logo Old Reviews - Brisas Sierra Mar & Los Galeones
Brisas Sierra Mar
Chris & Eva 
Montreal
April 2008
Arrival and Flight : Feb 17th to 2nd March via Cubana Air : good leg room, service ok, but don't expect a smile or pampering ; its basic but fine. Out of the airport It was a bit confusing finding our bus but no real problems . Brisas Sierra Mar is 2hrs not 60 mins from Santiago de Cuba and its 4hrs from Holguin which we had the displeasure of riding : NO bathrooms ! , food or drinks for 4 hrs. The roads are horrible ! most people don't want to take excursions because of the bad roads.

Rooms : Medium-small rooms with ocean view and a free safe for the duration. We tipped 1 CUC a day and had a nice clean room.1CUC every 2nd day is fine also.Not much in terms of soap shampoo so bring your own. No fridge. The whole complex is getting old quick. Everything is a bit broken ; in need of paint or both but its still acceptable for now.

Restaurants: The Buffet building itself is quite nice with a great mountain view in the back.The buffet food is Ok.Sometimes its good , and occaisonally very good.Its slightly above average for Cuba and under standard compared to other Carribean countries. Some Fresh juices ; the rest of the time its sugary juice in a box . The A la Carte Restos are OK to Good depending on what you take. the Fresh fruit table was great.

Bars : Half the staff knows how to make good drinks the other half are struggling, so spot a good bartender and stick to him or her and tip every second or third round and you will get a better service. The Bar in the Lobby is the best and the Brasillian coffees are excellent ! No fresh juices in the drinks ever :-( and they were always out of lime juice ...

Pool : The Pool is fine and has a swim up bar .You can play volleyball in the water. There is a hot tub beside the pool which is surronded by a beautiful flowering vine . *** beware they put in way too much chlorine in the hot tub.Its good to kill bacteria but its bad for the skin .Even after soaping / showering I could still smell the chlorine on my skin the next morning ...

Beach : Unfortunately the low point of this resort.The beach is small. The sand is darker like lakes in Quebec/Ontario, the water is not clear ; its cloudy. there are some rocks and seaweed (always wear sandals or water shoes so as not to cut your feet) .On the positive side the water is warm and comfortable ... the warmest in Cuba.There are real no waves to speak of here. The weather is great :it rarely rains,there is lots of sun and hot weather 30-35°C :-). at the end of the beach are young people (from the city not the local village) that ask for your shoes ,shirts, food or give you a free shell hoping to get something back in return ... its a bit annoying cause even though you gave yesterday a new one comes today and they don't give up easily so many people don't go pass the hotel limit but the young cubans are nice and not dangerous.

SNORKELING : Below average ! the visibility is not very good .the farther out you go the visibility gets better but a 20 feet visibilty is the maximum and closer to shore sometimes only 8 feet visibility.There are not many fish here. The scuba dive master says its because the water is too warm ??? but there are some nice corals and sea fans. The Pay Snorkelling tour might be better but I did not try it.The dive master Carlos is freindly and helpful but i did not have a chance to scuba dive.

Staff: Half are nice and friendly the other half are stern or shy or not freindly.

Guests : This is not a party place ,there are few people in thier 20s its an isolated place and the nearest big city is 2hrs away.There are few families and children. This is a quiet , relaxing place. Most people here , about 70%, are retired people in their late fifities and older. The other 25% are from 30 yrs old to 50 yrs old

Grounds : The high point of this resort .Its very lovely ! You are in a small Bay surronded by chains of mountains.The gardeners take care of the numerous trees, srubs, cactus, and flowering vegetation that is present everywhere. its like a small flowering manicured jungle that surronds you. ***Some people mistakingly mention fleas or bed bugs. The bugs are called Noseeums they are smaller than a pin head and black with tiny transparent wings you hardly see them or feel them but after the initial bite many people are allergic to the bug's saliva and develop welts and sores for a couple of days and they can get very itchy. Deet does not seem to have much effect on them to stop them from biting.What will stop the itching is Antihistamines (allergie medication like claritin, benadryl etc...)
they also have some mosquitos that make itchier bites than at home but they are usually only out when the sun goes down and they don't like wind :-) deet works well against mosquitos.

Activities and Entertainment : We went to the shows a few times during our 2 week stay.They try hard for the entertainement and its not bad. The performances of the dancers are pleasant to watch and there is also a magician.

Tours : We took the Santiago Tour .We got a semi knowlegable guide. It was a bit expensive for what it was really... but you do visit the Moroe castle which is nice. Our guide took us to an official place to buy cigars at $250 /box turns out they were fake so don't even trust stores or guides. Get the fake ones at about 25$ / box Romeo and Julietta at least you'll get what you pay for :-( The Catamaran ride was cancelled (it was broken) but those who took the tour before said alot of people were seasick because of the waves. We did an unofficial tour to the waterfall about an hour from the resort the gardner took our group we gave him about 10CUC and he was happy with that.

Departure and Check Out : Caribe Sol (Tour Operator) wanted us to leave the resort 16hrs before our flight so as to free up the room for other guests ! We told Pedro this was ridiculous we emailed our Travel agent and got transfered out of there for the last 5 days and went to Hotel Club Covarrubias Great beach but not so great Hotel and food check my review.

Conclusion : I Give this place a 7.5 / 10 Great scenery, nice vegetation .Nice hotel a bit in need of a make over, Food Ok , Beach ordinary, warm water & weather a great place to relax. I maybe would go back.
Brisas Sierra Mar
John 

March 2008
Having traveled in the Caribbean to Trinidad, Jamaica, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic here are some reasons why you might want to go to Sierra Mar (the Ss) and reasons why you might not (the Fs):

1. SUN – spectacular blue skies with light breezes. Two short sprinkles in the evening but a guy who winters there said that in 3 months there was only one day of rain!

2. SCENERY – stellar views no matter which way you look. Every room faces so you can see the sea and the mountains. The mountains, the gardens and the sea surround you and are awe inspiring.

3. SECLUSION – this is a small resort in the middle of nowhere. Some may consider this a detriment (see FUN below) but if you want to feel you are getting away from it all – this is the place.

4. SHADE – the sun is so hot that having natural shade as well as cabanas on the beach was a real plus. Also the darker colour of the sand will burn your feet if you are not in the shade or have shoes.

5. SNORKELING – you can see fish, eels and crabs close to shore but get out to the reef that runs from the outer buoy to the left (200yd swim) and you are in for a real treat. Amazing variety of coral and fish. The fish are not much bigger than the palm of your hand as the locals seemed to be there every day to spear fish (the five stringers I saw had 15-25 fish on them as well as octopus). Just missed seeing a sea turtle as the flesh was hanging from the spear fisherman’s stringer. I did find the two sides of the shell and the head. Also saw lobster (both intact and the remains). I guess the sea life is more important as a source of protein that as a tourist attraction!

6. SCUBA – warm and clear waters, cheap and easy. $30 a dive, $5 to rent equipment. Dive from 10 to 30 meters. Lots to see but they also spearfish here so nothing too big or dramatic. Highlight was a 6 foot green moray eel. You can take the pool course and then dive at will if you aren’t certified.

7. STAFF - a warm, welcoming crew from the gardeners to the dancers.

8. SAFE AND SECURE – never worried about leaving possessions unattended or walking anywhere at anytime. Very different from other locations such as Venezuela where we were robbed three times in one week!

9. SOUNDS – incredible music every day at lunch and in the evenings. A variety of performers and bands and they were all very accomplished. This was my biggest surprise and a welcome one at that.

10. SHOWS – top quality shows – some great dancers

11. SECOND WEEK – about ¾ of the people we talked to were there for two weeks. Quite inexpensive and one week is really too short as you are just getting into your Caribbean groove and then get plucked back to harsh reality.

12. SECOND TIME – a lot of people have been there multiple times (up to nine) and they celebrate with special repeaters meals.

The other side of the coin:

 

 

1. FANCY – It is not! The resort is older and showing it in places. The door to the room jammed on the floor, the lighting in the room was minimal to nonexistent (I read with a head lamp), the shower in one of our rooms didn’t work, the other shower you just turned on the hot tap and went with whichever degree of warm came through (good water pressure though), the shower curtain didn’t reach the floor so there was a flood after every shower. The king size bed was actually two twins jammed together so the sheets didn’t really fit and there was that division in the middle (made my wife happy!). The pillows were very small and hard and lumpy (take your own if you can fit it).

2. FLEAS – actually they are some type of no see-ums. You won’t know when or where but suddenly these itchy red spots will begin to appear. The anti – itch sticks and Benadryl will help a bit but they are a pain!

3. FUN – is tough to come by as the resort is too small to generate the crowds needed for most activities (only one day did we manage a beach volleyball game and our family was half the participants) and the distance into town is too far and too rough for many to venture out.

4. FOOD – book the restaurants or go to the spot in the buffet where someone is holding a spatula or a carving knife…otherwise it is simple and repetitive.

5. FLATULENCE - it won’t be too bad but your gastrointestinal system will be in some state of uproar.

6. FROGS – we had a resident tree frog in our room that serenaded us at bed time for three days before I could find him and get him out to the balcony.

7. FAT CATS – You can’t help but feel like a fat cat (both literally and figuratively) when you see the Cubans and how the Cubans live. A walk into the neighbouring village is a real eye opener.

8. FLESH – you see a lot of it hanging over or out of swimsuits or on display at the evening shows (some much more aesthetically pleasing than others)

9. FLUIDS – the drinks are basic and made with lime concentrate not fresh limes. Outside of beer and rum you will be in trouble as they didn’t even know how the make a margarita and the martini was abysmal. Even the nice rum is tough to come by. I like drinking the rum straight on ice but I only saw the 7 year old rum twice and the bottle disappeared quickly.

10. FLIGHTS of stairs – the resort is 5 flights of stairs up from the beach. There is an elevator but it only works intermittently and you are always wondering if you are going to be stuck.

11. FUMER – lots of cigarette smokers but no real cigar selection. The little store has a few different types of cigars. Hope this helps you in your decision making.
Brisas Sierra Mar
Char 

March 2008
Departed from Toronto with Cabaña Air, Feb 26/08 for 2 weeks one hour late but that was because of fog. Good flight,great service and the leg room was super. Arrived at Santiago airport with no problems in and out the only thing was that you had to go back into departures to get money changed and beer. Didn't know this when we arrived so no beer for one and a half hour trip to resort. The guys at the airport were really pushy and just grabbed our bags even tho we said no and then expected tip. Weren't to pleased with canadian coin and asked if we had canadian bills. Were told take it or leave it. Of course they took it and you could see them gather up coin between them and then get back on bus and asking to exchange into bills. Ride to the resort was as expected bumpy was dark by then so got to see none of the scenery.

HOTEL: Fabulous.... Rooms were small but only used them to sleep at night. Power outages several times for a couple of day so elevators were not working. So not to many trips down to beach or the room during that time. The pool was the main area that we spent most of our time. Was down to beach but got bites so left. But got bit even at the pool. Had bug spray but didn't help.

FOOD: Was plentiful and there was always something to eat at the buffet. Ate at the beach grill a couple of times not fond of burnt hamburgers and cold fries but that was just us other people enjoyed it. The pig roast there at lunch on Wed was good. Tried all the ala cartes they were good but most of the time was still hungry after. Having the 24 hour coffee bar was the highlight of the trip we are early risers.

STAFF: Every one was super friendly. The walks every morning at 8am were good exercise and very informative.

EXCURSIONS: We didn't do any but other people did and enjoyed the trip to a volcano. The half day trip into Santiago seemed a bit rushed. and the swimming with the Dolphins was a long day but was enjoyed.

Would we go back maybe if the price was right and the only reason why we wouldn't go back is the bugs. But was very relaxing
Brisas Sierra Mar
Jane 

March 2008
We stayed at the Brisas Sierra Mar February 12 - 26. We travelled with friends who were enjoying their fifth year at the Brisas, having visited all over Cuba for 14 years. The Sierra Mar is their favourite, although they warned us this was not a 5 star resort. We are retirees in our early sixties.

Our flight was excellent, although we were apprehensive due to others' reviews. Cubanair had more leg room, more luggage allowance and very friendly staff. Santiago's airport was under renovation and small but I had been to Cuba before and expected this. It was my husband's first trip here so it was an experience for him.

We had been warned about the ride from the airport but we were still shocked when navigating the road at night. However, we all at least kept our sense of humour. Reception at the hotel was OK (their front desk staff are the only people not super friendly here ) and we were shown to our room which was ocean front. Not like our hotel rooms but large, clean and a view not available anywhere, I am sure. The balconies are large and comfortable. The furniture is old and the bed quite thin, but after a day in the sun, we had no trouble sleeping. (There was no shampoo or body lotion as noted by another reviewer but a good fridge and hairdryer). There is a new computer in the lobby which is tricky at first - you buy an hour's time for 6 pesos. Ask other tourists for assistance- the front desk isn't much help.

The food (always an important issue with me) was very good. We could not complain. Always fresh bread, lean meat and plenty of veggies at every meal (even breakfast). Very little fried food, not many potatoes meant I didn't gain any weight. The beach bar restaurant is great when you want your hamburg and fry fix. (Fries are frozen, but who cares when you have a craving?) Fish is also available most days. The Mariposa restaurant is very good (make reservations the first day) as is the Ecological Restaurant. Great service. Elizabeth at breakfast is the best, as is Magdolena in the evening. Vladimir at the Beach restaurant is as efficient as any waiters at home. We were allowed to attend the 'Repeaters' dinner as we came with our friends and probably will return next year. We received a free bottle of rum, lobster, steak and shrimp dinner. Very special with flowers on the tables and entertainment. The repeat visitors received certificates for a massage and manicure also. There are a very large number of people who have been there before, many for a number of years, along with several who stay for a few months at a time. Feel free to ask them questions as you can save a ton of time in regards to banking, etc. and they are very approachable. The lobby bar is good also. We sat there when the piano bar was active - about 6 p.m. Edita is very friendly and efficient. Drinks are delicious and plentiful. Try the Sierra Mar cocktail - it is layered and wonderful. Spanish coffee is a real treat and heavier on the booze than ours, so take it easy! Their regular coffee is served with steaming milk.

The weather was perfect. Only rain one night and that was during the night. Santiago de Cuba is hotter than the north of the island. Apparently, Varadero and the north coast received a lot of rain while we were there. The only down side was that I got infection from bites even though we sat around the pool mainly. No one else in our party did but I am used to this. The nurse had very little to help - iodine of all things. I did spray my chair, towel, etc. but will use an antihistamine next time. The stairs were also a challenge but the elevator works most of the time. Not a resort for individuals in wheelchairs but we did see some.

The hotel is on a hillside and quite isolated, which we enjoyed. I had just recently had surgery so we didn't take any side trips. The people working at the resort are what makes this location stand out. I took a whole suitcase (an old one which I left there) full of items and wished I had more. I took duct tape and batteries for the gardiner, blank CD's, guitar strings for my favourite bank, new summer clothes I had purchased for next to nothing and toys. Actually, anything is appreciated as Cubans share with family and friends if they can't use items, so don't worry about sizes. Even medical gauze is needed at the Medical Office. Our friends visit a family close by and we took them clothing, etc. They were thrilled and insisted on serving us a wonderful drink in special glasses. I had an electronic Spanish translator with me which helped, but I plan on learning a little Spanish before I return. They appreciate our effort even if we are amateurs. There is next to nothing to buy in Cuba, so we spent all our spending money for tips. I tipped the girls who cleaned the room 1 peso every day along with other items. We tipped for about every second round of drinks and gave the chefs at the omelette bar and beach bar restaurant a peso every time. We also left 1-2 pesos for every meal, more in the special restaurants. They share the tips. One girl told us she makes about 15 pesos a month and her rent is 19 so they rely on our tips.

Finally - this resort is not a five star Cayo Coco resort with white beaches and staff with gold jewellery, but there is a magic here which is hard to describe. It certainly explains why so many people return year after year. Besides, the price is unbelievable. We met visitors of all ages. I wouldn't say this is a resort for young people, such as my sons, but families with children, retirees, and couples who want rest and relaxation would all enjoy. People with complaints (and we met a few) should stay in North America where they would pay a fortune for such a holiday. I am sure Cuba is in for some changes in the future. It will be a shame if the Sierra Mar changes along with it.
Brisas Sierra Mar
 

February 2008
We enjoyed another week at the Sierra Mar Jan 31 to Feb 7.

