Private Journeys

Signature Cuba: The best of the highlights

14 days from £2,476pp

Cuba


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Overview & Highlights

This comprehensive  highlights tour goes a step further than most.  Visit Havana, the Viñales valley, forested Las Terrazas and the best historic cities: Cienfuegos, Santa Clara and Trinidad. Wind down on a Caribbean beach.

  • Half day guided walking tour of Old Havana
  • Dinner at a family home (paladar)
  • Half day guided walking tour of Viñales Valley
  • Half day guided walking tour of Cienfuegos
  • Full day excursion, exploring Trinidad and visiting the Sugar Mill Valley
  • Half day city tour of Santa Clara with visit to Che Guevara Mausoleum

This holiday includes the main highlights of Cuba but you’ll dig deeper, with walks and private excursions to help you to understand how this country really ticks. 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. 

The trip begins in Havana, Cuba's inimitable capital, with its faded grandeur and pulsating rhythms. Head west to stroll around Viñales, a fertile valley with limestone mountains in the tobacco-growing region.  After a visit to forested Las Terrazas, an eco-experiment that really works, you’ll visit three of the country’s contrasting cities, Cienfuegos, colonial Trinidad and Santa Clara, each with a story to tell. There’s time to absorb it all on a sugar-white beach on one of the loveliest Caribbean cays, Santa María. 

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. 

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Day 2

Guided walking tour of Old Havana. Evening meal at a Cuban family home.

Your introduction to the city is a guided walking 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. 

Stroll 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, which you will have the option of hopping into and cruising down the Malecón. You'll have trouble keeping your camera by your side as iconic images flash before you round each and every corner.

Enjoy a home-cooked dinner in a typical Cuban home (paladar). Afterwards, if you like, you might choose to visit vibrant Café Taberna in Old Havana for music and dance  epitomising the nostalgia and lively Caribbean spirit of Cuba. On arrival, enjoy a welcome cocktail to kick start your night as the music gets underway, calling to mind the 1950s and featuring one-time resident mambo king Beny Moré. Talented dancers exuding charisma and flair will accompany the band to complete a quintessentially Cuban scene.

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Day 3

By road to Viñales, western Cuba. 2 nights.

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.

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Day 4

Half day guided walking in Viñales Valley.

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. Included is a 9KM walk through this beautiful valley; the trail passes alongside fields being tilled by straw-hatted farmers driving their oxen, and you may have the opportunity to visit members of a campesino family in their home, where they'll brew you up a coffee, roll a cigar and talk to you about life on the land.

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Day 5

Transfer to rural Las Terrazas. 2 nights.

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.

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Day 6

At leisure in forested countryside.

At leisure at Las Terrazas. 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. You have time to choose between optional activities such as hiking the trails, swimming under the waterfalls, bird watching or visiting an orchid farm or old coffee plantation.

Day 7

By road to Cienfuegos port, Pearl of the South. Overnight.

Today you head through the central heartland of Cuba, a transition between the pre-Revolutionary prosperous western plantations and the cattle pasture of the poorer east.  The elegant city of Cienfuegos is an important port town founded by French settlers from Louisiana in 1819. Its French founders left their mark in broad neoclassical boulevards, art deco façades and blond inhabitants but there’s also a strong Afro-Caribbean presence. This is a seafaring city with salt in the air; it’s the world’s primary sugar port. The ambience and architectural style is distinct from that of the rest of the island. 

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Day 8

Guided walking city tour. By road to colonial Trinidad. 2 nights.

You have a walking tour of this easy-going place, identified by the sobriquet the ‘Pearl of the South’, so very different from the other cities in Cuba. Later drive on to the city of Trinidad.

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Day 9

Guided tour of the city and Sugar Mill Valley.

Trinidad was 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 and evening entertainment continues into the early hours with dancing and music each night.

You’ll have a guided tour of the city and venture into the surrounding countryside, the Valle de los Ingenios (valley of sugar mills). In the 18th and 19th centuries, this region was one of the wealthiest as a result of its participation in the sugar boom. Visit the Manaca-Iznaga tower, climb to the top and enjoy some of the best views in Cuba. From here, the plantation owner kept a watchful eye on the slaves working in the fields below. The views across the valleys of sugar cane fields are breathtaking in the late afternoon light.

