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Active Cuba: Hike, cycle and salsa

16 days from £2625pp

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Active Cuba: Hike, cycle and salsa:
Trip Dossier

Most activities in Cuba are done at a slow pace: there aren’t many cars on the road; cycling and walking are the principal ways of getting around for the patient, laid-back population. This private holiday takes you all over the island but you will be exploring at a similar leisurely speed.    

Cuba is unique and inspiring; a socialist stronghold, with a rebellious history, colonial splendour in many of the towns, spectacular countryside and a Caribbean heart. Its vibrancy and friendly people will make a lasting impression.  Cycle round Havana’s historic centre; then travel by bus to colonial Trinidad for some hill-walking among cool pines. Cycle through the limestone country of the fertile Viñales valley; go walking in the historic city of Santiago. Hike in the Sierra Maestra, Castro’s pre-revolution hiding place. Finally, finish off your adventurous holiday at remote Baracoa climbing a tabletop mountain and relaxing on the beach.

Short itinerary

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in Havana. Transfer to hotel in the historic centre.

Day 2

Guided cycling tour of Old Havana.

Day 3

By bus to colonial Trinidad.

Day 4

Hiking in Topes de Collantes mountains.

Day 5

By bus to Viñales in the west.

Day 6

Explore the fertile valley by bike.

Day 7

By bus back to Havana.

Day 8

Fly to Santiago de Cuba in the east.

Day 9

Guided jeep safari and walk up the Gran Piedra; salsa lesson.

Day 10

Explore the city at leisure; transfer to Bayamo.

Day 11

Trek to Castro’s hideout in the Sierra Maestra.

Day 12

Bus to Baracoa on the eastern coast.

Day 13

At leisure on the beach.

Day 14

Climb El Yunque mountain.

Day 15

Fly to Havana.

Day 16

Transfer to airport for international flight home.

Detailed itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in Havana. Transfer to hotel in the historic centre.
 
Private transport to your hotel just off the main square in the historic centre of Havana. 

Day 2

Guided cycling tour of Old Havana.
 

Your introduction to the city is a guided cycling tour of Old Havana. The streets of La Habana Vieja were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982, and the subsequent restoration of this part of town has transformed it into arguably Latin America's finest colonial quarter, in marked contrast to the rambling, potholed streets and crumbling façades around it. 

Ride along the cobbles, between grand, pastel-hued mansions and bustling street life. Music seeps out of every doorway and the narrow streets are clogged with gargantuan, crumbling 1950s American cars. This leisurely tour takes you around the Cuban capital, stopping to view key attractions. Witness scenes of everyday Cuban life as you pedal along the picturesque streets. Starting from outside your hotel, you'll be guided through the working class neighbourhood of Centro Habana, downtown Vedado and the commercial centre of Miramar, then finally continue on to the Port of Havana to view the remains of the city fortifications.

 

 

 

 

Car and bike on Cuban cobbled street

Day 3

By bus to colonial Trinidad.
 

Travel by bus to Trinidad, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988. Its popularity has not affected its colonial charm and unhurried atmosphere.  You’ll be staying in a family home here for 2 nights. There’s a feast of terracotta-tiled roofs, cobbled streets and pastel-coloured buildings. Founded in 1514, the town was originally used as a base for expeditions into the 'New World'; its squares and churches date from the 18th and 19th centuries.

The town has hardly changed in a century, no suburbs creep out from its historic centre and no high-rise buildings obscure the view to the sea. Home-grown talent fills the squares and music venues in the evenings, when the town comes alive with dancing and the sound of salsa. Evening entertainment continues into the early hours with dancing and music each night.

Day 4

Hiking in Topes de Collantes mountains.
 

Guided hike in Topes de Collantes National Park.  The park is in the Escambray mountains which compose the backdrop to Trinidad and have an exquisite landscape of forests, waterfalls, deep valleys and lakes, perfect for hiking along visible trails.  On arrival you'll trek along winding paths up to the highest point (1,140m) and a spectacular look-out point. This area takes pride in being one of the healthiest climatic regions in Cuba. We recommend you take binoculars to make the most of the wide variety of tropical birds found within this enchanting natural environment. 

