When preparing for our trip, I began reading other travellers’ encounters of Cuba over recent years and the general feeling was that the words ‘Cuba’ and ‘planning’ don’t really go together; most would plan their first night and then book the rest as they went.
However, in light of Cuba’s changing relations with America and the imminent relaxation of travel and trade restrictions, it seems that the rest of the world is flocking to Cuba in 2016. I certainly can’t criticise – Cuba has been top of my wish list for a long time and now I’m in a hurry to catch it’s final glory days before it’s impending modernisation. This rush has certainly changed the way you need to approach planning for your Cuba trip, i.e. you need to do some!
For anyone with a sense of adventure, it’s well worth planning to stay in “casa particulars” throughout your trip; these are private houses where the family rent a couple of rooms out to tourists. There’s a vast network of casa particulars which has developed over the past couple of decades since the government first allowed it as an alternative means of income for Cubans. As well as renting the room, the families will also offer meals, tours and taxis.
I had read that you should always book the accommodation for your first night as you’ll need the address for your visa anyway, plus it’s less to worry about when you arrive in a new country. The idea is that the family would then call ahead to a family in the next town to book your ongoing accommodation. Perhaps that system still works, but even a month ahead of my trip we’ve found lots of the casas are full. I’ve found it a real test of patience to work through fully booked casa after fully booked casa; I’m so glad we’ve been doing that from the comfort of our sofa in the UK because the thought of having had to check 20+ options on arrival in Viñales, with a full rucksack on my back and no access to Tripadvisor, well, it wouldn’t have been my ideal situation.
Through a handful of agencies, and direct contact with some casas, we’ve finally managed to arrange all of our casa bookings including the transfers from the airports and bus stations. The agencies we’ve used are Cubaccomodation, TripToVinales and CubaParticular.com.
There are two types of buses in Cuba – local buses and tourist buses. You can book in advance via the bus company website, Viazul; however, we’d read that generally you just need to go to the bus station to buy your ticket on the day before you want to travel.
We’re flying in to Holguín airport, and then taking the overnight bus towards Trinidad on the night we arrive, so, we were keen to book that in advance… except, even two weeks before travelling, it was already fully booked! Luckily, we’ve managed to book a bus that will get us most of the way (Sancti Spiritus), so we’ll just have to take a taxi for the last hour to Trinidad. However, we then tried to book the rest of the bus journeys we’d planned, only to find that most were fully booked already.
The long and the short of it…
So, if you’re planning to go to Cuba this year, get planning as soon as you can to make sure you can save money by travelling by bus and to get booked into the best casas. I’m pleased now that we’ve got as much booked as possible… we’re flying on Monday, so let’s see how it all comes together!