Interview with Orsolya Bartalis, Co-Founder of Simply Cuba

Simply Cuba Tours is a sustainable tour company providing authentic travel experiences through specialised small group tours around Cuba.

We spoke with its co-founder, Orsolya Bartalis. Orsolya is a travel expert with a solid reputation as an authority on all things Cuba, and along with her Cuban-born partner Yoanis, loves sharing her local knowledge and passion of the mysterious island Republic with the world.

Tell us a little about what Simply Cuba Tours offers?

Simply Cuba is a sustainable tour company, providing specialised small group tours around Cuba. Through our local born and bred tour guides, our mission is to provide you with a cultural immersion through an authentic Cuban experience where you get to meet the people, dance the salsa, enjoy the pristine waters and untouched nature to truly unwind and recharge on your holiday.

We stay with the locals, enjoy local food, have local drivers to ensure that you have a great insight into the Cuban way of life. Our group sizes are small to suit the theme of the tour and also to offer an intimate experience.

What are some of the most popular tours you offer?

Simply Cuba is our signature tour, which provides a balanced approach to discovering the best of what Cuba has to offer. This is a 13 day tour, taking you around half of this magical Caribbean island. The reason we say it’s balanced, is because you have a mix of activities from a light walk through tobacco farms, to rolling your first cigar, to zip lining, salsa dancing, swimming in waterholes, rum tasting and enjoying delicious farmhouse meals. On this tour, you have nature, culture, history and fun all rolled into one.

Our other popular tour is Simply Cuba Scuba, this is a 14 day diving tour that takes you to the best diving spots Cuba has on offer, from the second largest reef system in the world, to cave and shipwreck diving.

Cuba is a diverse paradise with beautiful underwater scenery to be discovered. This tour was designed by divers for divers, to ensure you get most out of this tour. Each diving day there are two dips in the morning followed by free time to enjoy the places we are staying at.

We also have shorter tours, like our photography or birdwatching tours to showcase the amazing nature and culture in Cuba, as well as our Western Cuba Tour that focuses purely on the tobacco region – perfect for a short getaway!

How would you describe a responsible tourist in Cuba?

Responsible traveling is about making sure that you look after the place that you are visiting, supporting the community the way they’d like to be supported and may even leave the place a little better than you found it. People who choose to be responsible travellers will be mindful about the cultural differences and will adhere to the customs of the places they visit. Saying please, thank you and being courteous is a great start.

One of the best ways to practice sustainable tourism in Cuba is by staying in local casas instead of hotels. Using the services of local tour guides, drivers and eating in paladars. These not only support the community, but also give the traveller an insight into the Cuban way of life as you get to learn the stories of the people and see how they live at the same time.

Preserving nature is also a big thing. Which is why many of our tours are nature based. We support the preservation by practices to reduce plastic waste, small group sizes to ensure we minimise the effect on the places we visit, and educating people about the wildlife we see.

Best thing to do when planning to visit Cuba is to come with an open heart and mind, and leave all expectations at the border.

What advice, tips do you offer to your clients to travel eco-friendly? 

You don’t need to buy a whole new wardrobe to visit Cuba. Comfortable, casual clothes are perfectly fine for Cuba. The fashion industry is the second highest polluting industry in the world as it has drastic effects on the environment in terms of energy, water, land and chemicals used. So if you can avoid buying new clothes for travel, do it.

Bring your own water bottle when on a tour, so together we can reduce plastic waste.

Say no to animal tourism. And we don’t mean where you go to watch and observe wildlife in nature, but experiences where wildlife is exploited or even harmed.

Pack light. Not only will it help you not having to carry a heavy bag when you are traveling it also reduces carbon emissions. The lighter the plane the less fuel it uses.

Pick up litter when you see it. I think this goes without saying.

What are the 5 places in Cuba everyone wanna see?

Vinales – this western Cuban region is one of the best tobacco regions in the world where tobacco plants are still cultivated the artisan way. See oxen in the fields, learn farming secrets from the farmers themselves. Enjoy farm to plate experiences and dance up a storm with the locals at night.

Trinidad – the place stuck in 1850’s! This place has a colonial town character with cobblestone streets, bright colored colonial buildings, live music around the place. It is also placed well between one of the best beaches in Cuba and Topes the Collantes National Park, offering amazing nature escapes and great nightlife.

Santa Clara – the resting place of Che Guevara and a town with great historical importance. Visit Che’s mausoleum and learn about the battle of Santa Clara, a key victory in the Cuban Revolution.

Santiago de Cuba – a great Cultural Hub with great historical importance, making it a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was also the birthplace of Bacardi and also has a strong Afro-Cuban heritage, well worth a visit.

Baracoa – this eastern-Cuban town is well worth the visit. Surrounded by stunning nature parks, pristine waters it is a nature lovers paradise! Apart from nature it also offers delicious seafood and the best chocolate in the world.

Would you be so kind to share with us your favorite local place, a place tourists have no idea about? Soroa is a place not many tourists know about. It is a hidden town in Sierra del Rosario. It offers many of nature’s wonders! One of which is having plenty of rainbows in the air, making it known as the rainbow of Cuba. This is a perfect spot to enjoy a swim in the waterhole of Salto de Soroa. Walk above the clouds visiting the Castle in the Clouds, venturing out in the mountains spotting local endemic birds or visiting the Orchid garden offering over 350 varieties of amazing flowers. Best of all, you can enjoy a delicious home cooked meal and Cuban hospitality in a local paladar, that you wouldn’t even know is there without having a local guide with you!

Before we let you go, can you give us some tips on rolling the perfect Cuban cigar?Sure thing! First thing, you need to know that rolling the perfect cigar is like creating the perfect art. Leaves are selected then graded and flavored according to the ‘family secret recipe’. Put smaller leaves in the middle, with larger leaves on the outside, but make sure they are evenly distributed. Then roll it, bit like you rolled play dough when you were a child, not too tight! And seal it with a dab of honey.