Arriving at the ariport ther are signs over the luggage carrosel that state : climb your luggage here, and another states climb your luggage and weigh here. LOL I did not see anyone weighing their luggage or even requested to weigh their luggage on arrival.

The road to the resort is an adventure as the November rains did a lot of damage that has not been repaired as of yet. For the discomfort of the trip from the airport I cannot imagine the employees who make this trip twice a day, arriving fresh and happy to attend to your needs.

Your room and safety deposit box keys are provided on the bus so when you arrive the busboys are ready and waiting to take your luggage to your room. Some rooms have been renovated and other rooms are in need of some paint, but all are clean and well provided with clean towels and bedding. Soap, shampoo and body lotion are also provided! This is a relatively small hotel with 200 rooms, terraced on the Sierra Maesto mountains with the Carribbean Sea as frontage. An incredible setting. All rooms face outwards whether towards the gardens or the sea. The hotel layout allows for you to be able to find a place of solace to read or soak up the sun or join the others for fun at the pool bar or lobby.

There are a number of excursions available via bus or boat. Your tour rep will be able to arrange if possibe a trip to a baseball game, swimming with dolphins etc in the city, and the dive shop offer many wonderful boat trips for snorkling, diving or deep sea fishing. All are great fun and not over priced. There are bicycles available for free and scooters at small charge for you to head out on your own. There is a fishing village Chivirico not far away by scooter or taxi that is well worth visiting, and if you have any medical or school supplies you can drop them off on the way. There is also a baseball coach in the village who would more than welcome any donations of baseball equipment. Even as a rural area if you have difficulties someone will offer assistance and know that you are from Sierra Mar as it and Los Galeones as they are the only two tourist hotels in the area. LOL

The buffet restaurant is well laid out and food is fresh and well prepared. You are in Cuba so of course there is no waste, so the vegetable from dinner may be presented in a salad for lunch. I do it at home, so take no offence. lol The omelet chef in the morning is incredible, lovely light omeletes loaded with your choice of filliings such as onions, mushrooms, ham, peppers, cheese . The bread and cheese is incredible. Oh and the fresh fruit table! We enjoyed roasted turkey, chicken and pork as well as mystery fish well prepared. Hot foods are hot and cold foods are cold. Dessert pastries are lovely. The Wednesday roasted pig is lovely, tender and well cooked. Cabbage is served as salad more often than lettuce, but it is tender and flavourful. There are two a la carte restaurants where the chef really takes pride in his preparation as well as presentation. Also during the day, the beach restaurant prepares fish and fries that are wonderful. The fish is maranated in a light spice and garlic and than fried to perfection. The pool bar restaurant makes burgers, hot dogs and grilled cheese The produce is grown on resort and it is a lovely walk through the gardens, raised irrigated beds of vegetables and flowers. The ecological restauarant offers a wonderful menu to suit whether you prefer fish, meat or vegetarian. Just make sure you wear deet.

There is an evening show each night music, dancing and some cuban comedy. The resort magician is great and quite a character. The dancers are worked hard and the choreographer atempts to provide on gala night a show such as you might see at tropicana. Make sure to dress for dinner early and enjoy the musicians in the lobby before dinner and after dinner before the show. Some incredibily talented musicians are on hand to entertain. There is disco that runs till 2 am but you may want to organize a group to party as unless it is spring break or post univeristy/college crowd it is not a huge event. .

As a scuba diver, I love this resort. The dive shop is on site, and I leave my gear there all week, a clean wash tank, drying racks and a secure lock up for the evening awaiting the next day's excursion. Their rental equipment is Mares and the air tanks are newer models. The airfill is housed in its own building. There are so many wonderful dive sites within minutes boat trip. The dive masters and instructors are well trained and professional and at a cost of $30 CUC for a dive, with multiple dive packages at reduced rates a good deal. They do offer a free intro to scuba in the pool so you can try out and also a monitored shallow dive in the ocean! The beach is dark sand, with some coral reefs well within swimming distance for snorkling. There are flags for notification when the lifeguard is on duty, or if there is undercurrents, but as this is a small protected bay, currents are not an often hazard but it is always a good idea to check at the dive shop before heading out. For shallow water play I would recommend beach shoes.

The pool is clean but shallow, not meant for swimming laps but great for a refreshing dip or safe cruise to the swim up bar.

This is not a five star resort, but the employees ensure you are treated as five star. There are a great number of repeat guests at this resort who enjoy a special repeaters dinner during their stay. Don't feel intimidated by the repeaters, they are the best to ask for the how to's or where ares.
Brisas Sierra Mar
Gary and Brigitte 
Orleans, Ontario
April 2007
My better-half and I returned on April 19 from a two-week stay at the Cubanacan Brisas Sierra Mar resort, situated about 60 km west of Santiago de Cuba. I’ll put this review together in point form, and try not to be too long-winded.

Flights, customs and airports – We flew Sunwing from Montreal through Varadero to Santiago (southbound) and direct from Santiago to Montreal (northbound). Other than a very short weather-related delay in Montreal (de-icing) both flights operated on time and were very comfortable. On-board food is great (hot meals with wine) and we even had a glass of champagne on the way south. We had previously reserved extra leg room seats towards the front of the aircraft, and they were worth every penny. We passed through Customs at both ends with no problems (we took two NJT suitcases with us), and the airport experience was good. The only problem we had is that along with our NJT suitcases, we were 21 kilos overweight on the way south. This cost us $210.00, and there was no allowance for humanitarian aid. What bothers me is there were several people in line in front of us who checked in as many as three bicycles along with their luggage, but because it was sporting equipment, they paid no extra. This policy is entirely unfair and I’ll be addressing my concerns with Sunwing and their CEO.

Transfer to hotel – This is an adventure, not only for the drive through the city of Santiago de Cuba, but also for the breathtaking scenery along the coast and poor condition of the road between the city and the hotel. The road has suffered through several hurricanes and associated washouts in recent years, and for the most part is absolutely horrid. We were told the plan is to have it entirely resurfaced from Santiago to Pilon in two years – knowing the pace of construction in Cuba I’ll be very surprised if it’s done by then. Road crews are working on the section closest to Santiago, however progress seems slow.

Check-in and rooms – Check-in was trouble free and we were assigned a room on the sixth floor on the south end of the upper building (room 621 for those of you obsessed with details). We had a superb view of the bay and the Sierra Maestra mountains (this hotel, by the way, is in arguably the most beautiful and spectacular part of Cuba – there’s a potential photo everywhere you look). Our room was smaller than what we’ve been used to in Cuba, and somewhat dated, however it was clean and had everything we needed. The a/c worked, we always had at least warm water and lots of it, the bed was very comfortable and in all honesty, most of our time was spent outside of the room anyway. Our maid, Marlenys, did a wonderful job in keeping things clean and neat for us and entertained us with sheet and towel sculptures daily. While some people have complained about the elevator service to the upper floors, we never even tried it so cannot comment. All the stair climbing was good for us anyway!

Staff – The staff is absolutely wonderful. Sure, there were a couple from whom you couldn’t coax a smile out of if your life depended on it, but overall they were great folks and we miss them already. The staff is one reason this resort has so many return visitors – how could you not go back to a place where you are treated well and everyone seems like family? Special mention goes to Marlenys, Marvelys (you look absolutely marvellous!), Enoel, Eldis, May, Sandra, Elita, Jolie, Elizabeth, Osmay, Remigio, José, Omar, Anthony and Ernesto – heck, special mention to everyone!

Entertainment – On the whole, very good. Music was everywhere (bands or pianists in the lobby, at the Ranchon beachside restaurant and La Mariposa international a la carte) and the nightly shows were very well done with excellent dancers. Obviously if you’re staying for more than one week the shows will repeat, but it’s no big deal. We enjoyed them just as much the second time around. Some of the pianists and bands indulge in playing North American classics or film music; a bit of a pain when all we wanted to hear was Cuban music. But, they all take requests and we made sure they slipped some musica Cubana in there as well. There seemed to be lots of activities for young and old during the day if you hung out at the pool; beachside activities were non-existent (probably due to the sand temperature) which suited us just fine. Nothing worse than a sand-covered volleyball knocking over your Mojito...

Other guests – We travelled late in the season so the hotel was lightly loaded. The majority of the guests were Cuban (most of whom are rewarded by the government for hard work with a subsidized stay of two or four days at the hotel) with some Canadians and Germans thrown in for good measure. We made some great friends during our stay (Hi Jayne and Hillary [our new family members]; Ben and Mary; Max and Tiffy!) and spent an interesting few hours one evening with a great Cuban couple (Marcos and Marisa) from Santiago who were staying there. Many of the Canadian and several of the European guests are multiple-repeat visitors – we will be joining that select group as well…

Food – Always a subjective area and major point of contention at any resort due to personal tastes and likes/dislikes. We found the food good and nourishing at the buffet, plentiful (unless you came late after the hungry/greedy hoards had their way) and fresh. The salads were great (although we had no lettuce the first few days) and there was lots of fresh bread and desserts. Made-to-order omelettes in the morning as well as freshly squeezed orange juice started off the day. All a la carte restaurants were very good (our favourite was probably the Mariposa, although I found them all great) and the snack bar operated flat out, again normally because of the Cuban guests. Regardless, we never went hungry.

I can’t say if you will like the food or not. We are not picky eaters so the food was very much to our liking. Someone else who was there the same time as us may not be so gracious, so you’ll have to make up your own mind if you go there.

Drinks – What’s not to like? Cuban rum in vast quantities, Cristal or Bucanero beer (seemingly heavy on the Bucanero) and some of the best coffee I’ve had since our last trip to Cuba! We were without carbonated mineral water for the first few days (a resupply issue) but the bartenders made do with lemon-lime. If you like your Cuba Libres with Diet Coke, it was sometimes scarce as well, which caused me to switch to mojitos or Ron Collins. Such a hardship . House wine is the domestic Soroa label, which, while not German Riesling or French Bordeaux, is quite satisfying.

Excursions – These can be difficult to arrange at this time of year, due to the lack of guests in the hotel, the minimum number necessary to arrange a trip, and (we think) the bad roads between the resort and Santiago de Cuba. Many excursions required a minimum booking of 6 or 10 people, and I think many people just don’t want to bounce over that road again for the sake of a few hours in downtown Santiago (in 34 degree heat). However, we did manage to arrange a tour to La Gran Piedra and the La Isabelica coffee plantation museum for four of us (thanks to Gabriel from Sunwing and Elbert from Hola Sun for their efforts to make it happen for us) and we travelled west of the hotel to a health “camp” for a therapeutic mud bath and massage. Both were great tours and the Gran Piedra tour is something everyone should do. Phenomenal views from the summit of the rock in all directions; an added bonus is that it’s 10 degrees cooler at the top than on the coast!

Setting and grounds – The BSM enjoys an absolutely spectacular setting between the Sierra Maestra mountains and the Caribbean Sea (hence the name). There is a photo everywhere you look. We spent a lot of time just looking at the scenery around the resort from whatever vantage point we could find. The grounds are covered in lush flowers and vegetation – someone is always watering, pruning and trimming and they take a lot of pride in the look of their resort. The most beautiful placed we’ve been to in Cuba, bar none.

Infrastructure – Some of the facilities are starting to show their age and a lack of maintenance, caused no doubt by availability of resources and a supply route full of potholes. Having said this, the maintenance staff does their best to ensure everything works the way it should and the place is clean and presentable. The lobby and central areas are still in excellent shape; the rooms are dated and could use a remodelling but they are clean and comfortable.

Beach and pool – We’re beach people and I think out of the two weeks we spent one afternoon at the pool. The pool is maybe a bit small for some, but suited us fine – less of a paddle to the swim-up bar! The beach was great! No, it’s not white sand like Cayo Coco or Varadero, but it’s a great beach with shallow water for a good distance and lots of shade if you need it. The sand gets quite hot in the afternoon, so a pair of flip-flops or water shoes is a must unless you want to burn your feet. There’s also a reef about 300 metres out from shore with beautiful coral and aquarium-like tropical fish. Bring a snorkel, mask, fins and an underwater disposable camera!

Overall and conclusion – Yeah I know – it’s about time…OK, so we haven’t been to Varadero or Santa Maria or Cayo Largo or Cienfuegos or Trinidad or Maria la Gorda or Marea de Portillo or a host of other spots. But regardless, this is our hotel. It just has that feel about it, and I know why people keep coming back. The staff, the other guests, the scenery, the Caribbean, the entertainment and music, the local villages –all these things combine to make this our favourite spot in Cuba. We’ll be going back sooner rather than later. Not only are we addicted to Cuba, but also to the Sierra Mar
Brisas Sierra Mar
Shawn 
Ontario
April 2007
Just got back from Cuba, where we stayed for the first time at the Brisas Sierra Mar. I must say first of all that we are seasoned travellers and usually stay at nothing under a 4 star resort. We also travel in a large group so we are always the loudest and probably most rambunctious and sometimes demanding group anywhere we go. Not demanding in a bad way, its just that we like to do things and sometimes it doesn't occur to us that it can't be done or that it might be hard to get things done. Like renting Jeeps in a remote location!

First impressions
Upon arriving at the resort after a long day of travelling we were met at the lobby by a welcoming committee offering drinks, smiles and hospitality which was exactly what we needed. The road was long and the potholes were plenty. I hope the road gets fixed before we go back.

The Rooms
Yes, they were small and in need of some repair but after the initial shock we settled in just fine. There were no fridges in the rooms we stayed in and no bottled water either which we thought would be a problem but we were provided with thermal jugs that we filled at the bar each night and all was well again. Also don't look for a remote control for the TV, there aren't any. Minor inconvenience really! Oh, the best thing I almost didn't mention. Every night we fell asleep listening to the softly falling rain and the sound of the ocean from our balcony. Each morning we got up to a glorious sunrise and a beautiful ocean view. Where else on earth can you get that kind of experience!

The Grounds and View
Nothing could compare to the view from this resort. Breathtaking is the only word I could use. You only had to point your camera to get a beautiful picture. Snorkeling was fantastic, we went out everyday that we were on the resort.

Excursions
We rented Jeeps or "Heeps" as the Cubans call them a went out adventuring as we love to in Cuba. Had a wonderful Lobster Lunch on a small island about 15 minutes down the road going towards the town. Full lobster for $20 CUC or a Mix of 1/2 lobster, shrimp and white fish for $15 CUC. There were other dishes that were very reasonable as well pork, chicken, etc. We were taken out to the island on a paddle boat where we enjoyed lunch, drinks and snorkeled then we were dropped off by the road where we had parked. We went to Santiago on the catamaran and stopped on the way to snorkel a ship wreck. It was wonderful. We also went to the Big Rock which is a mountain on the other side of Santiago. There is a restaurant and hotel with separate cabins up there. The restaurant is not quite to the top of the mountain so you have to climb another 297 or so stairs to get to the lookout. Beautiful view! There is also a coffee plantation up there which we visited and bought a bag of Homegrown Cuban coffee from that plantation.

The Food
Well we were in Cuba after all so the food was good for where we were. Let put it this way we never starved and none of us came back any skinnier! Everyone enjoyed the meals.

The People on the resort
Everyone was great and so helpful. Carlos in the Dive shop who set us up with our Jeep rentals, arranged for a Scuba dive and lent us equipment when we wanted to go off on our own. Oscar in the restaurant who served us our coffee "outside at the tables" each morning even though it was against the restaurant rules. At first he seemed a little taken back by my request but the next day he was right there when we arrived and took it in stride as we drank coffee and ate our breakfast in the warm morning sun. Osmar at the Beach bar put up with our "crap" everyday with a smile on his face. Oscar the crazy entertainment guy who invited us to the Cuban party night with the Cubans on the resort.

The Shows
The entertainment is a little different, but they do try their best with what they have. Don't go there and criticize but go with an open mind and remember the circumstances that these people deal with on a daily basis.

Last thing I want to add is, please when you go down to this area take some things with you. I took First aid kits, shampoo, barrettes and hair ties for kids, balls and toys, batteries, toothpaste and toothbrushes, baby clothes and kids clothes, disposable razors, feminine hygiene products.

My husband also arranged through his DR to take down a suitcase full of medical supplies which we dropped off at a medical clinic just 1 KM away from the resort at Dr. Ricardo's ( his first name) thats what the locals call him and his wife Odalys is a dentist. The group is called "Not Just Tourists" it is a worthwhile organization (mostly DRs I believe) and they have a website. So if you are going you can "Google" them to find out what you can do to help support their humanitarian efforts to the Cuban people. These people treated us like we were celebrities and Thanked us over and over again. We were all choked up because it really was "No Big Deal" for us to take an extra suitcase along with us but it meant so much to them.

