Explore more of the real Cuba you crave, sampling the country’s secluded natural hotspots as well as Havana! Conservancy Travel’s new Western Cuba & Havana tour encompasses a variety of ways for you to discover this enigmatic island. Surveying natural beauty such as the Vinales Valley, one of the “10 most breathtaking landscapes” by Lonely Planet, alongside one of the Caribbean’s finest botanical gardens and the crystal clear water of the shoreline, the itinerary also offers a robust serving of experiences focused on cultural exchange. Chatting with a former Cuban diplomat, enjoying VIP access to the Fabrica de Arte Cubano entertainment venue, filling bottles at a winery, and getting hands-on experience making seafood dishes and mojitos are just some of the planned activities.
This itinerary also available as a private trip departing any day!
Western Cuba & Havana Itinerary
- Day 1 Arrive Havana / Soroa Arrive in one of the world’s most intriguing countries, where you will spend a week exploring the real Cuba! Meet your guide and head west to Soroa. After refreshments, venture to the tallest mountain in Soroa’s Cordillera de Guaniguanico. Savor views over the Artemisa and Soroa Valleys during a festive welcome dinner. Enjoy this secluded vista while chatting with some of our local guides as we discuss tomorrow’s activities. More active travelers can enjoy a hike to the Soroa Falls. During this guided hike, take in the endemic flora and fauna as you venture towards the fall’s natural pool. Be sure to bring a swimsuit, and enjoy a refreshing dip in the cool mountain water. (D)
- Day 2 Soroa / Viñales Discover the Soroa Orchid Garden, one of the Caribbean’s finest botanical gardens. The temperature, humidity and protection of the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve have created a 35,000 square meter “Garden of Eden” with over 20,000 different plants and 700 species of exotic orchids. Walk with a botanist guide through the garden, learning about the research work done by the University of Pinar Del Rio. Venture further west to into the countryside, enjoying breathtaking landscapes along the national autopista. Continue to the Viñales Valley. In the picturesque town of Viñales, enjoy lunch on your own at one of the numerous outdoor cafés lining the main avenue. Stop to photograph the rugged mogotes, limestone karst outcroppings and lush vegetation at Los Jazmines lookout. Viñales Valley was named one of the “10 most breathtaking landscapes” by Lonely Planet. Visiting a tobacco farm is a must to learn about the cigar making process from where it begins. The tobacco plants are in its full splendor and the farm owner proudly shows us his farm while discussing the intricacies of growing tobacco in Cuba and selling it to the only authorized buyer: the Cuban government. During a short visit to the Despalillo facility, learn why only women are considered qualified to do the special work of separating, grading and sorting tobacco leaves destined to become fine Cuban cigars. This is even more interesting because of the social aspects at play. Return to Viñales, where lovely countryside houses, painted in exuberant Caribbean colors, are our accommodations for the next two nights. “Casa Particulars” are private houses which have been converted into mini-boutique hotels by the families that own them. Conservancy Travel has worked with several of the owners of these casas, which are in the best locations, to enhance their offerings for our guests. After check-in, we are off again to explore. Stop at a CUC store and bodega, a ration book store where locals buy subsidized goods in Cuban pesos. Here we begin to understand the contrast between the two currencies and the products locals can purchase with each. Tonight, dinner is at a paladar, where a local author joins us to discuss Cuba’s economic and entrepreneurial systems. (B,D)
- Day 3 Cayo Jutias / Viñales A rural road leads to the offshore island of Cayo Jutias. Along the way, stop at a primary school, chatting with students and their teacher about issues facing young people in Cuba’s most rural areas. Cayo Jutias is Pinar del Río’s most undiscovered beach. White sand blankets the northern part of the coast while the southern key is covered in mangroves. Meet local fishermen for a boating excursion along the shoreline. Discover a giant starfish bed then journey via boat thru the mangroves and on to a remote island for a traditional Cuban lunch. Enjoy time on this small island exploring while crystal-clear water caresses the shoreline. Later, discover a 116-year-old metal lighthouse built by the US, featuring an original, still functioning, French lantern. Return to Viñales and your casa. Tonight, you are on your own to explore the town. (B,L)
