Having originally booked a completely different Cuban Holiday in January only to have it cancelled due to Cubana Airlines Flight changes, we were looking for an alternative and stumbled across The Travel Collection Natural Cuba holiday. It was with a bit of trepidation that we finally booked as I am normally the kind of traveller who would put stars and standard of facilities at the top of the list. However, from the moment we arrived we both fell in love with the place. Sure, the rooms are dark, there is a need for refurbishment, the air con while very effective sounds like a sick tractor thus making it practically useless if you want a nights sleep, but what it lacks in aesthetics it more than makes up for in charm and the location is just stunning.
We were lucky in that we didnt experience any water or electricity shortages during our stay and while there was plenty of wildlife to be seen thankfully none of the little critters made it in to the room, probably because windows and door were kept closed at all times! Our room was one of the rooms that Castro's party stayed in during his visit in the 70's which made it a bit interesting. Iry our chambermaid looked after us really well, keeping the place clean and leaving towel art on the bed each day along with a personal note - something you wouldn't get in some top class establishments!
Food was good, really 3 squares a day and no snacking, not the most scintillating of food it has to be said in terms of variety, rice and beans and salad with each evening meal, but the meat/fish was different each day and enough of it. Breakfast was the highlight of the day, fresh fruit, fresh juice (Watermelon to die for!) and eggs (however way you wanted them) ham, cheese, tomato, and fresh baked bread often still warm from the oven delicious!
In a country that has food rationing I thought the chefs did really well with what they had to work with.
Our guide for the week was Eduardo, who normally doesn't do El Yarey, he was called in off holidays with his family to look after us when Dennis the regular guide was unavailable due to his father being ill. What a little star he was. He showed us all there was to be seen, we met his wife and lovely son Eddie, he took us to a carnival in Bayamo and arranged a balcony in one of the locals houses for us to sit and watch the parade (felt like dignitaries). When heavy rain called a temporary halt to proceeding we had our picnic dinner served up in the guys dining room, he also provided a big salad, beers and Daquiris. After the parade we went to a local Cuban nightclub "Beatles Club" - complete with statues of the Fab Four outside and 60's murals on the walls inside. Here we were treated to a live band and watched locals doing the Salsa (boy can Cuban men dance!) , after this we were on our way back to the coach and we spotted another band playing on the back of a trailer, so of course we had to stop and Salsa with the locals for a while! Eduardo had us sample some of the local home brew beer (sold from the back of a lorry and put into any available container) and some of the local street food, had the cuban equivalent of pork scratchings - interesting!!! The ever patient driver William got us back to the hotel well after 3am.
Entertainment was laid on for 2 of the nights in the form of a local band - brushed up on my Cha Cha skills that I leaned as a nine year old! The only drawback was that the bar closed very early 10pm, but there was no problem in stockpiling drinks if you wanted to stay chatting after this, anyway with planned tours for the next day often an early start, it was all you could do to stay awake beyond midnight! By the way Michael the barman makes a mean Mojito.
The pool area was lovely, with a swim up bar. Plenty of sun loungers and hammocks, but then again there was only four of us and the occasional Cuban day visitor.
There is absolutely nothing around the area of the hotel, so make sure you bring all you need with you in terms of batteries and toiletries, these can be hard to track down anyway, even in the bigger towns. Laundry will be done for you by Chicha, a lovely lady living in the grounds of the hotel, she is a personal friend of Castro and will happily show you photos of her with the man himself when he visited El Yarey in the 70's. We met her entire family while collecting our washing, from her son down to her youngest baby grandaughter. She doesn't have a fixed charge for laundry but obviously any donation would go a long way.
Another thing you will find is people asking for soap or "crema" which I presume is moisturiser when you go outside, it didnt occur to us to bring extra items with us, but if you have room in your suitcase, do bring some. Its not really high pressure hassle from people in the streets and often if you say you have'nt got anything they are quite happy with that and will chat to yuo anyway.
On the last night a special effort is made with dinner and I have to say it was magic! The staff will all gather in the pool bar waiting for your tip, which is a bit cringeworthy but they are really grateful for what they get and frankly they do deserve anything you give them.
We really had a wonderful time and the El Yarey experience was really special. My advice is if you are humming and hawing about booking don't , just go and you will have a holiday memory that will live in your heart forever, what the hotel lacks in sophistication it more than makes up for in its location, the wildlife, the peace the tranquility the pampering by the staff and the people you will meet along the way. Wish I was there now.....
- Also Known As:
- Hotel El Yarey
- El Yarey Hotel
- Hotel Villa El Yarey Cuba/Jiguani