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ASSISTANCE IN CUBA

HAVANA

(0)5 286 8492 (Alexie)

(0)5 279 9533 (Deisy)

(0)5 285 5323 (Maykeem, Airport)

VARADERO

(01)5 285 2323 (Pedro Luis)

CAYO SANTA MARIA, ENSENACHOS, LAS BRUJAS

(01)5 211 9768 (Yenier)

SANTIAGO DE CUBA

(01)5 285 5730 (Fernando)

HOLGUIN

(01)5 271 3480 (Carlos Rafael)

BARACOA

(0)21 64 51 64 (Roger)

TRINIDAD

(01)5 285 6855 (Floor)

The East of Cuba, where the sun rises...

Also Recommended for: Traveling with Kids/Families , Hiking/Trekking , Beaches, Driving, People

The sun rises in the east. In Cuba as well, although it seems as if in Cuba´s east the sun permanently remains…

Cuba´s most intriguing part is definitely the east, also known as El Oriente. ‘Oriens’ is the Latin name for birth, indicating the eastern direction of the rise (birth) of the sun. Radiating light and warmth, the sun generates a rich flora and fauna in these eastern parts. The abundance of natural light also affects the mood of the residents and creates cheerful and happy temperaments. Here, hips and thighs rock and sway all the time, whether people walk or dance, in accordance with its happy disposition. No wonder that Santiago de Cuba is constantly swaying!

The East of Cuba covers the provinces of Granma, Holguin, Guantanamo and Santiago de Cuba, although, more commonly within Cuba, everything west of Camaguey (including the town) can be referred to as the east.

Eastern Cuba is a unique area where you will encounter nature parks and reserves, countless virgin beaches lined with cheerful swaying palm trees, and where the line marking past and present is almost invisible. Not only did Columbus explore the east; centuries later, visitors discover the greatness and beauty of this area daily. Mass tourism is unknown here and the few tourists you do meet have simply deviated from the trampled paths. The entire East (with the exception of the beaches of Guardalavaca and area) manifests itself as, "Off the Beaten Track".

The (biblical) Wise Men came also from the East, and so does the Indian philosopher from the 19th century, Ramakrishna, he spoke the words of wisdom when he said, “If you want to go east, don’t go west.” And that is the whole idea behind this Travel Idea.

Itinerary

Day 1. Meeting Holguín

Most visitors to Cuba land in the capital city, Havana, and then board a domestic flight to Santiago de Cuba, Holguín, or Baracoa in order to see the variety that the east has to offer. However, for the sake of this Travel Idea, we start with arriving at Frank País Pais International Airport in Holguín.

Outside the airport in Holguín, coaches are waiting to take seaside visitors to the luxury beach resorts of Guardalavaca. As well, here you will find the prearranged private transfers (taxi or minibus) waiting for you.

For visitors who want to rent a car, we recommend arranging a transfer in advance for your arrival at the airport and pick up the car the next day. A transfer is relatively inexpensive and it contributes to a carefree arrival at your new destination. Avoid driving on unfamiliar roads and the interpretation of Spanish signposting immediately upon arrival, as well as the added hassle of queuing for a currency exchange in the airport - book a transfer and let yourself be driven! Familiarize yourself with the traffic and get dropped off at your hotel for the first night. Check in at your hotel, refresh yourself in the pool, and drink your first mojito at the bar before enjoying your first plate of rice with black beans!

Holguín has some different accommodation options, such as Hotel Pernik. Hotel Pernik may have the effect of a mirage in the sense that you have just arrived at a tropical island, but suddenly you see a giant hotel built in an Eastern European-style from the 1980’s. This is just the beginning of the multicultural architectural legacies that Cuba reveals and some of what makes the country so unique. Sometimes with breathtaking results and others times, well, not so much…but definitely unique.

Hotel Pernik is only 15km from the airport and 2km from the historic city of Holguín. Another option is the Hotel Mirador de Mayabe, located in a lovely rural setting, although a little further away from the airport (25 km) and from the center (20 km).

