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VIVA CUBA!

Viva Cuba!
Cuba is the last bastion of socialism in the Western Hemisphere and has, only recently, begun to break free from the shackles imposed by the negative associations of communism. Indeed, it is Cuba's long isolationism that proves one of the main attractions for travellers, as destinations untouched by Western influence are now so few and far between.

One must only explore the cities, like the capital, Havana, to appreciate fully the unique charms of the country. With their colonial architecture, plethora of 1950s American cars, and imposing Revolutionary monuments, Cuban cities are strikingly unusual in history, colour and character. These street scenes are only enhanced by the laid-back lifestyle and friendly disposition of the Cuban people—a population of largely Spanish and African descent—with the result that Cuba is an up-and-coming destination to be visited sooner rather than later.

NOTE: Outgoing Adventures is a Canadian-based company and does not hold a licence that allows US Citizens to legally visit Cuba. The decision to participate in our tour, and any possible legal implications thereof, are solely the repsonsibility of the traveller.
ITINERARY
Day 1 • Arrival in Havana
OUTGOING ADVENTURES, A CANADIAN BASED COMPANY, DOES NOT HOLD A LICENSE THAT ALLOWS U.S. CITIZENS TO LEGALLY VISIT CUBA. THE DECISION TO PARTICIPATE IN OUR TOUR, AND ANY POSSIBLE LEGAL IMPLICATIONS THEREOF, ARE SOLEY THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE TRAVELLER.

Today we arrive in Havana and transfer to our hotel in the heart of the old city.

NOTE: EARLY booking is essential for this tour. Our published air fares are based on lower fare seats that sell out EARLY. Late bookings may be surcharged. We regret that we cannot book extra nights in Havana.

Overnight in Havana.
Meal plan: Dinner
Day 2 • Havana: City Tour
Cuba's cosmopolitan capital was once one of the world's most prosperous ports and the third most populous city in the Americas. As La llave del Mundo (Key of the World), it saw riches from Mexico, Peru, and Manila pass through her sheltered harbour to Spain. Havana shows evidence of long neglect but her beauty shines through an amalgam of Spanish, African, colonial, communist, and capitalist influences.

Today we have a tour of Havana, including a stroll down Prado Avenue, for many years Havana's most important and impressive avenue. Built in 1772 by the government of the Marquis de la Torre, it was originally known as Alameda de Extramuros. In 1928 the avenue was remodeled into its present form. This stately thoroughfare is home to the Capitolio Nacional, the Gran Teatro de la Habana, and the Parque Central (a favourite gathering place for Cubans). It'll become evident why UNESCO declared this region a cultural and natural World Heritage Site in 1982.

Our walking tour also takes us along the main streets of Old Havana to visit the Plaza de la Cathedral, the Plaza de Armas, the Plaza de San Francisco de Asis and the Plaza Vieja. We also visit the Plaza de la Revolution and the Cabana Fortress, built after the British invasion of 1762. Later we travel to a nearby suburb to see the house in which Ernest Hemingway lived for almost 20 years.

This evening, after dinner, we'll have an informal look at Havana's lively night life.

Overnight in Havana.
Meal plan: Breakfast and Dinner
Day 3 • Havana - Vinales Valley
An early start has us leaving Havana and travelling west towards Vinales and its magnificent valley, partly reminiscent of Guilin in China because of the curious limestone mountains and rock outcroppings. We have a chance to see a tobacco plantation where the tobacco leaf is sorted (despalillo), graded, even fermented and then stored until the time is right for the leaf to be rolled. In Pinar del Rio we visit a state run tobacco factory where such brands as Cohiba, Montecristo and Romeo y Julieta cigars are made.

