|Destination:||Caribbean Islands, Cuba|
Discover the old and new faces of Cuba on an adventure through the countrys vibrant towns, vast plantations, myriad waterfalls and idyllic beaches. From the elegant streets of Havana to the colourful clubs of Trinidad, sip rum with the locals, practice your best salsa moves and discover the welcoming spirit of this island nation. With opportunities to explore the twisting colonial streets of Camaguey, immerse yourself in the legend of Che Guevara, and experience local life on a farm in Vinales, this adventure is sure to leave you captivated by Cubas beauty, rhythm and spirit.
Day 1 Havana
Bienvenido a Cuba! Welcome to Cuba! Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm. If you arrive early, the day is yours to explore. Consider a stroll through Old Havana to acquaint yourself with its colourful mix of ’50s Americana, colonial architecture and budding modernity. There are plenty of good museums to check out, such as the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (National Museum of Fine Arts). Perhaps line up with the locals for a taste of the legendary Coppelia ice cream, or wander along the Malecon (ocean walkway), the sea wall that skirts the coastline. With so much to do in this eclectic capital, we recommend arriving a few days early to make the most of this exciting city.
Day 2 Havana
Havana’s history is as colourful as its cars and buildings, and today youll get to experience the magic of Old Havana on a walking tour with your local guide. Designated a World Heritage Site in 1982, this well-preserved area within Cubas capital remains virtually unchanged, making it one of the Caribbeans most impressive historical cities. An air of faded glory comes through in the peeling paint of some of its grand old buildings and its narrow streets, spacious plazas and Spanish architecture make it a charm to explore on foot. Visit La Catedral San Cristobal de la Habana, the Palacio de los Marqueses de Aguas Claras and the Plaza de Armas. Also visit the Museo de la Revolucion, to learn about the history of the Cuban Revolution. Afterwards, enjoy some free time to further explore on your own perhaps check out a cigar factory or cruise around outer-Havana in a vintage American car.
Day 3 Cienfuegos
On the way to Cienfuegos today, learn a bit of the local lingo during an informal Spanish lesson with your leader. Then, stop at the peaceful sandy arc of Playa Giron (approximately 2.5 hours), which sits on the eastern side of the Bahia de Cochinos, better known as the Bay of Pigs. It was famously here that the CIA sponsored a failed invasion by exile forces in 1961. Its not just the history thats the attraction here with crystal clear Caribbean waters, a deep underwater wall, and an outstanding variety of coral and fish, its a haven for snorkelers. If there’s time, hire a mask and some flippers and take a dive into sapphire-coloured water teeming with tropical marine life. Afterwards, travel on to Cienfuegos (approximately 1.5 hours), known affectionately as ‘The Pearl of the South’. Part of the city’s appeal lies in its colonial centre, which features wide Parisian-style boulevards and elegant colonnades. Drive along the peninsula to see Cienfuegos’ architectural pride and joy, the Moroccan-influenced Palacio del Valle.
Day 4 Trinidad
Leave Cienfuegos and head north to Santa Clara (approximately 1 hour) and the final resting place of Cubas most famous son, Che Guevara, where youll visit his mausoleum and memorial. Che’s remains were brought here after they were found in a remote corner of Bolivia in 1997, where he was assassinated by the CIA-backed Bolivian army. Check out the impressive bronze statue of Che bearing his rifle and learn about his incredible life. Then its a short drive south, through the Topes de Collantes National Park to Trinidad, which sits on the scenic Caribbean coast (approximately 1.5 hours). For many visitors to Cuba, Trinidad is a standout destination. No other colonial city in Cuba is as well preserved, and the residents are extremely friendly and festive. Trinidad is steeped in religion, including the Afro-Cuban religion of Santeria, which has connections to Voodoo. On an orientation walk today, see the former wealth generated by the sugar industry in the town’s once-grand mansions, colourful public buildings, wrought iron grill work and cobblestoned streets. Party the night away at one of the towns live music venues or why not take in a folklore show at one of the town’s numerous open-air venues.
Day 5 Trinidad
Today is a good opportunity to visit the Museo Nacional de la Lucha Contra los Bandidos and the Casa de los Martires de Trinidad both chronicle the struggles of the revolutionary period in the town’s history. At some point while you’re here you’ll have the opportunity to get involved in an informal salsa class. Cuba has a hugely rich and varied dance and musical tradition that draws its roots from Africa and France. Many styles that have greatly influenced music worldwide originated in Cuba, such as Mambo, Cha-cha-cha, son and rumba. Theres also a chance to get a hands-on lesson with the musical instruments themselves in a percussion workshop. By now, hopefully you’ve learnt enough of the local rhythms to join in with the locals maybe at a certain venue hidden within a cave!
