Discover the friendly Caribbean island of Cuba with its stunning white sandy beaches, lush jungle covered mountains and vibrant culture. This comprehensive family holiday visits all the major sites and shows the complex and exciting personality of the country through its history and people.
A heady cocktail of Hispanic history, atmospheric cities, Latin culture, wonderful music and coconut palm-fringed Caribbean beaches in a Communist state - now there’s an interesting mix! Cuba is the antithesis of American culture; the lack of advertising and US household names is immediately striking and refreshing. Its isolation has ensured that its cars are endlessly recycled; the 1950s automobiles are amazing. Starting in Havana you’ll see the crumbling buildings and feel the exotic rhythms of the numerous live bands. Around Viñales you’ll explore tobacco fields, strange caves and stunning landscapes. At Cienfuegos, enjoy the French colonial influence in the architecture, relax in the colonial charm of Trinidad and snorkel at the beach before returning to explore Havana. This trip allows you to see all the sides Cuba has to offer. Above all, the Cubans themselves make any visit memorable; open, warm and friendly people with a zest for life.
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Bienvenidos a Cuba! Welcome to Cuba.
After your flight, you transfer to your first night’s accommodation and check in. Due to the evening arrival of the group flight the welcome meeting will take place in the morning after your arrival. Your trip starts in Havana. Standing on Cuba’s north coast, less than 100 miles from Florida, Havana is the political, industrial and cultural heart of the nation and home to 20% of its population. The city was founded in 1519 when Spanish settlers moved here from an ill-fated earlier site on the south coast, and Havana quickly became established as a great port, creating much of the city you can still see today. 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.
Havana is one of the finest colonial cities in the Americas with narrow streets, spacious plazas and glorious Spanish architecture. There is an air of faded glory about the place with paint peeling off buildings and '50s and '60s American automobiles still dominating the roads.
Hotel Presidente - Swimming Pool
After breakfast, you set out on the 200km (approx. 3 hours) drive westward to Piñar del Rio province, crossing typical landscapes of cane fields, tobacco plantations and tall palm trees along the way. En route you’ll stop at Las Terrazas set in the midst of the Sierra del Rosario Mountains. Here there is a community of farmers and artisans as well as a coffee plantation where you’ll be able to learn something of the process. Nearby is the beautiful San Juan river, a stunning swimming spot. The river has been noted for over a century for its sulphur springs and clear natural pools; don’t forget your swimming costumes!
Straw-hatted guajiro peasants tend the finest tobacco in the world; the plant is native to the island. In Pinar del Rio you’ll stop and visit a cigar factory; cigars, along with rum are Cuba’s principal exports. Turning north on a scenic road you climb into the Sierra de los Órganos towards the sleepy village of Viñales.
The Vinales Valley boasts the oldest geological formations in Cuba, unique to the area. Spectacular mogotes - sheer-sided, conical towers of limestone - some over 300 metres high are all that is left of a great plateau after millions of years of erosion by wind and water. The resultant karst terrain is similar to southern China or Vietnam, especially when a layer of mist carpets the valley floor in the early morning. It is a fascinating scene, all the more so when oxen are working the fields and the scent of tobacco fills the air.
You'll take a guided walk through this rich countryside to see something of rural life, and hopefully stop at a farmer's house.In the afternoon you'll visit the Cueva del Indio, an impressive limestone cave once inhabited by local Indians and filled with stalactites and stalagmites. A river runs through the second half of the cave and you'll board a boat to take us through and out into the daylight. At dusk thousands of bats stream out of the cave to go and feed.Guesthouse - Breakfast included
Bay of Pigs; Playa Larga
Today is a relatively long travel day (approx. 5-6 hours). Starting early, you retrace your steps towards Havana before bearing south into Matanzas province. Your route takes you past the badlands of the Zapata Peninsula to Playa Larga standing at the head of the famous Bay of Pigs, where in 1961 a force of CIA-trained Cuban exiles landed to stir up a counter-revolution, an attempt that was ultimately doomed to failure, and helped the Cuban Revolution to succeed. Further along the coast at Playa Girón, a small museum commemorates this failed US effort to impose its will on socialist Cuba. You stay tonight at a homestay near this beautiful Caribbean beach. While here this is an opportunity to go snorkelling.
Guesthouse - Breakfast included
Today you head to Cienfuegos, a pleasant city with a European feel. This is largely due to the influence of French settlers who arrived in the early 19th century. The city was involved in the war between the USA and Spain in 1898, and has a central role in Cuban history. 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. A walking tour of Cienfuegos is included in the afternoon. You will also visit one of the famous Coppelia ice cream parlours where you can enjoy a sweet treat on us!
Hotel Jagua - Swimming pool - Breakfast included
Continue towards Trinidad (aprox. 1 hours drive). Trinidad, in the Sancti Spíritus province, is one of the seven cities founded by Diego de Velázquez in 1514, and is now a national monument. Nestling on a 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. At night there’s often something of interest happening such as a music or dance performance.
During your time here you will take a half day walk to Salto de Javira, a beautiful waterfall with a natural pool you can swim in. You will also take a trip to Playa Ancon, a classic Caribbean beach.
Guesthouse - Breakfast included
We drive today from Trinidad to Havana, stopping at Santa Clara on the way.
Santa Clara was the first major city 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 we stop for a visit.We arrive into Havana in the afternoon and head to our homestay, where we will sleep for the remainder of the trip.The following morning we take a walking tour of Old Havana. Havana's Old City is well preserved and was designated a World Heritage Site in 1982. The streets are lined with colonial architecture, 16th century fortresses and countless churches. Sites we may visit include La Catedral San Cristobal de la Habana, described by the novelist Alejo Carpentier as 'music set in stone', 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.We also visit the Plaza de Revolucion, Miramar and the Malecon on a tour, driven in vintage American cars.Guesthouse - Breakfast included
There are no activities planned for the final day and you are able to depart the accommodation at any time. This morning is free to soak up the last of the Caribbean sun. Later those on our group flights return to the airport for your overnight flight home.