Trips from Cuban Resorts

The intent of this page is easy - to provide the viewer with a sample of what we have seen and experienced on our trips to Cuban resorts.
No politics, no preaching, just a tourist's simple impressions of this fascinating island and its people.
Go directly to   Guardalavaca     Santiago de Cuba     Banes     Havana    

2005 Guardalavaca - Province of Holguin

      We stayed at Brisas Guardalavaca for two weeks in 2005, March 18 to April 1. We had a great time and during our stay we took advantage of two tours; one commercial tour to Santiago de Cuba, the other was a privately organized tour to Banes. This page will feature photos of places we visited off the resort.
      Again, the majority of the pictures featured on all this page are thumbnails of larger pictures. To see the larger picture, left mouse click and then press the Back button to return. Hint: You will notice that the mouse pointer changes from an arrow to a hand when moved over any picture that can be enlarged.

- Guardalavaca -

   The Brisas resort is at the east end of the highway and every morning I did a circuit walk up to the highway and then west to the main road into Guardalavaca, then back to Brisas - about a 1 1/2 walk. Guardalavaca is quite small, a few stores and a bank. Most of the resort workers live in the surrounding area.

   As there is little to no private business in Cuba there are no advertising billboards. However political slogans abound. This is not an easy Spanish phrase to translate: (literally)
A revolution can only be the daughter of Culture and Ideas   or more likely:
A revolution can only be born of/develop from culture and ideas

  any of the staff at Brisas Guardalavaca and Club Amigo live in apartments near the resorts. Although plain and rigid loooking from the outside, a legacy of Russian building influence, the apartments are nicely decorated inside.

- Santiago de Cuba -

   There are daily tours operating from Guardalavaca to Santiago de Cuba. We were hoping for a large tour bus, however our tour completely filled a smaller and harsh riding tour bus. In March 2005, the roads were, in general, rough and the 3 hour trip (one-way) was uncomfortable. But on the way we stopped to visit Fidel Castro's family farm/ranch. His family were wealthy landowners and the property is well maintained as it is a major attraction for Cubans and tourists alike. However, as they charge for pictures I did not take any snaps.
   This is Cuba's 2nd largest city and is strategically located on the southwest coast where its well sheltered harbour opens to the Caribbean sea. Established in 1514, this city has seen more than its share of conflict, and is where Cuba revolution of 1953 began with an ill-fated attack on the Moncada barracks. The mountains to the west are were the home Castro's resistance army. In 1959, Castro declated victory from the town hall. The first stop in Santiago de Cuba was at the Revolution square where the peasant machetes threaten the sky.
   This photo, taken from the steps of the Revoution Square monument, capture many elements of Cuban life. The weather is hot, there are always hitch-hikers as there are not that many cars, there are enough 1950's American cars to make it interesting (check out the yellow/white '55 Chev on the right), and there are always political billboards. Translated, this one proclaims;
Rebellious yesterday, hospitable today, heroic always.
The last photo shows a truck doing double duty as a bus, a kind of Cuban private enterprise. Anything that moves carries people and in order to compensate for the lack of sufficient buses, truck owners can use their vehicles as public transit. I believe the standard fare was 5 Cuban pesos but I can't figure out how they collect the fares? ??!!
   The tour took us to the naturally sheltered harbour - and on the left, high up, you can glimpse the fortress Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca (also known by the less formal title of Castillo del Morro). You can almost see the old sailing ships approaching on the Caribbean!
The fort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is well worth a visit; great history, well restored and fantastic views.
   It was about 32C this day, bright and hot, so climbing was tiresome but what a view - worth all the effort!

Pointing to the 2 foot long iguana, I asked a young guide in my best beginning Spanish;
¿Como se dice?
(what do you call [that])?
She replied, with a straight face I might add; "Iguana".

- Banes -

   Like many tourists, we wanted to see the "real". Cuba as resorts are just that - resorts. We had done considerable research on Debbie's and learned of a certain tour guide in the area and sought him out. Although the deal we arrived at was on the up-and-up and he provided a Cubanacan car, he asked that we not use his name on the internet. In his previous career he had taught English at the University of Havana but found he could provide a better life for his family as a tour guide. We four tourists, one of which was a high school teacher, had brought quite a bit of grade school material so our guide included a school visit in our tour.