After the hike you'll enjoy lunch in a well-known paladar - a small family-run restaurant that serves delicious home-cooked food. You'll have the chance to bask in a tranquil pool en route.

 

Trekking in Cuba

Day 5

By bus to Viñales in the west.
 
Take the bus to Viñales, a small, bucolic town tucked away in the Sierra de los Órganos. The shady high street is lined with trees, wooden colonnades and single-storey, red-roofed houses. Horse and carts clatter along the main road and local children play baseball with sticks and stones outside the dilapidated whitewashed church in the main square. There is a splendid old chemist's shop and a few other bare-shelved stores, as well as a couple of salsa bars that attract a lively crowd in the evening.
Bucolic Vinales

Day 6

Explore the fertile valley by bike.
 
Guided cycling tour of the countryside. The valley has a distinctive landscape, with dramatic limestone mountains, known as mogotes, which jut into the sky from a lush, fertile plain. Using oxen and carts, local farmers cultivate the red soil of the valley floor for fruit, vegetables and tobacco, and the countryside is peppered with thatched curing barns for drying the tobacco leaves.

The biking tour stops at a prehistoric mural. You’ll also visit a tobacco farm to learn about the growing process of this high-value crop, stop at El Palenque and continue to enjoy a boat trip along a subterranean river inside the cave Cueva del Indio.  The tour lasts approximately 3 hrs.  

Day 7

By bus back to Havana.
 

Day 8

Fly to Santiago de Cuba in the east.
 
Fly to Santiago de Cuba, the island's most Caribbean city and a melting pot of Haitian, African and Spanish influences, reflected in both its architecture and its people. Cuba's second largest metropolis sits in a valley surrounded by mountains huddled around a natural harbour. Despite being a bustling hive of activity, Santiago retains the intimate air more associated with a smaller provincial city.  What's more, the city is jam-packed with culture and tradition, from the deep-rooted African religion of Santería to its conveyor belt of great contemporary musicians. 

Day 9

Guided jeep safari and walk up the Gran Piedra; salsa lesson.
 

Depart by jeep for La Gran Piedra, situated in the beautiful Sierra Maestra.  Visit the botanical gardens and continue to the ruins of La Isabélica, a coffee plantation where you can learn about coffee production in 19th Century Cuba. Of course, there is the opportunity to taste some of Cuba's finest coffee.

Later, climb to the top of La Gran Piedra, a huge bulk of naked rock with near vertical sides. Fortunately there is a walkway with handrail up to the top, from where climbers enjoy expansive views. Occasionally a regular car will be used instead of the jeep.

Salsa dancing is integral to popular culture in Cuba, the dance's birthplace.  Today you have a unique opportunity to learn new skills with a one-to-one lesson provided by a professional instructor. There are several centrally located live music venues where you can practice your new moves in the evening!

Salsa Cuban style

Day 10

Explore the city at leisure; transfer to Bayamo.
 

You have time to explore the city in the morning before heading off by bus to Bayamo, the capital of the Granma province and rich in history and nature. Low-key Bayamo is renowned as containing almost half of the most significant historical sites in the country. A stroll round of this city will help you discover some of the most significant sites, view the cathedral, spectacular colonial architecture, and enjoy the elegant houses and plazas.

Day 11

Trek to Castro’s hideout in the Sierra Maestra.
 

Guided hike into the Sierra Maestra National Park. This region is renowned for its natural beauty, history and culture.  You’ll walk in Turquino National Park to Comandancia de la Plata, Castro’s pre-revolution mountain base.  Perched on a mountain ridge sheltered by thick forest and now a museum, this was the head-quarters of the revolutionary army for nearly 2 years during the early days of the insurrection against the Batista government. 

Start with a steep 5km ascent from Santo Domingo village to Alto del Naranjo at the entrance to Turquino National Park. Here, there’s a look-out point with panoramic views of the plains of Granma. As you rise, there are vistas of wild, rocky mountain ranges crinkled with stream-carved valleys. The foliage becomes thicker and more exuberant as you climb.  

After a short rest, trek on to Comandancia de la Plata, where you have time to explore the evocative and historic site. You can view some of the conserved buildings, including the medical hut where Che Guevara treated farmers and injured revolutionary fighters, as well as the building that was Fidel's private quarters. On the way back, stop at Alto del Naranjo for a light picnic lunch, then descend to Santo Domingo.  If you are a wildlife enthusiast, take binoculars as there are many birds to be spotted.  