Overnight in Vinales.
Meal plan: Breakfast and Dinner
Day 4 • Vinales Valley - Havana
The Vinales Valley is considered a National Park and was recently proclaimed by UNESCO as a Natural World Heritage Site. This morning we take a leisurely walk through the countryside passing by crops of tobacco, yucca and corn before joining up with our vehicle again. We may be able to visit a tobacco farmer's house; the inhabitants of the valley will readily invite visitors in for a visit. Later we'll visit the Jardin Botanico de Caridad, the Botanical Gardens of Caridad, a local woman who started growing local tropical plants on her property and now accepts visitors. Tamarinds, oranges, grapefruits, guava, starfruit, bananas, cocoa, lemons, cinnamon trees and a variety of decorative plants and ferns can be found in her gardens.

After a guided tour of the garden, we have a chance to try some of the fruits in season. We then go around the corner to the State-run rationing store where our guide will explain to us what the state supplies, how much, and how the system runs.

We return to Havana and have the balance of the day at leisure. Havana has some excellent museums and other worthwhile sites not covered by our sightseeing programme. Near the Parque Central is the MUSEUM OF THE REVOLUTION and MUSIC MUSEUM. Near the plaza de Armas: CASA DE AFRICA; VINTAGE CAR MUSEUM; CITY MUSEUM, CIGAR FACTORY and CATHEDRAL. There is often a flea market around the corner from the Tejadillo, behind the cathedral, close to the water. And this may be the evening to sample one of Havana's famous music venues. Your Tour Leader can help you plan your day / evening.

Overnight in Havana.
Meal plan: Breakfast
Day 5 • Havana - Baracoa
Today we fly to Baracoa, Guantanamo Province.

Cuba's easternmost province is approximately 1000 km (621 miles) from the nation's capital. The greatest attraction in the province is Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion de Baracoa, Cuba's oldest city. Founded by Diego Velasquez in 1512, the community is characterized by the amicable spirit of its citizens and the beauty of a city surrounded by abrupt coastline, luxuriant foliage, mountains and rivers. The first capital of the island, its name comes from an aboriginal term meaning "End of the Land". The city was often raided by pirates and corsairs who burned it down for the last time in 1652. In response, a solid defense system was built, including forts called La Punta, Seboruco and Malachin, as well as the Joa and Caguase towers. This village was the first on the island to have a parochial church, made doubly attractive because not far from its entrance there was a statue of Hatuey, an Indian who became the symbol of rebellion -- and because it sheltered the cross brought to Cuban soil by Christopher Columbus in December 1492. Today the economy of Baracoa is based on coffee and cacao.

Depending on flight times, we may have a tour of the town this afternoon, or defer to tomorrow. Our walking tour will include the Cathedral and the small but informative museum; as well as the newly constructed Archaealogical Museum.

Overnight in Baracoa.
Meal plan: Breakfast and Dinner
Day 6 • Baracoa: Finca Duaba & Toa River
We may have our walking tour of Baracoa today if not accomplished yesterday. We'll also travel to Finca Duaba, a traditional Cuban farm surrounded by unspoilt tropical scenery and giving an excellent insight into the rural way of life in Cuba.

In the afternoon we take a boat trip on the Rio Toa, Cuba's most unspoilt river which runs through a UNESCO protected reserve amid spectacular scenery.

Return to Baracoa. In the evening dinner will be in a local restaurant followed by an optional visit to the Casa de la Trova for live Cuban music.

Overnight in Baracoa.
Meal plan: Breakfast and Dinner
Day 7 • Baracoa - Santiago
Today we travel by road to Santiago de Cuba. This is a spectacular drive through the mountains on the famous highway called La Farola (the Beacon). It was built in the 60s; before that the only way was by sea.

The Spaniards established the island's first capital at Santiago after founding the village in 1514. In 1522, it officially became a city and throughout the 16th and 17th centuries it was attacked many times by pirates and corsairs, which prompted the construction of the Morro Fortress in 1640 as well as the building of other coastal defenses.

This afternoon we drive out to El Cobre to see the important basilica there.