See more about transfers

See more about domestic flights

See more about Holguin

We recommend:

Hotel Pernik  2  from US$38

Day 1. Meeting Holguín

Day 2. Holguín – Pinares de Mayarí – 88km

(For Day 2, there are two suggestions for you to choose from: Pinares de Mayari or Cayo Saetia. Read both suggestions and decide where your second day in Cuba will take you…)

After breakfast, you can pick up your rented car at Hotel Pernik, and drive next to Holguín center. Holguín is a serene provincial town, also known as the City of Parks. All over Cuba, city parks play a broad social significance. In Holguin, you cannot count the number of parks on one hand, which says something about its social and affectionate character. Parque Calixto García is the meeting place for all "Holguineros" and is surrounded by the main historical buildings which now serves as cinemas, theaters, museums, galleries, art centers, and more. The park is also a backdrop for all kinds of local events such as fairs, festivals, carnivals, and student and workers gatherings.
When leaving Holguín, follow the Calle Marti eastbound. Soon the street will become Avenida de los Libertadores and next Carretera (highway) de Mayari (N123), leaving Holguin in a southeastern direction towards Baguano, Cueto and Mayarí. It is about 88 km to Mayarí and the drive is a nice introduction to the peaceful Cuban countryside as you will pass small villages along the way.

If you like pine forests and orchids, as well as other outdoor activities such as hiking, bird watching and horse riding, opt for a night in one of the rustic bungalows of Villa Pinares de Mayarí. The hotel is located in the National Park La Mensura and is one of the first eco-tourism complexes in Cuba. The village Pinares de Mayarí is located about 15 km south of Mayarí, at 700m above sea level.

Are you looking for snorkeling spots, an exotic beach and wildlife? Opt for Cayo Saetía and please continue reading the second description of Day 2. ...

See more about Pinares de Mayari

We recommend:

Hotel Villa Pinares de Mayarí  3  from US$36

Emgrand EC 718

Day 2. Holguín – Pinares de Mayarí – 88km

Day 2. Or...Holguín – Cayo Saetía – 107km

Needless to say that the first part of this description is similar to above one.
To get to Cayo Saetía from Holguín, you must follow the same route to Mayarí as outline above.

It is about 88 km to Mayarí from Holguín. Cayo Saetía is less than 20km from the town of Mayarí, at the Bay of Nipe (the largest bay in Cuba and even one of the largest in the world).

An exotic beach, snorkeling spots, and a special reserve where deer, giraffes, antelopes, zebras and water buffalo roam free, can all be found at Cayo Saetía. This is rather an eccentric and bizarre combination for the Caribbean and surely one that you would not have otherwise thought of…but all available at Cayo Saetía!

Both Mayarí and Cayo Saetía are a little off the beaten track, although Cayo Saetía is a popular day trip location for people staying at the larger resorts.

Your biggest decision at this point is:
- Overnight in Villa Pinares de Mayarí?
- Overnight in Villa Cayo Saetía?
- Visit Pinares de Mayarí and stay over in Cayo Saetía?
- Visit Cayo Saetía and overnight in Pinares de Mayarí?
- Overnight in Cayo Saetía as well as in Pinares de Mayarí?

See more about Cayo Saetia

We recommend:

Hotel Villa Cayo Saetía  4  from US$66

Emgrand EC 718

Day 2. Or...Holguín – Cayo Saetía – 107km

Day 3. Mayarí – Baracoa – 166 km

On day 3, you will either wake up together with the ‘wild’ animals that are peacefully strolling around Cayo Saetía, or with the woodpeckers and pine scents in Pinares de Mayarí. Enjoy breakfast and get ready for the drive to Baracoa.

Drive towards the town of Mayarí to get the Carretera Central 123 to Moa. The route via Moa to Baracoa offers some of Cuba´s most beautiful and scenic vistas and absolutely worth the drive. However, parts of the road have been in poor condition for quite some time already, particularly near Moa. There are also sections that are gravel. The ride is certainly doable but requires a timely departure as you have to reduce your speed considerably during some parts (20km), and you will need a car that will not rub with the asphalt.

Moa is largely an industrial area. Despite its proximity to beautiful nature parks, the extensive mining and nickel processing has a large impact on the local environment. Keep your sights set as after Moa you will find beautiful Baracoa!

