A Taste of Mexico & Cuba

Cuba, Mexico,

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16 people
22 days
Code: GSRMC
Activity and Adventure, Tours
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Overview of A Taste of Mexico & Cuba

Mexico is everything you dreamed of and more. Smash some delicious treats in Mexico City, see some of the bazillion churches in Puebla, taste the best mezcal around in Oaxaca, swing through San Cristobal, Palenque and Merida, then finish up snorkeling, swimming, tanning and eating by the Carribean. Life could be worse
Mojito’s are delicious. And available in abundance in Cuba. Yesssss. Start and finish in Havana, swing through Santa Clara (aka Che Guevara town), Trinidad (aka beach, markets, fun time town), and Vinales (aka tobacco town).

Trip Summary for A Taste of Mexico & Cuba

Start Location: Mexico City,   End Location: Havana

Countries Visited: Cuba, Mexico, 
Meals Included: Breakfast: 0   Lunches: 0   Dinners: 0
Highlights:

    • You’ve never seen true colour until you’ve been to a Mexican market. Practice your bargaining skills, snap some photos and pick up traditional handicrafts at the markets in multiple destinations.
    • Eat your way through arty Oaxaca. Mole, mezcal and chocolate for dinner? Delicioso!
    • Chichen Itza is one the New Seven Wonders of the World and it’s not hard to see why – strolling around these ancient Mayan ruins feels pretty amazing.
    • There’s a world of difference between Cuban life in the city and in the country, and you’ll learn all about it with a walking tour of Havana and strolls down the rural dirt roads of Vinales, watching the tractors, vintage cars and horse drawn carriages pass by
    • Discover the man behind the t-shirt with a visit to revolutionary Che Gevara’s Mausoleum and Museum
    • Music’s the fuel that makes Cuba move, so fill up on the rhythm and learn to move like a local
    • Get a hands-on experience with one of the country’s most famous exports; a tobacco farmer will teach you how to roll a cigar with his prestigious harvest

 

Day 1 - Mexico City
Bienvenidos! Where better to start a Mexico exploration than in Mexico City. Modern meets ancient here in one of the world's largest urban centres. Forget about the crowds and the smog, D.F. (Distrito Federal) has got museums, galleries and great architecture for you, along with pumping nightlife and delicious street food.

Let’s kick things off with a Welcome Meeting today at 6pm. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask reception where it will take place. If you can't arrange a flight that will arrive in time, you may wish to arrive a day early so you're able to attend. We'll be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability). If you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception. We'll be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting, so have all these details for your leader.

If you arrive into the city early, head to the Zocalo, the city's huge central square, to see Aztec ruins and colonial architecture, or relax in one of the many parks, plazas or gardens. After the meeting tonight, you’re definitely going to want to seek out some tacos for dinner.

Day 2 - Mexico City
Maybe grab some chilaquiles for breakfast this morning, then join your leader for an orientation walk around the city, followed by a free afternoon. There’s so much to do here in the city – if you like art, the Frida Kahlo Museum is a must-see, and for all museum lovers there's the Museum of Anthropology or the Palace of Fine Art. Another great thing to do is to hop on one of the colourfully painted boats that cruise through the canal district of Xochimilco. Alternatively, you can choose to take an optional day trip to the archaeological ruins of Teotihuacan, 50 kilometres out of the city. A local guide will lead you down ‘The Avenue of the Dead’, pointing out the historic Pyramid of the Sun and Pyramid of the Moon. Don’t forget to snack your way around the city too, munching on tostadas, tortas, and chicharrones all day long.

Day 3 - Puebla
This morning and most of the afternoon are free to continue exploring Mexico City. Some of the most vibrant (not to mention most delicious) places in the city are its streets markets – from food, to handicrafts, to magic potions, these markets are a riot of colours, smells, and sights. Later in the afternoon, take taxis to the bus station and catch a local bus to Puebla (approx 2.5 hours). Please make sure you bring bottled water and snacks for the journey. Local buses in Mexico aren’t the colourful school buses you’ll see in other areas of Central America; most of the buses we use in Mexico are comfortable coach-style vehicles, with a bathroom and seats for all passengers. Local buses tend to blast the air conditioning, so remember to pack a jacket in case you get cold. Puebla sits in the Puebla Valley surrounded by snow-topped mountains and volcanoes, and it's got a growing art and nightlife scene.

