Exploring East Cuba: Biran And Salto Del Guayabo Waterfall

Park Nacional la Mensura Cuba Holguin

One of the things that surprised me about Cuba is how varied the country is! On the jeep safari to the village of Biran and the Salto del Guayabo waterfall I came across rice fields, pine forest, tropical jungle and farmland. I drove over roads that were in perfect condition and roads that could barely be called road and I had to be careful not to hit my head on the ceiling of the jeep.

But hey, bouncing over bumpy roads on the beats of some Cuban music while enjoying constantly changing views… You don’t hear me complaining;-).

Jeep safari Pinares de Mayari Cuba

Anyway, let’s start at the beginning. I’ll start by saying I am usually not much of a tour person. I did some tours in the Philippines (island-hopping around El Nido) and Vietnam (cruising along Halong Bay) but I prefer exploring places independently. That way I can linger at the places that speak to me and skip over the places that don’t.

To me this is a big part of the beauty of travel, it’s my unique experience! Even at places visited by millions each year, nobody will experience it the way I do… But enough with my philosophical rambling: bottom line is I usually travel independently, but in Cuba I went on an organized jeep safari tour.

I didn’t regret this for one moment!

I have to say this was, to a large extent, due to the fact that my mother and I were so lucky to hitch a ride in the jeep of our guide Oscar and  driver Julio, which had some major advantages:

• A private and very knowledgeable guide who taught us a lot about Cuba.
• A very competent driver who knew exactly which side of the road was the least bumpy.
• The only jeep with music and air-conditioning;-).

We started the tour early in the morning and drove from Guardalavaca to Banes over a beautiful winding road.

Exploring East Cuba: Biran And Salto Del Guayabo Waterfall

The sun was shining, the sky was blue and the surroundings were stunning. After a while we came across rice fields.

What? Rice fields in Cuba?

Yes, apparently they have rice fields in Cuba. Which they plough with oxen! Hard work…

Exploring East Cuba: Visiting Biran And Salto Del Guayabo Waterfall

We continued our way to the village of Biran, the birthplace of Fidel Castro. It was very interesting to see how Angel Castro, Fidel’s father, started as a dirt-poor immigrant from Spain and built an empire from scratch.

Biran village birthplace Fidel Castro

He built a huge sugar cane plantation and the small village of Biran, where you can find a school, a bar, a butcher, a post office, a doctor’s office and even a barn for cockfights. All this to ensure that the people working on his land would also spend their wages on his land.

The school

The school

Exploring East Cuba: Visiting Biran And Salto Del Guayabo Waterfall

The doctor’s house

The post office

The post office

Exploring East Cuba: Visiting Biran And Salto Del Guayabo Waterfall

The barn for cockfights

How ironic that all the land and riches he acquired became state property when his son Fidel ruled the country…

On the 13th of August 1926 Fidel Castro was born in this house.

On the 13th of August 1926 Fidel Castro was born in this house.

Having explored Biran we got back into the jeep and continued the tour over a beautiful scenic road. On a 550 meter high plateau the ‘Parque Nacional la Mensura’ is located, which has its own, slightly cooler, microclimate (because its on top of the plateau).

Road to Pinares de Mayari

Following a red and dusty dirt road we arrived at hotel Pinares de Mayari, beautifully situated in the middle of nowhere.

Jeepsafari Pinares de Mayari Cuba

The hotel is very popular with hikers, who base themselves there to explore the forests and trails in the surrounding area. I wouldn’t mind staying at Pinares de Mayari for a couple of nights, it looked amazing!

Hotel Pinares de Mayari Cuba

Anyway, we had lunch at the hotel before continuing to our next destination: Salto del Guyabo, a 100 meter high waterfall and the tallest waterfall in Cuba.

Salto del Guyabo Cuba

The view of the waterfall and the tropical forest all around is beautiful and idyllic, I could have stayed for hours…

Salto del Guayabo waterfall Cuba

Unfortunately, there was no enough time as there was one more item on the program and we had to be back at the hotel before nightfall. I can imagine driving over bumpy roads is a little less fun when it’s pitch black around you;-).

We drove back to Banes where we stopped at a farm. The entire family living there, at least 3 generations as far as I could tell, bid us a warm welcome and showed us how they live. They explained how they burn, grind and make coffee, which they let us taste with a proud smile. We were also treated to freshly baked banana chips and shots of rum.

Exploring East Cuba: Biran And Salto Del Guayabo Waterfall

Exploring East Cuba: Biran And Salto Del Guayabo Waterfall

How to make Cuban coffee

Exploring East Cuba: Biran And Salto Del Guayabo Waterfall

How to press sugar cane

I have said it before but I’ll say it again, the people in Cuba are incredibly friendly, warm and welcoming! They may not have much, but they share what they have with you anyway.

Having waved goodbye to the friendly family we drove back to our hotel where I ended this amazing day with a walk over the beautiful beach.

Cuba, me gusta tu!

Cuba Sunset Guardalavaca beach

Practical information

The price of the jeep safari was 89CUC per person, this included:

• A guide, Oscar in our case (note: tips for the driver and guide are not included).
• One jeep per 4 people (note: fuel included).
• Entry to Biran village (note: you will have to pay 10 CUC if you want to take pictures).
• Lunch at hotel Pinares de Mayari.
• Entry to the Salto del Guayabo Waterfall.
• A visit to the family farm.

It’s a lot of money but then again, it’s a lot of different activities making it a varied and impressive day. There are a lot of other things you can do in East Cuba, read about it in this post about 16 highlights of my trip, this post about Santiago de Cuba and this post about scuba diving in Guardalavaca.

