By: Michelle Gammond CTC - owner/travel designer for Go Travel
To see more of my pictures - open this link
All-Inclusive resorts do not even come close to the Cuban encounter that I was lucky enough to experience over the past 10 days. Believe me, you do NOT get to see this side of Cuba from a hotel. And no amount of touristy ‘day trip excursions’ from said hotel will give you even the slightest glimpse of this amazing island, it’s beautiful people, the culture and the food.
This is easily one of the best trips I have ever been on, and I have seen some incredible places.
The following is going to be a long post – but if you have ever been to Cuba and didn’t like it, thought about visiting Cuba but were too ‘scared’ or you just want to know exactly how amazing this place truly is…read on. Not to sound like a broken record on how much you miss out on if you opt for the ‘cheap Cuba All-Inclusive’ vacation – but seeing Cuba aboard the G Adventures catamaran is truly the only way to see it. Actually, if you have only seen Cuba from a hotel, then you really haven’t seen Cuba at all or got to know the beautiful people that live here – aside from them serving you a meal, cleaning your room or checking you into a resort, but to really get to know them you must do this trip.
This adventure for me was life changing in many ways. With little to no internet or cell phone service for 10 days – I made fast and forever friends with the amazing people I was sailing with. We talked…we listened…we danced…we LAUGHED. It is truly purifying to become ‘disconnected’ and to only use your ‘smart phone’ as a camera. When you can actually spend TIME with people and get to know them on an intimate level, it is a beautiful thing and it doesn’t happen often in today’s world of technology. Not to mention, as this was my first time to Cuba – any misconceptions I had heard about it were completely were thrown out the window. To mingle with the locals - it is a new appreciation for the different lifestyle so very different from our western one - you really do see things with new eyes - and it is incredible.
To be selected as one of only 10 travel agents to go on this adventure was an honor. Accompanied by the beautiful Erin Buttler, Western Canada Sales Manager for G Adventures - who is so passionate about her company, about people, about culture, about travel. Not to mention she is a genuine human being and a blast to be around. I would share Alexander Skarsgård with her anyday 😉 This trip would not have been the same without her doing it with us.
Cuban’s are beautiful, they are proud, friendly and ‘real’ - and boy can they dance. Every Cuban local that I talked to – regardless how the capitalist world see’s them, they are happy and thankful for what they have. Fidel Castro and Che Guevara are still very present and their pictures adorn nearly every street. When asked about Fidel’s death, their faces glaze over with immediate sadness. In their words, Fidel may have restricted their choices, but gave them so much more in return.
The G ADVENTURES CREW
I feel so fortunate to have lucked out and got THE best sailing crew around! These 3 amazing people are fun, friendly, knowledgeable and are there to make your experience one of the best in your life. And that they did.
Pippa – the G Adventures CEO kept us all in the loop, telling us all about the places we were visiting, the environment and surroundings, the culture. Pippa was instrumental in this entire trip – our fearless, beautiful leader who aside from organizing us and taking such good care of us from the moment we stepped onto the catamaran, she is also a LOT of fun. This girl is a gem and I miss her in my life already.
Pedro – the Captain of our floating home the "Neptune". For 7 days and nights, we were in safe hands with Pedro at the helm. Not only transporting us to visit many different secluded islands, but also safely steering our vessel through a couple of tropical storms. Side note: Pedro has a sneaky sexiness about him that puts Jack Sparrow to shame. Pedro captured my heart with his typical “pirate mysteriousness” and this was before he showed me his mad dancing skills at the many dance parties we attended. By the end of the trip, we were all convinced that there wasn’t anything Pedro couldn’t do 😉
Eduardo – Chef and First Mate. Some of the BEST food I have ever tasted was created on the catamaran by Eduardo. From the many seafood dishes (including lobster and freshly caught Baracuda) to chicken and beef creations. This man has talent. Cuban food is delicious – you just have to go OFF a resort to get it. Eduardo is a good time – he has an amazing personality that instantly makes you smile and feel very welcomed.
SAILING DAY ONE:
Arriving at Cienfuegos on Saturday night we met our floating home Neptune and set sail from Cienfuegos after dinner. We navigated through the Bay of Cienfuegos & the Gulf of Batabano over night dropping anchor after sunrise at Cayo Trabucco.
SAILING DAY TWO:
After breakfast aboard we had our first amazing snorkel at Cayo Trabucco. The rock head here was particularly special. Visibility was amazing and we enjoyed spotting many colourful tropical fish in the rich deep blue waters on the edge of the Gulf of Batabano. We navigated East towards Cayo Largo. Two barracuda quickly ended up on Neptune’s decks during this navigation and on our plate that night. We made our first stop in Cayo Largo at Playa Sirena, a long expanse of deserted beach on the edge of the mangrove system. Our fantastic Captain Pedro beached the boat so we could hop off on to the beach. We spent the afternoon wandering the shores, lazing in the water having fun & spotting Conch shells, Needle fish & Star fish. We finished off our first full day sipping cocktails aboard with the sunset and feasting on the days catch before some Dominos & dancing.
