Cuba was a nice place to get away from being connected all the time - Jan 16 - Jan 20, 2020
Cuba was a nice place to get away from being connected all the time. The great weather is a huge plus.
Usually, I personally prefer mid-budget, backpacking style trips, but I was with family and saw that Cuba is easier to see with a guide, so I opted for a guided tour. For my first time in Cuba, I wanted to see a little bit of everything, so I asked for an itinerary which included Havana, Viñales, and the beach. This itinerary is a very common one, and the price appears to be similar to tour packages I found on other sites. Since it is a private guided tour with taxi for the whole stay, it is pricey. There was a mix up with the prices (I received the wrong pricing), and my trip was almost canceled last minute, but Kate from KimKim reached out to me and we resolved the issue.
In Cuba, Darián, who was our guide for Havana and was with us for the early part of Viñales, was very professional and knowledgeable. He used to be a professor so his history and ecology knowledge was immense. If we had any questions, he was very helpful, and went above and beyond to make sure we were comfortable at all times. The driver we had was also very skillful, always on time and prompt, and always had water for us in his car which was great. He also took us to a beach for the last day. Beach was beautiful and mostly locals only. The guide at Viñales was great. I recommend the walking tour over the horseback riding tour if you only have a day as you get to see more in detail, have a chance to climb up a steep mountain and walk through a cave as well. Bring some cash as you stop by a farm on this tour which sells homemade cigars and coffee.
The casa particular we stayed at was a bit far from Old Havana, but walkable to the Hotel Nacional and the Malecón, near a popular restaurant and a park with wifi (very spotty/poor), and was very clean. There were two bathrooms (with new towels provided upon request), and the breakfast prepared every morning was very filling and excellent. Also, we asked about beach towels, and they went above and beyond by providing sunscreen as well (we were actually running pretty low). The beds were mostly okay, nothing outstanding, but we were usually tired after a long day, and slept fine. Next time would probably prefer to stay closer to Old Havana.
Overall, the days were packed and busy. We got to see a lot in a short time. I would say this is good for anyone looking to get a taste of Cuba. Definitely would've liked a tad more time in each place we went. I appreciated that we were not really taken to shops (unless we wanted to go) since on other tour packages, I always feel pressured to buy something. The old car tour was just okay, tad disappointing. The places we went in the car tour were not very interesting, and we definitely weren't prepared for it - bring sunglasses and maybe hair tie. I think driving even a short while along the Malecón would've been nicer, and getting some pictures taken with a better background. Plan to come back, but it will be more leisurely paced and hopefully, a longer trip.
Side note: I had baggage issues where Air France/Delta lost my baggage, and Karin and Darián did their best to keep me updated on the bags. I am very grateful for their part in this as the lack of internet access had made me very worried. Unfortunately, I never got those bags until more than a month later, but that is the airlines' fault 100%.