South America Hotels International
Hotel & Dive Center (Maria La Gorda, Cuba)
Spending six weeks in the Caribbean on a student budget is a luxury that I could only afford thanks to a University field trip to the Isla de la Juventud off the coast of Cuba. After two weeks my fellow students and lecturers left and I was free to enjoy the rest of my summer - another month of backpacking through Cuba. Now when people ... (myself included) think of backpacking the first things that come to mind are cheap street food, very basic accommodation and following the beaten trek as it is way cheaper to catch a bus than rent a car.
The first couple of weeks in Cuba were just that, lovely casa particulares that I shared with other travelers, heaps of street pizzas and rum that was cheaper than water. And believe me - we all had a great time. And then suddenly my two travel buddies reached the end of their stay and went back home, leaving me in Vinales one morning on my own. As a backpacker you sort of learn how to recognize other travelers and within a couple of hours I had made a new friend. She was part of an organized tour group and the only girl in her mid-20s in a group full of older, more settled people. They were about to leave to Maria la Gorda, which is supposedly the best dive site in the Caribbean, and her tour guide didn´t mind me tagging along. And that is the story of how I ended up staying in a high end hotel in the middle of nowhere dramatically overstaying my budget instead of roughing it.
* * * Location * * *
Maria La Gorda is literally in the middle of nowhere. You are closer to Mexico than Havana. This is as far away from everything as you can get in Cuba and due to the inaccessibility still off the beaten trek. The hotel is the most westerly tourist facility in Cuba and is considered one of the nicest beaches in the entire region. Frankly, the beach is not as great. Yes, it is a lovely white sand beach with leaning palm trees and crystal clear waters. However, there are rocks along the entire coast making swimming rather difficult. I don´t think it is worth going there just for the beach - if you are into diving it is well worth it but if it is beaches you are looking for try Varadero or Playa del Este instead.
The easiest way (and sometimes the only way to get there) is by using your own transport. Rental cars are fairly cheap in Cuba so it is worth considering getting one of you are with a group of people. Don't rely on public transport, there are supposed to be daily busses from Vinales and Havana but I know no one who ever managed to get one and minibus service is only available if enough people book it a day in advance. If you don´t want to drive yourself your best bet is to get a taxi. Expect to pay 40CUC to/from Vinales and 80 to/from Havana. Trust me; it is not fun getting stuck in Maria La Gorda because you haven't sorted out your return trip as it is fairly expensive to stay here.
I speak from hindsight as I sort of hitchhiked with a tour group to Maria La Gorda. They offered to take me back to Vinales but there was more diving that I wanted to do so I stayed longer. It took me 2 extra days to find someone that took me back to civilization in their rental car. All was good in the end as I made some great new friends that way.
The hotel is located in a National Park that encompassed the entire peninsular. Lots of nature, no village for miles and a long white sand beach right in front of the hotel are the main attractions of this Cuban region.
* * * The hotel * * *
The one and only hotel in Maria La Gorda is a fairly nice resort with space for around 70 people, I was there on low season so only few rooms were filled. Our tour guide told me that rooms sell out very quickly in high season so book online or phone ahead, nothing would be more frustrating than driving 3 hours and being turned away. There are no other accommodation options around and please don't listen to the rumors of casa particulars or anything. The next village is over 30min by car away and there is no accommodation available in the national park.
Prices range from 29CUC to 60CUC depending on room size and season. It is usually possible to book a two day trip from Havana with a one night stay at the resort. Checking in was very straight forward and the staff was lovely. There is no ATM but you can exchange Euros into CUC (although at a very bad exchange rate). Hotel reception can help with organizing you a taxi and even helped me to find a ride-share with some other people staying at the hotel back to Havana.
My room was absolutely lovely and obviously way over my budget. Even though I booked a single room I had two single beds to choose from. There was also a table, TV with some English channels, a fridge and a fairly large bathroom. Hot water was sporadically available and water pressure seemed to be somewhat on the weak side during the daytime. My absolute highlight were all the fresh towels and the little toiletry selection that I found in the bathroom. If I take a break from backpacking then I might as well take it in style. For 29CUC per night not a bad deal especially if you can share it with another person. The 29CUC is for an off-season room without any meals. Usually they will give you a room for 33CUC which includes breakfast but you can ask without is as well.