   Although the countryside looked green and lush, Holguin province was enduring a 3 year drought. There were water restictions everywhere but our guide told us that the locals knew the last place that water would be restricted was the Brisas Guardalavaca. The reasons; it was always full, Pierre Trudeau and family had stayed there, and Fidel had personally ordered that Brisas would not face a water shortage.

   A school near Chorro de Maita on the way to Banes. Appearances can be deceiving. Yes it is a small, essentially one room school and multiple grades are taught in the same room, but their teacher/teaching assistant ratio is better than ours. If memory serves, in addition to a teacher or teachers, there is one additional assistant for every 10 students! Each student wears a school uniform and the scarf tells which grade they are in. Our gifts of paper and pens etc. were very well received. I did not take any additional photos as I thought that would give the Cubans the wrong impression. We were already aware of Cuba's excellent literacy levels which rivals Canada AND Sweden!

   Banes is a simple town. Cuba's last dictator, Fulgencio Batista, whom Castro defeated in 1959 in the Cuban rebellion, was born in Banes. On the left is a good example of a 1958 Plymouth. There wasn't much available in the market. We obviously had missed the day or days when local produce is available.
   After the market, seen here on the right, our guide "set us free" to walk several blocks by ourselves. He told us where he would wait for us and drove off. It was an odd experience as our Spanish was limited to guidebook phrases. We were immediately "befriended" by several young Cubans who offered to be our guides. We accepted one young fellow and he told us about his city, about the stores and businesses, where the museum was, and brought us to our guide. A tip of 2 CUC brought a bright smile.
   Our guide wanted us to experience that walking alone in a little Cuban town was safe and although it was somewhat unsettling for the first couple of minutes, we enjoyed the experience. Cubans quite like Canadians and do appreciate that we have normal international relations. They all know who Pierre Trudeau was!
  Check out this link for more information about Batista; History of

  As we were running out of time we did not visit the Museo El Chorro de Maíta, (we will next time!), we opted instead to visit Aldea Taína, a re-creation of a native Arawakan Indian village. Excellent! One of the thatched huts features life-size clay "Tainos", pre-Columbian indigenous inhabitants of the Bahamas area of the Caribbean.

   Regarding the picture on the left, the Aldea guide says this a Tequila tree??!!?? Doesn't look much like an Algave plant does it... In Spanish I should have said; "¡Me estás tomando el pelo!" directly translated means; "You're taking my hair".
The equivalant English phrase is; "You're pulling my leg". But with my level 1 conversational Spanish, I could only really say; "How are you?" and "It's a beautiful day"...

2007 Havana - From Varadero

      We finally managed to have a winter holiday in Varadero, February 8-22, 2007, and it was worth the wait. The weather could have been warmer as we managed to be there during one of the cooler and wetter Februarys in recent memory. However, as it was -30C or colder on the prairies, it was a most welcome break. Veradero is completely different than Guardalavaca. Veradero, at least what is visible to the average tourist, seems more prosperous. The long penninsula is dotted with upwards of 50 resorts, a couple of golf courses, and a marina on the inside shore. A few examples of former estates still stand - reminders of the lavish lifestyle enjoyed by the rich and famous (or infamous) before the Revolution.

- Havana -

  Everything you hear about Havana is true and then some. Almost all tours, at least those from Varadero, go to the same places; the harbour, downtown, Hemingway's Hotel and his bar, downtown cathederal, legislative building, and Revolution Square to name a few. We hired our own tourguide and bus but we did visit the same locations. We plan to visit Havana again but next time we will do more research and visit some different places.
   As you drive into the city and pass the harbour, a fine example historical irony: on the left is (was) the villa where Ernesto "Che" Guevara lived and on the right is a statue of Christ.

   Many of the fine old downtown buildings have been restored with government money but there are examples of privately owned buildings that seem to suffer the same neglect as many very old buildings in our bigger cities. In the picture on the right, the building with sheets flying from the balconies, is privately owned.

   Of course most Canadian tourists (especially Torontonians...) have to make a pilrimmage, oops visit, to Hemingway's bar and hotel. It seems he and Fidel got along very well sharing a mutual love for deep sea fishing and Cuban cigars.

   IMHO, the most striking thing about downtown old Havana, is the lack of automobile traffic. Of course there is traffic, but it is not the monotonous bumper to bumper traffic we usually experience in our bigger cities. And everything that moves carries people, from the "Havana Camel" to the little "Coco".

Latest update is October 1, 2007