26 Sep 2011

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

We had a 2 week holiday in Cuba in April. What was the most memorable part? It's hard to choose! The guided tour of Havana, walking and in an old American car, introduced us to the life and colour of Cuba. We loved the music, salsa and our evening at the Buena Vista social club. We fitted in visits to cigar and rum factories, a snorkeling and 'desert island' trip, a cave walk and loads more! One highlight was a day trip to Che Guevara's Memorial. Our Homestay in a colonial house in Trinidad was great! And our hosts were generous and friendly.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

The Agency of the Ministry of Tourism, which is based in many hotels and towns, works very well. We pre-booked our excursions when we booked our holiday but you can book them yourself at the local offices a day or more ahead. If you pre-booked excursions confirm the arrangements with the the local agent of the state at your hotel/resort. You have the chance to escape from commercialism and see life from a different perspective. Embrace it!

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

Our Homestay directly benefited our host family and the people who they employed. We spent money in local markets and went on excursions with local guides. We chose not to hire a car. We used the clean and efficient tourist coaches for the longer journeys.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

We arranged our holiday with an operator who exceeded all expectations! Everyone we met was helpful and friendly. We felt safe finding our way around. It was a brilliant holiday and we are going back!

Read the operator's response here:

When everything goes well on Cuba we are very happy of course to hear that, but we need to add some remarks. It is mainly the merits of two agencies working together as a team to have all things done on Cuba: the operator who offers tailor made tours on Cuba via this page and our Cuban partner who works together with the Cuban Ministry of Tourism. Cuba may look very simple as if all excursions can be booked locally, but Cuba is not that simple and not a simple holiday destination where everything runs smoothly by itself, esp. in case when you look for a tailor made holiday, a holiday designed according to your travel wishes you need a Cuba specialist. We can integrate in your holiday itinerary excursions with a private English speaking local guide that can explain all about Cuba’s nature and Caribbean culture that you would like to know. Some of the excursions we offer are off the main tourist stream and have been designed by us over the last 12 years together with local guides and have been recognized as something special, they are based on direct experience of accompanying clients on Cuba. You need to pre-book this kind of excursions through an agency that is specialized in this kind of services, and although it sounds exclusive, which in some way it is, on Cuba private excursions are not that much more expensive then group guided tours. Our clients receive vouchers in Havana for their booked excursions and these need to be given to the local representatives / guides who take care of their excursions / activities. When this all works well, it looks simple. This does not mean that you can buy these same excursions at any local state agency, some yes, but usually the state agencies only offer standard packages, in case you come with a special wish, it needs much more time to be processed to have it arranged for you, the time that a traveler usually does not have, and besides the traveler will usually not be informed about all other possibilities that exist off the main tourist stream. On most state agencies the representatives don’t know themselves what can be done more than the standard map with excursions they have, and even they may not be familiar with the offered activities, they can not be blamed but is the reality. For enjoying the Cuban nature and exploring the authentic Cuba by selfdrive or bus with local taxis, besides all car rental & bus tickets arrangements we can offer daywalks with specialised guides, trekking & staying overnight in the mountains, design itineraries with best diving & snorkelling locations, with meeting locals, cultural tours in all places of interest, horseriding, birdwatching with specialists, and stay overnight in a mix of homestays, boutique hotels & tropical keys all according to your wishes.

review 3 Jan 2011

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

It's a very interesting and beautiful country. We went there together with our son (13) and we believe it will be the most memorable holiday for him (at least for a while). All people we met were very friendly and kind. We managed to do everything we planned - Havana, tobacco factories, hiking, swimming, snorkelling etc. thanks to good planning beforehand.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

The most important tip - try to set your mind to a different scale - especially if you live in a big city. Be positive! Things not always go smoothly there - and if you expect it to be like in Europe - you might get upset easily. There is little crime in Cuba - so do not be afraid walking around etc. Spanish language is essential though - bring a dictionary with you - comes handy.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

We would like to think it did. We ate at Casas Particulares we stayed in and we think that was an additional benefit for these people who work really hard to survive. We rented a car though and cars in Cuba are not that environment friendly but our one was kind of ok.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Fantastic. The best so far although we have visited so many different countries this one was really special.

review 15 Dec 2011

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

We loved the diversity of the country, the music, the history and the friendliness of the people. We enjoyed most the hiking in the campo.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Check out and agree the itinerary before you leave and make sure that you understand everything. There are few road signs in Cuba and the maps are not very good.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

Definitely, the country is suffering an acute economic crisis and needs tourism.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

We liked it very much.

review 8 Oct 2011

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

The last meal in Trinidad. It was taken at restaurant 1514. The tables were all set with English Bone China, cut glass goblets. Two beautiful young dancers and a seven piece band. The large Chef was a large laughing man and a great chef as well. The dancers made us do the Salsa and bolero. The band played as we ate our lobster meal. The ambiance and service all on could ask for.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

The only tip that I ever give to any one who asks - "It is not your country that you are going to see, do not expect to see what your home is like. Be patient, polite and smile." If you take this advice you will enjoy your travels.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

I am not sure what effect my stay had on the environment. Negative I would think as I fly there and eat and drink more than a local and more than I should. Having said that, the fact that I am there and spending must have a positive effect for the local people.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

My holiday was very enjoyable. Made that way by the efforts of the operator. He worked tirelessly for us.

review 8 Apr 2011

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

The beaches and the contact to the people.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Book your accommodation in homestays and not in hotels.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

Not specially, just the same like any other holiday.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Great time in contact with local people enjoying the amazing Cuban beaches, landscape and the afrocuban culture.

review 7 Apr 2011

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

The atmosphere and the people. Staying in Casa Particulars with Cuban people. I'm not a city person, but absolutely loved old Havana - fantastic charm and nowhere near the hassle we were led to believe. Trinidad is a great musical place. Baracoa quiet and really laid back. Walking in the Sierra Escambray was amazing. And, of course, can't forget bicycles, horse carts, people and animals walking towards you, or crossing in front of you on the Autopista!

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Get out of Havana and the all inclusive resorts - experience the real Cuba! Driving is easy - get a cyclist to follow through the one-way streets to your destination in towns - they may be touting for business as Casas but are more than happy to help if you say you have a reservation somewhere else. Pick up hitch-hikers, they are great (though do tend to be very quiet unless you start conversation). Learn some Spanish - it really helps. Finally, don't go too much by information in guide books and from the Home Office website, etc., which can be quite negative. All our apprehensions were proved unfounded pretty early on. Crime rate is low, driving easy, we had no problems with an internal flight and food was easy to get - particularly if you stay in Casas, where you will be over-fed!

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

Yes - OK the Casa Particulars, Paladars and tourist guides may be slightly better off than the normal Cubans, but quite often the people working there are the normal Cubans, just trying to make a living!

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Fantastic. Would more than happily go back and do it the same way again - next time will feel much more relaxed about it. So glad we didn't do a group holiday!

review 28 Feb 2011

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

It’s hard to choose just one thing, but probably hiking for two days in the mountains outside of Trinidad (Sierra Escambray) with our own private guide and spending the night in a tent at hacienda in the mountains. It’s beautiful and peaceful there, plus our guide was friendly and knowledgeable. Trinidad was probably our favorite city, but Havana is also exciting.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Try staying in the Casa Particulares (private houses which operate like B&Bs). A good deal for the money, one can eat there as well, but watch out, the meals are usually huge (but good)!

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

I think so. Staying in and eating at Casa Particulares the money goes directly back to local families. Paladars (private restaurants) also give the money back to the families who run them.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

It was wonderful! Our trip operator helped us to organize everything (fairly last minute as well). Everything went smoothly on our vacation. Before we left they were quick to answer questions we had.

review 17 Jan 2011

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Walking through Vinales, Soroa and the Escambray. Each quite different but the same in that they left us feeling invigorated and wanting more of the same outdoor experience!

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

1. Make sure your credit card cam be used in Cuba- A few of the High street banks in the UK are linked to US banks. 2. If you buy art make sure you obtain a certificate at the time of purchase. This saves time at the airport when departing. 3. It really is true that food in most Casas are much better than the hotels

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

To some extent – yes.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

A brilliant experience in many ways. Everyone will have a different story to tell. Best way to enjoy is to try to follow the same rhythm of the locals and leave your reservations behind!

review 8 Jan 2011

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

It was all great! But high points included the Christmas Eve festival in Remedios. Christmas is relatively quiet in Cuba but they make up for this in Remedios with an all-night party including all night fireworks involving apparently everybody from the region. Remedios would also be worth a stop anyway if you're en route to the northern cayos as its a pretty provincial town in its own right. New Year's Eve in Havana was also special, but beware of getting soaked with buckets of water from balconies at midnight!

