Now that Cuba's been opened up to tourism from the United States, we've been itching to plan a trip. And in our research about what's available, we stumbled upon this awesome itinerary we'll definitely use as a starting point for our (hopefully soon!) travels there.
The twelve night trip meets the requirements for travel for US citizens--namely that tourism has to be part of a program of cultural exchange, so it's run by a tour operator that meets the legal requirements for US travel to Cuba. The trip is a comprehensive people-to-people program where you're immersed in Cuba's everyday life, with captivating educational activities and opportunities to have conversations with the Cubans you meet on the trip.
The trip is jam-packed with fascinating activities. Highlights include a discussion with the dancers of the world-renowned Camagüey Ballet Company, interacting with local artists, discussing private enterprise in Cuba with local restaurant owners and staff, riding in an Old Styler car, meeting with local fishermen to learn about local fishing practices, meeting Cuban baseball players, and a performance by the Cienfuegos Orchestra. You also get to discuss the Santeria religion, brought to Cuba by slaves who worked at sugar plantations. You get to take a walk with a local architect through Old Havana to learn about the challenges renovating Havana's historic buildings. How about a mojito-making demonstration, an interactive dance lesson, a scenic cruise on Santiago Bay? Sound good? You also get to see the Changing of the Guards at Santa Ifigenia Cemetery. Wow.
And that's not even all. You'll also have a chance to explore some of Cuba's colonial cities-Camagüey, Trinidad, and Old Havana-which have all been named UNESCO World Heritage Sites. You'll also visit Santiago de Cuba's historic city center; San Pedro de la Roca Castle, a World Heritage Site built in 1638; Hemingway's beloved home, Finca Vigia; and more.
There are special dining experiences, too, including meals at a local paladar (a small, privately owned restaurant) and at a Casa Particular (bed and breakfast). It sounds completely fascinating. I want to go!
DAY 1 Miami
Arrive in Miami and transfer to your hotel. This evening, meet your group leader for a 6 pm welcome drink and briefing. This is a good time to meet your fellow program participants, ask questions, and get prepared for your trip to fascinating Cuba.
DAY 2 Miami–Holguin–Guardalavaca, Cuba
This morning, fly to Holguin, Cuba. Enjoy a stroll through the historic center followed by lunch. This afternoon, visit a mechanical MUSIC ORGAN FACTORY, to see these impressive instruments from yesteryear. Arrive at your beautiful waterside resort for a 2-night stay.
DAY 3 Guardalavaca. Excursion to Gibara
Travel to the fishing village of Gibara, where you’ll meet with local FISHERMEN to discuss how they make a living from the sea. Next, interact with members of the community at CASA DE LA CULTURA. Discuss the variety of programs offered to local children, adults, and senior. Lunch today is a “farm-to-table” experience at a local paladar (special, privately owned restaurant). Visit the restaurant’s garden, and discuss the different herbs grown and how they’re used in cooking. Enjoy a mojito-making DEMONSTRATION, then return to your hotel. Before dinner this evening, join an interactive DANCE LESSON to learn some of Cuba’s popular dances such as the Rumba, Mambo, and Tango.
DAY 4 Guardalavaca – Holguin–Santiago de Cuba
This morning, visit a traditional PRINT SHOP. Interact with staff and learn about the unique process used to make paper, print, and bind their one-of-a-kind books. Continue to Santiago de Cuba, Cuba’s second-largest city, located on the island’s southeastern shores. We visit legendary SAN PEDRO DE LA ROCA CASTLE, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built in 1638, it has been the site of battles against pirates, smugglers, and home to many well-known prisoners. During your visit, meet a local VOCAL GROUP that will impress you with their musical talents. Discuss the inspiration for their songs, various backgrounds, and future aspirations. Next, enjoy an orientation tour of Santiago, including the historic city center, REVOLUTION SQUARE, and SAN JUAN HILL, where Teddy Roosevelt, the Rough Riders, and America’s Buffalo Soldiers emerged victorious in the Spanish-American War. Stop at SANTA IFIGENIA CEMETERY, where Cuba’s national hero, José Martí, is laid to rest. Witness the Changing of the Guards, hear the interesting folklore, and admire the magnificent architecture of this beautiful cemetery. Check into the modern Melia Santiago de Cuba Hotel for a 2-night stay.
DAY 5 Santiago de Cuba
Start the day with a visit to the church of Cuba’s patron saint, LA CARIDAD DEL COBRE (Our Lady of Charity). Located near a copper mine, the church sits on a hillside overlooking the beautiful valley below. Interact with local parishioners and discuss the history of this amazing shrine as well as some of the traditions, holidays, and special events celebrated here. Visit the sanctuary that holds everything from the humblest of offerings to precious jewels, sports trophies, military decorations, and even the Nobel Prize for Literature medal that was placed here by Ernest Hemingway. Next, enjoy a panoramic CRUISE in Santiago Bay, arriving at quaint Granma Island. Over lunch, join a DISCUSSION with local fishermen and learn about their fishing practices and community project that helps sustain the environment. This evening is at leisure to explore more of Santiago de Cuba on your own
DAY 6 Santiago de Cuba–Las Tunas–Camaguey
Our first stop today is in Las Tunas, where we’ll visit a rural FARM to meet workers and discuss the region’s fruits, vegetables, and spices. Interact with the farm family and enjoy a cool drink and tasting of local fruits. Later this afternoon, arrive in Camagüey, Cuba’s third-largest city. Before dinner, visit a local ARTIST STUDIO and discuss the inspiration for his work and the tools used to create his unique art. Tonight over dinner, learn about the city’s first Spanish settlers, the wealth that attracted pirates, and the independent-minded people of Camagüey
DAY 7 Camagüey. Excursion To King Ranch
Today, meet dancers with the world-renowned CAMAGÜEY BALLET COMPANY, which has performed in more than 40 countries. You’ll have a chance to meet and interact with the dancers, teachers, and costume-makers. Journey to KING RANCH, an expansion of the famous Texas ranch of the same name, and its neighboring village, and step inside a home to discuss rural life and education. Then, over a barbecue lunch, connect with the cowboys who call the ranch home. Stop at CASANOVA POTTERY STUDIO to learn about Camagüey’s famous tinajones—large, red pots found outside homes, a symbol of the city. See the traditional way of making the vessels, and interact with the artists to learn the local legend. Tonight is free to explore more of Camagüey.