SAILING DAY THREE:
After Sunrise over the Mangroves close to Playa Sirena beach we made our way back to the Coast of Cayo Largo where we beached Neptune on Playa Los Pinos. We explored the beautifully serene Mangrove channels by kayak & dinghy. We saw Rays, Pelicans, diving Turns fishing, Mangrove Hawk & Starfish. Our BBQ was postponed as the heavens opened and we jumped in to swim in the rain. After lunch & the storm we checked out Cayo Iguana & its Sand Banks. We also checked out Cayo Iguana where we took some fun videos with these crazy creatures & the beautiful colours of the water here.
Back at Playa Los Pinos our volley ball and short beach visit, enjoyed by all spread into the early evening. We relaxed here in the waters edge, spied sting rays, had a few Cuba Libres on Neptune’s new Floating bar & danced, jumped off the boat & laughed A LOT. We spent the night on anchor again by the bay of Playa Sirena protected from an early evening storm. Tonight, we had Lobster aboard- what a treat! Once again we danced the night away on board.
SAILING DAY FOUR:
After breakfast we sailed a few hours down to Cayo Estopa. Great winds allowed us to make a butterfly with the front sails, we reached 8 knots. Before lunch we anchored and discovered the beautiful winding channels here, met some local fishing boats and enjoyed being pulled to the boat tied to the back of the dinghy. After investigating these beautiful turquoise channels we moved easterly again to Cayo Estopa reef. Those who snorkelled swam some strong currents but enjoyed the bright purple fan coral here. Making our way back to our Sheltered bay, Playa Sirena we enjoyed the winds and some sunset cocktails. Eduardo cooked up a feast of Baracuda caught during the day for our evening dinner on board.
SAILING DAY FIVE:
Waking up to calm waters we packed our bags & headed to shore for a morning on the beach. How lucky to enjoy this Island to ourselves for most of the morning at complete peace. We ‘dinghied’ our way into the beach and enjoyed lunch on Tierra firma. We discovered the iguanas and the little Jutilla (tree rats) that live here on the island along with the powdery white sands & calm, shallow, turquoise waters. We sipped excellent Pina Coladas made with fresh coconut and admired the Black Falcons. Leaving after our feast of fish and some pretty serious Domino games & photo sessions we made our way back east to Cayo Largo. On arrival we visited to the cute little turtle Sanctuary on Cayo Largo & learnt a bit about the project here. For those of you interested further in the project and following their work here is the link to their site: http://www.cayolargo.net/turtlefarm.html
This was also our party night and while were were in the marina for the night we made the most of wandering and dancing on land for a change. The bowling alley gave us some fun & games. A great night with the locals, soaking up the latin beats with plenty of Salsa and Rum! hehe.
SAILING DAY SIX:
Before heading out of the marina we made a visit to the cute little turtle Sanctuary to collect a turtle to release at the reef. We were allowed to release the 18 month old turtle we named Steve on the Cayo Largo reef & we saw him head straight to the reef for his first taste of open water. Relaxing was the order of the day & we dropped anchor just 30 minutes west of the Marina at the most beautiful beach known as Playa Paraiso. This definitely has to be one of the best beach areas in Cuba with miles of sandy beach & interesting Sand bank to enjoy & crystal clear waters with what I consider to be the most vibrant & colourful waters of the area enhanced by the forever changing Sand bank. We experienced our second Tropical rain storm of the week when it came down fast. Following lunch we headed off East in search of our anchorage at Cayo Guano & had a last afternoon sailing turquoise Caribbean waters.
SAILING DAY SEVEN:
Setting sail from Cayo Guano we were able to enjoy our last swim in the big blue before heading North east in search of our safe harbour…. Cienfuegos. We had waves and some strong wind through the day. We really enjoyed the full sailing experience & managed to finish the trip with the sails out - Pretty cool!! Returning to Cienfuegos we took a ride up to Cienfuegos in bike taxi convoy. :-) We enjoyed looking around this beautiful town before arriving back to the boat for our last dinner together we enjoyed international traditional music from Luisito and then went to a local club and danced the night away.
The FOOD on board: This trip – we were treated with Spiney Lobster, Bonito Tuna, Baracuda to name a few. Not to forget the Mojitos, various Rum’s, Canchanchara Cocktail along with the excellent Cuban Coffee. You have to try the local cuisine to get to know the country a bit right?
HAVANA – the last couple days of my trip was spent in this amazing capital city. No All-Inclusive resorts to be found here - and I was glad for that. You cannot experience Cuba without a couple days wandering around the streets of Old Habana. Incredible. Breathtaking. Authentic. Rare. BEAUTIFUL. Where vintage cars are plentiful and awaiting to take you wherever you want to go…where music can be heard from every street coming from the various café and bars…and the people you see going about their day. Sunday is family day in Cuba, and everyone gathers for meals – you can see them playing soccer or an intense game of Domino’s (which quickly became one of our favorite past-times onboard the Neptune).
So – let us know when you want to go – we will totally hook you up!
To see more of my pictures - open this link