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 wonder the lively and wide streets of one of the first aristocratic neighbourhoods 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 city sites

This morning, we 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) and "Palacio del Segundo Cabo" . We will also visit other important sites including the Castillo de la Real Fuerza and the monument to Havana's foundation.

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, a famous cultural venue in the heart of central Havana and Plaza de la Revolucion where we see Che Guevara's and Jose Marti's monuments.

After dinner we attend the traditional night cannon ceremony at Castillo de la Fuerza; 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.

We will have lunch at a restaurant that serves wonderful Cuban food that is grown and raised right there. 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.

We begin our day traveling through this impressive landscape, while seeing how tobacco, cassava and taro are grown. We will tour a farm 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. Next we drive to the small town of Vinales, where we visit a state-run supply store to learn about the supply and distribution of goods in Cuba. We take in the Botanical Gardens of Caridad - a mini paradise which was nurtured lovingly by two widows who have created an Eden of tropical plants such as tamarinds, oranges, grapefruits, guava, starfruit, bananas, cocoa, lemons, cinnamon trees and a variety of decorative plants and ferns.

The area is riddled with caves and subterranean rivers. We explore Indian's Cave, one of the most beautiful caves in the Vinales Valley. A short hike will get us to the small skiffs that will take us on a 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

This morning we will travel east four hours to visit another Biosphere Reserve, Zapata National Park. 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 guide will explain the environmental and educational community program being implemented by the local authorities, as well as give us information about the local flora and fauna.

Enroute to "the pearl of the south" we visit the museum devoted to the "Bay of Pigs". From here we make our way to Cienfuegos where we shall enjoy the next two nights. Overnight in Cienfuegos.

 

Day 6: Cienfuegos and Social Cuba

Cienfuegos is one of Cuba's youngest cities, founded in 1819. It has a vibrant youthful population and diverse architecture of neo-classical buildings. This morning we will visit the Cienfuegos Botanical Gardens which dates back to 1899 to later return to the city and stroll around the city's highlights including Plaza Marti, the Cathedral, the Tomas Terry theatre and the Palacio de Valle - an architectural jewel which was originally a private residence of a wealthy sugar baron. After lunch, we will have a chance to visit a Casa de Abuelos (seniors center) where members organize around cultural activities, eco-excursions and are provided with medical attention and nutritious meals.

We then visit 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. Overnight in Cienfuegos.

 

Day 7: Colonial Trinidad (UNESCO)

This morning we make our way 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.

We begin our day with a visit to a Cuban Maternity Home to learn about the Cuban health system. These homes were designed to give expecting mothers a place where they can go to receive around the clock professional health care.

From here, we have time to stroll around beautiful Plaza Mayor. You can choose to visit Museo Arquitectura Colonial or enjoy free time at the local artisan street market, where splendid woodcarvings, fabric art, crochet pieces, and straw work are for sale.

After lunch we have some free time to enjoy the beach. 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: Afro Cuban Religion and Arts

This morning 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. This afternoon you can decide if you would like to explore the markets or return to the beach.

Tonight, we enjoy a relaxing Catamaran trip at sunset before dinner. Overnight at Ancon Beach (near Trinidad).

 

Day 9: Escambay Mountains, Che's Monument, 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 through the Escambray Mountians, 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. We will take a 40 minute mountain truck ride into the forest to La Codina, an old Spanish Hacienda, once part of a large Spanish coffee plantation. We begin our hike with a talk on various plants and their medicinal uses, originally used to treat the plantation's slaves. We finish up back at the Hacienda where a traditional Cuban lunch awaits us. We continue on to Santa Clara city, where we will stay for the next two nights.

On our way to the hotel we visit the city's Revolution Square and Che Guevara's museum and mausoleum commemorating the man and the vital part he played in the armed struggle against General Bastista's dictatorship.

Overnight in Santa Clara.

 

Day 10: Santa Clara - Revolution sites, Cigar Factory

This morning we visit a Cuban Cigar Factory where we will see firsthand the care and knowledge that goes into producing arguably the best cigars in the world. From here we visit the armored train park museum and learn how this was one of the biggest turning points of the revolution, followed by a visit to "La Caridad Theater" a gem of Cuba's 19th century.

We later explore the lively university town of Santa Clara where the main square (Parque Vidal) is bursting with local spirit. It is easy to see why it ranks as one of Santa Clara's highlights. Overnight in Santa Clara.

 

Day 11: Havana & the 50's, Classic American Cars & Tropicana Cabaret

Today we drive back to Havana through picturesque countryside. Enroute we visit the Tano Village along the Hanabana River, which empties into Laguna del Tesoro, one of the largest lakes in the country. Here is where we shall find the restored Taino Indian village. The Tainos were one of the three groups of Indians who lived in Cuba prior to the Spanish conquest. Our guide will provide us with more information about the local flora and fauna before we enjoy our boat journey to the Taino Indian village. Upon our return, we shall enjoy lunch at La Boca Restaurant before making our way back to Havana.

Upon our arrival, we visit the museo bellas artes-arte cubano before travelling back to the 1950's as we explore the streets of Havana in a classic American car. We stop at 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 - a last glimpse, Hemingway's home

There is so much to see and do in this marvelous city... and our busy day includes as much as possible. We begin our day with a Santeria tour by the hand of Mr Elias Aseff, a specialist in Cuban religion who is working on his masters degree as he also represents a renown Cuban muralist "Salvador Gonzales Escalona".

We then visit the rum museum and learn about the process of making rum.

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. From here, we make our way the quiet seaside town of Cojimar, the little town that inspired Hemingway to write "The Old Man and the Sea". It is here that 'Papa' kept his boat 'Pilar' docked during his years in Cuba. We will enjoy a daiquiri (one of Hemingway's preferred cocktails) and lunch at Las Terrazas de Cojimar Bar.

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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