Bienvenido a Cuba! Welcome to Cuba! Set to the soundtrack and backdrop of the 1950s, tumbledown Havana is a capital unlike any other. A complimentary arrival transfer is included with your trip. There will be a welcome meeting at approximately 6pm this evening. Please expect a letter from your leader in the afternoon of Day 1 to confirm the place of your meeting (if by 5pm you cannot locate this letter then please ask your guesthouse owner if one has been delivered, or ask to call our assistance line listed in the "Problems and emergency contact information" section of this document). We'll be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting, so ensure you have all these details to provide to your leader. The tour briefing is generally followed by an optional group dinner. As there's a great deal to do in Havana, we recommend staying a few extra days to make the most of this exciting city. If you need help booking extra accommodation, our reservations team will be happy to assist. If you arrive early, please note most activities in Cuba can only be booked through the tourist desk in the lobbies of the larger hotels or direct with the venue. Otherwise, there are plenty of good museums to check out, including the Museo de la Revolucion and the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes.
Havana's history is as colourful as it's cars and buildings. Today, you will be taken on a guided tour of the Havana vieja. Havana remains one of the great colonial cities of the Americas. An air of faded glory comes through in the peeling paint of some of its grand old buildings. Narrow streets, spacious plazas and Spanish architecture make it a charm to explore on foot. Visit La Catedral San Cristobal de la Habana, the Palacio de los Marqueses de Aguas Claras and the Plaza de Armas. Also visit the Museo de la Revolucion, to learn about the history of the Cuban Revolution Afterwards, enjoy some free time to further explore on your own. Ask your leader to help you book one of the many optional activities such as a Cigar factory tour, the Ernest Hemingway tour, or a cruise around Outer-Havana in a vintage American car. Alternatively you could simply stroll along the Malecon or join the hundreds of locals lining up to eat a Coppelia ice-cream. Heavily subsidised by the government, a whole bowl will set you back about 10 cents.
Take a one-and-a-half hour flight from Havana to Baracoa. Please note that it is not uncommon for these flights to be delayed. Set on a beautiful bay, this was the first colonial town, and it’s one of the most beautiful in Cuba. You'll have a couple of days here to explore and relax. Take a walk around the town to get your bearings, then maybe head to a lovely black sand beach an easy walk from town. As one of Cuba’s major agricultural zones, Baracoa is a great place to try local foods. It’s one of the best places for chocolate, and street vendors and small restaurants offer local specialties like prawns in coconut sauce and banana-stuffed tamales. One particularly sought-after Baracoa specialty is the cucurucho, a sweet treat of coconut, sugar, and fruit wrapped in dried cone-shaped palm leaves.
Today is a free day to explore Baracoa. The town was only accessible by sea until 1960, and even after a road linking Baracoa to Guantanamo was built, the settlement maintained a small-town colonial feel. Uncover its individuality as you wander along its beautiful malecon or ramble over various forts that were built to withstand pirate attacks. The Catedral de Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion boasts a bust of the indigenous leader Hatuey, who was burned at the stake for refusing to accept the Spanish and their Catholicism. You might prefer to chill on a beach or get active with a hike to El Yunke – the famous table-top mountain sighted by Columbus during his first voyage to the island. At some point while you're here, you will undertake an informal salsa class. Cuba has a hugely rich and varied dance and musical tradition that draws its roots from Africa and France.
Today is another free day in Baracoa. Why not head out on a hike through the rainforest to explore nearby caves and waterfalls. Perhaps pay a visit to Humboldt Nation Park, looking out for colourful parrots, lizards and hummingbirds. Take a boat tour down a nearby river, spotting wildlife along the way, or maybe stop in at a farm to learn about life on the land. After the sun goes down, enjoy a cocktail near the beach or check out the town's nightlife.
A spectacular five-hour journey to Santiago de Cuba winds through verdant mountains, then along the dramatic Atlantic coastline, before taking you through the dry region surrounding Guantanamo, dotted with cacti and wiry goats. Time dependent, on the way you might get the chance to visit the Mirador de Malones for a pretty good view of the Guantanamo Naval Base and surrounding bay. At present the base is not open to the public. If you are keen to see this, please ask your leader, and they will tell you if visits are currently allowed. Continue on to Santiago de Cuba, picking up some Spanish during an informal Spanish lesson from your leader – set between the indomitable Sierra Maestra mountain range and the azure Caribbean, this city's historical centre and colonial architecture retain a timeworn air ideal for photographers. Santiago is the hottest place in Cuba – in terms of both temperature and the vibe of the city!
