Cuba - Pearl of the Antilles

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Day 1: Arrive in Havana

Upon arrival in Havana, you are transferred to Havana's famous Vedado where you can settle in and wander the lively and wide streets of one of the first aristocratic neighborhoods in the capital. Havana is bustling with museums, plazas, art galleries and prominent buildings dating from the 18th to the 20th century. Overnight in Havana.

 

Day 2: Havana sites & Afro Cuban Religion

This morning, we begin our Cuban adventure with a visit to a local farmer's market as an introduction to Cuba's dynamic culture. We then enjoy a walking tour of Habana Vieja (Old Havana). We will visit the open-air plazas of San Francisco, Plaza de Armas, Plaza Vieja and Plaza de la Cathedral. We walk by the old Palaces of Palacio de los Capitanes Generales (former office and home to Spanish governors) the Palacio del Segundo Cabo, the Castillo de la Real Fuerza and the monument to Havana's foundation, where you will learn about their historic significance and have plenty of time to take photographs.

This area of Old Havana has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is now in the process of a magnificent restoration project, bringing back to life the graceful and elegant colonial architecture of days gone by. Complete the scene with 1950's Chevrolets, Buicks and Oldsmobiles, and the old city comes alive as we explore on foot.

Later this afternoon, we explore the outer parts of the city including Callejon de Hamel, where we are invited to a cultural project held by the famous Cuban muralist Salvador Gonzales for an introduction to a prominent Cuban religion. 'Santeria' has emerged from a combination of African and Catholic faith. Here we will enjoy a traditional presentation before making our way to one of the most famous and important cultural open air venues in the heart of Havana "Plaza de la Revolucion" with Che Guevara's and Jose Marti's monuments.

After dinner we attend the traditional night cannon ceremony at Fortaleza de la Cabana; one of the magnificent fortresses that made Havana the most fortified city in the Americas in the XVIII century. Overnight in Havana.

 

Day 3: Sierra del Rosario Biosphere Reserve

We head off this morning for Western Cuba to visit the first UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in the country, known as Sierra del Rosario. A bird watching paradise, this area is famed for the diversity of its natural beauty, lush woods, waterfalls, rare orchids and ferns. We will learn about the environmental experiences and the role of the community with a hike through this fascinating reserve, rich in local flora and fauna. We also visit the ruins of the Buena Vista coffee plantation where hundreds of slaves worked for French landlords. Later we will stop at Las Terrazas, a self sustained community initiated in 1967 and where 5000 hectares of terraced trees were planted in a major reforestation project. This will be an amazing opportunity to learn about Cuba's education system and interact with the staff at the local school. From here we visit a state-run supply store to learn about the supply and distribution of goods in Cuba.

We enjoy lunch at a restaurant that serves wonderful Cuban food which is grown and raised on site. We continue onward to Vinales in Pinar del Rio province where we stay for the next two nights. Overnight in Vinales.

 

Day 4: Vinales Valley, Indian's Cave

The Valley of Vinales is a picturesque, peaceful, lush area of Cuba, known for its fine tobacco fields and for its mogotes, the boulder-like hills that cover the valley floor. You will notice this impressive landscape as we make our way to Pinar del Rio city, the largest urban community in the western most part of the island. This is also the capital for the best tobacco in the world. We visit the "Francisco Donatien" cigar factory which produces a range of fine Cuban cigars. Here we gain insight as to the process of making a fine cigar.

We make our way to a local farm for lunch where you will have a chance to see how rural Cuban families live and work, as well as have an informal question and answer session.

After some free time to explore the lively streets of Vinales, we make our way to explore one of the most beautiful caves and subterranean rivers in the region, Indian's Cave. A short hike will get us to the small skiffs that will take us on a boat journey that will amaze you. Our guide will point out rock formations as the rock sides tower over top of you. Overnight in Vinales.

