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Self-drive Cuba: Explore the east

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This holiday takes you not only to Cuba’s highlights but also to areas less visited by tourists in the eastern half of the country. If you are adventurous in spirit, the most rewarding way to travel around Cuba is to drive your own hire-car. You will relish the flexibility, and the ability to choose how fast and how far you travel before stopping to enjoy a sight or chat to the locals. Your hotels are all pre-booked for you.

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. Walk round Havana’s historic centre; then drive on to the far eastern tip of the country and back, visiting Cuba’s other historic cities: Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Sancti Spíritus, Camagüey, Santiago and Santa Clara. Drive through the wild mountains of Sierra Maestra, Castro’s pre-revolution hiding place, and continue to the Caribbean coast, basing yourself at the unassuming little fishing port Gibara to explore the attractive wooded bays and glittering beaches of the unspoilt northeastern littoral.

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

Transfer from the airport to your hotel in Havana.

Day 2

Guided walking tour of Old Havana. Collect hire car.

Day 3

Drive to Cienfuegos port, and on to colonial Trinidad.

Day 4

Walking tour of Trinidad and optional trips out into surrounding countryside.

Day 5

Drive to Camagüey via Sancti Spíritus.

Day 6

Guided walking tour of Camagüey.

day 7

Drive from Camaguey to Santiago de Cuba

Day 8

Guided walking tour of Santiago.

Day 9

Drive from Santiago to Gibara.

Day 10

At leisure in Gibara.

Day 11

Drive back east to Santa Clara.

Day 12

Drive from Santa Clara back to Havana.

Day 13

Drop off your car and transfer to the airport.

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Places visited on this holiday

Self-drive Cuba: Explore the east

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Havana
Havana is one of Latin America’s most evocative and intriguing cities - famously stuck in a time warp, with crumbling façades and junk shop furnishings, it streets choked with one-gear bikes and classic American cars. Technology-free, it embodies 1950s nostalgia. Nowadays a lot is being done to restore the baroque colonial buildings and squares, there are new restaurants and smart hotels, and local people are more involved in the modern economy. But the place hasn’t lost its romance, its colour, its spontaneity, or the ever-present reminders of its unique modern history. Just shut your eyes and listen to the music...
When's the best time to visit Havana?
The high season for visitors is Dec - Apr when the weather is usually sunny, mostly dry and not too humid, though there can be cool days. Hurricane and tropical storms are possible Aug - Nov.
What's the official language in Havana?

Spanish.

How do I get local currency in Havana?
You can purchase Cuban Convertible Pesos at the airport or in banks or money exchanges (cadecas). US dollars are not accepted so you need to take cash in sterling. Euros are also accepted but the rate may not be as favourable.There are some ATM machines which supposedly accept debit cards but they are not always reliable. You can also get cash with a credit or debit card (not issued by a US bank). You can change surplus money back to convertible currencies at the airport at the end of your trip.
What's the time difference between Havana and UK?

GMT -5 hours; usually there is daylight saving in the summer but it is a moveable feast.

What places combine well with Havana?

Anywhere in Cuba, transport links are improving all the time, there are tourist bus services and internal flights as well as car hire; Mexico’s Yucatán, with flights from Cancún to Havana, 1 hour 15mins.

How do I get to Havana?

9 hours 45mins on a direct flight.

What are the festivals, sport and cultural events in Havana?
Carnival: Havana’s carnival moves around date-wise ear upon year, but is always accompanied by parades, music, drumming and dancing.
International Jazz Festival: Havana, Dec.  Workshops and concerts. One of the world’s best.
There are many other cultural festivals in Havana most months throughout the year: dance, ballet, theatre, cinema, fishing and sailing.
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Cienfuegos and Bay of Pigs
Cienfuegos and the Bay of Pigs
The central heartland of Cuba transitions between the pre-Revolutionary prosperous western plantations and the cattle pasture of the poorer east.  There’s loads of history here, reflected in the racial mix and architecture of the port of Cienfuegos, Pearl of the South. 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 town is often visited in tandem with a stop at the Bay of Pigs, site of the ill-fated CIA-inspired invasion of 1961.
When's the best time to visit Cienfuegos?

Cienfuegos has a hot, steamy city but the drier season for visitors is Nov-Apr when the weather is usually sunny, mostly dry and less humid. Hurricane and tropical storms are possible Aug-Nov.

What's the official language in Cienfuegos?

Spanish.

How do I get local currency in Cienfuegos?

You can use sterling cash or a credit card to purchase Cuban Convertible Pesos at banks in Cienfuegos. There are also casas de cambio (cadecas) for cash transactions. The rate of exchange for euros tends to be less favourable.

The more valuable convertible peso (CUC) has been reserved for use in the tourism sector and foreign trade. In October 2013, as part of a package of economic reforms its value will be gradually unified with the lower-value CUP, ending a system resented by ordinary Cubans.

What's the time difference between Cienfuegos and UK?

GMT -5 hours; usually there is daylight saving in the summer but it is a moveable feast.

