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Montemar Nat. Park, Cuba - how to get there, how to use it?

Hi, I’m new here. Never been to Cuba, but we are planning a trip for next January.

My question is how to get around in Cuba. We are not that interested in loafing in a resort. Instead we want to see the real Cuba. But I have heard that it is difficult to travel in Cuba. There are no road signs, GPS is illegal, etc. So I am pretty sure I don’t want to rent a car and drive to the different attractions, nor do I want to take a bus. 

There are organized multi-day tours that one can go on, so we will probably do that. After the tour is done we will end up in Havana. Then we would like to consider day trips from Havana to visit or revisit special places. 

An example is Montemar Natural Park. All the sources say it is a wonderful place for birds and other wild life. But it is around 75 km from Havana. 

How does one get to Montemar? Are there day trips to Montemar out of Havana? Should I hire a driver?

Would it be better to stay in a hotel in Montemar? If so, how would I get to the Montemar hotel from Havana?

And if anyone knows about Montemar, how does one get around inside the park? I think the park is very big. Or is everything of interest in one place?

Ed

Welcome to Debbies Cuba forum Ed. I had a driver take us from Varadero to Gran Parque Natural Montemar. Mainly we stayed on the highway 11 route, stopped at the crocodile farm, drove around the town of Playa Larga for a few minutes, drove further south toward Playa Giron, saw one of Castros beach homes and compound, returned the same way and stopped at a nice restaurant about halfway between Playa Larga and the main highway #1. Saw motor boats available for a mangrove tour at the crocodile farm but it was getting late in the day. Great area if you like birds and swamp vegetation or fishing.

If I went there again I would likely stay at the hotel in Playa Larga, take a couple of tours from there and enjoy the beach as well. At 4500 sq kms there is no way to experience all of the park in a few days, but one area that interests me is a rocky highland ridge which divides the park roughly east to west. From the park office in Playa Larga there is a secondary road that follows the ridge. Park rangers might be available to show some of the interesting aspects of the park such as archaeological sites, etc. The hotel will have various commercial tours and there may be a cab driver or two in Playa Larga who can show you around.

The Cuban national oil company, Cupet was rumored to be doing some exploration work in the area about the same time that the parks name was changed from Parque National Cienaga de Zapata in about 2005, so maybe the parks charter got changed at that time. Some of the roads inside the park that show up on Google maps may be oilfield access trails.

Welcome to Debbies Cuba Travel forum Ed! Please feel free to ask any questions you might have as we have here many members that are experts about Traveling to Cuba. Thanks for joining us!

Ed, if you do rent a car to do specific destinations you can hire an inexpensive driver from the rental agency, the agency may need a day or two notice. I don’t know the exact cost of a driver but it seemed inexpensive last time I checked, likely much less than $50 probably closer to $25.

Hiring a cab for the day in Cuba is inexpensive as well, make a deal with a driver for a block of time up front. A six hour round trip private cab tour of Havana cost me less than what it costs for a one way trip from my home to the airport in Calgary. Stopped at one of cabbies favorite watering holes for a couple of beers, got taken to an obscure legal paladar restaurant with great food, got to see some areas of Havana that no tour buses ever go to as well as some of the normal tourist sites and as a bonus non stop commentary and opinion from cabbie about everything from Cuban politics to Cuban prisons. Learned more about Cuba from that cabbie than most Cuban tourists guides care to publish. Speaking Spanish in Cuba helps as does having an understanding of how Latin American countries work.

Thanks for your replies, suggestions, and links! It is valuable info to me.

In the last few years I have read a few guide books on Cuba and from that, learned basically that it is hard (language/no road signs/GPS illegal) and hazardous (bicycles/animals/pot holes) to travel around Cuba. Yet that is exactly what we want to do, travel around. Because of the challenges, we didn’t go.

What I learned from those guide books is now somewhat fading in my memory, and besides, might no longer be current. Hence the questions here.

More recently we found a tour of Cuba that sounds real interesting to us. It is by Marysol Travel Services (see http://tinyurl.com/oj8zboq). It partly solves the getting-around problem and goes to destinations that sound fascinating. Now we are more determined to go, and solve remaining problems.

There seems to be much misinformation about Cuba. For instance, the info on GPS is conflicting. The guide books say it is illegal. A local travel agent confirms this. But my on-line research shows that there should be no problem bringing in a GPS in my Android phone. Navigating with an off-line map on the Android should work fine. This could be very helpful not only in finding our way on the roads, but also when exploring on foot.

Regarding the park, I’m thinking we should find a local hotel, I guess at Playa Larga. We could go there after the organized tour is done.

Thanks again. Any further comments would be appreciated, especially if anyone would like to comment on Marysol (there seems to be little info on them on the Web).

Some people might find it endearing to have strangers pee in their car, but it is not something for me. Cuba must be a weird place.

I don’t think Terry knew until later.
Either way, she stayed cool, got loaded and had a nice drive thanks to Terry.
I expect you’ll be watching for hitchhikers, Ed. LOL

As I said, I have never been to Cuba. You posted the info about the peeing anecdote. Why don’t you tell me if this kind of behavior is normal?

It is always hard to get reliable and accurate information about travel to foreign destinations, even in the published guides. There tends to be a lot of outdated and false info that just keeps on being repeated.

