Cuba Explorer

14 Days / 13 Nights

Day 1

Santiago de Cuba was the fifth village founded by the Spanish in 1515. The city was plundered by French forces in 1553, by English forces in 1603 and more than 50 years later the English raided again. The city had a huge influx of French and British immigrants in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In 1809, after Napoleon Bonaparte’s forces invaded Spain, French citizens were ordered out of Cuba. Most went to the United States, and thousands settled in New Orleans. Near the end of the century, during the Spanish–American War, Santiago was the site of the major defeat of Spanish troops in July of 1898. On January 1, 1959, Fidel Castro proclaimed the victory of the Cuban Revolution from a balcony on Santiago de Cuba’s city hall. Today the city’s eclectic cultural mix, rich with Spanish and African Caribbean spirit, make it one of Cuba’s most eclectic provinces. Its rum (Santiago de Cuba was the home of Bacardi Rum) made from sugarcane and aged in oak barrels is the best of all the rum produced in Cuba. Depart Miami at 8:45 AM on American Airlines flight 1519 and arrive Santiago de Cuba at 10:25 AM. Pick up at airport by your driver and your Journey Leader. Next, check into your accommodations. Then we will have lunch at St. Pauli Paladar (a “paladar” is a restaurant not owned by the communist Cuban government). Following we will visit the Carnaval (Carnival) Museum. Inaugurated in 1983, the Carnaval Museum shows the popular celebration of the carnivals in the city of Santiago de Cuba that take place every July and that are a tradition and a sign of identity of the inhabitants of this Cuban town. Then we will visit the Rum Museum and learn about the rum production process and the history that accompanies it in Santiago de Cuba. This evening we will dine at Primos Twice. Later, dancing, cigars, Cuban coffee and or a nightcap at a local nightclub.

Day 2

Our Santiago de Cuba Specialist, Rauber, will take us to the Basilica of the Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre (Our Lady of charity). She miraculously appeared in 1612 and was declared Patron Saint of Cuba in 1916; La Caridad del Cobre is part of the soul of the Cuban people and is located in a natural mountainous environment of great beauty.

Following we will discover the incredible multi-level stone fortress known as Castle of San Pedro de la Roca del Morro. Designed in the early 1600s as a defense against raiding pirates, the Legendary fortress is among the most picturesque places in Santiago de Cuba. Following we will have lunch at a local paladar. Subsequently, we will visit the First Coffee Plantations in the Southeast of Cuba. It is a cultural landscape highlighting colonial coffee production from the 19th century. Upon our return, we will have dinner at Paladar Aurora followed by live Music at La Casa del ta Trova.

Day 3

Today we will take a brief ride to the city of Holguin, Cuba’s fourth largest city. In October 1492, when Christopher Columbus first landed in Cuba on Playa Guarda La Vaca (Guard the Cow beach) of today’s Holguin province, he described it as, “the most beautiful land human eyes had ever seen!”We will first visit Fidel Castro’s hometown. He was born on August 13, 1926 at the Finca Las Manacas. The sprawling ranch, bought by Fidel’s father Ángel in 1915, includes its own workers’ village (a cluster of small thatched huts for the mainly Haitian laborers), a cockfighting ring, butcher’s shop, post office, store and telegraph. The several large yellow wooden houses surrounded by lush cedars housed the Castro family. Tours here are thorough and very worthwhile. Then we will check into the all-inclusive resort Iberostar Selection Holguin on Playa Pesquero beach. Enjoy the resort as you wish, the beach here is one of Cuba’s best. Enjoy the hotel’s multiple restaurants and evening entertainment.

Day 4

This morning we will depart Holguin for Camaguey. Whereas Santiago de Cuba is the second largest city on the island and Holguin is the fourth, Camaguey is the 3rd. Here you will get a little closer to the ‘authentic’ Cuba, where the workings of the city were not orchestrated solely for tourist enjoyment. In July 2008, Camaguey’s old town was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its irregular, maze-like city planning, its prominent role in early Spanish colonization and agriculture, and its rich architecture showing. Enjoy a 2-hour walking tour of the main highlights of this beautiful city. Followed by dinner at the very popular paladar, Melange. Followed by live music at Camaguey’s Casa de la Trova.

Day 5

After breakfast we will depart Camaguey for the city of Trinidad.While those with limited time or desire stick to Havana, those in the know take the time to swing by the colorful city of Trinidad, Cuba’s colonial masterpiece located between mountains and a beautiful ocean. A UNESCO protected city, she exudes a relaxed energy and seems as if stuck in the 17th Century. Havana may have the reputation for being Cuba’s delightfully colorful city, but charming Trinidad really steals the show. One of the most complete and best-preserved examples of colonial architecture, it’s cobbled streets, wooden balustrades, long balconies, horse-drawn carriages andits friendly and simple people, are all distinguishing features of this magical city. Trinidad is a real treasure, a wealth of riches, of urban gems and historical architecture. Upon our arrival we will embark on a tour of the town center led by Leo, an expert in everything Trinidad. We will meet him on Plaza Mayor, an open-air museum of Spanish Colonial architecture from where he will guide you through the historic plaza, its cobblestone streets, pastel-colored houses, wrought-iron grilles, and colonial-era edifices such as the Santísima Trinidad Cathedral and Convento de San Francisco. La Plaza is also home to the Municipal