Would I go back...in a heartbeat!
Was the resort worth the money we paid....absolutely!
I hope I don't have to fight to get a room once this secret gets out!!!
Brisas Sierra Mar
Sven 

April 2007
I went to this resort over ten years ago when it was part of the Delta chain , returned five years later and have now returned with my young family. I realize by me writing this review I am probably making it more difficult for myself to find a room next time. Regardless, if it helps the staff who live off tips, its well worth it.

The first thing apparent is the over all beauty of the resort. Surrounded by fantastic mountains, the resort is set high up on a hill. Quiet. Yes the bus ride from the airport was long a bumpy one but we heard this road was top of the list of ones to be repaired.. No evidance of hurricane damage, in fact the amount of gardens and greenary is impressive. Sometimes this area can be pit dry but all the hills were green.

When you start meeting the other guests it was a real surprise to my wife that many have been coming back for over ten visits. If you ask them why they return the usual answer is that it’s the hotel employees who make it special. Sure they are tipped as in other resorts but they seem genuinely friendly. My daughter couldn’t go for more than ten minutes without someone asking how old she was, what’s her name or patting her on the head. It was a bit much for my shy little three year old but by the end even she was returning the polite “HOLA”.We were told everyone was talking about her and they referred to her as “Miss Sierra Mar” Kids club was closed but I’m told is fantastic. I read their activity list and it seemed well planned.

There was a children’s show preformed by,Yes,Children. My daughter loved it .

Music was everywhere, In the Lobby (Grand Piano) by the pool and at the beach. It was there if you wanted it but if you wanted peace and quiet that could be found as well. Being a musician with a decent ear, the quality of the entertainers was high in my books.

I read the death by Salsa pop review….Um that was for half an hour and for exercises.

The shows, Dancers were also of high caliber, but the alternative was a “loco show” which to my embarrassment my daughter yelled 'not funny', the Cubans visiting the resort loved it.

Yes Cubans on the resort, I’m told it was a reward for good job performance. Let me state here that from what I saw, they all behaved themselves and just had good fun. Sure the food disappeared faster at the restaurants but it was quite understandable. They seemed to keep mostly to themselves at the beach. Note before they arrived all TV’s were removed from their rooms.

Food, Ok, small variations on the usual Cuban staples, fish chicken rice. It was prepared well. Lots there. Ah ,my wife after a few days said kinda loud how odd that there’s no bananas, (there’s some growing by the beach,) Next day…Bananas!!!

Interesting story. I mentioned to a guest that I never get sick here from the water. He said that the resort was originally built by the Russians for the Russian VIP’s( communism gotta love it) so they built the water treatment plant , it supplies water from a stream to the hotel and the local town. Best water in Cuba.

Room …Basic , everything worked, fantastic Ocean view that you pay for extra anywhere else.

Along that line, Catamarans inclusive, since I was a repeat guest I could get free massage, pedicure and a private repeat guest meal.

My family always felt safe as there was security everywhere, just in case.

Beach, by the beach bar was nice, my daughter wouldn’t come out the ocean. My wife did get bit but wouldn’t put on repellant.

I’m told we just missed the rain the week before. Nov. was a better bet.

The snorkeling was good and Im not easy to please in this area. Great for kids. There’s a patch reef close to shore and the inner reef is accessible for good swimmers.

What to bring , the usual soap, toothpaste , toothbrush, shoes, Guitar strings( metal medium),perfume, cologne, batteries, Baseball stuff, clothes of all types. ( I brought four AA Batteries for the Maid,next day I had a fridge in the room)

I guess I should mention that this is the only resort I’ve ever returned to. It’s not for everyone. For myself and my family it was a very enjoyable, relaxing vacation. The people were friendly (staff and guests), good atmosphere. The majority of the reviews are right on the money. The really bad ones seem to be by people who expected way too much or would complain anywhere :0)
Brisas Sierra Mar
P. Smith  
Keswick, Ontario, Canada
March 2007
Olah..

We booked at Sierra Mar from Feb. 20-27.

We flew Cuban Airlines, and found the staff on the plane were very cold and rude.. Not helpfull at all.

We booked with Sol y Son and when we arrived at the airport, there was NO Rep there...We has also booked for Los Galeones Resort, but the Agent made a Big mistake and booked us at The Sierra Mar.. We could not go on the bus with the other tours, so they called a taxi for us..

Arrival at Sierra Mar was so welcoming... They said they would call Los Galeones the next day to see if we could be fit in, but after getting some dinner and looking around, we met people and they said we would be sorry if we switched over to Los Galeones... So, we ended up staying at Sierra Mar and had a FANTASTIC trip...... We did take a taxi to Los Galeones one day, and found the people very rude to us.... When we got there, the guy at the front desk said, NO LUNCH AND ONE DRINK......... We went down all of the 298 steps to the beach, and the beach bar people were so nice...... They made me a special drink,,,,,,, and NOT just one either....

We started the long haul up the stairs to leave, and what a haul...... I did not think I was going to make it. Brisas Sierra Mar, was so nice... The people Great.. Be sure to book the snorkeling day cruise on the Catamaran.....and you go to an island for lunch..Say HI to Ernesto.... .... I have never had such a large lobster before. Entertainment Great..... Food Great...... Elizabeth at the Pool Bar is so nice... She has a 2 yr. old daughter..

Be sure to take some things from home for the locals...... You can walk down the main road from the resort and then along a dirt road, where you end up in a small village... The locals were very thankful for the clothing I took for them.. All in all...... the resort was Wonderfull..

The rooms are a bit tired, but clean.....
Brisas Sierra Mar
M & JP 
Parry Sound
February 2007
We visited Brisas Sierra Mar for the first time this year and had a nice time. The Hotel was completely adequate for us and the food was good. We were never sick and we did drink the water. The weather was hot every day and sunny all but 2 days of the 2 weeks. Many of the guests were repeat visitors which says lots. The hotel was far from full which was a good thing because some days the staff bus just didn't arrive.

The highway to reach the hotel is in a terrible mess - potholes in the potholes in some places. This deters you from going anywhere. Riding the bicycles over it was so hard on the tires, few didn't have flats. And it was painful. Better to take the horses for a ride up into the mountains if you can manage it. We went on the catamaran tour and the snorkelling at the shipwreck was fabulous but the city tour part didn't leave much time to see anything. So we got a hotel staff to take us on his day off and had a real tour. It was difficult to rent the car and when it arrived it was small but it happened as planned.

The hotel was short on fresh fruit but it is available if you ask people and especially if you can tip. Be kind to them and they are wonderful to you. We had a lobster lunch one day in the village in exchange for things we brought - lots of baby clothes and shoes.

Bugs were the big problem while we were there. They sprayed and sprayed but some people were reacting to the bug bites. Bring Benedryl in case you are one of those and don't be afraid to take it. Also, anti-biotic cream helps. some folks were bit right in their rooms.

The rooms were comfortable and clean. ours had a fridge. We got new chairs and gym equipment while we were there but the elevator was an on-off continuing problem.

The staff were fabulous. The musicians were 80% great. They planned some really nice moments if you wanted to take part - eg. champgne and music on the deck at sunset.

The dancers were a must-see for at least a few nights. We ate and the beach restaurant most lunches and often the entertainment there was wonderful and very Cuban.

In conclusion, we would recommend this resort. It was a cheap and adequate holiday.
Brisas Sierra Mar
Bob 
Canada
January 2007
We visited this resort in January, 2007 for our fifth time. The trip from the airport is long but very interesting -- there is always something to see along the way -- people, scenery, animals . . . I don't mind the ride because I know at the end I will be at my favourite resort in Cuba.

Check in is done easily on the bus before you get to the hotel so when you get there you can go directly to your room -- there are lots of bell boys to help you with your luggage and to find your room. The rooms are clean and functional. The maids are very friendly and nice. The view is breathtaking from your room. Most of the rooms are oceanview. If you are not happy with the location of your room, the front desk will try to accommodate any change you might request.

All meals are available in the buffet restaurant. There is also a restaurant at the beach level which is a grill that serves lunch. This grill serves wonderful fish, pizzas, hot dogs, hamburgers, and has a homemade soup every day. There is also a snack bar near the pool which is open late afternoon until very late at night -- this snack bar serves fries, ham sandwiches, hotdogs, hamburgers, etc. Also at beach level is an ecological restaurant which is a la carte and you need reservations. The atmosphere is very natural and the food is all freshly cooked in plain view. There is another a la carte restaurant on the main level of the hotel which you also need reservations for. We have never gone there but have heard it is very good.

The beach is very private to the hotel but you can also wander a bit further down if you want to mingle with the locals. There is a dive shop on site and you have use of paddleboats and catamarans (with captain). Fishing trips can be arranged and they also have a sunset cruise a couple of times a week.

There are various trips you can take from the hotel. We have not taken any so I can't comment on them. I have heard good reviews and bad -- I guess it just depends on what you are expecting, who is with you that day, and your personal experience.

The thing that brings us back to this resort over and over are the people who work here. Many of the staff from the maids to the waitstaff to the gardeners to the chefs have been working at the resort for a long time. We have found that most of the staff are warm and friendly and real people. Just ask them how their family is and you will see a smile come across their face.

As with any vacation in Cuba you need to be flexible because sometimes things are not available or things don't work because of a lack of parts -- you have to remember that this is Cuba. If you can't do without things you have back home, then you probably should choose a different vacation destination than Cuba. If you want to come here, enjoy the weather and the scenery and the company of some great people as well as other vacationers this is the place for you.

We can't wait to go back again. The only thing I don't like about this area of Cuba is that they only offer flights here from November to April.
Brisas Sierra Mar
R & J 
Toronto, Ontario
December 2006
My husband and I just returned from our second trip to BSM this year. In April we went on our own and found the resort to be very satisfactory to us. Good food (very important when you are away from home), great staff (made us feel welcome and seemed willing to help) and acceptable rooms (cleaned every day, comfortable beds, nothing lacking).

We did just get back from BSM last week when we went with a group of 10. Again, the resort and staff were very satisfactory to us with the same comments from April.

This resort may not appeal to all but we were very pleased. It is not a "party spot" and there isn't a lot of night life - good quiet fun and a place for rest and relaxation. I'm sure that action can be found if you want to look for it - volleyball on the beach and in the pool, aerobics and aquasize, dance lessons, Spanish lessons, horseback riding can be arranged, scooter rentals and bicycles are available, snorkelling, scuba, hobie cats, excursions to Santiago and other locations, disco, staff entertainment nightly, piano bar with live music in the main lobby. It's all available if you want it.

All in all, BSM is a safe family oriented spot to visit with enough to keep everyone occupied and no pressure to join in. If you want to sit and read at the pool or on the beach there is no problem.

We did encounter some very nasty insects while there this month (apparently December is the month for no see ums - that can be felt shortly after they have their way with you) and there was a bit of a stomach bug going around the resort as well. However, if you are prepared by bringing precautions and remedies from home, it shouldn't present a problem. As well, there is a doctor available at the resort 24/7 if the need arises.

The only negative thing about BSM is the distance from Santiago that must be travelled by bus. The road is a mess of pot holes and washouts making the ride tiring especially after having spent the better part of eight hours (travel to PIA, three hours at PIA getting through customs and security and then the plane ride) getting to Cuba in the first place.

We would definitely go back to BSM and would recommend it to anyone looking for a quiet and relaxing time. It has our vote as a four star facility.
Brisas Sierra Mar
Bee and Larry 
Mississauga
April 2006
My wife and I (mid 40's) stayed at Brisas Sierra Mar from Apr 6-13/2006...(our 3rd time in CUBA in the past year) Sunwing gave excellent service, good lunch, free headphones..and the legroom seemed larger than on Skyservice.

We received our room keys and bracelets on the bus..which made for a relaxed 1 hour trip to the resort...There is no need to chg money at the airport because Sierra Mar has a bank directly behind the front desk in the lobby.

The resort is dated, although quite clean...Our Room was adequate..we were on the 600 level...maids did an excellent job every day. The view from our room was quite beautiful....(mountains/ocean/ and red-clay rooftops)

The Buffet food was very good, as was the service. All of the bars (beach,pool, and lobby) gave great service.

The pool was quite small and shallow and the waist-deep side was monopolized by a volleyball net..(which, by the way, many people enjoyed)..But if you wanted to have a nice swim and do some laps the pool was insufficient.

The beach was not the greatest..The sand is darker than average (hot on the feet) and there was a lot of weedy areas in the water. Snorkeling was OK though, as there were some reefs that were easily accessible by peddle boat.

The main lobby was fabulous, airy and always a great place to sit and watch other tourists.

The internet cafe had only 1 PC but we usually had no probs getting a turn...(6 pesos for one hour and its quite slow)

We walked out on our own to visit a village nearby and we met a family of 6 living in a very small dwelling.

We gave them some soap, clothes, toothpaste etc and we were heartbroken when we were told that the father (a spear-fisherman) only had one flipper..We tried in vein to get a pair for him but could not...If anyone is planning to go to Sierra Mar and you have a spare pair or 2 of flippers (another fellow nearby asked for the same) bring them down ,walk out to the main road,turn right, walk for about 1-200 meters where you will see a baseball field on the right.Walk across the field, and down the first base line you will see a couple of small shacks..The one on the right is where Magalis (the mother)lives..give the flippers to her.

We did a half day trip to Santiago and had a very knowledgable tour guide Louis, who gave us a very interesting history lesson about Cuba. We would probably go back again, but we want to try different resorts in Cuba.
Brisas Sierra Mar
Bruce and Wendy 
Nelson, BC
March 2006
Visited Brisas Sierra Mar (BSM) March 12 - 26 incl. We are a family of 4: 2 daughters (Angela, 7 and Melanie, 16) and parents in early 50's. Well travelled in Caribbean and Europe, and have years of experience in the hospitality industry, including work stints in Jamaica and Turks and Caicos. I'll try not to repeat what many others have said, but rather touch on a couple of points which stood out.

Getting to and from: A day by air to Toronto from Nelson, BC, then the WestJet charter to Santiago. Comfortable. Santiago de Cuba airport small, but we were the only plane. A money change right at customs. Change Canadian $$ there.

Money: Also a money change at the hotel. Do NOT take American $$, as it cannot be used by anyone anymore. Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) floats with the American dollar, meaning that one CUC = $1 US. So every peso you spend is equal to about $1.30 CDN. Set money aside for tipping. A peso here and there is greatly appreciated. Also, do not tip in American bills or Canadian $1 or $2 coins, as they cannot be converted anywhere on the island. People at the resort and hotel approached me, asking to change US bills and CDN coin into CUC. Haevy bag of loonies and toonies to carry home! Can get cash advance on credit card. (Not American Express) All crdedit card transactiopns subject to about 11% fee.

Location: This resort is isolated, an hour west of Santiago de Cuba. For us, this was a deciding factor in choosing BSM, as it was our first trip to Cuba and we wanted to be far away from rows of hotel after hotel. Chivirico is the nearest town, about a 20 - 30 minute scooter ride west. The scenery both east and west of the resort is incredible. Get out of the resort by yourself at least once, either on foot, by single speed bicycle, or scooter. Once off the property, there is no doubt that you are in Cuba. No cars for miles, no billboards, no stores, only mile after mile of ocean on one side, and goats, the occasional horse-drawn carriage, and people walking, on the other. Those buildings that look like small shacks: those are where people live. Be respectful!

Hotel and staff: BSM caters to a mixed crowd. The first week, there mostly Canadian families with kids, some Germans, a couple of Russians, Brits, Italians, Poles and a surprising numbers of Cubans. Made for a nice mix. Second week, more Cubans and Europeans, but majority from Toronto area. As mentioned by others, many repeat clients.

Hotel has unique layout, described by others on this site. Elevators hidden in nooks and crannies. Get to know where they are, as at least one is always out of order. Stairs make everything accessible, though.

While you may hear that all staff speak English, most know just enough to carry on their jobs. Only entertainment staff, front desk, Dive Shop, Adolfo at the pool bar, and a couple of others are really bilingual or trilingual. A Spanish-English phrasebook helps, no matter how bad you sound. People appreciate you trying. Melanie, our 16 year old, is fluent in French and English, with a working knowledge of Spanish, while I can get by with the necessities and simple conversation. Many times we struggled, but always seemed to be able to communicate with a mix of Spanish, English, sign language, and a dictionary. Most Cubans were happy to put up with our efforts and assist. Be willing to laugh at yourself. If so inclined, take the time to talk to them about themselves, their families, where and how they live, etc.

