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Day 1: Arrive in Havana
Upon arrival in Havana, you are transferred to Havana's famous Old Habana where you can settle in and wonder the cobble stone streets or just relax and take in the life that surrounds the old Square. 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 sights
This morning we enjoy a walking tour of Habana Vieja (Old Havana.) We will visit the open-air plazas of San Francisco Plaza, Plaza de Armas, Plaza Vieja and Plaza de la Cathedral. We visit the old Palaces of Palacio de los Capitanes Generales. We will view Palacio del Segundo Cabo and Castillo de la Real Fuerza.
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.
Day 4: Vinales Valley, caves
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.
Day 5: To Zapata Marshlands
This morning we will travel east four hours to visit another Biosphere Reserve, the Zapata National Park. This is the largest and best preserved wetlands in the Caribbean Islands. 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.
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. We will see 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. Overnight in Cienfuegos.
Day 7: Trinidad
This morning, enroute to the small town of Trinidad, we will visit the Cienfuegos Botanical Garden which dates back to 1899. We continue on 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.
Day 8: Afro Cuban Religion and Arts
This morning we visit a Cuban Maternity Home, of which there are many throughout the country. These homes where designed to give expecting mothers a place where they can go to receive around the clock professional health care. We then have an opportunity to learn Cuban Percussion led by David Lopez Garabito who has toured with the group Hecho en Cuba (Made in Cuba).
Day 9: Escambay Mountains/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'. We will make our way 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 hike along the "Orchid Loop" which has over 25 endemic species. 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. Overnight in Santa Clara.
Day 10: Santa Clara
Today, we explore the lively university town of Santa Clara, where the main square (Parque Vidal) is bursting with local spirit, and ranks as one of Santa Clara's highlights. We will see Santa Clara's many other highlights including the Ernesto Che Guevara monument commemorating the man and the vital part he played in the armed struggle against General Batista's dictatorship. Visit the armored train park museum and learn how this was one of the biggest turning point of the taking over Santa Clara. After lunch we visit a Cuban Cigar Factory where we will see first hand the care and knowledge that goes into producing arguably the best cigars in the world. Overnight in Santa Clara.
Day 11: Havana - Tropicana Cabaret
Today we drive back to Havana through picturesque countryside. Upon arrival we visit the former Centro Gallego, built in 1915 by Belgian architect Paul Belau. The facades have rich decorations derived from Baroque and Renaissance styles. Today, the center houses the Gran Teatro de la Habana, home of Alicia Alonso's Ballet Nacional de Cuba. After lunch relax before our classic Havana evening. Mid afternoon travel back to the 1950's as you travel around Havana streets in a classic American car stopping at Hotel Nacional for a cocktail before dinner. We will see the Paseo del Prado; a pedestrian promenade remodeled in 1929 with the inauguration of Havanas' Capitol building and Casino Espanol. 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. 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. In the morning we will visit a rum factory and learn about the process of making rum.
Day 13: Depart Havana
Our Cuban adventure concludes with a transfer to Havana Airport to board your international flights homeward.
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