23 independent reviews for Self drive Cuba family vacation

These full and frank independent reviews are from travelers who have booked directly through Responsible Travel. They are not edited by us or any of the companies we work with. Find the real story, from real travelers below.


review 18 Apr 2017

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

for me the most memorable parts are the people-to-people things, and bits of culture ... my teenage sons playing pick-up soccer on the beach with other young people; a woman in a doorway selling pizza that she yells the orders up to her son on the roof of a building, where he makes the pizza and then lowers it down with a rope and pulley; live music in a restaurant that inspires a couple to break out into some fabulous salsa dancing; and the nice connection made with our homestay family in havana; we learned a lot from the very interesting tours of the tobacco farm in vinales, former slavery site at sugarmill valley (near trinidad), and coffee plantation at escambray (near trinidad); really enjoyed the zipline (vinales), snorkeling at punta perdiz (bay of pigs) and the 2 salsa lessons (even the teen boys liked these).

2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?

Change money at the airport when you arrive so you don't have to wait 1-2 hours in line the next day. Don't overschedule - leave free time to walk around and have a spontaneous experience ... go to the plaza in the evening and hear outdoor live music everywhere, try to get to a beach at least once, take a salsa lesson, if you've got kids that play soccer take a ball with you ... futbol is universal. Speaking spanish is a plus - all our guides on tours spoke good english, but i was able to learn much more from people having conversations in Spanish. Before going I was a little uneasy about how traveling with my family would be in cuba because of the politics, their limited resources, and how they might view people from the u.s. once there i felt very comfortable, had relaxed, easy interactions with people, felt safe walking at night, people out and about all the time; despite their struggles and troubles we found the cuban people to be warm, friendly, helpful, and hospitable.

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

Yes, staying at homestays, having meals at casas were a financial benefit to local people; hearing about what life is like for some people in cuba, bringing information that i learned back to my country to share with friends benefits people, conversations create more mutual understanding; several of the tour guides (tobacco farm, coffee plantation, flamingo lagoon) were very knowledgeable about medicinal and other uses of plants, and the relationships between wildlife and the environment. Learning about the value of the natural world builds respect for the environment, and leads one to pay more attention to the impact we have, and care for the earth.

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

Overall fantastic. Good balance of learning about cuba, it's history and culture, and also just having some fun (kids playing futbol on the beach, zipline, snorkeling); also good amount of planned activity and free time. Marcel did a great job of helping me plan, answering my many questions, making suggestions, and pulling the whole thing together into a great trip. I'd like to give 4.5 stars, so i'll give 4 only because there were some minor things that could improve, but I would highly recommend this trip.

review 3 Jan 2017

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

Spontaneously being invited into a home to listen in on a jam session with the resident and their guests. We were walking around the streets of Havana taking in the street scene and heard music coming out of a home. We peeked inside the house and were extended a warm invitation to come in and enjoy the music, rum and the fried plantains all without any expectation of any kind from our hosts.

2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?

Go with the flow. Overall our travel agent did a very good job with the logistics, home stays and tours. There were some hitches but relatively minor ones. Cuba's infrastrucutre is straining under the explosion of tourism. Be prepared to go with the flow.

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

Yes, we stayed at casas particulares everywhere and had the vast majority of our meals at the homes. Most of our lodging and food dollars went directly to the host families rather than to anonymous, global hotel chains. We also made it a point to tip cab drivers and tour guides both of whom are on meager government stipends. Our tips were a meaningful contribution to their monthly income.

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

Excellent!

review 23 Apr 2016

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

The best part was Havana. Everything about Havana, the tour in the old American car was great but we loved just wondering around.

2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?

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

We stayed with local families, eat in small family owned restaurants.

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

Excellent

review 20 Dec 2016

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

Too many to count! The caves near Vinales, the convertible tour of Havana, the gorgeous white sand beaches, and the wonderful host families!

2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?

Leave plenty of time for driving, as the roads require navigating around potholes (and horses and oxen).

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

We enjoyed discussing these things with our host families, and have made lifelong friends!

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

Excellent!!!

review 12 Dec 2016

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

Walking through Vinales with a cigar in my hand (which was actually after being ferried over a flooded area by a local Cuban and his horse!) - Very surreal

2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?