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

We hired a car which was easier than we thought, having read that there were no road signs. In fact it was no worse than many other countries in this respect and a little Spanish to ask the way proved useful. And there are hardly any cars on the road so in many ways a driver's paradise. However, Cuba is bigger than we anticipated, so allow good time for journeys, especially once you get off the main motorway. I would also definitely stay in casa particulars. Many are fine old colonial houses and you get to meet the owners and get a feel for their lives. The tourist hotels can be a bit soulless - some of the new developments on the northern cayos on the way to Cayo Santa Maria were definitely to be avoided, though Villa las Brujas at Cayo las Brujas was lovely, but beware, it’s quiet and there's nothing in the way of nightlife up there. We also did a two day walk in the Sierra Escambray, north of Trinidad. This was a highlight - peaceful and beautiful and not at all strenuous. But if you're going in Winter, take some warm clothes for the evenings. Finally, read Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene. It’s not only very funny (and still very relevant in terms of the amateurishness of the secret service), but you can also find many of the mentioned-haunts in old Havana.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

Definitely staying in casa particulars benefits locals, or at least those that can afford to have large enough houses. Tipping guides, maids, waiters etc is probably the best way of getting cash direct to locals. Difficult to say how environmentally-sustainable Cuba is. The national parks in Sierra Escambray were very unpoilt and well-organised for litter etc. Basically, the low level of economic activity in Cuba (no cars!) and lack of commercialism due to its outlook and various problems reduces its environmental footprint compared to other developing countries. It’s definitely greener to stay in casas than hotels, but then again, we did a lot of driving.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Fantastic if busy.

review 7 Mar 2011

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

The two guided tours were very good - intelligent and communicative guides gave us a good insight into the place which we wouldn't have got otherwise given that none of the party are fluent in Spanish.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Study a detailed map of Havana before attempting to drive anywhere - it's easy to get lost.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

I guess our two homestays and meals out put some money into the community. I'm not sure flying from the UK and driving 1500 kms was very environmentally friendly.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

It was a very good holiday - everything worked out as hoped for.

review 21 Feb 2011

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Wandering in our car through the countryside to little off-the-beaten-track villages; so many people on the road, walking, travelling on horses and pony traps, oxen and archaic ploughshares; blue clear sea and mojitos at sunset under the palm trees; lovely, friendly people.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Cuba is much bigger than you may think and driving distances can be long - it can easily take nearly a whole day to drive between one place and another. Pick up hitchers, they're all good people PLUS they can help you with directions (very few roadsigns). You would get a lot more out of the holiday if you could speak Spanish (we couldn't) because the most interesting thing about Cuba is finding out about how people live and what they think of the regime.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

Yes, I felt it benefited local people (although uncomfortably aware that there are those in Cuba who have access to tourists and who are better off; and those who don't and who are poor). Not sure about environmental impact - we flew there and drove around.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Enjoyable and interesting.

review 3 Feb 2010

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Trinidad was an amazing city and really touched our hearts, but having a car and the freedom to explore, and being able to see the real Cuba was the best thing we did. Every city, valley, beach, mountain, and all the roads in between, were just amazing. The Cuban people were always kind, if we were lost, they were always happy to help, and loved to speak what little English they could to us, whilst we spoke back what little Spanish we knew.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

If you can drive and don't mind some pretty bad roads, drive it. Its a great sense of freedom & you don't need to rely of day excursions or guides, you can do as you please. I wouldn't rely on public transport, but I hear that transfers are cheap too. Also, learn Spanish. We didn't know enough. And don't be afraid to pick up people hitchhiking, they are just trying to get to work, or home, or somewhere.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

We used local guides and stayed in a mixture of hotels & casa particulars, but mainly ate at paladars or our casa, so yes the money we spent was going straight in the hands of the people. It's hard to avoid giving money to the state as most things are state run! But I think we did what we could. We are sending a book of Australian Flora & Fauna to our guide from the Topes de Collantes as he was interested in that, something he'll never be able to find to Cuba, so that's nice to offer if you are willing to make the effort when you return. Obviously the car wasn't the best for the environment, but giving lifts to people meant better use of petrol.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

5* - as it was so amazing I'm going to ignore the terrible food we had at times. Our last casa particular in Trinidad was the best food ever, so we felt pretty lucky.

Read the operator's response here:

The public transport for tourists is well arranged on Cuba, buses are on time, they have airconditioning and it is safe. The public transport for the Cuban people is another story. What we sometimes suggest to travelers, depending on their holiday wishes & itinerary, is to cover the large distances by bus. On location they or we can arrange local transfers for an excursion or a beachday with taxis. With the option to pick up a rental car in Santiago de Cuba in case people travel from West to East Cuba by bus and wish to have the experience of driving around for several days from eg Santiago to Baracoa & Cayo Saetia with their own rental car.

review 31 Dec 2010

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

We loved the opportunity to drive around the country. Great views, great opportunities to drive through small towns and stop and poke around the town. We went on three hiking excursions, which we very much enjoyed.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

If you make reservations at a casa particular (like a bed and breakfast), you may find that it is booked already when you get there. Plan to arrive a bit earlier to check out different casas and compare before you make a decision. Highly recommend Villa Los Brujas. Cuba is a relatively easy country to travel in, and we found the Cubana tourist offices quite helpful-they can help to book tours, provide good information and maps and make recommendations. If you don't speak Spanish, take a good phrase book, be friendly and flexible, and you're good to go. If you're driving, be prepared for some challenging driving as there are lots of horses, bikes, pedestrians on the roads and the signage is variable. Avoid driving at night and take a compass.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

It's hard to say. Renting a car was surely not the most environmental way to travel around the country, but we tried to minimize the impact by picking up many of hitchhikers along the way (the way many people in Cuba get around), staying at casa particulars and eating at paladars (independent family-run restaurants). We were stopped by the police once, but it turns out he simply wanted to hitch a ride.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

A great trip! Because we wanted quite a bit of flexibility and because Cuba was fairly easy to travel in, on reflection I would likely simply use a guide book and do it ourselves. Having said that, I found the communication with the operators prompt, friendly, reliable, and the in-country operator was also excellent. Overall, we found the hosts at the Casas that the operator booked really great-very friendly homes, clean, great food.

Read the operator's response here:

We work with local homestay coordinators in cities and villages mostly visited on Cuba, when a booking is guaranteed of a homestay through us. It means that you stay in the home of the coordinator or in one of their direct networks, all approved by former clients, all with a high reliability to maintain the reservation and with a good rating. When a homestay does not respect the reservation it is immediately taken out by the coordinating family. This is how they work and have chosen to work voluntarily, as loyalty between the families working with homestays is very important for a long term success. We visit the most important coordinators personally 2 or 3 times a year to keep contact with the family, the market and to maintain things going well. The rating of homestays we use range from 7 to 9 or even 10 on a scale of 10, for hospitality, ambiance, room & cleanliness, gastronomy & services. In case a homestay scores lower then a 7 we check what has happened with both parties and change the homestay if we see no improvement on short term. What sometimes has happened is that despite the information in our Manual and worked out itinerary, travelers forget to call to the homestays a day before or in the early morning of departure. A recurring complaint of families is that they are waiting the whole day and that travellers arrive suddenly unannounced late at night. The families may get uncertain when they don’t hear any news of their arrival, and it has happened that some families unfamiliar working with an operator cancel the reservation in favour of new appearing clients. We like to avoid that of course for the good feelings & wellbeing of all involved, but it is the client who is well informed and finally responsible to give a call to the family on time or ask the homestay family to do that for them when they are traveling from one to another homestay. The Cuba tourist offices only offer standard excursions, usually group excursions with mainly or partly tourism from the all-inclusive resorts. In case you wish to have a fully or partly booked itinerary before going to Cuba, enjoy also off the beaten track events, have private guided excursions with very good guides and have authentic meetings with local Cubans on an excursion, you need to make use of an operator who knows the guides personally, who knows the possibilities in a certain area to have a more interesting offer and experience of Cuba. We not only offer itineraries with excursions, hotels or homestays all fully booked but also itineraries with free roaming time exploring Cuba on your own for several days without any bookings then just the bus tickets if requested or a rental car. It all depends on the travel wishes of the client.

review 16 May 2010

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Both the guided walks we did - the wizards walk in Soroa with Alberto and a hike in the Sierra del Escambray - were excellent, enjoyable and informative. The guides were wonderful people, spoke excellent English and were very knowledgeable. The scenery, local people and wildlife were also truly lovely.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Learn some Spanish - we needed my basics quite a bit. Driving is ok as there is little traffic except bikes and horses but the roads are variable with some massive potholes (craters) so you need to be very alert and also good at map reading as there are few road signs outside Havana. Ensure you have a big appetite - eating in the Casa's provides you with wonderful home cooked meals in enormous portions.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

I hope we benefitted locals by trying to be educated about their lives and visiting local businesses and schools. We stayed in Casa's where possible and bought some produce direct from the farmer. Probably not as low am impact on the environment as we'd like since we drove our own car around and couldn't avoid drinking water out of plastic bottles (maybe Cuba recycles them?)