Day 6 Trinidad
Trinidad is one of Cubas standout cities, but it’s also the gateway to the Valle de los Ingenios, and a bike is a great way to explore the local area. However, Cuba’s bicycles, like its cars, are vintage, which means a little bit of practicality may be sacrificed for the romantic element! There are also some great treks to be made in the nearby Sierra del Escambray mountains maybe drive along the legendary twists and turns of the road to El Nicho, then hike to its beautiful waterfall. Playa Ancon is also close by theres plenty of opportunity for relaxing on its long, unspoilt beaches or snorkelling through the clear waters (just watch carefully for sea urchins, which can be a problem here).
Day 7 Camaguey
Travel through the centre of the country to Camaguey (approximately 5-6 hours). Despite its size, Cuba’s third largest city has managed to retain much of its colonial heritage. Exploring Camagueys winding streets is half the fun as the city was planned in a deliberately confusing pattern to disorient any would-be assailants, and 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 to see its baroque frescoes. Camaguey also has a rich tradition of cultural and technological leadership within Cuba, its the birthplace of poet laureate Nicolas Guillen and home of the Ballet de Camaguey. Cuba’s first radio and television emissions were broadcast from Camaguey, and the country’s first airport and commercial flights were planned and executed here.
Day 8 Camaguey
Enjoy a tour of Camaguey by bicycle taxi. Cycling is a popular form of transport in Cuba, and bicycle taxis are very common in the confusing streets of Camaguey, it’s a particularly good way to get around. On the tour, you’ll visit a local market, parks, plazas and an art gallery. Your leader may suggest visiting a local farmers’ market where youll get a fascinating insight into daily Cuban life and the local economy this is where farmers can sell their produce after meeting the quota they have to sell to the state. Camaguey’s is a particularly busy and colourful market and there are separate areas for produce sold by the state and produce sold by farmers directly to the public. There are plenty of interesting tropical fruits, vegetables and herbs available. Later, your leader will take you to a local bar where you’ll get to compare a white rum to an aged rum Cuba specifically is known as the origin of some of the smoothest and most sought-after rums on the entire planet.
Day 9 Santiago de Cuba
Head west along the Carretera Central to Santiago de Cuba with a stop in Bayamo. Today is the longest travel day of the trip. Depending on how many stops are made, this usually takes 6 to 7 hours, so take the time to get to know your fellow travellers, or make sure your devices are fully charged and youre ready to go with a good book! Santiago is the hottest place in Cuba in terms of both temperature and the vibe of the city. Set between the indomitable Sierra Maestra mountain range and the azure Caribbean, this city’s historical centre and colonial architecture retain a timeworn air ideal for photographers. With no activities planned after your arrival, perhaps join with some of your travel buddies and head out for a group dinner. Alternatively, get a good nights rest ready for a day of exploration tomorrow.
Day 10 Santiago de Cuba
Set off on a 3-hour city tour of Santiago. You’ll visit El Morro Castle, Ifigenia cemetery and the Moncada barracks and learn about the citys rich history. For nearly a century, the city was the island’s seat of power and it also played a vital role in the Revolution. 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. With a strong Afro-Cuban heritage it’s no surprise that Santiago has a vibrant music scene and is seen as Cubas capital of music. Its the home of son music, which is a mix of Spanish guitar and African percussion. Santiago’s half million residents are proud of their cultural traditions, so you’ll find many museums and cultural clubs around the city. The city is also famous for its energetic Carnaval celebrations and its lively Festival of Caribbean Culture. All this will entice the shyest, most left-footed dancer and the non-musically inclined to learn some salsa moves or take a lesson in local music.
Day 11 Baracoa
A spectacular 5-hour journey to Baracoa will take you through the dry region surrounding Guantanamo, dotted with cacti and wiry goats, and then along the dramatic Atlantic coastline, before winding through verdant mountains to Baracoa. On the way, if time permits, you will get the chance to visit the Mirador de Malones for a pretty good view of the Guantanamo Naval Base and surrounding bay. Baracoa is set in a beautiful cove, this was the first colonial town, and remains one of the most beautiful in Cuba. You’ll have a couple of days here to explore and relax, perhaps take a walk around the town to get your bearings, then maybe head to a lovely black sand beach an easy walk from town. As one of Cubas major agricultural zones, Baracoa is a great place to try local foods including chocolate and local specialties like prawns in coconut sauce and banana-stuffed tamales. One particularly sought-after Baracoa specialty is the cucurucho, a sweet treat of coconut, sugar, and fruit wrapped in dried cone-shaped palm leaves.
Day 12 Baracoa
Today is a free day to explore Baracoa. The town was only accessible by sea until 1960, and even after a road linking Baracoa to Guantanamo was built, the settlement maintained a small-town colonial feel. Uncover its individuality as you wander along its beautiful malecon or ramble over various forts that were built to withstand pirate attacks. 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 might prefer to chill on a beach or get active with a hike to El Yunke, the famous table-top mountain sighted by Columbus during his first voyage to the island.