All rooms have aircon and for a few CUC extra you can get seaview from your window. The walls are quite thick and the different houses far enough away from each other to guarantee very quiet, relaxing nights.
Internet access is rare in Cuba and the last place I expected to find 3 fairly modern computers was Maria La Gorda. But there you go, 6CUC will buy you 1 hour of fairly decent connection. My tip is to upload some pictures of the beach on facebook while your family/friends are stuck in rainy England!
There is a small shop selling overpriced cosmetics, swim accessories and snacks. A pharmacy and a small health centre are on the grounds as well but luckily I never had to use any of them, therefore cannot really comment on their quality. What I would like to mention here is that you are a 5 hour round trip from the next bigger city away in case of a medical emergency. It helps to remember that when jumping of the pier when it is dark or when touching corals while not knowing how a fire coral looks like.
* * * Food & Drink * * *
The only options expect starvations are the hotel buffet restaurant and the hotel bar. There is a tiny hotel shop that sells ridiculously overpriced crisps and drinks but you are better off buying things in Pinar del Rio. Especially water is with 2.50CUC for a bit bottle way too expensive.
The bar is right next to the reception with a nice view over the beach. Don´t expect much more than beers, Mojitos and Cuba Libre. Cocktails start with 3CUC and soft drinks are with 1.40CUC very expensive (A tu cola should be around 0.50CUC). You can order cheese and cheese & ham sandwiches for 3CUC which is the only viable alternative if you don´t fancy spending a crazy amount of money on the buffet restaurant.
I´ve had some great nights in that bar but others were absolutely boring. Maria La Gorda seems to be a resort frequented by middle aged couples, which is by no means a bad thing, but don't go there expecting crazy party nights. We did have one great night getting very drunk on expensive rum with a Dutch couple that had just gotten engaged. It all ended in a midnight swim and a hangover from hell the next morning. Unsurprisingly nobody turned up for the 9am dive the next morning. As a solo traveler you might struggle meeting people and for me nothing is more frustrating than diving without a buddy that I don't know/trust.
The seafront restaurant is a typical resort buffet place were decent food is served that will fill you up but not really excite anyone. Breakfast is with 4CUC reasonably priced and the selection is quite good as well. As long as you stay away from the horrific scrambled eggs you can enjoy the usual selection of fruits, bread and jam, sweets and sausages. If you are planning to join the 9am dive maybe try not to eat too much - I spend 10 very long minutes feeling very full and very motion sick on the dive boat.
Dinner is again your typical unimaginative buffet style grab for 12CUC. It is all you can eat and you can dine on everything from salads to fresh fish, chicken and rice. I only had dinner once and it really was not memorable. The thing is that your only alternative are cheese sandwiches with mustard and there are only so many of those that you can eat. So you will properly end up eating at the restaurant anyway at some point during your stay.
* * * The diving * * *
Maria La Gorda is supposedly one of the finest dive spots in the Caribbean. With sites located at depths from 6 to 40 meters and most of them being only a quick boat ride away from the shore it does indeed sound stunning. With 42CUC per dive including equipment hire it is an expensive fun compared to other dive sites but they offer packages for six up to twenty dives. If you know that you are staying longer it is definitely worth booking a package right away.
Just turn up at the allocated dive times (9am, 11am and 3pm) at the dive centre next to the restaurant. All you need is show them your license if you have one and sign a health and safety form. Nobody really cares if you are a qualified diver though and even if it is your first time they will still take you on. You can hire all the necessary equipment there or use your own if needed. The equipment is ok but there are only few wetsuits so try to keep hold of yours if it is a size they don't have many of.
The trip starts with a short boat ride and an even shorted briefing. Sometimes the briefing was literally "Just enjoy it" and questions regarding depth, visibility and difficulty were ignored. There was never any explanation of the dive sites or which buddy system would be used. Dive signs were not explained and no emergency procedures mentioned. Scuba diving is a very safe sport if you know what you are doing - not having proper briefings introduces a very unnecessary element of danger.
The actual dive sites were of varying quality. If you have dived before refuse to go to Garden of Gorgonians, it is a shallow dive site that is rather boring. In my opinion they go there when the instructors cannot be bothered to do anything more challenging. There are stunning tunnels and drop-offs so make sure to ask for specific things that you want to see and don´t waste that much money on a boring shallow water dive. My favourite sites were Moby Dick and Between two Waters.
