- Arrival in Havana
After transferring to our hotel we have an afternoon panoramic tour of
the city by private bus. We see Havana's magnificent domed Capitolo
where a 25 carat diamond that once belonged to a Russian Tsar is
embedded in the floor. Marvel at the opera house, the Gran Teatro, a
confection in stone with an extravagant baroque façade dripping with
caryatids. We drive along the Paseo del Prado which was once a splendid
18th century boulevard where colonial aristocrats drove carriages. Next
comes El Malecón, the seafront promenade lined with once-glorious
mansions whose original owners fled Cuba following the Revolution. Salt
spray crashes over the seawall in great airy clouds. To stretch our legs
we stroll through a community art project called "La Alegria De Vivir"
(Joy of Living) where more than 80 neighbours allowed the artist Alex
Fuster to use their homes as his canvas.
four star hotel is located in the leafy and quiet Miramar district of
Havana. This is the exclusive seaside area where Cuba's
pre-revolutionary upper class built palatial homes. Today many of these
are elegant embassies centred around Quinta Avenida (Fifth Avenue) with
its tropical gardens. Our hotel overlooks the sea and has a beautiful
pool. Bustling Old Havana is a 15 minute taxi-ride by a classic 1950's
car or by hotel shuttle bus. If you would like to stroll in the area
near the hotel you will find John Lennon Park (yes - the Beatle not
Lenin the Russian revolutionary). DINNER INCLUDED
Day 2 - Havana
In the morning we have a guided walking tour of Old Havana. This is
a UNESCO World Heritage site and a kaleidoscope of colourful
architectural treasures - cathedrals, castles, and colonial mansions
with flower bedecked balconies. We see the sheltered harbour where, in
the 1500's, Spanish galleons filled with plundered gold from the New
World waited before setting off for Spain. From the 16th century onward
Havana was home to pirates and scallywags and was one of the richest and
most beautiful cities in the Americas. We stroll through picturesque San
Francisco Plaza bordering the old port. Next comes the elegant Plaza de
Armas which is lined with Baroque buildings and overflowing with
tropical vegetation. Plaza Vieja was originally the venue for Havana’s
slave market and now its original Spanish colonial buildings have been
restored. Plaza de la Cathedral is dominated by its gracious church,
one of the most beautiful in the Americas. Our walk is a chance to soak
up the atmosphere of this sultry Caribbean city with its sensual salsa
music, brightly painted 1950's American cars, revolutionary slogans and
Che Guevera's picture etched on the walls of flaking Spanish Colonial
buildings. We see the Museum of the Revolution, housed in the ornate
former presidential palace where a string of dissolute presidents once
ruled. The building was originally decorated by Tiffany’s of New York
but now is embellished with a few bullet holes.
is free time to enjoy a leisurely lunch in Old Havana. In the afternoon
there are several options. It is possible to visit the Museo de la
Revolucion housed in the former Presidential Palace that was used by a
string of cash-embezzling Cuban presidents. The shimmering Hall of
Mirrors was designed to resemble its namesake at Versailles. An
alternative is to continue exploring Old Havana and the huge bustling
craft market. Old Havana is a continual fiesta with street performers
and musicians entertaining. After more exploring we rest our feet and
perhaps sip a cool mojito in one of the many outdoor cafes or drink a
Cuba Libre in a bar once frequented by Hemingway.
evening there is entertainment at the hotel.
This morning we start with a fascinating stroll in the flamboyant
"Cemetery of Columbus" with its extravagant chapels, vaults and tombs.
There are miniature Greco-Roman temples, an Egyptian pyramid, medieval
castles, plus sculpture by Cuba’s leading artists. Were the remains of
Christopher Columbus ever here? The stories are conflicting. It seems he
asked to be buried in the Americas and officially his remains were moved
from Spain to Dominican Republic to Havana but back in Spain his the
great explorer's remains are said to be in the Cathedral of Seville.
Our private bus then takes us to the edge of the city and Museo
de Ernesto Hemingway where we walk to explore La Finca Vigia (“the
lookout farm”) a Moorish-style house with glorious views of Havana and
of the sea. It was here Hemingway wrote nine novels including For Whom
the Bell Tolls and where he called home until 1960 when he left Cuba. It
is said that Ava Gardner once swam naked in the pool.
In the afternoon we explore the huge El Morro Fortress. With tons of
gold being transported through Havana in the 1600s and 1700s, the
harbour needed a fortress to guard the entrance. Havana was a highly
prized target for pirates and thus it became a fortified city. Each
night a floating chain was strung across the harbour and a cannon was
fired to announce its closing. Today this ceremony still takes place
each evening. The interior of the fort resembles a small village
complete with a chapel, spacious lawns, several (modern) cafes and
cobbled streets where soldiers and officers were billeted. With our
expert guide, we explore the vast fortress with its many exhibits
including the area where, in 1959, Fidel Castro and the revolutionaries
set up their headquarters.
