At the time of our visit to Cuba (October 2014), the US embargo was still in full effect. A year before our trip, all government-imposed travel restrictions for Cubans were abolished, meaning Cubans were actually allowed to leave their country. There were still restrictions for Americans entering Cuba, and until August 2016 no commercial flights went directly from the US to Cuba. One American guy that sat next to us on the plane explained that he had to fly from The States into Canada, before flying to Cuba, and would request that they don’t stamp his American passport at the Cuban border.
We went with Ally’s parents, and stayed in Varadero, but went on a different excursion almost every day. Cuba is a wonderfully colourful country. Due to the trade restrictions, Cuba hasn’t been able to import vehicles from The States, and a lot of their cars are still from the 1950’s. Rather than being able to upgrade their cars every few years to a top-of-the-line model, they just repair their existing car using improvised parts and repaint it to make it look brand new. There are an estimated 60,000 pre-1959 American cars still plying the Cuban streets. An easing of the U.S. embargo could have dramatic effects on the overall Cuban automotive landscape.
The Jeep Safari was by far my favourite of the excursions we did. It was 140km round trip through the Cuban countryside in convoy. The Jeeps were well used but still drove fine. Luckily they had air con, as the outside temp was over 30ºc. The Jeeps were manual/stick shift, and require a confident driver as there was quite a bit of off-road driving. We started with a speedboat trip up the river, and all got a turn driving which was really fun.
Next stop was the sugar cane farm, where we got to try authentic Piña Coladas and a traditional Cuban lunch. Bring some extra cash here, as it’s customary to tip the people working on the farm. You also get the option to do some horseback riding. When driving to the farm, the local children wait alongside the road – the guide advised us that it’s nice to give them some sweets or toys if you have any to spare, maybe bring some colouring books and crayons with you.
The last stop was my favourite, snorkelling in the Saturno Freshwater Caves. Stalagmite and stalactite formations, water that was cool, crystal clear and very refreshing. It was like something out of a movie. You walk down a wooden staircase underground, letting your eyes adjust as you descend into the darkness. The rock edges were quite rough, and once you stepped off the dock, there was a whole load of nothing under your feet for about 30ft. There was a good amount of area to explore, including some tunnels that you could only get to by diving underwater.
The Jeep tour took up most of the day, but I would thoroughly recommend it. Check out more here.