Cuba: Beyond Havana
a people to people travel program to Cuba
stay tuned for a possible 2021 return to cuba!
Cuba is so much more than Havana and the big cities. Experience the time-warp that is Cuba today, while exploring up to eight distinctly different regions of the country. Along the south coast of Cuba we delve into the charming colonial towns of Cienfuegos and Trinidad de Cuba, plus one of the most remarkable wetlands in the Caribbean; the wildlife hotspot of the Zapata Peninsula. North, we experience the flora and fauna exuberance of the Jardines del Ray archipelago at Cayo Coco. Next we journey the rural countryside and expansive natural places in the westernmost province of Cuba: Sierra del Rosarios, Piñar del Rio and the Viñales Valley where the best tobacco, in the world’s best cigars, comes from, and the Guanahacabibes Peninsula. We wrap up with Old Havana – once one of the Americas’ richest cities – with cobblestone streets, tree-filled plazas, grand mansions, museums and so much more.
This special program focuses heavily on the wild and natural parts of Cuba, without ignoring the truly remarkable cities, villages and cultures. This program is ideal for nature enthusiasts and casual birders alike! We should also have opportunities for some independent world class snorkeling.
Along the way we will have the opportunity to meet with ordinary Cuban citizens to understand many of the political and social issues that will determine the course of Cuba’s future. Throughout our stay we aim to combine the best in culture, history, and nature, interspersed with insightful talks, wonderful food, and lively music.
This is the most in depth program we have offered in Cuba in our 8 years of traveling there, and the most focused on the island’s remarkable wild places! With space so limited we encourage you to let us know right away if you would like to join this special program to Cuba!
14-days / 13-nights in Cuba.
Maximum group size is 16 participants, plus Mark Grantham from Galápagos Travel escorting the group. An expert local Cuban Guide will be with us throughout our stay, plus specialty guides in several locations. Minimum group size is 12 participants.
Our expedition begins and ends in Miami, Florida.
DAY BY DAY ITINERARY:
March 4 (Sunday): Miami to Cayo Coco
This afternoon we will meet in the Miami airport for our 60 minute flight direct to Cayo Coco, Cuba. Our Cuban guide will meet us on arrival (roughly 4pm). Cayo Coco is the second largest island in the Jardines del Rey (King’s Garden) archipelago, on Cuba’s windward/Atlantic coast. This is a destination for both nature lovers and Canadians/Europeans in search of a beautiful beach. Spectacular white sand beaches and a far-reaching coral reef form the backdrop for several large-scale resort hotel complexes. A local Eco-tourism operator will help us make the most of our time here, with nature and birding walks in the area. Overnight Iberostar Mojito, Cayo Coco. [D] Independent breakfast and lunch.
March 5 (Monday): Cayo Coco
Today we anticipate two outings on nearby islands with our local birding guide; a sunrise walk as well as a late afternoon excursion. Midday at the resort is free for independent exploration and relaxation; swimming, kayaking, snorkeling... The hotel has an activity desk that will be happy to arrange optional snorkeling excursions on the nearby reef. Overnight Iberostar Mojito, Cayo Coco. [B,L,D]
March 6 (Tuesday): Cayo Coco to Trinidad
Following an early morning nature walk we leave the resort area behind, cross a 17 kilometer causeway, and find ourselves in the “real” Cuba. Today we travel southwest across Cuba, to the Caribbean coast and Trinidad de Cuba. Founded in 1514 by Diego de Velasquez, this was a base for further Spanish expeditions to the New World. During the sugar boom, between the late 18th century and late 19th century Trinidad prospered as Cuba prospered (Cuba was the world’s largest producer of sugar at that time). The city was filled with grand mansions in neo-classical and baroque styles, with a subtle Moorish influence thrown in. With the industrial revolution and alternate sources of sugar the town’s fortunes changed, building stopped, and the city was more or less frozen in time. Today Trinidad is a living museum (both a national monument and UNESCO World Heritage Site) to the richness of the colonial era, with a maze of cobblestone streets climbing the hills, soft pastel painted facades, and terracotta tiled roofs. Music drifts from the doorways as children play in the streets and horse carts pass by. With a walking tour we will explore the Old Town, shops, churches and plazas of this remarkable city. This quarter is home to numerous restaurants and paladars (private restaurants run out of homes – some quite lavish). Nightly there are open-air concerts held on the city steps, with locals and visitors alike often dancing the night away. Overnight Hotel Las Cuevas, Trinidad de Cuba. [B,D] Independent lunch.