Food: OK, you didn't come to Cuba for the food, but you won't starve, and probably won't get sick. The main buffet restaurant has something for everyone, even if it's basically the same each day. Try the a la carte's. Remember to get up early to reserve. Or be creative if all are booked by the time you get there. You do not have to lie, cheat or tip in order to get a seat if all seem booked: just show up and ask if there are any seats. Frequently, people make reservations and don't show. Or some leave really early, freeing up a table.

My wife celebrated her 50th while at BSM. Staff set a special table with flowers, there was a cake, the guys singing in the lobby came to sing, and wine flowed.

Quirky note: There is spaghetti at every lunch and dinner. Only once we saw parmassen cheese, and only in one restaurant. It was there for one hour in a big bowl, then someone from the kitchen came out, took it away, and we never saw it again. Yet twice we had lobster and shrimp the size of small footballs for no extra charge, while others were told there was no lobster or shrimp. And no, we didn't bribe to get it.

Dive / watersports shop: catamaran tours, peddle boats out to the reef, kayaks and windsurfers all available. We are avid divers, and there are plently of reefs close in, plus wreck and night dives. Dirt cheap to dive: $30 CUC per, discounts for more. My wife and I are both certified divers. For $300 CUC, Melanie got certified with SNSI, an Italian organization recognized world-wide. It included what you would expect from PADI:1-on-1classroom, 6 dives, video, and both a written and in-water test. We got to dive each time with her. As there is only one dive boat (and no other boast of any kind as far as the eye can see), it was much more personal than being certified anywhere else. There were some die-hard Germans who have made over 200 dives at BSM (yes!) and a couple from Quebec with great underwater camera gear on most of our dives. Usually just them and us. Occasionally a few first-timers. But not at all crowded. Each dive was just how I like it: just a couple of people, slow, no currents, lots of life in spite of recent hurricanes... aahhhh. A good place for both first-timers and experienced divers. The equipment is old but servicable and inspected.

Outside the resort: Safe, clean, quiet and other-worldly! A time warp! Besides a couple of ventures outside the resort grounds to Chivirico or just for a bike ride, we took 2 trips into Santiago: One, the half day guided bus tour, and another full day with Adolfo from the pool bar on his day off. Both were worthwhile, but Adolfo took us to places well of the beaten path. We got the restaurant to prepare a picnic, rented a car for less than the bus trip for 4, Aldolfo drove, and we were off on an adventure. Getting gas was a Cuban experience, as was chasing down some indredibly rich and inexpensive ice cream. A Cuban moment: driving down the empty patched road in the countryside, everyone including driver digging into nutmeg spice ice cream, the radio blasting Cuban "son", waving at uniformed school kids, and laughing like crazy at some joke! Adolfo trained as a mechanical engineer, but can make way more in tourism. Nice to have him along, with his Spanish and intimate knowledge of Santiago and Cuba.

We had a bag of Hilroy notebooks, pens, stickers, and assorted school supplies. Passing a school somewhere between Santiago and the basilica at Cobre, Adolfo asked if we wanted to visit. He first spoke with the teacher in case we were interrupting, then we were invited in. What an experience! A sea of neatly uniformed little kids, all laughing and waving, ran out to greet us. They sang some songs, showed us their classes, and asked a million questions (in Spanish). A mother of one of the kids was assisting that day, and she gratefully took out supplies and evenly divided them. As there were not enough notebooks for everyone, she neatly cut divided each into 4, so that every student had at least a few sheets. The stickers and pens were to be used as prizes later. The classrooms are semi-open to the elements. Some had lights, others didn't. Each class had a chalkboard and chairs, and not much else.

Cubans: They have my deep respect! A socialist / communist country, under a major embargo, with a broken economy, yet without exception each and every Cuban we met, on or off the resort, was clean, well presented and fed. Yes, there are severe shortages of everything we take for granted. Yes, everyone receives a ration book that doesn't provide much more than the basics of life. Yes, it's extremely difficult for them to get around fromplace to place, and many buildings are crumbling. But you will not meet a more gracious people anywhere. They are fiercely patriotic. Quality live music is everywhere. And they are nuts about baseball! We were there for the World baseball series games: Cuba vs Domibnican Republic in the semi's and Cuba - Japan in the final. Cheer for Cuba, as they grow up as kids on dirt lots with stick for bats and no gloves,a nd take on the world. Except for a couple of times in Santiago, we were never bugged for money.

Yes, it is possible to talk openly and honestly about politics and current affairs. Some people are more open than others, and sometimes you might have to wait until no one else is in earshot. But we had frank discussions with a couple of people on Castro, the American embargo, and the future. Bring it up respectfully, and wait until you know the person a bit. Cubans look very favourably on Canadians, especially Pierre Trudeau (he used to visit and go diving with Fidel, and Castro was a pall bearer at Trudeau's funeral). If someone is uncomfortable with the conversation, move on to other topics.

FYI: As everyone else says, bring stuff as gifts. We packed 2 suitcases of kids clothing, shoes, baseballs, dollar-store pens and paper, batteries... When offering something, to help people save face, saying something like "I thought you might like this in appreciation for your help", or something along that line. Numerous Cubans told us that a gift is better than money, as there is frequently nothing to buy, anyway. But they or someone they know can use just about anything. From duct tape, rope, hair clips, soap, shampoo, lotion, to blank CD's and staplers...

The placemats in the main dining room have an accurate resort layout on them. Take an hour or two to explore the grounds. Bring a small flashlight if you are going to dine in the Ecological restaurant and for those occasional short power failures. Bug juice if you want to sit on the beach near the trees and for evenings of wandering around the resort. If going off-resort for any period of time, carry toilet paper. If you have any electrical medical appliances, such as a CPAP machine, be aware that the bedroom voltage is 220, but bathrooms are 110. Adaptors might be necessary.

Rent the Cuban movie "Fresa y Chocolate" before you go. (Spanish with English sub-titles).

Ladies: Accoding to a good number of guests, if you go with other female friends or without male companionship, you will be "hit" on. Male staff who speak the most English and wear the least clothes believe that they are (and indeed, may be) the "main attraction". Seems that anyone from about 15 and up is fair game. A polite "no" seemed to work for most, but one woman with her young son was bugged to the point that she threatened to report him. No touching, just suggestions of coming to his place after work, or going just with him into Santiago. The threat was enough to end the attraction, and he remained respectful for the rest of her trip.

Be respectful: Cubans are very big on manners. No matter how poor, people wash their hands before they eat, and know how to use a knife and fork and napkin. Try to call people by name: they all have name tags. Guys: shake hands with other men and offer the ladies a cheek to be brushed. (Your upper cheek, not your lower ones). Leave the sleeveless, armpit-hanging-out-shirts at home. Take your hats off when you eat. Ladies: no bathing suit tops at dinner. Cover those up!

Final Note: I'm not preaching here, just giving my opinion. This place is not for everyone! If you just want a cheap holiday with sun, sand and unlimited rum, beach vendors, time-share hit men, discos, parties, nice restaurants in a quaint near-by town, great shopping, buses running here and there to take you off-resort...go elsewhere. Varadaro, the DR, or wherever. This is for people who want to interact with Cubans and are OK with minimalistic comforts. You will be safe, well fed, well entertained by incredible performers all over the resort and at night, and it's hot and sunny. But definitely not for the spring-break, party hearty crowd. Talk to the staff, beyond "gimme a beer and two mojitos". Greet everyone with at least a "hola". Go with an open mind, a smile, and an "I'm OK with what happens" attitude, and you will love Brisas Sierra Mar.

If you wish to contact us re: this resort, use brucelacroix@hotmail.com
Brisas Sierra Mar
Doug & Kathleen 
Canada
March 2006
I went with a neighbor friend and my 12 yr old son to Brisas Sierra Mar March 16-23. We flew sunwing and had no problems at all. I have read so many negative experiences with sunwing but I was impressed with the flight. If you can afford it buy the extra $59 package with sunwing. It came in real handy for us. We had no line up canadian airport we just walked right up to a special counter while the other 200 people waited in line with their luggage. The checked our bags immediately and we were off. The special package allows you $35 more baggage allowance which came in handy to bring down extra gifts to give which in return makes your service excellent. It also includes 4 alcoholic drink coupons on the plane. Two for the ride down and two for the ride back. We were given a small glass of champagne on the plane and a hot towel. The plane meal was hot and a glass of wine was included with it. The $59 package also includes you to pre-pick your seats. We went with the extra leg room seats but had to pay alittle more on top of the $59 but it was well worth it. There is other things in the package that include a $50 sunwing gift certificate for future flights. All in all my recommendation is to do the extra package.

After the wonderful flight we landed in Santiago De Cuba airport. The airport was an eye opener. The washroom had no toilet seat and was very very primitive.
As soon as you get off the plane go right in and try to change your money over before the line is huge. We got our money changed and our bags and off to the bus. While out there there are men wanting to carry your bags to the bus waiting for you. Most reviews say don't do it they carry them two feet and then set them down for someone else to carry that way you keep tipping. Well honestly I didn't care. It was nice to give alittle extra money to these people. If you get a chance to go into town while on your stay you will know what I mean. They have nothing. While waiting for everyone to change their money and board the bus we found someone to get us nice cold cans of beer. I have never tasted anything so wonderful after the hot wait in the non airconditioned airport. $5 CUC gets you 5 ice cold cans of beer. The man who ran and got us the beer was very nice and we tipped him with a can of beer.

The bus ride is long and bumpy but quite interesting. At the resort we were greeted with a nice glass of rum punch and then our bags were taken to our room.

There are many outside activities the resort offers but its hard to get a straight answer out of anyone as to how much and what time they take place. Our sunwing rep was nice but not too enthusiastic about his job. By the end of our trip I had a better feeling about him it just took some time to get to know him. The phrase "A trip is what you make of it" was said to us by many of the repeat visitors. It kept entering my mind as trips we booked were cancelled etc. We were disappointed that the dolphin swim that we booked and paid for was cancelled and we did not get to go. We were given our money back. Oh well it just meant we got to spend another awsome day at the beach. These are things that you just have to accept and make the best.

The resort is clean but it is a little rustic. The rooms were always clean but not fancy but really how much time do you spend in your room. Our housekeeper was awsome. We left her gifts every day and she gave us lots of fresh towels and even a new shower curtain. Oh ya don't loose a beach towel it costs $15 CUC.

Really get to know the staff. Ask their name and give them yours. They won't forget it and will greet you with it every day. Be generous early in your stay. Give tips and gifts in the beginning and you will have friends for life. The staff is very friendly and will do anything for you to make your stay fun. Don't forget to tip the gardeners and security. We gave some hats and shirts to the man who cleans the beach everyday and he made sure that we had chairs to lie on everyday when others did not. Once the bartenders know you and how good you are your drinks seem to come faster and taste much better. My 12 yr old son was greeted everyday by the workers. They knew his name and loved his blonde hair and blue eyes. Remember these staff names: Ernesto at the dive shop he is a real sweetheart and his wife also works at the resort. Jose at the beach grill bar he is shy but will not forget your name and will do anything for you. George is the animation staff and he made sure the kids had a great time. Don't forget to tip him. Raphael was our taxi driver he drives fast but we had lots of laughs. Don't forget to tip him. Omar at the beach bar makes great drinks. Give him a little something for his kids. Keep in mind that most of the resort workers have young kids so remember to bring gifts of chocolate, candy, shoes and toys for them too. We brought bags of the cadbury's mini easter eggs and they were a great hit. We also brought hard wearthers candies.

There are people that think that all inclusive means no extra money other then what you paid for the trip. These people may not have had as much fun as we did. Bring about $50 for tipping and gifts it is well worth it.

The beach is clean. peddle boats are fun. The pool seemed clean. The volleyball in the pool was a hit. George arranged Cuba against Canada everyday at 4. It was so much fun.

The food is buffet food. There is a great selection. I had a hard time eating everyday. It is different. Very plain tasting but there was always something to snack on. The bread is to die for I could have just lived on the bread. There is fresh fruit every morning. The dinner buffet has a great selection too make sure you try the ice cream it was only found two days and we really missed it. If nothing at the buffet appeals to you there are grills. The one beside the pool bar serves grill cheese, hamburgers and hotdogs and fries. The one at the beach serves pizza which is very good and fish, hotdogs, hamburgers and fries. The fries changed daily. The first day they were sweet potato fries which were very good. The second day they were just regular fries and then they changed to banana chips. Bring some snacks from home. peanuts, pringles, etc. You really start to miss these things there and they are not found there. Bring immodium and gravol. Try all the drinks. The rum is so tasty and smooth.

We met so many great people from other countries there as well as many great canadians. I got a little home sick about the 3rd day but the staff makes you feel better.

On the way home do the VIP at the airport. Well worth the $20 for it. They come to the bus take your luggage and take you to a special counter with no line. They take your passport from you and do all the work. They take you to an airconditioned room with nice black leather furniture . There is a lady getting drinks for you its all included take a nice cold beer. She then brings out snacks of meat, cheese and olives. Not much to snack on but its food. They then escort you to duty free, they wait there for you and carry back your purchases. What a way to end a trip. If your flight is delayed you wait there and can even sleep on the sofa. Ours was not delayed but we still had to wait 2 hours in the airport so this was the way to go.

I would recommend this trip to Brisas Sierra Mar to anyone wanting to get away from busy life and who wants to relax. Mostly older crowds and lots of repeat visitors.
Brisas Sierra Mar
Mary 
Ontario
January 2006
I am writing about Brisas Sierra Mar, Cuba 4 star hotel

My boyfriend and I have been going to Brisas Sierra Mar since 1995 (at this time it was Delta Sierra Mar...Cnd owned) We have had nothing but great experiences every year. A majority of the original staff are still working at the hotel and some have actually been promoted to management levels. This is a good indication that not only do the tourists love this place but the staff love it as well.

Over the years we have visited Santiago on many occasions and loved it. We have experienced the street dances, gone to the Grand Prix Seadoo races, shopped in many great stores had dinner with some of the staff's families in their homes, had a pig roast at one of the locals houses just down the road from the hotel and many more wonderful experiences. When you get to know the hotel staff and the people that live around the resort they are very friendly and proud people who will open their homes to you. If you have the opportunity to visit with them be sure to take a few things with you. You will find some essentials (that we take for granted ) in the store at the hotel....such as soap, shampoo, a few goodies and maybe a bottle of cola and rum. Just because Cuba is well known for thier rum this does not mean that they always have it...this too costs money that the locals do not have. We have always enjoyed the food at Sierra Mar. The buffets are always fresh, the Ranchon by the beach is great.

We don't really go for the food...we keep returning because of the people.

We have tried many other destinations but we prefer to come back every year.

We have met many people in the past years and now we actually see a lot of the same tourists each year...which is a lot of fun. We do love the trip to Cayo Damos...the trip to the island. I have read a lot of the reveiws and I do agree...if you want a washcloth you will have to bring your own...bring a few and leave them behind for the staff. Something we take for granted but they don't have.

There are little bugs on the beach but we found if we went to the beach in the morning and left by 4:00 and went up to the pool swim up bar we were OK.

Bring along those bug pens that are sold in Walmart,grocery stores...just about everywhere. We found if you dab the tiny bite right away you were fine. They are just a little itchy. Nothing to get excited about. Water shoes are a good idea if you don't like sea weed between your toes. Parts of the beach are clear also. We love this place and we will continue to return every year.
Brisas Sierra Mar
Barb, 44, 
Toronto, ON.
January 2006
(See also my review of March 2005 below for more info). This trip I traveled solo with an incredible deal on yourtraveltickets.com for $483 Cdn, flights, 1 week AI hotel, taxes and visitor card included. No problem ordering online. Sunwing was awesome – leather seats, movies, champagne, hot meal with choice of wine, free earphones. The flight was not full, so my Not Just Tourists suitcase came ‘standby’on the same flight. Blizzard started as we took off, the last flight out. Sweeeeet.

Luggage takes a while to arrive after landing, but they x-ray everything. I went to customs (table is 5 feet away from the suitcase carousel), where they examined the NJT suitcase, and read the Spanish letter. No problem at all. My own suitcase, in which I had gifts of wrapped knives, was not opened.

Nice new bus this time – on the drive to Sierra Mar, we were given our tickets/safe keys on the bus, arrived in an hour, where they met us with a tray of rum punch. The Animacion team was there singing/dancing to the Sierra Mar theme song. I was on the 1st floor last March; this year on the 7th floor, floors 5-8 being on the upper side of the lobby, and no working elevator. Bell Boy carried my 3 suitcases like a bag of feathers. I nearly died on the stairs (out of shape!) but did not ask for a room change as I figured it would be the only exercise I’d get all week. View was breathtaking! Exact same room/layout/everything as the 1st floor room.