History Museum, El Museo Romantico, the Museum of Colonial Architecture; the Parroquial Mayor church; and the Museo Nacional de la Lucha contra Bandidos,

with its famous bell tower. After your tour you’ll enjoy lunch at Bistro Trinidad.  This dreamy beautiful place is quite a gem with one of the cutest terraces in Trinidad. Bistro Trinidad specializes in Cajun-Creole and seafood dishes. Afterwards we can visit one of the street marketswhere you can find a slew of hand-crafted items. Then we will visit the art galleries of some famouslocal artists.This evening we will have dinner at Museo 1514. The interior of the building is beautiful, with part of the house set out almost as a museum piece.Afterwards we will enjoy live music and dancing outside at La Casa de La Música Trinidad.

Day 6

After breakfast your guide Leo will take you on a train ride to the Valle de los Ingenios; (Sugar mill valley) a series of 3 valleys that were a center for sugar production from the late 18th century until the late 19th century. At the peak of the industry in Cuba there were over fifty sugar cane mills in operation in the three valleys, with over 30,000 slaves working in the mills and on the sugar cane plantations that surrounded them. Take in the scenery and learn about the slave trade in Cuba. Afterwards, we will have lunch at Café Real. Following we will visit the artist studios of Lazaro Niebla and Alejandro López Bastidar. Then we will visit La Taverna La Cancháchara and immerse yourself in a Cancháchara, a refreshing cocktail made with honey. Management will present you with a special welcome gift.For dinner we will visit paladar San Jose, one of our Trinidad favorites. Then, we will pay a visit to La Casa de la Trova where there’s great live music.

Day 7

Today we will take a leisurely 90-minutedrive to Cienfuegos (the city of 100 fires). Cienfuegos is a lovely, yet extremely underrated destination in Cuba. Though the vast majority of Cuba is known for the Spanish colonial style architecture, Cienfuegos is truly different, as it has a more French architectural style. It’s so unique that in 2005, the historical center was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.Upon arrival we will have lunch at Camila’s Restaurant and enjoy the waterfront views across the bay. Later ourlocal Cienfuegos specialist, Beatriz, will take you to all the important historical and architectural sites in the city including stops at Parque Jose Marti, Boulevard, Benny More Statue and Cienfuegos’ beautiful Malecon.Then we will have a special dinner at Casa El Patio Andalu. After dinner the owners, Ivet& Joel, will play some live flamenco music for us.

Day 8

This morningwe will drive to the southernmost end of Matanzas to visit the Bay of Pigs. We will visit Museo Giron, the Bay of Pigs Museum, we will then check out the town square and followed by lunch at El Butty paladar. We will then continue on to Matanzas. Known both as the Athens of Cuba (for its history, poets, culture, and Afro-Cuban folklore); as well as the City of Bridges, for the seventeen bridges that cross the three rivers that traverse the city. Upon arrival we will be met by Sergio, our local Matanzas specialist, who will lead you to all the important sites of the city.Following we will visit The Museo Farmaceutico (the Pharmaceutical Museum) for a tour of this French pharmacy founded in 1882. Laterwe will have dinner at Amelia del Mar then head over to Calle 62 for some live music and cocktails.

Day 9

Later this morning we will head to La Habana. When we arrive, we will have lunch at La Guarida paladar. La Guarida, one of La Habana’s oldest paladars, is where President Obama and his family ate when they visited Cuba. Then, we will venture on a historical walking tour of La Habana Vieja (old Havana) with our La Habana specialist, Alejandro. The tour will end at Cuba’s Capital building. Often compared to the US Capitol, Cuba’s is a meter higher, a meter wider, & a meter longer, as well as much richer in detail. This evening we will dine at Antojos, one of the city’s hippest paladars. Following we will enjoy the infamous Tropicana Outdoor cabaret for a stunning performance of Cuban Music and dancing. Known as one of the hottest cabaret shows in the world, the Tropicana Nightclub show is a world-famous spectacle set in a lush, tropical open-air venue that bursts with colorful lights, glitter, and glam. Salsa-charged and sensual, it’s a must-do activity during any trip to La Habana Cuba.

Day 10

This morning enjoy a tour of the Museo Del Automovil (the Automobile Museum). Despite La Habana being the greatest free open air classic car show in the world, it is still worth checking out this little museum in La Habana Vieja. There are only around 30 vehicles on display and they are mainly in an unrestored state which is rare to see nowadays.  Afterwards we will head to The Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (Havana’s Museum of Fine arts). We will meet up with an art expert who will lead you on a tour of this beautiful museum which exhibits Cuban art collections from the colonial times to contemporary generations. Its main goals are to restore, preserve, and promote works belonging to the Cuban heritage. It has 24 rooms exhibiting ancient art collections, rooms dedicated to masters in every epoch, as well as rooms with temporary exhibitions.Then we will have lunch at Van Van paladar. Following, we will visit Finca Vigia, just outside of La Habana. It is the former colonial home of Ernest Hemingway. It’s where he wrote some of his most famous novels like: For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea. Explore the grounds and check out the museum. Afterwards we will visit bar El Floridita, Hemingway’s old watering hole for some of their world- famous daiquiris. This evening we will have dinner and experience live music at Yarini Habana, one of La Habana’s most popular paladars. Known for its fusion Cuban food and music, this restaurant is al fresco.

