Me and my boyfriend spent 2 weeks in Cuba, travelling around and came up with our itinerary ourselves. It seemed to be the perfect amount of time and we had a fantastic trip!
We booked our flights and then completely forgot about booking anything else! When we looked to start booking, we tried talking to lots of different travel agents (even pretty upmarket ones!!) about 6 weeks before we went and they all said it would be impossible to find places to stay as it's now so busy - but that just seemed like a challenge so we went ahead and did it ourselves! This was in late Feb-2016, with no travel agents to provide much before the end of May 2016... not helpful when we were travelling March 22nd.
There are lots of travel agents who can help you, but with the help of Google Translate (we don't speak Spanish) we were able to travel around really easily.
We stayed in Casa Particulars (home stays) for the whole time, except for the last 2 nights where we stayed in a resort. They were really great, especially some of the places that offered you dinner as the food was better than in restaurants!!
We don't speak Spanish so it made it harder, but we managed to communicate with everyone and the people were so so nice.
We used the Eyewitness travel guidebooks as they have pictures so are so much nicer to use!
Click 'Read More' to see some photos of our travels.
Travel to Cuba
We flew with Thomas Cook - they do charter flights every Tuesday from Gatwick, but you fly into Holguìn which is on the east of the Island, which we hadn't realised just how big Cuba is! (A coach from Holguin to Havana is c.15 hours, maybe 12 hrs by taxi..).
Accommodation & our itinerary
We found a casa in Havana first of all, and then I asked them if they knew people elsewhere and we stayed with people they knew in Trinidad, Santa Clara, Havana (both places)
1 night - Holguin City
We were only there for a brief evening - landed in pm, quick meal and then very early start as we had to buy bus tickets at 7am. Our Casa owner gave us the name of a good restaurant - Restaurante Calle Cuba, which was nice. Didn't see/ do much at all in Holguin!
We used Viazul which we booked the day we wanted to travel but might be better booking in advance (you have to buy online at least a week in advance). Had a really good experience, there were regular toilet breaks (the toilet on the bus didn't work, which was probably a benefit!) and we also had a lunch break stop where the drivers were fed and you could buy a full meal. Quality of the bus was similar to a National Express coach in the UK.
2 nights in Santa Clara
Best meal we had and really nice couple. We had an ensuite bedroom that was a decent space. Only thing is that they didn't give us a key to get in the front door so then we felt a bit guilty coming in late!
Santa Clara was probably the least touristy place we went to, which was nice as you didn't get hassled for taxis/cigars/etc as much as we did elsewhere. We stayed 2 nights and was a great introduction to Cuba!
Taxi to Trinidad. C. 3 hours.
We went to Viazul office to queue for a bus ticket but then chatted to taxi drivers there and ended up asking them to pick us up (about 2 hours earlier than the bus so that we could always go to bus station if it didn't work out!). It was 40cuc (about 20cuc cheaper than bus) and they picked us up from our casa the next morning. This was one of the best taxi journeys and cheapest! We went in a Lada which was brilliant! Not much in the way of safety features, but was quite a fun ride.
With taxis you have to be really strict as they may want to make more money so say no (if you want) to 'Taxi Collective' as that just delayed us each time we ended up in one as they would push back your pick up time and it was less comfortable as you'd have to fit all bags into typically small cars!
3 nights in Trinidad - We stayed here https://www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/11042274
It was great as we had a room that was separate in the back garden, had our key to the front gate and was a 5-10 minute walk to the main square, down a main road. The lady who owned it was absolutely lovel (spoke no English though)!
Trinidad was a beautiful place - it's full of coloured buildings, is near to some spectacular beaches as well as nature reserves and mountainous areas.
Trinidad to Cienfuegos - taxi
We ended up being a bit ripped off, a taxi for 25cuc each (for about 1hr!) and then they drove us around for ages and finally another lady got in and went with us. But it was a very cool 1960s car as an upside, it's just they are not necessarily worth the increased price! However, the lady who joined us had already booked a taxi from Cienfuegos to Havana (3.5 ish hour) which saved us money as we got it for 25 cuc each, which is about the going rate, maybe a bit cheaper, but it was also a modern car with seat belts!
Cienfuegos - 1 night - http://bertaycortes.com
Was a really old couple but good room, they had a lot of religious stuff around the house! Not loads to do in Cienfuegos!
2 nights in Havana
Surama helped us with the bookings in Trinidad and Santa Clara. We ended up sharing a bathroom here which wasn't bad, but they do have 1 ensuite if you book loads in advance. It is really popular as you can see on Tripadvisor, and they don't speak Spanish.
Taxi to Vinales
60 cuc total for 2, but we got ripped off as we were in a 'Taxi Collectif' and it was only about a 2.5 hr journey. But they were running very late, so by the time they got to us, we just wanted to get going!
Vinales - stayed Casa Boris y Mileidi.
Found them on the Cuba Junky app. Not the best one, by the lady was lovely and sorted us out a horse riding trip asap that was perfect (it was I think, 30-40Cucs for 2 of us, but we were on the tour for about 4 hours or so) ! We were in Vinales only from about 2pm to midday the next day, so it was quite a speedy trip, but unless you want to do a lot of hiking or horse riding there's not a lot else to do there.
Back to Havana by taxi
Ended up being no room at Ana y Surama's but they found us somewhere else to go, which was great location but bathroom was pretty awful!
Flight by Cubana Airwaus Havana to Holguin.
It was 9 hours delayed, because the plane was broken..! But it's just a 1hr flight so pretty good once you get going - they put us on one of their international planes instead. They gave us food and drink throughout the day.
2 nights at Playa Esmaralda
near Holguin - just got a taxi at the airport to take us from the airport to the all inclusive hotel!
After travelling around it was nice to be in a hotel, but actually very glad we were only there for 2 nights as you may as well be in Spain!
Other Bits and Pieces
We had reservations everywhere as we were a bit worried as all the tour agents said it was going to be packed and didn't really fancy the hassle of wandering round with our backpacks. But there are SO many Casas you could do it ok not booking but as it is getting more popular!
Every place we stayed at was about 25-30CUCS per night, plus 5cucs for breakfast and then beer is like 1cucs and stuff. It seemed to be the same every casa and you pay in cash once you arrive. For the all inclusive hotel, we booked through their website, but then you have to pay on card on arrival. Unsurprisingly they do not take American Express!
We looked at hotels but realised it was not really the point of going to Cuba! But it definitely was nice to have a couple of days in one!