Cuba is such a wonderful country but it is also a country that has simple infrastructure - manage your expectations and some of the challenges will turn into fabulous stories rather than pain points for later.

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

Yes - I have to say - 3 weeks of organic food did not hurt!

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

It was so fabulous - we were able to relax, try many different things, control our own destiny and learn a good portion of history that we hadn't previously understood.

review 11 Aug 2016

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

Many thanks to you all and the team for organising what was an excellent vacation for the whole family. Cuba is a wonderful country and we won’t hesitate to recommend Cuba and your team to our friends and colleagues. Most of all, we would like to commend our guide Tamayo and driver Dinay (apologies for any incorrect spelling) - they were fantastic in every respect. Tamayo took us snorkeling in Playa Giron and to the ‘Bay of Pigs” museum which were additions to our itinerary.

2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?

We have travelled outside Europe before with children, and were prepared for the calculated risk of no seatbelts in our tour vehicle. We’d advise parents to think this one through and accept the risk, or clarify the seatbelt situation in advance. The El Nicho trip does not require a 4x4 or all day. They took us up (a very good road) to the reserve, we walked 500yds to some lovely waterfalls where we swam for an hour then came back. A very pleasant trip. The zip-wire was good but would have been better if our voucher had been valid for all 6 sections.

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

Yes

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

All in all a great vacation and we are very grateful.

review 7 Apr 2016

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

Snorkelling in the waters around Cayo Iguana. The Island was so quiet and peaceful with clear blue turquoise water. The food was excellent from the captain and the trip out was well worth the 2 hour sail. It is not obvious that you need to stay on the boat for the snorkelling so stay on and he will drop you back to the island after the snorkelling. The vinales valley was absolutely beautiful.

2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?

Bring lots of money and convert it at the airport. Always ask at the casa the cost of accommodation as it might not be what was agreed. Do not stop on the motorway if someone is broken down or looks like a police person. Use the GPS system it was perfect. Bring poncho. Buy an underwater camera before going. When you have a car in Trinidad people will ask you for parking money but they might not be the real person who parking space you are at.

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

When you stay at the Casa's it really helps the local people as the money goes directly into the family. It is a great way for the family to exchange ideas and understand our way of living. The Coral reef was in perfect condition. Cuba does not have a throw away society so there is very little rubbish. I hope that these values will remain.

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

The arrangements were very good and vacation went without any problems. Accommodation at Soroa was not worth it, stay at Hotel Soroa. There are shops on the motorway, Vinales and Trinidad that you can get what ever you need. Marcel has a good network and I would definitely go back and book through his company. Cuba is amazing, I was delighted that I booked through responsible travel.

review 17 Jul 2016

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

Having my grandchildren participate in a workshop with Cuban children at the casa particular in Soroa.

2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?

Do not travel in Cuba during July. Even Cubans were mopping their brows and exclaiming 'Qué calor!'

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

I felt exploited by local people. My vacation increased environmental impact and did not support conservation.

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

It was extremely well planned and operated perfectly.

Read the operator's response here:

We are happy to read that the organisation of this small trip into West of Cuba was perfectly organized and that the family had a great time at a workshop in Soroa. Cuba is a tropical country in the Caribbean you can expect some pleasant tropical temperatures of course. Most of the months in the wet season show a higher humidity after some tropical rain showers and that may give the extra sensation that it is hot. This is true but it all depends how you take it, you can also be happy and enjoy it is warm. In fact the differences between the temperatures are small throughout the whole year. Further we always recommend to come well prepared with the right clothes for a Caribbean climate. Cuba may have a nice sea breeze on many locations as long as you don’t go deep inland. We suggest travelers to look at some weather graphs for instance at Weather Spark for Havana, Santiago de Cuba, Baracoa and nearby Caribbean destinations including Cartagena de Indias in Colombia before booking a trip and ask us about the weather so that they can come well prepared. We always comment to travelers to take it easy on Cuba as it is quite a unique desitnation. Cuban people are very friendly, open-minded, full of humour and playfulness. That is also how they approach travelers. When someone asks for some money on the street and you are relaxed you can make a joke and turn it around, this can be the start of an interesting conversation, instead of feeling trapped. Most Cubans never will be able to travel abroad and see travelers visiting their home country every year. Some people asking for money or raising a Cuban price to a tourist price may be very poor and it is your choice to share money with them or bring gifts but of course if you do not wish to do you can decline the request for money. I am sorry you saw this as exploitation.

review 15 Nov 2015

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

The most memorable will be all of the Vintage Cars running around all of Cuba; the pony and carts, bicycle taxi's, pedestrians and horses coming towards you on the wrong side of the road; the men running out on the three lane highway selling you cooked chickens/cheese/onions and the hike to Topes de Collantes with the suckling pig for lunch. The show at Club Tropicana and the warmth of the Cuban people.