Day 11

Day trip to Viñales, a town in Western Cuba. Its main street is lined with colorful colonial-era wooden houses. Viñales serves as a gateway to the Sierra de los Organos mountains and the Viñales Valley. The valley’s tall, steep-sided limestone hills, known as mogotes, draw rock climbers. You will visit a tobacco farm, a tobacco sorting center where only women are allowed to handle the delicate tobacco leaves, go horseback riding (optional) and visit an organic farm where you will have lunch.Upon your return to La Habana, we will have dinner at Tierra, a paladar built out of shipping containers, their Latin American influenced menu is a delight to choose from. Afterwards we will enjoy some Live music and dancing at La Fabrica de Arte Cubano. It is the best night time cultural proposal in La Habana. There is always something new toexperience, theater, jazz, contemporary dance, concerts, DJ’s & art exhibitions. It was listed by Time Magazine as one of the top 100 places to visit in the world.

Day 12

For breakfast we will be joined by Marc Frank, author of the book, “Cuban Revelations Behind the Scenes in La Habana.” Mark is based in Cuba and is a correspondent for The Financial Times and Reuters. Marc has won various awards including the Thomson Reuters award. You can ask Marc anything about Cuba whether it is politics, history, religion or culture, he is considered a local.Subsequently, we will visit entrepreneur and winemaker, Orestes Estevez. His La Habana-based winery churns out unique concoctions made not just from Cuban grapes but also ingredients like tropical fruits (such as guava) and vegetables (like beets). Orestes keeps costs down by using condoms instead of more expensive equipment. Afterwards, we will visit El Morro (the Spanish “morro” means a rock that is visible from the sea and serves as a navigational landmark.)Perched on a headland on the opposite side of the harbor from Old Havana, it can be seen from miles as it dominates the entrance to the harbor. Built-in 1589 in response to raids on the city, El Morro protected the entrance of the harbor with a chain strung out across the water, known as the boom defense to the fort at La Punta. The fortress is part of the UNESCO Old Havana World Heritage Site, inscribed in 1982 for its historical importance in the European conquest of the New World and its unique mix of architecture. Following, we will have lunch at El Cocinero. This restaurant became an instant hit when it opened. Located in an old vegetable oil factory, this paladar attracts a mixed crowd of affluent Cubans.Then, at the Museo del Ron Havana Club (The Havana Club Rum Museum) you can experience a journey into Cuban roots. Be amazed by the opportunity to explore the rum-making process, from freshly cut sugar cane to a surprising scale model factory; and learn how the distillery and aging warehouses worked. you can learn about the history and making process of this Cuban rum. There is a tasting room and bar at the end of the tour where you can try 3 different Cuban rums. The remainder of the afternoon is yours to explore La Habana as you wish. Tonight, we will have dinner at Los Mercaderes, an excellent paladar in Old Havana

Followed, by live Jazz at La Zora y el Cuervo.

Day 13

Day Trip to Varadero. Varadero is the number one beach getaway in Cuba, and is famous worldwide as one of the world’s most beautiful beaches. If you’re looking for that perfect white-sand Caribbean beach you’ve seen on a postcard, you’re probably looking for Varadero. Subsequently, lunch will be had at Salsa Suarez, a local paladar. At around 5 PM we will head back to La Habana. Then, we will have dinner at El Atelier. Chef NiurisHigueras describes her paladar as, “an experimental culinary workshop.” The menu is eclectic and changes every day; from patoconfitado (candied duck) to Lomito de res con camarones y espuma de apio (sirloin steak with shrimp and celery mousse). Followed by Live music and dancing at Casa de La Música.

Day 14

Today we will visit the kaleidoscopic world of Fusterlandia, a sprawling, mosaic-covered labyrinth of streets and bungalows on the Western outskirts of Havana. Fuster had studied at Havana’s Art Instructor’s School in the mid-1960s, and continued his education traveling across Europe, where he saw masterpieces by Pablo Picasso, Constantin Brâncuși, and Antoni Gaudí. The experience stoked dreams of creating work of his own that would earn similar admiration, he told National Geographic in 2013. After returning to Cuba, Fuster purchased a small wooden home in Jamainatas and started his life’s work, using the walls and streets of his hometown as a canvas. Pretty soon he started using his neighbors’ homes as a canvas and eventually he created this community called Fusterlandia. Fusterlandia is still growing. On most days, Fuster himself can be found in his streetside studio, painting tiles or arranging bits of broken ceramic that will cover his next surface. Afterwards we will head to La Habana’s Jose Marti Airport for your return flight back to the U.S.

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