Day 1 - Havana
Bienvenido a Cuba! A complimentary arrival transfer is included with your trip. Please ensure you provide your flight details to your booking agent at least 14 days prior to travel so the transfer can be organised. If you arrive early, please note most activities in Cuba can only be booked through the tourist desk in the lobbies of the larger hotels or direct with the venue. Otherwise, perhaps take a stroll along the Malecon or line up with the locals for a famous Coppelia ice-cream.
There will be a welcome meeting at approximately 6pm this evening. Please expect a letter in your room or a phone call on Day 1 from your leader to confirm the time and place of your meeting. We'll be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting, so ensure you have all these details to provide to your leader. The briefing is generally followed by an optional group dinner.
Day 2 - Soroa
Today head 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. Every Sunday afternoon it plays host to famous Afro-Cuban rumbas.
Next, head to the neighbourhood of Jaimanitas in Havana's west, also known as Fusterlandia. The artist Jose Fuster has brightened up the area by rebuilding and decorating over 80 houses (including his own) with ornate murals and domes. The project includes a park with giant chess boards and an Artists’ Wall, which has been compared to Antonio Gaudi's mosaic wall in Barcelona. Unfortunately there isn't time to enter Fuster's house but the area is still well worth a visit.
Continue on to the tiny mountain resort of Soroa in the heavily forested Sierra del Rosario. You'll have time to get some lunch before enjoying a tour of an orchid garden, which boasts 700 species of orchid. You'll also have the option to take a stiff one-kilometre climb up a mountain path to a lookout, and a short hike to a nearby waterfall.
Day 3 - Vinales
In the morning, stop in at a Finca de Plantas Medicinales (A Herb Farm) to learn about local herbs and their medicinal properties. Because of international sanctions against Cuba, the island nation has had to find ways to be self-sufficient. One of these is 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. You will also pay a visit to the nearby ecological community of Las Terrazas.
Then, drive the short distance to the small town of Vinales in Pinar del Rio Province. Surrounded by limestone cliffs, the scenery around Vinales is some of the most picturesque in Cuba. On arrival, your leader will take you on a short orientation walk of the town. Afterwards, there are plenty of optional activities available to fill your afternoon. Perhaps take a hike through the surrounding tobacco fields or hire a bike to explore the region. You could even visit a bodega in town, where Cuban families collect their government-appointed rations. Vinales is a great place to mix with the locals, who love nothing better than to drink rum and dance the night away. There are only 3 bars in town so it's hard to get lost!
Day 4 - Vinales
This morning your leader and a local guide will take you on a half-day walking tour. Visit a local farm where you'll have the opportunity to experience the 'guajiro's' way of life. Depending on the season, while at the farm you can choose to relax or 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 evening, enjoy an informal salsa lesson. We recommend you eat dinner at a local eco-farm – the leader will assist with this if it interests you. Afterwards, perhaps practice your new moves to some live music on some of the dance floors in town.
Day 5 - Vinales / Cayo Jutias / Vinales
This morning make an early start. Leave the mainland and cross the water over a short causeway to Cayo Jutias, a tiny mangrove-covered key situated approximately 65 kilometres northwest of Vinales. Your destination is Pinar del Rio's most 'undiscovered' beach, a long stretch of sand at the key's northern tip. Paddle about in the water or soak up the sun on the sandy shore.
Day 6 - Havana
Today travel back to Havana by minivan. You will visit Revolution Square, an important area where Cubans gather for large-scale political rallies. Spend your last afternoon of the trip enjoying a short 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. In the evening, head out on the town with your new travel friends. Havana's nightlife is varied and lively. Put your new salsa skills into practice at its many bars and clubs or perhaps check out a cabaret show.
Day 7 - Havana
Today is a free day in Havana. Perhaps visit the Museo de la Revolution to learn more about Cuba's fascinating history or take the time to appreciate the city's diverse architecture.
Day 8 - Havana
Put on some walking shoes and take part in a tour of Old Havana, a perfect first taste of the city. Your local guide will show you the cathedral, Plaza de Armas, San Francisco de Asis, Plaza Vieja and Central Park. After the tour you will have an casual Spanish lesson to help with blend in with the locals. Then, enjoy your free afternoon exploring Havana further.
Day 9 - Santiago de Cuba
Today you'll take a flight to Santiago de Cuba (approximately 2 hours). 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 is also well known for its vibrant and energetic Carnaval celebrations, and its lively Festival of Caribbean Culture.
Today your leader will take you on a three-hour city tour of Santiago. You'll visit El Morro Castle, Ifigenia cemetery and the Moncada barracks. For nearly a century, the city was the island's seat of power and it holds the title of ‘Hero City of the Republic of Cuba’ for its leading role in significant events during 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 in a broadcast message to the country and the world. Santiago's half million residents are proud of their cultural traditions, so you'll find many museums and cultural clubs around the city.
Day 10 - Santiago de Cuba
Enjoy a free day to soak up the best that Santiago has to offer – explore the city's incredible contributions to music and literature at one of its many museums, or pop in at Barrita de Ron Havana Club to sample some authentic local rum.
Day 11 - Camaguey
Today head east along the Carretera Central to Camaguey. Today is the longest travel day of the trip which, depending on how many stops are made, usually takes six to seven hours.You will get a chance to stroll around the Bayamo to break it up.
If there is time on arrival into Camaguey, you will be shown around the city by bicycle taxi, otherwise you'll do this tomorrow morning. Despite its size, Cuba's third largest city has managed to retain much of its colonial heritage, and 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. Camaguey is also home of the Ballet de Camaguey, the second most important dance company in Cuba.
Day 12 - Trinidad
Today we drive approximately six hours to Trinidad. Get accustomed to the slow pace of island living on an orientation walk. For most visitors to Cuba, the World Heritage site of Trinidad is their standout favourite destination. No other colonial city in Cuba is so well preserved, and the local residents are extremely friendly and festive. The town rose to prominence during the sugar boom and 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. Trinidad is also steeped in religion, such as Santeria, which is one of the Afro-Cuban religions (related to voodoo). In the afternoon you'll pay a visit to a Santeria priest and learn more about this fascinating religion.
Day 13 - Trinidad
Enjoy a free day to take at your leisure. Go easy with a luxurious sleep in or travel south to the postcard-perfect beaches of Playa Ancón, where clear blue waters meet bright white sands. Feeling restless? Get a workout with a hike through Trinidad's northern mountains, the Sierra del Escambray.
Day 14 - Havana
Leave behind the pictureqesue beaches and mountains of Trinidad and return to Havana. On the way, stop over in Santa Clara, one of the first major cities to be liberated by Castro's army in December 1958. Today a number of monuments commemorate this important period of Cuba's history, including the mausoleum of the legendary Che Guevara, where you'll stop for a visit. Perhaps celebrate the last night of the tour with a show at one of Havana's famous cabaret clubs such as Tropicana. Or show off your moves at one of the many salsa clubs.
Day 15 - Havana
Today is departure day. There are no activities planned for today, check-out time from the guesthouse is by 10am. If you plan to stay a little longer, perhaps visit the Museo de la Revolution to learn more about Cuba's fascinating history or take the time to appreciate the city's diverse architecture.
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