2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?

Think about the distances you might have to drive. If you have a hire car download maps to your smartphone (c£8.45) before leaving for Cuba as Cars do not have sat nav. There are very few good service stations/Paradors on the main A1 & A4 so make sure you have water/snack's and petrol before starting each leg of the journey. The two main highways we used are very quiet compared to UK motorways. Sometimes we were they only car we could see for miles in either direction. These roads are easy to use but in places there are huge crater like potholes - you can tell when one is coming up as any vehicles in front of you will suddenly veer into another lane! You also get locals trying to flag you down for lifts. It is worth asking for a quote for transfers by taxi if you don't want the hassle of driving yourself. Driving in towns needs lots of focus due to the wide variety of people/animals/vehicles which cross your path. Wifi is very limited and you need to buy a card from local Hotel to use, cost of the cards vary and this often includes buying a drink as well; although you can do what the locals do and sit outside the hotels/Wifi Hotspots and access from there to avoid cost of buying a can of cola at 5* prices. Guides will always point out to you where these are.

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

You benefit local people best by staying in the Casa Particulars (Homestays). Wages are pitifully low and Cuba still has food rationing and many goods you would expect to buy at home are simply not available in Cuba. Casa owners supplement their incomes by renting rooms, which help support all of the family including aging parents. All of the rooms we had were clean, we had ensuite shower rooms (sometimes the showers were old and the water power feeble but its not really a problem). The food we ate at the Casa's was good to excellent at a very fair price, but we did feel that attitudes towards us changed if we said we were eating out. It also helps if you have some Spanish, but you can get by without. The impression we got was that Cubans feel their country has been left behind, so they also learn from you about the world outside Cuba.

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

The vacation was very good. Marcel provides you with loads and loads of information, tips etc to make sure you enjoy your trip. In addition, you have support from the local co-ordinator in Cuba. Marcel can arrange Skype calls to talk through your itinerary to ensure he provides you with a tailor made service. I would travel with this operator again without hesitation. (Brazil 2017!) You have to remember that Cuba works on manyana time, so have patience - you are on vacation afterall!

Read the operator's response here:

Wifi is now available at most boutique hotels along classical itineries through Cuba (Havana, Vinales, Trinidad, Camaguey, Santiago, Baracoa) and at most of the important squares in all the Cuban cities. You can see concentrations of people chatting and mailing indicating that it is a public wifi hotspot. It does not mean that it is always functioning but it is a first step to a broader use of wifi and internet on Cuba and so far we have had very good wifi connections in Havana at Iberostar Parque Central, Iberostar Grand hotel Trinidad and in Habanera & Porto Santo hotels in Baracoa (nov 2015).

review 19 Jul 2015

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

Meeting the Cuban people and experiencing a different culture.

2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?

Stay in Casa's as that way you get to meet the local people. Explore as far and wide as you can. The cities are great but the countryside is fantastic and worth exploring. Book through Marcel from the vacation provider. He is fantastic and the vacation flowed seamlessly.

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

Definitely benefitted the local people. Not sure of the environmental impact or conservation value. Did not really apply.

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

Fantastic vacation

review 19 May 2015

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

The valley of Viñales, Cayo Iguana and the contact with the people.

2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?

Don't be afraid to rent a car!

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

We helped as much as we could. Of course renting private houses instead of hotels made a great difference to the people.

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

A real experience in all senses!

review 11 Mar 2015

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

Seeing the bull shark in the Maria La Gorda marine park in the blue 30 metres down...so great Caribbean diving here as the visibility is so good and the waters warm.

2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?