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Excellent!

review 8 Mar 2010

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Best thing was the music and dancing. Even the small towns had music venues, with great bands, dancers and singers. Old cars and especially guided vintage car tour of Havana was great. Always felt safe, even in poorly light streets in poorer areas of town. Our guided walks were also a highlight and the guides we had were exceptional. please pass on our thanks to them.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

We went to Havana, Vinales, Soroa, Cienfuegos, Trinidad and Cayo Ensenachos (all-inclusive).Havana is a must, and needs at least 3 or 4 nights, Vinales great for a couple of nights, I wouldn't bother with Soroa. Trinidad was great, walk in mountains excellent (especially the swim in the cave), music great. To finish with 3 days of luxury was very relaxing and an amazing contrast to the real Cuba. For an experience of the real Cuba, stay in some casa particulares where you meet the people and see how they live. All the casas recommended by Marcel were excellent.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

Staying in the casa particulares gets money directly to the local community, not just to the owners but also, for example, to neighbours who will let you park nearby for a couple of CUCs. All of the excursions use local guides which also helps.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

A great holiday which really gave an insight to the real Cuba

review 12 Jan 2010

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

The whole trip was amazing, most memorable was Vinales, I thought the countryside was beautiful and the people very helpful, but Havana and Trinidad were also fantastic.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

If you haven't got the language then I would advise booking car hire and accommodation through an agent, road signs are non existant so buy a good map before travelling. Take guided walks if you can because they bring you to places you won't find yourself so easily and give you the opportunity to meet the people. Our experience of the casa particulars was wonderful and certainly to be recommended. Driving can be stressful enough because although there is very little traffic roads have large potholes no signs and people jump out at you looking for lifts or money!!

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

Most definitely, we were very anxious to support small operators and enterprises and going through responsible travel made sure that happened.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Our holiday was great, Marcel the managing director from the operator worked out a great itinerary, we had one hard day of driving but it was worth it. His rep in Havana were very helpful with the car hire and the accommodation.

Read the operator's response here:

The more you drive on Cuba the more you will get accustomed to the road situation on Cuba and after a few days you even may experience it as a very normal situation, at least for Cuba. Some smaller roads off the main ways that are relatively little used may have certain stretches with several potholes one after the other, but it is certainly not the case for the majority of the roads on Cuba. It involves some carefull driving and after you have passed such a part you can continue as usual.

review 9 Dec 2009

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Maria la Gorda is an unspoiled paradise. Vinales was very beautiful for a rural area, worth a quick stop. As is Soroa... worth spending a night there... or longer if you are happy sitting by a pool. Playa Giron.... great diving, otherwise keep going to Cienfuegos. Bit more life as a town and diving good from there too. Trinidad is again a beautiful town... the catamaran trip was excellent. Havana.... big, crumbling city... loads of character but wasn’t my highlight.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

You do get lots of attention from the poorer locals offering cigars, of course... then selling Cuban peso's to take home... failing that... they ask for the clothes off your back and any unwanted soaps shampoos etc... even the most patient and charitable will get annoyed by it. Say no... keep walking or 1 will grown to 2... their kids turn up, you buy drinks, meals... milk for the baby (up to about 10 yrs old in Cuba).... get the feel for Cuba before interacting with the locals... to most, you are a wallet... not a friend.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

Yes, undoubtedly benefited local people because I spent money with them while I was there. As for minimising impacts on the environment... there was the flight... the car - 1700km in 17 days. We hiked with guides and horses... went out on a catamaran - no sails motor only... so... no. Nothing in the holiday was geared at minimising impact to environment. But benefiting Cubans directly who recycle and reuse EVERYTHING... would in itself help maintain their environment.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Superb. Cuban is fantastic place. The travel representative on Cuba was very helpful - always on her mobile when you need her... when it went wrong - hotels over booked (common in Cuba) or we wanted to change or booking. It was done quickly or problem solved with one phone call from her. The guides were excellent. Casa's always clean and food very good - and ENORMOUS portions. We are agreed it was the holiday of a lifetime.

review 6 May 2009

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

The whole holiday was memorable but I think the views and the uniqueness of Vinales will linger in the memory the longest. Also loved Havana, the music, the mojitos, meeting the guides, the experience of staying in Casa Particulares and the Cuban people and last, but not least, the weather! A truly wonderful experience!

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Read as much as possible before you go as the history is very interesting. Take everything you are advised to take plus batteries for cameras. We only had one camera because we ran out of batteries and couldn't find any other than alkaline which are no good. Also take as much sterling as you feel comfortable with as you will be charged 11% commission! I would not recommend staying in Casas if you have young children as health and safety are minimal. Also food is quite basic compared to what we are used to.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

Staying in Casas means that your money goes direct to the Cuban people. We were obviously very careful not to leave any litter anywhere on the walks and hikes. The Crew of the Catmaran which took us to Cayo Leguano soon shouted at people who tried to snorkel anywhere near the coral!

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Brilliant! There were 6 of us, my partner and I and four children aged 20 down to 11 and we all enjoyed different things, me the scenery, the snorkelling and mojitos, Tim the beaches, smoking cigars and meeting the guides, Katy and Hannah the sunbathing and the salsa dancing, Joe Havana and the music and Ollie the swimming pools and the Coco taxis!

Read the operator's response here:

About money issues, how to obtain CUC (cuban pesos convertibles), credit cards, absence of cash dispensers, commissions, etc we advise travelers to contact us with their questions and see our FAQ section on our website. For changing cash the commission is 8%, for credit card transactions 11% is charged to obtain cash CUC from a Cuban bank. We have had several families who stayed in homestays with young children - for which we also tried to arrange a hostfamily with children of their age - and they were very happy with all experiences. Young Cuban children stay also in the homestays themselves and the situation is safe & healthy in our opinion and that of the Cuban government for homestays that are officially registered. The food at Cuban homestays is some of the best cuisine of Cuba. The kitchen of Cuba is not famous for its creativity and wide variety of tastes as we know, but most travelers are very content with the food & dedication with which the food is prepared and in general the homestay cuisine is rated much higher then the state owned restaurants.

review 16 Feb 2009

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

It was lovely to meet Cuban's everywhere and chat with them (our Spanish was limited but got better through the trip). In Havana we met locals and other parents around the city, it was wonderful for our daughter to play with Cuban children in the city playgrounds and make friends just the same as she would do at home. Most people we met were very friendly, we felt that there wasn’t an "us and them" attitude between locals and tourists.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Stay in the Casas Particulares - it’s the best way to experience Cuban hospitality and good food. It’s a great way to learn Spanish by chatting to the house owners and getting local information. The casas are also better value for money than most hotels. However, it is nice to at least experience one of the grand hotels in Havana - stay a couple of nights in the Hotel Nacional at the end of the trip to round it off, it’s a real treat!

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

When staying in Casa Particulares you know that the money you pay goes straight to the owners so this benefits them and the local community. In Cuba everything is owned/run by the state so you know that the money you spend there goes to the government and is reinvested in the country, its infrastructure, education, health services etc. When we visited the Pinar del Rio region we bought gifts and produce from the local farmers so this money went directly to them. Because we were travelling in a small family group (3 adults, 1 child) it didn’t feel like we were making as big an impact than if we had been travelling in a large tour group.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

5 stars - It is one of the best holidays experiences we've ever had and we will be recommending it to our friends. Hopefully we will be booking another trip soon!

review 18 Oct 2009

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

There isn't one particular thing but many exciting and wonderful memories. Sunday afternoon in Artex in Santago with the Rumba band and Cuban families dancing, was great. Pretty Trinidad, with it's friendly people. I was glad we stayed in some Casa's. Colonial Casa Manuchi's food and hospitality set the standard which was hard to beat. Cayo Ensenachos was a welcomed retreat into 5* luxury but we missed the real Cuba and couldn't wait to escape. Many colourful fish swimming around me, was fab. The bird life is fantastic we would just sit and watch the many colourful and wonderful birds from our balcony. The 2 Treks in Soroa and Vinales. Seeing tocororos? Cuban national bird x 2 in Soroa.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Stay in a combination of Casa's and hotels. Don't change your money at the airport the rate is dreadful and if like us you have to pay the holiday in cash you lose out. Travel around the country. If you are intending to lighten your load as you go like us, leave the clothes you don't need for the staff rather than throwing them in the bin. If things go wrong, just chill out you're on holiday.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

I suppose so. We stayed in Casa's and gave tips. As for the environment, I don't think so as we had on internal flight and several private transfers.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

It was one of the best holidays we have had, we will have wonderful memories and have swapped emails with local people and other tourists. Our transfers were great, with punctual courteous and friendly drivers. We over stayed in Santiago by one night due to an error. This for us was not a problem, so what we had one more day there! We missed our bus to Trinidad. But the local operator called and was panicking and blaming. This was unhelpful, as a solution was what we needed and we sorted it out ourselves. We had planned this holiday for months and agreed the final itinerary, but the changes should have been added to our itinerary. After all we were paying for this service. The casa had us booked for 3 not 2 nights which added to the confusion. Our guide in Vinales didn’t know if we were coming as there had been no communication. Overall I we loved it and would highly recommend Cuba.