- Day 4 Havana Journey back to Havana taking in the countryside along Cuba’s national highway. It is very common to see horse-drawn carriages alongside the speeding cars — a gentle reminder of how simple many Cuban’s lives are to this day. Enjoy a performance of the Habana Compas Dance troupe encompassing the rich rhythm and flow of the island. These young Cubans are bursting with enthusiasm and energy while performing a mix of modern and traditional dances born from their Spanish, Cuban and Afro-Cuban heritage all the while playing a variety of instruments. Visit Jose Fuster’s Fusterlandia. Dubbed the “Picasso of the Caribbean,” this local artist has created an entire neighborhood of ornately decorated homes. Its humble growth is a result of one neighbor after another asking Fuster to decorate their home with his abstract, colorful tiles. Now, over 80 homes in this ornate neighborhood make up an incredible work of art created by one man’s vision of how to enhance an impoverished block of houses outside of Havana. Our accommodations for the next several days are in the Vedado neighborhood. Take time to check-in and freshen up before dinner. We are off to El Cocinero tonight for dinner, at your own expense, which features outdoor dining and is located beside F.A.C. — Fabrica de Arte Cubano. This amalgamation of art exhibit, local meeting place and entertainment mecca is uniquely Cuban. With its three stages and walls lined with rolling art exhibitions, F.A.C. has captured the attention of celebrities and VIPs from around the world. F.A.C. is an especially great location to mingle with local, artistically minded Cubans….both young and old alike. After dinner, enjoy VIP access to this venue and skip the lines. Your guide will escort those who are ready to return to the hotel while others wishing to make a longer night are free to stay. (B,L)
- Day 5 Old Havana Explore the resilient time capsule that is Old Havana, discovering her magnificent people along the way. Start our day in Plaza Vieja. Originally laid out in 1559, this plaza is Havana’s most architecturally eclectic square, where Cuban Baroque nestles seamlessly next to Gaudí-inspired art nouveau. Next, venture to the breezy Plaza de San Francisco, which faces Havana harbor. This plaza came to importance in Havana in the 16th century when Spanish galleons stopped by at the quayside on their passage through the Indies to Spain. The plaza is anchored by the Basilica San Francisco de Asis and Cuba’s first “Wall Street.” Pause to view the fountains and stop to pay our respects to the bronze statue of El Caballero de Paris (the Gentleman of Paris), learning the interesting story of why he was immortalized. En route to the Plaza de la Catedral, stop by the Ambos Mundos Hotel to visit Hemingway’s room and enjoy refreshments on the rooftop bar. Another Hemingway watering hole is on our route. La Bodeguita del Medio is where the mojito was perfected. Sample a street-side mojito and see if you like it. While surveying the Plaza de la Catedral, notice the traditional Baroque style in the anchoring Cathedral de la Habana. Outside in the Plaza there are usually local Habaneros dressed in traditional costumes eager to stand in for a photo – be prepared to tip. Stroll to our final stop in Plaza de Armas, Havana’s oldest square. Learn about the history and rich heritage of the buildings in this charming plaza. This is also where Havana was founded. From the City Museum (the former Captain General’s residence) to the street vendors trading authentic books and memorabilia that commemorate the Revolution, Plaza de Armas is one of Havana’s greatest treasures. Here at Plaza de Armas, you have time on your own to enjoy lunch at one of the many outdoor cafés and explore some of the many museum anchoring this beautiful square, such as the City Museum, the Archeology Museum, Castillo de la Real Fuerza, or the Museum of Natural History. Cruise through Havana in style in a classic convertible, stopping along the way for pictures and have a look at Habaneros going about daily life. This marvelously preserved automobile from the 1950’s winds its way past the recently renovated Capitol Building, the Grand Theater, and Central Park along Paseo Prado (the wide avenue separating Old Havana from Centro Havana). Continue along the Malecon past the reopened U.S. Embassy and through Miramar, where the wealthy once lived during Havana’s heyday. Next, venture through Vedado and stop at Revolution Square to see the spaces which were filled with crowds to hear speeches by Fidel, the Pope and more, before returning to your accommodations. Dinner tonight is at a local paladar. (B,D)