The distance from Moa to Baracoa is still some 73 km over a scenic road that runs close to the coast and through Parque Nacional Alejandro de Humboldt. The park was recognized by UNESCO as a World Biosphere Reserve in 2001 based on its size, heights, rocks, diverse scenic shapes, and most importantly, because of the richness of endemic flora and fauna. The reserve is named after a German scientist who did studies there in the early 19th century.

The landscape is spectacular and lush. Mother Earth has diligently gardened within the park, resulting in a 360° predominantly green panorama of all different shades.

Villa Maguana, a small and intimate hotel of wooden structure, fully integrates within this environment. The property is located just 22km north of Baracoa and is surrounded by four beaches. Playa Maguana, the best of the quartet, is exclusive to hotel guests and it is one of the lovelier beaches, if not the most beautiful in Cuba. A coral reef is located 180 meters off the beach.

This area has incredible and unique natural beauty that is exceptional. There are certainly few places available within the Caribbean which can offer such an affordable level of exclusivity, privacy and nature as this area can.

See more about Baracoa

We recommend:

Hotel Villa Maguana  4  from US$74

Day 3. Mayarí – Baracoa – 166 km

Day 4. Baraco(co)a

Consider staying one more day in this beautiful natural setting and relax before you dive into the next cities and city life.

There are plenty of rivers in this area, such as Toa, Duaba, Miel and Báez, which are all close by. You can drive there by car or book an organized tour at the tourist desk of your hotel to Rancho Toa, 8 km outside the city of Baracoa. This tour will give you a look into the world of the local people as well as the life of the farmers in Toa. You will see examples of local traditions such as how the homes are built, how they manage transportation over the river, traditional dishes, and perhaps sample some of the typical agricultural products such as cocoa and coconut. In addition, the local restaurant serves a Creole lunch and boat tours are available over the impressive Toa River that runs through the Biosphere Reserve, Cuchillas del Toa.

The ranch, Finca Duaba, is located 6 km from Baracoa and surrounded by mostly cocoa plantations. Cocoa is a key product in the region and Baracoa is the place for chocolate addicts with numerous unique recipes for processing cocoa.
Follow the "Path of Cocoa"; a trail of about 45 minutes that runs through the plantations and shows how farmers prepare the chocolate. A really nice theme indeed!

After a day of outdoor activities, you can decide between one of two options. If you feel unhurried, stay one night more at Villa Maguana and laze in the afternoon sun on its private beach and leave for the city of Baracoa the next morning. However, if you are impatient and want to see the illustrious city of Baracoa, you can drive there in the afternoon as it is not so far. Bear in mind that the sun sets at approximately 8pm during the summer (daylight saving time), and at approximately 6pm during winter. It remains a prudent advice to get ‘home’ before dark!

See more about Baracoa

We recommend:

Hotel Villa Maguana  4  from US$74

Day 4. Baraco(co)a

Day 5. Baracoa City – 20 km

The distance back to Baracoa is only about 20km.

Baracoa, as a city located at the water edge and embraced by the mountains in the back, has a magnetic magic, typical of places with such landscape. The sea gives a wide view of the horizon whereas the rugged mountains in the back give a sense of protection.

‘Baracoa’ is a native word meaning "there is the sea", which for centuries had a literal sense, as until 1964 the place could only be reached by sea. About four and a half centuries before, Columbus also reached this bay via the water and shortly afterwards Velázquez founded the first city in Cuba and gave it the long name: Nuestra Señora de la Asunción the Baracoa (1511).

Due to the remoteness of Baracoa to the rest of Cuba, for centuries its inhabitants had little contact with the rest of the population. A culture distinctive than the rest of Cuba bloomed, especially reflected in the cuisine which is strongly influenced by the local nature as well as Spanish, African and Haitian flavors.

Baracoa's area is renowned for its sweet treat, Cucurucho de Coco, whose packaging alone should get a crafts award. In a traditional way, coco is mixed with honey and then folded in the leaf of a Royal Palm Tree into a conical shape.

You could almost say that after having visited Baracoa you do not need to travel any further. The city has practically everything the traveler hopes to find in Cuba…sea, mountains, rivers, beaches, winding streets with colonial houses, music, culture, history, authenticity and amidst all of this, welcoming and friendly residents.