Read the operator's response here:

The commission charges of Cadeco banks is on all places on Cuba the same, there is no difference in changing cash on the airport, in the city or in a village. For further details about money issues, credit cards and payments on Cuba see our website and Cuba Manual. The clients forgot to take a night bus although they had a voucher with the correct data and were briefed correctly in Havana about this night transfer and stayed therefore one night longer by accident in Santiago. The local operator was very concerned that the whole sequence of the program was at risk and that the following bus was fully booked. It turned out in the end that the whole program could be adapted and all went well and we are happy to read that the holiday has been a great experience. Concerning the personal attention & services: as mentioned in our Manual and in all our documents, the client has to call to the operator and make contact themselves in case certain issues needs to be solved or an itinerary needs to be adapted. The client has used text messaging with a UK mobile to communicate with the local operator on Cuba, but the messages never arrived and it was not checked by client that they had arrived. This has created disappointment about the level of service, but has nothing to do with the good level of service, but all with not using the right method to communicate as indicated by us and the local operator. We will stress once more in our Cuba Manual about the importance of the briefing at Havana and the way of communication.

review 27 Jul 2009

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

We have a lot of great memories of Cuba, from lunching with the iguanas on Cayo Leguano to riding through banana plantations in the green and beautiful Valle de los Ingenios, and swimming in waterfalls.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

We would strongly recommend staying in the "casas" in Cuba as well as in hotels - perhaps mixing the two so that you can have the wonderful food and hospitality in the former but then have a chance to recharge with hot water etc in the latter.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

Yes, definitely - staying in casas is good for this.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Really good - everything was just as planned and explained to us in the manual we received from the tour operator before we left so there were no nasty surprises, only a few good ones.

review 13 Mar 2009

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

The most memorable and exciting part was getting lost in the outskirts of La Habana on the way back to the airport at the end of the holiday. But we got some good advice from local people and got there in time to catch our flight. We really enjoyed a trip with our Cuban friends to the Guama nature reserve, and also learning how to play Cuban Dominoes.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

We designed our holiday ourselves so it's a bit difficult to think of any tips that might be useful to everyone. But the following might be helpful to some: Try a Viazul bus - very comfortable and reliable, but take a torch you can hang round your neck in case the lights in the toilet aren't working. To get closer to the real Cuba hire a car rather than be taken to places in a tourist bus - but get a good map from the InfoTur shop at the top end of Calle Obispo in La Habana. Engage with jineteros with a smile and you will often have a good conversation - you can still say 'no' to the cigars, taxi rides, casas particulares, etc... Take a supply of toilet tissue. Hotel Villa Las Brujas is a great place to stay if you want somewhere really quiet and away from it all. That was what we wanted for a week and it was perfect. Hotel Sevilla is a good place from which to explore Old Havana. Visit the outside second-hand bookstalls at the bottom of Calle Obispo.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

It benefited the people we met who are involved in the tourist trade. I'm not sure about its effects on the population as a whole. The situation reminds me of the late 60s [I'm getting on a bit!] in the south of Spain, when many young people were attracted from the countryside to work in the tourist areas. They saw that the tourists were living a very different lifestyle to their own, and I guess this may have played a part in the drive towards the political change that happened later in Spain. I wonder if the same might be the case in Cuba. Tourism is bringing new money into Cuba, but it seems to be introducing an economic divide too, and distorting the local economy. For instance we met an engineer who said he was better off working in the tourist industry because that gave him access to Convertible Pesos.

review 25 Feb 2009

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Hard to say really; we enjoyed all of our holiday and all the different aspects of it for the experiences they afforded us. We loved meeting Cuban people when staying in casas particulares, we loved driving through the beautiful countryside and the little towns dotted about the place. The beaches were spectacular, as was Topes de Collantes. And Havana was brilliant - the music, the people, the busy streets and the beautiful buildings. Fantastic!

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Make sure and learn some Spanish. I learnt a little but regretted not learning more - I could get by, but I missed the opportunity to get to know some of the people I met a little better. And don't expect great food if you're a vegetarian... there's plenty of rice, beans, salad etc. but not the variety of foods we're perhaps used to at home. However, what you do get is fresh and plentiful and in large quantities.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

Yes, as much as was possible given the long flight and the amount of travelling we did.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Brilliant. I'd love to go back to Cuba and see more of it (Santiago and Viñales especially) and I've recommended it to everyone I know! Marcel at the tour company and our host in Havana also provided an excellent service for us in organising our itinerary.

review 7 Jan 2009

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Just driving through the countryside and seeing everyone going about their daily life via horseback, bicycle, horse/oxen and cart, walking or via massive trucks was a cultural experience that has changed my outlook. People actually had/took the time to greet each other as they passed. People were outside everywhere. But to be more specific for me and my daughter (16) - the Walk of the Wizard at Soroa - incredible insight into the life of rural Cubans, exceptional guide who spoke fluent English. It was a great cultural exchange experience. He also was very knowledgeable about the local flora and fauna and traditional medicines. For my son (13) - homestay in Vinales where he introduced the local youngsters to hockey and they included him in football and riding in a cart among other unknown but harmless things. For my husband - snorkeling around the old piers at Maria La Gorda right in front of our room.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Forget the all-inclusive Hotel Ancon, DO include homestays - they are the best food, best hospitality, and a great way to learn about real Cuban life. The only difficulties were due to under estimated driving times compounded by a general lack of road signs in espeCuba which led to stress both by driving in the Sierra Escambray after dark and a 4+hour drive to catch our flight to leave Cuba. Some of our written directions were misleading but we will make suggestions to the tour company to rectify that for others. If at all in doubt ask the locals, they are happy to help even if only in hand gestures! We never went very far the wrong direction. If you snorkel at the beach near Grille Caribe (Ancon), be careful if you don't have experience with the ocean. We felt a little out of control there with the waves and poor rented equipment.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

Yes, it benefited local people through homestays and learning from well-educated local guides who wanted to know about Canada as well as share their knowledge and experiences of living in Cuba. We brought medical supplies to a rural clinic through www.notjusttourists.org and were able to identify specific needs through the personal contacts of the tour operator. We flew and rented a car so our carbon footprint was large but we didn't eat beef for the 2 weeks so maybe that offset some. We felt very bad passing the locals in need of a ride but the rental agency said giving rides was a no-no and our car was full (at least by Canadian standards).

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Fantastic! Verging on 4-1/2 stars for me but maybe 4 for the rest of my family. The only 2 things I would change - skip the all-inclusive and stay longer at each of the other places - Vinales with half day tour, Maria La Gorda, Soroa with Walk of the Wizard, and Trinidad with full day in Sierra del Escambray and horseback riding in Valle Ingenios. The tour operator is to be especially recommended. I don't think he sleeps because he always returned my emails in a matter of hours 24/7. He was very knowledgeable about Cuba and its highlights and his arrangements for us were impeccable. The voucher system works great!! WE LOVE CUBA!!!!

review 11 Aug 2008

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

There were so many highlights, where do I start?! Havana's quiet back streets are definitely worth a wander through-we stumbled upon an impromptu jamming session with about ten musicians squeezed into one small space who were making incredible sounds. There is also a wonderful Camera Obscura at one of Havana's plaza's which gives an incredible view across Havana and you might even get the space to yourself as we did. On the way to Trinidad in our hire car we stopped at a beautiful beach called Caleta Buena with the most amazing snorkeling. Trinidad itself is a fantastic location to base yourselves for some time. Steeped in history but pulsing with life, every building seems to tell a story here. As with Havana, do wander off the main streets and mingle with the friendly Trinidadians. From Trinidad you can easily explore the surrounding countryside. The tour operator organised a days walking for us in Topes des Collantes where we spent the day with an incredibly knowledgeable guide who told us all about the flora, fauna and wildlife in the tropical forests. To complete the day we had a late lunch at a hidden Hacienda with delicious fresh home cooked food and a glass of rum on the veranda- a serene and peaceful end to the day. Cuba's beaches are simply exquisite and we made a point to try and see quite a few of them! Sometimes getting to Cuba's beaches might be a case of travelling a good hour by car but they are well worth the trip. Perhaps the most memorable beach was Cayo Leguano - also organised by the operator. The boat ride there is memorable as is the island where you will be greeted by more iguanas than you can count! An amazing site.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Definitely stay in Home stays. The tour operator helped us come up with an itinerary based around what we had researched and then they booked the home stays for us. Staying with a family is a wonderful insight into Cuba. Home stays are a little like B&B's where a family are allowed to rent out 1 or 2 rooms in their house for tourists. You will find that these are always the best rooms in their house, with the best facilities (often with an ensuite) and often with a fridge-which can be very useful. Cuba is fascinating and can seem confusing at times but it's worth every minute. Do get about in either a hire car, local transport or private taxi and see the country-don't just stay at a resort-you'll experience virtually nothing of the real Cuba if you stick to a resort. It might seem beautiful at a resort (Cuba is a beautiful Caribbean Island after all) but you'll really see the country and understand more about it if you travel-not to mention the benefits this will have for all the local people you encounter and spend your money with rather than pouring all of your money into a large hotel... Do learn some Spanish and have a good dictionary/phrasebook and don't be afraid to use it as you will need it. Especially if you are driving around or travelling independently as you will need to ask directions on the roads all the time.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

