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;-).
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.
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…
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.
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.
How ironic that all the land and riches he acquired became state property when his son Fidel ruled the country…
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).
Following a red and dusty dirt road we arrived at hotel Pinares de Mayari, beautifully situated in the middle of nowhere.
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!
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.
The view of the waterfall and the tropical forest all around is beautiful and idyllic, I could have stayed for hours…
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.
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!
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.
Planning on visiting Cuba soon?
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 ;-).