This post originally appeared on Travels With Talek. Written by Talek Nantes.
About an hour west of Havana, on our way to Pinar del Rio, we stopped at Las Terrazas, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Started in 1968, Las Terrazas is an eco-project initiated by the brother of Camilo Cienfuegos, a central figure in Cuba’s revolutionary past. Today it is a lush complex with dense foliage, tropical swimming holes, waterfalls, 18th century abandoned coffee plantations and almost half of Cuba’s endemic birds. For the adventurous, there’s also a thrilling canopy tour flying you over gorgeous natural scenery (but more on that below!). In short, it’s a spectacular and welcome contrast to bustling Havana.
Hotel Moka is the only game in town. It sits on a hilltop with a beautiful view overlooking the forest and local small village. In keeping with the eco-friendly theme of the location, the hotel has a tree growing in the middle of the lobby and serves only locally grown produce.
An Eco-Focused Itinerary
Although you can see Las Terrazas in a day, you may want to spend two depending on what activities appeal to you. Plus, the additional time means you can truly let the peacefulness of the place wash over you. For activities and attractions, don’t miss:
1. San Juan Swimming Hole
Located on the hotel grounds and a mere hike away. Swimming in a tropical water hole in what I imagined the Garden of Eden to look like, and is a memorable experience. Bonus: it’s free to enjoy!
2. Soroa Botanical Gardens
If you’re into orchids, this is the place. The gardens are a short drive from the hotel. It’s free to enter, and taxis are readily available and reasonably priced.
3. Trails, Trails & More Trails
The hotel maintains a beautiful selection of trails with varying degrees of difficulty. Guides are mandatory, and you will appreciate their extensive knowledge of the flora and fauna. The service is free but tips are appreciated.
4. Abandoned Coffee Plantations
French immigrant planters established coffee plantations here in the 1700s. It’s now long abandoned, but you can see the ruins of the slave quarters and coffee processing sections. The “big house” has been renovated and serves a simple lunch overlooking the valley’s spectacular view. There is a guide to explain the history of the plantation.
5. Artist Colony
The artists live in town and their workshops are in their homes, which you can enter to watch them work, browse their creations and possibly purchase some authentic pieces. There is a little coffee shop in the area, Café de Maria, that boasts having the world’s best coffee. They do really detailed latte art — I mean, have you ever seen a foamy Che Guevara in beverage? — and are known for an iced coffee laced with chocolate syrup and coffee liqueur. There’s also an outdoor terrace with a view.
The Las Terrazas Canopy Tour — which can be booked at Hotel Moka — was my favorite activity here. I’ve been zip-lining in other locations, but never were any like this. There are six lines stretching over lakes, the artist colony and forests. It’s an exhilarating experience from an unusual perspective that leaves you breathless — not to mention it’s Cuba’s only canopy tour. The price is $35 per person.
Views from the canopy tour
So, where to eat in town? This was an experience full of surprises. Two of the limited amount of restaurants in town are vegetarian. We chose one because it had a cool name, El Romero. Now, vegetarianism is by no means a hallmark of Cuban culture, so I assumed this cuisine was going to be questionable at best.
Wrong. Surprise #1 was the line to get in stretching out the door. Surprise #two was the maître d’ asking if we had reservations.
Maitre d’?! Reservations?!
We’re out in the middle of a biosphere in one of the most remote provinces of Cuba. I’m wearing flip-flops, a torn tank-top and a plastic nose guard to protect against the sun and this guy is asking me if I have a reservation?
“Sorry,” I said. “We didn’t know we needed one.”
This elicited a disappointed frown from the maître d’, but they were finally able to accommodate us.
And surprise #3? The food.
This was one of the best meals I’ve ever had. Go figure. I’m still not sure what I ate — something to do with eggplants — but wow was it good! Turns out the owner is also the chef from Bambu, the award winning restaurant at the Museum of Fine Arts in Havana. He is a natural food enthusiast who thought Las Terrazas was the ideal place to open a vegetarian restaurant. Apparently people come from as far away as Havana just to eat here.
Which gets us to the final section of this article: how to get to Las Terrazas from Havana. You actually have a few options:
1. Cuba’s national bus service, Viazul, runs daily service for $6 each way from their terminal in Havana to Las Terrazas leaving at 9am and arriving in Las Terrazas about an hour later. You need to buy your ticket in person at the Viazul bus terminal at: Ave. 26 y Zooloico, Nuevo Vedado, Havana. Tel: 53 (7) 8836092, 8811413 ext. 101.
It is recommended that you purchase your ticket at least one day before your trip, as they do run out of seats.
The return bus to Havana leaves Las Terrazas daily at 4:45pm.
Tip: All Viazul buses set the air conditioning very high, so it is wise to bring a sweater.
2. A private taxi from Havana to Las Terrazas should cost from $50 to $60 one way. Your hotel concierge or homestay host can arrange a taxi for you. Alternatively you can flag any taxi on the street and negotiate the fare to Las Terrazas.
3. A “colectivo” taxi is a taxi shared with others going to the same location. The cost is divided among the passengers and there may be additional stops along the way. This service can also be arranged by your hotel concierge or homestay host. “Colectivo” availability depends on others going to the same place at the same time you want to go, which means it can be hit or miss.
What’s your favorite Las Terrazas experience? Please share in the comments below!
*Featured image via Paulchenxxl/Pixabay
Coffee Culture: A Sampling Of Java Drinks From Cuba And Beyond [Blog Inspiration]
The Authentic Cuba Travel Guide [Great Reads]
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