March 7 (Wednesday): Trinidad de Cuba
Today we travel to the nearby Valle de Los Ingenios – another UNESCO site – by old train. The area is a series of 3 valleys, which together were home to more than 50 sugar mills and surrounding plantations during the peak years. Best preserved today is the Manaca-Iznaga plantation where a bell/watch tower (once the tallest structure in Cuba) built in 1816 dominates the landscape. We will be back in Trinidad mid-day. Free remainder of afternoon; visit the artisan’s craft market or explore the side streets and quiet neighborhoods of Trinidad as you choose. Overnight, Trinidad de Cuba. [B] Independent lunch & dinner.
March 8 (Thursday): Cienfuegos
This morning we drive an hour west along the coast road to the port city of Cienfuegos. The city is recognized by UNESCO for the outstanding architecture, much of which reflects its French colonial roots and dates from the early and mid 19th century. We visit the Old Town Square, and enjoy a private choral performance by the renowned Cienfuegos Choir. We also visit the Cienfuegos Botanical Garden for a guided walk. Founded in 1901 this a tropical collection rather than formal garden, with an emphasis on palms and bamboos, while also being habitat for myriad birds. Dinner this evening is at a local paladar. Overnight Hotel La Union, Cienfuegos. [B,D] Independent lunch.
March 9 (Friday): Bay of Pigs / Zapata Peninsula
Continuing west this morning we stop at Playa Giron, best known as the site of the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion. A small museum commemorates the invasion. Our next stop will be a cenote (a natural pool caused by a collapse of the surrounding limestone). You have the option of snorkeling in the cenote or the Caribbean here.
Stretching to the west is the sparsely populated Cienega de Zapata (Zapata Peninsula). A UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, the peninsula shelters one of the most important and intact wetlands in the Caribbean. The varied terrain here includes swamps, mangroves, beaches and more, and is home to over 170 species of birds, and 31 species of reptile. Local endemics include the Zapata Wren, Zapata Rail, and Zapata Sparrow. Other possible highlights include the Cuban Tody, Cuban Pygmy Owl, Cuban Screech-Owl, Cuban Emerald, and Cuban Trogon, and if we’re very lucky, the Bee Hummingbird. The area is also a winter migration hotspot in the Caribbean. A local expert guide will join us as we search for wildlife in the national park and village gardens (the last couple of years we typically record over 50 species of birds here between two walks). Overnight Hotel Playa Larga, Zapata. [B] Independent lunch & dinner.
March 10 (Saturday): Zapata & Havana
Join a sunrise forest walk as we continue searching out the local birds. Alternately enjoy a quiet independent morning at the hotel, maybe including a swim in the Bay of Pigs! Late morning we depart for Havana (roughly a 3 hour drive), stopping along the way for lunch in the country. On arrival we will have a lecture on Cuban Colonial Architecture at our hotel, followed by a walking tour of Old Havana; a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Strolling the cobbled streets and passageways, and taking in the city’s four main plazas. Plaza Vieja is a beautiful old square surrounded by grand mansions, and so much more, and the gem of the current restoration efforts. Gradual restoration in the old part of the city has revealed many of the glories of the past, with many palatial homes converted to museums following the Revolution. On Calle Obispo one is starting to see vendors or cuentapropistas (self employed) - an emerging group in Cuba and a symbol of change. Dinner this evening will be in Old Havana. Overnight Havana. [B,D] Independent lunch.
March 11 (Sunday): Las Terrazas & Viñales Valley
This morning we head west, once again away from the big city. As Havana’s outskirts quickly fade away we find ourselves in the rural countryside, sharing the road with tractors, classic old American cars, and horse carts, as we cross the Sierra del Rosarios mountain range. Our destination is the Viñales Valley, roughly 3 hours to the west. En route we visit the Sierra del Rosarios Biosphere Reserve and the Las Terrazas community located there. A local guide will introduce us to the abandoned coffee plantations and secondary forests, as well as the community artists and programs. Lunch at The Farmer's House restaurant.
