There is something quite extraordinary about Cuba. As one of the world’s last bastions of communism it has remained politically isolated and has escaped the influences of its larger neighbours to the north. Our in-depth trip of Cuba starts in Havana where faded, colonial buildings line the famous Malacon seaside drive and superbly restored Baroque mansions cram the historical centre. Santiago de Cuba is the country’s second largest city, renowned for its laid-back lifestyle and rich mix of inhabitants. It is also the home of Afro-Cuban culture and rhythm music. From Camaguey we continue to historic Trinidad with its fascinating town centre and nearby sandy beaches. Here we cruise aboard a catamaran, enjoying snorkelling amongst the coral reef and there's a delicious, seafood lunch on board. In the hills at Topes de Collantes we hike in spectacular countryside, before continuing to Santa Clara. Here we visit Che Guevara's memorial before continuing to Las Terrazas where we explore the 5000-hectare biosphere reserve. Vinales lies in a lush valley, famous for its sensational greenery, tobacco farms and giant limestone cliffs; it is a photographer’s paradise. Finally we arrive at Cayo Levisa, where we have time to unwind on its beautiful beaches before returning to vibrant Havana.
Day 1 - Havana
On arrival at Havana airport you will be transferred to your centrally located hotel. In the evening you will meet your tour leader and the other members of your group for a pre-tour briefing. Please check the notice board at Reception to confirm the time and place of your meeting. The briefing is generally followed by an optional group dinner.
Day 2-3 - Havana
Havana (known locally as La Habana) is the centre of all things Cuban and to walk around its streets is like being on the set of a Hollywood movie. 1950s and 1960s American cars cruise wide boulevards, while paint peels from glorious Spanish colonial buildings. Old men in straw hats puff on huge Cuban cigars as Cuban 'son' music fills the air; it's hard not to be drawn in by this evocative atmosphere. There is much to see in Havana and we explore both old and modern districts. In the Old Town we take a walk to the various squares such as Plaza de Armas, Plaza de la Catedral, Plaza de San Francisco de Asis, Plaza Vieja (Old Square) and Plaza de Cristo. We also visit the Palacio de los Capitanes Gernerales (which now houses the City Museum) and the impressive Capitolio Nacional, which is remarkably similar to the US Capitol Building in Washington DC. Stopping outside the Morro Cabanas Fortress, we enjoy great views of the city looking back on the famous waterfront esplanade known as the Malecon. In the newer part of town we see Revolution Square, Miramar Vedado and Havana University. Our organised sightseeing is usually done in one day with the next day left free to make our own discoveries. Highly recommended is a tour of a cigar factory or a visit to the Necropolis Cristobal Colon - a massive cemetery that looks like a small suburb (please note that we will be visiting an equally impressive cemetery in Santiago de Cuba). Ernest Heminway aficionados can take an excursion to visit his house and museum (closed Tuesdays) in the suburb of San Francisco de Paula, about 15km from the centre.
Day 4-5 - Santiago de Cuba
We are transferred to the airport for our flight to the eastern part of Cuba (please note that this could be a very early start, depending on flight schedules which are variable and change at the last minute). Santiago de Cuba is the home of Afro-Cuban culture and rhythm and rivals Havana in literature, music and politics. The city has a noticeable Caribbean flavour, thanks to the French planters and Haitians who settled here in the 19th century. During our stay we visit Moncada Barracks, Bacardi Museum and Rum Museum, as well as the oldest house still standing in Cuba - the house of Diego Valazquez (1522), which is located in the centre of town. We also head out to visit the Santa Efigenia Cemetery, which houses the mausoleums of various members of the Barcadi family as well as that of Jose Marti - the man regarded as the 'father' of modern Cuba. An interesting changing of the guards ceremony takes place at Marti's tomb every half hour. Down on the coast of the Caribbean Sea we visit the Fortress of San Pedro del Morro. Constructed between 1633 and 1693, it is today a UNESCO World Heritage site and considered the best-preserved 17th century Spanish military complex in the Caribbean.
Day 6 - Camaguey
We continue to the town of Camaguey, located in the country's lush interior approximately halfway between Havana and Santiago. The surrounding countryside is dotted with cattle farms, citrus orchards and sugar plantations. The city of Camaguey always manages to surprise, with its twisting streets and alleyways that often manage to confuse travellers. It is a historic city that lends itself to exploration, so in your free time it is possible to hire a bicycle taxi (cost approximately 5.00 CUC) and do a optional tour without getting lost! Another renowned feature of the city is the proliferation of huge earthenware water pots known as 'tinajones', which can be seen all over the place. These were originally used to store water in times of drought.