As we were traveling with two boys (8 and 10) and the Cubans love kids...especially blond ones who speak perfect and fluent Spanish...we felt that we really got the most out of our decision to stay at Casas Particulares as we also speak reasonable Spanish as well. So my tip would be to learn some Spanish beforehand and be prepared to lower your standards a bit as the Cubans are very poor and the facilities below European standards.

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

Absolutely...apart from one government run hotel (almost unavoidable in Maria La Gorda although there is a Casa Particular, we later found out, about 10 kms away) we stayed with locals and therfore helped the local economy.

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

Very good. Cuba is difficult to do independently especially if traveling with a young family. I wasn't keen on all the 'voucher stuff' but it had to be done if we were assured of doing things whilst out there. The car-hire is a monumental rip-off at €500 a week for a pile of junk but that is not the agent's fault as these are fixed prices set by the communist regime. Also Cuba is not as cheap as you would imagine especially as the average wage is just €20 a month! Having said that it made for a fascinating insight into a country on the cusp of change...and the people were delightful and highly educated.

review 26 Mar 2014

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

There were many memorable moments on this vacation that I can not pick just one. Everything was far beyond our expectations. The people, culture, snorkelling and food were all fantastic!

2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?

Never book even 1 hour in an all inclusive resort, they are disgusting in every way possible. We unfortunately spent one night at the end of our travels in one and you could't pay me to go back. The only way to travel through Cuba is staying in "casa particulars" it is an amazing experience. Rent a car if you are a family as driving is relatively easy if you are an experienced confident driver. If you have driven in European cities you will have no problem! I highly recommend you learn some spanish before you go, but if you don't, and you speak Italian that is a big plus as spanish comes easier and you can pick up phases from the locals.

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

I believe that by staying in people's homes we were able to speak with families and their friends and start to get a better understanding of their culture and way of life. I imagine that we are contributing to their income and perhaps we both benefit from the cultural exchange.

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

The operator made this vacation possible for our family. This trip has opened our eyes and minds to another country and culture unlike any other vacation we have been on. We all can't wait to go back next year! I would highly recommend this vacation for families with children.

review 14 Jul 2014

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

All of it! The trips and the accommodation were all memorable and it was exciting to move from place to place and see a totally different aspect of Cuba every time we moved on.

2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?

Read the notes that Marcel provides carefully. There are a few things (like changing money) that you will think don't matter too much, but if you are advised to do something, then do it! Cuba is not like any other country - you may not find a Cadeca (bureau de change) where you expect one and you can run out of cash very easily. If you follow the advice Marcel gives, you will have a stress free, brilliant time.

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

Yes - we stayed with families and our money went directly to them.

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

Overall, it was an experience not to be missed. We wanted to see Cuba before it changes beyond recognition and we got to see so much of the real Cuba, it was amazing.

review 7 Jul 2014

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

The Cuban people were the highlight for us. They are so lovely and friendly. At all times we felt safe. We especially loved the snorkeling in Cayo Levisa and the horseride in Trinidad.

2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?

Take plenty of gifts to give away - soap, pens, paper, shampoo & conditioner. Be generous with your tipping since Cubans need the tourist dollar just to survive. Interact with the locals - we did this by chatting with people at the markets, using local guides, staying in the casa particulares. Take a torch for walking back to your casa particulares in the dark. Buy plenty of water at the airport since it is hard to buy big bottles in Havana. Get all your money out in Havana since their are no eftpos and credit card facilities. Learn as much Spanish as you possibly can before coming so that you can interact more with the locals.

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

We definitely felt our vacation benefited the local people. We stayed in Casa Particulares and ate all breakfasts and most of our dinners at them also. We tipped well and were generous with our gifts. It is cheap to vacation in Cuba for New Zealanders so we were able to get private local guides and do many excursions which in another country we may have not done so many because of the cost.

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

We loved our Cuban vacation and would love to go back. We have spoken with several friends that travel and they too would love to go there. We would give our vacation a 10/10 - it was fantastic!

