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Best of Cuba
Transport - Minibus, on foot, in country flight
Accommodation - Homestays (14nts) Hotels (3nts)
Meals - 3 breakfasts
We often have multiple itineraries so please check to see which itinerary is suitable for you, by selecting the relevant tab.
Take your flight to Havana, Cuba. You will be transferred to your hotel and check in.
Bienvenido! Welcome to Cuba!
There will be a welcome meeting on Day 2 evening. Your leader will leave a note at reception telling you where and when this important meeting will take place. Please ask a member of reception for this information. After the group meeting there is the option of joining the group for dinner.
Havana grew from an obscure port to a bustling hub when gold and silver was being pillaged by the Spanish from New World and taken to Spain. While the ships gathered in growing numbers, the pirates were not far behind and the treasures resting in Cuba's ports were attacked again and again by Dutch, English and French pirates. The Spanish built fort after fort for protection but the English eventually captured the territory. An economic boom followed due to the English lifting the Spanish trade restrictions. Spain eventually exchanged the Florida territory for the island, but these years left an indelible mark on the city and the country, and Havana is slowly restoring its beautiful colonial buildings.
The best place to start any Havana experience is in the Old City. Havana's Old City is one of the best preserved and was designated a World Heritage Site in 1982. The streets are lined with colonial architecture, 16th century fortresses and countless churches. Make sure you visit La Catedral San Cristobal de la Habana, described by the novelist Alejo Carpentier as 'music set in stone'. Also worth seeing is the Palacio de los Marqueses de Aguas Claras (now a restaurant) and the Plaza de Armas, complete with a statue of Manuel de Cespedes, one of the leaders of the independence movement. There are plenty of good museums to check out including Museo de la Revolucion and the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes.
While in Havana you must try a Coppelia ice cream. You can join the hundreds of locals who line up to eat the delicious ice-cream that is heavily subsidised by the government to keep the populace happy. There is a Coppelia in every major town in Cuba and the one just up the road from our Hotel in Havana is the biggest on the island. Sometimes there is just one flavour available, a whole bowl of which could set you back about 10 cents. You can however pay up to $3 if you want to skip the queue and go the section where the prices are in Convertible Dollars (CUC) rather than the local pesos (CUP).
Ice cream in hand, why not head to a local baseball game. This is a great experience as the local atmosphere is very colourful and unique and can get quite rowdy at times. Baseball is by far the number one sport in Cuba so the locals can get very passionate about it. Its also interesting to note that the only advertising is government community announcements such as: sport is good for your health!
The season runs from October to May.
In Havana you can book extra accommodation at the starting and finishing point hotel of this trip or opt to upgrade to an Intrepid Comfort style hotel. Please contact your booking agent for more details.
- Buena Vista Social Club - USD75
- Tropicana Show - USD80
- Cigar Factory Tour - USD12
- Morro-Cabana Fortress - USD6
- La Cabana Fortress canon blast ceremony - USD10
- Baseball game (Oct - Apr) - USD3
- Tourist bus day pass - USD5
- Tourist bus to the beach (return) - USD5
- Ernest Hemingway tour - USD30
Hotel (2 nts
On the way to Cienfuegos you pass by Santa Clara where you visit the Che Guevara mausoleum and memorial. Che's remains were brought to rest here after they were found in a remote corner of Bolivia in 1997, where he was assassinated by the CIA backed Bolivian army. There's an impressive and massive bronze statue of Che bearing his rifle. Inside the museum, you can learn about his amazing life and see photos and exhibits such as his famous black beret.
Travel on to Cienfuegos, known affectionately as 'The Pearl of the South'. The city's appeal lies partly in the European flavour of its colonial centre, with a wide Parisian-style boulevard and elegant colonnades. Take a horse and buggy ride along the peninsula to Cienfuegos' architectural pride and joy, the Palacio del Valle.
- Visit to Che Guevara Mausoleum and Museum
Homestay (1 nt)
A short drive along the scenic Caribbean coast takes us to Trinidad.
For most visitors to Cuba, Trinidad is their standout favourite destination (well, for the ones that make it this far anyway). No other colonial city in Cuba is so well preserved, and the local residents are extremely friendly and festive. Trinidad is steeped in religion, none the least of which is Santeria, which is one of the Afro-Cuban religions (related to Voodoo) that is practiced in Cuba.
