Cuba flips the paradigm, and on the other side of the island you can find the wild wild east…for now. Compared to Central and Western Cuba, Eastern Cuba (or Cuba’s Oriente) is a little more raw. A little more unrestrained. A lot less visited. We’ve scouted out the finest kayaking waters where you will be the only paddlers, in a private tropical paradise.
Discover why Christopher Columbus laid his eyes on the region and declared it “the most beautiful land human eyes have seen.” Though time has passed since 1492, the Oriente still embraces winsome coastlines, tranquil rivers, and striking mountains. The towns are no less vibrant, and their lack of infrastructure and tourist trappings only add to its unadulterated allure.
We have designed this tour as a stand-alone kayak-centric adventure that can also be combined with continued exploration of eastern Cuba on one of our two walking itineraries.
Our 8-day People-to-People kayak tour starts and ends in Holguin, Cuba’s fourth-largest city with daily air connections from the USA and other parts of the world. Near Holguin, Gibara’s cobalt bays first caught Columbus’ eyes, and as you stand by ta statue commemorating the legendary explorer you can imagine what it must have felt like to lay eyes on the island long ago. We explore this north coast by kayak for three days, then follow the steps of Buena Vista Social Club’s famous song “Chan Chan” and make our way to Mayarí and into the mountains to Cuba’s highest waterfall. Then we return to the coast for more kayaking at the surrealistic African safari island of Cayo Saetia where zebras and buffaloes roam. Then it’s back to Holguin for flights home.
Or, should you opt for continuing with us, we head to the mountains. Our Cuba’s Wild East tour takes you east to Alexander Humboldt National Park and Cuba’s oldest town, Baracoa. Our Origins of the Revolution tour takes you south, to the Sierra Maestra where the Revolution started. Both routes end up in Santiago de Cuba, which moves to its own tempo: it’s more frenetic, more keyed up, more exposed than other Cuban cities. Get off the smooth tour track and dive deeper into Cuban culture, dig deeper into its history of rebellion and repression, and look deeper into Cuba auténtica. For those who wish we also offer an extension to Havana at the end.
A scene of natural beauty is a story written over scores of years, a character formed by storms and sun. Let Cuba tell you its story on our Eastern Cuba Kayak tour! Our paddle excursions are two to four hours and cover 3 to 8 miles on average. Most of our paddles are in relatively protected waters, on rivers or in bays. Walks are from one to five miles.
Commercial flights have commenced between the United States and Holguín, effectively replacing group charter flights as the standard mode of travel between the two countries. We now ask that our guests book their own travel between the U.S. and Holguín. This tour will begin in Holguín at approximately 11:00 AM on Day 1. Our meeting point on Day 1 will be Holguín's airport where your Cuba Unbound Tour Leader and local guides will meet you to begin your tour.
If you are unable to fly all the way to Holguín on Day 1 with an arrival before 11:00 AM, we recommend that you consider a "Day 0" for your tour and choose either of the following:
Travel to Holguín on Day 0. With this option, we recommend that you overnight in a casa particular (a private home with rooms for rent) of your choosing and make your way back to the Holguín Airport to meet your Tour Leader, guides, and fellow travelers the next morning.
Travel to Miami on Day 0. With this option, we recommend that you overnight in Miami and take a flight to Holguín on the morning of Day 1.
We are happy to offer guidance with scheduling your travel to and from Cuba, and our office staff is ready to answer any questions you may have.
Note: Travel in Cuba requires a flexible attitude. Our days are full, and as required by U.S. law, we have a full-time agenda of people-to-people activities. Cuba has it’s own beat and things don’t always run on time. The activities and visits listed are not guaranteed but we endeavor to do our best to provide the content intent of this people–to-people program. Visiting developing countries can be eye-opening and life-changing, and hopefully visiting Cuba is both. Accommodations may not be up to the standards you are used to. Sometimes the hot water or air conditioning doesn’t work. We ask all our guests to appreciate the authenticity of your cultural encounters as well as the people, food, culture, and adventures that are exceptional in their difference. Our local guide, along with your Cuba Unbound Tour Leader promise to do their best to make this a fascinating and educational experience.
Arrive Holguín and Kayak to Gibara Bay
Fly out of Miami or Fort Lauderdale into Holguin on a morning flight to arrive no later than noon to 1:00 pm. Upon landing, your Tour Leader greets you and gathers guests for a brief orientation. Then, set off on our journey through Cuba. Though it’s no Havana, Holguín has its own appeal with its 18th century churches and colonial plazas. Though we don't spend much time here today, you appreciate the scenery of Cuba’s “city of parks” as we take the meandering drive toward the coastal town of Gibara.