DAY 8 Camagüey–Trinidad–Cienfuegos
Travel to Trinidad, crown jewel of Cuba’s colonial cities, founded in 1514 and today a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Upon arrival, enjoy lunch at a CASA PARTICULAR (bed & breakfast), and discuss private enterprise in Cuba with the owners and staff. Then, stroll the streets of Trinidad, a cobblestone showcase of colonial architecture and pastel-colored houses decorated with wooden shutters and wrought-iron grilles. Next, spend time at TEMPLO YEMAYA to discuss the Santeria religion. The religion was first brought to Cuba by African slaves who worked at the sugar plantation, and it has connections to Roman Catholicism and Native Indian traditions. Learn about Santeria’s beliefs, practices, and more. Continue to Cienfuegos for a 2-night stay.
DAY 9 Cienfuegos
This morning, explore Cienfuegos. Settled by French immigrants more than 150 years ago, the city is often referred to as the “Pearl of the South” because of its impressive beauty and colorful history. Your Tour Director will take you for an informative walking tour around the city’s main square to learn more about the city and its captivating past. Next, enjoy a performance and discussion with the CIENFUEGOS ORCHESTRA, which will delight you with their talent and songs. After lunch at a waterside paladar, visit Jardin Botanico Soledad de Cienfuegos, the BOTANICAL GARDENS of Cienfuegos. Here, interact with workers to learn about the interesting and unusual plants found in this garden. Dinner tonight is at a local paladar.
DAY 10 Cienfuegos–Bay Of Pigs–Havana
After breakfast, travel through Cuba’s countryside, passing sugar cane fields and banana plantations. We stop in Playa Girón for a guided visit of the BAY OF PIGS MUSEUM. Over lunch, join a DISCUSSION with a local Naturalist as well as the family that runs the restaurant. Arrive later this afternoon in Cuba’s capital, the city of Havana. Before dinner, meet with musicians from the CUBAN INSTITUTE OF MUSIC. Enjoy a performance and then discuss their training, inspiration, and the importance of music. You may even be asked to join in for a song or two.
DAY 11 Havana
Your day begins with a DISCUSSION with a local professor on Cuba’s economy. Share information on the recent changes in Cuba and in the United States, past difficulties, and what is to come in the future. Then, walk through OLD HAVANA, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with a local architect. Discuss Havana’s unique architecture, the challenges of renovating the city’s exquisite historic buildings, and the future of these restorations. Visit the MURALEANDO community project, known as the People’s Art Gallery. Learn how this project has changed the community, given members a sense of belonging, and developed new talent. Before returning to your hotel, visit the illustrious HOTEL NACIONAL DE CUBA for a tour. The hotel has hosted celebrities and world figures, including Winston Churchill, Frank Sinatra, Muhammad Ali, and Steven Spielberg. This evening is free to explore Havana on your own. You may wish to visit the famous Tropicana Nightclub, see a baseball game (seasonal), visit some of Hemingway’s old haunts, or explore the charming cobblestone streets of Old Havana.
DAY 12 Havana
This morning, enjoy a workshop at HAVANA COMPASS DANCE COMPANY. Watch one of their rehearsals, then take some time to speak to the dancers and teachers about their training, future careers, and daily lives. Next, visit JOSÉ FUSTER’S STUDIO, cleverly nicknamed the “Picasso of the Caribbean.” Here, you’ll discover a surreal world—like nothing you have seen before. Interact with members of the neighborhood to discuss the project’s impact on the community. Over lunch, meet former Cuban baseball players for a DISCUSSION about the history and the love of this favorite pastime in Cuba and the United States. Next, our attention turns to Nobel Prize-winning novelist Ernest Hemingway, who lived in Cuba for more than 30 years and left behind an enduring legacy. It is here that he wrote several books, participated in fishing contests, and enjoyed the laid-back ambiance and warmth of the Cuban people. Engage with staff at FINCA VIGIA, his beloved home, and see his fishing boat, El Pilar. Ride in an OLD STYLER CAR to your farewell dinner this evening - the perfect ending to your adventure across Cuba!
DAY 13 Havana–Miami, USA
After breakfast, depart for the airport and your return flight to Miami.
An itinerary like this would really be the trip-of-a-lifetime! We can help you book a fabulous trip to Cuba like this one, if you like. Just get in touch with us, and we'll make it happen!