Read the operator's response here:

You can obtain cash CUC at all banks throughout Cuba with a credit card and passport in an easy way, so it is not necessary to get all your money at one time in Havana. In most places you have the CADECA, Casas de cambio, a cash exchange office especially for tourists. Here you can obtain cash CUC with your creditcard, change foreign cash into CUC and obtain moneda nacional, Cuban pesos (CUP). The opening hours of the Cadeca, Casas de cambio are usually more extended then those of the standard banks and for this reason they can be more handy to make use of. Some hotels and resorts do have an office of Cadeca in the hotel complex or have an office nearby located.

review 20 Mar 2014

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

The families, the excellent veggie food. The beautiful homes ..... So much. ! X

2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?

Go veggie the food at home stays is excellent.

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

A little.

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

Really good. Perfect way to see Cuba was through you.

review 2 May 2013

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

We travelled with our children aged 4 and 6. Cuba was perfect for this; people are friendly, driving was easy, the kids made friends with homestays where we stayed, children stayed up late with us in the evenings and there was no problem with this- we felt welcome everywhere we went. They had a fantastic experience - as did we - sharing a sense of traveling and new tropical historical places with them. Cuba is a fantastic country and we had a wonderful 2 weeks there. I would highly recommend a trip to Vinales (stunning countryside, we spent the day walking to farms, climbing up into caves, drinking very strong cocktails in the peaceful/relaxed town) followed by Cayo Levisa - if you are after true Caribbean crystal clear water & white sand without the soul-less hotels and hordes of tourists - go here! Also, as mentioned above, recommend staying with homestays the whole way.

2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?

Marcel from the operator (who we found through Responsible Travel) was very very good. Booking through this agent probably made our vacation more expensive than it would've been had we done it on our own with The Lonely Planet (prob a lot more actually) - however we didn't have time to do this and trying to book places directly from the UK to Cuba was virtually impossible. What we paid for through him was excellent service, he was knowledgeable, understood what sort of vacation we wanted & what was possible with our children. Everything *being met at the airport, guides, car tours, boats, homestay bookings) ran like clockwork. Very efficient. Whilst out in Cuba we ran out of money and had 2 flat tyres - knowing that we had an agent we could call to help us out - who did immediately with sound advice - was so reassuring. All correspondence with Marcel before & after the trip was also highly efficient (advice on money & visa etc) and reassuring. So if we were to book again - I would recommend this company.

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

Yes because we stayed with local people the whole way. So our money went directly to them. So pleased we did not stay in any hotels. The 5 star hotels are not 5 star by UK standards - at all - so was worth getting a far more Cuban experience and avoiding these - staying with local people, chatting with them, eating their delicious food!

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

Amazing. We loved it. Cuba is an incredible world or sunshine, music, history, culture, beauty, beaches and Havana is like no other city I have been to. We loved it. If you are considering a vacation here - book it!

review 26 Aug 2013

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

the first guided tour around Havanna

2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?

Book early and try and stay in homestays - far more friendly and authentic.

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

Yes - could see that our money went direct to homestays and local guides, and that every guided tour had an educational/conservation aspect to it.

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

Probably 10/10 for friendly country. 8/10 for services, 10/10 for music and culture, 7/10 for food with a few outstanding exceptions, 10/10 for most of homestays albeit some were basic accommodation, some grand.

review 29 Feb 2012

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

We had so many great adventures traveling with 2 small children (age 3 and 6). We all loved the home stays (casas paticulares), meeting Cuban families with children, Havana's decaying splendour, the coco taxi's, meeting tobacco farmers, desert islands, swimming in waterfalls, Villa Guamas hotel in the lake on stilts, rowing boat trip and bird life at sunset, riding with cowboys, hermit crabs and iguanas..the list goes on!

2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?

We hired a car so felt completely independent which was perfect with children. Be prepared to ask for directions as there are few road signs and mind the pot holes and animals on the road! A compass would have been useful which we didn't have. We often took some breakfast items with us on long journeys as difficult to come across food shops in case the kids got hungry. The journeys take longer than you think, you have to factor in the time for getting lost but that's all part of the adventure. We felt incredibly safe with a young family in Cuba, everyone was so wonderfully welcoming and I would encourage anyone to do it with a family. Speaking Spanish is essential, lots of sun cream and go with the flow. Kids are so adaptable and they made this trip a special one as they got so much lovely attention from the locals, we received minimal hassle as well.