Today your leader will take you on a three-hour city tour of Santiago. You'll visit El Morro Castle, Ifigenia cemetery and the Moncada barracks and learn about the city’s rich history. For nearly a century, the city was the island's seat of power and it also played a vital role in the Revolution. The people of Santiago were the first to rise up in arms against government troops in 1956, and it was in Santiago on January 1st 1959, that Fidel Castro declared the triumph of the Revolution. With a strong Afro-Cuban heritage it's no surprise that Santiago has a vibrant music scene, and is seen as Cuba’s capital of music. It’s the home of son music, which is a mix of Spanish guitar and African percussion. Santiago's half million residents are proud of their cultural traditions, so you'll find many museums and cultural clubs around the city. The city is also famous for its energetic Carnaval celebrations and lively Festival of Caribbean Culture. All this will entice the shyest, most left-footed dancer and the non-musically inclined to get involved. Kick off the evening with an informal salsa lesson tonight, then party the night away at one of the town’s live music venues.
Today, head west along the Carretera Central to Camaguey with a stop in Bayamo. Today is the longest travel day of the trip. Depending on how many stops are made, this usually takes six to seven hours. Despite its size, Cuba's third largest city has managed to retain much of its colonial heritage. Exploring the city's winding streets is half the fun. The city was planned in a deliberately confusing pattern to disorient any would-be assailants. As you walk through the city you may still see tinajones – large clay pots used for collecting water. On your explorations, stop by the Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de la Soledad to see its baroque frescoes. Camaguey has a rich tradition of cultural and technological leadership within Cuba. It is the birthplace of poet laureate Nicolas Guillen and home of the Ballet de Camaguey. Cuba's first radio and television emissions were broadcast from Camaguey, and the country's first airport and commercial flights were planned and executed here.
Today you’ll take a tour of Camaguey by bicycle taxi. Cycling is a popular form of transport in Cuba, and bicycle taxis are very common. In the confusing streets of Camaguey, it's a particularly good way to get around. On the tour, you'll visit a local market, parks, plazas and an art gallery. Each taxi carries two passengers and the tour is led by an English-speaking local guide. Your leader may suggest visiting a local farmers' market, where you’ll get a fascinating insight into daily Cuban life and the local economy. This is where farmers can sell their produce after meeting the quota they have to sell to the state. Camaguey's is a particularly busy and colourful market. There are separate areas for produce sold by the state and produce sold by farmers directly to the public. There are plenty of interesting tropical fruits, vegetables and herbs available. This is where the locals come to buy their food once their monthly food ration runs out.
Today travel through the centre of the country to Trinidad (approximately 5-6 hours), which sits on the scenic Caribbean coast. For many visitors to Cuba, Trinidad is a standout destination. No other colonial city in Cuba is as well preserved, and the local residents are extremely friendly and festive. Trinidad is steeped in religion, including the Afro-Cuban religion of Santeria, which has connections to Voodoo. On an orientation walk today, see the former wealth generated by the sugar industry in the town's once-grand mansions, colourful public buildings, wrought iron grill-work and cobble-stoned streets. You'll then have over two days to explore the area and soak up the atmosphere.
Today is a free day in Trinidad. Perhaps continue yesterday’s walk into the town’s history with visits to the Museo Nacional de la Lucha Contra los Bandidos and the Casa de los Mártires de Trinidad. Both chronicle the struggles of the revolutionary period in the town's history. At some point while you're here, why not take in a folklore show at one of the town's numerous open-air venues. Cuba has a hugely rich and varied dance and musical tradition that draws its roots from Africa and France. Many styles that have greatly influenced music worldwide originated in Cuba, such as Mambo, Cha-cha-cha, son and rumba. There’s also a chance to get a hands-on lesson with the musical instruments themselves in a percussion workshop. By now, hopefully you've learnt enough of the local rhythms to join in with the locals – maybe at a local venue hidden within a cave!
Trinidad is also the gateway to the Valle de los Ingenios, and a bike is a great way to explore the local area. Be warned however, Cuba's bicycles, like its cars, are vintage. There are also some great treks to be made in the nearby Sierra del Escambray mountains – maybe drive along the legendary twists and turns of the road to El Nicho, then hike to its beautiful waterfall. Playa Ancon is also close by – there’s plenty of opportunity for relaxing on its long, unspoilt beaches or snorkelling through the clear waters (just watch carefully for sea urchins, which can be a problem here).
On the way to Cienfuegos today, you'll drive north through the Topes de Collantes National Park to the final resting place of Cuba’s most famous son. In Santa Clara (approximately 1 hour), you'll visit the Che Guevara mausoleum and memorial. Che's remains were brought here after they were found in a remote corner of Bolivia in 1997, where he was assassinated by the CIA-backed Bolivian army. Check out the impressive bronze statue of Che bearing his rifle and learn about his incredible life. Then it’s a short drive south (approximately 1.5 hours) to Cienfuegos, known affectionately as 'The Pearl of the South'. Part of the city's appeal lies in its colonial centre, which features wide Parisian-style boulevards and elegant colonnades. Drive along the peninsula to see Cienfuegos' architectural pride and joy, the Moroccan-influenced Palacio del Valle.
