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Family Cuba: Salsa, beach and vintage cars

15 days from £3,372pp

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Family Cuba: Salsa, beach and vintage cars:
Trip Dossier

This private family holiday opens up a new range of activities and adventures in Cuba, a country where the friendly and welcoming people adore children. The country has long been popular with a burgeoning crop of resort hotels but we are taking you further into the heart of the country to discover the colonial splendour in many of the towns, spectacular countryside and its joyous Caribbean heart. The trip is jam-packed with new experiences.

You’ll explore by vintage car, jeep and bike. The trip begins in Havana, Cuba's inimitable capital, with its faded grandeur and pulsating rhythms. Impromptu concerts suddenly pop upon street corners and in cobbled squares.  Visit forested Las Terrazas, an eco-experiment that really works, then head west to discover Viñales, a fertile valley with limestone mountains in the tobacco-growing region. Come face to face with hundreds of crocodiles on a wetland breeding farm. You’ll also discover two more of the country’s contrasting cities, Santa Clara and colonial Trinidad, each with a story to tell. There’s time to absorb it all and have fun on a sugar-white beach on one of the loveliest Caribbean cays, Santa María.

Short itinerary

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

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

Day 2

Guided tour of Old Havana by 1950s vintage American car.

Day 3

Matanzas city tour.

Day 4

Transfer to rural La Terrazas.

Day 5

Day trip to an old coffee farm with a dip in natural pools.

Day 6

By road to Viñales, western Cuba.

Day 7

Half day guided biking tour in Viñales Valley.

Day 8

Transfer to Trinidad via wildlife peninsula Zapata.

Day 9

Boat trip along Ancón beach.

Day 10

Family salsa lesson.

Day 11

Transfer to Cayo Santa María via Sancti Spíritus, and tour of Santa Clara.

Days 12-13

At leisure on the beach, water-sports options.

Day 14

Transfer overland to Havana.

Day 15

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 atmospheric hotel in the lively historic centre of Havana for a 3-night stay.

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Day 2

Guided tour of Old Havana by 1950s vintage American car.
 

Your introduction to the city is a guided tour of Old Havana in one of the city’s multitude of lovingly maintained, gargantuan 1950s American vintage cars. What a treat!

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.

Drive along the cobbled narrow streets between grand, pastel-hued mansions and bustling street life. You'll have trouble keeping younger children by your side as spontaneous dance, music and chat erupts before you round the corner, and seeps out of every doorway.

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Day 3

Matanzas city tour.
 
Start your guided tour with a visit to the Castillo de San Severino (1693), a sturdy fort from which the bay could be defended from pirates. It was later used as a prison and is now being converted into a museum of slavery. In the town centre you'll visit the French Museo Farmacéutico, which exhibits the original equipment including 19th century porcelain jars, pill makers, and even gynaecological equipment. Other places of cultural significance you'll see are the publishing house Edicciones Vigia, an art gallery and a puppet theatre. Outside town further along the bay you'll inspect the Castillo del Morrillo, another colonial fort.
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Day 4

Transfer to rural La Terrazas.
 

Travel on by land to visit the community project of Las Terrazas in the Sierra del Rosario UNESCO biosphere reserve. This is Cuba's premier centre for ecotourism, which offers the opportunity to get close to the local community, who coexist harmoniously with their surroundings. Stay at the much admired La Moka Eco-resort for 2 nights.

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Day 5

Day trip to an old coffee farm with a dip in natural pools.
 

Sierra del Rosario Biosphere Reserve sits on an impressive mountain range of tropical and semi-deciduous forest within the coffee-producing region of Pinar del Rio. The reserve is rich in flora and fauna and offers some the island's best bird-watching. Other notable wildlife includes bats, frogs and lizards.

Travel to Rancho Curujey and learn about the area's sustainable development project. Visit the ruins of Cafetal Buena Vista, a coffee plantation founded by French immigrants in the 19th Century. Learn about the history of coffee in Cuba, including the various processes.

Later, enjoy a canopy tour extending 800m through the forest. Visit the community of Las Terrazas, including the workshops of local artists, and then a stop for lunch at a local restaurant. Later, travel to the Río San Juan river pool for a refreshing dip in the clear, natural waters.

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Day 6

By road to Viñales, western Cuba.
 
Continue by road 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 one-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.

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.

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Day 7

Half day guided biking tour in Viñales Valley.
 
Enjoy a biking tour in Viñales with a stop at a prehistoric mural. 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 Cueva del Indio.  We cannot guarantee a cycling helmet, but our representatives in Havana can lend one to you, which you should return to the office.
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Vinales Cuba

Day 8

Transfer to Trinidad via wildlife peninsula Zapata.
 

Travel to the remote Ciénaga (swamp) de Zapata covering a large area at the southern end of Matanzas province. Part of it is a UNESCO biosphere reserve including the largest wetlands of all the Caribbean Islands, and is home to all manner of wildlife, especially birds such as flamingoes,  and trogons - the national bird. Other inhabitants include lizards, crocodile and rock crab. Crocodiles lurk in the shadows here. 