Day 4 - Puebla
Today is free to discover Puebla at your leisure. Although a rapidly growing city, Puebla's got an amazingly well preserved centre with loads of colonial buildings. There are over 70 different churches alone. Two top ones to check out are Santa Domingo Church and Rosary Chapel. You can head to the markets to brush up on your bargaining skills and pick up some hand-painted tiles or other handicrafts. If you're looking for something more active, go for a hike near one of the area's looming volcanoes, or head to Cholula for the archaeological sites and massive pyramid. The city is also obsessed with food, so after a day of sightseeing and shopping, why not try some mole Poblano, a dish native to Puebla and famous all over Mexico. You could even try making it yourself during an optional cooking class. For something a bit more dramatic, check out a Lucha Libre show, the famous Mexican sport where masked musclemen combine wrestling and theatre in a memorable performance.

Day 5 - Oaxaca
Get cosy with the locals as you travel by local bus to Oaxaca (approximately 5 hours). You'll have two full free days here. Your leader will provide ideas for activities and help you to make the most of your time. A beautiful old colonial town, Oaxaca is full of graceful arcades and colourful markets. Descendants of the Zapotec and Mixtec Indians selling colourful woven blankets and shawls populate the markets – a great place to shop for textiles and margarita flavours. Here you’ll also find some tasty regional food specialties – snack on everything from cactus fruit, to spicy baked chilli and lime grasshoppers and the heavenly Oaxacan cheese. Oaxaca is also known for its arts scene, including folk art, fine art and dance. Get lost in the narrow, cobbled streets or simply sit in the square sipping a mezcal as the world goes by. Your hotel is within walking distance of Oaxaca's nightlife hot spots.

Day 6-7 - Havana
It's time to head back to the capital today (approximately 2 hours). On the way back in you will stop by Revolution square with an option to climb the Jose Marti Tower for a better view of the city. Then it is time to hit the pavement with a walking tour of old Havana.

You will finish the tour in one of the original open air boxing gyms in old Havana. Cuba is well renowned for their fighting skills and technique so get involved for a boxing circuit training session with some of the best. No contact of course!

Later tonight maybe drop by the legendary Buena Vista Social Club and take the chance to toast the end of your trip with a mojito. You can also join the hundreds of locals lining up to eat a Coppelia ice-cream, and then shake the night away with one last salsa lesson at Casa de la Musica.

Day 8-9 - San Cristobal de las Casas

Day 10 - Palenque
Today travel along a windy road by private minivan to Palenque (approx 6 hours). Once you've arrived, the afternoon is free for you to relax or explore. Situated in hot jungle, Palenque is the jumping off point to the nearby Mayan ruins of the same name. You'll have tomorrow to check them out.

Notes: The local Zapatista movement in the region around Palenque has been quite active in recent months, occasionally holding protests or blocking roads. Our local operations team is constantly monitoring this situation to ensure the safety of our passengers and leaders. In some cases, we might need to use an alternative route from San Cristobal to Palenque to avoid this activity – more so to bypass long traffic delays than any real danger.

Day 11 - Palenque/Overnight Bus
Today you have the chance to visit the ruins of Palenque. Sitting on a hilltop surrounded by thick trees, the ruins date back to 600 AD and are some of the most impressive Mayan relics in Mexico. As you walk among the temples, listen out for the eerie calls of howler monkeys and screeching parrots echoing from the jungle. There are many ruins that are still un-excavated and remain concealed in the forest. You can opt to take a guided tour of the ruins or through the surrounding jungle to a hidden waterfall. The area gives you a great idea of what the Spanish invaders must have seen when they first arrived. This feels like real Tomb Raider stuff. This evening, transfer to the bus station and board an overnight bus to Merida (approx 8-9 hours in total).