As already mentioned, you will get a far far richer and more rewarding experience staying with families, not to mention the immediate benefit to local people as the money goes directly to them. We ate most of our evening meals with families or in Paladares (where locals open up a room in their house to run a restaurant with a few tables) and we found that the food and service were far better than that of state run restaurants and hotels. You pay the family directly too therefore assuring your money goes directly into their hands. We also tried to spend money on local produce-fruits and veg and bread wherever we could. As far as the environment is concerned, using your 'travellers' common sense will help as far as re-using water bottles and not leaving litter is concerned. Havana was by far the most traffic-laden city but it isn't a patch on most European cities in terms of traffic pollution. As soon as you are a few miles from the centre you realise how vastly un-used Cuba's roads are since there is a miniscule amount of cars to people compared to anywhere else I have been. People get around on bikes, trucks and lift-share all the time. Of course this is down to the countries economy rather than environmental policy but never the less it does mean that the environment is impacted less. I think the more people who travel to Cuba responsibly, staying in home stays, booking with local operators-the better it will be for tourism in Cuba in the long run. The right sort of tourism will totally benefit Cuba and its people and this is the sort of tourism that needs to be promoted for Cuba so it continues in a positive way for those living there and those visiting.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

5 stars without a doubt. The more you understand Cuba the more there is to understand. I would love to go back.

review 31 Mar 2008

The secret to having a wonderful time in Cuba is to stay exclusively in casas particulares. We made good friends and had fun meeting our hosts’ friends and neighbours. Secondly, learn as much Spanish as you can in order to get full value from your stay. (A little Irish whiskey goes down very well.) Pride of place must go to the local guide in las Brujas. He was a fund of interesting conversation and information. Visiting the small, well-equipped rural school was charming. The gracious lady in a coffee farm made us up a delicious tisane of ginger and a local green vegetable/herb. Delicious! The highlight of our trek was lunch in an old plantation house. There the lady of the house and her son treated us to rum cocktails, fresh coconut drunk through a bamboo straw, a variety of fresh fruits and the most delicious meal of our holiday cooked over a wood fire in the yard. It was a long, lingering lunch, enlivened by great conversation. A wonderful day. Thank you. Sierra Escambray was also a joy. Our friendly local guide took great care to look after all our needs. Highlights were sleeping under the stars on the hacienda verandas and plunging into the cool mountain pools after hot and sticky treks. The eucalyptus-fired barbecued suckling pig at Guanayara will be dreamed about for years! The advantage of having an individual guide was that he could tailor our trek to our abilities. (I am in my 70th year and would have been conscious of holding other people up if I couldn’t keep up.). Also, we had good opportunities for talk and discussions.

review 26 Dec 2008

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

We had 18 days of it!!

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Beware of scams - listen to the advice not to be sucked in by the expert con artists - say no and walk away (with a smile). There are road signs sometimes not when u need them but driving is enjoyable - we did 2000K.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

Yes - but I guess all that driving did not help with pollution.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Very good.

review 17 Nov 2008

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Havana was a great city and the most memorable part is the kindness of the people.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

I think if you have little time stick to a resort nearer Havana than Trinidad as the road journeys are a bit tricky.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

I don’t know really. I hope the tips we gave them directly did but the overall expenses I can’t say too much about as I don’t know how the tourism industry works.

review 18 Sep 2008

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Never a dull moment. Old Havana is full of life, crumbling architecture and surprises. Swimming in the waterfall outside Trinidad was quite magical.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Keep small change handy for tips and needy people. Allow plenty of time for travel, so don't be too ambitious with your itinerary - there is too much to see in one holiday - unless it is a very long one.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

This is a very difficult question to answer without resorting to obvious clichés. Meeting and staying with the local people was, hopefully, a mutually rewarding experience. I hope our impact on the environment was as modest as it could be.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

It wasn't really a holiday more an experience! We had a very exciting time. The way that the Cubans live their lives with such fortitude and good humour under such trying circumstances is both humbling and mollifying of our own apparent problems. Our rep, was outstanding; she really had to think on her feet to modify our itinerary in front of the advancing Ike.

review 1 Sep 2008

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Cuba as a country had the most spectacular sights... the waterfalls at Topes de Collantes, the amazing scenery at Vinales, the picturesque Trinidad... I think the trekking excursions booked in our holiday proved to be the best experiences, and the most educational. The guides who walked with us were a great source of information and were great company!

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

I would recommend learning a little Spanish -we didn't and it proved to be a slight disadvantage. I would change your money at the airport, as it seemed to be the best rate compared with the banks in Cuba. For rental car drivers, don't be scared to ask people for directions! The roads are notoriously difficult, with very few road signs and the only way to find your way around is to simply ask! Toiletries such as soap, shampoo etc are really difficult to get hold of in Cuba, I would recommend taking some small gifts along with you to leave for the maids who clean your room, and the people who you may stay with. Also in Trinidad many people will ask you for money, soap, clothes... be careful who you give to. Ask a guide who will ensure your gifts are delivered to the right people. Also, Havana's Revolution Museum's exhibits have now been translated into English, we nearly gave it a miss as the guide books said that everything was in Spanish but we are so glad we went! 3) Do you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment? Yes! We stayed with Cuban families, toured with local guides from the villages, we also gave Cuban workers lifts in our rental car. After visiting a small village in Mil Cumbres, we are now holding a collection in our town to send over toys and educational material for the children's school and nursery.

review 30 Aug 2008

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Meeting and eating with local people during the guided walks and also having long debates about the merits and problems of Cuba today with our guides. Swimming in the warm clear sea during the stay on Cayo Santa Maria. Seeing the wonderful huge corals whilst scuba diving at Maria La Gorda. Seeing the Cuban national bird, the Tocororo close up in the Topes de Collantes National Park guided walk. Listening to live Cuban Salsa bands.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Think carefully about which parts of Cuba you want to visit, as you can spend a lot of your holiday travelling if you want to go to the east and west of the island. Having your own guide at times makes for more interesting personal contact. Learn some Spanish before going if you don't know any already; even some basic phrases will help you get around and communicate in casa particular. Do stay at least a few nights with local people in casa particular to get a feel for how locals live, but it's also relaxing to retreat to a hotel at times! A few nights by a beautiful Cuban beach is a must. Do try to do some reading about Cuban colonial and revolutionary history, Castro, Che Guevara etc before you go, as you will get so much more out of visits to museums in Havana, Santa Clara, Bay of pigs etc where English captions are rare. Take at least 3 credit cards as there is a high chance that one or two of them won't be accepted because of USA contact (eg even Abbey National cards which is owned by the Spanish Co. Santander is not acceptable.) If you go in July and August be prepared for very hot and humid weather. Take lots of Imodium Tablets because they are completely unobtainable in Cuba, even suntan lotion is hard to come by outside the big hotels. If you want to go scuba diving in Maria La Gorda, and it is very spectacular, we advise you to consider taking your own equipment (ie BCD, octopus and mask) because their equipment is quite old and could be considered unsafe by Western standards.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

Yes, we stayed with local people and especially if you keep tipping everyone who helps you, even in small ways. This is especially important in the rural areas and away from the usual tourist places, as people will be living on very low incomes. No distinctively innovative way of protecting the environment. We set example by collecting what little litter there sometimes was in the National Park or Rural walks (cans and bottles) which seemed to surprise our guide.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

This was an amazing holiday during which we learned so much about Cuba and what it means to live under a repressive political regime. It's a holiday that combines so many things- scenery- mountains and beaches, history, music, politics, contact with local people etc and we ended up feeling very moved and curiously fulfilled. We plan to do the holiday again after Fidel and Raoul pass on.

review 23 Aug 2008

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Connecting with the locals thru various events such as dance lessons and mountain hikes.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Go for the homestays, casa particulars, for more than half of your stay in Cuba.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

I believe so.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Pretty good to amazing.

review 19 Aug 2008

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Cuba was a varied and interesting destination. Arriving into Havana and spending a couple of days in this vibrant city - we loved the amazing architecture, over-the-top Tropicana show and friendly locals, all accompanied by a continuous salsa beat and a mandatory mojito. Then getting out of the city to see the contrasts of everyday life and the diversity of the scenery meant a real journey of discovery as we toured the western part of the island. Trinidad, Las Terrazas and Vinales were all fabulous destinations to explore and having local guides gave us a much greater insight.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Don't have too high an expectation of Cuba's tourism infrastructure. Hotel rooms are a bit run down, the food is very bland and menus repetitive, the roads are pretty rough and the road signage virtually non-existent. However if you keep a fairly laid-back attitude and consider each incident to be part of Cuba's quirky charm, you will have a great experience. Staying in the casa particulares is a great thing to do, however if you are non-Spanish speaking it is a lot more difficult. We had one family that spoke good English and it made the experience so much better. A surprising of number of people speak good English and it means you really can learn a lot more about the lives of the locals.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

You felt that any money you were spending in Cuba had to be good for the people as they are obviously dependent on tourism. It definitely seemed that anyone involved in tourism had the chance to be better off financially, through tips in the case of guides, drivers etc, and with the ability to have some form of private enterprise like the casa particular families and salsa teachers etc. Despite the fact that we had a rental car, I felt our clean-burning modern car was a lot more beneficial to the environment than the many black-smoking trucks, buses and cars we saw on the roads.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

This was a really interesting and enjoyable holiday. We travelled as two couples on an independent trip and thought this was the best way to go. Marcel at the tour company did a great job of putting together an itinerary that suited our interests and travel preferences. If a holiday can be rated by how many laughs you had - this was one of the best!

review 17 Aug 2008

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Meeting Cuban people.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Be relaxed, do it individually, only reserve the hotels but no other activities.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

Partly yes: staying in guesthouses etc, partly no: in Cuba everything is regulated by the state and it is not possible to avoid the associated charges (tourist apartheid).

