The following is a hotel review I just wrote and submitted to TripAdvisor.com, about my excursion to Santiago de Cuba with Martine, Maykel and Braulio. I hope to be able to visit this interesting, historic city again sometime soon, and explore it further.
As a special way to celebrate my friend’s 50th birthday, she joined me in Cuba for a week. We used Club Amigo Marea del Portillo as our base because we had both been to this wonderful little resort in rural Granma several times and absolutely adore it. From there, we drove to Santiago de Cuba with two Cuban amigos as our guides. It was a lot of fun but also proved to be a minor adventure.
We had been warned that the incredibly scenic coastal road between Marea del Portillo and Santiago de Cuba was also incredibly treacherous. Yes, I must admit, it was not without its perils. This road is not for the faint-hearted driver, or anyone without a significant degree of experience and confidence behind the wheel. I would highly encourage the use of a four-wheel drive vehicle, on a sunny day. Don’t try it after a rainstorm; the puddles can consume small cars!
I had booked space in advance at a hostel, using an online service, so we would be assured of accommodation upon arrival. It was clean and the rooms were cheap but there were other concerns, so we opted to relocate to Islazul Hotel Libertad for our second night in the city. It was a good move. I had read several reviews about this hotel and it seemed to have a generally decent reputation. I would not hesitate to recommend Hotel Libertad, although I cannot wholeheartedly raise two thumbs for the attached restaurant.
Breakfast was included in the price of the rooms, which seemed fine. However, the food choices were sorely limited by a lack of eggs, and the server was somewhat surly. When it became apparent that a second cup of coffee was too much to ask, we found a more pleasant place down the street. They were happy to serve us, even though it meant hastily dispatching someone to fetch coffee cups from another location!
But, back to Libertad...the hotel was clean and comfortable, both our rooms and the common areas, and all the non-wait staff were perfectly genial. After reading other reviews that touted room #214 as “best,” we had to ask for it. Alas, it was unavailable. We were given two rooms that faced the street and allowed us to look out over Plaza de Marte – great for people watching! I had been a little apprehensive about the possibility of having our sleep disrupted by traffic noise but there was really no problem. It’s a city; there will be noise. But, traffic sounds were offset by the gentle hum of the air conditioner. In my experience, it was not any noisier than some places I’ve stayed in North America, and I paid far less for the room in Cuba!
During our vehicular exploration of Santiago, I learned a few things about Cuba and Cuban men. Unlike the North American variety of the latter, cubanos are not averse to asking directions...every five minutes or so, in certain situations – such as when there are few road signs and the map you are trying to use does not seem to accurately reflect the actual streets. At any rate, we did eventually achieve our primary objective, touring El Castillo del Morro. And, along the circuitous way to the castle, we stopped at a random restaurant and had a very nice lunch.
While staying at Libertad, we were able to park our muddy little rental car in front of the hotel. It was perfectly safe and, in short order, also became perfectly clean, thanks to the zealous efforts of a nice young man with a bucket and a rag. From the hotel, we did a little exploration of the area by foot and, in the evening, strolled across the park to take in some live music. Since it was the slow season for tourism (October), the bar on the rooftop terrace of Libertad was not operating. Although there was no music, the view from the roof was spectacular, especially as the city was awakening and the morning mists were lifting from the nearby mountains.
All in all, we had quite a lovely time and it was truly a special birthday celebration. I would be happy to stay at Hotel Libertad again, when/if I visit Santiago de Cuba in the future – there are certainly many other historic sites in this grand old city I would like to see. Our drive “home” to Marea del Portillo was pleasantly uneventful, since we opted to return via the inland route, and there was minimal need to ask directions.
This blog's title means "Cuban-hearted woman" (very loosely translated!). I settled on this name because it had a nice ring to my unschooled ear and, more importantly, because I think the Cuban people seem to have so much heart, and they're in my heart for that reason. In general, the people I've met in Cuba are quite consistently open-hearted and big-hearted in the way they relate to each other or to visitors in their beautiful land. A piece of my heart now resides in Cuba, with the warm, wonderful friends I've made there. This blog is not intended to be a guide to Cuba, just a forum for my eclectic bits of writing – poetry, opinion pieces and information gleaned from my personal experience and reading.