Arrive in Havana at any time. Check into our hotel and enjoy the city.
One of the oldest cities in the western hemisphere, Havana was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1982. It contains a wealth of colonial architecture, and the old city and streets around the malecon (ocean-side walkway) are best discovered on a walking tour, which will be provided by your Chief Experience Officer (CEO) on Day 2.
The Spaniard Diego Velázquez moved San Cristobal de la Habana in 1519 from its original site to its present location and the city remained a port of relative obscurity, within the empire, until gold and silver began to flow from New World mines back to Spain. Havana became the gathering hub for shipments of treasure from the ports of Cartagena (Colombia) and Veracruz (Mexico).
Soon pirates turned their attention to the port and the city of Havana and its annual treasure trove became the number one target for the Dutch, English and French. Eventually the Spanish began construction of various forts and a protecting wall to repel the invaders. Nevertheless, the city was sacked in 1762 and held by the British under the command of Lord Albermale for nearly a year. Eventually, the Spanish exchanged the Florida territory in trade for the island. The end of the British occupation also signalled the beginning of more economic freedom for the islanders, as they were given the right to trade with cities other than Cadiz in Spain. The ensuing economic boom translated into steady growth in population and material progress.
In the morning fly to Santiago de Cuba, the cradle of the Revolution, and home of traditional son rhythms. There are also museums, colonial churches and buildings of more recent historical importance, such as the Moncada Barracks, which are well worth exploring. Santiago has a very vibrant traditional music scene that will entice even the shyest dancer out to experiment with some salsa moves! Upon arrival, your Chief Experience Officer (CEO) will take you on an orientation walk around town to help you get your bearings.
The city was one of many founded by Velásquez and one of its first Mayors was the future conquistador of Mexico, Hernán Cortés. For nearly one hundred years the city functioned as the island’s capital and seat of power. However, it suffered through various pirate attacks, as well as through natural disasters and the entire region quickly became isolated from the rest of the island.
Santiago and the Oriente (east) have a large Afro-Cuban population. Many Africans were brought in as slaves to replace the dying indigenous people as labour force in the mines and ranches. The same slave rebellion that brought an influx of French refugees to the Trinidad area had the same effect on Santiago, and spurred the area’s coffee and sugar cane cultivation. Santiago and the Oriente were the seat of various movements of independence and rebellion. It is the birthplace of General Antonio Maceo, the revered mulato leader in the war for independence from Spain (you will see the massive statue erected in his honour in front of the city’s long-distance bus terminal).
Santiago also holds the title of “Hero City of the Republic of Cuba” for its leading role in significant events during the revolution. It was in Moncada Barracks that Fidel Castro struck out against Batista’s abusive government in 1953, undergoing the trial that allowed him to expound on the government’s excesses during his La Historia Me Absolverá (History Will Absolve Me) speech. The people of Santiago were the first to rise up in arms against government troops in 1956, and it was in Santiago, on January 1st, 1959, that Fidel Castro declared the triumph of the revolution in a broadcast message to the country and the world.
Located about 20 minutes drive from Santiago's city centre, beautiful "Castillo del Moro" castle will be visited in the evening to take part in the gun salute ceremony at dusk (weather permitting ofcourse). Declared Humankind's Heritage in 1997, the Castle of San Pedro de la Roca - also known as Santiago de Cuba's Morro Castle - was part of that defensive system in eastern Cuba, although its military impact was minimal due to a delay of several decades in its construction. Its main designer and architect was the famous Italian military engineer Juan Bautista Antonelli, who had been in charge of fortification works in the village of San Cristóbal de La Habana.
Along with La Socapa, La Avanzada and La Estrella, the fortress is part of the defensive system of the Bay of Santiago, and is considered the greatest and most complete example of military engineering of European Renaissance applied to the conditions of the Caribbean. According to history, the idea to build the fortress came from the then governor of that Eastern territory, Pedro de la Roca y Borja, after whom the castle was named. Construction works began in the late 16th century. Santiago de Cuba's Morro Castle, which has undergone reconstruction works on several occasions, is an architectural crown jewel of great esthetic and historic value that attracts thousands of tourists who visit the city every year. On its heavy walls and turrets, visitors can appreciate in all its magnitude the imprint of military architecture developed in Italy, Spain and Cuba from the 16th to the 19th century. Nowadays, the breathtaking fortress incorporates to the traditions of eastern Cuba a salute of artillery to the combatants who fought for the Island's independence, a ceremony that was first held in 2001.
For the ceremony, a group of artillerymen, dressed in uniforms like those worn by soldiers in Spanish-colonial times, uses a piece of artillery called Prince Pío, cast on December 19, 1805, in the Spanish city of Seville, and initially deployed at the Morro-Cabaña historic complex in Havana. The firing of the cannon also pays tribute to James (Santiago) the Apostle and Saint Barbara, the patron saints of the city of Santiago de Cuba and the artillerymen, respectively. Prince Pío, which was deployed on the platform of Naples at the fortress, takes its new responsibility and marks the moment in which the Cuban national flag is lowered in the castle.
