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Active Cuba: Bike, hike, kayak

Active Cuba: Bike, hike, kayak:
Trip Dossier

Most activities in Cuba are done at a slow pace: there aren’t many cars on the road; cycling and walking are the principal ways of getting around for the patient, laid-back population. This private holiday takes you to the highlights of the scenic western half of the island, which you will be exploring at a similar leisurely speed. The activities are gentle, by no means hard-core, but you'll feel you've had some exercise come the evening. Stay at small hotels with an authentic Cuban feel.

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.  Cycle round Havana’s historic centre; then travel by bus to colonial Trinidad for some hill-walking among cool mountain pines. Kayak through tranquil Cuenfuegos Bay to survey the monumental Spanish-built Jagua Fortress. More walks await you at Las Terrazas, where sunny slopes are blanketed in coffee plantations. Hop back on a bike to cycle through the magical limestone country of the fertile Viñales valley.

Short itinerary

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in Havana. Transfer to hotel in the historic centre.

Day 2

Guided cycling tour of Old Havana.

Day 3

By bus to colonial Trinidad.

Day 4

Hiking in Topes de Collantes mountains.

Day 5

At leisure in Trinidad.

Day 6

By road from Trinidad to Cienfuegos.

Day 7

Tour Cienfuegos Bay by kayak to survey the huge colonial fortress El Jagua.

Day 8

Drive to Las Terrazas.

Day 9

Walk to Taburete Hill and coffee plantations.

Day 10

By private transfer to Viñales in the west.

Day 11

Explore the fertile valley by bike.

Day 12

Optional horse riding or hike.

Day 13

Drive back to Havana.

Day 14

Transfer to airport for international flight home.

Detailed itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in Havana. Transfer to hotel in the historic centre.
 
Havana

Transfer to your hotel on a lively corner of the Parque Central,  the historic heart of 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.

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Havana

Day 2

Guided cycling tour of Old Havana.
 
Havana

Your introduction to the city is a guided cycling 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. Ride 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. This leisurely tour takes you around the Cuban capital, stopping to view key attractions. Witness scenes of everyday Cuban life as you pedal along the picturesque streets. Starting from outside your hotel, you'll be guided through the working class neighbourhood of Centro Habana, downtown Vedado and the commercial centre of Miramar, then finally continue on to the Port of Havana to view the remains of the city fortifications.

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Havana

Day 3

By bus to colonial Trinidad.
 
Trinidad

Travel by bus to Trinidad, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988. Its popularity has not affected its colonial charm and unhurried atmosphere.  You’ll be staying in a family residence here for 2 nights. There’s a feast of terracotta-tiled roofs, cobbled streets and pastel-coloured buildings. Founded in 1514, the town was originally used as a base for expeditions into the 'New World'; its squares and churches date from the 18th and 19th centuries. The town has hardly changed in a century, no suburbs creep out from its historic centre and no high-rise buildings obscure the view to the sea. Home-grown talent fills the squares and music venues in the evenings, when the town comes alive with dancing and the sound of salsa. Evening entertainment continues into the early hours with dancing and music each night.

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Trinidad

Day 4

Hiking in Topes de Collantes mountains.
 
Trekking in Cuba

Guided hike in Topes de Collantes National Park.  The park is in the Escambray mountains which compose the backdrop to Trinidad and have an exquisite landscape of forests, waterfalls, deep valleys and lakes, perfect for hiking along visible trails.  On arrival you'll trek along winding paths up to the highest point (1,140m) and a spectacular look-out point. This area takes pride in being one of the healthiest climatic regions in Cuba. We recommend you take binoculars to make the most of the wide variety of tropical birds found within this enchanting natural environment. 

After the hike you'll enjoy lunch in a well-known paladar - a small family-run restaurant that serves delicious home-cooked food. You'll have the chance to bask in a tranquil pool en route.

 

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Trekking in Cuba

Day 5

At leisure in Trinidad.
 
trinidad

You can explore the lovely city Trinidad under your own steam, exploring all the little nooks and crannies of this exquisite colonial city, or opt for a guided city tour better to understand its rich history. You’ll be shown around the highlights and then venture into the surrounding countryside, the Valle de los Ingenios (Sugar Mill Valley). 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 breath-taking in the late afternoon light.

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trinidad

Day 6

By road from Trinidad to Cienfuegos.
 
cienfuegos

You'll be driven to Cienfuegos, which has a very different style and vibe from Trinidad. The elegant city 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 ambiance and architectural style is distinct from that of the rest of the island. Explore independently, or ask us to book you a guided walking tour. 

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cienfuegos

Day 7

Tour Cienfuegos Bay by kayak to survey the huge colonial fortress El Jagua.
 
cienfuegos

Cienfuegos Bay is a bowl of calm, sheltered waters where the only access from the sea is a narrow strait, guaranteeing tranquility. It's a perfect place for exploration by kayak, and this five hour adventure discovers the shores of this channel, which is guarded by the Spanish colonial Jagua Fortress, built following the instructions of King Felipe V in 1742. You shadow the eastern shore of the channel before crossing to the fortress, where you will have a guided tour. Afterwards, paddle along the western shore in front of fishermen's communities and sunken ships to cross back to have lunch at the Rancho Cristal restaurant at Punta Milpa. The trip is accompanied by a professional kayaking guide and before you set off you will have an introductory briefing before you set off.