The Viñales Valley - another of Cuba's remarkable UNESCO sites - is encircled by steep mountains. These surrounding mountains and valleys shelter as many as 800 plant species and 100 bird species (including over half of Cuba's 22 endemic birds). This rich biodiversity includes extremes like the Cork Palm - a "living fossil" at 250 million years of age, and the Bee Hummingbird - the smallest bird in the world. The valley floor is interspersed with “mogotes;” dramatic 250-million year old eroded limestone karst formations rising heavenward. In the shade of the mogotes fertile soil and a favorable climate have led to a rich agricultural tradition, including plantations of the world's best tobacco. In addition the valley is known for its multi-ethnic population, country architecture, crafts and music. Dinner in town at La Casa de Don Thomas – the oldest home in the valley. Overnight Hotel Los Jazmines, Viñales. [B,L,D]
March 12 (Monday): Viñales
Whether you join our sunrise nature walk or not, we recommend getting up early. From the hotel terraces watch as the first rays of the morning sun bathe the distant mogotes in warm light and begin to melt the surrounding valley mists away. Following breakfast we will enjoy a walking tour in Viñales Valley, from the village center through the fields to visit a local farm. In the heart of the valley horses and ox carts continue to share space with classic old American cars, all on streets lined with fine examples of colonial country architecture. Lunch at the Murallas de Prehistoria (a colorful 120 meter long mural depicting evolution, painted in the early 1960’s on the side of a towering mogote). This afternoon we will have some free time at the hotel. Dinner this evening is at a rural organic farm; Finca Argoecologica El Paraiso. OvernightHotel Los Jazmines, Vinales. [B,L,D]
March 13 (Tuesday): Guanahacabibes Peninsula
Following an early breakfast we depart for the Guanahacabibes Peninsula, and the national park of the same name. Here at the western tip of Cuba this beautiful and unspoilt region is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, with over 100 lakes and lagoons, white sand plains, 170 species of birds, iguanas, and up to 4 species of turtle. This afternoon a local guide will take us birding, with the Bee Hummingbird one of our main targets. Snorkeling from the hotel beaches can be quite rewarding. Overnight Hotel Maria la Gorda, Guanahacabibes. [B,D] Independent lunch at the hotel.
March 14 (Wednesday): Guanahacabibes, Pinar del Rio, Saroa & Havana
Today we return to the heart of Cuba: Havana. En route we will stop at the provincial capital of Piñar del Rio where we will experience another classic Cuban scene; a local cigar factory where men and women still sit side by side tenderly hand rolling cigars famous the world over. Nearby a rum distillery and bottling plant boasts a uniquely Cuban flavor of rum. Next we will stop at the Soroa Orchid gardens, where more than 650 rare types of orchids, both native and exotic, proliferate.
This afternoon in Havana we will have a private lecture on the Cuban Revolution of 1959 and Cuba’s complex relationship with the U.S. Preceding dinner we will drive some of the city’s grand avenues in Classic American convertibles from the 1950’s. The road to dinner will likely pass Plaza de la Revolution (one of the largest city squares in the world) where Fidel Castro traditionally addressed upwards of 1 million Cubans. Overnight Hotel Capri, Havana. [B,D] Independent lunch.