The new attraction of San Pedro de la Roca for visitors, both nationals and foreigners, has its antecedent in the shots fired centuries ago from the Punta Blanca battery to welcome the ships arriving at the port. Despite its minimum military value, due to the delay in its construction, Santiago de Cuba's Morro Castle treasures nowadays the main exponents of the Museum of Piracy, an exhibit of an activity that the fortress was intended to fight.
Situated on a beautiful bay with the mountains of the Sierra del Purial in the background, Baracoa was the first settlement founded by the Spanish in Cuba, and was only accessible by sea until the 1960s. It is now a quaint colonial city with a population of approximately 50,000. There are numerous options for outdoor activities in the nearby mountains and bays. Upon arrival, your Chief Experience Officer (CEO) will take you on an orientation walk around town to help you get your bearings.
The name Baracoa is of Arawak origin for the word meaning “elevated land.” The town functioned as the island’s first capital for a few years, until that title and honour went to Santiago. The town remained fairly isolated from the rest of the country though, as the only link to other outposts was the ocean. The first paved road linking Baracoa to Guantanamó was finished in the 1960s, but the settlement maintains a small town, colonial feel, with its beautiful malecón, various forts built to withstand pirate attacks and colourful buildings dating back to the Spanish colonial period.
The best way to get around town is on foot and you will want to take time to visit places like the Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, with the impressive bust of the Indigenous leader Hatuey (burned at the stake for his refusal to accept either the Spanish, or their Catholic religion). El Castillo de Seboruco, Fuerte de la Punta and Fuerte Matachín are Baracoa’s 3 remaining constructions attesting to the town’s beleaguered past as a magnet for privateers in the Caribbean.
Outside of town the mountains and black sand beaches beckon to outdoor enthusiasts, with optional hiking excursions near El Yunque, the famous table land sighted and described by Columbus during his first voyage to the island and along the Río Toa. Playa Maguana and the smaller Playa Nava are both nearby and are accessible by bike or taxi. Parque Nacional Alejandro de Humboldt is approximately 40 km outside of town and well worth a visit.
Guantánamo Bay Naval Base is located at the southeastern end of Cuba (19°54′N 75°9′W). This base has been used by the United States Navy for more than a century. The United States controls the land on both sides of the southern part of Guantánamo Bay (Bahía de Guantánamo in Spanish) under a lease set up in the wake of the 1898 Spanish-American War. The Cuban government denounces the lease on grounds that article 52 of the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties voids treaties procured by force or its threatened use.
Days 7 Santiago de Cuba
We will return back to Santiago de Cuba. The city’s half million residents are also proud of their cultural traditions and you will find many museums and cultural associations and clubs around the city. Santiago is where son and boleros originated, and the richness of the island’s strong African heritage is evident through institutions such as the Ballet Folklorico Tucumbá, a world renowned Afro-Cuban dance company. The city is also well known for its vibrant and energetic Carnaval celebrations, and its Festival of Caribbean Culture.
Day 6 Camagüey
Your journey will continue east across the Carretera Central to Camagüey, the third largest city on the big island. It retains much of its colonial heritage in its buildings, plazas and its tinajones, large clay pots traditionally used in Spain and in its New World colonies for collecting rain water. Opt for a city tour and explore the narrow winding streets and impressive sites.
Camagüey has a rich tradition of cultural and technological leadership within Cuba. It is the birthplace of poet laureate Nicolás Guillén, whose brilliant Mis Dos Abuelos clearly captures and reflects the internal struggle born of Cuba’s tumultuous Afro-Hispanic heritage. Camagüey is also home of the Ballet de Camagüey, the second most important dance company in Cuba.
The citizens of Camagüey are also proud of their innovations, for Cuba’s first radio and television emissions were broadcast from Camagüey and the country’s first airport and commercial flights were planned and executed here. This is also a university town and has a rich cultural tradition. With its large parks and winding cobblestone streets, one will enjoy strolling through the city. That said, getting around can be a little tricky. The city was deliberately set out in an irregular and confusing street pattern, hoping to disorient any would-be assailants, but with a little patience and time you can explore its colonial treasures on a walking tour. Most noteworthy of its churches, is the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad, with its baroque frescoes. The Museo Casa Natal de Ignacio Agramonte is the birthplace of the leader of the revolt, against Spain, in the late 1860s
Overnight in hotel
Enjoy the beautiful scenery as we continue on our journey to the colonial city of Trinidad, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988 and home to lovely Spanish-style churches and great museums. Upon arrival, your Chief Experience Officer (CEO) will take you on an orientation walk around town to help you get your bearings.