Had a moment of anxiety realizing I was all alone and didn’t know a soul, but decided I could either freak out, or go drink. Chose the latter. Went to the disco after the evening show, and piano bar. If you need a wake-up call, tell the front desk to send someone at the assigned time. Down to orientation with the Sunwing rep, who explained day trips, restaurants, activities at BSM. There are lots of choices – mountain trip, Baconao park, dolphin swim, ranging from $60-$100 CUC.

If you book with Sunwing, you get an overnight stay in mountain resort near a waterfall and strenuous morning hike. You book this at the front desk. I am NOT fit so passed on it. There are 3 desks in the lobby with Holasun, Sunwing and also a car rental agency. I did the Sunset Cruise for $15 - 2 hour cruise at sea with drinks and music. We had the boat instead of catamaran, so it was a Vomit Party for those who did not use Gravol! If you are a repeat visitor, alert the front desk, as they have a special lunch or dinner for you at the Ecological restaurant.

I recommend the mud bath trip for $15 dollars. Wear your swimsuit, get muddied up by an assistant, bake in the sun 10 mins, cool down in shade 10 mins, rinse off in mineral spring, then swim in mineral spring pool, then backrub massage. Hatuey Beer or Tucola available for $1 CUC. Gave the man fishing line/hooks as a tip, which thrilled him, as it saved him the trip to Santiago to buy some. Note that this is not a quick trip (about 4 hours total with car) – you wait while others get massaged, but that’s where the beer comes in. I handed out smokes & pens to the workers and we hung out, while I took their photos. Horses and sheep grazed nearby.

My March experience was different than this one – perhaps because of the great sell-off price, there was a real mixture of individuals - a very happy and pleasant crowd. Never used the disco before; this trip, you couldn’t get me out of it! I didn’t eat in the a la cartes this time – the buffet was my favourite as you could get in and get out quickly. And I discovered the joys of the swim-up bar.

The dock on beach is washed out after Wilma so you can’t walk along the beach straight through like previously. Water is fantastic and I swear it has magical healing powers. Someone complained the sand was brown, not white –oh, honey, get a better problem! ;) Lots of palapas and plenty of shade under the sea grape trees. Saw one episode of Touron Towel Game when couple came at noon and yelled at people to leave “their” palapa as they had put towels there at 8 am. Sorry, showing up four hours later means you have forfeited your spot, folks! Nudity: One European man was sunbathing nude – apparently there were complaints, tho’ personally, I wanted to congratulate his girlfriend. Oddly, no one complained about topless women. One of the beach highlights is to wait for the plane in the afternoon we named “Five O’Clock Charlie” – that is how mail is delivered – he flies low and drops it near town.

Pool: Shallow pool – good for aquasize, volleyball, floating, and a separate pool for the wee ones. Lots of blue pool floatie pads to lie on – never been on anything so comfy in my life.

Piano Bar: The evenings usually start at the piano bar, during the pre-dinner hour. Cesar is a wonderful pianist and so talented. If you have favourite songs you want to hear, bring down the sheet music. There was one couple there that were ballroom dancers and he knew all the right songs to play. He plays till about midnight. I tip him every time he plays Como Fue, my favourite Cuban song.

Clothing to take: Here’s my bare minimum: 2 bathing suits, underwear, one summer dress in the day and fancier dress at night. I wore one pair of sandals the whole trip One night I needed the light jersey jacket but that’s because of a sunburn/chill. You won’t need much more than that. Men wear short or long pants for dinner – long pants better for mosquito protection. Extras: I also brought a battery recharger for the camera as I took 400 pics in 6 days; my own beach towel so I could recognize my chair; several insulated mugs – 1 for me and a couple of extras. I gave them to a Cdn couple who left the mugs in Cuba, where they are very much appreciated as gifts.

Weather was 86-90 F – had one 2 hour rainstorm that was quite spectacular with rainbows and hot pink clouds and thick white rain. Some days were more humid than others. Beach open every day – no red flags. They had called for partly cloudy all week but it was perfect weather. Awesome sunsets every night over the water. 66F at 2 am – that’s as cool as it gets at night. Fantastic night skies for amateur astronomers! .

Shows: Shows are nightly at 9:30 – dinner is 7:30-9:30 so do piano bar after dinner, then go to show area and get a seat. The dancers are FANTASTIC – great costumes, wide variety of styles. They work a long day, teach aquacize, Spanish classes, salsa/mambo, etc., put on a great show, then work in the disco til 2 am. Phew! They are always working on new numbers. It’s fun to watch them rehearse in the afternoon. They brought in a band on Sunday night that was awesome – cd is $10. Saturday night they had reggaeton/hip hop along with fire eaters and gymnasts. Four acrobats stood on each other’s shoulders in an incredible feat of balance. When the fire eaters finished their show, they blew out their flames and then suddenly a blackout. It was fantastic –an unbelievable night sky. One evening we had water ballet – many of the performers were graduates of Kinesiology and Sports Medicine, and were National Swim champions. I recognized a few from last year’s visit, and they remembered me too. Shows always end with the Sierra Mar song and although I felt like the ridiculously uncoordinated white chick I am, I loved to get up on stage with other guests and dance. Alcohol helps, and hey, if you can’t be silly on vacation, when can you be silly?

Going off the resort: Mopeds are available - I think $20 for 24 hours, $5/hr. Horse and buggy I think is $10. Or negotiable, if you want longer. Extremely bumpy roads. If you go off resort, take lots of water – it is strong hot sun – I nearly fainted. Safe off the resort – people went about their business. I delivered my NJT suitcase in town - shared a taxi (new Hyundai minivan) with another couple, and that was $15/return. Also delivered supplies to a school - you can't visit the secondary but the primary schools are ok, if you go at end of the day so classes aren’t interrupted. I had the taxi driver go up and ask if it was okay first, rather than just barge in. They remembered me from March and I brought pictures of them from that time.

Saturday nights in town (Chivirico) you take a $5 return cab ride to town after the night shows, and they have traditional Cuban bands and reggaeton. Bring your fave drink along, and “freshen up” before you go into town – there are no beer tents, hot dog stands, nor washrooms. I think Thursday they have a pig roast at BSM, but check the announcement board in the lobby for daily activities.

Didn’t do trip to Santiago this time, but will next time, and the advice I got was to go WITH a Cuban person, and you won’t be disturbed by panhandlers. One interesting note – in the Bay of Santiago there is an island with a church at the top of the hill. Guess who had a summer home there in the 1920s? Mr. Desi Arnaz! Yep, Lucy’s hunky husband was born in Santiago, and I believe his grandfather had been the mayor at one time. A little tidbit to impress your friends! (I’m reading his autobiography.)

If you are off the hotel grounds, carry a roll of toilet paper with you in a Ziploc bag. Cuban toilets do not have seats, and toilet paper is not standard issue! You can flush tp at the resort, but off the resort, they do not flush paper – it is discarded in a garbage can. It’s not polite conversation, but it’s good to know about! One tourist was visiting a friend’s home in Santiago. He later thanked me for informing him that TP would be an excellent host gift. The other thing I was told that the number one thing you do when staying in a Cuban home for an extended visit, is offer to go buy groceries. They are on rations.

Women alone: Traveling alone was the way to go – got to do what I wanted when I wanted, felt utterly safe the whole time, although one guest followed me up the stairs. He got a firm NO. Security guard saw this and announced himself so I knew I was safe. Security is on every floor so you are safe, safe, safe. Women alone will get hit on, but more likely from other guests than staff – it’s not worth it for them to endanger a good job!

Stuff to bring: when I asked what I could bring them as a gift next time, the ladies were anxious to get thong underwear (“tangas”). Popular requests: underwear, tampons, makeup, face cream, chocolate, costume jewelry, and pantyhose. Let me emphatically state that they did not ask ME to bring stuff, I asked them (I’m returning) what I could bring TO THEM. Men suggested lip balm, cologne, fishing stuff, hair styling aids, razors. You can give to staff or off-resort people – essentially, they all live in similar homes. No one is secretly living in marble palaces with gold faucets!

If you smoke, bring a carton from Duty Free – I brought 3 packs of smokes to give to Cubans as they love Cdn smokes. Cuban smokes range from .60 to 1.20 a pack and are available at the gift shop. Cdn smokers found the blue Hollywood Lights most like Cdn ones. Cigars: if you read Deb’s boards, you will know not to buy cigars on the beach. Only do this if you plan to smoke them on your trip. The only cigars you can bring back are the ones you buy in a store with a receipt with your passport number. Learn it, know it, live it – end of discussion!

Night Delights: At night, the creatures come out. Trust me on this: don’t sleep with the balcony door open. On a staircase, I saw a giant frog the size of a cantaloupe and teensy frogs the size of thumbnails. Glorious hanging flowers attracted the tiniest hummingbirds. There’s a cactus by the main elevator that blooms white flowers only at night. Green leaf bugs – moths 4” across - curly-tailed lizards and geckos – it was like a nature programme! From 6-8 pm, that’s when the biting flying things come out, so spray for mosquitoes and sand fleas. Spray your bed too, in case you get bit at night by a skeeter.

Final tips: I always get “Day 3 Syndrome” – this is when your tummy revolts on day 3 – beans, booze and beach equal BLAST, so keep that Imodium handy! Bring a Glad container to make a sandwich for afternoon beach snack, or off resort visit. Not always easy to find a place to buy food if you are off-site. Bring snack foods for a taste of home – Oreos, Pringles. Finally, a big HOLA to my travel pals - Big Mike, Darryl, Hana, David, Steve, Gwyn/Zig/Kristyn, Ben and Naddi – y’all were excellent company – love ya! Any Q’s about BSM, PM me (Eloisegirl) on the Cuba boards. Thanks, Debbie, for such an awesome site! I tell everyone about this site, because it’s a gold mine of information. Hasta luego!
Brisas Sierra Mar
Barb & Kelly 
Toronto, ON.
May 2005
We are two single women: Barb, divorced, 43; Kelly, single, 39, from Toronto. Kelly had just finished her PhD and needed a relaxing vacation. I had been to Cuba in 1972, and this was Kelly’s first trip to Cuba. After arriving at Pearson, we put on our bright coloured leis from the Dollarama, and sashayed through security right over to Duty Free.

We flew down on Cubana, and upgraded to 1st class for $75 ea. Although we’d never even heard of this airline, it was just as good as, if not better than, the North American airlines I’ve flown on. Also, Cubana has a higher weight allowance for luggage. (You can take a bicycle down too, depending on your airline. Bicycles are the most common transportation). We landed in Camaguey and had a 1 hour stop before heading out to Santiago. I had done a TON of research from Deb’s site, and had brought tips and school supplies, and gleaned useful info, like “Un regalo para ti” (a gift for you).

While waiting for the luggage to arrive (still faster than at Pearson!), K changed her money, then I did. When you leave the baggage area, you will be swarmed with young men offering to take your luggage to the bus. Turns out, the bus is 8 feet away but the exit doors are mirrored so you can’t see the bus and so you agree. It was worth a peso to me to see a swarm of handsome Cuban men ready to help me!

Long wait for the bus to get going as we had one fellow bringing down a bike and sewing machine and Customs wanted to charge him 50 pesos. He apologized for the delay, but you can’t be mad at a person who is so kind-hearted. Off we drove to the resort. The bus had a weird smell that I am told is stale cigar smell. We hadn’t eaten in a while and as I was on penicillin for a tooth infection, I began to feel dizzy. The roads are crazy bumpy and you spend half your time on the shoulder, driving around potholes that could double as kiddie pools. By the time we arrived at the resort, I had that special feeling that can only mean one thing: Here comes lunch! Couldn’t see any washroom signs so I ran to the far bushes and let it fly. Kelly held my lei so I didn’t ruin it and commented, “Didn’t know you had so much in you!” Me neither. Down to our room and we couldn’t figure out how to turn on the weird light switches and the AC wasn’t on. I had a sinking feeling this was going to be an AWFUL trip. BUT after a good night’s sleep, the world was beautiful again. We had orientation with Mario, the Holasun rep, who explained day trips, restaurants, activities at BSM. We booked the trip to Santiago which was 27 CUC (Convertible pesos = equivalent to one US dollar). Our return flight was also leaving 3 hours earlier than we had been told. Good to know!

They have remarkably little. And yet, I don't think I ever saw a miserable face. The moms are great with their little kids, and people are friendly.

Our trip was mostly: get up, eat breakfast, hit the beach, swim, have lunch at beach level restaurant, beach, swim, shower, nap, dinner, show, party with new friends, CNN before bed (the week of Terry Schiavo and the Pope), and do it all again the next day. We met people from Germany, Ireland, Quebec, New Brunswick and Southern Ontario.

Staff: I had read so many positive wonderful reviews about the friendliness of the Cubans that I was a little surprised that they did not seem all that friendly to me at the beginning. However, after a few days, they got to know us as friendly people and were less shy. We had also heard that you were not supposed to tip them or be friendly (this was on CNN a few weeks before the trip). Mario said that was not true, the actual report was that Cubans working abroad were not allowed to take gifts, etc. So feel free to bring gifts and tip your brains out! Canadians are very well-liked down there.

Tipping: I brought small gifts and always had coins to tip. Like stated elsewhere on this site, they only get $8 CUC monthly and ration coupons for rice/beans/milk. We tipped at every meal. We tipped for our drinks. We tipped the driver, the tour guide, anyone who helped us. I’m no Rockefeller but there is lots of good karma and pleasure to be had in tipping. And they are very pleased when you do. The maids and waitstaff are the equivalent of “rock stars”, as they make the most money, more than doctors! I liked to tip the gardeners, and behind-the-scenes folks, and gave baseball caps/gardening gloves/shampoo to them.

Food: Main restaurant – I’d read that “you don’t go to Cuba for the food”, so didn’t expect much. But I liked the food! Don’t know about you, but I don’t have a carving table (roast turkey/beef/pork), 4 meat, 4 hot veg, salad bar with 15 different choices, and a dessert bar for lunch or dinner at my house, so I was thrilled with the selections. If I don’t cook it and don’t have to clean it up, it’s all good! Breakfast was my favourite – fresh squeezed OJ like an angel’s kiss, custom omelettes, bacon, and good bread selection. Tons of fresh fruit – oranges & grapefruit slices that were sweet and ripe; guava; papaya; no bananas. Lunch was basically like dinner – we had pork, chicken, fish (usually fried), goat, lamb, beef. Cuban stuff like black beans and rice; malanga; yucca; plantain chips. Lots of salads but romaine lettuce was a rare treat – maybe 3x. Desserts: rice pudding; caramel bread pudding; ice cream; lots of tarts and puffs. Food is precious in Cuba – it is considered very rude to take more than you will eat. Hours: 7:30-9:30; 12:30-2:30; 7:30-9:30. Dress code in effect.

Swim up bar grill – beside the swim up bar you can order “perro caliente” (hot dog), “papas frites” (fries) and grilled cheese sandwiches. They have hamburgers but rumour had it they were actually pork burgers. Grill was great because we found that after a rough day of beaching and drinking, we needed a snack around 4 pm to keep us going til dinner. Always have a “base” in your belly when drinking!

Beach restaurant – you could eat here in your bathing suit. They had the same stuff as the swim up bar, and also mackerel sandwiches, salad, Cuban pork veg soup. They have a cd player there and previous guests have left CDs behind. Lots of different music playing.

Ecological - $5 pp. All food is organically grown or caught fresh that day. This is a wonderful little grass hut in a stunning garden with orchids, cactus, and fabulous flora. But go for lunch, not dinner. Dinner at 8 pm is right at mosquito time. Someone brought out the Raid and we sprayed ourselves silly. Tree frogs leaped onto leaves and I could hear things moving in the dark foliage. It gave us the creepy crawlies. The shrimp cocktail was a strange red soup with shrimp in it. The bruschetta looked like fake vomit (yellow with peas and carrots). The seafood kabobs were good with fish, scallop, shrimp and squid. An interesting experience but we did not feel the need to go back, because of the mosquitos. Take After-Bite if you get bitten.