A few miles from the sea, we stop for our first kayaking opportunity. After we’ve geared up, we paddle down a river coursing toward Gibara and enjoy the passing scenery. Mangroves and birds are a highlight of the paddle. The river arrives in Gibara Bay and another 20 minutes has us washing up against the shores of the coastal fishing village. Dock, stretch your legs, and get your first view of Gibara. Squally yet slowly seductive, wily yet understated—Gibara is ideal for travelers disenchanted with throngs of tourists and looking for a Cuba that remains much as it has been.
Check into your hotel for the evening before we meet up for dinner featuring some of Cuba’s favorite dishes including the freshest of fresh seafood.
Explore & Kayak Gibara
We wake early and spend our day exploring more of Gibara and its inviting bay. There’s some dispute over where Christopher Columbus first landed. Gibara, specifically the Silla de Gibara rising, is believed to have been first seen by Christopher Columbus in 1492; meanwhile, Holguín claims he first landed at Cayo Bariay, and both lay claim to Columbus’ proclamation of it being “the most beautiful land human eyes have ever seen.” Decide for yourself as you explore Gibara today!
First up, we kayak around the bay where fishermen ply the waters for shrimp and crab. We paddle up the mangrove-lined Gibara river, with good birdwatching as we go. We return to the bay, and perhaps a little wind and swell as we make our way back to our beach take-out point. From there it’s off to an exquisite lunch of the region’s bounty.
We then meet with Señor Jose for a stimulating People-to-People opportunity. Jose is a host of local radio and TV show as well as a master of several languages including English, French, Portuguese, and Russian. He gives us a tour of the town, bringing to life its once-vibrant history as a cultural and trade center as well as its still-vital annual hosting of the international film festival, the Festival Internacional de Cine Pobre. We visit the Iglesia de San Fulqencia and discuss the history and current status of religion in Cuba.
If there’s time and they are allowing visitors, we visit the local cigar factory to see the involved process required to make cigars and learn about the transformation from green leaf to brown cigar. The workers take pride in showing off their skill. Then we go to the Caverna de los Panaderos, caves tucked under limestone hills located just outside of town. Our local guide leads us through the caverns that hold a labyrinth of 19 mineral galleries where glittering stalactites catch the minimal light. Wander the dark caves in search of “the mammoth”—an elephantine knob—as well as a lake lying in silent, calm anticipation with Tolkien-esque mysticism. Our guide is a fount of knowledge, providing excellent tutoring in the geology of the caves and eastern Cuba and in true People-to-People manner, telling us about his local caving club and their work with local youth.
There’s a bit of time to relax before dinner at an excellent paladar where you can taste some more Cuban food prepared with a local flair and accompanied by lively Cuban music.
Paddle Bahia Puerto Padre, Farm Lunch, Special Jazz Performance
From Gibara we drive west through sugar cane fields and country landscapes toward the small town of Puerto Padre. We arrive at our kayaking launch and paddle about two to three hours on the large, protected Bay of Puerto Padre. Our local guides tell about life as a fisherman in this small town and we may see fishermen throwing their nets, or searching for shrimp. After our paddle, we drive a short distance to our lunch at a local farm to enjoy a traditional Cuban feast! The lovely family welcomes us and we learn from them about this carefully-tended farm that has been in their family for generations.
From lunch we head to the small town of Puerto Padre, birthplace to Emiliano Salvador, a legendary jazz pianist and also, Juan Pablo Torres, a legendary trombone player. A small group of musicians continues their tradition and we meet with them to learn about this special history and hear their music. After our great day, we settle into our first family-home experience at a local Casa Particular. These Bed & Breakfast places give you a chance to meet more Cuban people on a casual, comfortable level and learn more about daily life in Cuba.
Sugar Cane Fields and Rum, back to Holguin
We take a break from paddling today to learn about the industry that was once the heart of Cuba’s economy. Surrounded by fields of sugar cane, we visit the local sugar factory along with its rum production facility. Here we learn about the history of sugar and rum, as well as how state-run businesses operate in Cuba. It’s a lively discussion along with some tasting.
Then it’s on the bus and back to Holguin for lunch. After lunch we have a walking tour of this historically-rich city with its plazas, parks and commemorative statues. For those with energy, there’s an optional walk up to the top of Lomas de la Cruz, crowned with a cross that has stood here since 1790 and from the base of which are grand vistas over the surrounding landscape.