La Villa de la Santísima Trinidad was founded by Velásquez in 1514 and the defender of indigenous rights in the Americas, Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas, attended over the settlement’s first mass. The future conqueror of Mexico, Hernán Cortés recruited sailors here for his future expedition into that land. It is a charming, small town with the green mountains of the Sierra del Escambray in the background, and the turquoise waters and pure white, sand beaches of the Caribbean Sea just a short distance away. The town and area also saw a lot of action during and following the triumph of the Revolution, as gangs of counter revolutionaries hid out and struck from the safety of the mountains. The Museo Nacional de la Lucha Contra los Bandidos and the Casa de los Mártires de Trinidad chronicles the struggles of this period in the town’s history.
Trinidad is the hub of the cultural activity, and you are never out of earshot from a group of musicians playing local salsa or son. The town also has the requisite Casa de la Trova, a mainstay of Cuban musical culture in every town, the Palenque, Las Ruinas, Teatro de Brunet, the Artex, the nightlife, the conga lessons and salsa lessons. Enjoy an included salsa lesson during your time in Trinidad.
Those visitors who wish to pursue outdoor activities will find Trinidad a haven for horseback or bicycle riding (don’t expect any modern mountain bikes though!). If an unspoiled, white sand beach sounds like what you're looking for, try snorkelling or diving in nearby Playa Ancón, just 12 km (7.5 miles) from town.
The nearby Valle de los Ingenios (Valley of Sugarmills) is where you will see some remains of the island's vast sugar cane plantations. The beautiful green landscape has attracted visitors from around the world who visit it for enjoying its historical and cultural attributes. Valle de los Ingenios was fairly inactive until the 1800s, when French refugees fleeing a slav revolt in Haiti landed here en masse and brought with them sugar cane cultivation. The new residents settled and farmed in the valley. Wealth flowed into the local economy from sugar cane cultivation and the area produced one third of the country’s sugar at one point. The sugar boom was terminated by the two wars of independence, but the wealth generated by the industry remains visible in the town’s once grand mansions, colourful public buildings, wrought iron grill work and cobblestone streets.
Indeed, the last three centuries have not only changed the landscape, but have left about 73 architectural and archaeological sites to be explored. There is a landscape of archaeological remains and architectural ruins that exemplify the town's vernacular and industry: the boiler house, the dregs house, the manor house, the slave quarters, warehouses, stables, distilleries, tile factories, bell towers, as well as other masonry works to dam and conduct the water of brooks and cisterns used in the recollection of rain water, among others.
Heading west along the island, we come to Santa Clara, a key city in the Revolution. Santa Clara is probably best known as the home of the statue of Ernesto Che Guevara at the Plaza de la Revolución. The remains of Che and his comrades who fell in Bolivia are interred in the mausoleum at this site.
Santa Clara was founded in 1689 by Spaniards hoping to evade the pirate raids on the coastal cities. Today it is a modern, industrial centre and holds a special place in the history of the revolution as the first large city to be liberated by the Revolutionary Forces in December 1958.
About 18 men, under the command of Comandante Ernesto (Ché) Guevara, fought against more than 400 heavily armed Batista government troops and captured the armoured train. There is a large monument deditcated to the derailing of this train full of armaments that was essential to the triumph of the revolution. Both the monument and the site are referred to as 'Tren Blindado'. The Museo Histórico de la Revolución chronicles the Battle of Santa Clara, and it is here that a gargantuan statue of El Ché was erected to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the revolutionary hero’s murder in Bolivia.
In the morning travel to Havana, one of the oldest cities in the western hemisphere. Once we are back in Havana, enjoy a walking tour of the city centre with your Chief Experience Officer (CEO).
The main area of interest to visitors is La Habana Vieja (The Old City), where walking or a taxi tour are the best modes of transportation. Your CEO will take you on an included walking tour of the historical centre. Points of interest in this part of town include La Catedral de San Cristóbal de La Habana, the Palacio de los Marqueses de Aguas Claras (which now houses a restaurant), the Museo de Arte Colonial and the Plaza de Armas, with its statue of Manuel de Céspedes (one of the leaders of the Cuban independence movement). The Palacio de los Capitanes Generales is also located on the Plaza de Armas, which now houses the Museo de La Ciudad. You will find the oldest colonial fortress on the plaza’s northeast sector, the Castillo Real de la Fuerza, whose construction began in 1558.
The city is home to various museums, and depending on your area of interest, there is practically a museum for everyone. One of the city’s (and the island’s) most prominent attractions though, are its music and clubs. Everywhere you go you will hear and feel the music and see people freely dancing in the streets. The island literally pulses with the beat and blend of Afro-Hispanic rhythms and movement.
Please note: the heat of Cuba may affect you upon arrival, with a general sense of lethargy and/or loss of appetite. This is no cause for alarm, it is simply your body’s reaction to the heat. Be sure to drink plenty of water and do not attempt too much in any given day.
Depart at any time.