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

4 stars

review 11 Aug 2008

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Hard to pick one thing - perhaps the luxury of having had it planned in advance - I'd never done that before. It saved a lot of time and hassle, which was welcome when travelling in extreme heat with three teenagers! My highlights were probably: flamenco in Havana, snorkelling off the South coast, chatting with the people, learning more about Cuba's history and culture, riding with the children, sleeping outside at the hacienda.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

I think you are probably right to keep away from Varadero! Give yourselves plenty of time in Habana - it's fascinating. It's VERY hot and humid there in our summer. Make sure you do some snorkelling, and take your own equipment. Brush up on your Spanish, and make an effort - it makes such a difference. Learn about Cuba while you're there. Dare to do the things like riding and trekking. Give yourselves time to just wander round the streets of an ordinary place, or sit in a square. Be prepared for the fact that it's quite expensive when compared with other Central and South American countries. I wouldn't bother taking young children - they'd be as happy anywhere - but for teenagers it's great. USE RESPONSIBLE TRAVEL!

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

I hope so, though I don't know if we were really any better than any of the other tourists. But economically it was good to feel that the money we spent was well spent, and not just disappearing into the bank accounts of foreign multinationals. We tried to spend carefully. As for the environment, we should I guess have done more bus and no car, but we did enjoy that as a treat. The Costa Sur resort was very comfortable but felt very Cuban too, with very little imported food and drink, and unpretentious style. It was nice to meet local families on the beach, and I imagine the beach resorts and the tourism in Trinidad must help the local economy. I hope that what we have learnt and will share with people we know here, and our recommending you, will also help Cuban people indirectly.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

We had a wonderful time. Cuba was fascinating, and much more relaxed and organised than I had imagined, which helped make it a feel like a holiday as well as an interesting experience. It was a privilege to meet people there, and I was very pleased with our itinerary, which balanced nature, culture and beach. The host and operator were extremely helpful and I am very grateful for all your efficient and friendly work. The handbook was extremely useful, and I was pleased to be forewarned of possible problems (eg difficulty of getting taken to Cayo Leguano!).

review 7 Jul 2008

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

So many things: travelling on Cuban roads + finding our way to the various locations without having many road signs or being able to speak much Spanish was quite an adventure; meeting Cubans in various locations and situations; 2 weeks of sunshine; travelling more or less independently but still having backup support; the right mix of seeing the country + chilling out; walking in the Cuban countryside; the wonderful hospitality + generosity of Cubans… Wish we could have stayed for longer.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

I can truly recommend the tour operator, they organised our holiday to perfection. Stay in a casa with Cubans + enjoy the hospitality + generosity. Learn at least some basic Spanish to get by. Be very careful in Havana – it is very safe + people are very friendly but many of them only want to part you from your money. Go to the Cuban Art Museum in Havana, its amazing. Don’t go with high expectations of a luxurious holiday. Do some research to have an idea what you can expect.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

I think so – we gave lifts to various people while driving to different places – we stayed at a casa with a Cuban family + had dinner with them - we had lunch with farmers while on a group walk – when possible we walked – we had dinner at a paladar in Havana – tried to be economical with the air conditioning.

Read the operator's response here:

Giving lifts is a great opportunity of learning about Cuba in case you speak good Spanish and helping people along the way. Just be very careful to whom & where you give lifts, avoid doing this in the big cities when you are for the first time on Cuba, see for more information our Cuba Manual.

review 5 Jun 2008

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

We really enjoyed Vinales. Our guide there was really informative and it was great to chat with him about Cuban life. The scenery was stunning and we loved the views from our hotel (Jazmines). We also really enjoyed the casa we stayed in Trinidad. The family were very welcoming and friendly.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

We hired a car which was a great way to see a lot when you're a bit short on time and you can go to some more out of the way places. Many Cubans have to hitchhike just to get to work and we gave quite a few lifts along the way which was a good way to meet people. However, many of the roads are in a terrible state and there are very few road signs so be prepared to get lost and have to ask for directions frequently!

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

Staying in casas particulares and eating there hopefully benefited the family. Hiring a car probably wasn't the best for the environment but we were able to give quite a few lifts so hopefully that helped local people.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

We really enjoyed it - saw some great sights and met some very interesting people.

Read the operator's response here:

The state of the roads is relative, depending on where you live & what you have experienced before. Most stretches on a West & Central Cuba itinerary are actually quite good in our opinion, also taking into account the economic situation of Cuba. Here and there some stretches off the usual route are not as good and may have holes. The highway outside Havana is almost empty and is an unusual experience. The only road we can not recommend driving is between Baracoa and Moa in the East of Cuba. We advise people to learn some basic Spanish before going to Cuba, so they can ask the way to locals on their way and also chat a little about Cuban life if they decide to take hitchhikers with them. Some warnings about robberies by hitchhikers are reported in and near the big cities, and/or for deviating clients to other homestays rather than those booked by us. This last issue is reported from all over Cuba nowadays and families ask us to inform travelers. If you travel by bus the house owners will pick you up at the bus station and accompany you to your homestay; if you travel by rental car you can call them the day before and arrange a meeting point & time, or drive directly to the indicated address.These themes are explained in detail in our Cuba Manual, which clients receive upon booking. In Havana clients receive a briefing from our host as well.

review 27 May 2008

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

I can't single out one memorable experience as the whole holiday was unforgettable. We had an amazing time with a wonderful mixture of city tours, wildlife treks or simply relaxing by the beach or pool. Cuba is a beautiful country. Within the cities there are building which are architecturally stunning, the beauty not lessened by the peeling paintwork and crumbling concrete. And the lush green valleys are peaceful, tranquil and picturesque.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

There is so much to see and do in Cuba, make sure you have the time to do what you want. In our case, this will probably involve a return trip to the country. The holiday worked on a "voucher" system which were given to us at the beginning of the holiday. It is worth checking carefully that the vouchers are correct.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

The holiday certainly helped local people. We stayed with some local families, and ate in private houses which help to boost the income of these poor people, as does the purchase of food, drink and souvenirs from street vendors. Travelling around we used the local coach company, a far more environmentally friendly way to travel than private car.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

We had an excellent time. The Cubans are warm, friendly people open to foreign visitors and happy to share their homes and life stories with you. We have come home with some wonderful memories of the people we met, the places we visited and the trips we undertook. Seeing Havana in a 1950's Chevy, swimming in a deserted subterranean cave pool, listening to the beat of Cuban music and visiting a macabre crypt underneath an old church are just a handful of the experiences we will remember.

review 26 May 2008

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Probably our tour of Vinales, particularly our excellent guide.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Don’t expect Cuban food to always be excellent (although it is not as bad as people say!), and have your wits about you, particularly where money is concerned. Also, the Bay of Pigs is nothing particularly special, but Vinales is unmissable!

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

I would certainly like to think so!

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

4.5 stars I would say. An unforgettable holiday and I would recommend Responsible Travel to anyone and everyone. Also, must mention Marcel. When I emailed him from within Cuba to clarify a travel arrangement, he phoned, emailed and texted me back within 10 minutes. Very efficient and friendly with it!

review 21 May 2008

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Staying with families in the 'casa particulares' in Trinidad and Vinales, Cuba.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Definitely would recommend hiring a car, but allow sufficient time in each place to relax as the driving distances are quite long. Would also highly recommend a few Salsa and Spanish lessons before you go - as allows you to really get to know the Cubans.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

Yes, I think we benefited local people through encouraging staying in casas rather than hotels - which not only helped them but really made our holiday for us. Not sure how the holiday minimized environmental impacts though given we hired a car and did a lot of driving.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

We had a fabulous time - a really good mix of sightseeing, walking, diving and being on the beach. We wouldn't have been able to fit everything in in the time if we had organised it ourselves when we were out there. Everything that was arranged for us by the operator went really smoothly and we got really good service.

review 21 Apr 2008

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

It was a family holiday and it was our first trip to Cuba. Everyone had a memorable time in Cuba. We agreed that the uniqueness and the special culture of Cuba intrigued us. We travel with a driver and a tourist guide. They gave us a good understand of the people, the culture and the history of Cuba. We especially like the experience of their ordinary activities like having a leisurely lunch in a hacienda, walking in the country side, visiting tobacco farmers and having tea with them. It is a good time to visit Cuba now as I believe this will change as Cuba is taking more and more tourists and allowing more access to internet.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Traveling with a tourist guide and a driver for the first time visitor is the best way to go. We could plunge into local scene as soon as we arrived. We were fortunate to have very good and interesting guide and driver. They were flexible and they provide the bridge for us to interact with the locals.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

With doubt, the local people are benefited by our holiday. As far as we can, we ate at small “local” restaurants and purchase crafts and CDs from local artists.

review 18 Apr 2008

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Difficult to say which was the best - all was good. Havana and Trinidad very interesting and also walking near Vinales and Soroa. There was one disappointment which was the catamaran excursion to Cayo Blanco. The boat was crowded, there was not enough shade or places to sit down; the crew played music loudly on the way out and way back and above all the snorkeling was very disappointing. The reef was almost totally dead although there were a fish; it was a pity because there are good places to dive and snorkel in Cuba - just not at Cayo Blanco, near to Trinidad.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Go now before Cuba gets too westernised.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

Yes, I think it benefited local people a little,

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Very good, Cuba interesting place to visit and good to talk to local people who are quite forthcoming about the political situation there.