Who might not appreciate BSM: Anyone looking for a go-go-go party holiday (teens to early 30s). This is most suitable for 35 and up, for persons who really need a peaceful quiet vacation, without a lot of hectic tours. This is NOT a place where you meet tons of singles. When I figured that out, I gave my condoms to the locals, who were very pleased indeed! Mostly folks were couples in their late 40s-early 60s. By 11:30, it was pretty quiet and low key, except for 24 hr piano bar. There were lots of "lifers", people who came every year for the past 10 years. Some even came twice a year. If you have a mobility issue, there are some wheelchair ramps but if the elevators go out, you will be trapped until they come back on. I have read reviews where the elevators were down, but they were never down the entire time we were there.

Who will love BSM: Anyone who is utterly burnt out and dying for a mindless week of tropical beauty and relaxation amidst mountains and palms. What a delightful adult treat to just do nothing, no work, no cell phones (you'll never hear one), no internet.... heaven! You can get a one hour massage for $15 CUC. There is also a mud bath spa trip for $15.

Children: There were some kids (6-14 yrs) there. They have a kiddie pool connected to the main pool. They have a kids’ club that keeps them busy all day long. I believe you can hire a sitter for a reasonable fee. There was enough food choice to keep a child fed. Cubans are very good with children. Never heard one squawking kid, which says a lot.

Shopping: There is a store at the hotel that sells cold drinks, biscuits, chips, t-shirts, rum, cigars, postcards and some drug store basics. They have vendors come in by poolside and sell jewelry, carvings, macramé. You can go into Chivirico to their “mall” – 4 stores with limited selection of things but you will come home and appreciate Loblaws and the Bay! At Castillo del Morro you could purchase souvenirs and cold drinks at their small stores. Cuba is a refreshingly non-consumer society. You will LOVE the lack of American visual pollution i.e., McD's, Levi's, Mickey Mouse, etc. It's a very "pure" country! Like time travel, with the great old cars and architecture.

Secret elevator – okay, it’s not a real secret, but there is the main elevator for everyone (still faster than the one in my building at home!), and it was never broken. There is also another elevator just off the rear of the main stage staircase. I found out about it from a teenager who would hide and smoke there, away from parents. It only goes to 4th floor, then you have to take stairs up to main level. But it was very convenient to get to our room.

Beach – Every morning the gardener rakes the entire beach of seaweed. I tipped him once and made a friend for the whole week. (When the beach bartender was not there yet at 9:50 am, I just sat on the beach and waited, reading. 10 minutes later, the gardener brought me a drink right away. Very considerate!) I found the BSM part of the water quite weedy, and something bit/poked me. Go on other side of the dock where the regular Cubans go and the water is clear – no weeds. The reef is farther away than it looks, if you are not a strong swimmer. Bring your flippers and snorkel gear. Snorkeling trips are available and some folks said it was the best snorkeling they’d ever done. There’s a ship nearby that was sunk in 1890’s Spanish-American war with great diving/snorkeling. Be sure to play Beach Bingo with Ernesto – prize is RUM. Ernesto is one lively dude! The grass huts went quickly but there were always enough lounge chairs and shaded areas under the sea grape. Don’t be one of those entitled tourists who puts a book on a chair to make it “yours” then goes away for 6 hours and squawks when someone sits in YOUR spot! ;) The sand is brown and gets Chernobyl hot – water shoes are mandatory.

Money: You can get it at the airport or changed at the hotel. We had no problem. There is no such thing as an ATM in Cuba, or debit cards. We took cash, kept it in the room safe (free with room), and changed $ as needed. Carry single peso coins with you for tipping.

Rooms – We were on the first floor, facing the basketball court and beach area. The bathroom was large with a great walk-in shower, good water pressure, but they do not give you washcloths. A review on Deb’s site recommended I bring my own. I brought 4 from the dollar store and left them behind for the maids. The toilet has a weird handle – you pull a stick UP to flush. The tap water is drinkable. We brought our insulated jug to the bar to get ice water for our room. No problems with the water when brushing our teeth. We had 3 double beds in our room for some reason, so K used the one bed for clothing storage. We had a tv (no remote) that got 3 Cuban stations and CNN. The phones did not work on levels 1 and 2. (I thought it was a blessing, frankly). We moved the chairs to the balcony and had a smoking lounge outside, with mango trees, date palms, and a hedge of red flowers where hummingbirds would fly right up and sip nectar. The hens and chicks would walk right up to us and we fed them bread. The bed had a strange tilt to it so I slept with my head at the feet. The curtains and bedspreads were crazy tropical prints and the furniture was 70s wicker style. After visiting the city, I came back to BSM and realized this was a lush Paradise! The maids came everyday and tidied nicely, even straightening our shoes. We loved the luxury of fresh towels every day. (It doesn’t happen in my house!) We left a tip (nailpolish, earrings, hand cream) on the pillow each day and they would do the ancient Cuban art of bedspread origami, with swans, hearts, etc.

Shows: There was something planned every night. There was a water ballet show one night, a dance show, a music quiz (which I won!), and one night they had Grupo Granma, a live band that was out of this world. The lead singer can wail with the best of them. Shows start at 9:30 and wind up by 10:30, then there is DJ music for another half hour. All shows end with the Brisas theme song, which is kind of like a Macarena dance, and everyone gets up and joins in.

Piano Bar: The guy can play anything! This is in the lobby, with a wonderful breeze coming through, and you must try the Spanish coffees – nectar of the gods! It’s open 24 hours so if you urgently need a mojito at 3:30 am, no problemo. I also liked the rum punch – fruit juice has vitamins and rum kills bacteria so it’s a perfect drink.

There is security on the beach during the day time, til about 5 pm, to shoo away local Cubans from interacting with tourists. If you walk further down the beach, you can talk to them freely, but use discretion because you don’t want to get the locals in trouble. They are quite friendly and can speak basic English. They will want to trade with you – they have coffee beans (rich dark scent), conch shells, cigars. You may be asked if you will mail a letter in Canada. I took pictures of the families in groups and separately, to mail to them. Can you imagine not having a picture of your family?

But to illustrate how safe you are, let me tell you this – as we were leaving our room, we talked to Noel (delivering towels) and I was distracted and dropped my room card without knowing. When we came back to our room hours later Noel found us and returned the card – he’d gone all over the place looking for us, desperate to reunite us with our room card. So honest and caring! I’d even forgotten my digital camera at the beach restaurant and went back and there it was, sitting there. No one had touched it. I felt extremely safe at all times.

Trip to Santiago: For $27 we went on a nice A/C bus into the city. Gorgeous architecture, and a photographer’s dream. If you are a photographer, take at least one roll per day, or at least 300 pics on your digital card. I took 256 pics in 6 days and it was not enough. Angel was our guide, and he took us to Iphigenia Cemetery, Cathedral, Parque Cespedes, the main square, and to a cigar store. Peter, a cigar aficionado from Canada, helped us choose Partagas, a decent box of cigars for $43.75 CUC. Bought a 5 pack of Partagas Chicos for $5. Bought the cigarillos of Cohiba and Monte Cristos for $11 ea. Guantanameras were $3 CUC each in glass tubes, and make a nice gift for the men in your life. When I said I was going to Cuba, nearly every man I know begged me for cigars. TAKE YOUR PASSPORT with you – they need to write your passport number on the receipt or they can confiscate it. You can legally bring back 2 boxes of 25 as long as you have your forms. The smaller cigarillos are considered as cigarettes so no problem bringing those back. Do not buy cigars off the street unless you plan to smoke them in Cuba. Anything without the Republica Guarantia stamp is illegal. You can also buy a giant bag of coffee beans for 6.75. Rum ranges in price from 2.70 for a mickey of plain white rum, to 10.70 for a 750 ml of exquisite Havana Club Anejo 7 year old (like cognac!).

The hotel gift shop was cheaper than Duty Free at Antonio Maceo airport. At BSM, Rum is 2.70 for a flask, 4.00 or 5.00 for a no-name 750 bottle of white rum, and 10.70 for the Havana Club 7 year aged. I was BLESSED to meet Peter and Graciela - he is a cigar aficionado and she is fluent in Spanish. Peter advised me on cigars. Cohibas and Monte Cristos are way expensive ($400 a box, maybe $15-20 per single) but you can get the cigarillos for 10-15 pesos a pack of 20. If you are asked to bring cigars back to Canada, have your friends front you the cash first – it’s very easy to change Cdn dollars at the hotel. Non-US credit cards work for cash advances and purchases, but you can leave at home anything with the words American Express on it.

While in Santiago, we walked around for a while, but felt shaken by constant pleas for “shampoo? Pen?” so went to Casa Grande to the balcony bar. Expensive (3 pesos for OJ – seems expensive after an all-inclusive!) but a luxurious feeling of looking over the square seeing the beautiful Cathedral on that site since 1522!

Tour also went to Castillo del Morro, a Unesco World Heritage site. Construction started in the early 17th century and took 30 years to build. It is a fully restored castle with some of the most breathtaking views of the city. I was shown around by a helpful woman and when I reached into my fanny pack to tip her a peso, BOOM! About 5 women showed up and held out hands, “…por favor, for my baby…”. I gave what I had but it shook me up. Other fellow travelers agreed that the constant pleas were distressing.

If you are off the hotel grounds, carry a roll of toilet paper with you in a Ziploc bag. Cuban toilets do not have seats, and toilet paper is not standard issue! Bring Purell or wetnaps in your purse.

Peter and Graciela rented a cab and kindly brought me along. We visited the hospital to donate drugs and bandaids, etc. Very nice, with an ambulance, and banana trees growing in the courtyard. You would not see THAT in T.O.! Then we drove to a school 6 kms from the hotel which was a primary school. There is a school 2 kms from the hotel and they receive the majority of donations as they are in walking distance, but this two-room schoolhouse didn't get a lot of donations. The children loved all the crayons and colouring books. The teacher made sure that everything was fairly distributed. By pure chance, the day we visited was the teacher's birthday so we sang Happy Birthday in Espagnol, and I had gum and candy to pass around. It was a very moving experience Graciela translated my English into Spanish as I unpacked the goodie bag. They oohed and aahed. Stickers were a huge hit! Stickers are obviously the international currency of the child! I gave the teacher white and coloured chalk, star stickers for good work, file cards, glue, tape, teacher-y stuff. For the students, I had brought paper, markers, crayons, coloured pencils, regular pencils, tons of colouring books (nothing too Capitalist!), and some foam cut-out flowers, animals and letters. When I pulled out a bag of metallic pipe cleaners in hot magenta, gold and royal blue, the two oldest girls SQUEALED with joy. I will never forget that sound - the sound of little girls who can't wait to make something beautiful! Next time I will take scissors, staples, staplers, art paper and paints and brushes, and sparkly things! We left clothes at the school for the teacher to hand out as she has the best idea of who needs what. They were thrilled with a pack of Christmas paper with a snowman. We took pictures which I mailed down to them.

When you leave Cuba, you pull up to the Antonio Maceo airport, and you will see people holding “VIP SERVICE” signs up. Go with them. They will take you to the VIP lounge. The cost is 20 pesos, and you also pay your 25 peso departure tax. This has a separate security area which they take you through quickly, and then they take your passport, plane ticket, fees and tourist card (I was nervous but other travelers assured me this was safe to do), and do all the processing, while you relax in a nice lounge. It is air conditioned, has an outdoor garden for smoking, and a free bar with Cristal beer, rum, vodka, etc. You also get a plate of appetizers. The sofas are huge comfy leather ones. Once your passport has been returned to you, a special assistant will take you to Duty Free. After I tried my new Spanglish skills, she replied in perfect English, “I hope you will visit us again! And do bring chocolate, I just love your Canadian chocolate!” It made me laugh. I found the Duty Free Prices were higher than at the hotel for cigarillos and rum. However, they did have a nice selection of exportable black coral jewelry – bought a black coral bracelet for mom for $31 – 10 mm beads on a 925 gold plated bracelet. Bought Cubita coffee for 2.25 – tshirts were 9.45. You will see the main airport lounge which is noisy and crowded and comparable to a cattle-holding pen. Why not spend 20 bones and relax in peace, while the drinks keep a-comin’? We found that the flight home was particularly excellent as we were full of rum relaxant. The drunker we got the more we tipped the attendant, who was our new best friend.

What to take:
For YOU: Greatest tip from Deb’s site was to take an insulated mug. Smartest thing we did! Leave it behind for the Cubans as these are real treats for them. Another Cdn couple promised to give their Imperial Oil mugs to the bartender who works at the Santiago Carnivale in July after the resort closes, where it can be 37-40 degrees C in the direct sun. He was so pleased and grateful. When K and I gave our mugs to the people on the Cuban beach, there was a little squabble over them. I tell you, these mugs are GOLD.

Clothing to take: Daytime all I wore was my bathing suit, watershoes (a MUST – sand is HOT), towel, sunglasses, hat. For a city tour, I wore comfy shoes, sox, shorts, t-shirt and hat. Dinnertime I wore the same black summer dress every night. Didn’t need nightgown or robe in the room. It was 32-35 C in the daytime and extremely comfortable at night. I also coated myself in 50 SPF but still burnt even though under shade and trees all the time – the curse of WASP skin. Cuban sun is extremely strong. Take Imodium quick dissolve tabs – by Day 3, you’ll know why (all that fresh fruit and beans). Aspirin. Sleeping tabs if you don’t adjust well to new places. Gravol for bus trips/boat trips if you get queasy, like I apparently do.

Things I wish I had brought for myself: aloe spray for sunburn; a flashlight (power failures are common but when it happened at dinner just shout "Surprise!" and we'd all sing happy birthday – blame the rum!), a bigger-brimmed hat, more ziploc bags (great for keeping gifts in your purse, and keeping sand out of things) and of course, more gifts. Candles – never saw candles anywhere. Bring a drink tray from the dollar store cuz you’ll meet folks and someone always does a cerveza run to the bar. Then leave the tray behind. Bring binoculars as there are lots of birds and animals and vistas you won’t want to miss.

For the ladies: Pack as if you are going to have your worst period ever, even if you think you’ll be safe. Tropical heat and travel can do strange things to one’s body. Whatever fem hy products are leftover make a great gift. They do sell pads but tampons are non-existent. Plan accordingly!

Gifts For Cubans:
Hit the dollar store with $20 – you’ll really spread some joy. Below are some ideas I had gleaned from this website and some of my own suggestions.

Most requested: paper, pens, nailpolish, shampoo, soap.
sunglasses – ones with uva/uvb
Chocolate – Hershey kisses or nuggets
baseball caps, bat, glove, balls, shirts – they are INSANE for baseball so anything like that would be fabulous

Practical stuff:
washcloths, whetstones, Spanish/English dictionary, or Spanish books/mags, Paintbrushes, Duct tape, Needlenose pliers, Wrenches, Small hand tools, little box of building nails, WD40 (things get mighty creaky with that salt air), fishing wire, fishing hooks, bike repair kit, bike baskets, horns, reflectors, donations of meds to hospital in Chivirico – Tylenol, aspirin, penicillin, polysporin, cotton, q tips, tensor bandages. Burn your favourite cds and give them copies, Music sheets for the pianist.

Clothing – shoes are expensive – ask at your work if anyone has kids’ shoes to donate – I left them at the school and the teacher knows who is in need.

When I say you can give them anything, you can give them ANY thing because if they don't need it, they know someone who will. Cubans are very charitable to one another - if I gave a kid a pack of gum, he'd instantly give half to his friend. No thinking twice. If I gave a pair of shoes that were too big, they knew someone who could use shoes. I thought a whetstone (a small one) would be a nice gift for a fisherman - to keep their knives and hooks sharp. They have basic food, etc. and they have excellent medical care & schools, but a pair of blue jeans is about 3 month’s salary. A girl at work gave me some of her jeans and I gave it to our taxi driver for his granddaughter with a matching Gap t-shirt - she just about lost her mind. I gave my water shoes on the last day to some kid in the water who was thrilled.

In short, I had one of the best times of my adult life, and met some great people: Karen and Jim, Peter and Graciela, Irene and Gilles, Atso and Linda. On the last day, I walked into breakfast and burst into tears, because I did not want to go home. Felt like a little kid. Maria, one my favourites, came over and hugged me, “Mi amor!” So sad to leave, but I learned to say, “Proximo ano!” which means, I’ll be back next year, baby, come hell or high water!
Brisas Sierra Mar
The MacKenzie’s 
Canada
April 2005
We (my husband and two children aged 1 and 3) just returned from our trip to the Brisas Sierra Mar in Santiago Cuba. Overall the resort was very nice for the price but I was very disappointed with the staff. It might have something to do with it being the last week or two before the resort closes for the season and they all wanted to get home or be somewhere else because they ALL acted like it was the last place they wanted to be. We had trouble communicating with some of the staff, not many spoke English. I couldn’t count how many times I returned from the bar with the wrong quantity or a completely wrong drink. I’m sorry to say we were treated better once I wore my diamonds and jewels to dinner; it was only after that we received some smiles and hellos. It also got a little better once we started tipping them. We didn’t intent to tip until the last day but the service was so bad I figured it couldn’t be any worse.

