Disastrously Positive Cuban Vacation

Casa de Al Capone

Beach Selfie

During our free time we enjoy travelling and going on new adventures. Our goal in life is to see the world. In July 2012, we didn't have any idea on where to go for our two weeks holiday. We went to a travel agent and told him that we didn't care where we went as long as it was somewhere new and fit within our budget. We didn’t have a huge budget for our travels but we were looking for somewhere different than Puerto Vallarta (Mexico) as we had both been there before. This is usually the cheapest option for holidays from Canada.

Our travel agent told us Cuba would be in our budget and leaves next week. We were more than thrilled with the idea of Cuba since it is hot and we've never been to the Caribbean before.  We bought the tickets, went home and packed. The following week we got on a plane and flew to our next adventure.

Our vacation to Cuba helped us adopt a new carefree attitude towards life by making us realise that sometimes things do not always go as planned; you must try your best to stay positive while enjoying yourself and to have a good sense of humour when things go wrong.

Cool 1950s cars.

Our flight to Cuba was long and tiring; when we landed we wanted nothing more than to get to our hotel. When we went through security we had to each go into a little room where they take your picture, check your passport and give you a little ticket that you need to hang on to in order to leave Cuba again. If you lose the ticket you don’t get to leave? We held on to the ticket pretty tight. It took an abnormally long time for our bags to show up in baggage claim. Our guess was that they were searching our luggage. When we got our bag our TSA approved lock was gone.

We collected our bags then we headed to the bus stop. The porter asked for our name and told us that we were waiting for a taxi cab, which was strange since we were expecting a bus and all of the other tourists were loading onto buses. Apparently there weren’t enough people headed to our hotel to warrant a bus. Our hotel transfer was supposed to be taken care of so we had to clear up that the cab ride was free since we had no Cuban Convertible Pesos. We were a bit apprehensive but they knew what hotel we were staying at already so it seemed legit. The night sky was pitch black and there was not many street lights around. We got into our cab and we headed towards the hotel.

Our driver was speeding very fast down the highway towards our resort. Large portions of the highway were incomplete so our driver had to avoid these parts by periodically driving on the oncoming part of the highway. Ten minutes into the car ride we noticed a construction zone up ahead and he was not reducing his speed at all. The arrows pointed us to drive into the oncoming traffic lane and then suddenly the construction zone ended and our cab driver pulled back onto the main road with a THUMP, BANG, BASH! We froze with shock; we got out of the car to see that we had driven up onto a median. The car was stuck in the middle of the highway. The wheels weren't even touching the ground any more.

We asked if there was anything we could do to help, but he didn't speak a word of English and our Spanish is limited to only a couple phrases. He ran off into the bushes yelling ‘Ay, caramba! Ay, caramba!’. We weren't exactly sure where he was going. Eventually he came back with some pieces of wood to try and give the wheels some traction but nothing worked. The bottom of the taxi was stuck on the median and the wheels on either side were more than a foot off the ground. We tried pushing on the car together to get it back on the road.  It was stuck. We were pretty sure that we were screwed and no cars had even passed us in around 20 or 30 minutes. It was absolutely pitch black outside. We were a little worried we didn’t have a phone and neither did our cab driver. I don’t think a lot of people in Cuba have mobile phones. We did see some there but not many.

Lots of propaganda everywhere.

Eventually, a young man in a 1950s Cadillac stopped to help us; he opened his trunk and pulled out a big rope. The young man tied the rope to the back of his car and the front of the cab; both men got inside their vehicles and floored the gas, pulling the cab off the median.  They did this with such ease that we suspected that this kind of thing happens all of the time. We got back in the cab, since we had no other choice, and he drove to our hotel; we looked at each other as if to say “Did that just happen?” Needless to say we didn't tip the cab driver.

It was not a great start to our holiday. The hotel staff seemed unfazed by our car accident when we told them. They just offered us drinks which we weren't in the mood for. They asked us about where we were from. When we told them we were from Vancouver they started asking us if "the Chinese steal our jobs in Vancouver too". The hotel staff then did a completely racist imitation of Chinese people and even used their fingers to try to make their eyes look more Chinese. It was completely unbelievable. We were definitely asking what we got ourselves into when we decided to go to Cuba. We couldn’t possibly imagine hotel staff acting this way at any other hotel we’ve been to before.

We went for a walk in Varadero.
     The next day we took the tourist hop on hop off bus to the town centre and explored Varadero. One of the doormen at our resort said to hold on to our bus ticket and bring it back to him when we return. We’re pretty sure he wanted to use it go get home. Once in the town centre, we walked around awhile taking pictures as the town was cool to see. There were lots of people walking around.

Our friends told us to visit their friend Carlos’s place and gave us the address to try and find it. We looked around but couldn’t find it so we gave up. We weren’t really sure what to say to Carlos anyway. We were on the right street but the house numbers weren’t corresponding to the one we had written down. We went to the bus stop to catch the bus again and we ended up waiting for quite awhile.