March 15 (Thursday): Havana
This morning features a lecture on Cuban art followed by a visit to the new Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes: Arte Cubano (Cuban Collection in the Museum of Fine Art). Midday we leave Old Havana behind with a short drive through the prestigious Miramar neighborhood. Our destination is the charming fishing municipality of Jaimanitas, where we will visit the very eclectic home and workshop of ceramic artist José Fuster (nicknamed the "Picasso of Cuba"). Lunch is in his studio’s garden surrounded by his creations. Returning to Havana we will visit a Farmer’s Market for additional perspective of the realities of Cuba today. Remainder of afternoon and evening at leisure in Havana. Evenings in Havana present an opportunity to independently take in Cuban Jazz in a local club, visit the fabled Tropicana Night Club, or possibly a performance at the opulent National Theater. Overnight, Havana. [B,L,D]
March 16 (Friday): Havana
Morning visit to Ernest Hemingway's country home, Finca Vigia (Lookout Farm), which has been carefully preserved by the Cuban government as a museum just as Hemingway left it. We will also make a brief stop in Regla – one of the 15 municipalities of Havana. This mostly blue-collar neighborhood is home to the Virgin of Regla; a Christian/Santeria shrine blending Catholic and West African beliefs. Few places in Havana might offer a better place to see the layering and transference between Catholic beliefs and African traditions. Returning to Havana we stop at the El Morro Fortress. Originally built in 1589, El Morro is one of two fortifications located at the Havana harbor entrance. Following lunch in central Havana we plan a visit to the former Presidential palace, which now houses the Revolutionary Museum. In addition to the indoor exhibits the museum also has the Granma yacht – the ship that brought Fidel, Raul and Che to Cuba from Mexico in 1956. Our farewell dinner this evening in on a rooftop terrace in Old Havana. Overnight Havana. [B,L,D]
March 17 (Saturday): Havana to Miami
Free morning. At roughly 11am we will be transferred to the airport for our afternoon flight to Miami. We will be back in the Miami, and a world away, mid-afternoon. [B] Independent lunch & dinner.
Accommodations are in double rooms, with private bathrooms and air-conditioning. The hotels offer swimming pools, restaurants, a bar, and currency exchange. Most offer WiFi, for a small fee. It should be noted however that Cuban standards are different than those in the U.S. and under a challenging economy hotels do not undergo the constant renovations and updates we might have come to expect at home. Any inconveniences should more than be outweighed by excellent locations and authentic atmosphere however.
• Hotel Capri, Havana: Once one of the largest of the mafia’s hotel/casinos in Cuba, the Capri was closed for many years. Following an extensive modernization and remodel the hotel reopened in 2014. Rooms today are decorated with period touches. A 19th-floor open-air roof top swimming pool offers commanding city and sea views.
• Iberostar Mojito Cayo Coco, Cayo Coco: This in an all-inclusive 4-star beach resort managed by the Spanish chain Iberostar. Totally refurbished in 2014 the hotel offers comfortable accommodations next to the white sand beaches and the turquoise sea.
• Hotel Las Cuevas, Trinidad de Cuba: A 3-star somewhat basic hotel overlooking central Trinidad (town is an easy 10 minute walk).
• Hotel Playa Larga, Zapata: A simple holiday hotel located on the beach. The hotel is predominantly a base for birding and diving groups visiting the peninsula, with somewhat basic accommodations. There is a pool, restaurant & bar.
• Hotel Los Jazmines, Viiñales: A venerable old hotel overlooking the valley below. The pool deck, restaurant, and many rooms feature amazing views.
• Hotel La Union, Cienfuegos: A grand Neo-classical styled hotel dating from the mid-1800’s, the La Union is located just a block off the central square of town. Restored in 2000 the hotel features two courtyard patios, a swimming pool, and roof-top deck with lovely views over the city and nearby bay.
• Hotel Maria La Gorda, Guanahacabibes: Located along a deserted stretch of beach within the national park this is a somewhat simple countryside hotel. Rooms have verandas.
Please note that all hotels are subject to final confirmation based on availability – comparable hotels will be substituted as required.
PEOPLE TO PEOPLE PROGRAM COST:
$5,750 per person, shared double occupancy.
If you are traveling alone and would like a roommate will we will attempt to arrange a roommate for you - if no roommate is found you will be invoiced at the single rate.
DEPOSITS & PAYMENTS:
A deposit of $600 per person, paid to Galápagos Travel, is required to reserve space (payable by check, Visa or MasterCard). The balance of the Program Cost is due January 1, 2018, and paid directly to WorldGUEST (payable by check).
PROGRAM COST INCLUDES:
13 nights accommodations in Cuba; most Meals, as noted on the itinerary; Group airport transfer from the hotel to the airport in Miami at the start of the trip; Group flights between Miami & Cayo Coco, and Havana & Miami; Group airport transfers within Cuba; Cuba departure tax of 25CUC (roughly $30); Private air conditioned motor coach for our group; All tours and entrance fees as anticipated in our itinerary; Baggage handling within Cuba; Cuban emergency medical insurance, excluding pre-existing conditions; Gratuities at meals; and Cuban Tourist Visa.