There is a great diversity of ecosystems such as grassland, mangrove, forest, coastal lagoons, coral reef and some delightful beaches such as Playa Larga and Playa Girón. The area is also famous for one of Cuba's most monumental historical events - the thwarted 1961 invasion by the US-sponsored Cuban exiles at the Bay of Pigs.

Your guided tour starts with a visit to Cuba's largest crocodile breeding farm where you’ll find around 100,000 reptiles kept in separate pools according to size, age and species. Next to the farm, at the Treasure Lake, you’ll board a boat and enjoy a 20min trip to a reproduction indian village.

Continue to the colonial city of Trinidad, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988. Its popularity has not affected its colonial charm and unhurried atmosphere. Low-rise, brightly painted houses with vast shutters open out onto cobbled streets; palm trees dot the main plaza. Evening entertainment continues into the early hours with dancing and music each night. You have 2 nights here.

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Day 9

Boat trip along Ancón beach.
 

Trinidad is just a few kilometres from pearl white beaches. Board a catamaran at Playa Ancón and cruise in style to Cayo Blanco - a typical white-sand Caribbean island - where you can snorkel along the coral reef and view a wealth of colourful tropical fish. Life jackets and snorkelling equipment will be provided. Next, enjoy a welcome cocktail or juice on the beach with a seafood lunch and a well-stocked Cuban bar.

After a few hours of soaking up the scenery and sun, you'll head back by catamaran. Bear in mind you'll need to take your passport with you on this trip.

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Day 10

Family salsa lesson.
 
At leisure in Trinidad. Make your way to the simple, yet characterful Casa Artex dance-hall to pick up some fancy new footwork during a private hour-long family salsa lesson. You'll be guided through the steps by an enthusiastic professional instructor, attempting the son, salsa, chachachá and mambo.
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Day 11

Transfer to Cayo Santa María via Sancti Spíritus, and tour of Santa Clara.
 

Drive to Sancti Spíritus. This city sits right slap bang in the centre of Cuba.  It was one of the original seven Cuban cities founded by the Spanish in 1514. Its colonial origins are evident in its buildings and layout, although it is not as exquisite and well preserved as the Trinidad to the south, which as a result attracts more visitors. Its neglect by governments through the decades adds to its charm for some.

Continue by road to Santa Clara. Here, half a century ago the capture of the railway, by Ché Guevara assisted by just 18 guerrillas, was instrumental in the triumph of the Revolution. Today, this vibrant university town is home to an excellent museum dedicated to the events of the late 1950s and to Ché Guevara. There’s a guided tour with time to visit the armoured train ambushed by Ché and his little band, Ché's mausoleum and a monument and plaza dedicated to the man and the Revolution.

Transfer along a breathtaking causeway to Cayo Santa María, one of a string of small tropical coral cayos (they form part of the Jardins del Rey archipelago) connected to the town of Caibarién.

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Cayo Santa Maria Cuba

Days 12-13

At leisure on the beach, water-sports options.
 
The little island (2 x 13km) is blessed with gorgeous powdery white sand beaches, mangroves and calm turquoise waters, ideal for snorkelling and diving. The eponymous national park has interesting wildlife, especially birds and reptiles. The island is served solely by a small cluster of resort hotels and has no real local village life. This is your beach time, relax together on the sand or take part in water sports organised from your all-inclusive hotel.
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Day 14

Transfer overland to Havana.
 

Transfer by road to Havana for final overnight stay.

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Day 15

Transfer to airport for international flight home.

Essential information

Transport

5 scenic road journeys ( Longest is approx 6 hours)

Accommodation

Accommodation on this trip is of a superior quality for Cuba (where standards of amenities and service can be erratic, but are constantly improving). You’ll find well-equipped rooms, private bathroom and air-conditioning in most and some local colour and special features, especially at la Moka Ecolodge. Accommodation at Cayo Santa María is in a large all-inclusive resort.

Meals

Breakfast daily; lunch day 2,8,9; full board days 10-13.

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.

Included excursions

• Guided vintage car tour of Old Havana.
• Jeep tour of Matanzas
• Activities at Las Terrazas.
• Guided biking tour of Viñales Valley.
• Full day guided expedition to the Zapata Peninsula wildlife reserve.
• Boat trip along Playa Ancón.
• Family salsa lesson.
• Santa Clara city tour.
• Activities at beach resort hotel.

Summary of nights

15 days, 14 nights: Havana 3; Las Terrazas 2;  Viñales 2; Trinidad 3; Cayo Santa María 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.
• 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.
• 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.

How to take it

Cuba imposes a 10-15% charge on dollar exchange. To avoid this, you should travel a reasonable quantity of with 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 convert 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 couple 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 Pesos, 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.

Airport taxes

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

Journey grade

Generally this holiday is suitable for all able, reasonably fit families. If your family has a member with a disability, please contact us for advice.

Bear in mind that there are some walking tours on this trip, though nothing especially demanding.  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 Sea, 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, and from July to September humidity can be very high. The east of the island is hotter and more humid than 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.

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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