Escorted tours of Cuba are a popular holiday option but, just as with hotels, they come in all manner of shapes and sizes.
One of the reasons tours of Cuba are so popular is the size of the island and the (relative) difficulty of getting around. At over 1000 kms long, Cuba is by far the largest island in the Caribbean and trying to see all of it in the standard two week holiday window is almost impossible.
If you do wish to see the whole of the island in two weeks then you should be aware that a domestic flight will be involved, either one way or return. The Best of Cuba tour, for example, travels the length of the island from Havana in the west to Santiago in the east before flying back to Havana. Other tours, such as the Ultimate Cuba tour combine a week touring the west of the island with a second week touring the east (ie missing out the centre) with domestic flights linking the two legs.
However, the majority of visitors to Cuba generally make do with a 7 day tour of the western half of the island, starting and finishing in Havana, after which they either return home or, more commonly, extend their time at one of Cuba’s many superb beaches.
There are numerous such week long tours of western Cuba, such as the Essential Cuba & Pearl of the Caribbean and they tend to tie-in their departure dates around Virgin Atlantic’s schedule of direct flights between Gatwick & Havana.
Although the itineraries for these week long Cuba tours vary, they will generally all include Havana, Vinales, Cienfuegos, Trinidad & Santa Clara; some might also include Las Terrazas, Guama and / or Remedios.
For some visitors to Cuba, knowing which hotels will be used on a specific tour isn’t an issue; for them it’s all about where you go, what you do and the sociability of the group. If you do not fall into this category then it is always worth carefully checking which hotels are used on a tour. Some tours can be very vague about which hotels are used, not a good sign in our opinion. Others feature hotels which might be clean and comfortable but lacking in charm and poorly located. With tours of Cuba, it is always worth checking which hotel is used in Havana. Is it somewhere characterful in historic Old Havana or is it a functional hotel on the outskirts of the city?
As well as determining the length of any Cuba tour, the itinerary it follows and hotels it uses, it is also worth noting the group size. Many tours of Cuba, especially those operated by the larger tour operators, are coach tours and can be quite ‘busy’. Some clients positively welcome large group sizes, and the chance to meet a wide range of fellow travellers. However, most people that I speak to about their travel plans prefer small group sizes (up to 16 people normally).
An important side-issue relating to group size is the issue of guaranteed departures. With many tours, not just to Cuba, minimum numbers are required for the tour to operate. The reason for this is purely financial (ie without a certain number of clients certain tours cannot operate profitably) but it does create problems for clients as the final go ahead for a tour departure often isn’t confirmed until close to departure. Do you want the risk of your holiday plans being cancelled at the last moment? Always check with the tour operator whether their featured tours of Cuba are guaranteed departures and, if not, check how long before departure they will make the final decision.
Finally, if you plan to extend your stay in Cuba at the end of the tour, check where exactly the tour ends and how easy it is to transfer both to your chosen resort as well as back to the airport.
As many tours start and finish in Havana, and many tour customers only want a few days at the beach, my personal recommendation would be Memories Jibacoa (below).