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'Self-drive: Havana and Eastern Cuba'

What makes this trip special?

Cuba's unforgettable capital

Cuba's unforgettable capital

Havana

There is no other capital city in the world quite like Havana. Impossible to sum up in only a few words its combination of magificently restored buildings, crumbling apartment blocks, classic cars, lively atmosphere and sense of defiance will stay with you for a long time.

A mountain retreat

A mountain retreat

El Salton

In the foothills of the Sierra Maestra mountain range, El Salton is a lovely area for walking amongst forested hills and crystal clear streams.

Caribbean vibes and fascinating history mixed with rum and salsa

Caribbean vibes and fascinating history mixed with rum and salsa

Santiago de Cuba

A city of contrasts and one that regularly divides opinions, Santiago is a colourful mix of culture, history, arts and scenery.

Isolated tropical wilderness

Isolated tropical wilderness

Baracoa

Once only accessible by sea, the town of Baracoa is an enchanting town with beautiful beaches, tropical fruit farms and peaceful countryside.

Palm-fringed holiday beaches

Palm-fringed holiday beaches

Guardalavaca

The resort-style beaches of Guardalavaca have pristine white sands and emerald green seas. A lovely place to relax.

Playground for the rich and famous

Playground for the rich and famous

Hotel Nacional

The iconic Hotel Nacional, once a hub for wealthy Americans in the 1930s is a great place to stay on your last night and enjoy your final mojito(s) on the garden terrace.

Day-by-day itinerary for 'Self-drive: Havana and Eastern Cuba'

DAY 1

Havana

Your international flight arrives in Havana, where you are met at the airport and driven to your hotel in Old Havana for a 2 night stay.

DAY 2
B

A free day to explore Havana. There is a huge amount to see, so to get you started we have listed some of the sights on page 9.

DAY 3
B

Most of today is free in Havana, then in the late afternoon you are collected from your hotel and driven to the airport for your domestic flight to Holguín in eastern Cuba. You’ll be arriving at the end of the day, so rather than collect your car straightaway you are met at the airport and taken to your nearby hotel.

DAY 4
BD

Bayamo and El Saltón

When you are ready for the off, you take a taxi from your hotel to pick up your hire car at Holguín airport, which is on the road you want for Bayamo. You drive on a good road through open countryside, reaching the peaceful and pleasant town of Bayamo in about an hour. Bayamo lies just below the Sierra Maestra, the forbidding mountain range that flanks much of Cuba’s southern coastline. You might be able to see its main peaks as you set off eastwards skirting the foothills and passing through a handful of small towns, before turning into the mountains to arrive at El Saltón, where below a pretty waterfall there is a delightful mountain lodge (see p46).

DAY 5
BD

El Saltón de Cuba

At El Saltón there is some beautiful and relatively easy walking close to the lodge and longer trails in the hills behind. It’s a good idea to hire a local English speaking guide (reasonable cost, payable locally) for the longer walks. You can bathe below a pretty waterfall, go birdwatching, hop in the car to explore the area, or just stay around the lodge’s very pleasant grounds. There’s also a basic spa with massage service and whirlpool.

DAY 6
B

Santiago de Cuba

Leaving El Saltón it’s a straightforward drive of around 60 miles, by a choice of routes, to Santiago, your base for the next 3 nights. Santiago (p14) is arguably Cuba’s most colourful city, with an easy-going Caribbean atmosphere and a great location looking across a bay to the mountains and the sea, and a proud place in Cuba’s history. It is a great place to explore during the day, and in the evening to dine in restaurants and paladares, and enjoy live music at the Casa de la Trova, or one of the many other bars and venues around town. You might spend the whole of one day in the city, and the next day mix some more of the city with perhaps a trip to Gran Piedra (especially good on a clear day), or a coffee plantation, or the beach.

DAY 7
B

DAY 8
B

DAY 9
B

Santiago to Baracoa

Now begins one of the most memorable driving routes on the whole of the island: from Santiago, past Guantánamo Bay, around Cuba’s easternmost tip to Baracoa, and up to the beautiful beaches of Guardalavaca. The drive-time today, from Santiago to Baracoa, is usually about 4½ to 5 hours, so an early start means you should have time to stop here and there along the way. The highway from Santiago turns into a smaller road as you enter the town of Guantánamo, well back from the bay and the US naval base. You could stop to see the town before continuing down to the sea and onwards, skirting beautiful beaches below forested mountains, with plenty of places to stop and enjoy, before you reach the village of Cajobabo. Leaving the Caribbean here, take the ‘La Farola’ road with its spectacular mountain section crossing the edge of the Sierra del Plurial, arriving on the Atlantic coast at the little town of Baracoa. Stay here for 2 nights.

