Group - Discovery

Parakeet: Cuba Beyond the beach

15 days from £3,014pp

Cuba

Itinerary

map marker Map

Day 1

UK clients depart Thursday on a direct flight, arriving Havana, Cuba, the same day.

Jamie Swan ©

Day 1

Overnight in the capital.

Those passengers arriving on an international flight will be met at the airport by your local tour guide or representative who will escort you to the group hotel.

In the evening head out into Havana to hear to some of the all pervasive salsa which dominates the music scene. You may catch local people playing dominoes while you enjoy a cold mojito cocktail.

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.

Days 2-3

Fly to eastern Cuba and travel on to the colonial port Baracoa.

Fly to eastern Cuba, before travelling on to Baracoa, Cuba's most easterly point, and the first Spanish settlement on the island (Columbus landed here in 1492). It remained isolated from the rest of the country, only accessible by sea, until the construction of a mountain road, La Farola, in the 1960s.The town is set in a spectacular curve of mountains and feels as if it has been suspended in time; isolation has protected it from the excesses of tourism, and it's a delight to wander the streets and take in the surprisingly vibrant and authentic nightlife.

The surrounding region is one of rich, tropical beauty, and a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Excursions include a boat trip on the Yumari River, passing cocoa and coconut crops with the background noise supplied by a myriad of tropical birds. The more active may want to ascend 'El Yunque' an anvil-shaped mountain that dominates the skyline. The climb is steep and there are wonderful views from the top over Baracoa Bay.

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Day 4

Drive to Santiago.

You drive up and along the winding road crossing the mountains between Baracoa and Santiago (6hrs). You often do not see another vehicle as you pass dense tropical vegetation, with the occasional panorama over the coast. As the vehicle slows, people emerge from the forest bearing handfuls of tiny bananas or treats made from coconut to sell or swap.

Day 5

Explore the city and take in a salsa show at night.

Santiago is Cuba's second city and a town with its own pace of life; the city is lively, noisy and frenetic. From the rooftop of the Casa Granda Hotel in the main square there are views over the colonial centre and across to the glimmering waters of the Caribbean and the Sierra Maestra mountains.

You’ll visit to the Moncada Barracks, where Castro and his ill-prepared guerrillas launched their Revolution in 1953. It's a museum and a school now, but the walls are still riddled with bullet holes.

There are optional excursions in the surrounding area. Visit the Castillo del Morro San Pedro de la Roca, a fortress poised on the high cliffs which flank the entrance to the Bahia de Santiago or relax in the rural village of Cayo Granma, an excellent place for a peaceful meal. In the evening the city's mainly Afro- Caribbean population come alive and there is a fantastic music scene.

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Day 6

Drive to peaceful Bayamo.

Travel to Bayamo (2-3hrs), the second oldest town in Cuba, and the birthplace of Cuban independence in 1898. Set on the edge of the Sierra Maestra mountains, it is a relaxed, pleasant town. Unusually for Cuba it has little in the way of colonial architecture as most of its original buildings were destroyed in a fire in the late 19th century. But there is a pretty main square and a park, which you will stroll through on your walking tour and the inhabitants are laid-back and friendly.

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Day 7

Explore the Sierra Maestra; hike to Castro’s revolutionary hideout.

You continue an hour by road up into the mountains of the Sierra Maestra National Park. The region contains some of the island's most spectacular scenery; deep, lush, forested hills stretching as far as the eye can see, and the occasional vista down to the coast.

Its revolutionary heritage is legendary: it was in these remote mountains that Fidel and Che started the Revolution, gathering and training the campesinos who were to join their army, and planning their attacks on the incumbent regime. There is a visit to the wooden shack that served as Castro's base of operations, the Comandancia de la Plata, during the Revolution's initial guerrilla war. The Sierra is also home to Pico Turquino, at 1,972m Cuba's highest peak. You overnight in a hotel in the village of Santo Domingo at the bottom of the valley.

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Day 8

Visit the university town of Camagüey.

Today is spent travelling north to Camagüey (5hrs), a lively university city renowned for its ballet, music, and fine examples of unspoiled colonial architecture. You will see the characteristic tinajones clustered in patios and on the streets; these large clay pots were used in the colonial era for storing water in times of drought.

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Days 9-10

Explore and relax in Trinidad and on nearby Caribbean beaches.

Continue west to Trinidad via the Valle de los Ingenios (5-6hrs with stops). This is a valley of sugar mills, where you visit a farm and climb the tower from where colonists kept a close eye on the slaves working in the plantations below.

Trinidad was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988. Its popularity has not affected its colonial charm and unhurried atmosphere. Low-rise, brightly painted houses with vast shutters open out onto cobbled streets, palm trees dot the main plaza and evenings go on to the early hours with dancing and music each night.

There is an informal walking tour and a number of optional excursions available. Drive up into the shady environs of the Escambray Mountains where you may spot the national bird, the tocororo, along one of the walking trails whilst en route to a waterfall for a refreshing dip. Or relax beneath the shade of a palm tree at Playa Ancón, a wide stretch of white sand.

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Day 11

Drive to Santa Clara; visit Che Guevara’s memorial, continue to Viñales.

Leave the coast and head inland to Santa Clara (2.5 hrs). Over 55 years ago Che Guevara, assisted by just 18 guerrillas, captured the railway here, in a move that was instrumental in the triumph of the Revolution. Today, this vibrant university town is home to an excellent museum dedicated to the events of the late 1950s and to Che Guevara. There is time to visit the museum, Che's mausoleum and a monument and plaza dedicated to the man and the Revolution. Continue onto Viñales by private bus (5-6 hrs).

Viñales is a small, bucolic town tucked away in the Sierra de los Organos, in the west of the island. The shady high street is lined with trees, wooden colonnades and one-storey, red-roofed houses. Horse and carts clatter along the main road and 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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Day 12

Excursions and walks in and around Viñales.

The valley has a distinctive landscape, with dramatic limestone mountains, known as mogotes jutting 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.

Included is a guided walk through this beautiful valley; the trails pass alongside fields being tilled by straw hatted farmers and their cattle, and you may have the opportunity to visit a campesino family in their home, where they'll brew you up a coffee, roll a cigar and talk to you about life on the land.

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Day 13

Travel back to Havana via Las Terrazas.

Travel back to Havana stopping en route to visit the community project of Las Terrazas in the Sierra del Rosario UNESCO biosphere reserve. This is Cuba's premier centre for ecotourism, offering the opportunity to get to know the local community, who coexist harmoniously with their surroundings.

Day 14

Walking tour of old Havana.

Today there is an informal walking 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. Stroll along the cobbles, between grand, pastel-hued mansions and take in the bustling street life, the music that seeps out of every doorway and the gargantuan, crumbling 1950s American cars that clog the narrow streets. You'll have trouble keeping your camera by your side as iconic images flash before you around each and every corner.

The afternoon is free to further explore the atmospheric streets, visit some museums, do some last minute shopping or simply relax with a mojito.

Jamie Swan ©

Day 15

Return by bus to Havana airport. Depart on international flight or extension.

Day 15

UK clients arrive home the following day, Friday.

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Real Latin America Experts

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    Having spent part of her childhood in Colombia and worked in Brazil and Costa Rica, Hannah's ties to Latin America run deep. Hannah is an invaluable part of our Group Tours team.

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