Cuba!! If you want to visit Cuba before it gets too crazy with hordes of U.S. tourists, this is the trip for you.
Enjoy a visit to Cuba our mysterious (to Americans) yet closest neighbors to our south. Until now, Cuba was the only country in the world off-limits to U.S. visitors.
Our one-week itinerary is optimized to sample some of the most interesting areas of Cuba. The tour takes your from the bustling and vibrant Havana, to its neighbors to the east and west including the historic Santa Clara, and gives you the chance to experience the more traditional and rural sides of Cuba, with stays in Trinidad, Cienfuegos and Viñales.
These places are the top favorites for travelers who have come to Cuba seeking authentic cultural experiences. While Trinidad presents us with beautiful white sand beaches, colonial architecture, waterfalls, and a charming village atmosphere, Viñales offers stunning mountainous scenery, sprawling tobacco fields and friendly locals.
This is a small group trip with no more than 12 people to allow us to travel around in a more independent, intimate way.
Why is Cuba so special?
For many travelers, Cuba ends up being an unforgettable and unique experience.
Cuba, with its mix of Spanish and African roots, is the largest, least commercialized, and most exciting island in the Caribbean. It is also one of the world’s last bastions of communism with a fascinating modern history.
Cuba’s relative political isolation has prevented it from being overrun by tourists, and locals are sincerely friendly to those who do venture in.
Perhaps this isolation from the more modern world has helped conserve the personality of the Cuban society. Cuba definitely feels like the pulsating heart of what it means to be Latino, with music, dance, and the fiesta being core to this.
Much of Latin America’s music and dance seems to originate in Cuba and likewise could be said about the Latino persona. Once visiting Cuba, many start to see the rest of Latin America as, culturally, a watered down version of Cuba.
Cubans can be described as gregarious, loud, expressive, open, warm, generous, and extremely friendly people – kind of like an Italian, or a Spaniard, but with added spices. To be immersed in this culture can be an exhilarating and uplifting experience.
Cuba seems to be lost in time, somewhere in the 1950’s. It’s not just the old American cars in the streets or the exquisite colonial architecture with peeling paint in Old Havana.
Instead, it’s a sense that the world of modern tourism has somehow largely bypassed the Caribbean’s largest island. This mixture makes Cuba an undeniably enticing destination.
Why go now?
Located only 90 miles south of Key West FL, Americans have not been allowed to visit from the U.S. for more than five decades. Because of its new accessibility, Cuba is understandably a hot destination where Americans will be pouring into soon.
The “real” Cuba as it is right now will be transformed into a touristy destination that will not resemble its current, authentic condition.
However, at the moment, there is still limited transportation options into Cuba, very little infrastructure to accommodate the tremendous influx of expected visitors, and still a fair amount of confusion & many details to iron out with our newly restored economic ties between the U.S. and Cuba.
There is a small window of opportunity now when relatively small numbers of travelers will visit as things continue to be figured out & the tourism industry on both sides works to get organized on the ground.
Our small, nimble, quick on their feet group is ready to move-out now while the window is still open to visit the authentic, pre-tourism Cuba. Clearly… the time to go is now.
This trip will be led by a fantastic, fully licensed, People-to-People small group tour operator who is authorized to work with American clients and has designed an itinerary to give you the most authentic, educational, and enjoyable introduction to this fascinating and complex country.
Day 1: Arrival Day Havana
Day 2: Havana
Day 3 & 4: Viñales
Day 5: Cienfuegos via Bay of Pigs
Day 6 & 7: Trinidad
Day 8: Havana via Santa Clara
Day 9 – Havana & departure day
*See the right-hand side of this trip page for a printable version of the full itinerary below*
Sat, Nov 5 (Day 1) – Arrive Havana
Arrive in Havana, Cuba via our planned flight. Yea for us! Easy, breezy air travel… with limited connections. We’ll be picked up at the Havana airport by our local guide with private transportation for our group directly to our accommodations. So welcome to Havana! …one of the most exciting cities in the world – definitely intriguing and unique.
