23rd April 2018
The Latin American Honeymoon Diaries – Maria & Clive
Cigars, Mayan traditions and some Kit Kat? Maria Zahra Bartolo and Clive Bartolo look back at the memories of their honeymoon in Cuba and Mexico
After tying the knot in a special celebration, Maria Bartolo Zahra and Clive Bartolo knew they had to make their honeymoon one to remember. Maria always wanted to visit Mexico, whereas Clive was intrigued by the changes taking place in Cuba, so the couple decided to spend time in the two countries to rediscover the traditions and cultures which have made them legendary.
They arrived in the city after a 10-hour flight and spent the first week exploring Cuba. In the first two days, they visited the Plaza de la Revolucion, Malecon and Tribuna Anti-Imperialista. They also explored Old Havana with a private tour guide and even had a private salsa dance lesson in a colonial setting within the city centre.
“Cuba, in itself, is a world apart,” Maria says, highlighting the prevalence of past customs as a way of life. “The beauty of Cuba is its culture, traditions, people and buildings and we definitely recommend visiting before it becomes more westernized,” she states. Indeed, the couple made the most of their trip in the country by renting a car and heading out onto the open road, where adventure ensued!
One of the first trips they made was the three-hour journey to Viñales, a small town in the north of the country, situated in the province of Pinar del Rio. It was on this journey that they experienced, first-hand, the warmth of the Cubans. “On our way to Viñales, we were stopped by policemen. Obviously, we became a bit concerned. We were told that a bus, full of workmen, had stopped and they needed people to drive them to Viñales. Even though we were skeptical, the man whom we took with us in our car was a godsend! We doubt we would have made it to Viñales if it weren’t for him. He even invited us into his home and gave us mango. In return, we gave him two Kit Kat for his children – sadly, he thought it was a Maltese chocolate as had never seen it before!” The hospitality of the Cubans was also experienced through the couple’s choice of accommodation – the casa particulares, rooms and apartments which are rented from local Cubans, which Maria describes as “an experience in themselves.”
The couple’s stay in Viñales was one filled with nature, prehistory and Cuban cultural traditions. “Viñales is a beautiful, natural scenic valley and we had the opportunity to go horseback riding in the valley. We also went to a cigar factory and bought ourselves some local cigars! We spent two nights there, but before heading off for a seven-hour drive to Trinidad, we also visited a UNESCO World Heritage site – the prehistoric mural painted in the wall of a cliff,” they add.
They headed to Trinidad, a place which was as spectacular as the journey. “The main attraction is the square and the various natural parks situated in the Escambray mountains,” the couple recall. “We opted to visit the Topes de Collantes which is the third highest peak in the reserve and we also went on a two-hour hike and visited one of their waterfalls. Clive was determined to swim in the waterfalls at the bottom of the cliff, though getting to the bottom (and up!) was an arduous task!” they laugh.
After one week in Cuba, the couple headed to Mexico, starting out in Mexico City. The first couple of days were a flurry of activity, with a private guide taking them to the main hotspots, such as the historical centre of the city, Zócalo, Cathedral and the National Palace. The trip then continued towards Teotihuacan, an archaeological complex situated in the north-east of Mexico City. Their journey also took them further south to Oaxaca, where they visited the Santo Domingo church – the best example of Mexican Baroque architecture in the country – and, then, to San Cristobal de la Casas, each movement taking them deeper into the heart of the nation’s unique landscape.
While in San Cristobal de la Casas, they enjoyed a two-hour boat ride through Cañon del Sumidero, a deep natural canyon exhibiting a diversity of flora and fauna, and experienced Lagos de Montebello, a nature reserve consisting of several acres of pines, oaks and rain forest jungle. “These are a must see,” the couple enthuse. “This is where we had the opportunity to admire and enjoy many lakes and appreciate the varying hues of their waters,” the couple recall. They were also bowled over by Chiflón waterfall, a natural freefall of water surrounded by vegetation of reeds and palm groves, which they describe as “exuberant.”
But the couple’s honeymoon also gave them a bit of down time. Indeed, they topped it off with a four-night stay in the luxurious all-inclusive Secret Silversands Riviera in Cancun, lounging by the pool and indulging in cooking classes and tours in the various hotel kitchens.
So, would they go back and do it all over again? “Yes – there is far more to see, particularly in Mexico. We would stay longer in Mexico City and – for those going for the first time – we would recommend staying in casa particulares, when in Cuba, rather than hotels. This gives you a true flavor of Cuban life.”