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Feature adventure holidays
We’ve developed a range of dedicated solo holidays & solo travel packages; exclusively for people booking on their own. Around 40% of all our passengers are solo travellers.
Transport - Minibus, on foot, in country flight.
Accommodation - Hotels (14nts)
Meals - 14 breakfasts.
Transport - Minibus, on foot, in country flight.
Accommodation - Hotels (14nts)
Meals - 14 breakfasts.
An in-depth exploration of Cuba's past and present, exploring the fascinating blend of Latin culture, atmospheric cities and Caribbean beaches. The colour and music weave their way through the country; sip a rum cocktail, enjoy red snapper at a friendly paladar, savour a cigar and a cafe cubano, and shortly after arriving you'll be engulfed in the passion and tapping your feet to the Cuban rhythm.
After your flight, you transfer to your first night’s accommodation and check in. Standing on Cuba’s north coast, less than 160km from Florida, Havana, home to twenty percent of the population, is the political, industrial and cultural heart of the nation. The city was founded in 1519 when Spanish settlers moved here from an ill-fated earlier site on the south coast. As the New World started to yield its riches, Havana grew to prominence as the assembly point for the annual treasure convoy to Spain. In 1553 the Spanish governor moved from Santiago de Cuba at the other end of the island, and Havana has been capital ever since.
It grew so prosperous that by the 18th century in the Americas only Mexico City and Lima were larger. In the 1950’s before the revolution, as the hang out of the USA’s rich and famous, Havana developed quite a reputation for intrigue and decadence. Great Mediterranean-style palaces in a hotch-potch of architectural styles, and the giant fins and chrome bumpers of Havana’s endlessly reconditioned, Detroit-made, classic cars still recall those days when Cuba was virtually a colony of the USA - at least in economic terms. Under Castro’s rule, priority was given to rural development so that today, parts of the city that were once grand are in a state of advanced decay. Hotel – 2 nights
Please meet with your tour leader at 08.00 in the hotel reception. Today’s orientation tour gives you a feel for how Havana developed over the ages. The old city inside the original fortified walls - La Habana Vieja - houses the finest collection of antique colonial buildings in the Americas. The Plaza de Armas is dominated by the former residence of the Spanish governors, now the City Museum, a treasure trove which provides an excellent insight into their grand lifestyle. A few blocks away, an 18th century baroque cathedral and a clutch of imposing mansions grace the cobbled Plaza de la Catedral. Nearby, Calle del Obispo - the main shopping street - and the Paseo del Prado also contain impressive buildings from the colonial era. Across the channel, which leads into Havana’s port, is Cabaña Hill. Of the two great forts designed to defend the city (after British forces captured it in 1762), Castillo San Carlos de la Cabaña, is the largest in the Americas, with splendid views over the city. Havana’s famous esplanade, the Malecón, extends seven kilometres along the seafront, lined with once elegant mansions. This is where young Havanans comes to hang out in the evening - with a bottle of rum and some music; by day it’s a place to stroll and enjoy the sea air.
Tonight you can take in a show (optional) at the famed Tropicana night-club which, when it opened for New Year’s Eve in 1938, was described as the most flamboyant in the world. Despite revolution and economic crisis, little has changed on that front. The ostentatious glitz of the show is accompanied by an excellent orchestra, and offers a glimpse of those extravagant pre-revolutionary days. (B)
After breakfast, you set out on the 200km drive westward to Piñar del Rio province. You route crosses typical landscapes of cane fields, tobacco plantations and tall palm trees. Straw-hatted guajiro peasants tend the finest tobacco in the world; the plant is native to the island. Sometime during your stay you may be able to stop and visit factories which produce cigars and rum - Cuba’s principal exports. At the provincial capital of Piñar del Rio, you turn north on a scenic road which climbs into the Sierra de los Órganos, towards the sleepy village of Viñales. Hotel – 2 nights (B)
The Viñales valley boasts the oldest geological formations in Cuba, unique to the area. Spectacular mogotes - sheer-sided, conical towers of limestone, some over 300m high - are all that is left of a great plateau after millions of years of erosion by wind and water. The resultant archetypal karst terrain is reminiscent of southern China or Vietnam - especially when a layer of mist carpets the valley floor in the early morning. It’s a beguiling scene - all the more so when oxen are working the fields and the heady scent of tobacco fills the air as the plants reach maturity between January and April. You have all day to enjoy country walks in the area - by far the best way to appreciate its seductive charm. (B)
Starting early, you retrace your steps towards Havana then bear south into Matanzas province. Your route takes you into the badlands of the Zapata Peninsula. This great area of marshland which sticks out into the Caribbean is Cuba’s principal wildlife reserve; most of the island’s endemic bird species are found here. Mosquitoes and crocodiles ensured that the swamp remained a sparsely populated, backward area until the revolution, when considerable energy and resources were dedicated to improving conditions. Playa Larga stands at the head of the famous Bay of Pigs, where in 1961 a force of CIA-trained Cuban exiles landed to ferment a counter-revolution. Further along the coast, at Playa Girón, a small museum commemorates this abortive US effort to impose its will on socialist Cuba. After a long day’s drive, you approach Cienfuegos, a major port and industrial centre and capital of its province. This evening you may have time to stroll along the Paseo del Prado with the locals. Hotel – 1 night (B)
Santa Clara/Sierra Escambray
Cienfuegos is a pleasant city with a European feel – largely due to the influence of French settlers who arrived in the early 19th century. A sheltered deep-water harbour ensured its prosperity, and as the fortunes of nearby Trinidad waned, wealthy merchants and plantation owners indulged in a building bonanza. After breakfast it’s worth a quick look at the ostentatious Parque José Martí, with its elegant Tomas Terry theatre and the Casino, formerly the sugar-planters’ club.
