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Published on April 26th, 2013 | by The Town Crier


Travel – Sun, sea and a Swim Up bar

Having taken several holidays on the Cancun Peninsular in Mexico, I fancied a change of Caribbean destinations. I’ve been to the Dominican Republic which is good fun, but Cuba caught my eye because it is an up and coming as a tourist destination and is also remarkably cheap; two weeks all-inclusive in a five star resort in April, which is the high season, cost just £1100 per person. As this holiday was also a belated honeymoon, it made sense to go somewhere different.

Cuba has been late cashing in on the long haul tourism boom, something to do with being a communist dictatorship. It takes a dictatorial approach to tourism too; you pay about £20 for a visa to get into the country and another £20 in cash to be allowed out again. It is a country of contrasts; the airport is state of the art, far better than the run down, overcrowded shacks you find on many Caribbean islands, but the road to the resort was little more than a dirt track and most of the traffic consisted of horse drawn carts. We were staying near Holguin which is about 400 miles east of Havana, the capital city. We were told that all the hotels in the resort are state owned and that this meant we were entitled to eat steak and lobsters, which are also state owned.

It all seemed a bit like going to Bulgaria in the 1990s, according to my childhood memories anyway, but actually the hotel was great. Built a few years earlier, it was pretty much state of the art with light airy rooms, gigantic beds, very efficient air conditioning and bathrooms that you’d be happy to spend several hours getting ready in. There were acres of grounds and an enormous swimming pool complete with two artificial desert islands, not to mention a swim up bar which is an essential feature of any sunshine holiday as far as I’m concerned. The complex fronts onto the beach which stretches for miles and has the finest white sand and clearest aquamarine sea you could ever imagine; when you dream of a Caribbean holiday, this is what you are thinking of. The only slight disappointment was the dining area which, despite the palm frond roof and the grand piano, felt exactly like a school hall.

I don’t have high expectations from my food; providing there are pizzas and chicken wings to be had I am perfectly happy, but even I could see that this was not exactly haute cuisine. There were chips, burgers and most kinds of fast food available together with a completely inedible looking buffet but, I have to say, your average school meal would look like fine dining compared to this. The same applied to the drinks; the beer was some local brand that tasted of nothing and wine was off the agenda unless you were prepared to shell out a lot extra for “champagne.” At least the service was prompt and friendly; you didn’t have the ten o’clock scrum that you see in Mexico – yes, I am talking 10.00am here!

The biggest problem with Cuba is that, outside of the hotel complex, there is precisely nothing to do. Havana is probably quite lively but that is 400 miles away and even the local town of Holguin is a 45 minute coach ride away. I have never before been on a holiday where, other than scuba diving and an awful “fiesta night” in a rubbish local bar, there are absolutely no excursions for the reps to sell to you. I am easy to please – as long as there is sunshine, a swimming pool and an endless supply of alcoholic drinks I am normally quite content – but in Cuba the lack of any kind of culture or facilities and the grinding poverty are depressing. Next year it will be back to Mexico for my off season break in the sun.

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