Cuba's beautiful east
To see my teacher in Santiago de Cuba and to make a small travel in the East of Cuba, I booked flights at the Internet in Germany. Because I didn’t want to travel again about 16 hours by bus from Havana to Santiago. And to book flights in Havana was a hopeless thing in June and July, because it was before the summer holidays of the Cubans and they as well use the domestic flights to fly to their families. Every day there are 70 tickets for Cubans and the flight to Santiago de Cuba is for them just 12 CUC!
My itinerary was: Flight Havana- Holguín, then via Moa to Baracoa and back from Santiago to Havana.
The domestic flights go from Terminal 1 in Havana, which is the national airport and he is very small. There was only one counter open and it was mine to Holguín, so it was quite easy. The check in went smoothly with my passport. And the boarding was then only 30 minutes later than planned. After what I have heard the last months about the domestic flights, I had probably luck!
The plane was a Russian Antonov and rather new. The flight was just over an hour an 15 minutes and they offered during the flight water and coffee. And at the end for each of us they served caramelos...Candies.
In Holguín the national airport is a smaller than the one in Havana. You can watch the porters putting the suitcases and bags from the plane directly at the little conveyer.
Outside the door were not many taxi drivers, but more friends of the Cuban travellers. But I found quickly someone to drive me for 15 CUC to the 20 km distant Holguín. The road is just newly paved because the Pope comes in September to Holguín.
For me Holguín is similar with its squares to Cienfuegos and I found the city not particularly interesting. Very beautiful are the beaches of Guardalavaca in the north of Holguín; it only takes less than one hour and 40 CUC for a taxi to ride there.
The next day my taxi driver Osmani picked me up at my casa and we went to Moa ... 300 Km from Holguin. The ride is nice because the area is gorgeous. I could also take the bus Astro for about 1 CUC but the bus didn’t drive on the day not for any reason. An equally convenient alternative are the camions ... these old trucks are converted for passenger transport. You sit close together and must take good care of your things. But you can’t see anything of the landscape.
It rained almost throughout the journey and we had to stop several times because the motor was no longer running. But finally it all went well.
In Moa then I switched into a collectivo ... a collective taxi. These are old Jeeps, because the street from Moa to Baracoa is very bad. I was allowed to sit up front, which was a dream. The trip costs 30 CUC or 600 pesos and takes about 2 hours. It is adventurous and beautiful because you are driving along the Humboldt National Park and passing through a dreamlike nature.
Roadside farmers sell almonds with honey or sugar. The version with sugar is too sweet for me. The version with honey I had then 2 days later on a trip and that was much better.
As we arrived in Baracoa, I was driven directly to my casa. As a tourist I felt really super privileged. Everyone was very nice and very helpful.
Baracoa is the oldest town in Cuba and is located in the far east of the island. Until a year ago there were still casa particulares for 15 CUC but also here the tourism has now arrived, and prices are rising. Currently cost a Casa 20 CUC, depending on Casa and the breakfast.
Baracoa offers a lot of excursion possibilities and on the first day I drove with a taxi to a cocoa farm and learned from the farmer Toni, how the farmers make cocoa. At the end there was a delicious hot chocolate (1 litre of water, 4-5 tablespoons of cocoa powder, one cup of coconut milk and sugar to taste). One can buy there a "bola de cacao" for 1 CUC. This is a ball of pure cocoa and you can make powder from it. This "bola" holds up to 1 year.
Then we went to Rio Tao, the largest river in Cuba. With a boat we went the river up and we passed beautiful vegetation. Almond trees, palm trees, mango trees and tall palm fronds. Our guide and rower "El Russo" told to with pride about the nature and his love to it.
On the riverfront, women washed their clothes, farmer waited with roasted almonds, with the honey version, or they fished. We all jumped into the water and to cool us. It was fantastic.
Baracoa itself is a sweet little town with very old and greatly renovated houses. Unfortunately, there was neither water nor beer to buy in the shops. Apparently each delivery is immediately bought by all casas and the paladares (private restaurants) around to sell it then for twice of the price to the tourists.
The specialty here is fish with “leche de coco”. It is cooked with coconut milk and it tastes delicious. I need the recipe!!!
The next day I made a walking tour in Baracoa and I went to the beach Plaza Boca de Miel. Contrary to all reports of all, the beach was clean. The most beautiful beach is about 20 kilometres away, the Playa Maguana.
The biggest tour was then on the last day. A hike up the 572m high "el Yunque", followed by a bath in the Cascadas, a natural swimming pool with a 9-meter waterfall. The tour to “El Yunque" costs 13 CUC because you have to go with a guide. To the Cascadas you need as well a guide and this tour costs 8 CUC. We went uphill about 1.5 hours with about 30 degrees and felt 100% humidity. A small rest with fresh fruits was at half of the distance. From the top you have a dreamlike view.
The descent was a bit difficult. It was extremely muddy and slippery because of the rain the last days.
The bath at the waterfall was a wonderful conclusion. Fernando, my guide, told me a lot and he made the tour with much joy.
From Baracoa then you can drive to Santiago with Viazul for 15 CUC. I went with a collectivo because I was able to bargain down to 10 CUC. Actually, the cost are 120 pesos national (5 CUC) and therefore you should act hard or take the much more convenient bus.
The route over the mountains is really nice, just before Guantanamo the area is very bleak.
In Santiago the collectivo then stopped at a collection point, which lies just outside of the centre. From there I went with an ordinary taxis for 4 CUC to the centre.
Santiago is the most beautiful city for me after Havana and Baracoa because it has a lot to offer. Here you can go out every night and there are great tours like the "la gran pierda" in the Sierra Maestra. The mountain is 1,250 meters high and 452 steps lead to the summit. Here you can see the Cuban national bird, the Tocororo and Zunzuncito, the Bumblebee Hummingbird and smallest bird in the world.
The tour I will do the next time ... I was more in the mood for dancing in Santiago and to go to the beach. But the trip to the Playa Siboney was rather a letdown. Many algae in the water because of lot of rain in recent days no sandy beach.
The Santiago airport is accessible from the centre in about 30 minutes. The flight was in time again and so I dare me next time on domestic flights.