Part 1: Travel Diary
How to get there?
From Playa Giron, we take the shuttle (turistic bus) Guama Tour at 10:00 am (3CUC/person) and arrive at Playa Larga at 10:30 am. At the exit of the bus, a cyclo approaches us and offers us 2CUC to take us to our casa (1,5km away). It is 1CUC normally, but we accept because we have the laziness to negotiate
Day 1 :
Our casa is ” Casa de Yeni “. The hosts speak very good English, but we speak a lot of Spanish so that I can practice a bit. The Cuban hosts are used to articulate well to make themselves understood by the tourists. However, when they talk to each other, I don’t understand anything
As usual, we are treated to a welcome drink offered by the casa, while Yeni notes our passport numbers and introduces us to the “must-see” of the region. We ask him to reserve a bus to go to the Cueva de los Peces the next day
We go out for lunch and come across a local restaurant that sells pizzas. The price is in moneda nacional, it’s not expensive at all: 15CUP for the most expensive pizza (0,7€). Cubans eat pizzas like tacos, folding them in half. Pizza is delicious!
In the main square, in front of the Los Cocos supermarket, we finally find an Internet access (it’s been 3 days since we didn’t connect, an eternity for drug addicts like us). For the sorrow, we remain 1h. It is there where I discover a very good news coming from my sister. She tells me that the Brazilian bracelet that I offered her, on the return of our stay in Rio, brought her luck! It is a bracelet where one makes a wish while tying it and when the knot is undone, the wish is realized
We pass an elementary school and decide to donate some of the pens we have to this school. I don’t know if they still need them because it was a total flop, the reception is borderline cold. We feel too much like those imperialists/inexpert colonists who take people at face value
20 minutes later, we pass a lady on the beach who stops us to ask us if we would have soap/shampoo or clothes to give. Rhalala, we had some 4 days ago
We settle in a restaurant overlooking the beach, under the coconut trees. The landscape is magnificent, the beach is incredible! Transparent water at 180°! There is very little wind, the water arrives until the thighs, the corals are present but not invading. We wonder what we did to deserve so many good things
On the left side of the beach there are a little more corals and rocks. Children have fun fishing from a paddle. The water is pastel green and transparent. It’s a very nice beach, but I still prefer Punta Perdiz: over there, the water is deeper, hence the darker turquoise color
After a well-deserved nap, we return to Caleton beach in the late afternoon to discover a beach soiled by wind and waves. The water becomes muddy. What a disappointment! We try to escape from the wind and find clear water by going to another one on the side of the diving center, but this one is full of algae, sand fleas, and there are pieces of glass in the sand..
Luckily the dinner is going well. We dine at a restaurant overlooking the beach, which had the good idea to invite a very nice music group
Day 2: Cueva de los Peces
Cueva de los Peces is a very interesting site for snorkelling fans. On one side of the road you can swim in a flooded tectonic plate fault with 70m depth. On the other side, you can reach the bay with transparent turquoise water full of colorful fish
Unfortunately we cannot go there by turistic bus (3CUC/person) because the schedules of the bus from Playa Larga would have obliged us to stay there only 1 hour. However, from Playa Giron, the schedules of this bus are very convenient (arrival at 10:15 am and departure at 3:45 pm)
As a result, we had to reserve another bus, the “divers’ bus”. At 9 am, it comes to pick us up at the casa to bring us to Cueva de los Peces. It has airs of American school bus, it is too sweet (it isn’t American but Canadian). More practical information about the route of this bus at the bottom of the article
As we have already been to Punta Perdiz, we ask to be dropped off directly in Cueva de los Peces while the others go to Punta Perdiz. We will meet them again around 2:30 pm
We first go to the tectonic fault. A German who looks like a fish expert is explaining to his family the fish he saw while snorkelling. He even has a small card with the names and pictures of the fishes, the kind of card your diving instructor gives you
