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Cuba’s National Parks, Culture & History

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8 Days
Availability : October to May
Havana
Havana
Min Age : 12+

Cuba confounds and intoxicates with its colonial grandeur, revolutionary rigor, and Caribbean panache. Classic cars pass along Havana streets. Salsa beats drum through the night. It’s the quintessential Cuban tableau, but for those who step off the beaten path – on this walking tour – Cuba reveals itself to be so much more.

This Cuban walking tour, which is offered through a licensed partner, will encompass daily explorations of both Cuba’s land and seascapes with unforgettable interactions with Cuba’s people-scapes.

Led by a team of local guides along with our partner’s own tour leader, you will be joined during the journey by other local experts.  You will visit with naturalist guides, farmers, historians, national park officials, artists, small business entrepreneurs and more on this artfully crafted Cuba walking tour.  To deepen the educational and cultural exchange aspects of this trip, our partner uses a mix of hotels and Casa Particulares. Casas are essentially Bed & Breakfast type accommodations, set within the context of a private house. They have all been carefully researched in each location and promise you a mix of warm, welcoming hosts and a unique Cuban family experience or in some cases, simply the flavor of a small boutique hotel. 

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Our Cuba licensed partner has more than 37 years of experience in delivering premier adventure travel tours, ground operating, guide training, and natural history interpretation.  This handcrafted itinerary has been developed from the ground-up with responsible travel practices that follow the highest criterion of environmental and cultural stewardship.

Itinerary

Day 0Arrival in Havana

This tour begins and ends in Havana which is currently served by numerous US airlines. If you are unable to book a flight that will get you to the Havana Airport by 11:00 AM on Day 1, we recommend that you consider a “Day 0” for your tour to overnight in Havana or Miami.

We suggest staying in a Casa Particular (a private home with rooms for rent) of your choosing and taking a cab to the Havana Airport to meet your Tour Leader, guides, and fellow travelers the next morning, or overnighting in Miami and catching a morning flight down to Havana to meet your group in the morning.

Note: The itinerary and activities are subject to change due to factors such as weather, transportation schedules and availability of guest speakers. There is always an attempt to replace missed activities with similar opportunities that maintain the same spirit of the tour as well as focus on People-to-People exchanges.

Day 1Welcome to Cuba!

Please arrive no later than 11:00 AM to the Havana Airport. Once we’ve gathered luggage and changed money, we head west by bus to La Terrazas and the Sierra del Rosario mountains.

La Terrazas, now a biosphere under UNESCO safeguard, was created as part of Castro’s 1968 initiative to reforest regions over-logged since the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors and defaced by miles of coffee plantations. The 5,000-hectare nature reserve and eco-village is now home to over 117 different bird species, 12 of which are endemic including the tocororo and zorzal. We begin our exploration of La Terrazas with a trek along the Sendero La Serafina—a 5k trail running through the reforested land and passing by the dilapidated Saint Serafina plantation.

After our afternoon excursions throughout La Terrazas, we head to our accommodations for the evening. Hotel Moka brings the outdoors indoors with an immense 100-year-old rain tree growing up through the lobby and sprouting out the rooftop. It’s a charming white and tangerine hotel screened by the green of teak trees. Lunch and dinner is included today.

Day 2Valle de Viñales

We breakfast early and drive west to one of Cuba’s most scenic national parks. Thrust into the rolling rows of the Sierra de los Órganos lies the Valle de Viñales, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the source of several stunningly unique habitats. We spend our day walking throughout the varied living landscapes the Valle de Viñales nurtures, giving you insight into Cuba’s signal crop, tobacco, as well as the geological forces that shaped this region.

The valley’s notable bulbous mogotes give an otherworldly quality. They appear like explosions of limestone rapidly rearing from the earth, where in fact they are the remains of limestone hills eroded away by slow rainfall around 160 million years ago. One of the more iconic sites is the Mogote dos Hermanas, or two mogote “twin sisters,” that lie side by side standing sentinel over stretches of flat fields.

Beneath the mogotes are vast fields of tobacco–Cuba’s export that has reached near-mythical status. These are a stunning sight with their rows upon rows of rich umber earth lined with tall stalks of tobacco waving their wide, spring green leaves. We lunch at a farm-to-table organic restaurant, and in the afternoon, have the opportunity to visit one of the valley’s tobacco plantations. After our exploration of the tobacco plantation, we visit a despalillo, a tobacco factory where we learn more about the curing and fermenting processes that follow the harvest.