Overnight in Santiago.
Meal plan: Breakfast and Dinner
Day 8 • Santiago de Cuba
Surrounded by impressive mountains that link the Sierra Maestra to the sea, Santiago is a city of hills and inclined streets, with numerous places of interest and a history linked to struggles for national independence. It is also a city that brings together people of African and Spanish origin, along with descendants of emigres from the French West Indies. Thus Santiago is a veritable melting pot whose colourful identity is an outgrowth of its rich human heritage.

This morning we visit the Morro Fortress, dramatically perched over the mouth of the bay. We also visit the Santa Ifigenia Cemetary which resonates with history. On the main square we stop to visit the house of Diego Velasquez, the oldest in Cuba which dates back to the beginning of the 16th century. Renowned for its colourful carnivals featuring Chinese trumpets, French tumbas (a kind of drum) and all sorts of revels, the city is also famous for its people, who are hospitable, cheerful, and imaginative lovers of life; in short, typical West Indians from what has been dubbed the Capital of the Caribbean.

Santiago is the hottest city on the island, offering the most intense blue sea and the most flavourful arrays of fruit. It is also the proud birthplace of the daiquiri, one of most popular cocktails in the world. For tonight, the Casa de La Trova in Santiago is one of the most famous cabarets in the country. If you go to only one on the trip this should be it!

Overnight in Santiago.
Meal plan: Breakfast
Day 9 • Santiago - Camaguey
Today we travel by road to Camaguey where we have a tour on arrival.

The streets here are a labyrinth, designed to confuse the corsairs who had previously terrorized the town. In fact, not two streets are parallel in the city's centre. Camaguey is Cuba's third largest city, but the mass tourism that we may have encountered earlier is refreshingly absent here. We visit the lively farmers' market and Plaza de Trabajadores. One nickname for Camaguey is the "city of plazas" so we focus on 3 or 4 plazas as landmarks. We admire the Casa de la Cultura, with its freshly restored facade. For a donation, you can climb to the building's roof and get a good view of city. Nearby is the Soledad Church, one of the oldest in town and originally a hermitage.

Our tour takes us into Plaza Maceo, pleasant with its shady spaces and charming cafes. We continue a few more blocks to the beautifully restored 18th C Plaza San Juan de Dios, aka Plaza Padre Olallo, probably the nicest in the city.

Camaguey has a famous ballet, though it's schedule is difficult to predict with any accuracy. Your Tour Leader should be able to find out about any possible performance this evening.

Overnight Camaguey.
Meal plan: Breakfast and Dinner
Day 10 • Camaguey - Trinidad
Today we travel by road to Trinidad, a pretty full-yet-scenic day with lunch en route. We plan to arrive in Trinidad in the mid-afternoon.

Overnight in Trinidad.
Meal plan: Breakfast and Dinner
Day 11 • Santiago de Cuba
Surrounded by impressive mountains that link the Sierra Maestra to the sea, Santiago is a city of hills and inclined streets, with numerous places of interest and a history linked to struggles for national independence. It is also a city that brings together people of African and Spanish origin, along with descendants of emigres from the French West Indies. Thus Santiago is a veritable melting pot whose colourful identity is an outgrowth of its rich human heritage.

This morning we visit the Morro Fortress, dramatically perched over the mouth of the bay. We also visit the Santa Ifigenia Cemetery which resonates with history. On the main square we stop to visit the house of Diego Velasquez, the oldest in Cuba which dates back to the beginning of the 16th century.

Renowned for its colourful carnivals featuring Chinese trumpets, French tumbas (a kind of drum) and all sorts of revels, the city is also famous for its people, who are hospitable, cheerful, and imaginative lovers of life; in short, typical West Indians from what has been dubbed the Capital of the Caribbean.

In the afternoon we drive out to El Cobre to see the important basilica there. Santiago is the hottest city on the island, offering the most intense blue sea and the most flavourful arrays of fruit. It is also proud to be the birthplace of the daiquiri, one of most popular cocktails in the world.