On the way to Havana today, you’ll stop at the peaceful sandy arc of Playa Giron (approximately 2.5 hours), which sits on the eastern side of the Bahia de Cochinos, better known as the Bay of Pigs. It was famously here that the CIA sponsored a failed invasion by exile forces in 1961. Today you’ll discover the story of the Cuban victory at the Museo Giron, which holds displays of various military equipment and photos of the men who fought here. It’s not just the history that’s the attraction here – with crystal clear Caribbean waters, a deep underwater wall, and an outstanding variety of coral and fish, it’s a haven for snorkelers. Strap on a hired mask and some flippers and take a dive into sapphire-coloured water teeming with tropical marine life. After arriving back into the capital, head to Plaza de la Revolución for your final taste of Cuban revolutionary history, watched over by the memorials of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, José Martí and Camilo Cienfuegos. Then you’ll have the rest of the evening free. Perhaps take a stroll along the malecon (ocean walkway) or soak up the atmospheric vibes of the Old Town. At the end of a long day, perhaps it's time for a mojito or cuba libre and a final night of salsa in Habana Vieja's bars. Hit the streets and celebrate the end of a fantastic adventure.
Today is a free day in Havana. Your leader can assist you to book any optional activities.
Spend the morning enjoying a short tour around Old Havana. This well-preserved part of the city was designated a World Heritage Site in 1982. The streets are lined with colonial architecture, 16th-century fortresses and many beautiful churches. Next head to Callejon de Hamel, an alley located in Havana's working class Cayo Hueso quarter. Adorned with the evocative Santeria murals of local artist Salvador Gonzalez, this lively street is Havana's centre of Afro-Cuban culture. Every Sunday afternoon it plays host to famous Afro-Cuban rumbas. Continue on to the community of Las Terrazas, the pioneering ecovillage dates back to a reforestation project in 1968. Meet some of the residents and learn how they work together to support their neighbours, as well as showcasing their open studios, woodwork and pottery workshops. Utilise some of the Spanish phrases to interact with the locals that your leader has taught you on the bus. Finally head to Soroa, heavily forested Sierra del Rosario to check in to your guesthouse for the night.
In the morning, enjoy a tour of an orchid garden, which boasts 700 species of orchid. You'll also have the option to take a stiff one-kilometre climb up a mountain path to a lookout, and a short hike to a nearby waterfall. Head towards Vinales, stopping in at a Finca de Plantas Medicinales (A Herb Farm) to learn about local herbs and their medicinal properties. Because of international sanctions against Cuba, the island nation has had to find ways to be self-sufficient. One of these is to develop its own medicines, many of which are herbal. You'll see how herbs are grown, dried and crushed before being sent to a factory to be processed into medicines. Then, drive the short distance to the final destination of the day, the small town of Vinales in Pinar del Rio Province. Surrounded by limestone cliffs, the scenery around Vinales is some of the most picturesque in Cuba. On arrival, your leader will take you on a short orientation walk of the town.
This morning your leader and a local guide will take you on a half-day walking tour. Visit a local farm where you'll have the opportunity to experience the 'guajiro's' way of life. Depending on the season, while at the farm you can choose to relax or help out with daily farm activities, such as toasting and grinding coffee or harvesting yuca, corn or tobacco. This is also your opportunity to marvel at the speed and skill of the locals cigar rolling technique. In the afternoon, you could even visit a bodega in town, where Cuban families collect their government-appointed rations. Vinales is a great place to mix with the locals, who love nothing better than to drink rum and dance the night away. In the evening, enjoy an informal salsa lesson. We recommend you eat dinner at a local eco-farm – the leader will assist with this if it interests you. Afterwards, perhaps practice your new moves to some live music on some of the dance floors in town.
This morning make an early start. Leave the mainland and cross the water over a short causeway to Cayo Jutias, a tiny mangrove-covered key situated approximately 65 kilometres northwest of Vinales. Your destination is Pinar del Rio's most 'undiscovered' beach, a long stretch of sand at the key's northern tip. Paddle about in the water or soak up the sun on the sandy shore.
Today travel back to Havana, passing by the neighbourhood of Jaimanitas in Havana's outer western suburbs, also known as Fusterlandia. The artist Jose Fuster has brightened up the area by rebuilding and decorating over 80 houses (including his own) with ornate murals and domes. The project includes a park with giant chess boards and an Artists’ Wall, which has been compared to Antonio Gaudi's mosaic wall in Barcelona. Unfortunately there isn't time to enter Fuster's house but the area is still well worth a visit. You have a free afternoon to take a tour or simply stroll the streets or malecon. In the evening, head out on the town with your new travel friends. Havana's nightlife is varied and lively. Put your new salsa skills into practice at its many bars and clubs or perhaps check out a cabaret show.
Your trip comes to an end this morning after breakfast. Check-out time is 10 am.