Cuba - Walking, Music, Dance and Culture - 10th to 22nd November 2014

One of the most intriguing destinations in the world - Cuba is a country of fascinating contrasts boasting some of the most attractive, unspoilt scenery in the Caribbean.

The largest of the Caribbean islands, Cuba makes up nearly half the total area of the West Indies. It boasts the Sierra Maestra Mountains in the southeast of the island; not only are they the highest peaks in Cuba (1,972m), but also provide a truly spectacular array of flora and fauna and an immense diversity of colourful bird life.

We have combined an imaginative programme of guided walks in areas of outstanding natural beauty and UNESCO World Heritage sites with lively evenings in some of Cuba's best traditional music venues. Our trip begins in Santiago de Cuba from where we travel by private air-conditioned coach with our tour leader and local guide. Our guides will explain the colourful culture, wildlife and revolutionary history of their country. Guiding us through the historic cities of Santiago de Cuba, the second largest city in Cuba, and Old Havana a UNESCO World Heritage site. Onto Fidel's secret headquarters in the Sierra Maestra Mountains, through tobacco fields on Cocosolo-Palmarito Route and onto Las Terrazas in the Sierra del Rosario - Cuba's first designated Biosphere Reserve. A visit to the world famous Tropicana Cabaret on our final night in Havana rounds off our trip.

Accommodation is the best available in each location, from luxury hotels to traditional handpicked homestays offering you the chance to share in local customs and culture. We'll stay at a 5 star hotel in Santiago de Cuba, in Pico Turquino National Park in the heights of the Sierra Maestra mountain range, homestays in the small town of Vinales and for our final two nights in a 4 star hotel in Havana.

In order to reduce driving time, we have included one domestic flight from Santiago de Cuba to Havana.

The temperature in November should be around 25-27°c on average with 65% humidity. It is cooler in the mountains but overall this is an ideal time to visit Cuba.

Day 1 - Monday 10th November - Travel To Santiago de Cuba (D)

Arrive at the airport under your own arrangements for the flight to Holguin, departing from Manchester at 10:30 and arriving in Holguin at 15:30 local time. Check-in at least two hours before departure time, using your passport and e-ticket. Your seat numbers will be shown on your e-ticket.

We have a private transfer from Holguin Airport to Santiago de Cuba (a 2 hour drive) where we check in to the 5* Hotel Meliá (5 mins drive from the city centre) where we will be staying for three nights. This hotel provides excellent accommodation with en-suite facilities and air conditioning in all rooms. A large open air swimming pool with plenty of shade and a poolside bar and restaurant is the perfect place to relax and recharge your batteries after each day's activities.

Santiago is the second city of Cuba and the undisputed home of traditional Cuban music and dance. Its unique cultural mix of African, Haitian, French and Spanish influences and its geographical location on the southeast coast of the island gives Santiago a very relaxed, tropical atmosphere. The city boasts a wide range of live music clubs and dance venues which offer different entertainment every night of the week, from the world famous Casa de la Trova in the city centre to small local clubs in outlying neighbourhoods. We can explore most of the city by foot and it is relatively easy to venture further afield to the Sierra Maestra Mountains, nearby beaches and small islands.

Dinner and overnight 5* Hotel Meliá, Santiago de Cuba

Day 2 - Tuesday 11th November - Santiago de Cuba (BD)

Cuban art

After breakfast and a briefing with our local guide we depart for a guided tour of Santiago, visiting the main squares and key sites associated with the Revolution and the history of the city. There is time for an optional lunch before we visit the Castillo del Morro, the castle at the mouth of Santiago Bay, which has splendid views over the Caribbean and the Sierra Maestra Mountains. Our tour includes a visit to the Piracy Exhibition inside the castle, which describes its fascinating history and the role it played in guarding Santiago Bay.

After dinner in the hotel, we enjoy a concert of live Cuban music in Casa de la Trova located in the city centre.

Dinner and overnight 5* Hotel Meliá, Santiago de Cuba.

Day 3 - Wednesday 12th November - Gran Piedra/La Granjita/La Isabelica/Botanical Gardens (BD)

Today we have arranged a full day excursion outside the city beginning with a guided visit to La Granjita Museum, the farmhouse used by Fidel Castro and his men to hide the arms and cars used in the Moncada Barracks assault in 1954. From La Granjita we climb up a winding road to the top of the Gran Piedra route, and hike 20 minutes up the hill to stand atop a huge stone (Gran Piedra) to admire the view over the sea and inland. From here we continue hiking along a dirt road to visit La Isabelica Museum, a coffee plantation house which has been preserved in its original state. At the trail head there is time for an optional lunch or coffee break.

In the afternoon we hike down the hill to the entrance of the Gran Piedra Botanical Gardens for a guided tour of the tropical flower beds and trees. Our private coach then returns us to Santiago for dinner in the hotel. Later (after all, we are in Cuba), we have included a one hour salsa taster class with professional Cuban dancers.

Dinner and overnight 5* Hotel Meliá, Santiago de Cuba.

Day 4 - Thursday 13th November - Santiago/Bayamo/Santo Domingo (BD)

Cuban style

We check out of Hotel Meliá and depart by private coach on an interesting 3 hour drive to Pico Turquino National Park via the historic City of Bayamo. We break for a short guided walk around Bayamo including a visit to the Manuel Cespedes Museum. Cespedes was the first plantation owner to give freedom to his slaves in Cuba and set in motion a tide of slavery reforms that changed history.