3. Did you feel that your vacation benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

I feel local people benefited from our stay, especially when we were in casa paticulares. We left tips and presents as well as eating with the host family every night. We always gave tips to cleaning staff, tour guides etc as well. We flew to Cuba and drove around for 2 weeks so not great for the environment but we left minimal footprints whilst we were there.

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

I would rate this vacation EXTREMELY highly. We had a truly amazing time and I would not hesitate to recommend this operator to anyone. The operator was incredibly efficient and gave good practical advice and a comprehensive Cuba Manual along with excellent customer service. 5*!

review 7 Aug 2012

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

The stay in Havana.

2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?

Bring enough cash with you.

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

Yes, we tried to help the local people.

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

Very good organization.

review 4 May 2012

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

We pre booked our hotel with the operator whom we found through Responsible Travel. The whole trip was very easy to set up and the operator was very fast in responding to email queries and setting up phone conferences. Excursions: Our pre booked excursions really made the trip and were fabulous. We were so impressed with the local guides, their knowledge and openness. Havana – very informative walking tour with amazing tour in open top car. As it was hot the tour as a little long for our 8 year old and perhaps a slightly earlier start would have helped. Vinales – walk round the tobacco fields with alexis. Brilliant. Really informative with chance to see cigars rolled and taste pina coladas. Vinales – St Thomas caves – very good / children enjoyed Cayo Levisa – beach/ snorkeling –stunning beach/ reasonable snorkeling… could have stayed longer (? An overnight) Soroa – Wizard’s walk – 6 hour personalized walk through to a local house where we had lunch. Incredibly informative and very special experience Trinidad – Topes de Collantes. The tour we did to waterfalls/ Rambo tour through the water was excellent and the guide was very knowledgeable and very good with the children. Good lunch. Boat trip to Iguanas – they did try to get us to Cayo Blanco and our trip was 1 day delayed because of a motor issue but, the next day we went to Cayo iguanas and loved it – a very special trip.

2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?

Overall our vacation was great and it was easy to travel around with our 2 children (aged 10 and 7.) We loved Cuba, the warmth and openness of the people, the beauty of the countryside / beaches/ cities and of course the music. We were very impressed with the guides on all the excursions and the format of these trips and we particularly loved staying with families in the casas. All transfers were efficiently organized but we just had an issue that we had been led to believe that all 4 of us could stay in one room, but in many provincial hotels in Cuba this is not possible because maximum number of beds 3. This was definitely the case in Hotel Soroa and would have been an issue at Costa Sur Trinidad if a last minute upgrade to a bungalow had not been secured (we found out this could have been guaranteed if we had booked it ourselves from the UK). Accommodation: Hotel Sevilla in Havana - very well located hotel; friendly staff, great pool and fabulous roof restaurant with amazing views. Casa Vinales – amazingly friendly welcome and fabulous fresh food/ juices. Soroa Hotel – beautiful location/ friendly staff next to lovely orchid gardens and great viewpoint walk. The hotel had a huge swimming pool – it was green the day we arrived and only realized how much an issue it was when it was cleaned and suddenly became blue the next day; the hotel also had no money change for 2 days which left us seriously short of money because we had not anticipated this and were not near a town Casa Trinidad – lovely room/ terrace and friendly welcome. Costa Sur hotel, Trinidad – bungalow was lovely, but otherwise a very disappointing hotel. The food was very poor buffet style – a large choice, but we found very little tasty food to eat (the A La Carte restaurant we went to 1 day was better). With a few exceptions (which we tipped) the service was poor in the main restaurant , though much better in the bars. The hotel had a real issue with mosquitoes. While they sprayed the hotel, bungalow doors were left open during cleaning and we returned to find over 100 mosquitoes in the room. There were no nets for sleeping and no sprays so we killed them all (not fun). The setting on the beach is beautiful, but the beach was taken over by large groups of Cuban families the whole time and particularly at the weekend when we were staying. I understand the beaches are available for everyone, but there are signs saying that only hotel guests can use loungers etc. This was clearly not enforced by the hotel security staff and there was a day it was very hard to find somewhere to sit! In retrospect I would select a 1 day visit to the beach in Trinidad and would have selected my beach stay elsewhere (? Cayo levisa)

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

Tipping local guides/ workers is really important and very much appreciated. Travel: We traveled by public transport (bus) and this worked really well for us and was definitely the way to travel between the main towns for us and helped reduce our impact on the environment. In particular the Transtour buses worked very well in that they picked up from a hotel and dropped off at a hotel (it was even possible to go from Vinales to Trinidad by passing the centre of Havana which we were not aware of). Time was lost while drivers took their breaks at Cubanacan service stations but otherwise worked fine.