The instruction was so-so. There were several dive instructors and dive masters. The centre is generally Spanish spoken but some of the staff speak ok English as well. Personally I was not very happy with the instructors. The lack of pre-dive briefings was shocking and there was no de-brief either. Before going on a dive one should be aware of things like depth or dangers. Diving through tunnels at a depth of 30m is not something everyone enjoys - although I loved it!
In my group was a particularly obnoxious woman that kept touching corals and broke sponges just to get a better picture of whatever she was focusing on. Although the instructor saw this he never pointed out the dangers of this behavior to her. There was also no mentioning of dangerous animals like fire corals or lion fish.
Cave diving and night dives were advertised, however, we could not do either as no underwater torches were available. The famous black corals are well worth a visit if you can convince the instructors to take you there.
* * * Other activities * * *
Here we come to one of the worst experiences I had during my Cuba trip. The hotel offers during the breeding season as visit to a beach in the National Park to observe the turtles. So far my experience with protected areas in Cuba has been great and as a biology student I was very much looking forward to the experience. What I naively expected were scientific guides and a well-organized trip that would keep us in a fair distance to the turtles. What really happened was a complete disaster showing an utter lack of respect for nature by both tourists and guides.
The tour was 20CUC and started around 9pm. A bus picked us up at the hotel and drove us to the most westerly point of the National Park. The ride was quite nice and we got to see a fair amount of wildlife. After one hour we reached our destination and found ourselves at a huge beach covered in shells and (unfortunately) rubbish. There the waiting began. Instead of a talk or any kind of information our guide sat down and had a nap. We others sat around for a couple of hours enjoying the experience of being far away from civilization at a beach that Robinson Crusoe would have loved.
The whole theatre started when some of the park staff found a turtle that was about to start laying eggs. The entire group was brought there and some people settled down within one meter of the turtle. All warnings of not using flash lights when taking pictures were forgotten and people went crazy. I just don´t get why you would take around 200 pictures with thirsty min instead of actually watching what is going on. But anyway, things went from ok to quite bad when the guide started taking out some of the eggs and passing them around. People, look with your eyes and not with your hands! He even allowed people to lie down and catch the eggs from underneath the turtle. There´s just no reason to do something like that.
When then one of the guides jumped on the back on the poor creature to pose for pictures my night was finally ruined. I do understand the Parks need to make money but it can be done with so much more taste and respect for the nature.
Apparently the hotel offers occasionally other activities as well but the turtle one was the only one offered while I was there.
* * * Would I go again? * * *
As much as I love Cuba I don´t think that Maria La Gorda will be on my travel list again. There is nothing really wrong with it and I can perfectly understand while people spend their entire holiday there. It is just simply not my type of place. For a start it is far too expensive and even if I wasn´t a student I would much rather stay in casa particulares than this rather anonymous place.
What puts me off is the difficulty in getting there and then of course the complete lack of anything to do. You can´t really go swimming due to all the rocks in the water, the National Park is difficult to reach and does not offer much in terms of hiking and there are only so many times that you can walk along the beach without going crazy. Personally I did not enjoy the diving that much which very well has been clouded by my experience with the people in my group. I guess that if you are with a group of like-minded friends and are a bit more assertive than me you will enjoy it more. As far as diving in Cuba goes I much prefer Playa Larga and Punta Frances.
If you are travelling in Cuba then you should consider taking a daytrip from Havana or Varadero, it is a lovely beach and might just turn out to be your perfect little bit of paradise.
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Hotel Riu Cancun (Mexico)
My Partner and I went to Mexico for the first time in January. We chose to stay at the Riu Cancun having stayed at two Riu chain hotels before in two other countries. **TRANSFER** The thing that always puts a downer on my holiday is the transfer from the airport to the hotel. For the first time I actually enjoyed the ... transfer it only took around 35-40 minutes to get to our hotel but our guide was fantastic there was so much to see on the way to the hotel all of which he pointed out and the place just seemed buzzing. When we approached our hotel we looked at it amazed, it was huge but beautiful at the same time I couldn't believe we were staying at this hotel I felt as though I had won the lottery!