In Cuba I did an awesome jeep safari. I visited the village of Biran, birthplace of Fidel Castro, and the Salto del Guayabo waterfall. On the jeep safari I came across rice fields, pine forest, tropical jungle and farmland. I drove over roads that were in perfect condition and roads that could barely be called road. A great activity in the East of Cuba!In Cuba I did an awesome jeep safari. I visited the village of Biran, birthplace of Fidel Castro, and the Salto del Guayabo waterfall. On the jeep safari I came across rice fields, pine forest, tropical jungle and farmland. I drove over roads that were in perfect condition and roads that could barely be called road. A great activity in the East of Cuba!

Planning on visiting Cuba soon?

Guide Oscar
My mother and I went on 2 tours with guide Oscar and if you are looking to do some tours, excursions, road trips or looking for a casa I highly recommend getting in touch with him. He knows so much about Cuba and enthusiastically shares his knowledge and stories with you in perfect English.

His email address is oscar.cala at nauta.cu and his phone number is +53 52 38 92 96.

Clothes and shoes
Also, if you are going to Cuba consider taking some clothes with you that you no longer wear to give away. Did you know that a pair of jeans costs about $25 dollar in Cuba? This is the equivalent of a monthly wage for most Cubans. You can imagine this makes it very difficult for many people to buy clothes.

If you happen to have clothes or shoes you don’t need, take them with you and give them away. This frees up plenty of space in your luggage for the way back so you can buy some great souvenirs ;-).

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20 Comments

  1. April 16, 2016 / 1:01 pm

    I’m with you on wanting to travel independently and forge my own experience, but your post reconciles me with the idea of organized tours big time!!

    • Lotte
      Author
      April 16, 2016 / 10:15 pm

      Thanks Amelie, I can really recommend this tour. Though I would have loved to stay at the waterfall a little longer…

  2. April 16, 2016 / 4:01 pm

    Great post about what is still an unknown county for so many people and good for you, getting off the beaten track and experiencing things off the usual ‘top 10 lists.’
    Great tip also to bring unwanted clothes, I always wonder when travelling to poorer/disadvantaged countries if there is anything I can take that will be appreciated – and never want to offend – so it’s good to know what people want/need.

    • Lotte
      Author
      April 16, 2016 / 10:22 pm

      I did not see many tourists (other than our little group;-) at Biran and the waterfall so for now these places are definitely off the beaten track.

      I completely understand about not wanting to offend, it’s something I struggle with as well… But in Cuba I was asked several times if I had any clothes so I know it’s something they actually need.

  3. April 16, 2016 / 6:12 pm

    I’m with you about exploring a place independently. But like you said, sometimes an organized tour isn’t that bad at all. I take them when it’s necessary but I try to choose ones where I have a little bit of control so I go for private ones when I can. Well it sounded like you made a great decision with this. I think the airconditioned ride makes it worthy enough!

    • Lotte
      Author
      April 16, 2016 / 10:30 pm

      I looked into renting a car but the problem in Cuba is there is an increasing amount of tourists and a pretty stagnant amount of cars. In other words, there were none available! But this tour was great and I think the average rental car would have a little more problems with some of the roads we took than the jeeps;-)

    • Lotte
      Author
      April 17, 2016 / 7:05 pm

      Very true! Meeting friendly locals definitely enhances your visit:-)

  4. Lori
    April 17, 2016 / 10:22 pm

    This looks like an amazing experience! I liked the house in which Fidel Castro was born, also the breathtaking landscapes – and indeed, it’s quite interesting to find out about the rice fields!

    • Lotte
      Author
      April 18, 2016 / 11:43 am

      It was a great tour and I learned a lot about the history of Cuba.

  5. April 18, 2016 / 6:42 am

    I love banana chips! I enjoy going off on my own for a unique experience as well, but sometimes I appreciate an experience much more with a tour guide- all the insider’s stories and tips! What a wonderful experience.

    • Lotte
      Author
      April 18, 2016 / 11:40 am

      Banana chips… I could eat those every day. But better if I don’t;-)

  6. April 18, 2016 / 7:39 pm

    Loved your trip and the photos are gorgeous. The waterfall looks so dramatic! Also, now I want banana chips!

    • Lotte
      Author
      April 18, 2016 / 10:54 pm

      Haha me too! Banana chips are so jummie…

  7. April 18, 2016 / 10:07 pm

    This is really cool! I love trips like this! Bookmarked and pinned for future use!

    • Lotte
      Author
      April 18, 2016 / 10:47 pm

      Thanks Joe! Glad I could provide some inspiration for future trips:-)

  8. April 18, 2016 / 11:13 pm

    I’ve never thought of Cuba as the place in your photos. It’s always been urban scenes I’m familiar with. Really interesting that there are rice fields and lots of history with the Castro family roots. It looks beautiful and the tour seems great

    • Lotte
      Author
      April 18, 2016 / 11:57 pm

      That’s really nice to read Kate! I am glad I could share another side of Cuba with you, it’s a very varied country indeed:-)

  9. April 19, 2016 / 4:29 am

    I’m not really a tour guide type of person either. The whole stay with the group vibe sucks when you see something off in the distance that you really want to investigate. However, for some places you have to roll with the experts and it’s best to be with an experienced guide

    • Lotte
      Author
      April 19, 2016 / 10:04 pm

      I am totally with you;-). But I gladly make an exception every once in a while and in Cuba I am very happy I did!

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