Read the operator's response here:

We always try to offer an excursion to Cayo Leguano (in this particular case the catamaran was in repair). The catamaran is smaller, there are less people on the boat and it is much more cosy. The trip takes about 5 hrs for a return trip to the island and there is only one catamaran available. On this island there is much more to see and experience then on Cayo Blanco: nice beaches, abundant shallow waterfauna & flora, mangrove forests & large populations of leguanos and tree rodents (hutias); besides you have a more interesting reef to visit when the water is clear and calm. On both islands you need to know where to find the coral reefs, unfortunately some times people do not pay attention to the boat crew (who only speak Spanish) on where to go and stay snorkeling around the boat only. On Cayo Blanco you can see many fish and interesting corals but you need to swim 4-5 minutes away from the boat with flippers towards the coast. Above the reefs of Cayo Blanco once I had a meeting with a group of squid fish which curiously kept on watching and following me when I moved slowly away. I have snorkeled all over the world but never saw this on any other snorkeling trip so far. For snorkeling you need to explore a little bit away from the boat in the indicated directions and be lucky that the water has not been turbulent the days before so that the water is clear for good sights. The excursion to Cayo Leguano needs to be booked ahead to be sure of your place.

review 25 Mar 2008

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

The fantastic people in Cuba, friendly and very helpful, as we did not have a lot of Spanish.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Probably no need to rent your own car, road signs are not too numerous, and hire of taxis is always available.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

Yes, we did feel that we were helping some people, but hard to know how to reach the people who are really in need.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

As we were planning for 4 months, I would say it is most important to prepare, and ask the tour operator if you are going to Cuba.

Read the operator's response here:

We arrange tailor made travels by rental car, bus and/or taxis according to everyone’s preferences. You will experience more freedom & contact with locals while travelling with a rental car. All people have arrived to their destinations so far. There are very few road signs on Cuba but with a good map, good sense of humour and laid back attitude, some Spanish phrases and some travel intuition you will find your way and enjoy it fully.

review 18 Feb 2008

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

5 piece band playing on the balcony of our casa particulares whilst we had a candlelit (enforced by a power cut!) dinner for my wife's 50th birthday.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

You must have a laid back attitude as things will go wrong!

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

Benefited local people. Minimal impact on environment as we picked up people in our car as that is the Cuban way of travel.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Had a great time.

Read the operator's response here:

For every destination in Latin America the best travelers attitude is to be relaxed, open to enjoy your travel fully, to be alert and go with the flow all at the same time. Cuba is, given its specific historical & difficult economic situation over the last decades, not a country where you can expect that everything goes perfect as it does in Europe. Best indeed is to have a laid back attitude on Cuba and enjoy eg a dinner with candlelight when there is for instance a powercut of several hours, to accept and enjoy the help of friendly Cubans when you have a flat tyre, when you can not find the way or things do not work as you had planned or are not as expected.

review 5 Feb 2008

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

All of it, Casa's, walking tours, beach resorts. Can't pick a favorite.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

It is easy to travel around Cuba on your own. However, it was nice to have all accommodation, transportation, and individual tours pre-booked and travel time planned.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

Tourism is greatly helping the local people involved. How this will change things on the whole, who can say. My trip should have been a low impact on environment, even the resort hotels strive for low impact on the environment.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Very good, interesting to say the least.

review 22 Dec 2008

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

There were a few memorable parts: the Santo Tomas caves in Vinales which was more of a caving experience than a tourist visit - scary but fantastic!; great bands in the square in Trinidad every night with all the locals dancing amazing salsa; swimming in the river at Las Tarrazes; catamaran trip to a beautiful tiny island filled with Iguanas; and eating under the stars at Paladar La Guarida where the food was fantastic and the place was incredibly romantic.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Have patience - it was very hard work and frustrating. Trying to buy anything is very difficult, especially outside of Havanna - water (do not drink the tap water!), toilet roll etc. Trying to get anywhere is very difficult - no sign posts and not very good maps, which makes getting out of Havanna extremely difficult. Get a basic grasp of Spanish - it really does help, especially as you will need to ask for directions on the roads. If you have a car, do stop to pick up people as it's often their only way to get to work and all the people we picked up were very friendly and helpful. If you're a vegetarian, don't go! My husband had to live on omelette for 2 weeks. They don't understand vegetarians and we found they won't make any effort to accommodate them - some restaurants even asked us to leave!! You should be aware that Cuba has two currencies - one for tourists and the other for Cubans and it is illegal for you to have their currency. This leads to problems if you want to go in to certain shops, bars and restaurants as they cannot accept your money. Again, it can be frustrating!

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

As we had a car for the entire time I don't think this was good for the environment, but then there's little alternative if you want to travel around Cuba. By staying in B&Bs some of the time and eating in Paladors (private restaurants which are normally people's homes) our money went direct to the local people. Of course, Cuba is different to most places in that the State owns everything so in theory if you stay in a hotel or eat in a state restaurant, your money goes to the state and therefore the people anyway, but who knows.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

I would love to say that it was great, but the reality of it was that it was hard work and frustrating, which most other tourists we met along the way also felt. It did have some great highlights though. It was also very expensive overall and for that reason I probably wouldn't recommend it, which is a shame as I had been wanting to go to Cuba for many years.

Read the operator's response here:

The shops may look different on Cuba but we have never experienced any problems at all to purchase water and other basic needs, for luxury articles and electronic devices & accessories it is a different story of course. Some people find driving on their own difficult others manage very well and love it, it certainly is a much bigger challenge than driving in Europe. And all our customers so far have arrived at their destination on the day they had to. So it is more about being prepared with the right mindset for a different situation then that it is really that difficult. Speaking some basic Spanish helps a lot for asking the way, besides that you will have much more contact with the locals when you give them a lift, and of course you need to have a good map with you. Driving in Cuba requires a laid back attitude, to be able to read a map well, sometimes ask the way and overall can be a lovely experience. Nowadays it is allowed for travelers to take the new generation mobiles with GPS function into Cuba (GPS devices as such are still forbidden) and we hope to map most routes as soon as we can in GPS and make selfdrive travels more comfortable in this way for our customers. It is certainly true that many Cubans don’t understand vegetarians and their lifestyle (but this is valid for whole Latin America, so Cubans are no exception!), but mostly because nobody ever explained them well the reasons why people chose to be vegetarian. Have traveled extensively over Cuba with vegetarian clients and as long as you speak Spanish there is no problem at all: if you make clear your diet wishes, the people in the kitchens or at homestays will prepare with love and care whatever is within their possibilities. In this way we have had great vegetarian dishes in homestays. But you need to be pro-active, speak Spanish and create the best out of your situation talking with the staff, cooks or owners of the homestays. This vegetarian issue is further explained in our manual also with some tips for restaurants. You can travel on Cuba also by bus, by bus + private tax transfers, by private taxi transfers only. So there are enough variations in the mode of traveling for people who prefer not to drive on their own. For larger travel parties traveling with their own bus and a Cuban guide and/or tour guide are also options. Cuba is not a cheap destination compared to Peru or Bolivia for food but it is not that expensive either. If you can stay at a good homestay for 25 USD for 2 persons, that is around 15 -18 USD per person per night including breakfast, you wont find this in many places in Latin America for this price, and in Europe for sure at no place at all. So it all depends on expectations.

review 16 Nov 2007

We requested an unusual trek in the real Cuban Country and 'boy' did we get one! The Director of the Environmental Group in Mil Cumbres picked us up and was so passionate about his country, the land, mountains and the people. We arrived at the hostel and were greeted with smiles great food and glorious views. After local food, drink and Cuban songs the night became pitch black with only the sound of insects to sing you to sleep. We slept in the same room that Fidel Castro uses when he has his annual birthday walk. Our guide for the walks spoke very little English but we understood each other through sign language. They took us to the real Cuba. To families, farmers, in into the wild up to the highest point in Mil Cubres. This was not an easy trek, may be 7/10 for difficulty. Our guide was like a mountain goat and very quick but happy to slow down when asked. We had our trendy trekking gear which helped but we were worn out on the return. Our guide had shorts, a tee shirt, old shoes and a carrier bag with his sandwich. We were his first customers that morning. He was doing the same trip in the afternoon! If you like the raw basics being with the real Country Cubans, great company and experiencing the real history of a proud and beautiful people, bring your Deet, hat and silk liner to sleep in and stay a couple of nights in Mil Cumbres.