Your base in Havana is in one of our Bed & Breakfast homestays in the middle of Old Havana, where we’ll stay in the home of a Cuban family. See “Accommodations” tab for more details. This will allow us to have a way more authentic visit then all the tourists staying in the government-run, not-so-great hotels.
This is our arrival day so no planned activities, other than to meet and talk about our plans. If we get in earlier enough, we can get started exploring Old Havana. But we’ll definitely head out to dinner together at a local paladar (privately owned restaurant) and perhaps check out the night life scene. [Meals: Dinner]
Sun, Nov 6 (Day 2)
In the morning we’ll enjoy a guided walking tour of the historic center of Old City Havana. In addition to visiting historical sites, we’ll learn about the impact of the dual-currency economy by visiting commercial centers where goods are purchased in CUC, and ration or peso stores, where goods are purchased in CUP.
We will end our tour with a visit to the fishing village of Jaimanitas and the home of the famous artist Jose Fuster. He has made his entire home, and much of the surrounding neighborhood, into artwork using tiles in mosaic forms. [Meals: Breakfast, Lunch]
Mon, Nov 7 (Day 3) –Viñales
We’re off to the super scenic village of Viñales due west of Havana… about a 4-hour drive. On the way, we’ll stop for lunch and perhaps a visit to the community of Las Terrazas and meet up with a local community leader who will share with us some insight into how the local society works.
Surrounded by picturesque limestone pincushion hills (“mogotes”), Viñales is a small and culturally rich village, with friendly and welcoming residents and wide variety of outdoor activities available. Exploring caves, hiking, biking, horseback riding or simply enjoying the views of the valley and sprawling tobacco fields below are all options.
Viñales is one of the more agriculturally productive areas, so an abundance of local seasonal fruit and vegetables is always available including enormous avocados and mangoes, pineapples, papaya, guava, and a several varieties of sweet potatoes.
It’s one of the cooler areas of Cuba and a nice escape from the hotter parts of the country. The nightlife is very active in this village with the local residents more than willing participants in dancing to the local live music. [Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner]
Tue, Nov 8 (Day 4) – Viñales
Options in Viñales include a tour of an organic farm to learn about sustainable farming in Cuba. We can meet our local farmer and his family who will show us around the organic farm and explain to us the methods used to cultivate crops without the use of pesticides.
Another possible option is learning the tradition of Cuban cigars from a farmer and expert cigar maker. Get insight on how the communist system works, how much tobacco they will keep, how much produce they give back to the government, how they make ends meet. You can learn about the process from tobacco planting to rolling the final cigar.
There is also an opportunity to learn to cook Cuban-style with a cooking lesson from a local chef using local ingredients for platos tipicos Cubanos like congri, potaje, garbanzo soup, ajiaco, and flan. [Meals: Breakfast, Lunch]
Wed, Nov 9 (Day 5) – Cienfuegos via Bay of Pigs
Today we head back past Havana to the French founded city of Cienfuegos, known as the “Pearl of the South,” through the densely vegetated Peninsula de Zapata swamp lands, and along the beautiful Bay of Pigs.
The landing of counter-revolutionary exile militia occurred here in 1961. There is a museum here that recounts the events of this conflict that resulted in the first defeat of a U.S. backed take-over in Latin America.
Cienfuegos appeal lies partly in the European flavor of its colonial hub with a wide Parisian-style boulevard and elegant colonnades. There is an ambience to inspire Cuba’s most celebrated Son singer to write the words “Cienfuegos is the city I like best.”
We’ll also make stops at a beautiful swimming hole (cenote), which resembles a huge natural tropical fish tank, and if the conditions are favorable, we’ll hit a local beach for snorkeling. Be sure to pack your swim suit and snorkeling gear if you have any (or you can rent it). [Meals: Breakfast]
Thurs, Nov 10 (Day 6) – Trinidad
For many visitors to Cuba, Trinidad is their standout favorite destination. No other colonial city in Cuba is so well preserved, and the local residents are extremely friendly and festive. The beautiful colonial city of Trinidad is home to numerous churches and many beautiful colonial buildings.