Day 12-13 - Merida

Day 14 - Chichen Itza / Playa del Carmen
Chichen Itza is your first stop today (approx 2 hours). This is possibly the most famous Mayan site in Mexico. Recently named one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, Chichen Itza has both Toltec and Mayan ruins lying alongside each other. The famous El Castillo (Temple of Kukulkan) pyramid dominates the site. Not far from the temple is the ‘ball court’, where many disputes are were settled by way of a ball game that employed only the elbows, hips and wrists. Stone carvings depicting violence suggest it was not some casual sport. Nearby, excavations of the Well of Sacrifice offered up treasures of jade, copper and gold as well as many human and animal bones. Following a guided tour of the site, continue to the Caribbean coast and the resort town of Playa del Carmen by private minibus (approx 3 hours). Blessed with azure waters, powdery beaches and a European feel, Playa del Carmen is a resort city close to Cancun but with less of a party atmosphere. Here you can spend your time snorkelling among the mangroves, diving in underground caverns, tanning, or strolling along white sands. It's possible to take a ferry from here across to Cozumel, an island famous for its reef diving. In the evenings, feast on seafood, kick back, and watch the waves with a margarita or two.

Day 15 - Playa del Carmen / Havana
Travel to Cuba. Although the flight is not included, a complimentary departure transfer to Cancun Airport and a complimentary arrival transfer in Havana are included with your trip.
If you arrive into Havana in the morning, 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, there are plenty of good museums to check out, including the Museo de la Revolucion and the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes.

There will be a welcome meeting at approximately 6pm this evening. Please expect a letter from your leader in the afternoon of Day 1 to confirm the place of your meeting (if by 5pm you cannot locate this letter then please ask your guesthouse owner if one has been delivered, or ask to call our assistance line listed in the "Problems and emergency contact information" section of this document). We'll be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information again at this meeting, so ensure you have all these details to provide to your leader. The tour briefing is generally followed by an optional group dinner.

Until then you'll be dodging ’50s Cadillacs as you stroll the Melancon and smile at every local you pass. Random facts about Cuba: one in four cars on the road is a Russian Lada, there are no poisonous snakes, sex-change operations are free and legal. Practical stuff: there are two types of currency here; you'll use convertibles (CUC), while the locals use pesos (CUP). Hola, Havana!

Day 16 - Trinidad
Today you will drive inland (approximately 3 hours) to the historic city of Santa Clara. You've seen his face on so many t-shirts and posters, but what do you really know about Che Guevara? Well it'll be a lot more after today, as Santa Clara is home to his mausoleum and museum. Stand in the shadow of his statue in Revolutionary Plaza and look through his letters, firearms and photos on display. You will also have an orientation tour around the town and visit a de-railed train that was crucial for the revolution.

Next, head south to touch down in Trinidad (approximately 2 hours). This city is everything you imagine Cuba to be – horses trot down cobblestone streets, old men strum guitars on doorsteps and stretches of white sand are ripe for exploring. Set off on your own exploration of Trinidad - maybe climb the bell tower of Central Museo Nacional de la Lucha Contra Bandidos for epic views of this well-preserved colonial city, or sip on a canchanchara (Trinidad's signature drink of lemon juice, honey and Santero Cuban rum served in a glazed ceramic pot). You'll have two days here to explore, so there's time to take it easy.

Day 17 - Trinidad
Today's a free day in Trinidad so you can get busy with some optional activities, or just get your chilled beach fix, (maybe with some snorkelling at Playa Ancon too). Just be careful you don't stand on a sea urchin! There are some great Spanish-style churches to check out in town, loads of local markets to browse, and treks to make in the nearby Sierra del Escambray mountains. You can also hire a bike to discover the local area but be careful, Cuba's bicycles, like its cars, are vintage! Maybe throw yourself into the local culture with an informal Spanish or music lesson, a casual salsa class, or a folklore show at one of the town's numerous open-air venues. 