DAY 10
B

Baracoa

Baracoa is, in its way, among our favourite places in Cuba. Gorgeously set beside a curving bay backed by low mountains, the area is a piece of paradise. Columbus glowing described it as “the most beautiful land that eyes ever beheld”. Set apart from the rest of Cuba by the extra effort needed to reach it, the town of Baracoa has an amiable, low-key, slightly scruffy atmosphere. But of all the memorable places on this trip, it is likely to be Baracoa that will work a spell on you and steal your heart, and that you will return to in your mind long after your visit. Coffee, cacao and bananas flourish (it rains a lot here!), and there are lovely walks in the hills; you should be able to arrange a guide locally to take you. Don’t forget to try the local chocolate, which is delicious, or the coffee freshly roasted. There are some good paladares for dinner, and an often excellent casa de la trova–better than the one in Santiago, the locals claim.

DAY 11
B

Baracoa to Guardalavaca

The second half of your drive around Cuba’s eastern tip takes you through magnificent scenery along the coast road. After leaving Baracoa the road has been badly hit by hurricanes and it is a tough bumpy drive for a while, best taken slowly. The worst is over within an hour or so as you wind along this wonderful coast, with bay after bay of turquoise water sparkling in bright sun below the hills of the Humboldt national park. The road gets better as you approach the town of Moa, close to a nickel-mining area, before it turns slightly inland, winding its way past Nicaro, through Mayarí (where the train in Buena Vista Social Club’s ‘Chan Chan’ is heading). You could take a small detour to Birán to visit Castro’s birthplace, before choosing either the slow roads around the Bay of Nipo, or better roads via Holguín. You arrive at Guardalavaca late in the day if you have made stops, where you stay for 3 nights.

DAY 12
AI

Guardalavaca

A couple of days at the beach in Guardalavaca in an all-inclusive resort with lots of facilities–a huge contrast to the rest of your trip, as you relax in a conventional holiday surroundings. You drop off your hire car on arrival at the resort.

DAY 13
AI

DAY 14
B

Havana

An early transfer this morning to Holguín airport for the morning flight back to Havana, where you are met and transferred to the landmark Hotel Nacional in the Vedado district. There should be time to explore Vedado and to see the Plaza de la Revolución. To mark your last night in Cuba the hotel desk should be able to book you in at a club in the evening–perhaps the Tropicana, Cabaret Parisien, or one of the local jazz clubs.

DAY 15
B

Most international flights leave in the late afternoon, giving you at least the morning to see some more of Havana before you are collected from your hotel and transferred to the airport.

Guide prices for 'Self-drive: Havana and Eastern Cuba'

options based on all year low season mid season high season peak season other season
Mid-range hotels, 'medium' hire car 2 people sharing
Upper range hotels*,'standard plus' hire car 2 people sharing
Top range hotels*'premium (automatic)' hire car 2 people sharing
Prices are per person and include:
  • Cuba Visa
  • airport transfers
  • all transport
  • all accommodation
  • meals where specified, B = breakfast, L=lunch, D= dinner
  • hire car with insurance x 1 named driver from Day 4 to Day 12 incl
  • Guide book and map
Prices do not include:
  • international flights
  • travel insurance
  • items of a personal nature such as drinks, tips, laundry, etc
  • car-hire: refundable deposit
  • car-hire: additional driver insurance
  • car-hire: taxi from hotel to car-hire pick-up point
  • national park entrance fees
  • car-hire: petrol

Customer reviews for 'Self-drive: Havana and Eastern Cuba'

Recent reviews are shown here from holidays based on this initial design. In each case the itinerary may have been modified (a little or a lot) to suit the individual traveller.

Average

Seasonal information for 'Self-drive: Havana and Eastern Cuba'

Along this route in January

Day Location Max °C Monthly rainfall

Typical weather for January

rainchart

Max °C figures are the average daily maximum temperatures for the month. Rainfall is the average precipitation for the month.