In the evening there is entertainment at the hotel. Or you may venture
out to a cabaret at the nearby Nacional or visit the Buena Vista Social
Club. BREAKFAST INCLUDED
4 - Vinales
After breakfast we leave Havana and head west to Las Terrazas Biosphere
National Park. This is a scenic drive along the Carretera Central,
fringed by mountains and royal palms. The National Park is a UNESCO site
in the mountainous region between Havana and Pinar del Río and is a part
of the country’s budding ecotourism industry. Sierra del Rosario
encompasses an area of tropical deciduous forests with numerous rivers
and waterfalls. Many tropical birds can be spotted here, including
Cuba's 22 endemic species. At the height of the Cuban coffee boom in
the 1820’s this area had 54 coffee estates and on our walks we discover
the ruins of some of these estates.
La Serafina Trail (4 km) A nature trail ideal for bird watching leads
through rich and varied forest. This is one of Cuba's top birding sites.
This trail circles the lake filled with water lilies and finishes in the
village of Las Terrazas. (easy)
El Contento Trail (8 km) This pleasant hike is through red ginger, mango
and apple rose. The trail descends into the valley and joins Rio San
Juan, passes the ruins of a coffee plantation as well as fresh and
sulphurous springs, and ends at the Banos del San Juan, a little set of
pools and cascades. (moderate difficulty).
lunch we transfer to Vinales region, famed for its spectacular mauve
coloured ‘haystacks’. These bizarre rounded mountains frame the
Valley of Vinales where Cuba’s finest tobacco is grown. The landscape
forms a perfect backdrop for walking through coffee, orange and banana
plantations. Viñales village seems to be lost in a time-warp. Its small
Botanical Garden is an Eden-like mix of ornamental and medicinal plants
as well as cascades of orchids, palms, cinnamon trees, ferns and
tropical fruit trees. BREAKFAST, PICNIC LUNCH, DINNER INCLUDED
Day 5 - Vinales
Today is a full day of leisurely walking in the bottle green
mountains and jade valleys of Vinales. Most of the hiking here is on
gentle, well-groomed trails in the tropical plain rich with hibiscus,
papaya, pineapple, bougainvilleas and flame trees laid out among a
patchwork of tobacco fields and rice paddies.
One of the most popular hikes is a walk through the fincas
(farms) of the eastern valley just outside town (12 km)
de las Aguas (6 km Moderate difficulty) Walk through the valley to the
start of a trail which climbs to Los Aquaticos. This mountain community
was founded by a visionary who discovered the healing power of water.
Several families still live in the area although the last patriarch
practicing the water cure died in 2002, taking the tradition with him.
San Vincente/Ancon (8km easy) A more remote valley where coffee
communities still function surrounded by virgin forests filled with
Moncada (5 km easy) An interesting trail through a forest with
spectacular living fossils and colourful birds.
In the late afternoon we return to the hotel to swim or perhaps explore
the town. A spell seems to have been cast over sleepy Vinales with its
pastel painted small restaurants, cafes and fun ‘tree house’ bars.
BREAKFAST, PICNIC LUNCH, DINNER INCLUDED
After breakfast we transfer to Trinidad. Along the way we stop at
Soroa, the ‘rainbow of Cuba’, and visit the Orchid Garden. This is a
botanical garden with 700 species of orchids and a popular place for
weddings. (Don’t be surprised by the vision of a bride in a neon
coloured wedding gown). We have a short hike down to El Salto de Soroa,
a lovely waterfall, followed by lunch at Rancho Soroa..
continue to the lovely colonial town of Trinidad. Set against a
backdrop of the green Sierra de Escambray Mountains, our hotel enjoys a
glorious beach-front setting on pristine Ancon Beach which stretches for
4 km. This is one of the loveliest beaches in Cuba with perfect white
sand, warm turquoise water and few tourists. It is perfect for those who
like to stroll on the beach. The colonial city of Trinidad is just 15
minutes away and easily reached by a shuttle bus or vintage cars that
function as inexpensive taxis.
ALL INCLUSIVE - BREAKFAST, LUNCH AND DINNER INCLUDED
This morning we drive through a teak forest to the start of our walk
in El Cubano National Park where we walk amid vivid red, orange and
yellow Flamboyan trees. The shaded path (3.5 km) takes in the remains
of a colonial sugar ranch as well as a bohio (a rural peasant house).
The path goes through a pristine forest of agave, palms & papyrus
passing clear water pools. Along the way we see wooden plaques
explaining that the trail was originally used by "cimarrones" (runaway
slaves). There are artefacts and displays as the guide tells us about
slavery in Cuba.
