Bienvenido a Cuba!
Travel to Cuba to experience the spirit of Havana and the rhythmic Caribbean vibe
Cuba ranges from the historical streets of Havana to the pristine shores of the Caribbean. Furthermore, stroll through World Heritage cities and relive a fascinating colonial history. Also, experience the rich heritage of music and dance that Cuba is renowned for. Additionally, dive into the incredible marine world and history of the Bay of Pigs. Conversely, prepare to be wowed as you discover Baracoa’s mountainous surrounds. Visit the birthplace of salsa and admire Trinidad’s unrivalled ambience on this two-week adventure. From historic cars to fragrant cigars, and with plenty of rum and rumba in between, this adventure will take you into the heart of all things Cuban.
Why you’ll love this trip
Old-world charm, rich history, exciting nightlife – evocative Havana is like nowhere else on Earth. See the difference between city and coastal life on a guided walking tour of the old capital. Take inspiration from the locals and mix things up with a bicycle-taxi tour of the colonial city of Camaguey. Enjoy two free days exploring Trinidad. Practice your Spanish in a language class, loll about on an unspoilt Caribbean beach or pedal through sugar plantations on a bicycle. After an informal salsa lesson, you’ll be ready to hit the dance floor with the locals. With its vibrant music scene and Afro-Cuban roots, sultry Santiago de Cuba is a great place to bust out some moves. There’s a lot more to the life of Che Guevara than what you’ll learn from watching ‘The Motorcycle Diaries’. Pay your respects to the famous revolutionary during an included visit to his mausoleum.
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Suggested Itinerary by Air
UK to Havana, Cuba
Bienvenido a Cuba! Welcome to Cuba! Set to the soundtrack and backdrop of the 1950s, tumbledown Havana is a capital unlike any other. A complimentary arrival transfer is included with your trip. After a welcome meeting there is an optional group dinner. There’s plenty to do in Cuba – including the Museo de la Revolucion and the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes.
Havana’s history is as colorful as its cars and buildings. Today, you will be taken on a guided tour of the Havana vieja. Havana remains one of the great colonial cities of the Americas. An air of faded glory comes through in the peeling paint of some of its grand old buildings. 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. Ask your leader to help you book one of the many optional activities such as a Cigar factory tour, the Ernest Hemingway tour, or a cruise around Outer-Havana in a vintage American car. Alternatively you could simply stroll along the Malecon or join the hundreds of locals lining up to eat a Coppelia ice-cream. Heavily subsidised by the government, a whole bowl will set you back about 10 cents.
On the way to Cienfuegos today, pick up some Spanish during an informal Spanish lesson from your leader. First, 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. 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. If there’s time, strap on a hired 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 center, 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.
Leave Cienfuegos and head north to the final resting place of Cuba’s most famous son. In Santa Clara (approximately 1 hour), you’ll visit the Che Guevara 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 it’s 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 local 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 cobble-stoned streets. Party the night away at one of the town’s live music venues or why not take in a folklore show at one of the town’s numerous open-air venues.
Today is a good opportunity to visit the Museo Nacional de la Lucha Contra los Bandidos and the Casa de los Mártires de Trinidad; both chronicle the struggles of the revolutionary period in the town’s history. At some point while you’re here you’ll undertake 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. There’s 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!
Trinidad is a standout destination in its own right, but it’s also the gateway to the Valle de los Ingenios, and a bike is a great way to explore the local area. Be warned 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 – there’s 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).
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 the city’s winding streets is half the fun. The city was planned in a deliberately confusing pattern 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 to see its baroque frescoes. Camaguey has a rich tradition of cultural and technological leadership within Cuba. It is 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.
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. Each taxi carries two passengers and the tour is led by an English-speaking local guide. Your leader may suggest visiting a local farmers’ market, where you’ll 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. 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. This is where the locals come to buy their food once their monthly food ration runs out. Later, your leader will take you to a local bar where you’ll get 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. Havana Club is likely to be showcased as this brand was created in Cuba in 1934 and is now one of the best-selling rum brands in the world.
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 six to seven hours. 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.
Santiago de Cuba
Set off on a three-hour city tour of Santiago. You’ll visit El Morro Castle, Ifigenia cemetery and the Moncada barracks and learn about the city’s 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 Cuba’s capital of music. It’s 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.
