Walkers' World
 Guided Walking and Sightseeing Holidays in
Jan 28 - Feb 07, 2019                               

Day 1  - Arrival in Varadero  
On arrival in Varadero we transfer by private bus to a pretty hotel in the countryside near Santa Clara (about three hours with lunch en route).  Santa Clara is Che Guevara's city in the centre of the island and here we see the massive and impressive Monumento Ernesto Che Guevara. The monument, in classic Cuban revolutionary style, is big, bold, made of concrete and looming over Che's remains which were laid to rest here in 1997.  We hear about the last battle of the guerrilla war which marked the end of Batista's dictatorship 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.  Nearby we find our pretty hotel, Los Caneyes, set in the countryside amid lovely gardens filled with tropical flowers, eucalyptus and palms as well as Taino artwork and sculpture. The Tainos were the pre-Columbian people of Cuba and the hotel recreates a Taino village with thatched roofed cottages. 
 LUNCH and

Day 2  - In the morning 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. As we explore we hear stories of eccentric sugar barons who entertained peers with lavish barbecues reminiscent of "Gone with the Wind".   We have lunch in what was once a plantation mansion and in the afternoon we drive through a teak forest to the start of our walk in El Cubano National Park. The shaded path  (5 km) takes in the remains of a colonial sugar ranch as well as a bohio (a traditional rural peasant house). The path goes through a pristine forest of agave, palms & papyrus passing clear 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.
At the end of the walk we continue (25 minutes) to our beachfront hotel.  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 a 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.  

Day 3  -  Today's walking is northwest of Trinidad 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, counter-revolutionaries 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. Trails are well marked and shady, cutting through dense woodlands opening out here and there for breathtaking views of the landscape.

Our 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.


Day 4  -  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. 

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 INCLUDED

Day 5  - After breakfast we transfer to Havana and along the way we visit the 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.  
Next comes El Malecón, the seafront promenade lined with once-glorious mansions whose original owners fled Cuba following the Revolution. Our 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. 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 BREAKFAST LUNCH AND DINNER INCLUDED

Day 6  - This morning we leave for Western Cuba and 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 continue to the 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. There is free time for lunch and in the afternoon we enjoy 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.

Day 7 - Today is a full day of walking in the lovely Vinales region.

Moncada (5 km easy) An interesting trail through a forest with spectacular living fossils and colourful birds.  

La Ruta 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 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

Day 8  - After breakfast we 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).

At the end of the day we return to Havana.  BREAKFAST, LUNCH AND DINNER INCLUDED

Day 9  -  Today is a full day of walking in 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. 

There 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.        BREAKFAST INCLUDED

Day 10 -   Today we stroll through the "Joy of Living" community project where more than 80 neighbours allowed the artist Alex Fuster to use their homes as his canvas..  Then we have a fascinating walk 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 the great explorer's remains are said to be in the Cathedral of Seville.   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 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.   In the evening we walk to a private "paladar" restaurant for a farewell dinner.    BREAKFAST AND DINNER INCLUDED

Day 11  -  Early morning departure from Havana Airport or perhaps spend a few more days exploring Cuba.

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Cuba Itinerary
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