We flew with Sunquest and had a rep meet us at the airport. The flight was fine but I was very shocked to see how uninterested the rep was with the 1 ½ hour drive from the airport. We’ve done extensive travel through the Caribbean and I’ve always found them to be very upbeat and happy, not the case with this trip. He explained what would happen when we arrive at the resort and then he quickly went to sleep, the same for the way back. We were told at our briefing that tipping is required since they all work very hard and that Canadians tip 10-15% so we should do the same for good service. We were told TIPPING IS EXPECTED. Two days before departure he mentioned in passing and only because we inquired that our flight time had changed on the return flight so we went looking for him the next morning but he was nowhere to be found. He had a section in the lobby that had his hours posted and he kept a room at the resort but the front desk or any of the staff had no idea where he was. He turned the flight information page backwards so it was blank but left NO information regarding any changes. It wasn’t until the next morning, the morning of our flight did he appear and very nonchalantly told us “Oh yes, the flight is changed just be in the lobby three hours later than what was scheduled originally. Needless to say it caused a bit of undue stress to my family, three hours means the world with YOUNG children. As for his disappearance, he had paperwork to complete in Santiago that seemed to take all day.

The overall food was good but we were disappointed with the selection. It never changed for one week, everyday was the same thing. We were unable to eat at any of the other restaurants other than A la Carte, breakfast had an omelette station which was nice, but you can only eat so many omelettes. The same with dinner, chicken, fish, pork and soup, the fruit selection was disappointing, pineapple and watermelon when available. The ice cream and bread was some of the best I’ve ever had. The bread is baked fresh on the resort and you can get it hot most of the times. You couldn’t really get any snack foods other than hotdogs and hamburgers (12-4) at the beach, and 4-? at the pool bar. You could get what they call Pizza at the beach bar when available, which wasn’t all the time. Making the trip to the beach bar wasn’t a small task with the children, one of us usually made the trip and returned with the food by the pool.

They moved our room from the 6th floor with an elevator and ramp on the second day to the third floor in another section with no working elevator or ramp. We attempted to discuss the matter with the front desk but were told that was it and then were quickly ignored, like we weren’t even standing there. We carried our children with their strollers up three flights of stairs for a few days; we found the elevator working by accident a few days later since no one bothered to tell us. We were told our air conditioner had broken down so we had to be moved, we believe it was because the resort was closing and they wanted to close the section we were in so they moved us and two other couples. The also were supposed to provide a crib upon arrival which they did not and didn’t seem to care either way. I was very lucky to have brought my travel playpen so the baby could sleep safely.

The view was beautiful but I wouldn’t recommend this resort to anybody that isn’t fit or healthy. You’ll find yourself in trouble if the elevators break down like we did. The only saving grace we had was that we are very fit people. The beach was one of the worst I’ve ever seen but we didn’t use it with the children so it didn’t matter.

I think or hope we didn’t get a real picture of the staff or resort because of the time being so close to season end. We’ll never travel at that time again; the resort was very, very quiet. I would say it was about 30% full and that quickly diminished as the week continued. We were the second to last flight out of the resort for the season; I feel for the last ones, it would be a ghost town. We might return at another time to give it a second chance but we’re undecided at this time.
Brisas Sierra Mar
Fabienne 
Ontario, Canada
February 2005
On Valentines Day my family and I returned from a one week vacation at Brisas Sierra Mar about 70km west of Santiago de Cuba.There was five of us, my husband and out three daughters (10,7 and 4). You might think that travelling with three kids is kind of a crazy idea but if you go to the right place it can be a fantastic experience! It wasn't the first time we took our kids to Cuba and again we were impressed with how child friendly this country is.

Airline
We flew with CubanaTACA (Airbus) from Toronto. Seating was very spacious and the plane looked very new and clean. Service was fine the food was above average in the sense that it was very fresh. 'Hildago' was scheduled as movie entertainment but when staff saw that there were quite a few young children on board it was switched to 'Princess Diaries'. We experienced no delays or any other problems. Money is best changed at the airport but can also be changed at the Resort.

Tour operator
Our tour operator was Holasun which is the only Cuban run operation at BSM. The Holasun representative was very friendly and was able to answer all our questions. Day tours available to us were pretty much the same as offered by other companies. We didn't take any of the organized tours simply because there was so much to do around the resort. We did venture out into the surrounding areas a few times on our own and it felt completely save. I heard that sometimes locals would offer to exchange gifts and so forth but we were never approached.

Restaurants
There are four restaurants at the Resort. The main buffet style Restaurant (which is the one we frequented the most) was the best we had experienced so far in the Caribbean. By Cuban standards I would give it a five out of five. At breakfast you could order eggs any style you liked. There was a great selection of fresh bread and fresh fruit, cereals and desserts. The fresh squeezed orange juice became a must for me and my daughters. The very busy waiter will make you a fresh Cuban cappuccino (which almost surpasses an Italian one - and I have been to Italy!) for the asking. Please be sure to reward the extra effort with a tip. In general the buffet varied slightly day by day giving you a chance to try new things.

Lunch and Dinner: most guests dressed for dinner. The buffet consisted of two steam tables offering a number of choices usually three meat and one fish dish
two rice choices (plain or chinese style)
Beans, potatoes and Yucca
different varieties of fresh vegetables
While the buffet selection was not huge we gave it a high rating do to the consistent high level of quality and surprising flavor.The snack bar at the Beach (offering pizza, hamburgers, Mackerel, Hot Dogs and Salad) and at the Swim- to-Bar also offered tasty fresh foods. The 24hr bar in the lobby supplies the hardy partier (and there only where a few of those) with Hamburgers or Sandwiches all night long. One of the Highlights was a Pig Roast (on an open BBQ) happening next to the Scooter and Bike Rental. A live Cuban band was playing and you could sit in the shade and relax. As for the finished product you had to be quick since the food went fast!

The Organic Restaurant was small, seating only around 10 people. They served shish-kebob style meat/fish/seafood with vegetable. The catch of the day was very tasty All Vegetable and Salads are grown on the premises. There was a five dollar charge pp for this restaurant but again it was worth the additional cost. All meals came with fresh made soup and salads. Unfortunately about 30 min before our reservation the resort was fumigated against Mosquitoes but my husband talked to the chef who had no problem with us changing the time by about an hour to wait for the fumes to subside (this restaurant is in an open style palapa)

Room
We had booked two rooms that were connected by a door. One for us one for the girls. Both rooms were clean and had a beautiful view. We had balconies and my daughters were impressed that they got their own washroom/shower and TV (not that they ever tuned it on). We could watch the sunset from our balconies.

Pool/Beach
The pool was smaller than I expected but it was clean. The set up of having the pool onto of the building works very well. Beautiful view over the ocean on clear days you can see the coral reef through the waters. There is also a fair size Hot Tub that was mostly frequented by my kids and by some local tourists who found the Ocean and Pool too cold. Certainly not by Canadian Standards. We swam in the ocean everyday. No jelly fish problems. The reef is only about 50m off shore. I had brought my goggles with me and swam out every day. You could also take a paddle boat (free for 1hr) to visit some of the reefs further off. We took our daughters snorkelling and I am sure they will never forget. Wonderful coral and colourful fish. There is also a bar right on the beach and lots of shady spots to just relax. Many activities were offered at the beach: Kayaks, Catamarans, Fishing Trips, scuba, snorkelling....The Beach is rather small (about 200m long) but very clean.

Entertainment
There is a nightly 1 1/2 hr entertainment most often at the main stage. There was a large variety of shows: Water ballet, Fashion show, Acrobats, lots of dancing performances, live bands etc. In general I found the entertainment rather low key. During the day it was pretty quiet around the resort even though there were dance classes or Spanish classes offered. I also saw some tennis courts and some Basketball Hoops. Most visitors at the BSM are older and enjoy a quiet relaxing time there. I was a little disappointed for the first two days because our last Trip was to Tryp Cayo Coco which is a very high powered resort with an excellent Entertainment team. I expected much more salsa dancing going on and in general more hype. After two days though I adjusted to this new experience and really, a nice calm vacation was what I did need. One night there was a beach party and so I did get some dancing in (two hours of dancing on sand equals about five hours dancing on a dance floor). There was some entertainment and a great big bond fire down at the beach and all people present seemed to enjoy themselves. Another night a new friend I made at the resort and I decided to try out the disco. We were literally the only ones there so we decided to get our daughters to dance with us. It was a blast. The girls thought they were in heaven - disco ball and all. At around 11pm we left just as a small group of tourists were coming to do some dancing.

We also did quite a bit of horseback riding which is available at the main gate to the resort. It was five dollars per horse and it is a great way to get to know the surrounding area. The horses seemed very good tempered. My two older daughters rode their own and the four year old sat in the saddle with me. There are also daily guided walking tours offered by the resort. Another way of seeing the "neighbour hood". There were shuttle buses available to visit the town of Chiverico which was a few kilometres west of the resort. Once a week there usually is a fiesta there. Unfortunately we never made it there.

Our vacation at the Brisas Sierra Mar was an unforgettable experience. It was definitely worth the money and maybe one day we will go back there. The friends we made and the locals we met will always be in our memory. One more thing, if you do go please remember that any kind of gift is greatly appreciated by staff and the people in the surrounding villages (they are far and few but they do exist) School supplies, clothes, shoes etc. are highly appreciated. There is a school only about 2km from the resort. And there are schools in each and every town. There is an orphanage in Santiago de Cuba. Some people we met went there for a visit and donated some much needed children's clothes.
Brisas Sierra Mar
John 
Ontario, Canada
January 2005
The 4 of us, kids 9 & 11, my wife and I went to Brisas Sierra Mar from Thursday Jan 13 to Thursday Jan. 20, 2005. We had been booked into Playa Costa Verde, but when that resort was closed due to water problems, our TA re booked us at a small savings. The flight on Kelowna from Toronto was smooth and uneventful. Close enough to scheduled times. 155 people on the plane, 7 going to BSM, the rest going to Bucanero as there was a huge sale on that week. We landed on runway 08 in Santiago De Cuba. Do they really have runways 01 - 07?

Immigration was a breeze, the other line always moves faster until I get into it then it stops. We changed lines 3 times and it happened each time! C'mon, we are in a hurry to get on the bus and wait! After getting our passports stamped and passing the metal detectors, our bags were waiting and we went to the bus area where our Sunwing rep was waiting. Our bags were loaded and I went back into the airport to change money. Good rate: 86.8$CUC/$100CAD. I didn't know anybody still used DOS programs.

On the bus we received our check-in information and safe key. We left the airport at 10:30 PM. When I read that the resort was 60km from the airport and a 1 1/2 hour drive, I thought there was a typo somewhere. NO! The trip to BSM was 1 hour 40 minutes. The first 20 minutes was through the city which was still alive and vibrant, lots of people walking and horse drawn carts. We hit the highway and I've got to give credit to our driver for not getting stuck in some of the potholes. I've been on logging roads in Northern Ontario that are superhighways compared to this main highway across the south shore. The trip was slow, giving us time to see the cows, horses and other animals wandering the roads.

At the resort, our bags were taken by a porter to our room on the first floor, beach level, which is down the elevator from the fifth floor. Standard sized rooms, the bonus was the energy efficient lights and motion sensors on the A/C system. The layout of the resort is different from all others I have seen. The lobby, pool, restaurants, entertainment etc. are at the top of the building. The resort is stepped down, one floor at a time. There are no rooms above or below any of the rooms, no one walking above you. This allows the noise from the entertainment to bypass the rooms. The rooms are down stairs or elevators.

BEACH!
Brown sand, hot, but a gentle enough slope you can walk barefoot on the wet sand for 3 km. You can arrange boat trips, borrow windsurfers, get snorkelling gear and life jackets and set up the Hobie cat rides at the marina just steps from the main building. There is a fair bit of grass in the water close to shore, but there are also areas with no weeds. We had no jellyfish problems. The reef is within swimming distance from the beach. Go with a buddy and wear a life jacket 'cause then it is easier to just hang in the water and look at the fish coral formations. The snorkelling is not as good as Playa Costa Verde, but still lots to see.

FOOD!
There are 4 restaurants and a snack bar. The buffet had a large variety to keep even the pickiest kids in the world (mine) from starving. Breakfast had an omlette bar where the chef had my son ordering en Espagnol after the second day. Lunch and supper, there was always a carver for the roasts, good soups, pig, cow, fish, sheep (not goat, I tell myself), potatoes, rice, beans and enough food for all. We went to the a la carte's 3 times. The steaks were good, done the way we ordered, and typical of all Cuban resorts I've been to, served with pride and skills warranting recognition. At the 'Ecological' restaurant where all food is grown on site and the fish caught that day, the lobster ($) was excellent. My wife is from the east coast of Canada and said it was almost as good as lobster from 'home'. High praise! One waiter for 2 tables. WOW service.

GUESTS:
Most guests are repeaters who will be upset with me for telling the rest of the world about this piece of gold located in the mountains of the south coast where the weather is warmer than the rest of the country.

STAFF:
Most were multi-lingual, and all that we dealt with were courteous and would do anything to help. We never met any who were not friendly.

OTHER;
We went out snorkelling for the one hour trip. We would not do it again. The horseback riding ($) takes you through the countryside and my wife and daughter went 4 times for at least 2 hours. Highly recommended. The resort organizes a baseball/slowpitch/3pitch game with the guys from the local town. What a blast! You can rent scooters from the resort.($) I went to the village of Chivarico. Very scenic and an eye-opener. Every morning there is a walk from the lobby that takes any interested people for an hour stroll around the area. A good way to get your bearings for your own walks later. Safe and laid-back. There will be some of the locals off the resort who will approach you to see if you want to trade anything or perhaps buy something they have. A simple polite 'no thanks' and they will wish you a good day and not bother you again. Or you can trade things with them and allow them to 'save face' by not begging. We didn't see anybody there ! who didn't need shoes or clothes. Don't worry about the sizes, and kids clothes are especially needed.

OVERALL;
I give the resort a 9 out of 10. It lost one point because there is no facility for getting extra money on visa or cash advance. We needed the services of the medico for my daughter's ear infection before we could fly home and their payment needs to be cash, CUC. There are many, many more good points, but I don't want to bore you. We will be going back next January (or April if we get a good seat sale).

If you have any specific information requests, look for Bigjohn on Debbie's Cuba forum and PM me with your questions.
Brisas Sierra Mar
D. Jennings 
Canada
July 2004
I was checking out the reviews and noticed the kind words from Bev and Steve regarding my January 2004 review. I noticed I was remiss in posting one for our unplanned March return visit which came about due to the extremely good sell off pricing for the week of the 18-25th which was only about 40% of the price we paid when we prebooked our first visit 5 months in advance.

Once again we were very happy with the resort and can say that the first visit experience wasn't just a fluke as the positives mentioned in the first review were repeated.

We emailed a request for the same room at beach level and were given the one immediately adjacent due to availability. Great that they actually considered and accomodated the request.

This trip we did the Swim with the Dolphins in Bacanoa (sp?) and the family loved it. We purchased their photos (3.00usdea) and they were very good quality. Part of the trip is also to visit the Aquarium, a crocodile farm then lunch at a very nice casa. The drive takes you past the dinosaur attractions and the car museum and they slowed down for us to see it. That was enough time to take it in unless you really have an interest in those things.

Being 'repeat' guests they honoured us with an invitiation for a special lobster dinner and we met other folks from Ontario. Had a nice visit with a fellow who graduated from the same University program as I and his wife was also a nurse so my wife and she had something in common. Kind of ironic how we can travel 1000's of miles and realize how small the world really is. I must comment that the hostess for the hotel thanked the guests for highlighting to friends, family, acquantances the positives of the resort and being forgiving of any deficiencies and that they are always trying to improve.

We are planning to return for 2 weeks next year and I have started looking already. Not sure if it will be January again as I think the wife would prefer it a little hotter, while I can't stand the heat and found it nice. Light jacket in the evening was necessary in January but not in March. March had a couple light showers vs January.

