FE Active is more than just a camping gear company. We're proud to be a company run by travelers, adventurers, and people "living the lifestyle" we promote through our products. One such employee had the opportunity to backpack across Cuba in early 2020 before the Covid-19 pandemic, and in this Cuban blog series, will recount the adventures experienced along this amazing journey.
"Cruises are a wonderful way to experience a new city or country. They typically provide some really interesting perspective, and a day on the water is never a bad thing"
Santiago de Cuba is the second largest city in Cuba. Although some may find this area hotter and more humid than other areas of the country, this city is quickly becoming a hotspot for tourists and locals alike.
With no all-inclusive reports in the city (the most popular way to visit Cuba), you'll have to make the time to visit or explore this city on your own. Unlike most travelers visiting the island, we were backpacking across the country exploring as we go. Instead of staying a resort or hotel, we opted for Casa Particular's - Cuba's own version of an Airbnb experience.
As you explore, you'll find there are many things to do in the city, but one of the most unexpected (for us) was a harbor cruise from the city. Santiago de Cuba is located along the banks of the warm Caribbean waters of the south Atlantic, and specifically along the Bay of Santiago de Cuba, their attachment to the water is even greater than some of the other places we visited. We loved this connection, and were excited to hop on board and begin the tour.
A Surprising Find
What's surprising you may ask? Well, truth be told, we were actually looking for a ferry to take us to Castillo San Pedro de la Roca - a fort located at the entrance to the harbour - NOT a tour of the Bay. We had toyed with the idea of taking a more "traditional" way (such as a taxi) as buses didn't really head up to the fort, but once we heard we could take a ferry there, we were all on board.
We had gotten the tip from our Casa host as we didn't come across the ferry options in any of our research before the trip. Unlike other countries, information online FROM Cubans is limited. You'll have to dig into your "street smarts" to search and find interesting options like this as you explore. Chances are, you'll come across things you never knew existed.
Along the water, at the end of Alameda Park (where the "Cuba" sign is), you'll find a large building that connects to the pier. This is where you can buy tickets for this, and other boat "rides" in the harbour. You'll need to know Spanish in order to get them, because in our experience, very little English is spoken and there are no signs like a traditional ticket counter. There was a lady at a table with cash. That's it.
Tickets cost 2 CUC
Depending on which tour you take, will determine your route. We had an idea of where we wanted to go (remember, the point was to get to Castillo san Pedro de la Roca), so we picked on based on that name, with them nodding along that it goes there.
One you board the ferry / tour boat, you'll begin by leaving the wharf and heading south west toward the mouth of the harbour. Once you pull away from the shore, you'll start to see how beautiful the city is, with the mountains rising high from the background.
On the other side of the harbor, the Day Brothers oil refinery operates and dominates the landscape. As you cruise onward, about 20 minutes into the ride, you'll come to a series of beautiful hotels that sit along the banks of the water. Although several hotels occupy the area, the one that stood out to me was hotel Punta Gorda, with its red roof, white walls and a series of well developed palm trees out front. About as close to a tropical paradise as you can get.
Unlike a typical cruise however, the boat did stop at an island (Cayo Granma) to let passengers on and off. It was here we began to wonder if we specifically needed to request where we got off - as remember, we did think this was a ferry, not a cruise as this was the first stop we made on the entire trip. Without knowing how to do that, we sat back, took in the views of the island, and continued to wait as our stop near the fort was approaching.
The Final Stop
Have you ever had those moments where you realize your plan isn't working exactly as you thought? Yeah, us too. It was in this moment that we knew this boat wasn't stopping, and our "ferry" to the fort was indeed just a tour.
As we approached the wharf, the boat made a quick turn and headed back the way we came. As we watched the fort disappear in the distance, we turned our thoughts to the #JourneyForward and simply enjoyed the ride - without the expectation of it taking us anywhere but where we started.
Travel teaches you to be flexible. As seasoned travelers, we know that no matter how much you plan, things don't always go as planned. It's a lesson that is needed as our lives are often very planned out. We have set times, set schedules, routines and a host of things that perhaps, make our lives easier and predictable, but eliminates some of the surprises that life offers.
Despite this "set back" in our schedule, we really enjoyed this 2 hour tour of the habour, and it turned out to be a fantastic part of our trip. We encourage you to take this ferry to the fort, hoping that you'll figure it out, unlike us. If you do get "stuck" onboard, know that you are about to enjoy a pleasant 2 hour ride for 2 CUC - a deal that is more than worth it.