Visit Cuba’s Highest Waterfall and Pinares de Mayarí
We gather for a fresh breakfast before heading out to the east towards Pinares de Mayarí following the distinguished “Ruta de Chan Chan.” Compay Segundo’s canonical song “Chan Chan” is now immortalized by a 360 km route that follows along the iconic places mentioned in the song such as Macarné, Cueto, and Mayarí as well as several other towns bounded by Sierra del Cristal.
Once we reach the town of Mayarí, we head south into the mountains to the Parque Nacional la Mensura and then on to a forested area of Caribbean pines known as the Pinares de Mayarí. It’s a lofty region settled neatly over the cloud line and the entire region is perfumed with crisp pine.
Our first stop in the mountains is the Gran Salto del Guayabo, the highest waterfall in Cuba at over 100m in height. Hike through the lush tropical forest where orchids grow and Cuban parrots nest until we reach the waterfall. Then, play in the water and watch as water cascades down the rock face in frothing streams until it meets the waiting pool below.
After our time at the waterfall, and lunch, we continue to a small mountain resort. On the drive up the incline toward the hotel, we pass forests and ranches. This is an agriculturally rich part of Cuba and we may pass ox carts hauling their goods. We arrive at our lodge and after checking in, head out for a three-mile hike to explore the surroundings. We return before sunset with time for a dip in the resort’s pool, then dinner in the dining room.
From Mountains to Sea, Kayak & Snorkel Cayo Saetía
Today we leave the mountains on a road with spectacular views to the plains and coast below. It’s about a two hour drive to one of Cuba’s more idiosyncratic spots as we travel to Cayo Saetía. On the way we stop for some time to explore the small town of Mayeri and visit with local merchants. Then, a bit further to the east, is Cayo Saetía, an island located in Cuba’s largest bay, Bahía de Nipe. In the ‘70s and ‘80s, Cayo Saetía was a favorite haunt for communist apparatchiks looking for the thrill of some large wild game hunting a la Hemingway himself. Fidel and Raul both stayed here. Now, the animals are protected in the wildlife park rather than vulnerable to passing bullets. That being said, Cayo Saetía is the closest to an African Safari Cubans get on the island with its 19 species of exotic, introduced animals including zebras, camels, antelopes, ostriches, buffalo, wild boar, bulls, and peacocks.
Our exploration begins in our kayaks, as we paddle the western shores of the island. It’s a beautiful coastline with transparent waters. After about a two-hour paddle, we exit on a soft white sand beach and walk to the nearby resort which is our home for the night.
Kayak and Snorkel Cayo Saetia
Today is a day of beaches, snorkeling and kayaking. With our local guides who help us better understand the history of this place as well as the underwater marvels, we have a relaxed day. Here we find some of the most sublime coastal scenery in all of Cuba. The white sand beaches and secluded coves lend a Caribbean air to the otherwise African ambience. We take to the kayaks and glide along the azure waters enveloping unique beaches and interesting rock formations. We also have the opportunity for a clearer look at the underwater worlds surrounding the small island while we snorkel in the warm waters.
After our day of adventure, we rest and relax in the simple beauty of a villa on the island. In the evening we enjoy another dinner in the refreshing night air before we retire for bed.
Depart or Continue Your Journey
Today you may return to the airport in Holguin in time for mid-day flights home, or continue with us for one of our two walking tours to explore Cuba’s natural and revolutionary history in our signature, active style.
PART II – Your choice of two itineraries that are offered on alternating trips.
We offer two versions of Part II, alternating between trips. Both are 6-day/5-night adventures. We call one of these Cuba’s Wild East, as our focus is on hiking and exploring Alexander Humboldt National Park as well as the town of Baracoa. This itinerary follows the perimeter of the island, circling back to two nights in Santiago de Cuba. Our other option is the Origins of the Revolution, and visits the Castro’s birthplace and the mountains of the Sierra Maestra where the Revolution took hold. This trip also includes time in Santiago de Cuba. Both end in Holguin and both offer an extension to Havana if desired.
Dates & Rates
Note: Christmas departures have a supplemental cost ($300 per person) due to our increased prices for accommodations.
Up to 14 spaces available on each tour (depending on the number of solo travelers and available accommodations)
Single Supplement: $500
If you are traveling solo and prefer private accommodations (pending availability) you may elect to pay the single supplement fee. If you are traveling solo and wish to be paired up with another solo traveler of the same gender in order to avoid the single supplement fee, please let your Adventure Consultant know at the time of booking. We will do our best to find another traveler to pair you with, however if there is not another solo traveler of the same gender willing to share on your trip, you will be charged the single supplement fee.