I take this opportunity to ask him about the visibility of the water (average according to him), and the places where he saw the fish (near rocks full of algae)
Knowing in advance that this “hole”/cenote is 70m deep doesn’t help me! Just imagining such a depth particularly frightens me. I did 3mn of top snorkelling there, paralyzed by my fear, while JB swims like a fish in the water. He didn’t see many fish (the visibility is average because of the mix of saltwater/freshwater), but the colors are very nice precisely because of this particular type of water. At a depth of 2m, there is like a warm water current
A group of tourists gives bread to the fishes, we can see a big blue fish Dorothy style in Nemo (but it isn’t Dorothy because this fish is very very big). The other small fish are less colorful but very cute too
We cross the road to do some snorkelling, this time in the bay. The water is turquoise and transparent as in Punta Perdiz, but the corals are almost all dead on 30m. Here, there is a big school of fish that likes to be close to the ladder that gives access to the sea. As a result, you don’t need to go too far away to enjoy the show. There are many more fishes than in Punta, but the beach is less beautiful
Here again, a tourist feeds the fish with bread, and we find ourselves surrounded by a hundred fish of all colors. They calculate their movement well because none of them touched us. I think it’s a pity to feed the fish this way, already it’s not their natural food. Moreover, it makes snorkelling too easy and it reduces the wonder of the discovery
A shoal of fish completely ignores the distribution of bread. JB follows him, and he is rewarded by an even more grandiose spectacle: another school of fish 5 times more numerous. They are also very pretty with purple fins
To conclude, I still prefer snorkelling in Punta Perdiz. I find the place more preserved while Cueva de los Peces, whose entrance is free, attracts far too many tourists who come to feed the fish just to take a picture. However, if you have time to visit both of them, I highly recommend them during your visit to Playa Larga/Playa Giron
We spend the rest of the afternoon at Caleton beach which has found its clear water (because there is less wind than yesterday afternoon). The sun is playing hide and seek, which makes the swim a little cold because of this little wind all the time. On the beach, a masseur offers 45mn massages and he is so successful that people fight to get massages
Tonight we choose to dine at our casa. The dinner is royal, we each have 1 and a half fish, ceviche for the starter, rice, potatoes at will and ice cream for dessert
Day 3: Playa Larga
Today is our last day in Playa Larga. We change casa because ours isn’t available for the 3rd night. It’s the host of our current casa who managed to find us a casa at the same price and quality (at his neighbor’s in fact)
We have only 200CUC left while we have to pay 165CUC tonight to the two casas, which just leaves us enough to pay for the Viazul bus tomorrow (15CUC) and a lunch (20CUC)
A quick trip through the exchange office reminds us that it is Good Friday and everything is closed. Fortunately, this office will be open again tomorrow Saturday morning. In the meantime, 150CUC is being withdrawn from the distributor to guarantee us enough to survive until Monday, in case the exchange office decides to make an extended weekend (Easter Monday). Very few Cubans are believers, but they still take advantage of religious holidays. During Easter Week, children will be exempt from school, the same for Christmas
Whether it is via distributor or at the exchange office, the exchange rate applied isn’t very advantageous: the state automatically takes 3-4% on any financial transaction..
My VISA card is inserted at the ATM… and nothing happens! The screen remains unchanged “insert your card”. JB and I start to panic and press all the buttons. There is the VISA logo on the dispenser though! If my card is swallowed by the ATM, and the bank is closed, we will have to stop the transaction! Fortunately, we always stay in front of the ATM, because 20 seconds later, another screen appears “enter your code”. In fact, the system is just super slow! My card was not swallowed. YES!
