Scuba diving at Maria la Gorda

Nature
The wow factor for nature - does it show nature at its best? Doesn't need to be the wilder-beast migration or diving with hundreds of hammerheads. Rather make you pause as you realise just how awesome the natural world can be
7
Culture
How much does this experience showcase some of the better and finer things that us humans can offer? Sure, it can be ancient ruins and renaissance churches, but it can also be festivals or soaking up some of the great modern cities of the world
0
Fun factor/activity
Very simple - was it fun? This is usually linked in with doing some kind of activity - i mean, walking along some cliffs is nice, but paragliding from them, now that is fun. Its a vastly underrated factor in a truly great experience
7
Avoid the crowds
Big tour groups and being surrounded by loud fellow tourists can sap the life out of even the greatest of travel experiences. This score is to reflect just how much you can avoid this. But. . . The score also takes into account if the crowds actually add to the experience, such as with a party town or a bustling food market
8
World famous
How world famous is the experience?
1
unique
How hard is it to have a similar experience in other places round the world?
7
Overall Score
The highest score of nature or culture, + fun factor, + avoid the crowds, + the highest score of world famous or unique. Then turned into a score out of 100. More details at the bottom of the page
72 *What the scores mean and where do they come from
continent
North America
country
Cuba
Length of time
1 day or less
Rough cost
Obviously people have different tastes, so this will depend on those tastes, but this is a rough idea of price of the whole experience based on 2 people able to split the accommodation costs and excluding travel there and back
$ 150
Time of year visited
May
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RANKING
How this travel experience ranks compared to all the other experiences on this site
98th/334 This travel experience's ranking compared to all the other experiences on this site
Top 30% SUMMARY RATING: Superb

Summary

Remote.  Quiet.  Slightly odd.  Staying at the Hotel Maria la Gorda and the surrounding area feels a bit like if the hotel from The Shinning was on its own tropical island.  The hotel is geared for large numbers of guests, with individual 1950s commune-style houses dotted all around the grounds, and is by a lovely beach . . . yet . . . as with many large projects in Cuba, it sort of misses the mark – in this case because there is no real reason to come this far to the end of Cuba other than for diving.  Now the diving is great (great visibility in particular), but I can’t imagine there ever being enough divers to fill the facilities.  Kinda spooky, but also very cool and certainly adds to the feeling of being in a bit of a parallel universe as part of an itinerary for Going back in time for a week in Cuba

highlights

#1 The wonderful visibility of the scuba diving in the Triple Peaks and Cadena Misteriosa dive sites

#2 Enjoying the lovely stretch of beach that spans the whole resort and having it largely to yourself

#3 The sheer randomness of a government beach resort in Cuba, complete with the 50 cats that join you for lunch

#4 Some of the tight caves you can enter all through the dive sites

Travel Tips

  • You can only stay at the Hotel Maria la Gorda – the rooms and cafeteria have a 1950s feel, so manage your expectations.  The small restaurant by the water is slightly better, but watch out for the manic cats that dominate the outside seating area (seriously).  The beach bar right next to (and indeed the whole beach) it is great for sunsets
  • The diving – nothing especially impressive, but great visibility with a few caves to explore and definitely fun.  We dived Triple Peaks and Cadena Misteriosa
  • Getting there and away – there is supposed to be a bus to and from Vinales, but it didn’t seem to be running for the days we needed it to.  We ended up getting a taxi there and back from Vinales (firstly arranged by our private homestay in Vinales and then by the Hotel in Maria la Gorda), which was something like US$100 each way.  Be prepared for no aircon, but on the plus side for a super interesting set of views on the journey such as 15 floor high residential towers blocks with no one in them and in the middle of nowhere, contrasted with long long lines for shops in tiny tiny towns
  • Broad travelling in Cuba tips:
      • Cuba often feels like another world – my suggestion is try to embrace this and enjoy the experience.  Throw out the window the expectations of efficiency and how you think things should be run, and be prepared for things simply not to work.  The idea, for example, of customer service can often be very alien in certain industries and you’ll find yourself often being completely ignored in a shop when the shop attendant has found something more interesting to do
      • That being said, the Cuban people are a seriously friendly bunch who, if you engage them with the right level of friendliness and respect, can be the real highlight of your trip.  To be able to have a discussion (languages permitting) with people who look at the world so differently to you and are so proud and enthusiastic for their country, is something you’ll always remember
      • Stay in a Casa Particular – from what we saw, some of the international hotels (in particular in Havana) were super expensive.  Way better to stay in a casa particular (private homestay).  Whilst the standard won’t be high, its a better experience as it allows you to meet local Cubans (arguably the highlight of the whole trip for us) and to see more of the real side of Cuba (think living in a tropical 1950s).  To find the right homestay, I’d suggest starting with Airbnb and www.cubacasas.net (booking.com didn’t work at the time in Cuba)
      • Cash – the money situation is a funny one and one that seems to change quite often.  The best tip is just to do a 10min search on google before you go and check with your bank / credit card company as to whether your card will work for withdrawals and for spending.  Broadly when we went, anything US-aligned (eg cash and cards) didn’t work.  Euros did
      • See here for my itinerary for Going back in time for a week in Cuba

Experiences nearby

The below map shows experiences nearby with a colour that reflect the Overall Score of those experiences

Score Detail

Background - how many times have you asked someone what a travel experience was like and the response was "amazing" or "awesome"?  That response is nice to know, but it makes it hard to differentiate that experience compared to others.  That is exactly what these scores are trying to do - differentiate the experience by giving a score out of 10 based on 6 categories and then giving an overall experience score

This overall experience score is calculated by:  take the highest of the "Culture" or "Nature" score (1-10) + "Fun factor" (1-10) + "Avoiding the crowds" (1-10) + highest of the "Unique" or "World Famous score" (1-10).  Then convert into a score out of 100

Extra detail - the logic being that I find all of the 6 individual scores important, but I don't want to mark an experience down just because it doesn't cover both "Culture" and "Nature", or because it isn't both "World Famous" and "Unique".  Take the examples of Safari in The Serengeti and walking through Rome - they both appeal at opposite ends of the nature / culture spectrum, and you can have a fantastic time without needing to appeal to both sides.  So, their overall scores aren't penalized for their lack of one or the other, and I've done the same for "World Famous" vs "Unique".  But . . . I do think that the "Fun factor" of an experience is important, irrelevant of other factors, and so is "Avoiding the Crowds" (or where there are crowds that add to the experience).  So, both of these scores are standalone