What places combine well with Cienfuegos?
Sancti Spíritus (106km) small, unspoilt colonial town; Trinidad (61km) the best preserved colonial town.
How do I get to Cienfuegos?

Cienfuegos is 270km by road from Havana, 56km from Santa Clara, 61km from Trinidad.

What are the festivals, sport and cultural events in Cienfuegos?

Fiesta de los Amigos del Mar: Cienfuegos, first week of July, sailing regatta and demonstrations of a medley of watersports.

Carnival: Cienfuegos, July-Aug.

Festival Internacional Benny Moré: Cienfuegos, Sept; celebrating the city’s most famous son, the internationally respected singer Benny Moré.

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Trinidad and the Escambray Mountains
Trinidad
Southeast of Havana, wedged between the south coast and the Escambray Mountains lies Trinidad, Cuba’s most graceful and cultured city, a UNESCO Word Heritage Site with a vibrant music scene.  For decades isolated from the rest of the country, this colonial treasure bypassed the 20th century, and is in its organic whole one of the best preserved baroque works of art on the continent, with delightful cobbled streets, palaces and museums. Not far away are sugar-white beaches, and the city has a backdrop of chunky mountains draped in woodland and studded with jade green lakes, a popular leisure area.
When's the best time to visit Trinidad?
The high season for visitors is Dec - Apr when the weather is usually sunny, mostly dry and not too humid, though there can be cool days. Hurricane and tropical storms are possible Aug - Nov.
What's the official language in Trinidad?

Spanish.

How do I get local currency in Trinidad?
You can use sterling cash to purchase Cuban Convertible Pesos at banks and money exchanges (cadecas) in Trinidad - the rate of exchange for euros tends to be less favourable.

The more valuable convertible peso (CUC) has been reserved for use in the tourism sector and foreign trade. In October 2013, as part of a package of economic reforms its value will be gradually unified with the lower-value CUP, ending a system resented by ordinary Cubans.

What's the time difference between Trinidad and UK?

GMT -5 hours; usually there is daylight saving in the summer but it is a moveable feast.

What places combine well with Trinidad?
Sancti Spíritus (55 km) small, unspoilt colonial town; Cienfuegos (61 km) the Pearl of the South. Beach time on one of the mangrove-fringed sandy cayes off the north coast – Cayo Santa Maria, Cayo Ensenachos.
How do I get to Trinidad?

A journey by road from Havana (375 km) takes up to 6 hours.

What are the festivals, sport and cultural events in Trinidad?
Semana de la Cultura, Trinidad, second week of Jan. Live music, dancing and exhibitions.
Carnival:  Trinidad, Jun. Complete with carnival queen and other festivities.
Semana Santa: Trinidad; processions and Easter celebrations, one of only a few religious festivals in Cuba.
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The attractive colonial city of Camagüey, historically significant with revolutionary fervour running through its veins, is also renowned for its cultural life, with a highly respected ballet company. The beautiful Spanish core (a UNESCO World Heritage Site and currently being restored) sits in a labyrinth of serpentine streets so built to confuse attackers. There is an 18th century cathedral with an unusual Moorish roof and a cloistered hospital transformed into a hotel. Picturesque Plaza San Juan is graced by the national theatre and paved with original cobbles.
When's the best time to visit Camaguey?

Camagüey is hot all the year around. The drier season for visitors is Nov-Apr when the weather is usually sunny, mostly dry and less humid. Hurricane and tropical storms are possible Aug-Nov.

What's the official language in Camaguey?

Spanish.

How do I get local currency in Camaguey?

You can use sterling cash or a credit card to purchase Cuban Convertible Pesos at banks in Camagüey and there is an (untested) ATM. There are also money exchanges (cadecas) for cash transactions. The rate of exchange for euros tends to be less favourable.

What's the time difference between Camaguey and UK?

GMT -5 hours; usually there is daylight saving in the summer but it is a moveable feast.

What places combine well with Baracoa?

Sancti Spíritus (168km) small, unspoilt colonial town; Trinidad (61km) the best preserved colonial town; the beach at Guardalavaca (217km); Santa Lucia resort and Playa Los Cocos for beach time, (112km).

How do I get to Camaguey?

Camagüey is 530km by road from Havana (6 hours) or 1 hour by air, 168km from Sancti Spíritus, 205km from Bayamo (2 hours 45mins).

What are the festivals, sport and cultural events in Camaguey?

City foundation: Camagüey first week of Feb; street parties.

Carnival: Camagüey, 24-29 Jun.

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Santiago de Cuba
Santiago de Cuba
Cuba’s second city, at the eastern end of the island, has a different ambience from the capital. Open to influences from other parts of the Caribbean and with a notable African presence, it has a vibrant tradition of music and dance drawing on all these cultures. The centre reflects this diversity, with a chaos of architectural styles, including art deco. Elsewhere the Spanish colonial influence dominates, with squat pastel houses shaded by palms and fruit trees. The city’s history and geography is interwoven with that of the Castro Revolution and is known as the Ciudad Héroe.
When's the best time to visit Santiago?
Santiago is hot all the year around but especially in summer when there is little breeze to relieve the high temperatures (Carnival, Jul, is a strong draw though). Oct is the rainiest month but there is plenty of sun all year around. Hurricane and tropical storms are possible Aug - Nov.
What's the official language in Santiago?