Driving north you come to the university town of Santa Clara, the site of the last battle of the revolution. It was Che Guevara’s victorious attack on an armoured train here that convinced Batista to flee the country. You will visit Che’s mausoleum and museum whose collection includes his famous iconic beret and leather jacket.
It’s only a short drive into the Sierra de Escambray, Cuba’s second-highest mountain range, dominated by Pico San Juan (1140m). Above the citrus groves on the lower slopes, the mountains are clad with thick vegetation. High rainfall and relative coolness gives rise to forests of Caribbean pine, bamboo and eucalyptus. The Topes de Collantes area is ideal for walking with plenty of birdlife – parrots and hummingbirds – as well as several beautiful waterfalls. Descending rapidly from the mountains you arrive in Trinidad. Hotel – 2 nights (B)
Trinidad, in Sancti Spíritus province, is one of the seven cities founded by Diego de Velázquez in 1514, and now a national monument. Nestling on the plain in the lee of the mountains and within sight of the Caribbean, Cuba’s best-preserved colonial town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its narrow, cobbled streets are paved with stones that once served as ballast for ships on the empty, outward journey from Europe.
The town grew rich from trade through the nearby port of Casilda - until it silted up and was eclipsed by Cienfuegos. Despite its well-to-do air, Trinidad has no grand palaces and still retains the intimate feel of a small town. This morning you will explore the old part around the Plaza Mayor on foot and visit one of the town’s museums giving an insight into life in colonial times. Being virtually car-free, it’s a pleasant place to wander. At night there’s often something of interest happening like live music in the Casa de la Trova or a dance performance. (B)
This morning you set off along the Valle de los Ingenios (Valley of the Sugar Mills). At its busiest period some 43 mills ground sugar cane here to make molasses, but new production methods in the 19th century and the consequent drop in the price of sugar, ended the area’s importance. At Sancti Spíritus you may stop for a look at the old part of town around Puente Yayabo. From here you push on along the central highway, through the rolling savannah and cattle country of Ciego de Ávila province, to Camagüey. In pre-revolution days Camagüey was a prosperous town; it still looks pretty well-heeled and has its fair share of colonial buildings - particularly churches - and is generally simple and down to earth. It’s an easy place to explore on foot and you may arrive in time to get to the farmers’ market under the flame trees down by the river. Hotel – 1 night (B)
The first part of today’s drive (290km) follows the central highway east to Las Tunas, where you bear off southwards across the plain towards Bayamo in Granma province, an area famed for its beef cattle. The provincial capital of San Salvador de Bayamo was the second town founded by Diego de Velázquez after Baracoa, and later played a major role in the struggle for independence from Spain. You continue through coffee plantations and green foothills to Bartolomé Maso, where the abrupt climb into the Sierra Maestra begins.