We begin with a cultural tour of Trinidad where we will visit various museums including the Afro Cuban temple to Yemaya and learn about the Afro-Cuban religion.
Trinidad is steeped in religiosity, none the least of which is Santeria, which is one of several Afro-Cuban religions. We will be invited to sit and learn about the religion and its deities from the official caretaker – a priest called Israel.
In the afternoon we’ll meet members of the Afro Cuban Folkloric dance group that perform Afro Cuban shows at the club Palenque to learn about the cultural and social importance that dancing has to Cuba. We’ll be welcomed into the venue where they train and perform before taking on a Cuban salsa class.
The thing however that visitors most love about Trinidad is the nightlife. Trinidad is probably the most accessible and intense in all of Cuba, with numerous live music venues and many dance performances every day of the week, all among the enchanting setting of old colonial buildings and the cobblestone streets.
There are no less than 10 live music venues all within short walking distance. Many of these have lovely outdoor settings in courtyards. [Meals: Breakfast, Lunch]
Fri, Nov 11 (Day 7) – Trinidad
Today we’ll learn about the history of the area and the local industry and biodiversity as we take a short hike to a waterfall outside of the city. On the way, we‘ll stop in a very simple campesino’s home to learn about life in the rural areas of Cuba.
We are near the lovely Valle de los Ingenios (Valley of Sugarmills) and Playa Ancón – where you can enjoy long stretches of unspoiled, white sand beaches. Scuba diving, snorkeling, swimming in waterfalls, and horse-riding are other optional activities.
After cooling off in the natural pools, we return to Trinidad where you’ll have the rest of the afternoon to relax and explore.
For dinner tonight we have a special bonfire BBQ at Playa Ancon with music and a delicious array of Cuban specialties prepared by our favorite local chefs. [Meals: Breakfast, Dinner]
Sat, Nov 12 (Day 8) – Santa Clara enroute to Havana
On the way back to Havana we first pass by Manaca-Iznaga plantation in the Valle de los Ingenios where we will learn more about Cuba’s slave trade. A 147-foot tower was built here to look over the slaves as they worked.
Continuing onwards, we stop in at the town of Santa Clara, a key city in the Cuban Revolution. Upon entering Santa Clara, we will see the iconic statue of Ernesto Ché Guevara, built to commemorate his death and that of the revolutionaries who died along with him in Bolivia. There is also a museum here dedicated to his amazing life.
We will have our lunch at a small family farm near Santa Clara and head back to Havana. It’s one final night of the tour in Havana, so we’ll chat about some suggestions for a farewell dinner and fun night out. [Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner]
Sun, Nov 13 (Day 9) – Depart Havana
Say good-bye to your guide and driver as it’s time to head back to the U.S. [Meals: Breakfast]
During our Cuba trip we will be staying in Bed & Breakfast homestay accommodations also known as “casas parrticulares”, which will give you opportunities to interact meaningfully with locals as well as your fellow travelers. Specific places will not be confirmed until the trip gets closer and the number of attendees is set.
Bed and Breakfast, B&B, casas, casas particulares, family stays, and homestays – these are all names for the same type of accommodation in Cuba. For most people, this type of accommodation is a major highlight of their visit to Cuba. The casas provide a great opportunity for travellers to interact with everyday Cubans.
The casas are consistently rated by travelers as better (more enjoyable & comfortable) than 3 star hotels in Cuba. They provide a very different experience to staying in hotels. The rooms are basic but all very comfortable and clean, and the families in Cuba will try to make you feel at home as much as possible.
While every family and every casa in Cuba is unique, with slightly different levels of comfort, the B&B houses we will use are much nicer than the average Cuban dwelling & even better than many hotels.
The casas particulares are a form of accommodation for foreigners in Cuba that is legal and formalized, and the rooms for guests are required to meet a certain standard of comfort for the house to obtain a license to rent. Think AirBnB. The fee that the owners of the houses in Cuba pay to the government for this license is quite substantial.