Day 18 - Vinales
Today get prepared for a long day of travel to Vinales (approximately 7 hours total). On the way you'll get a chance to walk around Cienfuegos, plus you’ll stop at the peaceful sandy arc of Playa Giron (approximately 2.5 hours), better known as the Bay of Pigs. It was famously here that the CIA sponsored a failed invasion by exile forces in 1961. Today you’ll discover the story of the Cuban victory at the Museo Giron, which holds displays of various military equipment and photos of the men who fought here. It’s not just the history that’s the attraction here – with crystal clear Caribbean waters, a deep underwater wall, and an outstanding variety of coral and fish, it’s a haven for snorkelers. Strap on a mask and some flippers and take a dive into sapphire-coloured water teeming with tropical marine life.

Next, on to Vinales which is in one of the most scenic parts of the country, where tobacco and sugarcane fields lie side by side, locals chill in their porches, and the mojitos are made with honey. If you like your cigars, then practice blowing smoke rings from your porch seat overlooking the giant bubbles of limestone that cover the landscape.

Day 19 - Vinales
Today a local guide will take you around the farmlands and crops of the area to learn more about the tobacco industry. You will see the starting point of origin of tobacco that will become world famous cigars. A farmer will swiftly roll one up fresh for you as well!

Later, you will have an informal Spanish lesson. Then enjoy a free afternoon in Vinales. Stroll to the main square and the 19th century Casa de la Cultura, the museum, and the next door Galeria de Arte with a collection of paintings by local artists. There are also many other optional activities on offer here. There's a beach excursion to Cayo Jutias, a visit to the Santo Tomas cave complex (one of the biggest in all of the Americas), and the Cueva del Indio cave walk and boat trip. Or maybe jump on a bicycle and do some exploring of your own.

Day 20 - Vinales
Take the free day to explore the stunning landscapes of the valley of Vinales. The valley feels remote, like something out of Jurassic Park, with huge mounds of rock covered in vegetation thrusting out of the earth at random spots. Take advantage of one the many optional activities to help you enjoy this picturesque location - hike though tobacco fields or up into the mountains and to Cueva de San Miguel and El Palenque de los Cimarrones.

Day 21 - Havana
It's time to head back to the capital today (approximately 2 hours). On the way back in you will stop by Revolution square with an option to climb the Jose Marti Tower for a better view of the city. Then it is time to hit the pavement with a walking tour of old Havana.

You will finish the tour in one of the original open air boxing gyms in old Havana. Cuba is well renowned for their fighting skills and technique so get involved for a boxing circuit training session with some of the best. No contact of course!

Later tonight maybe drop by the legendary Buena Vista Social Club and take the chance to toast the end of your trip with a mojito. You can also join the hundreds of locals lining up to eat a Coppelia ice-cream, and then shake the night away with one last salsa lesson at Casa de la Musica.

Day 22 - Havana
Today is departure day. As there are no activities planned for today, you are able to depart the accommodation at any time. Check-out time from the guesthouse is by 10 am.

Accommodation, Food (as stated), Transport, Selected Activities
Meals Included: Breakfast: 0 Lunches: 0 Dinners: 0
Highlights:

You've never seen true colour until you've been to a Mexican market. Practice your bargaining skills, snap some photos and pick up traditional handicrafts at the markets in multiple destinations.
Eat your way through arty Oaxaca. Mole, mezcal and chocolate for dinner? Delicioso!
Chichen Itza is one the New Seven Wonders of the World and it's not hard to see why – strolling around these ancient Mayan ruins feels pretty amazing.
There’s a world of difference between Cuban life in the city and in the country, and you’ll learn all about it with a walking tour of Havana and strolls down the rural dirt roads of Vinales, watching the tractors, vintage cars and horse drawn carriages pass by
Discover the man behind the t-shirt with a visit to revolutionary Che Gevara’s Mausoleum and Museum
Music’s the fuel that makes Cuba move, so fill up on the rhythm and learn to move like a local
Get a hands-on experience with one of the country’s most famous exports; a tobacco farmer will teach you how to roll a cigar with his prestigious harvest

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