If you do want to return home after your holidays, you better not swim in the River Miel as the legend says that once you bathe yourself in the river, you will stay there forever!!

A dinner at the paladar El Poeta (‘Paladar’ refers to a private restaurant in Cuba) can be a suggestion, given the positive comments and it seems to be fun as well. Afterwards you can visit La Casa de la Musica in the historic center of Baracoa, for nightly musical sounds and dance.

See more about Baracoa

We recommend:

Hotel Hostal Río Miel  3  from US$39

Day 5. Baracoa City – 20 km

Day 6. Go-Santiago (Baracoa – Santiago de Cuba – 236 km)

The viaduct, La Farola, is one of Cuba´s engineering wonders. The highest point of this road is 600m above sea level and boasts nine bridges hanging over steep cliffs. The route offers a spectacular view over a wide natural area, dotted with tiny villages and with Guantanameros and Guantameras along the roadside selling homemade Cucuruchos.

Over a distance of about 16km, sharp curves and steep slopes are frequent, requiring concentrated and unhurried driving. Leave well rested and early as there can be more precipitation in the mountains than in other areas, even during the daytime.

Following the road will lead you directly south to Playita Cajobabo (national monument). The provincial coastal road continues to Imias, a semi desert area. You can make a coffee stop at the Ranchon (in Spanish, a ‘Ranchon’ is typically a roofed construction, usually made of wood and a thatched palm-leaf roof). Next on the map is San Antonio del Sur and then the road bends inland along Guantanamo Bay, to Guantanamo. After Guantanamo, it takes another 90km to Santiago de Cuba city.

Having reached the country´s second city, Santiago de Cuba, we called on the expertise of our travel expert in the east, Fernando León. He assists and guides our clients in Santiago de Cuba and surrounding area with knowledge and dedication of this special area. He spoke passionately about his city and gratefully, we used his advice for this Travel Idea.

Let's start with some hotel recommendations:
The glorious, elegant and iconic Hotel Casagranda is a tempting choice, but Fernando warns that it can become noisy at night given the popular location. Night owls may ignore this detail and enjoy the great variety of facilities of the Hotel Casagranda.

Opened in 2013, Hotel Rex scored a perfect downtown location at the popular Plaza de Marte and is a good option for accommodations. As well, you can also consider the homely Hotel Encanto San Basilio, which closes the top three of recommendations (mentioned in no particular order).

You can consider dropping off the car after you are settled in as you probably will not use it that much while in Santiago de Cuba. Santiago is definitively a city to walk through or you can easily take a taxi for longer distances, such as to the highly applauded paladar El Palenquito.

See more about Santiago de Cuba City

We recommend:

Hotel Casa Granda  4  from US$57

Hotel San Basilio  4  from US$108

Hotel Islazul Rex  3  from US$62

Day 6. Go-Santiago (Baracoa – Santiago de Cuba – 236 km)

Day 7. Stay in Santiago

We already mentioned the social importance of the parks and squares in Cuban towns and cities. Parque Céspedes, where Hotel Casagranda is located, is probably the most popular and photographed, although Plaza de Marte is certainly popular as well. However, Plaza de Dolores is dynamic, lively and maybe the most authentic of all.

Visitors here seem to get lost in the activities of the park and getting home or keeping track of time are inferior to staying in the park. Here, everyday life of the Santiaguero passes at a quiet pace, whether one is playing dominoes, reading a newspaper or discussing fanatically the latest baseball game.
There are good spots to drink a coffee, for example, at La Isabelica, or grab a beer. You can also have lunch at El Bodegon.

Fernando calls Plaza de Dolores the cultural center of Santiago de Cuba. He also emphasizes other historical sites that you should not miss: Fortress El Moro, Museo Emilio Bacardi (not to be confused with Casa Bacardi), Museo de Ron and the cemetery Santa Ifigenia. Consider a guided city tour which will cover these landmarks and many others, illustrating Santiago de Cuba as the Heroic City.