We return to our hotel in time for lunch. The afternoon is free to enjoy
the beach and pool.
ALL INCLUSIVE - BREAKFAST, LUNCH AND DINNER INCLUDED (including
Day 8 - Trinidad area
Today's walking is Northwest of Trinidad is in the thickly
pine-covered mountains of the Sierra del Escambray (UNESCO), a beautiful
range that cuts across central Cuba. This was Che Guevara’s second front
in the late 1950s, and, following Castro’s victory,
counterrevolutionaries sheltered here. The National Park is a cool
refuge from the coast. The mountainous area has its own microclimate and
is always a few degrees cooler than Trinidad. It is a splendid area for
hiking with some of the most spectacular scenery in Cuba, though the
highest peak is only 1140 metres high. Along the way we see many bird
species. Trails are well marked and shady, cutting through dense
woodlands opening out here and there for breathtaking views of the
a choice of 2 walks. The gentler hike follows the Guanayara River down
to Salto El Rocio, a beautiful waterfall. Slightly more challenging is
the path to Poza del Venado, a clear blue pool,
and along the way it incorporates some memorable views of the tallest
peak in the range. The longer walk continues to the coffee-growing
community of Charco Azul. The trails begin in cool, moist coffee
plantations, following the course of the river through tropical forest
to the gardens of Casa La Gallega.
Optional evening visit to music venues in Trinidad departing from
the hotel around 9pm
ALL INCLUSIVE - BREAKFAST, PICNIC LUNCH AND DINNER INCLUDED
This morning we explore Old Trinidad (UNESCO) on foot.
Tiny Trinidad is one of the finest colonial towns in all the
Americas, ranking as one of Cuba's greatest attractions. Founded in 1514
by Diego Velasquez, it was his base for searching the surrounding
mountains for gold. The original cobblestone streets and houses give the
impression that time has scarcely moved on since the days of the Spanish
Main. The exquisite buildings are fronted by mahogany balustrades,
fancy bars of wrought iron and massive wooden doors with swinging
shutters that open to let the breeze flow through the rooms. From the
1600s to 1800s the city was a major centre for the sugar and slave
trades and the buildings around the Plaza Mayor bear witness to the
wealth of the landowners of the time. The historic centre has been
skilfully restored, down to details like the streetlights and its
cobblestone streets are more populated by horse-drawn carts than
automobile traffic. The Museo Romantico is a grand affair with fine
murals of classical scenes, scrolls and pediments over doorways and
windows. Once the home of a wealthy plantation owner, it features Roman
style baths that amused 19th century travellers with a
fountain that spouted cologne for ladies and gin for gents.
The experience of browsing in little street markets in the old town is
unmatched in Cuba for tranquillity and charm. Since the change in
communist government restrictions allowing locally owned businesses,
Trinidad seems to have a business in every house with the whole family
involved. There are also several interesting museums.
In the afternoon we head for the Valle de los Ingenios (UNESCO). This is
an open air museum from the days of the 18th century when Cuba produced
over 1/3 of the world's sugar. The gorgeous "valley of the sugar mills"
is filled with romantic ruins that were once home to scheming "Dallas"
style dynasties all supported by 14,000 slaves. The Iznaga estate,
built in 1845, survives although it is no longer a working plantation.
We hear stories of eccentric sugar barons who entertained peers with
lavish barbecues reminiscent of "Gone with the Wind".
Later in the day there is free time to enjoy the beach and pool. The
long beach of Ancon is perfect for a stroll and the clear turquoise
water beckons you to dabble your toes or swim.
BREAKFAST AND DINNER
10 - Havana
Today we return
to Havana via Santa Clara, Che Guevara's city, where we see the massive
and impressive Monumento Ernesto Che Guevara. The monument, in classic
Cuban revolutionary style, is big, bold and made of concrete. It looms
over Che's remains which were laid to rest here in 1997. We hear how the
last battle of the guerilla war which marked the end of Batista's
dictatorship took place in Santa Clara in 1958. We see the Tren Blindado,
a boxcar where Che and his band of 18 rifle-wielding revolutionaries
barely out of their teens derailed an armoured train using a borrowed
bulldozer and home-made Molotov cocktails.
Havana there are a few hours for the pool then we have a farewell
dinner. In the evening the hotel has entertainment or there is an
optional visit to the famous Tropicana night-club (the show starts
at 10 PM). This is the most famous nightclub in Cuba and perhaps in the
world. In 1939 it was built by the mafia and featured extravagant
floorshows with “flesh goddesses” in lavish sequin and feather costumes.
Under Castro’s regime, the Tropicana was no longer a gangster paradise
but is still alive and kicking with exciting performances featuring over
200 dancers and big bands. BREAKFAST, PICNIC LUNCH AND DINNER
11 - Departure
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