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cienfuegos

Day 8

Drive to Las Terrazas.
 
las terrazas

Drive through the central heartland of Cuba, a transition zone between the prosperous pre-Revolutionary plantations of the west and the cattle pasture of the poorer east, heading to 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, whose members coexist harmoniously with their surroundings. Stay at the much admired La Moka Eco-resort.

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las terrazas

Day 9

Walk to Taburete Hill and coffee plantations.
 
las terrazas

Today's a day to stretch your legs with a guided countryside walk. The 8km hike starts with a winding path up El Taburete hill at the top of which you will be rewarded with spectacular views over the surrounding countryside. Later you'll visit to the ruins of the 19th century French coffee plantations, San Idelfonso and El Contento. The plantations were established by French refugees and their slaves from neighbouring Haiti, who had fled during uprisings in the late 18th Century. Afterwards, enjoy a well deserved dip in the Río San Juan baths. 

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las terrazas

Day 10

By private transfer to Viñales in the west.
 
Vinales Cuba

You'll have a private transfer 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 single-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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Vinales Cuba

Day 11

Explore the fertile valley by bike.
 
Vinales

Guided cycling tour of the countryside. 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. The biking tour stops at a prehistoric mural. You’ll also visit a tobacco farm to learn about the growing process of this high-value crop, stop at El Palenque and continue to enjoy a boat trip along a subterranean river inside the cave Cueva del Indio.  

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Vinales

Day 12

Optional horse riding or hike.
 
vinales

You have a free day in this gorgeous valley. You might like to get into a different kind of saddle - that of a horse. Riding along rural footpaths, with a local guide accompanying you, is one of the best ways to travel through the Viñales valley, offering you the opportunity to discover the region's flora and fauna. Along the way, you'll view tobacco plantations and caves - there may even be an opportunity to take a dip. If you prefer to explore on foot, there's also the choice of going for a leisurely hike where you will meet farmers from the region and visit a tobacco farm to learn about the production of what is still an important crop for the local economy.

If you'd like to know more about tobacco cultivation, you might take a tour dedicated to the plant. Cuba is of course famous for its high quality cigar: the habano. But how exactly is it made? While you are in the Viñales valley, where conditions are ideal for the cultivation of the tobacco plant, your guided tour unfolds a fascinating narrative of the process, starting with the planting of the seeds, following through to harvesting, the classification of the leaves, fermentation process, rolling of the cigars and marketing of the 28 brands. You'll visit the cigar factory and the Casa del Habano, where you will learn how to choose a good cigar by its size and shape.

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vinales

Day 13

Drive back to Havana.
 
Havana

You'll be driven back to Havana. Enjoy your last night with a meal at one of the city's growing choice of good restaurants, and/or take take a sunset stroll along the city's vibrant seaside promenade, the malécon, Overnight. 

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Havana

Day 14

Transfer to airport for international flight home.
 

Essential information

Airport tax

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.

Transport

5 road journeys.

Accommodation

Accommodation on this trip is in mid range properties, and a homestay in Trinidad.  In Cuba standards of amenities and service, though constantly improving, can be erratic. You’ll find well-equipped rooms, private bathroom and air-conditioning in most and some local colour and special features.

The homestay concept in Cuba is not dissimilar to that of the bed and breakfast in the UK.  Rooms are rudimentary but homely and comfortable with en suite facilities. Most homestays in Trinidad are in a good central location. When we send your final confirmation we'll be able to give you the name of the house in which you'll be staying.

Meals

Breakfast daily, lunch days 4, 9.

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. Drivers on short transfers are likely to have very limited English. 

Included excursions

• Havana: Private guided cycling tour of the old city.
• Trinidad: Hiking in Topes de Collantes.
• Cienfuegos: Shared kayaking adventure to Jagua Fortress.
• La Terrazas: Private guided walk to Taburete hill and coffee plantations. 

• Viñales: Private guided cycling tour of the countryside.

Summary of nights

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

Included in the journey price

• Services of our team of experts in our London office.
• Services of Journey Latin America local representatives and guides.
• All land within Latin America.
• Accommodation as specified.
• Meals as specified.
• Excursions as specified, including entrance fees

Not included in the journey price

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

Currency

The unit of currency in Cuba is the Cuban peso.

Daily spend

It is very difficult to give a guideline for essential expenses but a budget of around £25 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 although in Cuba the best food tends to be in the smaller family-run eateries.

How to take it

Cuba imposes a 10-15% charge on dollar exchange. To avoid this, you should travel with a reasonable quantity of 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 few more popping up in other cities, although these cannot be relied on. Maestro cards are not accepted in Cuba. 

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. 

Journey grade

Generally this holiday is suitable for all able, reasonably fit visitors. The hiking and cycling is not strenuous, but some experience is advantageous. 

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, 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; 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.

You might wish to bring your own helmet and padded cycle shorts , though helmets can be hired in Havana if you don’t have one.  

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. 

Visas

Many nationalities' 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 most foreigners travelling to Cuba; we will organise this for you. US clients should enquire with us or check with the Cuban authorities.

Water-To-Go

We’ve partnered with Water To Go to offer Journey Latin America clients a 50% discount on 7cl filtered, reusable water bottles with every booking. The bottle can be refilled at any water outlet and has a filter that eliminates 99.9% of bacteria and viruses, allowing the water to be safe to drink.
Contact your Travel Consultant for more information and to include the purchase in your booking.

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