Hotel – 1 night (B)
Santiago De Cuba
This mountain region is famed as Fidel Castro’s operational headquarters during the Revolution and this morning you head up the vertiginous road to Alto del Naranjo. A short trail brings you to the Comandancia de la Plata, Fidel’s original command post. The lush forests and giant ferns here mean good birding. This afternoon you return to Bayamo and pick up the highway that runs along the northern side of the Sierra Maestra to Santiago de Cuba, where the revolution was born. Cuba’s second city, another of Diego Velazquez’ seven creations of 1514, was the capital until 1553. The Spanish lost interest in the area once its meagre source of gold was exhausted, and when the capital moved to Havana, the entire eastern end of the island, known as Oriente, was almost abandoned. During this period, Santiago was at the mercy of French, English and Dutch pirates who roamed the Caribbean, then it received a massive influx of African slaves to work the nearby copper mine. At the end of the 18th century large numbers of French arrived from Haïti and founded modern sugar and coffee estates. This fusion of French, African, Spanish and Cuban elements produced a rich and unique culture which, coupled with its distance from Havana (some 900km), create Santiago’s highly distinctive feel. If time permits, you’ll do a quick orientation tour of this vibrant city to see its wonderful architectural heritage, which dates back to the 1520’s. Hotel – 2 nights (B)
Santiago De Cuba
This morning you take a half-day tour of the city, the afternoon is left free so you can explore. Santiago’s hub, Parque Céspedes, is where Fidel gave his first speech as the new leader of Cuba on the first of January 1959. On one side of the square stands the Casa de Diego Velázquez - one of the first houses built in the New World. Now a museum, in the corner of the courtyard is a crucible, which was used to smelt the first gold from the Americas, before it was shipped to Spain. You also see the Moncada Barracks, which Fidel attacked in 1953 to seize the weapons that were used to topple the corrupt Batista regime. Although the assault was almost a total disaster, this event irrevocably changed the course of Cuban history.
A little way out of town is the Castillo del Morro, a well-preserved multi-tiered fort that commands the entrance to the bay on which Santiago stands. Santiago is the home of Cuban son, the forerunner of modern salsa, and there’s often an opportunity to hear some music, maybe even take a dance class to unleash those gyrating hips on the world! (B)
Today you leave Santiago to drive on the precipitous El Farola, a cantilevered road through the mountains to Baracoa. Built on a promontory between two bays, Baracoa is the absolute epitome of a sleepy tropical town. Christopher Columbus arrived here in 1492 and planted a cross which is still kept in the Iglesia de la Asunción. The discoverer of the New World later returned to be married here. The mountainous jungle hinterland offers lots of possibilities for day trips, or you can simply relax on the exquisite tiny beach at Maguana a little way up the coast. Hotel – 2 nights (B)
Baracoa is for many a highlight of the itinerary. It’s a great place to wind down at the end of the trip and enjoy the slower pace of life, but there is still plenty to do. You can take a full day hike to the anvil-shaped mountain of El Yunque (575m), the symbol of Baracoa, which was mentioned by Columbus. After a short bus ride you walk through plantations of coffee, banana and cacao and can meet local farmers to learn about life in this remote part of Cuba. It feels humid in the thick tropical forest, but big mahogany and hibiscus trees shade much of the route; plentiful bird life includes colourful trogons and humming birds, Cuban kite and woodpecker. Reptiles and colourful butterflies also abound. From the summit you get a lovely view of Porto Santo Bay and the Toa and Duaba rivers. (B)
You leave Baracoa and drive to Santiago* airport in time for a flight to Havana. This is a travelling day, and how it actually unfolds depends on the flight timings, which are subject to change. On arrival you transfer to your hotel in Havana. Hotel – 1 night (B)
*Please note that on some dates the flight will be from Holguin instead of Santiago.
Fly To London/Arrive London
The trip ends for Land Only clients. For those with our onward flights to London today is free to do last minute shopping or to explore until your transfer to the airport. (B)
Note: in Cuba arrangements can be subject to unforeseen last minute changes. Please bear this in mind and be prepared to be flexible.
Sip a rum cocktail or two, dine on red snapper at a friendly paladar, savour a cigar and a cafe cubano. Your feet will start tapping to the music before long. The passion of Cuba vibrates in dazzling sunlight by day and pounds from the streets by night. The music may stop, but you will be dancing with Cuba forever.
Havana & Vinales
You’ll explore old Havana and recall Cuba’s historic past of Che Guevara, Castro and Hemingway. Classic American cars still ply the city’s roads and from cafes and bars you can enjoy the hypnotic rhythm of Salsa music beats. Travelling west to the lush countryside of Vinales you’ll walk through tobacco fields nestled amongst curiously shaped limestone outcrops.
Colonial Towns & Mountains
You stop at the infamous Bay of Pigs en route to Santa Clara. Here you visit Che’s mausoleum and walk in the Escambray Mountains before descending to the historical colonial streets of Trinidad. Then walk in the Sierra Maestra where Castro’s revolutionary forces went into hiding, before exploring Santiago and winding down in sleepy Baracoa with its nearby beaches. This trip is popular with solo travellers and groups alike.
Our Salsa Cubana trip is just one of our Latin America tours. To find out more visit our Americas holidays page.
Our new Cuba trip for 2014
Visiting the tobacco farm and seeing the farmer roll a cigar which we could all try was a highlight. A swim in the waterfall and cave in the Sierra Escambray area was not to be missed.