There was a sketchy guy that came up to us begging for money. He was pretty drunk. He was really persistent and would not leave us alone no matter what we said. He told us that Canada and Cuba are like family and therefore we should give him our money. Cuba has two different currencies: the CUC and CUP. The CUC is the tourist currency and the CUP is the one used by Cubans. The CUP is worth a lot less than the CUC. After we wouldn’t give him money he tried to get us to give him change so that he could take our much more valuable CUC pesos. We did not fall for these shenanigans.

Another guy interrupted and asked us where we were from. We talked to him for a bit. He said that if we wanted, he could get us cigars or ANYTHING YOU WANT wink wink nudge nudge. No thanks we said. We gave up and left the bus stop.

It was a nice day for a walk anyway so we just walked along the main road until we found another bus stop with no people there. We got back on the bus and road it around to see some more sights. Back at the hotel we signed up for a Jeep Safari excursion for the following day. There were about 5 or 6 different tours that were offered through our hotel. The Jeep tour seemed like the best choice. It took us on a river cruise, to a cave, snorkelling, through the nearest city Matanzas and to a sugar cane plantation. It sounded pretty cool.

The following day, on our Jeep Safari we met a newly-wed couple on their honeymoon. We introduced ourselves and began talking about how our trips were going so far. After chatting for some time, we realised that they had worse luck than us. Although it was bad that we got into a car accident within the first 30 minutes of being in Cuba, it could have been worse.

The honeymooner’s trip sounded like a fiasco. Their honeymoon suite they reserved wasn't ready when they arrived; it took a couple days for them to get the correct room. Their flights were delayed 12 hours on the way to Cuba. They went on a boat trip out on the ocean and their guides got really drunk and refused to return them to shore until they gave them a bunch of money.

One of the honeymooners was Chilean so he spoke fluent Spanish and so he was able to understand all the things the Cubans were saying about us tourists. A lot of it wasn't very nice to say the least. After meeting this couple and hearing about how miserable they were we decided to put everything behind us and joke about everything. Whenever a new negative experience approached us we laughed it off and said ‘that’s Cuba for you.’ We had fun making fun of the ridiculousness of it all.

We went snorkeling in this beautiful water.
We were paired up with the honeymooners on the Jeep tour. We got into the tour Jeep and followed our guide who drove us out into the middle of nowhere. There were multiple groups doing the same tour so there were Jeeps parked all over the place at each of the destinations.

The first spot we went to we couldn’t get parking at with all the Jeeps everywhere so our tour guide directed us to drive to another location. I think we were meant to go snorkelling first. We then drove to the cave but the cave had no parking either because of another Jeep tour. We drove to the river cruise as our starting point. This was making the Jeep tour take a lot longer than it was meant to be. In total the Jeep tour ended up taking 8 hours and I think it was meant to be 5-6 hours long.

The river cruise was a bit pointless. They mostly just attempted to sell us some very sketchy looking lobster while we cruised into the forest for 15 minutes and then cruised back. We were surprised that a few people actually bought the lobster; Disgusting! We wouldn’t have got it regardless because we are vegan and we just ate breakfast at the resort. The boat crew was getting frustrated that so few people bought their disgusting lobster. It was awkward. Then we went to a cave where you could go swimming in some really cold cave water. It was a pretty neat cave. We didn't do much swimming in it though.
Caught some kids hopping a fence.

After that, we drove quite a ways towards our next activity. The tour guide stopped in a deserted dusty area on the side of the road. We got out and all these guys were trying to sell us big conch shells which is illegal so don’t buy them. He told us to ignore them and gave us some snorkelling gear.

We were definitely having doubts about the Jeep Safari tour at this point. The beach was nowhere in sight. The tour guide led us down these long narrow stairs that lead to the most beautiful rocky beach. It was a pleasant surprise. We got into the water and swam out pretty far. As we were swimming we could feel something touching us, it felt like we were swimming over a scaly tree. We dunked our heads into the ocean. That is when we saw that we were swimming with the largest amount of colourful fish that we have ever seen in one place. It was a weird feeling. We stopped swimming and enjoyed the fish swimming all around us. After the snorkelling I think we started to relax and enjoy ourselves more. The snorkelling was the highlight of the trip for sure. We were starting to feel more positive and enjoy ourselves.

Goats licked our legs.

Our resort was really nice.
Next, we went to a plantation in the countryside to have some lunch and try some sugar cane. The cafe staff managed to make us a bunch of vegan food for our lunch.  It was funny trying to explain to our tour guide that we were vegan. Our tour guide was a really nice guy and he made sure we had something to eat even though we weren’t expecting much. We definitely weren’t demanding that they make us vegan food we just told them we were vegan when they asked us what we wanted from the menu. We were prepared to just eat later at the resort.