Day 13 Baracoa
Enjoy another free day in Baracoa. Why not set out on a hike through the rainforest to explore nearby caves and waterfalls. Perhaps pay a visit to Humboldt Nation Park, looking out for colourful parrots, lizards and hummingbirds. Take a boat tour down a nearby river, spotting wildlife along the way, or maybe stop in at a working farm to learn about life on the land. After the sun goes down, enjoy a cocktail near the beach or check out the town’s nightlife.
Day 14 Havana
After breakfast, take a 1.5-hour flight from Baracoa to Havana arriving at approximately 4 pm. After arriving back into the capital, head to Plaza de la Revolucion for your final taste of Cuban revolutionary history, watched over by the memorials of Ernesto Che Guevara, Jose Marti and Camilo Cienfuegos. In the evening perhaps take a stroll along the malecon or soak up the atmospheric vibes of the Old Town. At the end of a long day, it’s time for a mojito or cuba libre and final night of salsa in Habana Vieja’s bars. Hit the streets and celebrate the end of a fantastic adventure.
Day 15 Havana
Today is a free day in Havana. Your leader can assist you to book any optional activities. Why not book an Urban Adventures tour, like the Classic American Car Tour of Havana: a cruisy ride through the washed-out elegance of the citys suburbs, finishing in style with a drink at the Hotel Nacional (see urbanadventures.com/destination/havana-tours).
Day 16 Soroa
Spend the morning enjoying a walking tour around Old Havana. This well-preserved part of the city was designated a World Heritage Site in 1982. The streets are lined with colonial architecture, 16th-century fortresses and many beautiful churches. Afterwards, take a private vehicle to Callejon de Hamel, an alley located in Havana’s working class Cayo Hueso quarter. Adorned with the evocative Santeria murals of local artist Salvador Gonzalez, this lively street is Havana’s centre of Afro-Cuban culture. Youll also head on a short drive and take a quick visit to the eccentric neighbourhood of Jaimanitas, in Havana’s outer western suburbs. The artist Jose Fuster has brightened up the area by rebuilding and decorating over 80 houses (including his own) with ornate murals and domes. Even though you do not enter Fusters House (known as Fusterlandia), youll see why this is one of Havanas most peculiar sites. In the afternoon, head to Soroa, in the heavily forested Sierra del Rosario to check in to your guesthouse for the night. On your way, learn the lingo with your leader and practice some Spanish phrases to make interacting with the locals a breeze (or should we say brisa).
Day 17 Vinales
In the morning, enjoy a tour of a Soroa orchid garden, which boasts over 700 species of orchid. You’ll also have the option to take a steep 1-kilometre climb up a mountain path to a lookout. Next, travel to the community of Las Terrazas, a pioneering ecovillage that dates back to a reforestation project in 1968. Meet some of the residents and learn how they work together to support their neighbours, as well as how they showcase their open studios, woodwork and pottery workshops. Head towards Vinales, stopping by Finca de Plantas Medicinales (a herb farm) to learn about local herbs and their medicinal properties. Because of historical sanctions against Cuba, the country has had to find ways to be self-sufficient, with a prime example being to develop its own medicines, many of which are herbal. You’ll see how herbs are grown, dried and crushed before being sent to a factory to be processed into medicines. Afterwards, drive a short distance to the small town of Vinales in Pinar del Rio Province. On arrival, your leader will take you on a short orientation walk of the town.
Day 18 Vinales
This morning, take an early guided walking tour of surrounding farmlands and the Vinales valley. Surrounded by limestone cliffs and interspersed with small farms, the scenery around Vinales is some of the most picturesque in Cuba. The valley receives some of the highest amounts of rainfall in the country, and so, youll see the limestone karts and valley floor covered in vegetation. Visit a local farm where you’ll have the opportunity to experience the guajiro (agricultural worker) way of life. Depending on the season, you can choose to help out with daily farm activities, such as toasting and grinding coffee or harvesting yuca, corn or tobacco. This is also your opportunity to marvel at the speed and skill of the locals cigar rolling technique. In the afternoon, perhaps book in for a cave tour or a beach excursion to Cayo Jutias but be sure to get back in time for a relaxed salsa lesson with your group. After dancing your heart out, you wouldve worked up an appetite, so an optional dinner at one of Vinales farm-to-table restaurants is highly recommended. Eat organic like the locals at an eco-friendly ranch and learn how Cubans have lived off their land for decades.
Day 19 Havana
Today travel back to Havana by private vehicle (approximately 3 hours). Youll have a free afternoon to explore the citys Old Town and wander the harbourside esplanade called the Malecon. This esplanade also acts as a seawall and roadway, diving the historic French and Spanish-inspired architecture from the Straits of Florida. In the evening, head out on the town. Havana’s nightlife is varied and lively, full of bars, clubs and places to see a cabaret show. Why not put your new salsa skills into practice on one of the citys many dancefloors?
Day 20 Havana
With no activities planned for today, you are free to depart your accommodation at any time.