Hotels for 'Self-drive: Havana and Eastern Cuba'

Days 1 - 2

Tejadillo

The Hotel Tejadillo is composed of three restored colonial mansions dating from the 18th and 19th centuries. The location is ideal, just around the corner from Cathedral Square in the heart of Old Havana. Most of the hotel’s 32 rooms are arranged around a small, pleasant and tranquil courtyard adorned with a central fountain and pierced dramatically by a tall, tropical tree.

Hotel facilities include a bar, lifts, TV room, restaurant and tour booking desk.

Tejadillo
Day 3

Mirador de Mayabe, Holguin

Holguin

In our view this is the best place to stay for a short stopover in Holguin. The hotel is in a pleasant rural setting on the outskirts of Holguin set upon a hillside with panoramic views. The 24 rooms are pleasant and there is a small swimming pool and an attractive ranch style restaurant. The rooms are air-conditioned and additional hotel facilities include a cafeteria, laundry service, parking, and internet.

Mirador de Mayabe, Holguin
Hotel lobby
Days 4 - 5

Hotel Villa El Salton, Sierra Maestra

Sierra Maestra

Within a couple of hours drive from Bayamo or Santiago de Cuba, Villa El Salton is located in the middle of the Sierra Maestra, Cuba’s highest mountain range, surrounded by beautiful scenery. There is a natural cascade and pool. This small hotel is set within a delightful verdant setting, the staff come from the local rural community and are warm and welcoming. The rooms are spacious and adequate with air-conditioning and balconies and there is a lovely traditional restaurant terrace and patio area. English is spoken and the hotel has excellent naturalist guides who will be delighted to take you on longer or shorter trails to explore this beautiful area.

Hotel facilities include cafeteria, sauna, bar, entertainment, gym, games room, and medical services.

Hotel Villa El Salton, Sierra Maestra
Days 6 - 8

Hotel Las Americas, Santiago

This is a no nonsense simple hotel with pleasant service and nice pool. It is situated opposite the more luxurious Melia Santiago on the Avenida las Americas and is very convenient for drivers as there is a supervised carpark.

Hotel Las Americas, Santiago
Days 9 - 10

Hotel El Castillo

El Castillo  (originally Seboruco Castle built in 1739) is a characterful mid-sized 3* hotel right in the centre of Baracoa.  The hotel was developed from one of the original forts protecting the town and has panoramic views of this beautiful area.  The hotel is attractive, very comfortable with an excellent  swimming pool  and patio area. The staff are efficient and friendly. There are steps leading up to the hotel or you can walk up the steep driveway to the hotel entrance. There are plenty of taxis available. It is possible to drive straight to the entrance and limited parking is available. This in our view is probably the nicest hotel in the area and one of our favourites. Most rooms are twin bedded and have air-conditioning, TV.

Hotel El Castillo
Days 11 - 13

Playa Turquesa

nr Guardalavaca

This 520-room all-inclusive resort is set on a lovely beach, with quite a natural setting. There is a large square hill-top adults-only pool where you can relax a bit more quietly and read books.  Rooms are in two-storey small blocks of 8-16 rooms each.

There is a gym, bicycles, water sports all of which are included and a kids club (ages 4-12 years), There is a main buffet restaurant and a choice of 5 a-la-carte restaurants (Cuban, Italian, Grill, Mediteranean, Oriental). Guests staying for a week are entitled to eat at these a-la-carte options three times a week.

There is a huge purpose-built theatre for entertainments.

Lots of coral stone steps to get about the property. Pleasant atmosphere, friendly staff.

Playa Turquesa
Day 14

Hotel Nacional, Havana

rating

Average rating 4.1 (48 ratings)

The historic Hotel Nacional, a short taxi ride away from Old Havana and overlooking Havana's seafront Malecón, has enjoyed the patronage of many distinguished guests in its time, Winston Churchill and Franklyn Roosevelt to name but two. There is oodles of atmosphere and the hotel is always lively. It has a lovely terrace and gardens overlooking the Malecón - a great place for that evening mojito. This is a hotel to watch people and it is a meeting place for Cubans doing business with non-Cubans. The rooms are standard business hotel type rooms but the majestic lobby and regal gardens add a certain frisson.

Hotel Nacional, Havana