By late afternoon, satiated with fresh air and well-used legs, we head back to our hotel. Breakfast, lunch and dinner included.

Day 3West to Hemingway’s House & the Bay of Pigs

We drive east to the outskirts of Havana to visit Finca Vigia, the house where Ernest Hemingway lived for 20 years and wrote many of his books. We have lunch at a nearby paladar (private restaurant) and then continue our drive to the southeast. Our destination is Playa Larga, a tranquil village set on the beach at the head of the Bahia de Cochinos, or Bay of Pigs. It was here that the infamous 1961 CIA-sponsored invasion took place.

After we check into our welcoming Casa, we have an engaging presentation from Frank Medina, Director of Zapata National Park, who discusses the joint pressures of tourism and conservation facing the park as well as the Park’s many successes. The Ciénaga de Zapata is both a designated national park and UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. With expansive tracts of dense forests and mangrove-lined swampland, the peninsula is wild and largely untouched. Wildlife such as crocodiles, iguana, flamingos, and boars inhabit the wetlands, and it’s one Cuba’s main attractions for birders who can find endemic species such as the Cuban pygmy owl, bee hummingbird and Zapata rail. Frank is a lively speaker and after the informative discussion, we enjoy a festive dinner of delicious, authentic Cuban fare. Breakfast, lunch and dinner included.

Day 4Snorkeling – Hiking – Playa Giron and to Trinidad

Our morning is spent exploring Zapata National Park. We drive along the coast to our favorite snorkeling spot where colorful fish and healthy reefs make for a fascinating hour as we learn about Cuba’s marine conservation program. Cuba boasts the healthiest reef systems in all the Caribbean.

Then it’s on to a hidden trail that weaves through the forest among cenotes (sinkholes) common in this limestone geology. It’s also an excellent birding area and we may see the Key West quail-dove, Cuban bullfinch, and Cuban peewee.

Next up is the small town of Playa Giron to visit the Museum of the Bay of Pigs Invasion. The town’s name comes from the French pirate Gilbert Girón. Girón’s decapitation at the hands of angry locals has been remembered by history through his Playa namesake. After lunch in a local restaurant, we drive east to Trinidad. One of the best-preserved colonial towns in Cuba, Trinidad has eschewed many modern enterprises in favor of old-world charm. We enjoy a walking tour of the preserved Spanish colonial settlement—now a UNESCO World Heritage Site—where the grand tastes of the past are very much sentient in the Italian frescoes, finely wrought chandeliers, and bone china still gracing the plantation-era mansions. Breakfast, lunch and dinner included.

Day 5Topes de Collantes Nature Reserve

We depart early to drive up into the crenellated, Caribbean pine-coated Sierra Escambray mountains (sometimes known as the Guamuhaya mountains). Within the long stretch of mountains lies the Gran Parque Natural Topes de Collantes. Though Topes is not considered a national park in the strictest of senses, it is highly protected by the Cuban government as are the four smaller parks that make up the umbrella park, Topes. Weather, the group’s ability and current conditions determine which hiking trail we enjoy along with our local park guide. One option is the Salto del Caburní trail, a 5km round-trip hike that leads to a 62m waterfall that crashes down overhanging cliffs into swimming holes below. The rushing water tumbles into a clefted chasm where only the most intrepid adrenaline junkies dare to jump. If the water levels are low we may choose to go on the Vegas Grandes hike, that leads through the fern and pine forests before finishing at a waterfall and pool as well.

Another option is to hike the Sendero La Batata, or Sweet Potato, Trail. This 6km hike takes us through the forest to a prehistoric cave and its underwater river. This trail explores forests rich with lichens and mosses and lucid pools disrupted only by crashing waterfalls.

We return to Trinidad by mid to late afternoon. There we have a People-to-People meeting with Julio Munoz, an acclaimed photographer whose published work of Trinidad has brought a town evocative of the past into the public eye or perhaps another local artist to learn about the importance of the arts in Cuban culture.
We arrive at our eco-lodge by noon and meet our hosts, members of a community-based tourism project and from the Tacana indigenous group. After a refreshing tropical juice and a delicious lunch, we’ll make our first foray into the rainforest. The focus of our walk will be all of the useful plants of the rainforest that the Tacana people use in their communities, from medicine to building materials and foods. As the sun begins to descend, we may even catch a glimpse of local troops of monkeys and peccaries! Dinner is back at the lodge and you have the rest of the evening to relax. Breakfast, lunch and dinner included.