• Experienced English-speaking guide(s)
• Specialized activity guides based on activity of trip (kayaking, biking, hiking, etc.)
• Specialized equipment needed for activities such as kayaks, bikes, helmets, paddles, personal flotation devices, etc.
• Private pre-tour orientation meeting
• Cuba Unbound hand-crafted itineraries
• Accommodations as noted in the itinerary
• All meals as noted in itinerary
• Certification of travel to Cuba under the U.S. Department of Treasury general license
• Small group size (Custom tours for 2, group tours are 16-18)
• All entrance fees to include events and activities
• All in-country ground transportation
• Clean drinking water available at all times
• Gratuities for presenters, luggage handling, and restaurant staff
• Round-trip air to/from Cuba
• Cuba Tourist Visa Fee (ranges from $50-$100 depending on where you buy it)
• Guide and driver gratuities
• Personal expenses such as souvenirs, gifts, additional drinks/entertainment, and incidentals
Images & Videos
FAQ & More
Whether you are an avid sea kayaker or stepping into a sea kayak for your first time, you’ll enjoy these incredible trips. For those new to the sport, kayaking is easy to learn in the sheltered waters that we visit, and we provide all of the kayaking equipment and guidance needed. In addition, we keep our groups small so that you not only travel intimately among nature, but receive the necessary attention from our guides as well. Your guides will give you an introduction to paddling and you’ll have plenty of chances to practice. We take plenty of paddle breaks to observe the biodiversity and learn about the area from our knowledgeable guides. We do recommend that you get some paddling in before your trip as kayaking uses muscles you may not know you have. Getting a little experience and building some strength will help your enjoyment of the trip.
For our Cuba tours we use polymer Necky Kayaks and you'll find specific information on these models if you follow the link. These kayaks provide a quality paddling experience and are durable enough to hold up with our active itinerary.
We have both double and single kayaks in Cuba. At this time we are not offering the choice for a single kayak rental. Rather, we plan to bring between one and three singles on each tour to be shared among participants, depepnding on expressed interest.
Sea kayaking distance is best measured in hours rather than miles. We usually paddle from 2 to 4 hours each day but this can be influenced by several factors: weather, tide and currents. We start off each kayak tour with a planned route, but there is always some flexibility available.
All of the kayaking equipment is provided as well as personal flotation devices and a dry bags, so just bring your clothing and personal gear. Do bring snorkeling gear and paddling gloves. A complete packing list will be sent to you upon reservation. We highly suggest traveling “light” for this adventure.
We recommend you use the restrooms available in your Casa Particular/Hotel before leaving on a kayaking adventure. Restrooms will be limited or non-existent in some kayaking excursions. Be prepared to use the outdoors. Pack toilet paper and hand sanitizer.
We know your guide will make the biggest difference on your trip! This is why we pride ourself on employing only the best local guides for all of the incredible locations that we visit. Part of this is to support our eco-tourism efforts, but we also believe that there is no better way to experience a new destination than through the eyes of a local! We find talented and skilled local guides, train and certify them, and provide a positive and consistent source of income to them and their families. Most of our guides are with us for the long-term, despite the seasonal nature of the industry. Cuba Unbound guides know their outdoor skills as second nature. Each trip will have 2-3 guides to assist, inform, and lead the way so you get the most out of your adventure. They love to share conservation, knowledge, games and laughter.
Cuba has some beautiful beaches that are perfect for snorkeling. The flourishing ocean life is an ecological treasure. We have two specific times dedicated to snorkeling but you will have multiple opportunities to snorkel during our kayaking adventure. We do recommend you try snorkeling ahead of time for your trip to get the most out of your experience, if you have never done so.
While snorkel gear is sometimes available for rent in Cuba, we advise that you bring your own snorkel and mask (fins and wetsuits not required). Your own equipment also ensures a better fit and better hygiene, as well as prescriptions if needed.
The trip is not extremely strenuous, but it is quite active and physical by nature. The more prepared you are for the trip, the more you'll enjoy it, and the more you’ll be comfortable. Walking a few miles per day, climbing stairs, working out with light weights, and other cardio and strength training exercises are all highly recommended activities. At the very least, we recommend that participants take long walks and condition muscle groups of the upper body and core by exercising for a full month prior to the trip to avoid overuse injuries of the wrists and arms.