When we arrived at the hotel we walked through the main reception ( I will talk about this in a moment) we were taken through the reception and out the back doors and up into a meeting room which was located next to the sports bar. As we walked through we were given a fresh fruit cocktail which was delicious and a lovely gesture. The meeting didn't last long as you can imagine after the long flight you just want to get to your room. We were all handed our envelopes which had a door key and a key for the safe in your room which is FREE no deposit required but just don't lose it as they have to drill the lock and you will pay!
As you walk into the main Reception you have a lovely glass roof. The reception desk is straight in front of you and the staff speak good English and are very helpful. Around the windows of the reception is where each of your Travel reps are. There is also a jewellery shop and a convenience shop (quite expensive though you are best to go over to the indoor market it is half the price) There is also a bar in the reception too. It is also in reception where you will find the table to book for your meals if you would like to try one of the themed restaurants at no extra cost and you can visit these restaurants as many times as you like but it is best to book 2 days in advance as they do get booked up quick.
We took the lift up to our room as we were on floor 12.As we opened the door to our room we were surprised at how large the room was. The bathroom was very clean and looked lovely. The décor in the bedroom was a little dates but how long do you spend in your room! We were in room 1210 and I have to say although it is very high up it is the most amazing view I have ever seen our room not only looked over the pool and the beach but also over the beautiful sea and was an idyllic picture at sunset.
The bed was huge the biggest bed I have ever slept in and was comfortable to. There is also air-conditioning that actually works in the room too. Now for the best bit the mini bar! The mini bar is FREE yes FREE you have in the fridge bottles of Pepsi, diet Pepsi, sprite, and water. There are also cans of tonic and soda water. There are also 4 optics on the wall, Vodca, Brandy, Tequila and Whisky. Your mini bar is stocked every 2 days but if you run out before you just call down to reception and they restock it for you.
There is also an iron and ironing board ( so no need to take your travel iron which means more room for shoes!)
The room is cleaned every day and towels and bed covers are also changed daily. We had a number of little animals made out of towels made for us and left on the bed. You will also see throughout the day and night that there are always someone cleaning it is just spotless. Even down on the beach we got down to the beach at 9am and there was a man who cleaned all the sand off of the sun beds and bagged up all the seaweed which had been washed up onto the beach. I got so used to how clean it was that actually when we came back to England I realised how dirty our country is. In Mexico there are even ladies out sweeping the car parks!
WOW!! we usually go all inclusive but this really is all inclusive the cocktail menu is pages long! As soon as your drink is empty the staff are there straight away topping your cup up! I have to say to any chocolate lovers out there please try the FUNKY MoNKEY it is gorgeous this soon became my drink of the holiday! The all inclusive is full 24 hours and when you go down to the beach a waiter walks along and takes your orders so there is no reason for you to move.
I hold my hands up and say I am one of these people who usually go away all inclusive for 2 weeks and by the second week I am bored of the food. This wasn't the case at the Riu Cancun in fact I would say I could have stayed another 3-4 weeks and still not have got around to trying everything!
*Breakfast- Hot counter - Fried egg, Omelette, scrambled egg, sausage, tomatoes. beans, eggy bread, bacon, mushrooms
-American counter, Every pastry you can think of and pancakes and donuts.
-Smoothie counter- 10 different fresh smoothies available every morning,
- cold counter- cold meats, yogurts and fruits
-bread counter - a variety of different breads and cakes
- toast and cereal
Mexican- wraps and tacos (yes for breakfast!)
Lunch- You have two options for lunch you can go to the main hall but you can not go in swim wear or you can go to the pool bar we tried both and there are similar things in both
-chips, burgers, sausages, pasta, pizza, toasted sandwiches, flavoured chicken
- nacho's, tortillas
-salads and fruit
Dinner- Each night is a THEME and you will find when you go into the dining hall that as you walk in there will be a counter with the themed food on i.e Mexican night will be a huge wok with chicken and peppers or on Spanish night it will be a hug Paella. Similar to breakfast each counter offers something different and these are available every night. There is a Mexican counter which has your nacho's, tortilla, tacos and enchiladas there is also an Italian which has pasta and pizza, there is a fish counter which has different fish course each night and then the traditional English counter which has roast chick, lamb and beef, chips, vegetables, rice. There really is something for everyone and if anyone cannot find something they like I will be amazed as I am the worlds fussiest eater and I was in heaven!