Where in the world would you find an entire street closed off weekly in order to facilitate a carnival? Every weekend (and not only in July, when the official celebration of Carnival is scheduled) food and drinks are served in various eateries and bars and all kind of live music (Son, Trova, Latin jazz, traditional) are performed in the street (La Trocha y Paseo Alameda). This carnivalesque culture is so inextricably interwoven with the daily life of this city and underlines the need for preservation of ancient traditions, and not just a reason to party. Young couples, families, grandparents with grandchildren ... everyone participates.
If you are staying during weekdays, La Casa de la Trova and the Latin Jazz Club are opened 7 days a week.

Fernando claims that Santiago de Cuba is the absolute best place in the entire country to get in touch with what is known as "La Cubania”.

See more about Santiago de Cuba City

We recommend:

Hotel Casa Granda  4  from US$57

Hotel San Basilio  4  from US$108

Hotel Islazul Rex  3  from US$62

Excursion Santiago Special - private tour

Day 7. Stay in Santiago

Day 8. Sierra Maestra - Comandancia de La Plata

History clarifies the present and makes it understandable. The fascinating thing about history is that it is inextricably linked to the current, hence often past and present merge naturally. This awareness of having lost the sense of a time frame, you probably will experience all over Cuba, but in the Sierra Maestra it seems as if time stood still here since the late fifties, early sixties of the last century.

You can choose to travel independently and discover places on your own and dream up stories about the history. However, sometimes it is better to let a local guide lead you. Not only do they know the territory, but they can possibly tell historical stories transmitted by rebellious grandparents or parents or other family members.

Book a tour and travel to the very heart of the Sierra Maestra; Cuba’s highest mountain range and birthplace of the Cuban Revolution. You will pass along provincial cities of Contramaestre and Bayamo, and pass small, country towns before reaching Bartolome Masó municipality.

Once at the Flora & Fauna Information Center, the tour will departure to Alto del Naranjo. From here, the hike to Comandancia La Plata begins.

The Comandancia General de La Plata (General Command of the Rebel Army in La Plata) has been declared a National Monument. Back in 1958, Fidel Castro and his men established their headquarters here in order to provide needed shelter and facilities for the guerrillas, such as a hospital (Che Guevara was a medic) and a radio base “Radio Rebelde”.

The majestic nature and unique history here increases the genuine sense of rebel life during the revolution. Traveling deep into the mountains along roads less traveled, with the treasures of Mother Nature all around, is an unforgettable experience.

After the tour around the historic site of La Plata, you will return to Alta del Naranjo and then onto Villa Santo Domingo as next stop: a rather new and very pretty and rural hotel accommodation in this area. Lunch will be served here and afterwards you can laze or muse on the banks of the river.

The same spectacular and adventurous road will lead you back to Santiago de Cuba, in time for a shower and dinner.

See more about Santiago de Cuba

We recommend:

Hotel Casa Granda  4  from US$57

Hotel San Basilio  4  from US$108

Hotel Islazul Rex  3  from US$62

Excursion Jeep Safari to Comandancia La Plata

Day 8. Sierra Maestra - Comandancia de La Plata

Day 9. Sunset

Visitors who have an international flight with departure from Havana, can reserve a domestic flight from Santiago de Cuba’s International Airport Antonio Maceo. You can also book a transfer to take you to the airport from your hotel.

Maybe you have booked a charter flight from Holguín back to your home, or maybe you want to spend a few more days in one of the luxurious and nice hotels at Playa Esmeralda, Costa Verde or Guardalavaca. You can prearrange a transfer to the northeast of Cuba, as well as book your accommodations at one of these beach hotels.

In case you have to return to Havana, we strongly recommend not booking your domestic flight directly connected to your international flight. Should unforeseen circumstances (climatic, technical) arise, resulting in a delay or cancellation of your domestic flight, the consequences could be drastic (such as missing your international flight).

As a conclusion to this Travel Idea, we asked our representative, Fernando, what he misses most about his surroundings during absences from Santiago de Cuba. A three-second silence can seem long at times but then came his firm answer, loud and clear: “The mountains”.

See more about transfers

If you´re interested in our (domestic) flight offer, click here please

See more about Santiago de Cuba City

Day 9. Sunset
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