A January Escape – Two Weeks in Cuba

This January, me and hubby decided to avoid the January blues, long days and dry January (seriously, why stop drinking on the more depressing month of the year?) and jetted off to the stunning island of Cuba. It was two weeks full of sun, cocktails, exploring and getting under the skin of the culture of this incredibly place. So here are lots of photos of our trip and some top tips I learned on the way…!

Getting There & Where to Stay

We booked our whole trip via Thomas Cook due to having some vouchers from our wedding which we had been saving. We got a fantastic deal although had to fly from Manchester. We flew via Condor and I was pleasantly surprised. The planes are new and well set up for long haul fights which is a good thing given the outbound flight time of 9 hours 50 minutes (this is reduced to 7 hours 50 minutes on the return). On the flight you get access to limited movies and TV shows but you can upgrade to premium to get full access, which comes as standard if you fly premium.

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We stayed on the island of Cayo Coco, translated to ‘white coconut’. Cayo Coco is part of a cluster of islands on the north of the main island and is joined to the main land and its island neighbours by a line of cause-ways. We stayed at the all-inclusive resort of Melia Jardines del Rey. The hotel was only finished on 2015 so is modern and clean. It is a massive resort complete with two large pools and a stunning private beach.

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There is a large buffet area for breakfast, lunch and dinner but you also have the opportunity of booking into any of the 5 ala carte restaurants. You had a choice of oriental, Cuban, Italian, seafood and French to pick from along with several snack bars, one being open 24hours. I had heard a lot about the food in Cuba not being the best, so I had low expectations and I was pleasantly surprised. They are great at good food cooked simply so if you’re a big spice nut you might miss that a little but the food was still fresh and flavourful.

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I would be lying if I didn’t say the swim up bars were the favourite part for me, nothing feels more luxury than drinking a cocktail in the pool in the sun if you ask me! The pools itself were split, one being quieter more family friendly and the other which was a hive of entertainment, from aqua fit, foam parties and even pool Zumba (a new one on me!).

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The beach offered up free water sports for residents so we couldn’t help ourselves and hired a pedalo one day to explore some of the clear blue seas but you could also snorkel, kayak and even take out small catamarans for an adventure. There was also daily salsa dance classes on the sand – you don’t get more Cuban than that!

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I would highly recommend the hotel, it was one of many Melia hotels on Cuba and if we go back I would be very interested in seeing what some of the others have to offer.

Things to Do

As gorgeous as the resort was we also wanted to experience some of the real Cuba and get a feel for the island and it’s unique history. Cayo Coco is near the mid/bottom end of the island where agriculture is huge so we wanted to see and learn about some of the exports. We visited a Tobacco farm to learn about how the leaves are grown and harvested and even rolled to make the cigars for which Cuba is famous for. We saw how the land has to be ploughed using traditional methods such as ox’s as modern day machinery is too heavy. It was a fascinating experience which seemed simple but only for someone with incredible skill.

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We also viewed an out of use sugar cane factory, sugar cane is still one of the biggest exports. We took an incredible steam train ride through the fields (while chowing down on raw sugar cane) and we then dined in the middle of nowhere, total paradise.

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We also visited a couple of the towns in Cuba, Ciego de Avila which is a capital of one of Cuba’s provinces. We walked around the markets and had a drink in the most beautiful bar off the square. We also explored Moron one of the bigger towns. We took a buggy ride, enjoyed a delicious lunch and enjoyed listening to some authentic Cuban band playing the most incredibly music you can’t help but to tap your feet along to (or dance if your me!)

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I would also highly recommend taking a speedboat through the Mangroves, it was such an incredible experience – from driving on an open lake towards trees a stunning corridor just opens up – it was one of my favourite adventures of the trip by far.

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If you still want to lie on a beach but want a change of scene then you can get an open topped bus to the stunning Playa Pilar beach. I wish the photos did the justice of the clear blue of the sea and the white of the sand. From here you can take a boat ride to snorkel in the reef’s – a magical experience.

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Things to Note

Some things to be aware of when you’re traveling to Cuba, if you are a wi-fi or social media junkie be aware that internet connection on the island is incredibly sparse. There is no 3G/4G connection and you have to buy pre-paid wi-fi cards for around 5 pesos (around £4-ish) which gets you an hour connection, which at times is a bit sketchy. I personally enjoyed the freedom for a couple of weeks but make sure you download those books, podcasts or any other entertainment before you arrive!

Tipping is highly encouraged, the pay in Cuba is low and a lot of people often live mostly off their tips. Plus, we learned that the workers go to a tourism university for two years before working in the hotels, so they are exceptional at their job, friendly and work incredibly long hours.

Overall, I loved Cuba and I think they have so many things right, from free education till end of university, exceptional medical care (they have one doctor and 10 nurses for every 120 people!) and strict drink driving, drug and approach to crime – making it feel like a safe, educated and friendly place.

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So, until next time, I’ll be dreaming of Cuba.

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