The waiters are very friendly we tried to keep to the same waiter as tips are a big thing in Mexico and so rather than give a tip each day we gave a large tip at the end to our waiter Hernandez.
There are also the a la carte restaurants we tried the Japanese restaurant which was amazing. The ambience in the restaurant was great I quite forgot I was in Mexico!
Also if you are going out for the day pop up to the sports bar as they have pre-packed lunch in the chiller cabinets.
There is plenty of entertainment if you want it but for us this holiday was about pure relaxation. The main pool which is located outside the food hall is where all the entertainment takes place so if you don't want to be hassled go to the pool around the other side of the hotel. You will get asked down on the beach but just say no and they leave you alone. there is also evening entertainment every night which was great and well worth seeing some night were better than others but again if this is not your kind of thing there is low live music in the lounge bar in reception.
One word PERFECT!
Everything you want is in walking distance and if there is somewhere further out you want to see jump on the bus you can't get lost as they just go round in a loop and they only work out around 50-60p
As you come out of the hotel straight in front of you is a large shopping mall but it is very quiet. There are shops such as Lacoste, DKNY. If you walk over the road behind this mall there is a large Market shop which is where you need to go for any of your day to day things or chocolate and some gifts it is the cheapest place to go. If you come out of the hotel and go left after 4-5 minutes you will come to the indoor market they love to haggle in there and I must admit I found it a little overwhelming but if this is your kind of thing this is where you will pick up your gifts to take home. Just past this market is where the night life is Coco Bongo is the main attraction and well worth a visit you pay for your ticket and drinks are all in. There were many families in here to so don't be put off.
One more thing if you love crocodiles you need to stay at this hotel as behind the mall opposite the hotel is Crocodile creek go over and take a look but don't get too close!
Like I said before there is a convenience shop in reception but they also have evenings where the Mexicans have stalls in the hotel so you can buy your souvenirs without leaving the hotel should you wish. There are also Looky looky men down on the beach who will walk along to try and sell you there items but just remember to haggle with them at least half the price they are asking.
This has got to be the best hotel I have ever been to I cannot find any negatives to say about this hotel it was the holiday of a life time thanks to this hotel. If you are looking for a great hotel with the perfect location and very friendly staff this is the hotel for you I hope we will be able to save and go again in a couple of years.
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Vakona Lodge Andasibe National Park (Madagascar)
Vakona Lodge, Andasibe, Madagascar GETTING THERE Vakona is the Malagasy name for a Pandanus palm. This lodge is reputedly the best in this area and from the others we saw I think that is the case. The lodge is reached by a dirt road of varying quality over about ten miles so quite a trek, we were in a four wheel drive but ... there were some normal cars parked at the lodge. The lodge is a long three and a half hour drive from the capital Antananarivo and there is not really a huge choice of places to stop for a break so be prepared with water etc for the trek when you embark on the journey, toilet facilities are also not widely available and those that are available leave a lot to be desired.
We had already booked so we checked in and were told that no credit cards are accepted, only cash either local or Euros which if we had not already known this might have been a problem! We were escorted up to our room, literally up two sets of stairs, by two porters and our guide!
Reception is just a desk in the main lodge building which also houses the dining area, the bar, a sitting area and a shop upstairs. There is also a table tennis table, a pool table and a pile of board games, mainly Scrabble to occupy you if it is raining and you are not out on a wildlife trek. Within this main building you can get free wifi with a code provided by Reception but it is VERY slow and a bit intermittent.
We were very high above the main lodge building so we had a lovely view of the lake, gardens and the main building with the rainforest behind. In front of our room or small house we had a patio area with two seats and a small wooden table carved on top with animals and the name of the Lodge.
As we entered the room the first thing that struck you was the size of the bed which was huge, so huge that in fact it took up most of the room. It was actually two 3 foot singles made up as a large double but we did have a small table either side of the bed with a drawer and a shelf. Over the bed was a mosquito net which pulled back into four corners by ties during the day, giving the impression of a canopy four poster type bed.
Beside the bed in the main part of the room we had a wooden armchair and a wooden table case stand. Apart from the main section of the room there was a small side part which had a wooden wardrobe (coded safe inside) and a table with a kettle, tea, cocoa and sweeteners but no milk or sugar. There was also a small fridge with mini bar offering soft drinks and beer at prices the same as at the main lodge and not expensive at all.