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

Excellent. The main issue related to the accommodation and hopefully the operator and the local agent will ensure this does not affect families in the future.

Read the operator's response here:

For a family with 2 children most Cuban hotels can not provide 4 beds in one room, the maximum is 3 single beds. When the children are too young to be on their own in a separate hotel room, the solution is to stay in homestays / casas particulares. Some homestays have 2 kingsize beds in one room and when the children are really small this is the perfect solution. What you will find more often are homestays with 2 rooms next to each other in the same house, sometimes connected by a door, so this could also serve. A homestay is anyway a more safe and secure environment for parents with small childen then a hotel in case you have to leave small children in another room. With future bookings by families with 2 or more small children we will check all room options with the families what will fit best. At the Costa Sur Trinidad beach resort the solution for a family with 2 or more children is to stay in a bungalow. It turned out that the bungalows can not be booked by a Cuban operator and that they are reserved exclusively for bookings via the internet. With this kowledge we can anticipate on this situation with future bookings. Although the beach is not at the front of your door, an extra argument for staying in a homestay is that the cooking at the homestays is usually much tastier then the food in the all-inclusive resorts of 3 to 4 stars. Then another issue mentioned above: in Cuba you will find more and more Cuban “tourists” esp. in the weekends visiting pools of a hotel and beach resorts. They have paid for a day access to the pool or beach. The volume of the speakers usually goes up, there is more drinking and dancing, so it makes it very lively with Cuban ambiance and if you like that it is perfect. When you look for a really quiet time at a swimming pool or at the beach you have to go to the higher 4 star and 5 star all-inclusive beach resorts and/or have your own car as a part of a self drive itinerary and find your own wild and quiet beach. There are plenty of those in Cuba and you can stay either in lovely homestays, boutique hotels and/or beach resorts. We appreciate the extensive feedback we have received from this family on all issues as mentioned above and other issues.

review 11 Mar 2012

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

Tropical storm in Havana. Driving through it to reach the recommended casa particular. It was fabulous even in the torrential rain.

2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?

Definitely do homestays. We really enjoyed meeting the hosts & their families. Even though we do not speak Spanish we were able to communicate and get to know them.

3. Did you feel that your vacation benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

Completely - the guides we used and the homestay hosts were paid directly and were excellent.

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

This was a great way to see Cuba. The tour operator did an excellent job for a very reasonable cost. Everything worked like clockwork and all the people we dealt with were doing their utmost to make our vacation the best. Cannot thank the company enough.

review 13 Jul 2011

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

Havana. The crumbling architectural splendour is amazing. Will be fascinating to see how/if things change politically over the next few years.

2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?

Make sure you have all the toiletries you need as such things are difficult to purchase in Cuba and carry some toilet roll with you at all times. Don't expect accommodation to be of a similar standard to the UK and expect to be harassed by people offering taxis, horses, accommodation etc.

3. Did you feel that your vacation benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?

Definitely. We used Cuban pesos and stayed and ate in a casa particular. Also, we avoided internal flights and travelled by taxi as well as using local guides on excursions.

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

A real eye-opener. Felt like we actually got a glimpse of what REAL Cuban life is like - the good and the bad aspects. Saw outstanding natural beauty and spoke to (and danced with!) local people who were happy to answer our questions. Overall a wonderful experience, plenty of food for thought which is what we, as a family, like to get from our vacation.

Read the operator's response here:

On Cuba travelers can be approached for all kind of services by street vendors, the more Spanish you speak the less it may disturb. Cubans like to joke, so be humurous with them. Treat these families with respect - they need to make a living as well - and it wont affect your day. You can also use turn arounds and start asking questions and in this way have sometimes even very interesting conversations that gives a good feeling to both parties.

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Unedited reviews from other travelers

I am reborn! Simply the best vacation I have ever been on
Some great stories to tell the grandchildren. Would recommend to a friend
Very enjoyable
It was OK
A bit disappointing really
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