Day 7 - Trinidad
We continue today by road through the hills and down to the historical town of Trinidad. Trinidad and its surrounding hills were declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1988. Established by the Spaniards in 1514 and lined with cobblestone streets and colourful houses, the town of Trinidad is easy to wander around and almost every scene offers superb photographic opportunities – from locals casually smoking their huge cigars on the doorsteps of their homes to old Chevrolets cruising by. It is easy to see why Trinidad is one of the most visited towns in Cuba.
Please note that there is a shortage of reliable accommodation in
Trinidad and many of the hotels experience constant water and electrical
shortages. From time to time it is necessary for us to stay just out of town.
Day 8 - Trinidad
Today we have a walking tour of this small, charming town. We will visit the Romantic Museum, which is located right by the evocative Plaza Mayor and houses a collection of beautiful period pieces. We also stop at the Canchanchara Tavern and sample its famous cocktail made from rum, honey and lemon. In the afternoon there is free time to wander and further explore this ancient town. There is open-air music on most evenings at the Casa de la Musica, which spills over in the cobblestone stairway on the side of the main church.
Day 9 - Cayo Macho Boat Cruise - Trinidad
Today we board a catamaran for a journey across the water to Cayo Macho. This coral key, renowned for its pristine white beaches and thick mangroves teaming with bird life, is a great place to go swimming and snorkelling. We spend the day exploring the area and dining on a tasty seafood lunch before returning to Trinidad for the night.
Day 10 - Santa Clara
We get an early start after breakfast and drive into the hills to Topes de Collantes, located near the top of a range that separates the Provinces of Villa Clara and Cientfuegos with the coastal part of Sancti Spiritus Province. Here we embark on an easy hike along the beautiful Sendero Codina Trail and enjoy sweeping views over the surrounding countryside. After lunch we continue on to the city of Santa Clara, the site of a major battle in the Cuban Revolution. It was here that Ernesto Che Guevara defeated government troops, even though his forces were significantly outnumbered. Upon hearing of this defeat President Batista fled Cuba, thus assuring victory to Fidel Castro and his revolutionaries. Murals of Che Guevara and revolutionary slogans are plastered all over the city, commemorating the significant part it played in the revolution. We visit the Tren Blindado (Armoured Train) Monument, which marks the spot where the actual victory took place. Che Guevara was killed in Bolivia and his remains were uncovered and identified in 1987. They were brought back to Cuba and interred in Santa Clara along with those of other revolutionaries who were killed with him. We visit the impressive Ernesto Che Guevara Monument which is part mausoleum, part museum and undoubtedly one of the most significant memorials in the country. We visit the Che Guevara memorial and the Armoured Train. There is a dearth of reasonable standard hotels in Santa Clara, so we need to stay in one on the outskirts of town.
Day 11 - Las Terrazas
After breakfast we travel back to Havana before continuing west to the Las Terrazas Community, where we arrive in this 5000-hectare biosphere reserve in the late afternoon. This community was conceived as a miniature city with basic facilities for its urban functioning and an architectural style that was designed to harmonise with the landscape. We stay overnight within the community in a hotel that is well laid out with interesting botanical displays that showcase the local flora.
Day 12 - Vinales
We have time for an optional tour of the Las Terrazas Comunity before we depart and travel past several villages en route to Vinales, a town surrounded by some of the most beautiful countryside in Cuba. Closer to Vinales, tobacco and sugarcane fields lie side by side and limestone outcrops dot the landscape. Cuba is renowned for its cigars and in Pinar del Rio we visit a cigar factory and find out why this Cuban produce is so famous worldwide. Arriving in Vinales we take a boat trip inside the Indian Caves - an ancient site that was once a dwelling for indigenous people. In the afternoon we take a walk to Palmarito o Laguna Piedra and also make the most of incredible views of the surrounding landscape from the Los Jazmines viewpoint. We also visit the Prehistoric Wall, a 120-metre-long outdoor mural painted between 1961 and 1966 that depicts some weird and wonderful scenes!
Day 13 - Cayo Levisa
After two weeks of exploring Cuba's towns, cities and landscapes, could there be a better way to finish the trip than kicking back on the white sandy beaches of Cayo Levisa – a small coral island off the northern coast? The area is famous for fishing and was once a favourite haunt of renowned game fisherman (literary giant and big game hunter!), Ernest Hemmingway. We travel to the island by boat on a full day and we have the opportunity to swim, snorkel and explore the island – or do nothing at all! Whatever we choose to do, it's a great place to reflect on our time in this unusual country. In the late afternoon we return to our country lodge in Soroa on the mainland, located in the Sierra del Rosario mountains. Soroa is nicknamed the 'rainbow of Cuba', as the area boasts huge trees and colourful orchids.
Day 14 - Havana
After breakfast we return to Havana, where our tour ends. If you wish to extend your stay in Havana it is possible to book additional accommodation - this should be done at the same time you book your holiday. If you are planning to fly out from Havana today, we advise that you do not book to depart until at least after 2.30pm (14:30 hrs).