Now, in order to visit the cays, you would probably need to add on a few more days to your trip to experience them without rushing. I set aside 2 nights and 3 days (which I would do 4 days next time), but it was enough time to visit a new colonial city, enjoy the beach, and go on a catamaran snorkel.
Although Varadero is a lot closer and a wonderful alternative to experience a gorgeous beach, Los Cayos were just too intriguing to pass up on for this trip. One of the most popular cays from Havana is Cayo Santa Maria. If you were to drive direct from Havana it would take about 4 1/2 hours by day and maybe little longer by night depending how many horse-drawn carriages you had to pass along the way.
Remedios is the eighth oldest city in Cuba and is famous for their Christmas festival. The brightly painted houses and colonial vibe completely reminds me of Trindad, Cuba. (Another must see incredible city.)
Little did we know that we would be there on the last night of The Christmas festival, “Las Parrandas de Remedios”. Celebrations include street parades with rumba percussion ensembles, music and verses, a float display and the very dramatic fireworks competition.
After doing extensive research reading reviews of Casas in the area, it was a clear decision to book Hostal Buenviaje. It really doesn't get any better than this... seriously. This Casa that we stayed at and the owners were a dream to visit.
Everything was super clean and I love when the colonial architecture is kept alive. The hostal owners, Lester and Naty were incredible hosts and cooked ridiculous breakfast and dinners for us. As I began to get to know them better, turns out that they met each other while following their dreams as fashion designers. (More on their incredible story on a future post)
They are extremely proud of their Trip Advisor Traveler's Choice award. Want to read 341 more reviews of how amazing they are, Click here
Although staying in the front room is a little noisy from the street, it is actually quite charming to hear daily life go by. Every morning we would hear the bread man, the fish man, and the produce man sing their jingles as they walked through the streets selling the fresh goods to the neighborhood. "I'm the bread man, I have fresh bread ..."Fish for sale, here is my fresh fish!". Definitely a different type of wake up call...hahaha
My husband and I with Lester and Naty in their beautiful patio.
Renting a room at Hostal Buenviaje is about 25 CUC/ per night. Click here to email Lester and Naty your travel dates to check availability.
The drive from Remedios to Los Cayos is a little tricky to leave the city center because of all of the one way streets. But once on the main highway, it's a breeze. In order to get to the cays, you have to cross a toll road that checks your ID to make sure you are a tourist. (Crazy & ridiculous, I know! but Cuban citizens are not allowed to certain resorts) Once you pass the toll road, you will drive on this man made 2 lane highway for about 30 mins until you reach the first cay, Cayo Las Brujas.
We actually drove all the way down to Cayo Santa Maria first, but decided to spend our day at Cayo Las Brujas because the marina was located there. Once we arrived at Villa Las Brujas (the only hotel on this cay) we went to the bar, grabbed a sandwich and beer then headed down to this beautiful cove for some relaxation.
The bartender's sailor uniform was too cute!! (And needs to be in a Nicolita Bikini Photo shoot asap!)
Remember when I said earlier that I'm a sucker for white sand beaches and sitting in the shoreline with half my bikini in the water... Well here it is. I was in seventh heaven.
After a little siesta and starring off into that teal water, it was time for our snorkel trip and speed boat excursion to take off from the marina. They offered a bunch of activities. For more information on all of the marina activities CLICK here.
This cove was right next to the marina & a perfect little beach for catching the sunset.
- On a side note, a lot of blogs I've been reading make such a big deal about driving yourself around the island in a rental. It's not that difficult or bad at all. I drive each time unless I want to enjoy a particular area and we hire a driver for the day. You just need a map, sense of direction and a little Spanish to get by.Like: "Donde Esta ______? (Where is____?)"
- You DO need to be careful and look out for pot holes on the road & and slower vehicles/ animals.
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Smoke a Cuban cigar was definitely top on my list for things to do in Havana. I should say "Take a puff" because I'm not a cigar smoker at all. But when in Rome... Everywhere you go on the island you can find a place to purchase a cigar. However, you are always questioning how authentic the cigar is and if you are paying too much.
There are a few cigar factories that you can tour in HAVANA. For example the Partagas Cigar Factory.
We had a photo shoot in that factory for the Cuban Cutie Bikini. Definitely an experience I would never forget. This factory has recently moved while they are under construction. The new factory is located at: Fábrica de Tabaco H. Upmann (Padre Varela, e/ Desagüe y Peñal Verno, Centro Habana, tel. 07/878-1059 or 07/879-3927, 9am-1pm, CUC10), formerly the Fábrica de Tabaco Romeo y Julieta. Get your tickets in advance.
Although touring the factory is amazing, there is nothing more authentic than the experience of visiting an actual tobacco plantation in the providence of Pinar Del Rio. Just getting outside of the main city of Havana will be an experience all alone. Transportation, way of life, and the landscape change into horse drawn carriages, rural towns and palm tree lined highways with zero traffic.
Now, in order to plan out your day trip adventure to Pinar Del Rio, I listed a few tips to make your experience fun and exciting. Don't worry about planning this too far in advance because getting out to the countryside is actually quite simple. But take a day or two prior once you arrive to confirm a ride and to get the most out of your excursion.
RENT A CAR AND DRIVER
If you did rent your own car, you can make it out there as well, but I'm sure you have to ask for directions quite a few times. But it is totally doable with a map.
There are a few tobacco plantations outside of the city center of Pinar Del Rio that give tours. Not all of them plantations are listed, however I highly recommend once you arrive to Pinar Del Rio, have your driver ask a local to give you some recommendations of where to visit. A lot of these tobacco plantations are not highly visible from the main road. More than likely a dirt road we'll guide you.
During our trip we asked a local to hop in our car and take us to the plantation. His name was Michelle and is a student at the Pinar del Rio University. Some of these guides have deals worked out ahead of time with the plantations to herd tourist to their locations. Although that was the case, we were all pleasantly surprised what a gem the COHIBA plantation was.
As soon as you arrived to the COHIBA plantation, the guide greeted you and gave you a freshly made
Cigars were given to everyone as we started the tour of the plantation. Again, I'm not a cigar smoker, but I indulged myself in a few puffs to get the experience.
The guide spoke perfect English and was incredibly informative on the entire cigar making and smoking process. Seeing the leaves drying from the barn rafters was one of my favorite parts. Also, watching our guide roll a cigar from scratch was another highlight.
I think each cigar was around 5 CUC which normally would have cost around 8-10 CUC buying them in the city.
I made sure to bring extra copies of the Nicolita catalog and leave with the locals to enjoy the photos taken at the most prestigious sites in Cuba. The photo on the cover was taken at a farm in the Vinales Valley.
I think we made a few NICOLITA fans for Life.