Spanish.

How do I get local currency in Santiago?

You can purchase Cuban Convertible Pesos at banks or in money exchanges (cadecas). US dollars are not accepted so you need to take cash in sterling. Euros are also accepted but the rate may not be as favourable. There are some ATM machines which supposedly accept debit cards but they are not always reliable. You can also get cash with a credit or debit card (not issued by a US bank).

The more valuable convertible peso (CUC) has been reserved for use in the tourism sector and foreign trade. In October 2013, as part of a package of economic reforms its value will be gradually unified with the lower-value CUP, ending a system resented by ordinary Cubans.
What's the time difference between Santiago and UK?

GMT -5 hours; usually there is daylight saving in the summer but it is a moveable feast.

What places combine well with Santiago?
Baracoa, (234 km) small, unspoilt colonial coastal town; Camagüey (327 km); Trinidad (581 km) the most well preserved colonial town; the beach at Guardalavaca (174 km).
How do I get to Santiago?

Santiago is 861 km by road from Havana (10+ hours) or 2 hours by air; 138 km from Holguin airport.

What are the festivals, sport and cultural events in Santiago?
Festival de Baile: Santiago, 15-19 May. 
A street dance festival.Carnival: Santiago, 18-27 Jul. The biggest and best Carnival in Cuba, incorporating the celebrations of the revolutionaries’ attack on Moncada Barracks on 26 Jul. Buildings are adorned with lights and there are parades and floats.
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Cuba
Cuba is the largest of all the Caribbean islands and one of the most fascinating. It has a unique and eventful history, mirrored in the outpourings of its rich culture of music, dance, and socio-political innovation.

The island also has stunning landscapes, from the unique limestone plateau scenery west of Havana through tropical plantations to the rugged mountains and forests of the Sierra Maestra in the east. Cuba is liberally dotted with pristine sandy beaches and restored colonial towns. While the façades of the pre-revolutionary period remain, they sit alongside increasingly efficient new hotels, resorts, roads and other tourist facilities.

Journey Latin America offers a diverse selection of Cuba holidays, suited to all requirements; whether you're a solo traveller, are looking to join a group tour, or are searching for a family holiday to Cuba.

Experience Cuba in comfort and style on our Luxury Cuba: Colonial classic and coast holiday. Stay in the country's top-of-the-range accommodation, explore the colonial streets of Havana and Trinidad, and soak-up the sun on the chalky white sand beach at the Caribbean island Cayo Santa María.

Join us for a group tour if you wish to explore Cuba together with like-minded people. On our Parakeet: Cuba beyond the beach holiday you'll get to visit colonial Havana, hike to Castro's revolutionary hideout in the Sierra Maestre and relax on the beautiful Caribbean beaches.

If you're adventurous in spirit, the most rewarding way to travel around Cuba is to drive your own hire-car. See the highlights of Cuba on the Self-drive Cuba: Best of the west holiday, or discover the less visited eastern end of Cuba on our Self-drive Cuba: Explore the east. road trip. Walk around Havana's historic centre, drive through limestone landscapes in the Viñales Valley and explore colonial gem, Trinidad.

Contact our Travel Experts if you want to experience a holiday to Cuba for yourself. We have nearly 40 years of experience in organising award-winning trips to Central and South America, so you can trust us to book a holiday to remember.
When's the best time to visit Cuba?
The high season for visitors is Dec - Apr when the weather is usually sunny, mostly dry and not too humid, though there can be cool days. Hurricane and tropical storms are possible Aug - Nov.
What's the official language of Cuba?

Spanish.

What's the official currency in Cuba?

You can purchase Cuban Convertible Pesos at the airport or in banks or cadecas (money exchanges) in principal towns. US dollars are not accepted so you need to take cash in  sterling. Euros are also accepted but the rate may not be as favourable. There are some ATM machines which supposedly accept debit cards but they are not always reliable. You can also get cash with a credit or debit card (not issued by a US bank). You can change surplus money back to convertible currencies at the airport at the end of your trip. 

What's the time difference between Cuba and GMT?

GMT -5 hours.

What places combine well with Cuba?

Mexico’s Yucatán, with flights from Cancún to Havana, 1 hour 15mins.

What are the festivals and cultural events in Cuba?
Carnival:  There are carnivals throughout the country on different dates. Havana’s carnival moves around date-wise year upon year, but is always accompanied by parades, music, drumming and dancing. Santiago’s carnival in July is probably the biggest and the best.
International Jazz Festival: Havana, Dec. Workshops and concerts. One of the world’s best.

Speak to an expert Travel Consultant or send us your enquiry today.

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