The houses we use typically have 2-4 rooms for guests. However with the recent change in laws, some homes now have up to 10 rooms. All casa particulares have either a private bathroom for each guest room, or a bathroom that is shared between 2 guest rooms.
All the bathrooms have a hot water shower. Towels are provided by the homestays and soap is also usually provided (although not always). Most rooms have air-conditioning while some just have a fan.
All accommodations are based on double occupancy (2 people per room). If you want your own single room throughout your tour, just choose single occupancy when booking the trip.
Depending on the size of the group, we might use a number of different houses. In this case, we chose 1 house as a “Base House” or (central house) which typically has more rooms and a nice common area for the group to meet.
We use this house as an arrival and departure point for the group, and as a meeting point for any excursions or activities with the tour leader.
Tour participants are distributed to different casas situated within a short walking distance of the Base House. Family members from those houses collect tour participants from the Base House. Typically between 1 and 4 group members will stay in each casa.
Most Cubans are very friendly and love to talk to you. In some casas the family members speak quite good English, while in others are happy to get the chance to practice their English!
But remember, all casas particulares used during our trip have excellent levels of comfort and service and have been carefully selected based on past guest feedback.
The price for this Cuban adventure is $1,899 per person, based on double occupancy (2 people in each room). This is high-season in Cuba, but we were able to keep this to under $240 per day…only a few dollars more per day than our Spring trips.
To guarantee having your own room for the entire trip is an additional $660 for the single supplement fee.
International airfare is not included. However, we will be looking for the best flight possible for our travelers into Havana! Pricing is not yet available for Nov 2016. Early 2016 airfare cost was about $450 from Miami to Havana roundtrip. Depending on the departure time leaving Miami (if it’s an early flight), an overnight stay in Miami on Fri, Nov 4 maybe required. Details to follow.
- 3 nights Havana Upgraded B&B
- 2 nights Vinales Upgraded B&B
- 1 nights Cienfuegos Upgraded B&B
- 2 nights Trinidad Upgraded B&B
- 7 Breakfasts
- 5 Lunches
- 4 Dinners
Included Activities (all scheduled activities)
- Havana – Canon ceremony including transport
- Havana – Walking tour of Old Havana -1/2day
- Havana – Fusterlandia Visit
- Las Terrazas – Entry and Walking Tour
- Vinales – Orientation Walk
- Vinales – Tobacco Farm visit
- Vinales – Organic farm visit with dinner
- Vinales – Cooking class
- Bay of Pigs – Museum of the Invasion
- Cienfuegos – Orientation Walk
- Trinidad – Salsa dance lesson
- Trinidad – Trek to Waterfall (including transport)
- Trinidad – Walking tour including 3 museums
- Trinidad- Special meal including Transport
- Santa Clara- Che Guevara memorial
Included in the Price
- Private transport between destinations
- Airport arrival transfer on group basis
- Airport departure transfer on group basis
- Activities as noted above
- Meals as noted (1 drink included, no desserts)
- Local guide throughout
Not Included in the Price
- International Flight – roundtrip flights from your hometown to Havana
- Visa fee & Departure tax (estimated $85 + $25)
- All meals not listed as included above
- Drinks (other than mentioned)
- Tips (guide, driver, local guides, meals, etc.)
- Optional activities/day-tours/excursions (may include additional transportation
We highly recommend TravelSafe® optional insurance.
Here are a few reasons to get trip insurance:
- Reimbursement for cancellation penalties (which can be 100% of your investment) in the event of an unforeseeable illness, injury or death of you, your travel companion or a family member.
- Reimbursement for cancellation penalties if you are called for jury duty, your home is damaged due to fire, windstorm, flood or vandalism or military leave cancelled.
- Health insurance coverage while traveling outside of the U.S. as many health insurance companies limit or do not provide coverage outside of the U.S.
- Reimbursement for unused portion of your trip if it is interrupted.
- Medical evacuation/repatriation expenses to an appropriate medical facility or back home in the event of a serious illness or injury while traveling.