At the ATM, we meet an Italian couple who do not want to withdraw money despite their 3 bank cards. As for the Americans, you shouldn’t even try, American cards aren’t accepted
Note to myself: in Cuba, it is better to have too much cash (in CUC) than just enough. You can’t rely on exchange offices or distributors. And Cuba is a safe country, you can have a lot of cash on you (close to your body anyway) without getting your throat cut
We then take a bicycle (or taxi-bicycle) for 1CUC to avoid us 21mn of walking under the sun to the large main beach Playa Larga, on the left of the diving center. The “driver” plays music at full speed with his mini-speaker and his CD player with remote control. As soon as he crosses someone he knows (he knows everyone in fact, it’s a small town), he honks his horn, makes a joke, or is asked where he is going. I recommend these taxi-bicycle, it’s funny, and the “driver” doesn’t get too tired because the bicycle is well designed
Unlike Caleton Beach where we are, Playa Larga is more local. There are many more trees and coconut trees (locals don’t like to tan too much), the sand is finer, the water is always clear and shallow, perfect for children
A group of young Cubans play volleyball on the beach, another group sits at the cafeteria bar. The locals pay in moneda nacional, and we pay in CUC, 3 times more expensive, because the waiter does not let us pay in moneda nacional
For the return, we have to walk because there aren’t many taxi-bicycles here. We should have done like the locals: ask our cyclo to come to pick us up at a certain time
We will spend the rest of the evening with our Kindle (we read more than usual since our world tour but much more since our stay in Cuba, due to the lack of TV, Facebook, Twitter, Gmail…)
Part 2: Practical Tips
- Transportation :
- Tourist Bus Playa Giron -> Playa Larga : 3CUC/person
- Diver’s bus from Playa Larga -> Punta Perdiz -> Cueva de los Peces : 10CUC/person (without equipment). 15CUC if snorkel rental, mask and fins in addition.
- Accommodation: 30CUC/night
- Food :
- Breakfast at the casa: 5CUC/person
- Lunch at the beach: 13CUC drinks included
- Lunch at the Cueva de los Peces restaurant: only 2 menus: 12CUC or 15CUC/person. Drinks between 1 and 3CUC
- Dinner at the beach: 9CUC/person
- Dinner at the casa: 12CUC/person, drinks not included
- Pizza at the local restaurant: 15CUP (moneda nacional)
- Water 1,5L: between 1 and 2CUC depending on the store
- Beverages a la casa: 1CUC to 2CUC
Address of our casa :
- Choose a casa close to Playa Caleton, like we do
- The sun hits hard here, I almost burned my arms walking 1km to the city center without sunscreen. Don’t forget to spread sunscreen every 2 hours.
- The acceptable price for a cyclo race within the city (e.g. from Playa Caleton to Playa Larga) is 1CUC
- To Cueva de los Peces, it is more economical to visit this site from Playa Giron, because you can take the tourist bus (3CUC/person). The schedules lend themselves particularly to it (departure at 10 am from Playa Giron and the bus comes to pick us up at 3:40 pm for the return). There is a restaurant (menus at 12CUC or 15CUC) next to the cenote and several bars. But no deckchairs at the edge of the beach.
- However, if you want to visit both Punta Perdiz (15CUC entrance fee, buffet lunch included) and Cueva de los Peces (free entrance) in the same day, it is better to take the “divers’ bus” from Playa Larga
- If you don’t have time to visit this cenote, it doesn’t matter, there will be others around Varadero, served by the tourist bus of Mantanzas (10CUC/person)
- Practical information on the “divers’ bus”:
- You have to ask your casa to reserve this bus for you the day before. There are about 40 places but the bus was full when we took it (April 2017). Tell the casa that you want the yellow bus going to Punta Perdiz AND Cueva de los Peces.
- After going around the casas to look for everyone, the bus will stop at the Diving Center in Playa Larga for 10 minutes so that everyone can pick up their snorkeling equipment and pay: 10CUC/person if you have your snorkeling equipment, 15CUC/person if you want to rent the mask, snorkel and fins. The transport is free for those who dive. The bus will then go to Punta Perdiz, will stay there for about 2 hours and will bring everybody to Cueva de Los Peces, where it will stay about 1h30
- The small stands and street restaurants do not have change in CUC, it is necessary to top up or to pay them in CUP (moneda nacional). If the price isn’t clearly displayed, be prepared to negotiate. We tried to sell us churros at 50CUP (moneda nacional), which is 10 times the normal price.
- The ETECSA connection point is the main park, in front of the casa “Mercy” and the supermarket/cafet “Los Cocos”
- There is no Viazul ticket office here, you have to stop the bus on the way (in front of the “tank”) and pay directly to the driver (if there are places left). Ask for the time of the Viazul buses at your casa.