 

Day 5: To Cienfuegos via the Marshlands

Today we have a very busy day which starts with a four hour drive along the main highway as we make our way to the east side of the island. We stop for lunch enroute before visiting the museum devoted to the "Bay of Pigs". From here, we enjoy a guided walk through Zapata National Park, a Biosphere Reserve. This is the largest and best preserved wetlands in the Caribbean. Located in the peninsula of the same name, the Zapata Park covers an area of over 1,930 square miles. The area is outstanding for the great diversity of its ecosystems, in which more than 1,000 species of plants and 37 species of reptiles. The diversity of bird life is also outstanding: a full 170 species of the 354 bird species reported in Cuba can be found here. The park is considered one of the premier bird watching destinations in the world. Our local guide will explain the environmental and educational community program being implemented by the local authorities in additional to providing information about the local flora and fauna.

We finish our day by driving to Cienfuegos where we spend the next two nights. Overnight in Cienfuegos.

 

Day 6: Cienfuegos

Cienfuegos is one of Cuba's youngest cities, founded in 1819. It has a vibrant youthful population and diverse architecture of neo-classical buildings. We start our day by meeting a local historian and enjoy the city's highlights, walking tour passing by the Plaza Marti, the Cathedral and the Tomas Terry theatre. We drive to lunch before visiting the Palacio de Valle- an architectural jewel which was originally a private residence of a wealthy sugar baron.

From here, we enjoy a guided walking tour of the Cienfuegos Botanical Gardens which dates back to 1899. We then return to our centrally located hotel where the remainder of the afternoon is at your leisure. Overnight in Cienfuegos.

 

Day 7: Social Cuba, Colonial Trinidad (UNESCO)

After breakfast we visit "Casa de Abuelos" , a seniors center, one of the many government run institutions where members organize around cultural activities, eco-excursions and are provided with medical attention and nutritious meals. We then make our way to the graphic society of Cienfuegos. They will host our group by opening their doors to our questions and their artwork. This community of artists carries out important community work by complementing the training of art school students. They also work with children with disabilities to improve their quality of life.

We continue our journey to the charming town of Trinidad, Cuba's best-preserved colonial architecture and an UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the early 19th century, French settlers fleeing a slave revolt in Haiti arrived and cultivated sugar cane, bringing wealth to the region. The town has changed very little over the last 150 years and UNESCO has restored many of its French colonial buildings. Trinidad is a small, relaxed place where you can see Cuban cowboys riding their horses in the streets.

Upon our arrival, we visit Casa Santander to learn more about the traditional artistic pottery followed by lunch. We then enjoy a guided visit of the "Miseo Arquitectura Colonial" followed by free time to enjoy a stroll around the beautiful Plaza Mayor or the local artisan street market. Here you can find splendid woodcarvings, fabric art, crochet pieces and straw work.

Dinner will be at your leisure at our hotel before we meet for a night of music and dancing at one of the famous music night clubs in Trinidad. Overnight at Ancon Beach (near Trinidad).

 

Day 8: Health Care, Cuban Percussion, Sunset cruise

This morning we visit a Cuban Maternity Home, of which there are many throughout the country. These homes were designed to give expecting mothers a place where they can go to receive professional health care around the clock in a homelike environment. From here, we have an opportunity to learn Cuban Percussion led by David Lopez Garabito who has toured with the group Hecho en Cuba (Made in Cuba). After working up an appetite, we enjoy our lunch in town.

After lunch we have free time to explore the local markets or visit "Casa Santander" to learn more about traditional artistic pottery. We return to our hotel in the afternoon where we can relax on the beach before our sunset catamaran cruise followed by dinner at our hotel.
Overnight at Ancon Beach.

 

Day 9: Escambray Mountains, to Santa Clara

Today we leave for Santa Clara city located right in the center of Cuba. The city was founded in 1689 and was the battlefield for one of the most important victories of Fidel Castro's guerrilla war against the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in 1958. Commander 'Che' Guevara was the undisputed leader and hero of the so-called 'Batalla de Santa Clara'.