La Villa de la Santisima Trinidad was founded by Velazsquez in 1514 and the defender of indigenous rights in the Americas, Fray Bartolome de Las Casas, attended over the settlement's first mass. The future conqueror of Mexico, Hernan Cortes recruited sailors here for his future expedition into that land. The town was fairly inactive until the 1800s, when French refugees fleeing a slave revolt in Haiti landed here en masse and brought with them sugar cane cultivation. The new residents settled and farmed in the Valle de Los Ingenios, just northeast of the town. Vast wealth flowed into the local economy from sugar cane cultivation and the area produced one third of the country's sugar at one point. The sugar boom was terminated by the two wars of independence, but the wealth generated by the industry remains visible in the town's once grand mansions, colourful public buildings, wrought iron grill-work and cobble-stoned streets. The town and area also saw a lot of action during and following the triumph of the Revolution, as gangs of counter revolutionaries hid out and struck from the safety of the mountains. The Museo Nacional de la Lucha Contra los Bandidos and the Casa de los Mártires de Trinidad, chronicles the struggles of this period in the town's history.
There are some great Spanish-style churches to explore here and nearby is the Valle de los Ingenios, where sugar plantations stretch out as far as the eye can see. For some beach side fun head down to Playa Ancon for some long stretches of white sand. This is a good place to pull on the snorkel and have a peak and Cuba's underwater world. For more land based activities go horse or bike riding, but be warned, Cuba's bicycles, just like its cars, are vintage. There are also some great treks to be made in the nearby Sierra del Escambray mountains.
While in Trinidad, why not take an optional visit to a folklore dance and music show at one of the numerous open-air venues. Cuba has a hugely rich and varied dance and music tradition that draws its roots from as far a field as Africa and France. Many musical styles that have greatly influenced music worldwide originated in Cuba, such as Mambo, Cha-cha-cha, son, and rumba.
Trinidad has a strong Afro-Cuban community and some of the Afro-Cuban religions are also represented in these shows. By now hopefully you have learnt a few steps of salsa and can join in with the locals.
On day 3 your leader will arrange an informal Spanish lesson, while on day 4 he will set up a casual salsa lesson (approx. 1 hour each)
- Informal Salsa lesson
- Informal Spanish lesson
- Orientation walk of Trinidad
- Snorkelling trip - USD15
- Cayo Blanco island catamaran cruise - USD45
- Ancon beach (transport) - USD4
- Trek to waterfall (taxi and entrance fee) - USD27
- Steam train ride - USD10
- Bicycle rental (full day) - USD5
- Moped rental - USD24
- Live music venues - USD5
- Massage - USD25
- Salsa lesson - CUC5
- Musical instrument lesson (guitar, double bass, tres, percussion - per hour) - USD10
Homestay (3 nts)
Today you travel by minivan to Camaguey (approx. 5-6 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 irregular and confusing pattern hoping 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 with its baroque frescoes.
This city has a rich tradition of cultural and technological leadership within Cuba. It is the birthplace of poet laureate Nicolas Guillen, whose brilliant Mis Dos Abuelos clearly captures and reflects the internal struggle born of Cuba's tumultuous Afro-Hispanic heritage. Camaguey is also home of the Ballet de Camaguey, the second most important dance company in Cuba. The citizens of Camaguey are also proud of their innovations, for Cuba's first radio and television emissions were broadcast from here, and the country's first airport and commercial flights were planned and executed here.
Your leader may suggest visiting a local farmers' market. This is where farmers are allowed to sell their food produce after they have met the quota they have to sell to the state. The market in Camaguey is a particularly busy and colourful market where there are separate areas for produce sold by the state and produce sold by farmers directly to the public. There is plenty of interesting looking tropical fruit, vegetables, and herbs. This is where the locals come to buy food once their monthly government provided food ration runs out.
Our hotel in the centre of town. Its facilities include air-conditioning, ensuite bathrooms, a restaurant and bar.
- Bicycle taxi tour
- Casa de la Trova - USD3
- Colonial nightclub - USD5
Hotel (2 nts)
Santiago de Cuba
You head west along the Carretera Central to Santiago de Cuba. Today is our longest travel day and depending how many stops you make, this can take up to 6 or 7 hours.
Santiago is the hottest place in Cuba - both with respect to the temperature and the vibe of the city! On the way you may get the chance to visit the Mirador de Malones, which is a lookout atop a hill that gives us a pretty good view of the Guantanamo Naval Base and the surrounding bay. At present this 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.
While in Santiago your leader will take you on a 3 hour city tour of Santiago. This tour vists El Morro Castle, Ifigenia cemetery and Moncada barracks.
Santiago is the cradle of the revolution and home of the traditional son music, a mix of Spanish guitar and African percussion. With a strong Afro-Cuban heritage it's no surprise that Santiago has a vibrant music scene that will entice the shyest, most left-footed dancer out to learn some salsa moves.