- Day 6 Havana Make a morning stop at one of Cuba’s cigar factories, learning how the famous Cuban Habanos are hand rolled, one by one, in a process unchanged for centuries. It is one of Cuba’s most coveted and sought-after exports because of its “forbidden” status for the past 50 years, not to mention they are some of the best cigars in the world. Visit the workshop of an artesian community that builds humidors for sale into the export market. While you can buy these humidors in galleries, it is unique to have the opportunity to visit their workshop and learn how this private enterprise works in a land of central purchasing and sales. For lunch, join a former Cuban diplomat and his family to hear tales of old Cuba, gain a perspective on daily life here, and answer any questions you might have. Explore the Cerro neighborhood, meeting an entrepreneur who owns a small-scale winery and serves as a member of the Cerro city council. The winery is a social project, where they recycle bottles and provide wine for the community as well as sustainable urban/agro project. They use local fruits to ferment for the wine. We can help them to fill some bottles of wine. Return to Old Havana with free time to discover more of Old Havana at your own pace, with or without your guide. Consider chatting with locals as you stroll the streets, or visit one of the many museums near Central Park, such as the National Museum of Art. Want to savor more of Havana’s nightlife? Tonight is ideal for an excursion to the famed Tropicana cabaret! Let us know in advance if you would like to purchase tickets (at additional expense). (B,L)
- Day 7 Havana / Cojimar Venture east of Havana to Cojimar, made famous by Ernest Hemingway’s love of fishing from this small village where he kept his boat. Characters met here inspired “Papa” Hemingway to write The Old Man and the Sea. Join staff at the original Ajiaco Paladar to select ingredients from the garden and transform them into their beloved ajiaco stew. We also learn to make seafood dishes, Cuban mojitos and more! After lunch, continue our homage to Hemingway during a visit to his estate, Finca Vigia. A local Hemingway expert guides you through his life in Cuba and shares some interesting stories. It was at Finca Vigía that Hemingway wrote much of For Whom the Bell Tolls. Shop for local art at Almacenes de Deposito San José, the central handicraft market in Old Havana. Located in a refurbished 1800’s port side warehouse, this mecca of paintings and sculptures offers any type of Cuban-made handicraft you can imagine include paintings, guayabera shirts, woodwork, leather items, jewelry and numerous apparitions of the highly marketable El Che. Our farewell dinner tonight is a traditional Cuban Lechón Asado (Roasted Pig) Festivity — the ultimate Cuban experience! Enjoy the back terrace at one of Havana’s most elite paladars. Enjoy a famed piro pig — as seen on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations and Eat the World with Emeril Lagasse — with traditional Cuban accompaniments such as congrí rice, cassava with mojo and salad. We’ll be entertained by a private band plus learn salsa! (B,L,D)
- Day 8 Depart Cuba Sadly, all good things must come to an end. The morning is at leisure before your return flight to the US. (B)
Things to Know
What is included in the price of our Western Cuba & Havana tour?
Your price includes:
- Accommodations & activities as described in the itinerary
- Expert private guide & vehicle
- Meals as noted in the itinerary
- Two drinks per person at each group lunch & dinner (local beer, bottled water, soft drinks, house wine if offered)
- Bottled water while touring with the guide
- Gratuities for included meals
- Gratuities for local site guides
What should I expect with touring Cuba?
Cuba is a country that is unlike any other in The Americas. It has existed in its own micro-universe for the past 50, or so, years. The island’s economy is developing slowly due to the economic embargo which has been in place since 1960. Please keep this in mind and adjust your expectations accordingly. Hotels, although comfortable, tend to be modest and do not typically meet international luxury hotel standards. Variety and ability to meet special dietary requirements are generally limited. Delays and/or changes in the itinerary may happen. However, the Cuban people will share the best they have with every guest to their country and the experience will be very rewarding, and possibly even life-changing.
How active is this trip to Cuba?
A trip to Cuba is an active one that calls for good health. You should be able to walk without assistive devices or the help of others a minimum of two hours at a somewhat brisk pace in order to participate in this expedition. The activities involve a great deal of walking on uneven terrain such as cobblestone streets or slippery trails, and standing, all of which will be in hot weather. You will occasionally have to climb/descend stairs and negotiate places where the footing is uncertain, often times without handrails. If you are in any doubt that you will be able to participate then check with us, and we will be happy to discuss it further.
- Visit a winery serving as a community recycling and social project
- Learn to cook traditional dishes during a cooking lesson & lunch at one of Havana’s original paladars.
- Explore Cayo Jutias, an off-shore island surrounded by endemic marine life.
- Hike & swim at Soroa Falls.
- Meet the locals during a school visit, dinner with a local author & home-hosted lunch with a former Cuba diplomat.
- Pay homage to “Papa” Hemingway while visiting his home, favorite bars & the sea-side village of Cojimar.
- Enjoy seven nights’ accommodation in casa particulars, villas or boutique hotels.
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