We were really put on the spot because all these people on our tour started asking us the usual stupid questions like "where do you get your protein?" It wasn't so bad though. The cafe staff kept bringing us plates and plates of rice and beans along with veggies like okra. It was all good. Eventually we had to tell them that although we were grateful for the veggies we were way to full to to eat anything else. I don't think anyone else was eating their veggies so maybe they were just giving us everyone else’s share of the veggies. There were a few goats on the plantation. This one little guy kept licking the salt off our legs from the ocean. It was adorable and tickled. Goats have coarse tongues.

We got back to the resort and decided to spend the rest of our Cuba trip relaxing at the resort rather than test our fate with any of the other tours. There is a few different excursions you can take to Havana which we would have liked if we had more time but other than that there wasn’t any excursions that caught our eye. They had a swimming with Dolphins trip but we are against those sorts of things because of the cruelty involved. Go watch the film The Cove and you won’t want to take part in Dolphin exploitation either.

We did a lot of relaxing in Cuba.
Eating dinner and watching the sun

Honestly, it took us a little while to get used to the way things are in Cuba. I guess maybe we are a bit spoiled living in Canada. The food in the resort buffet was a bit sketchy in food safety terms, the service was not always the greatest, everyone and their dogs expected a tip on the Jeep Safari, the cashiers short change you every single time (even when changing money at the resort), the taxis/buses were consistently late (so late that we only arrived 20 minutes before our flight back to Vancouver, we thought we were going to miss our flight) and the drivers drive like they have a death wish.

We originally wanted to spend as little time on the resort as possible and our friends were encouraging us to go exploring to get a taste of the real Cuba but we really didn’t enjoy venturing out that much. We decided to forget about it and just have a good time at the resort which was a really nice resort. It was an adult’s only resort so there wasn’t any screaming kids around and there were lots of things to do and places to relax. There were multiple restaurants, bars, clubs, pools, giant chess, and an amazing beach. All our food and drinks were included as well. There were even some shops in the hotel as well.

We decided to focus on the positive and mostly hung out at the beach, enjoyed the perfect weather, went swimming, used the free paddle boats, played pool, watched the resort entertainment every night, went for nice walks and read our books. It wasn't a perfect trip but the beach was awesome. They did a good job in catering to our vegan needs in the resort restaurants but in the buffet we just stuck to eating the things we knew were vegan. It’s hard to complain about our resort

The resort made us a vegan tostada stack.

Being in Cuba has taught us to live a carefree lifestyle. We’ve learned that some things are out of our control and to just go with it. You can't expect everything to be perfect and we are quite spoiled in Canada so maybe our expectations shouldn't have been so high. This experience has helped us enjoy ourselves more on our holidays. We feel more relaxed all the time about travelling to new places and the mishaps that sometimes happen.

Thank you for reading. If you enjoyed our trip to Cuba, you may enjoy our "Epic Cruise Through the Iberian Peninsula"


  1. First of all, I love that you can just pack your bags and go to Cuba like it's no big deal. I've never had that luxury (american)! Snorkeling in the Caribbean is THE BEST by the way! I recently went in Belize and it was phenomenal.

    1. I absolutely love the Caribbean. The water is gorgeous and the fish are so colourful. I'm sure you will be able to get to Cuba one day.

  2. Nice, I found this so interesting as I visited Cuba in June this year, it's interesting to hear your perspective from 2012 - in many ways I guess some things have changed a lot & some none at all. You made the right move, beaches & resorts never let you down... will you go back to Cuba again?

    1. We have thought about going to Havana. I've heard some pretty good things about the city. What part did you go to? Although friends of ours went a couple years before us and loved it! That's why we were so on board with going.

  3. It was really interesting reading about your trip to Cuba. I was just there in July but I spent my time in Havana with a day trip to Vinales, so I'm not sure if that's why my experience was different. I really enjoyed my time there and my interactions with the Cubans I encountered :) I'm really happy you guys were still able to have fun at the resort but maybe since it's been a few years you might contemplate returning and visiting another region? It really is a beautiful island with so much to offer!

    1. We would definitely want to try another region. We would probably go to Havana. We did really enjoy the resort we stayed at, (Other than our greeting) We are more open to the idea of going again. I'm glad to hear that you had a great time, does help with the decision to go again or not.

  4. I've never been to Cuba, but it's definitely on my bucket list. The Jeep Safari sounds great! I would love to go caving and snorkel in Cuba. I know some Spanish, but I wish I was more fluent. It sounds like the language barrier could be a problem in some situations.

    1. Snorkelling was the best part. Even with the parts of our trip we didnt enjoy, we would still go back. We also recommend others to go. That beach, that ocean.. it's all worth it.

  5. Cuba! Absolutely an place I must visit soon. It looks amazing in your pictures. So many people say, that the real, old fashioned Cuba is going to be gone soon after all the tourist rush in. I hope not! And I hope to get there before it gets very crowded.


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