Castro's base camp in Sierra Maestra

Day 12

Bus to Baracoa on the eastern coast.
 

Travel by public bus to coastal Baracoa. This alluring historical town is found off the beaten track on Cuba's south-eastern tip.  Columbus was charmed by the area's beauty when he arrived here in 1492 and it became the island's first colonial settlement 20 years later. It's a lively place - full of local atmosphere and character. The surrounding countryside is verdant and tropical, and dominated by the table-top mountain El Yunque.

Your accommodation is at Playa Maguana, a lengthy curve of sand on the Atlantic Ocean, 22km from the city down a bumpy road. 

Beautiful Baracoa bay.

Day 13

At leisure on the beach.
 
At leisure on Playa Maguana beach. The soft vanilla sands, stroked by benign aquamarine waters are shaded by palms and backed with rich vegetation. There’s a coral reef about 180m from the shore where you can snorkel. The beach is within the protected biosphere reserve Cuchillas del Toa and the surroundings are completely natural.

Day 14

Climb El Yunque mountain.
 

Guided climb up El Yunque – the word means anvil, a true reflection of its shape. An imposing outcrop of limestone rock, which the Admiral Christopher Columbus immortalised on 27th November 1492 when he wrote in his diary "and at the head of it in the south east part, stands a cape in which there is a high and square mountain that looks like an island…". 

It's a challenging hike to the summit at 575m taking around 90mins. The climb follows a narrow, rocky trail between shady trees and there’s an abundance of endemic flora and fauna to interest you as you hike up and down the trails. Once you’re on the flat top, you have some great panoramic views.  It’s a full day’s walking, but with plenty of rest stops. 

Table mountain

Day 15

Fly to Havana.
 
Transfer to Baracoa airport and fly to Havana. Overnight. 

Day 16

Transfer to airport for international flight home.
 

Essential information

Airport tax

If you have purchased your flights through Journey Latin America, the international departure tax is usually included in the ticket.

Departure tax from Cuba is now (as of May 2015) included in  the price of your ticket.

Transport

2 domestic flights; 5 road journeys.

Accommodation

Accommodation on this trip is superior mid range. In Cuba standards of amenities and service, though constantly improving, can be erratic. You’ll find well-equipped rooms, private bathroom and air-conditioning in most and some local colour and special features.

In Trinidad you’ll be staying in a Cuban family home. The homestay concept in Cuba is not dissimilar to that of the bed and breakfast in the UK.  The main difference is that in Cuba generally all meals can be taken in the house and the food is generally of a high standard! Often an evening meal is obligatory on the first night but this could well be a sizable lobster. Rooms are rudimentary but homely and comfortable with en suite facilities. The level of interaction can depend on the owners – most have some basic English   ̶  and of course the guests. Most homestays in Trinidad are in a good central location. When we send your final confirmation we'll be able to give you the name of the house in which you'll be staying.    

Meals

Breakfast daily, lunch days 4, 9, 11, 14. Dinner day 3.

Guides

We carefully select our local partners; their English-speaking guides understand the expectations of our clients very well, and are consistently singled out for praise by clients on their return. Drivers on short transfers are likely to have very limited English. 

Included excursions

• Havana: Guided cycling tour of the old city.
• Trinidad: Hiking in Topes de Collantes.
• Viñales: Guided cycling tour of the countryside.
• Santiago: Jeep safari and walk up La Gran Piedra.
• Santiago: Salsa lesson.
• Bayamo: Hike in the Sierra Maestra.
• Baracoa: Trek up El Yunque mountain.

Summary of nights

16 days, 15 nights: Havana 2; Trinidad 2; Viñales 2; Havana 1; Santiago 2; Bayamo 2; Baracoa 3;
Havana 1.

Included in the journey price

• Services of our team of experts in our London office.
• Services of Journey Latin America local representatives and guides.
• All land and air transport within Latin America.
• Accommodation as specified.
• Meals as specified.
• Excursions as specified, including entrance fees

Not included in the journey price

• Tips and gratuities
• Meals other than specified.
• International flights to Latin America.
• Airport taxes, when not included in the ticket
• Optional excursions.