Day 6Farm tour, Cienfuegos Botanical Gardens, and Cienfuegos City

Leaving Trinidad we drive along the Caribbean coast and stop where a small river enters the sea. We take a one mile walk to learn about mangrove ecology, as well as visiting a local farm where we have a chance to learn about the agrarian reform instituted by the revolution in the early 1960’s. Next we visit the Jardin Botanico Cienfuegos to explore this renowned botanical garden with a knowledgeable local guide during a pleasant and easy walking tour. We see some of the over 2000 species of plants in the gardens that were the passion of American sugar baron Edward F. Atkins. He founded the place in 1901 with the idea of introducing new sugarcane varieties, but instead, transplanted tropical trees from around the world. Now, the Jardin Botanico Cienfuegos is one of Cuba’s largest gardens where we have the opportunity to learn about another twist in Cuban history.

With its French flair and Caribbean verve, Cienfuegos is one of Cuba’s most seductive cities. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the French-colonial town sits on the coast, and visitors are drawn to the glittering waters as well as the eclectic colonial architecture. After lunch we begin our walking tour of Cienfuegos’ urban historic center at Parqué Jose Martí, the site of many of Cienfuegos’ most impressive buildings such as the 19th-century neoclassical Santa Iglesia Catedral de la Purísima Concepción, the French and Italian influenced Tomás Terry theater, and the Palacio del Ayuntamiento. A special People-to-People visit today will be a musical performance with one of the musical groups in town, such as the Cantores de Cienfuegos or the local chamber orchestra.

Day 7To Havana

We depart Cienfuegos for the 3 hour drive to Havana. Once there, we set off on a walking tour of Havana Vieja, sometimes known as Colonial or Old Habana. We stop for lunch in one of the city’s fine paladars. Rejuvenated we stroll down Obispo Street and visit historic sites of revolution and colonialism such as the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales, the Museo de la Cuidad, the Plaza de Armas, the Plaza de la Catedral, and the Catedral de San Cristóbal de La Habana. As we walk, we learn more of Havana’s turbulent past of plundering privates and affluent colonials as well as the Cubans of today, many who have come to the busy city with hopes for the future.

After an afternoon on our feet, we enjoy a classic car ride to see more of the city including the neighborhoods of Vedado and Miramar. Finally, we relax with a fine dinner at one of Havana’s best paladars. If you want to explore the city’s music scene there are plenty of options after dinner. One is the very hip Fabrica des Artes, where the best of Cuba’s avant-garde art can be experienced. There’s also a couple of jazz clubs and many other options. Breakfast, lunch and dinner included.

Day 8Farewell Cuba!

This morning we offer one airport transfer at a time that matches the departure time of the majority of the group. For flights that don’t match up well, we recommend you take a taxi to the airport at your convenience (not included.)

Or, for those wishing to spend more time in Havana, we can offer a two-day Havana Extension. Breakfast included.

Tour Details

This tour is offered October through May and can be done either by group departure (contact us for available dates) or a private departure.  Each group tour has up to 16 spaces available, depending on the number of solo travelers and available accommodations.  There is a single supplement of $500.

Note: Christmas departures have a supplemental cost ($300 per person) due to increased prices for accommodations.

If you are traveling solo and wish to be paired up with another solo traveler of the same gender in order to avoid the single supplement fee, please let contact us. We will do our best to find another traveler to pair you with, however, if there is not another solo traveler of the same gender willing to share on your trip, you will be charged the single supplement fee.

Price Includes

  • Accommodations
  • Bilingual Professional Guides
  • Specialized Activity Guides & Equipment
  • Meals as Indicated in Itinerary
  • All Entrance Fees
  • All In-Country Transportation
  • Clean Drinking Water at All Times
  • Gratuities for Presenters, Luggage & Restaurant Staff

Price Excludes

  • International Flights
  • Cuba Tourist Visa Fee ($50-$100)
  • Gratuities for Guide & Driver
  • Any Private Expenses
  • Travel Insurance
  • Meals Not Specified

Optional Activities

  • 2 Day Havana Extension
  • Alternative Kayaking or Biking Tour (8 Days)
  • Alternative Eastern Cuba Tour (7 Days)