review 26 Jun 2007

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

The diversity of even a small part of one region in Cuba

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Get out on your own

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

Hard to say - we did spend time with families both in bone fide arrangements and spontaneously when asked to go to a home for a meal - so hopefully they gained financially a little. We selected a small car but flew to the island so not brilliant environmentally

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Fascinating! A great experience! Seeing socialism as work - despite all the hardships they are stalwarts

review 7 May 2007

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Cuba's way of life is so different. Seems to be much more happiness around despite the economic and political issues. Breath of fresh air to visit a country that is not being slowly 'Americanised' and isn't overrun by all things commercial. Great to see landscape and scenery uncluttered by ads and billboards. Walking through Vinales valley with an excellent local guide - staggering scenery, friendly local farmers, hand-made home grown cigars, coffee and bananas. Hospitality and friendliness of the Cubans. Particularly in Casa Particulars. Their genuine pleasure from our gifts and our gratitude. Coco taxi running out of petrol in Havana. Cayo Legauno - surrounded by iguanas and then being calmly approached by a tree rat (about 2ft long exc. tail!) Music - everywhere. Pineapple and banana smoothie made by Ana in Trinidad - Yum. Black beans and rice made by Esther in Vinales - Yum. Jose at the end of the road in Trinidad

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Get there before it changes! With uncertainty about Castro's tenure there is always a risk that it may change from the unique place that it is now. Make sure that you stay in a casa particular with Cuban people. We stayed in two during our trip and the food was excellent. The hospitality is superb and you get a better insight into Cuban life. You can also pick up tips as to where to go and do the more 'local' thing. From an economic perspective it also helps these families supplement their income. Vinales is a fantastic base for visiting the tobacco fields and exploring the countryside. You probably need two to three days to do the area justice. Cienfuegos is not worth an overnight stay but handy for a refreshment stop on the drive from Vinales or Havana to Trinidad (note it does have a mad one way system though!) Near Trinidad try and take the catamaran excursion from Ancon to Cayo Legauno. Great trip and amazing surprises when you arrive ! Don't be concerned about the driving. Okay, there may not be road signs, but the roads are quiet and Cubans are courteous, cautious drivers. Even in Havana the traffic is relatively calm by UK standards. You can't beat overtaking a horse and cart on the motorway! Hotel Raquel in Havana is fantastic. Situated in the old town it has a great feel about it, the staff were great, and both rooms we stayed in were spacious. Good Mojitos at the bar. Take a trip in a Coco taxi in Havana - uncomfortable, noisy but great fun. It feels like you are doing about 80 mph through a pedestrianised area in a kids pedal car. Visit Hemingways hotel room in Hotel Ambos Mundos in Havana. Small, low key, but somehow engaging. Don't forget the 25 convertible pesos per person airport tax on departure. Walking city tour of Havana was excellent. Recommend Mariela from Cubatour.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

Overall yes to both. Obviously, the flight is an exception. Staying in casa particulars is a great way of helping out the locals. For the Cubans we left some gifts of items that are more difficult to obtain in Cuba. We spent a lot of time in the countryside and contributed to the up-keep of the local national parks

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

**** and a half. A great trip and an excellent itinerary from Marcel at this operator. Get to Cuba before it changes!

review 23 Dec 2006

Cuba tour

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

We loved Trinidad, it's a special and picturesque little town with lots of music, close to hill walking and beaches. You can't ask for much more. Overall, I think we enjoyed staying in the casas particulares most, which gave us an opportunity to understand the lives of some (not necessarily ordinary) Cuban people.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Get everything organised before you go. The stress of arranging things once you arrive is only worth it if you're there for a long holiday. Make sure you stay in some casas particulares as well as hotels. Cuba tourAvoid the developed tourist beach destinations on the North coast. We went to one for the day. It's the only part of the holiday which we disliked. Do take useful stuff like soap and pens and paper and be generous with them. We took lots of pens which we gave to the doctors in a local hospital.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

Yes, but (and it's a very big but) the tourist dollar is not spread evenly throughout the country and its people. Give a tip of two convertible pesos to the taxi driver and it's worth two days' salary. Look at the costs of fairly basic stuff like soap, given in convertibles, and see how unattainable it is for Cubans who only receive the basic state salary in local pesos. We spent three days in Hotel Moka, and felt that was fairly helpful to sustaining the local environment (reforestation which has created a local tourist trade). We used a mixture of buses and taxis for travel, which was probably marginally less impactful, and certainly less stressful, than hiring a car.

4. Any other comments?

Brilliant, we thoroughly enjoyed it. **** per your grading.

Cuba tour Cuba tour Cuba tour


review 7 Dec 2006

We had two weeks in Cuba with a tailor made holiday through this operator. They were great – sorted us out at very short notice and everything went according to plan.

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

The people! Staying with Cubans in casas particulares was the best.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Outside Havana try and eat in the casa particulares or in paladares. We found hotel and restaurant food mediocre at best.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

Staying in people’s homes obviously benefits them, especially if you eat there too. We did three great guided walks in bio reserves so I guess that supports their maintenance and development.

review 1 Oct 2006

Cuba trip

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

The trekking in Sierra Escambray was fantastic and one of the highlights of our trip. Along with the wonderful scenery and swimming in an underground cave our guide was excellent; he was extremely and had a tremendous knowledge of the flora and fauna of the forest. We had a very nice meal at the Hacienda Codina as part of this trip also (in the middle of a tropical storm). We had to stay for a few extra beers until the storm passed!

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

I advise travellers to Cuba to (a) take everything they need for the trip with them as it is very difficult to get Western-type travel items in Cuba (b) take lots of mosquito repellent for yourself and pens/soap/old clothes to give to Cubans (c) stay away from state-run restaurants; they have very poor service and food quality.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

Definitely with one exception: on a catamaran trip to Cayo Los Iguanos the captain dropped anchor on the top of the coral reef and provided no warnings to snorkellers to be careful around the reefs. I have told the tour agent about this and he will contact the company.

4. Any other comments?

Thanks for helping us to book the holiday. You offer a fantastic service that allows the public an opportunity to travel in a social and environmentally responsibly manner and yet have a great choice of destinations.

Cuba trip Cuba trip

Read the operator's response here:

The boat always anchors aside of the coral reef and not on top of it. However on the boat there is only a boat crew and not an ecological guide or supervisor in case excursions are individual and no group travels organised by us. The boat crew is not well educated in ecological issues and also does not give snorkelling instructions. That is why we have mentioned this issue esp. in our Cuba Manual what to do and also how to instruct other individual travellers in order to avoid that people damage the ecosystem and step or touch the coral. It is true that the anchor causes some damage on the bottom of the seafloor, but also severe tropical hurricanes that have passed over this area recently have caused a natural damage of the corals and fauna. When you go ashore on the island you will see that the island is built up of debris of coral and that this is part of a natural process. We have asked to the Cuban state company that organizes the catamaran tours if it is possible to instruct the boat crew better, so that they can instruct individual travellers and give everybody a good feeling of taking care of this fragile ecosystem. If people take mosquito repellent with them, we advise in our Cuba Manual to take one that is not toxic to humans / yourself, which is nature friendly & that works too. There are some very good Cuban state restaurants on Cuba that can compete in price and food with private house cooking & paladars. We give culinary suggestions in our Cuba Manual.

review 8 Jul 2006

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Most memorable part was going off the tourist trail with two of our guides in Trinidad. After a day of horseback riding we got caught in a tropical rain shower and since we were already wet we decided to go swimming in a local stream. It was one of those unplanned and spontaneous moments and it was a lot of fun! Overwall, we were impressed with the variety of activities that Cuba had to offer...no two days were the same!

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Tips: be streetwise but curtious at all times also. The Cuban people are very very friendly and they like to talk and laugh a lot. It's good to join in and mix with the locals but don't be surprised if you're expected to buy drinks or lunch for anyone who offers to show you around or even walk you down a block. Tourists shouldn't feel like they're being hassled. Cubans simply don't make enough money, that's all.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

Very much so. We were glad to being staying in 3 star hotels or local families as we felt that they would benefit more from our tourist dollars than the 5 star hotels who were already receiviing plenty of trade. A more even distribution of tourist dollars should be encouraged and we would travel the same way and stay in the same types of accommodation should we return to Cuba.

review 15 Apr 2006

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

All the places we went to in Cuba were very enjoyable, but it was most memorable for the people we met in Cuba. Other highlights of the trip were the sounds and colours in Havana, and the beach in Cayo Lavisa was breathtaking. The local representative from the operator was extremely helpful and knowledgeable and made sure everything was as planned.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Book well in advance and do your research so you can pick exactly where you want to go and stay. The travel representatives were very helpful with suggestions and ideas. Also stay in the casa particulares whenever you can as they are so much better than the hotels. The hosts are friendly, the food is awesome and the local tips they give you for things to do and see are very useful. e.g. private salsa lessons, horse riding excursions.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

Staying with local people in the casa particulares meant more of our money went to the local people, and travelling by the local coach network meant we minimized the environmental impact as much as we could.

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