A spectacular five-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 running to time you will get the chance to visit the Mirador de Malones for a pretty good view of the Guantanamo Naval Base and surrounding bay. At present the base is not open to the public. If you are keen to see this, please ask your leader, and they will tell you if visits are currently allowed. Baracoa is set on a beautiful bay, this was the first colonial town, and it’s one of the most beautiful in Cuba. You’ll have a couple of days here to explore and relax. 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 Cuba’s major agricultural zones, Baracoa is a great place to try local foods. It’s one of the best places for chocolate, and street vendors and small restaurants offer 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.
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.
Today you have morning free in Baracoa , then you will get a transfer to Santiago de Cuba to take the flight departing at evening to Havana. 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.
Today take a one-and-a-half hour flight from Santiago de Cuba to Havana. Please note that it is not uncommon for these flights to be delayed. After arriving back into the capital, head to Plaza de la Revolución for your final taste of Cuban revolutionary history, watched over by the memorials of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, José Martí and Camilo Cienfuegos. In the evening Perhaps take a stroll along the malecon (ocean walkway) 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.
Havana – UK
Your trip comes to an end this morning after breakfast. Check-out time from the guesthouse is by 10am.
Tour operated and hotels selected by Intrepid Travel.
When To Go:
High Season (Nov–Mar, Jul & Aug): prices are 30% higher and hotels may require advance bookings; prices are at their highest around Christmas and New Year. Weather is cooler and drier November to March. Shoulder (Apr & Oct): look out for special deals outside of peak season, also, prices and crowds increase over Easter. Low Season (May, Jun & Sep): some resort hotels offer fewer facilities or shut altogether, also, there’s a hurricane risk between June and November and a higher chance of rain.
Things To Know:
Cuba is an informal country with few rules of etiquette.
- Greetings Shake hands with strangers; a kiss or double-cheek kiss is appropriate between people (men–women and women–women) who have already met.
- Conversation Although they can be surprisingly candid, Cubans aren’t keen to discuss politics, especially with strangers and if it involves being openly critical of the government.
- Dancing Cubans don’t harbour any self-consciousness about dancing. Throw your reservations out of the window and let loose.
Embellished by extraordinary feats of revolutionary derring-do, and plagued routinely by the meddling armies of foreign invaders, Cuba has achieved a historical importance far greater than its size would suggest. The underlying and – until the 1960s – ongoing historical themes have been outside interference and internal rebellion, and the results of both have often been bloody.
Health and Insurance
From a medical point of view, Cuba is generally safe as long as you’re reasonably careful about what you eat and drink. The most common travel-related diseases, such as dysentery and hepatitis, are acquired by the consumption of contaminated food and water. Mosquito-borne illnesses are not a significant concern on most of the islands within the Cuban archipelago, though Zika virus is known to be present. Pregnant women or women who plan to get pregnant and their partners should check travel advisories before going to Cuba.
Health Insurance; even if you’re fit and healthy, don’t travel without health insurance – accidents do happen. You may require extra cover for adventure activities such as rock climbing or diving, as well as scooter/motorcycle riding. If your health insurance doesn’t cover you for medical expenses abroad, ensure you get specific travel insurance. Most hospitals require an upfront guarantee of payment (from yourself or your insurer) prior to admission. Enquire before your trip about payment of medical charges and retain all documentation (medical reports, invoices etc) for claim purposes.
Tap Water; Tap water in Cuba is not reliably safe to drink and outbreaks of cholera have been recorded in the past few years. Bottled water called Ciego Montero rarely costs more than CUC$1, but is sometimes not available in small towns. Stock up in the cities when going on long bus or car journeys.
Vaccinations; You can get typhoid through contaminated food or water in Cuba. CDC recommends this vaccine for most travellers, especially if you are staying with friends or relatives, visiting smaller cities or rural areas, or if you are an adventurous eater. You should arrange your vaccines six to eight weeks prior to departure through a specialised travel-medicine clinic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov) has a traveller’s health section that contains recommendations for vaccinations.
Currency: Cuban convertibles (CUC$) and Cuban pesos (MN$; moneda nacional), Primary Language: Spanish, Primary Religion: Catholic, Population: 11.2 million, Time Zone: GMT -5 hours
If you’re entering Cuba as a tourist, you’ll need to get a tourist card before you travel.
For more information and advice about visas, contact the Cuban Embassy.