For some reason, it is harder to get reliable info on Cuba than other destinations.

So I came here to this forum to try to get the right dope.

And once again, I seem to be getting a mix of good and questionable info… and maybe fanciful stories of questionable veracity that are retold because it is so much fun for the reteller to do so.

The filters are in place. Everything will be checked.

Ed

[quote=@doctored]As I said, I have never been to Cuba. You posted the info about the peeing anecdote. Why don’t you tell me if this kind of behavior is normal?

It is always hard to get reliable and accurate information about travel to foreign destinations, even in the published guides. There tends to be a lot of outdated and false info that just keeps on being repeated.

For some reason, it is harder to get reliable info on Cuba than other destinations.

So I came here to this forum to try to get the right dope.

And once again, I seem to be getting a mix of good and questionable info… and maybe fanciful stories of questionable veracity that are retold because it is so much fun for the reteller to do so.

The filters are in place. Everything will be checked.

Ed[/quote]

Welcome to the forum Ed.

We’ve been travelling to Cuba for many, many years- in the early 1980s for business and for pleasure over the past 15 years. Not once during that time have we encountered anything remotely close to the peeing anecdote Terry wrote about. We have picked up hitch hikers but they were not in our vehicle long enough to drink such copious amounts of beer nor did we have so much beer on hand in the car to begin with. Only pee incident was a mom with a 5 yr. old son who asked if we’d please pull over for her son’s “rest stop” which she handled very discreetly at the side of the road.

Cuba is not at all weird, so no worries. It’s a beautiful country with amazingly wonderful people. What and who you encounter in your travels around Cuba depends a lot on your comfort level. We consider ourselves middle of the road travellers. You would never find us in a seedy bar in a questionable area of Havana at 4 am, but we don’t do that kind of thing at home either. Compared to some of Terry and Rainbows tales of adventure in Cuba, ours seem mundane and boring.

OK, thanks for the info and the encouragement.

As already stated, we became interested in a Cuba vacation because we noticed this tour by MarySol with (for us) very interesting stops. That would get us away from the standard boring Cuban resort vacation.

However, after some searching, we have not been able to find any reviews of MarySol. The tour description lacks a lot of information (for instance on accommodation). I read reviews of tours run by other companies and they were not good - you could even say rather bad.

Our ears will stay tuned, but I think we will give up on the MarySol tour because of a lack of information.

Maybe we will replace it with a week in Havana and/or a week in Varadero, with day trips to different neat destinations. One of those would be the Zapata Peninsula area. In fact, it would be ideal if we could stay in a hotel there, in Playa Larga, for a couple of nights. But it seems that the hotels there are pretty sketchy. There is talk of toilets without seats and bug infestations. Not sure if I could ask my wife to stay in one of these places.

Our investigating is starting to resemble our previous attempts to get to Cuba. For every problem we solve, a new one pops up.

I’m beginning to conclude that Cuba is either for those who like sipping drinks by the pool in luxury resorts, or for indiscriminate folk who don’t mind getting lost on the roads or sleeping with spiders. Is there provision for a third kind, seemingly a small minority, who require acceptable tourist services in a selection of interesting locations?

Our challenge is to find something in the latter category without it taking an unreasonable amount of research time.

I’m convinced Cuba is a beautiful country, but it is hard to go there and roam like you can in Florida or Maui or Portugal or Crete.

Thanks for all your advice. It is all useful even if it leads to a decision to go somewhere else for our vacation.

Doctored, I’m puzzled as to why you would do a trip to Cuba with MarySol Tours or any tour company for that matter? Are you American and looking to get to Cuba legally?

There have been many questions and answers regarding Americans travelling to Cuba with various tours at TripAdvisor. If you haven’t done so, you might want to check that information.

Strange but I could have sworn that cheersterry posted a VERY comprehensive and informative list with links earlier today. Included were links of people to contact regarding customizing tours for independent travellers. Either I’m too tired, losing it or that reply with list has disappeared??? For sure, get in touch with the folks at www.yourowncuba.com They get excellent reviews from people who wanted to plan independent trips, came back and are highly recommended.

Having toured Florida and Arizona/Grand Canyon in a small rented RV recently, and considering we’ve also enjoyed Maui & Kauai over the past two years, not to mention extensive independent travels in Europe, I will agree that all of these places are easier to organize than Cuba BUT Cuba is immensely rewarding on so many levels. It would be a shame not to visit Cuba now, before it changes forever.

Best of luck with your research!

I’m not American. Why? Do Americans take MarySol tours?

The reason I was interested in the tour was because it went to some neat destinations. I never go on tours when on vacation, but I was thinking that going with an organized group would solve a lot of problems travelling in Cuba.

But for reasons stated, it looks like that isn’t going to work out, because MarySol doesn’t have a known track record.

As you suggest, I could look at putting my own tour together. As mentioned, though, I’ve already started that process by investigating the hotels at Playa Larga, and was frankly discouraged. And that destination was a main reason for us to go.

So if Cuba changes forever, I suggest they start with the accommodation at Playa Larga!

BTW, I am pursuing yourowncuba. Who knows what will happen.

Ed

Good choice, Ed. Good people there, great reviews.