Currency

The unit of currency in Cuba is the Cuban peso.

Daily spend

It is very difficult to give a guideline for essential expenses but a budget of around £25 per day should cover the cost of meals not included in the holiday itinerary, drinks and the odd souvenir. Eat at the best restaurants and you will pay considerably more although in Cuba the best food tends to be in the smaller family-run eateries.

How to take it

Cuba imposes a 10-15% charge on dollar exchange. To avoid this, you should travel with a reasonable quantity of sterling or euro cash (no more than is covered by your insurance). Notes should be in good condition, soiled or torn ones may be refused. Both euros and sterling are accepted in most banks and some of the larger hotels. You can change these into convertible Cuban pesos (CUC) on arrival. Keep the official receipt from your transaction, because you will need this should you want to change any currency back to sterling or euros at the end of your trip. 

Credit cards (not issued by US banks) are also accepted in some places, but be aware that there is a 11% surcharge on payments made by card, including on cash advances. Havana has a few ATMs and there are a few more popping up in other cities, although these cannot be relied on. Maestro cards are not accepted in Cuba. 

Travellers’ cheques are another option, though these are gradually falling out of use (in Cuba those drawn on a US bank, eg American Express, will be refused). 

In October 2013 President Castro announced the abolition of the artificial Cuban Convertible Peso, allowing Cubans and visitors to exchange hard currency for ordinary pesos. This change is predicted to be in place by the end of 2014.

Tipping

Tips are expected and local guides often rely on their tip as a significant proportion of their income. 

Most service industry workers will expect a tip of some kind and so it is useful to have spare change for hotel porters, taxi drivers and the like. It is common to leave 10 - 12% in restaurants.

Many Cubans lack what we consider to be daily necessities, such as soap, plasters, bras, aspirin and stationery.
If you have room in your case for some such things, they will be hugely appreciated by the islanders.

Tipping guidelines can be found in our Briefing Dossier.

Insurance

Travel insurance is essential. Cuban authorities require visitors to have travel insurance, and specifically for the medical and repatriation element of cover to be from an approved provider. For example, Journey Latin America’s recommended insurance company is Campbell Irvine, and their medical and repatriation cover is handled by International Medical Assistance, who are approved by Cuba. Please check with your insurance company that their provider is similarly approved.  

Details of our recommended policy can be found on our Travel Insurance page. 

Journey grade

Generally this holiday is suitable for all able, reasonably fit visitors. The hiking and cycling is not strenuous, but some experience is advantageous. 

In Cuba there are often delays and occasionally cancellations – patience and a flexible attitude will be a virtue in these situations. 

Climate

As Cuba lies in the Caribbean, it has a tropical climate that is split into two seasons, one wet and one dry. 

However, Cuba is generally hot throughout the year (18-32°C) with regular rainfall and high humidity. The rainy season runs from May to October; from July to September, humidity can be very high. The east of the island is hotter and more humid that the west. Hurricanes and tropical storms are possible from July to October.

Clothing and special equipment

No special clothing or equipment is required although comfortable walking shoes or trainers, and sandals would be useful. Light, summer clothing will be adequate for these hot temperatures, and the dress code is very casual everywhere. Thin, long-sleeved garments may be useful for evenings, and a lightweight raincoat is the best protection against tropical downpours. We also recommend that you pack a torch as lighting can be poor at night.

Protection against the sun (sunblock, sun hat) and mosquito repellant are essential and you should bring swimwear. A daypack is useful for carrying sunblock, guidebook, water and any extra layers.

You might wish to bring your own helmet and padded cycle shorts , though helmets can be hired in Havana if you don’t have one.  

Please get in touch with the office before departure if you have any doubts. Good equipment is very important and hard to come by in Cuba.

Vaccinations

Preventative vaccinations are recommended against the following: typhoid; polio; tetanus; hepatitis A. For specific requirements you must consult your GP. 

You can also find helpful information on the Masta Travel Health website. 

Visas

Holders of a full British passport do not require a visa, although passports must be valid for at least 6 months after the trip begins.  A completed Cuban tourist card is essential for all UK citizens travelling to Cuba; we will organise this for you. Clients with a different nationality should enquire with us or check with the Cuban consulate.

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