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Day 10

By road to Santa Clara, guided city tour, continue to island Cayo Santa María

Continue by road to Santa Clara (2 hrs). Half a century ago the capture of the railway here, by Che 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 Che Guevara. There’s a guided tour with time to visit the armoured train ambushed by Che Guevara’s revolutionaries, Che's mausoleum and a monument and plaza dedicated to the man and the Revolution.

Continue by road to the beautiful Caribbean beaches of Cayo Santa Maria.

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Days 11-12

At leisure on the beach.

Transfer to Cayo Santa María, one of a string of small tropical coral cayes (they form part of the Jardins del Rey archipelago) connected to the town of Caibarién on the mainland by a 48km causeway. 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 on the sand or take part in water sports organised from your all-inclusive hotel.

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Days 13

Transfer to Las Brujas and continue to Havana overland. Overnight.

Transfer by road from Cayo Las Brujas overland to Havana.

Day 14

Transfer to airport for international flight home.

Essentials

Tour info

Transport

8 scenic road journeys.

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.

Meals

Breakfast daily; lunch days 8-10; dinner day 2; full board days 10-12.

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. In Cuba there is a shortage of English-speaking drivers so many will only speak Spanish or at best very basic English.   

Summary Of Nights

14 days, 13 nights: Havana 2; Viñales 2; Las Terrazas 2; Cienfuegos 1; Trinidad 2; Cayo Santa María 3; Havana 1.

Currency

The unit of currency in Cuba is the Cuban peso.

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 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 couple more popping up in other cities, although these cannot be relied on. Maestro cards are not accepted in Cuba. 

Daily Spend

It is very difficult to give a guideline for essential expenses but a budget of around £35 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.

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.

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

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.

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.

APIS – Many countries now oblige airlines to provide additional information about passengers prior to the flight departure. This Advance Passenger Information (APIS) must be supplied to us promptly in order to issue tickets and avoid fare increases. We will provide the airlines with the relevant details if we are booking your international flights. If the information is not provided you may be denied boarding.

Journey Grade

Generally this holiday is suitable for all able, reasonably fit visitors, including families.

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 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.

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. 

What's included in the 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

Included Excursions

  • Half day guided walking tour of Old Havana
  • Dinner at a family home (paladar)
  • Half day guided walking tour of Viñales Valley
  • Half day guided walking tour of Cienfuegos
  • Full day excursion, exploring Trinidad and visiting the Sugar Mill Valley
  • Half day city tour of Santa Clara with visit to Che Guevara Mausoleum

What's not included in the price

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

Real Latin America Experts

  • Sophie Barber
    Sophie Barber - Travel Consultant

    Sophie lived in Chile before joining us and has travelled extensively across Latin America, from Mexico to the furthest tip of Patagonia.

  • Mary Anne Nelson
    Mary Anne Nelson - Travel Consultant

    Born in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, Mary’s insider knowledge and dry sense of humour make her a highly valued member of the Tailor-made team.

  • Lina Fuller
    Lina Fuller - Travel Consultant

    Lina's passion for the continent where she was born really took off when she moved to Córdoba to study, spending the holidays travelling between Argentina and her native Colombia.

  • Chris Rendell Dunn
    Chris Rendell-Dunn - Travel Consultant

    Anglo-Peruvian Chris grew up in Lima and spent much of his adult life in between London and Cusco as a tour leader, before settling permanently in our Sales team.

  • Paul Winrow Giffen
    Paul Winrow-Giffin - Travel Consultant

    After graduating in Computer Science, Paul spent seven months travelling from Colombia to Argentina and came home hooked on Latin America.

  • Hannah Donaldson
    Hannah Donaldson - Travel Consultant

    Having spent part of her childhood in Colombia and worked in Brazil and Costa Rica, Hannah's ties to Latin America run deep. Hannah is an invaluable part of our Group Tours team.

Meet the team