Overall this was a comprehensive, well paced, cultural and scenic tour with a wide variety of experiences especially as Mexico and Cuba are both rich in both geography and history. Tour highlights included Oaxaca, Mexico (indigenous prominent region) and Vinales, Cuba (tobacco region).
Mexico: Tour group size: Five (over Xmas/ New year period). Accommodation and services: Generally pretty good however the Merida accommodation was a bit depressing (drab rooms, smelly, sweaty pillows). Hotel Geneva was centrally located in Mexico City, close to everything. Internet was generally widely available in hotels. Plenty of laundry opportunities (e.g. nearby laundromats) or hotel service along the way.
Inclusions: Excellent local guides - very professional and knowledgeable, included breakfasts were plentiful. So much history was generously shared during each tour. Sumidero Canyon boat trip kind of felt like participating in an organised cartel (e.g. boat captain stopped the boat in the middle of river to ‘ask’ for tips from every person on board before taking boat back to home base). Tour bus driver (Carlos) was exceptional.
Tour guide: In comparison to other similar tours (costings, time frames, itinerary), the tour guide did not meet expectations. Examples include: no Peregrine attire worn during entire trip (e.g. promoted other economical tour company, in attire), limited proactive, practical, logistical information shared during trip which would have significantly enhanced the experience (e.g. key info before arriving at each destination, advanced knowledge of time until next toilet stops on long journey, that bus facilities included onboard charging stations for electronic devices, why tour coach was being stopped by officials or specific Indigenous communities en route to destinations). In addition, the tour guide was unable to target communication to small group of experienced, seasoned travellers (e.g. repeatedly referred to bathrooms as place to go ‘pee pee’), allowed a single traveller to dominate tour leader’s time to detriment of others on tour, unreceptive to receiving constructive feedback (e.g. became emotional when presented with suggestions for improved service), was unfamiliar with layout of airport in Mexico City especially when navigating internal flights changes, overly reliant on an English-Spanish speaking member of travel group to assist with translation, particularly when tour logistics went ‘pear-shaped’. The trip would also have been enhanced if the tour guide used the bus microphone, as per the bus drivers suggestion, despite the small group. This would have allowed travellers at the back of the bus to listen attentively to limited logistical information shared. It is recommended that Peregrine invest in additional retraining for the tour guide.
Top tip: Keep plenty of small change for tipping and using public bathrooms (five or ‘cinco’ pesos is norm in Mexico per bathroom stop).
Cuba: Tour group size: Eleven. Accommodation and services: Pretty good. Hotel Nacional in Havana was excellent as was hotel in Cienfuegos. Lovely to stay at ‘homestay’ experience in Vinales and Trinadad. Good service at homestay ‘casa’ accommodation including in-house laundry services. Internet was available at Hotel Nacional (free) and/or available at ‘free wifi restaurants’ in Vinales. Internet access in Trinadad required purchasing an internet card and go to designated tourist area in township square to access internet signal.
Inclusions: Plentiful food especially at home stays, Vinales tobacco farm tour was brilliant, salsa lessons in Vinales were a blast. Bus driver (Lazaro - who also happens to be a mechanic) was amazing - especially when our bus unexpectedly broke down en route.
Tour guide: Superb, super professional, well organised, insightful and sincere. Olexis (tour guide) was kind, thoughtful, full of (relevant) information and went out of his way to ensure everyone's needs were met. He left a lasting, positive impression on the whole tour group. Top bloke. Peregrine: You are extremely lucky to have Olexis guiding your Cuba tour. This guy single handily saved the ‘Peregrine experience’ for travellers that participated in the earlier Mexico tour. He deserves a trip to Aussie and NZ for his efforts. Dude was EXCEPTIONAL.
Top tip: Keep an open mind (and be patient) when travelling in Cuba. Also for Aussie and Kiwi travellers, if entering Cuba from Cancun you can purchase a Cuban Visa at the Cancun airport on the day of your departure to Cuba (yes, you read that correctly). Drinks outside of Havana are cheap (e.g. 1CUC per beer, Pina Colada, Cuba Libre etc) although CUC’s will be obsolete soon (recent government change).