Since we are looking at 2 weeks I think we will have to pre book since selloffs for 2 weeks seem non existent. I am hoping they will offer the kids fly free deal again this year but the price may work out about the same as paying full price and child rate thru the discounters right now.
Brisas Sierra Mar
David 
Canada
March 2004
I just returned from this hotel and while it is a stretch to give it a 4Star rating,( 3.2 maybe) all in all it met with expectations. Food quality overall was good and service was excellent.

Our room was clean and we had no concerns or issues with the exception of the shower which didn't have a lot of water pressure. Entertainment was somewhat unpredictable but we tended to make our own. The beach was OK- not the beautiful white cool sand of Aruba, but neither is the price we paid. Take along sandals or slip ons or find out what a hotfoot is- (the sand gets pretty hot by mid-afternoon.) Generally the water was pretty clear and it got better the further out one went.

Caution should be exercised when renting scooters or using bikes- mine blew a tire 20km from the resort ( a local family were kind enough to patch the tire for me) and my son's bike snapped a chain several km from the resort resulting in a slow trip home.

Sierra Mar is quite a hike from Santiago so trips to the city shouldn't be a primary focus of your trip- we went twice during our stay and we did find that panhandlers were a lot more agressive or irritating than the ones we encountered in Havana on our last trip. Would I go again- probably not, but that is no reflection on the hotel- merely that we saw enough of Santiago that a return trip would not reveal anything new. Would I recommend the hotel- as an alternative site for someone who has already seen Varadero and Havana- Yes. For a first time visitor to Cuba , I would be more inclined to suggest a more populated area for an initial visitor- again no reflection on the hotel- just the fact that it is quite isolated. So if you are looking for peace and quite this would definately be a hotel to consider.
Brisas Sierra Mar
Sasha 

March 2004
Just back from Brisas Siera Mar. Yes, it’s 10 years old hotel, but cat’s years. Not even one single fixed in rooms for 10 years. Don’t believe me, so go to the Brisas Santa Lucia (Camaguey) and compare it. Same brand ‘Brisas’, same owner ‘Cubanacan’, but what is the huge difference. People a friendly. Ha-ha. Rent a scooter and go to the nearest city. When did you fill yourself as a spy between enemies? Stuff is friendly in 70%. Yes, I did expect Cubanacan’s fore stars, but even on my opinion it’s only 3 stars and may be 2 ½ real one. Talk to many visitors in my group and seems like nobody is going back in that resort. Seems like all ‘returning back’ visitors have never visited others places in Cuba. Yes, Caribbean Sea is warm and beautiful, mountains are gorges, but there is nothing to do with hotel, it’s management and local people. Beach is the worst I’ve ever seen in Caribbean, only one plus: you could snorkel right from the beach, but only two days it was clear water, rest of days – sand made it almost zero visibility. Yes Santiago is the place must visit it once in your life and no more. Are you ready to watch your wallet all the time and say ‘no’ every five steps? ‘I don’t need cigars; I don’t need the best place in your restaurant, I don’t need a guide’. It’s still safe place, but not like people described it couple years before. And don’t stay on the main square (where is the oldest cathedral) till dark with kids. Did you see Pride parade in Toronto or Love parade in Berlin? Well people have fan, right? There it’s fanny business. You could bee shocked. At least I’ve been satisfied visiting old fortress. Only 3 like that one in the word and two are in Cuba (Havana and Santiago). I’ve got one more advice during my vacation: not to go to resorts where 100% Cuban management are. I’ll try to go to resorts under Spanish or Italian management next time. Cubanacan is better only in one thing: night entertainment. But as a tourist you are free to go to the neighbor hotel to see a night show for one hour (of cours e no free drink for you). One more thing… In the Brisas Siera Mar security watch for you not to bring you girls into room, not for your stuff. If something has been stolen be ready that police officer would turn it against you or member of your family (in my case my wife). I was laughing in his face. I’ve seen so many things that nothing could surprise me (almost nothing). Can you say it about yourself? Thanks god, I paid a little price, it could be worse. Hope nothing happened to you.
Brisas Sierra Mar
Randy and Carol 
Mitchell
February 2004
We just returned from Brisas Sierra Mar near Santiago de Cuba.The food was probably the best selection and taste we have had so far in the Caribbean.I took the hiking and walking tours-great info from the great guides.A group of 7 of our friends went for the mud bath!What a new experience we had.The massage included was great too.Took the tour to the city -disappointed the church was not open.Check before you go.If that is what you really want to see.Sounds as though it's been closed for some time.We weren't informed of that when we booked the tour.Our tour guides were great everywhere we went.Very informative and fun.Great idea-when we arrived at the airport our rep had packages with room number,room key and safety deposit box keys.No waiting in a line to check in!Bonus at that time of night.If you like a wash cloth -take one.Don't forget to take bug spray along with your sunscreen- our only complaint about Cuba is the tiny bugs on the beach and the mosquitoes!Nothing you can do but be prepared!Great time.Great resort.Great people.[they love presents-seen a lady give a little girl a teddy bear-I'll never forget that squeal of delight and that smile] Someone mentioned having an e-mail address for the resort.I would like it if I could get it.
Brisas Sierra Mar
Bev and Steve 
Canada
February 2004
This is Beverley from (Paradisus Rio De Oro October 2003)!

Anyway, I wanted to submit a resort map to you of the "Brisas Sierra Mar" in Santiago De Cuba!

Steve and I were in the middle of planning this years vacation (Using this site as a great research tool), and we had it narrowed down to two resort (The Gran Playa Turquesa and the Brisas Sierra Mar)!

Just as we were about to choose the Playa Turquesa (really leery of the Brisas resort chain not enough recent reviews of this resort anywhere). Mr. Dave Jennings submitted his review to this site. I must admit that he did breath fire back into the Sierra Mar choice and then after several correspondences back and forth, my husband and I chose the Brisas Sierra Mar!

During the back and forth with Dave, he mentioned that he had an email address for this resort just in case I wanted to contact the resort directly! Well... we actually did decide to contact the resort as we have been having some trouble getting information and low and behold.... The resort actually responded and sent us a "Fact sheet" and "Map"!

I would like to submit this map to your website, however I would like to mention a special thank you to Mr. Dave Jennings, not only for assisting us in receiving the map, but for contributing the "First" review of the "Sierra Mar" to your website!

His review was really was the catalyst we needed to take the chance and book the Sierra Mar for our family vacation this year!

Thanks again Debbie for all your hard work!

I want you to know that you have a lot of people out there who truly appreciate what you have done here!
Brisas Sierra Mar
D. Jennings 
Canada
January 2004
Back from this little talked about resort about 1 hour outside of Santiago. Our first trip to Cuba so we went prepared based on much reading here and elsewhere. One big reason was the reports of repeat clientel. Our rating is 9/10 for anyone not wanting to read further but that is based on our expectations/background/details listed below. Even though we would like to have something to compare this resort with in Cuba, we would more than likely return here without even trying another location in Cuba because this met our needs so well.

THREE THINGS THAT REDUCED OUR RATING:
1.Lack of front desk advising about alternative elevator when main on broke
2.Sunset cruise cancelled twice due to insufficient people, needed 6 and we were only 3. Swim with dolphins/aquarium tour we requested had same problem.
3.Can’t remember right now due to tired brain so obviously not important.

THINGS THAT MAKE US WANT TO RETURN:
Alba rep who went out of her way to ensure special seating on tour, taxi on return to airport etc.
Resort staff who were very friendly, but with REALLY special mention of Jenn at the kids club (this was her first batch of kids) and George in the entertainment/exercise etc side (wife loved him for his personal attention at exercises and pool volleyball. We hadn’t planned to let our kid do the kids club as we parents were insecure. Only 3 kids in it, one younger, one slightly older, but our kid loved it and is still in tears from departure to now 2 days later.
Food selection was fine for variety/quality/taste for the varied Canadian/French/German clientele. Kid basically ate at the dessert table and was warned to try to take small amounts of other food as the taste wasn’t to her liking for many dishes and we didn’t want her wasting this precious commodity in front of the Cuban people. Papas fritas (french fries) seem to be mostly unavailable in the traditional form but we got them when they had them! :)
Very secure feeling with staff patrolling all night and we felt safe even with a ground level patio door.

THE VIEWS/LOCATION/WEATHER:
Breath-taking location with mountains/water/greenery...and only one topless women and two thonged older men! :)

The night shows at 9:30 were entertaining in a Cuban sort of way, piano bar, music during dinners (we only did buffet although would have had no trouble getting signed up for ala cart at 8:30am because we thought the buffet made it easier for the kids selection/attention)

Whole week was warm ~78, cool enough in the evenings for a light jacket as the wind made it a little cooler on some evenings. Clouds tended to built over land thru the day and then clear in the morning. Plenty of sun tanning time and maybe 2 5 minute light sprinkles or rain which isn’t surprising in this dry warmer part of the Island.

Swam in the ocean with no problems of jellyfish. Small amts of seaweed were raked in the morning. Sand is course at the shore, water starts shallow and we saw snorkellers out and were able to paddle boat around safely. Noticed water crashing on some of the coral reefs out a ways from the ‘bay’ type shape of our area.

THINGS WE WOULD DO DIFFERENTLY:
Bring WAY more things than we did for the school kids/people.
Try for 10 days instead of 7 so we could do more outside tours.
Probably not prebook due the the price for 2 adults/1kidflying/eat/stay free being so close to last minute price for 3 adults.

BACKGROUND/EXPECTATIONS: First trip to Cuba and we don’t speak spanish. 2 adults 37&41 (been to bahamas,jamaica,antigua, St.Kitts, disney a few times), plus one 8 year old (only been to disney), looking for a nice friendly safe resort without alot of drunken partying folks or alot of retirement age folks. Most guests seemed middle aged and repeat visitors. Wife/kid prefer pool for fear of Jaws etc but willing to go in the ocean waist deep :). I have a walking disability so physical layout a big consideration. Only looking to go off AI resort for brief periods to give the 8 year old a bit of view of others lives.

TRAVEL: via Skyservice direct flight (no first class to upgrade to and LATE flight times) thru Alba Tours. Booked 5 months ago for a kids fly/eat/stay free which ended up costing just 30.00 less than booking a selloff as 3 adults/triple occ the week before we left so probably won't book in advance again unless we want to ensure getting same resort.

Left T.O about 1/2 hr late and 1/2 hr into flight had to return to T.O due to dirty fuel/filter. Set us back about 3 hours so but no big deal after once being stuck on an AC plane for 6 hours on the tarmac and they wouldn’t let us off/feed us. Our ‘scheduled’ times were 16:55pm-20:45pm, return 21:45pm-01:35am.

Upon arrival in Santiago we got off, noticed someone holding a VIP sign (for 20.00usd/pp 10 for kids they will take your passport and do the paperwork/get bags etc while you rest in an AC lounge with drinks/snacks/tv with very comfy leather chairs/couches, and no toilet seat...but we didn’t know that until the return and did it then, and were very happy to have had the comfort when the return flight was delayed and I saw what the regulars dealt with in their lounge when I was escorted to duty free). At customs all three of us went at same time (not separated as some have noted). Then to the island rep Katia to get our room keys/info and onto the bus. Sat on the bus for ~40min while the folks in the VIP lounge held us up for the drive to the resort. Upon arriving at Brisas Sierra Mar we were greeted with drinks but at 3am just wanted luggage/bed having left T.O. the first time at 4:35pm.

Due to Katia (alba reps) diligence we had filled out one form on the bus ride, gave it to her and so checkin was instantaneous. 3:30am escorted to room with luggage/bell boy. Wife who hates takeoff/landings just wanted to go to bed but 8 year old and I went for snacks which weren’t too fresh by that time of day (banana chips and some breaded meat?) Then to bed and I was up at 7:30am exploring while they slept.

RESORT: View is beautiful. Hotel (~12 years old?) built into the side of the mountain but located on the ~4 km beach and no other resorts etc visually around, almost like a bay. There are 2 ~200 room buildings with what I will call the main level (pool,bars/restaurants/lobby/shops) and 4 levels of rooms 100 series is beach level going up to 400 series level via 2 elevators then 500to800 going up in the other building which is accessed at from the drive in lobby area. Wasn’t overly busy maybe because there were so many places for people to be. Rooms were in ok condition, with some wear/tear but workable, large walk in shower, toilet seat/paper Our room had a patio with sliding doors. 3 single beds, mine was a little ‘crunchy’ but ok. We used the tap water from day 1 for teeth brushing with no problems for any of us. We had requested main level handicap accessible ocean view (all rooms pretty much have the latter). I guess because main level was interpreted as lower, we ended up at beach level accessible via the elevators or several sets of stairs.

Our concern (after reading these sites/helpful posters) was the possibility of elevator breakdowns. One of the two wasn’t working and the other broke down the ~4pm the second day and I reported to the front desk and an hour later went back to check status and the fellow knew nothing about it. About 3 hours later went back and he said someone would fix it the next day (Sunday) which in honesty I didn’t expect since the first one had been broken the 3 days. Anyway since we had considered this possibility when taking the risk of this resort, we just took the stairs slowly. I think I did the 5 sets of stairs about 9 times as that was the only way to the main restaurant, pool etc. We weren’t too happy when another guest mentioned there was a service elevator as we felt front desk should have told us after 3 visits there and my easily visible walking problem but live and learn. We made sure to tell the Alba rep and she said she would talk to the desk. (This incident reduced our rating)

Water activities incl volleyball, exercise classes, tennis, swim up bar, paddle boats, pontoon boats, snorkelling, dive shop, sunset cruises, spanish lessons etc etc.

TOURS: Seemed to be a fair choice including an included one for an overnight stay at a mountain lodge (4 hour drive each way) which reportedly had a ~75ft waterfall and large pool of water, followed by a 1 hr walk in the morning before returning to the hotel. We didn’t go due to the walking problem but others said it rained most of the time.

We did the 45usd Santiago tour and Rauol was our guide. First to the cemetery to see the changing of the guard ceremony at the tomb of Jose Marti (I believe) but the kid had been riding in the back of the van and the diesel fumes had made her a little sick feeling so I was distracted, then to Barcardi’s ‘bar’/shop where we bought some exportable black coral jewellery, just drove by the manufacturing part which would have been more interesting coming from wine country. Then to Castle Moro which was neat to see despite having seen forts on the other islands this was one of the better for view/construction/layout. Did give a women a $ for taking our picture and then another beside here asked for $ for her baby and told us not to tell anyone. (I gave her one, baby or not). Told other tourists who said someone (maybe her) had done same to them but so what. Did a little shopping.

Then lunch in a tourist casa...food ok, ladies washroom had no seat paper, mens had both and when I told the ladies that they rushed to ours! :)

Then to the city centre where we had some time to shop etc, weren’t bothered by anyone especially (beggers). Guy tried selling me paper Granma and I would have bought one but was one the way to the bathroom. Another tried giving me a 20 minute tour but I told him I only had 5 minutes! :) Went into a ‘furniture museum’ off the street (more of a few pieces but neat) and paid admission and the lady said to film is 5.00, it seems as if thinking I wouldn’t want to pay it but I did as I wanted to have some shots. Inside, a couple different ladies would come around to show us the displays (in spanish), it wasn’t at all crowded and I gave the 2 each. Then off to some other monuments of a giant bronze horse/man and 23 giant machetes at the monument to Antonio Macea at the plaza de la Revolucion where there is an eternal flame. Apparently that is where the pope gave some service a few years ago. Overall worth it then back to the resort.

SCHOOL: Took a horse/carriage to the local school ~2km cause I can’t walk that far. It was a little ackward when our guide said to give the kids stuff directly as we didn’t have enough for one of everything for each kid. I asked if I could give money to the teachers, not being sure if it would be used for the kids but did anyway. As I was giving out 5s I asked how many teachers there were (5 there then) and was told ten so I stopped at that. Will definitely bring more goods next time as it seems that even the money can’t always buy the things that could be used. Kid got to play a game with some cuban children. Overall I found it ackward and disruptive of us to be there and had hoped that there was some sort of scheduled visit time so the children wouldn’t be continually interrupted by tourists bringing stuff.

It was a nice week. Nice place, and it was the people that make us want to return to this spot. Glad to be back despite the weather. Another relative had been to Varadero’s Sol Sirenas Coral Resort the same time and reported jellyfish problems, staff didn’t seem to be allowed to socialize/be friendly with guests, and they were followed/pictured by ‘guards’ on tours. Don’t have much detail but again, I think we’ll stick with what we know and return. If I’ve missed anything feel free to ask, not my regular email (to avoid spam) but I’d be happy to answer questions and thanx again for all the info everyone shares, it helped us to prepare as much as possible and make what could have been a difficult time had we not anticipated some of the issues. Gracias.