Just off this side part of the room was the bathroom with a shower, basin and toilet and a wooden stand for your bits and pieces. The shower was clean, everything worked and the water was lovely and hot. I was joined one day by a large caterpillar like creature trying to get of the wooden boarded part of the shower but in the end I think he drowned. Had I known he was harmless I might have helped him but I wasn't sure so I just kept a wary eye on his efforts and avoided contact. There was a shower gel on the wall and a nice lemon scented soap which rather bizarrely they replaced the day before we left with a new one. There were plenty of towels, a little on the thin side but a decent size and they did the job.
From the side part of the room was a spiral staircase leading to an attic room with two single beds and a chair so a family could have stayed in the room together.
Our only complaint about the room was that the windows were very dark wooden with small panes the room was dark most of the time unless we left the door open. If we wanted to read in the day we sat outside. At night with the reading lights on in bed it was okay but not great.
FOOD AT THE LODGE
Breakfast was included in the tariff. This was a sort of buffet affair. The waitress brought you the juice of the day, no choice. They also brought you tea which was watery and very weak or coffee which was French style and very strong. They then asked if you wanted eggs and how you wanted them. If you asked for scrambled you got a big pile of scrambled eggs on a plate, fried was just two fried eggs on a plate. In a basket on your table you were brought a few slices of toast, a few chunks of toasted French bread and a couple of croissants. Also already on the table was a small dish of local honey, a small pot of jam which changed daily and a tiny dish of butter.
The buffet part was a fruit salad and a choice of about three cereals so not really a huge buffet at all. It wasn't great but it did the job and was filling and more than we would have at home anyway.
On our first day we were going to be out until after the official lunch was over which was 2 o' clock so our guide suggested we got a packed lunch. They were quite happy and it was ready for us to taje with us the next day in a plastic bag. The lunch for the two of us was two bottles of water, four boiled eggs, and two half French sticks with ham, cheese and tomato. I am not keen on eggs and so we gave them to our guide, the driver and the local guide. The sandwich would have been plenty and was actually quite tasty. There were also two of the 'pipiest' oranges I have ever come across.
The next day we were back for lunch and the menu we were handed was exactly the same as the one for dinner. Salads were on offer but I tend to steer clear of those when in countries where hygiene may not be that great. We decided to try two Malagasy dishes, mine was a pork and cassava leaf dish served with rice and my husband's was a very interesting dish of fried shredded beef and ginger with a sort of soup also served with local rice which is quite a sticky rice. Mine was nice but rather over salted so i couldn't finish it but my husband's was very tasty so in fact I had it for dinner that night.
The same menu was brought out for lunch and dinner. The first night we chose a veal curry with almonds which was quite nice but not spicy at all and after a while became a bit too much, I could have had half the portion with a second accompaniment. Each dish had the same accompaniment, fried vegetables, chips or rice .On the second night we both opted for Zebu steak again with chips or fried vegetables or rice. It was very tasty, generous portions and well cooked. By the third night we were running out of things we like the sound of, I am afraid I don't eat spaghetti bolognaise when in Africa and sea food when far from the sea, the chickens around the place looked scraggy and so I wasn't going to risk that so my husband went back to zebu steak and I had the dish he had for lunch. I think three nights and you will have exhausted the options here so they obviously cater for short term visitors likeus and I think most people do only stay a couple of nights so they are quite safe not changing the rather limited menu.
They are really beautiful full of lovely tropical plants and the lodge nestles in the lowest part of these grounds with its feet in the large lake so reflecting the lights on the water at night and this looks really very charming.
You do have to be fit to stay here as there are steps everywhere from the main lodge building. All the rooms are up stairs as is the large swimming pool. It was too chilly to swim so no one was using the pool or sitting around on the sun beds. This is a rainforest area so it rains most days so I am not sure how much use the pool gets.
As we walked around the grounds we came across a children's play area and there were local children playing on it so presumably they were children from the staff of the lodge or the local village.
Within the lodge grounds is a group of islands which are a sanctuary or zoo of lemurs. One island te lemurs are compete used to people so they leap on you and you can have you photo take with a lemur on your shoulder. There other two islands they are not used to people but you can take a boat trip around to see them in the trees.