The city was one of many founded by Velásquez and one of its first Mayors was the future conquistador of Mexico, Hernán Cortés. For nearly one hundred years the city functioned as the island's capital and seat of power. However, it suffered through various pirate attacks, as well as through natural disasters and the entire region quickly became isolated from the rest of the island.
Santiago and the Oriente (east) have a large Afro-Cuban population. Many Africans were brought in as slaves to replace the dying indigenous people as labour force in the mines and ranches. A slave rebellion in nearby Haiti brought an influx of French refugees to the area, and spurred the coffee and sugar cane cultivation.
Santiago and the Oriente were the seat of various movements of independence and rebellion. It is the birthplace of General Antonio Maceo, the revered mulatto leader in the war for independence from Spain (you will see the massive statue erected in his honour in front of the city's long-distance bus terminal). Santiago also holds the title of: Hero City of the Republic of Cuba; for its leading role in significant events during the Revolution. It was in the Moncada Barracks that Fidel Castro struck out against Batista's abusive government in 1953, undergoing the trial that allowed him to expound on the governments excesses during his: La Historia Me Absolvera; (History Will Absolve Me) speech. 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 in a broadcast message to the country and the world.
The city's half million residents are also proud of their cultural traditions and you will find many museums and cultural associations and clubs around the city. Santiago is where son and boleros originated, and the richness of the island's strong African heritage is evident through institutions such as the Ballet Folklorico Tucumba, a world renowned Afro-Cuban dance company. The city is also well known for its vibrant and energetic Carnaval celebrations, and its lively Festival of Caribbean Culture.
Our homestay in Santiago is located approximately 8 blocks from the central square.
- Half-day city tour
- Museum entrances - USD5
- Tropicana Caberet Show - USD35
- Music instrument lesson - USD12
- Dance lesson (1 hour) - USD15
- La Gran Piedra Mountain (entry) - USD1
- Hotel pools - USD5
Homestay (2 nts)
Today you take either a public bus or our own private van for the 5 hour journey. The trip from Santiago to Baracoa is spectacular, first through Cuba's driest region near Guantanamo, complete with cacti and wiry goats, then along the dramatic Atlantic coast facing Haiti (which although out there somewhere, is too far away to see), finally winding through the verdant mountains near Baracoa.
Set on a beautiful bay, backed by spectacular mountains, surrounded by national parks, and awash with colonial charm, Baracoa is one of the most coveted destinations by informed foreigners, as well as local travellers in Cuba. This was the first place founded by the Spanish and up until 1960 was only accessible by sea. The mountains, crystal clear rivers, waterfalls, and multi-hued beaches - from black sand to sparkling yellow - all beg to be explored. There are plenty of options for activities from chilling out on the beach to hiking to El Yunke - the famous table-top mountain sighted and described by Columbus during his first voyage to the island and along the Río Toa.
The name Baracoa is of Arawak origin for the word meaning: elevated land. The town functioned as the island's first capital for a few years, until that title and honor went to Santiago. The town remained fairly isolated from the rest of the country though, as the only link to other outposts was the ocean. The first paved road linking Baracoa to Guantanamo was finished in the 1960s, but the settlement maintains a small-town, colonial feel, with its beautiful malecon, various forts built to withstand pirate attacks, and colorful buildings dating back to the Spanish colonial period.
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 can ramble over the town's forts that are a testament to the attention it received from the pirates and privateers of the Caribbean.
- Orientation walk of Baracoa
- El Yunque hike - USD18
- Yumari river tour - USD25
- Humbolt park hike - USD25
- Hike to caves - USD10
- Bar and nightclub entries - USD1
- Maguana beach (taxi return) - USD25
- Duaba Finca tour - USD15
- Duaba Finca river tour - USD8
- Waterfall hike - USD13
Homestay (3 nts)
Today you fly from Baracoa to Havana (approx. 1.5 hours). Please note that it is not uncommon for these flights to be delayed.
On the morning of day your leader will take you on an orientation walk of the vicinity of your accommodation giving you details of local services such as banks and internet, as well as details on where to go, what to do and how to get around while you are in town.
In your free time, why not stroll along the malecon (ocean-side walkway) and watch the traditional and modern sides of this enigmatic city unfold before you. At the end of a long day, enjoy a relaxing evening at any of the many bars and clubs while listening to the island's rhythms. It's time for a final night of salsa, hit the streets and celebrate a fantastic adventure.
Extra accommodation in Havana is available at the finishing point homestay for this trip. Alternatively you can opt to upgrade to a hotel. Please contact your booking agent for more details.
Day 16 is departure day. The day is free until you transfer to the aiport and board your overnight flight home.
Homestay (2 nts)