After an optional lunch, we continue to Santo Domingo and check into 4* Villa Santo Domingo where we stay for three nights. We have time for a guided walk along the riverside to see sites associated with the Revolution. Dinner is in the hotel followed by live music and perhaps the opportunity to put our salsa skills to the test.

Overnight 4* Villa Santo Domingo at the gateway to Pico Turquino National Park.

Day 5 - Friday 14th November - La Comandancia (BLD)

Here we have a full day's hike in the National Park with plenty of wildlife, mainly birds,to see en-route to La Comandancia, Fidel's secret headquarters in the Sierra Maestra Mountains. We take a short transfer by jeep from the hotel to the trail head and commence our 4-5 hour walk. A packed lunch is included. Later, we return to the hotel for dinner and live music or a free evening if our dancing feet have deserted us.

Overnight 4* Villa Santo Domingo.

Day 6 - Saturday 15th November - La Platica (BLD)

Today we enjoy guided hiking in Turquino National Park including a visit to the small forestry community of La Platica. We enjoy 3-4 hours walking before lunch at La Platica refuge and returning to the hotel for dinner and a free evening.

Overnight 4* Villa Santo Domingo.

Day 7 - Sunday 16th November - Santo Domingo/Havana/Vinales (Travel) (BD)

Vintage cars

We check out of the hotel and depart after breakfast for Santiago de Cuba ready for the 90 minute flight to Havana in the early afternoon. On arrival we take a 2 hour transfer to Vinales and check in to hand-picked local homestay accommodation in the centre of town for three nights. All rooms have air conditioning, private en-suite bathrooms with hot water and access to a fridge. Homestay accommodation means that we are staying in someone's home (as opposed to a hotel). Genial hospitality and good home cooking is excellent in Cuba, and all the hosts are known to our agents personally. Breakfast and dinner will be taken at our accommodation each day.

Vinales is a small town located in the heart of the tobacco-growing region of Cuba. Dramatic steep limestone cliffs known as 'mogotes' rise out of the fertile red soil and provide a very picturesque backdrop. Single storey houses with red tiled roofs and wooden colonnades are common to the main street and there is a relaxed, rural atmosphere.

Overnight homestay in Vinales.

Day 8 - Monday 17th November - Vinales (BLD)

Vinales is the main tobacco growing area in Cuba. We enjoy guided hiking on the Cocosolo-Palmarito route which includes walking around the limestone mogotes and former mule tracks through the tobacco fields. We have lunch by the riverside, with traditional roasted pig on a hand-turned pole over a charcoal fire, rice, beans and seasonal vegetables. A local band will play traditional music whilst we dine.

In the evening, dinner and overnight is at our homestay and we visit a live music event in town.

Day 9 - Tuesday 18th November - Soroa Hiking (BD)

We make the most of our beautiful surroundings with a guided hiking day in and around Soroa. This is a small spa resort with views over the southern plains from the Mirador Viewpoint. It is best known for its famous orchid garden with over 700 varieties of orchid, 250 of which are endemic. Opposite is the entrance to the waterfall walkway, which is well worth visiting. Optional lunch.

Return to our homestay for dinner and a free evening.

Day 10 - Wednesday 19th November - Vinales/Havana (BD)

The Tropicana Club, Havana

We bid a fond farewell to our homestay hosts and depart for a 90 minute drive to Las Terrazas, the first biosphere reserve in Cuba with a resident artist community and a large lake, extensive forested hills and a number of interesting trails. Las Terrazas was established in 1971 as a model eco-community, and covers 260km² of the eastern range of the Sierra del Rosario. We can try the canopy zip line which soars over the tree tops and Lake San Juan, or there's optional swimming in the river rock pools. Polo Muntanez, a hugely popular Cuban singer-songwriter who died tragically just as he was gaining fame all over Latin America, used to live close by and his house is now a museum.

After an optional lunch, we continue to Havana (a 90 minute drive) and check into 4* Hotel Raquel or equivalent in Old Havana where we will stay for two nights.

Day 11 - Thursday 20th November - Havana (BD)

Today's walking is tour of Old Havana including a walk along the famous seafront promenade, the Malecon. After an optional lunch we have a guided visit to La Cabaña, the fortress at the mouth of Havana Bay with its wonderful views over the city.

In the evening we enjoy dinner and an evening show at the world famous Tropicana Cabaret, a fitting end to a fascinating holiday.

Overnight 4* Hotel Raquel or equivalent in Old Havana

Day 12 - Friday 21st November - Havana/Return Flight To UK (B + in-flight meals)

Free time in Havana before we transfer by private coach to Varadero Airport in the early afternoon (2 hours). Our flight for Manchester departs at 17:30 and we arrive back on Saturday morning at 06:55.

B = breakfast, L = lunch, D = dinner

Ideal walking country

Flights are with Thomas Cook from Manchester. Please note that the following flight details are the latest known and are subject to confirmation. All times are local. Flights from other UK airports can be arranged on request.

An additional night in Havana and the added comfort of upgrading to Premium Economy with Air France can be arranged on request. Travelling on 9th November.

Outbound - Monday 10th November 2014
Depart Manchester
Arrive Holguin, Cuba
TCX244 10:30
15:30
Inbound - Friday 21st November 2014
Depart Varadero Airport, Havana
Arrive Manchester
TXC353 17:30
06:55 (Saturday 22nd)

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