This place is part of the lodge but you do have to pay extra to go in to see them even if you are staying at the lodge. I believe the price was about $10 US per person but my husband is a bit anti zoos and places where they import animals as he prefers the challenge of seeing them in the wild so we didn't go.
I did see photos taken by a Swiss man I got chatting to as he was putting his photos on line on his i pad. They were lovely photos and the lemurs were on his wife's shoulder but I think it is up to your own choice whether you want that experience or the challenge of seeing them in the wild. You can of course do both here should you choose.
NOT SO GREAT
Our guide and driver were lovely people and such great company. They picked us up at the airport and stayed with us all the time we were in Andasibe and then brought us back to Antananarivo for the night, collected us and brought us to the airport for our flight the next day. You are very unlikely to go to Vakona without a guide and driver so therefore accommodation should be provided with a room for these people for every room at the lodge. Our guide and driver had to sleep in a car one night as when they got to their allocated room someone else was in there. The other option is for them to drive about twenty miles back to the nearest town and stay there which gives them very long drives back and from the lodge our two did this on the other nights which made the day very long for them. I felt this was very poor of the lodge as they do only provide them pretty basic rooms with. T bunks and it really costs them nothing. I shall be writing a letter to the lodge via our tour company to tell them how poor I think this is.
The waiting on staff were very pleasant and smiled as they brought food and drinks and the kitchen staff were obliging making packed lunches and allowing you to come in at 8.45 pm for dinner provided you pre ordered your meal before you went out for your night hike.
The staff at the Reception were very hit and miss. Some smiled and were pleasant while others were quite surly and verging on rude. On checking out the man at the desk almost threw our chits at my husband, took the money but no eye contact or ' Did you enjoy your stay' 'Have a safe journey' etc and that costs nothing and just leaves you with a slightly 'hmm' feeling as you leave which is not really what should happen.
I believe our room cost about 60 Euros a night for the two of us which was very good value. The food prices were also good as main meals cost about $5 or £6 each and a large bottle of local beer was £1.50 which was really excellent value. I have converted the food as it was in Malagasy Ariary but the room cost was in Euros and you can work that out re conversion as it varies.
WOULD I RECOMMEND?
Well this is the best there is so yes. The rooms were comfortable, there was hot water and electricity, the food was good and cheap though a limited menu if staying any length of time. The service was hit and miss though we didn't come across any surly waiting staff, just the grump Reception staff.
The lads who carry your luggage up and down from the room do expect a tip and I believe we gave then $1 US as we had no Ariary or Euro small change and they seemed quite happy. You are expected to tip everyone in Madagascar and this added about £200 to our trip by the end with guides, local guides, drivers and porters. You can't avoid the porters as they wait and pounce on you if you try to carry your own luggage so you just have to accept it.
Once again I struggled with the star rating, 5 star setting, but the negatives pulled it down for me to a three star so I have chosen four stars to be fair.
Thanks for reading. Hope this might be useful to someone heading this way. This review may be posted on other site under my same user name.
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South America Hotel International
Hotel International / Hotel and dive center in Maria La Gorda, Cuba.
Hotel International / - Vakona Forest Lodge is located close to the national park in its own small reserve. The lodge offers simple clean rooms with en-suite facilities and showers. The food is good and mainly French in style and the restaurant area has an outdoor terrace surrounded by a small lake.
Hotel International / Hotel on the Isla de la Juventud, Cuba.
Address: Calle 5ta / Hotel International /2da y 4ta #1, Vinales, Kuba
Hotel International / Address: Playa Larga, Cuba
Hotel International / 3-star hotel in Porto Alegre, Brazil.
Address: Blvd. Kukulcan Km. 11.5 / Hotel International / Hotel Zone / Cancun, 77500 / Mexico
Address: Avenida El Melecón Carrera 1 No. 5 - 82 / Hotel International / Bocagrande / Cartagena / Colombia / Tel: (575) 6657527
Address: Centro. Calle 34 / Hotel International / 11-15 La Matuna (Plazoleta Telecom) / Cartagena / Colombia
Rating: 5 star / Hotel International / Location: Carrera 100B #11A-99, Cali Colombia / Tel: 1-800-395-7046
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