- 24-hour help line for any travel emergency, such as medical, lost tickets, lost passports, and other travel documents.
In order to visit to Cuba legally, Americans traveling to Cuba must use licensed “people-to-people” tours. People-to-people is a designation used by the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to refer to travel to Cuba for educational exchanges that don’t involve academic study.
Simply put, it’s to describe travel to Cuba that is for the purpose of learning and engaging with the people of Cuba, not for school credit but to encourage and support the Cuban people and to promote independence from Cuban government authorities.
The goal may be that the more Cubans are exposed to the world around them, the more dissatisfied they will become with their current government, and hopefully that dissatisfaction will effect change.
These types of educational tours have been around since 2011, but prior to January 16, 2015 a company had to be licensed by OFAC to provide these tours; a long, arduous, and often expensive endeavor. Now these tours can be provided under the general license, which eliminates the need to apply to OFAC.
Visa or Tourist Card
Tourists from all nationalities need visas to travel to Cuba. This visa is called a Tarjeta del Turista ( ‘Tourist Card’). This card is not attached to your passport in any way, your passport should not be stamped if you travel to Cuba through a third country, and therefore there should be no evidence in your passport that you have travelled to Cuba.
Obtaining this Visa may depend on the airline and your port of entry. With airlines such as Mexicana, Copa, Cubana, Lasca, Air Canada, and some others, the tourist card can usually be obtained upon check-in at the airport for approximately $20 USD.
Otherwise the tourist card may be included in the price of your ticket – contact your airline about this. Usually the tourist card is provided to you blank and you simply need to fill in the details.
This includes the hotel name in which you will stay on your first night in Cuba. We suggest for passengers traveling on our tours to simply write the address of their joining home-stay accommodation.
There is a 25CUC departure tax you’ll have to pay when you leave Cuba.
Travel Insurance for US citizens in Cuba
To enter Cuba you are required to have Travel Medical Insurance, which will be checked by an immigration official when you arrive in Cuba. This will be included in the cost of your trip.
The mandatory medical insurances costs of:
Accidental Death Or Disability
The Insurer will pay the Insured Person or his/her Survivor the maximum sum in the event of any injury causing loss of life or permanent disability within 12 months of the injury.
In case of an injury causing a partial and permanent disability, the Insurer will pay the Insured Person, also within 12 months of the injury, a percentage of the insured sum according to an indemnity table that is available on request.
Baggage And Personal Effects
Loss or physical damage by rough handling of baggage, fire, robbery or transportation hazards are covered by the insurance policy. If the Insured Person suffers the loss of baggage during transportation by an airline that is a member of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the Insurer will pay the total insured sum.
In any case the Insured Person must present documented evidence to prove that the damage or loss occurred. Loss caused by negligence of the Insured Person is not covered.
Hospitalization And Medical Emergencies
An amount up to the maximum insured sum will be paid for costs incurred in Cuba for medical and dental emergencies, and for hospitalization and treatment, if the Insured Person becomes ill or suffers injury through an accident during the period of insurance. The Insurer will not assume payment for treatment of a pre-existing medical condition, known or unknown by the Insured Person.
Transportation And Repatriation
An amount up to the maximum insured sum shall be paid for the accommodation and transportation of the Insured Person in case of an accident or illness during the period of insurance coverage when such an event prevents the Insured Person from leaving Cuba on the scheduled date, or if the Insured Person dies. In the event of death of the Insured Person, cost of burial, special coffins or urns are excluded.
The Insurer will pay up to the maximum insured amount if the Insured Person accidentally causes physical or material damage to a third person or his/her properties.
Loss Of Travel Documents
The Insurer will pay up to the maximum insured amount the expenses of the Insured Person in obtaining new travel documents in case of loss or theft of passport, ticket or visa.
A cash advance up to the maximum insured amount will be granted by the Insurer in case a Cuban Court of Justice rules that a bail bond is required as a result of a legal process started against the Insured Person for criminal liability in an accident.