Our route will first take us to the Escambray Mountains, Cuba's second highest mountain range, reaching 3,700 ft. The mountains are home to small mountain villages and are a delight for birders and walkers alike. Slopes are swathed in Caribbean pines, ancient tree-ferns, bamboo and eucalyptus. Here we visit a local coffee house where we enjoy an in depth explanation of the coffee production process while sipping on Cuba's finest. We then walk along a natural trail across the local arboretum. After lunch we visit a local art museum before making our way to Santa Clara, where we will stay for the next two nights.
Overnight in Santa Clara.

 

Day 10: Santa Clara - Revolution sites

Today we explore the many highlights of the lively university town of Santa Clara. We first visit the local headquarters of the Cuban Communist Party where we visit Ernesto Che Guevara's monument and statue to learn more about his life. We continue by foot to the armoured train park museum and learn how this was one of the biggest turning points of the revolution.

From here we enjoy a stroll through the streets of Santa Clara, making our way to the Parque Vidal while discussing the daily life of Cubans and their dual currency. After some free time, we meet for a local lunch followed by a tuck tuck ride back to our coach.

This afternoon we make our way to revolution square. Here we visit the museum and mausoleum commemorating Che and the vital part he played in the armed struggle against General Bastista's dictatorship. Overnight in Santa Clara.

 

Day 11: Hemingway's Home, Classic American Cars & Tropicana Cabaret

Today we make our way back to Havana. Enroute, we visit the quiet seaside town of Cojimar, the little town that inspired Hemingway or "Papa" to write "The Old Man and the Sea". This is the same location where the writer kept his boat "Pilar" docked during his years in Cuba. We enjoy a daiquiri (one of Hemingway's preferred cocktails) at Las Terrazas de Cojimar Bar, followed by lunch in a private seafood restaurant.

From here, we walk in the footsteps of Ernest Hemingway with a visit to the American writer's former home, Finca La Vigia; an old colonial estate bought by the author in the '40s, where he lived for over 20 years. The house is exactly as Hemingway left it just prior to the Revolution. Visitors are able to walk around the house and view the interior through the windows.

After returning to our hotel in Havana, we have time to relax before stepping back in time with a tour around Havana in our classic 1950's American cars. We stop at the famous Hotel Nacional for a cocktail before dinner. After dinner, our vintage cars will take us to the Tropicana Cabaret to enjoy a performance in one of the most historical open-air night club shows in the world. Here we get a glimpse of the Havana entertainment scene as it was in the 1950's. It will be a late evening and our bus will be ready to take us back to the hotel after the show. Overnight in Havana.

 

Day 12: Havana - Entrepreneurship, Buena Vista Social Club

Today we enjoy a morning visit to the "Bellas Artes" fine arts museum.

After lunch, we have a present day, yet nostalgic opportunity to meet with a true Cuban entrepreneur, whose passion is the driving force behind not only keeping vintage cars on the road, but restoring them to their former glory. A passion inherited from his father (a GM auto mechanic), meet the son who has appeared on CNN and the BBC, has met John Kerry and whose wife went to the White House to receive an entrepreneurial recognition from President Obama. Our visit however is much more than just restoration of these classic 1950's Chevy's, BelAirs and Oldsmobiles, our visit will give a tremendous insight into the present day revolution happening in Cuba in terms of private ownership, entrepreneurship, the social impact and a glimpse into what the future holds for Cuba and its citizens. Just a reminder, despite his recent fame and recognition, he does not work in an ivory tower but a real working auto garage. What comes out is rather impressive.

Tonight, we reminisce on all the things we have seen and people we have met at our farewell dinner as we enjoy a performance of the world famous "Buena Vista Social Club".
Overnight in Havana.

 

Day 13: Depart Havana

Our Cuban adventure concludes with a transfer to Havana Airport.

 
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