NOT INCLUDED IN THE PROGRAM COST:
Export fees (apply to art); items of a personal nature including WiFi, laundry, postage, optional snorkeling or diving excursions though a hotel or activity center; communications or room service; sodas and alcoholic beverages; some meals as noted on the itinerary; excess baggage charges; travel insurance; or supplementary gratuities to the Cuban guide and driver (discretionary, suggested at $5 per day per tour participant); accommodations in Miami.
Any cancellations must be in writing. Cancellations for any reason will be subject to a $600 per person fee. Cancellations 60 - 31 days before the program start will result in a forfeiture of 50% of the Mission Cost, and any cancellation at or within 30 days of departure will result in forfeiture of the entire cost of the program. Terms are set by the Permit Holder based on the destination and their limited availability to operate. In this respect, you are strongly encouraged to purchase Travel Protection Insurance. A comprehensive insurance package is available through GALAPAGOS TRAVEL for all U.S. residents. You will receive a policy application along with your deposit receipt.
PRE-DEPATURE NIGHT IN MIAMI:
We strongly suggest an overnight in Miami on March 3 as flight times on November 4 will not be finalized until roughly 60 days before departure. WorldGUEST works with the Courtyard Hotel near the airport and can assist with reservations if needed (roughly $200 per night, single or double). The hotel has a complimentary shuttle from the Miami Airport.
Cuba has two currencies; the National Peso, which only Cubans may use, and the CUC or Cuban Convertible Peso, which Cubans and visitors both may use. Dollars are not accepted anywhere, although you can exchange Dollars for CUC at the airports and hotels. The Dollar and CUC are tied to each other currently, at 1 to 1. There is a 13% exchange tax on Dollars. Neither Credit Cards nor ATM cards issued by U.S. Banks are accepted in Cuba at this time. Traveler's checks are also not accepted.
As of mid-2015 U.S. residents may bring home up to $400 in Cuban goods, including rum and cigars. Cuba will occasionally impose a small export tax on art.
Most U.S. cell phones now work in Cuba, although data rates can be high. Most of the hotels we work with offer WiFi, usually for a fee. If on WiFi it is also possible to use iMessage to communicate with someone in the U.S. if they are on line at the same time.
Please refrain from smoking on group excursions, during meals, on busses or in shared accommodations.
You will need a current passport to travel to Cuba, valid for at least 6 months after the trip. A Cuban Visa (Tourist Card) is required for travel – visas will be arranged for us and are included in the price of the trip.
We will be traveling under a People to People Program permit. WorldGUEST, Inc is a U.S. company based in Florida, who will coordinate and operate this program. They will handle all paperwork, permits & travel logistics. Each participant will receive a “Letter of Authorization – General License” from the U.S. Department of Commerce allowing us to travel to Cuba. The WorldGUEST team has been bringing aid, and visitors, to Cuba for 20 years.
No immunizations are require for travel to Cuba, although you may wish to consult your personal physician for recommendations regarding your individual health status. A current tetanus immunization is appropriate for all travel.
As part of the People to People Program license to travel to Cuba we will have daily opportunities to interact with the Cuban people on many levels. During our program we will visit charity and community programs, including the convent of the Immaculate Heart in Centro Havana – a women’s convalescent home taking care of their residents as well as the surrounding community. Each program participant is requested to purchase and bring over-the-counter medical supplies to donate to independent charities in Cuba. More information will be provided pre-departure, but examples of supplies needed by the Cuban people include; Band-aids, adhesive tape, antibiotic cream, iodine and alcohol wipes, vitamins, flu and cold remedies, pain relievers, aspirin, Pepto-Bismol, laxatives, toothbrushes, toothpaste...
This itinerary is based on anticipated flight routes and fares, which are subject to change. Our itinerary should be viewed as a guideline to our planned activities. Due to the unique nature of this trip and the destination the program itinerary may be subject to change without notice.