Day Summary: Today we have the chance to learn more about the Revolution, the role religion plays in everyday Cuban’s lives, as well as more about the colonial past of Cuba.

Overnight in Santiago.
Meal plan: Breakfast and Dinner
Day 12 • Trinidad - Sierra de Escambray - Cienfuegos
Today our journey takes us to Cuba's second highest mountain range -- the Sierra de Escambray, reaching 1100 m (3,700 feet) and home to small mountain villages. The Escambray is a delight for birders and walkers alike. Slopes are swathed in Caribbean pines, ancient tree ferns, bamboo, and eucalyptus. Upon arrival we take a 60-minute truck ride into the forest to begin a walk from La Codina, an old Spanish hacienda, once part of a large Spanish coffee plantation.

We begin our easy walk with a talk on the various plants in the area and their medicinal uses, originally used to treat the plantation's slaves. We continue to the Orchid Loop, with over 25 endemic species, and then through a cave en route to La Cueva del Altar, with stunning views out over the mountains to the Caribbean Sea. We finish back at the Hacienda where we have lunch.

Later this afternoon we continue to Cienfuegos and check in to our hotel.

Overnight in Cienfuegos.
Meal plan: Breakfast and Dinner
Day 13 • Cienfuegos - Havana
Today is a full day of travel, with some interesting things to see and do along the way.

Also along our route are numerous stone markers, memorials to the people bombed on the road during the US invasion. The road was the only access to the beach, so most of those killed were approaching to either bring supplies or help in the fighting. We stop at the Playa Giron (Bay of Pigs) Museum where we will learn about the US/CIA involvement in the anti-Castro movement. Playa Giron was one of the two main landing beaches during the abortive US invasion.

We continue after lunch to a stop at the cenote (limestone cave). This is an inland sea-water aquarium with an amazing array of fishes that one can observe during a refreshing swim.

We travel via the Zapata swamp, named after the unfortunate first landholder given title to the area in the 1600s. This area was very poor before the revolution but has benefited greatly with the introduction of electricity, schools, roads and clinics where none had existed before. Lake Tesoro is said to have gotten its name from the indians who supposedly threw all their treasures into the lake rather than give them up to the Spanish. Fidel Castro used to spend much of his vacation time here.

We continue to Havana. Tonight we have our farewell dinner!

Overnight in Havana.
Meal plan: Breakfast and Dinner
Day 14 • Departure from Havana
Departure from Havana.

BUEN VIAJE!
Meal plan: Breakfast

For detailed itinerary (PDF), click here
For hotel samples, click here
INCLUSIONS
  • Breakfast daily and most dinners (hotels and local restaurants)
  • All transport, sightseeing and entrance fees for sites noted as 'visited' in the detailed itinerary
  • Gratuities for local guides, drivers, restaurant staff, porters
  • Airport transfers for land & air customers arriving / departing on tour dates
EXCLUSIONS
  • Tour Leader gratuity, lunches, drinks, personal items (phone, laundry, etc), departure taxes, domestic and international air taxes (if applicable)
  • Airport transfers for Land Only customers
  • Optional trip cancellation insurance
  • Our post-reservation trip notes offer further guidance on optional meal costs, shopping, and locally paid departure taxes
OUT FACTOR
Ours is a cultural/historical journey designed to explore a side of Cuba that is thus far not exposed to mass tourism. Most overt local gay life occurs in Havana, and most gay visitors tend to head straight for the many resort properties along the highly developed north coast (indeed many of our travellers book extra time at a resort or in Havana in association with our trip). As such, the smaller, more conservative towns and cities we visit won't have anything to offer in terms of a "scene".

Though Cuba is still a devoutly Catholic country, the relaxed aspect of Caribbean culture is fostering a general live-and-let-live attitude that is seems especially applied to visitors who are given greater leeway in terms of local social mores.
PLEASE NOTE
This itinerary is correct at time of publishing. For a more detailed itinerary, download a PDF here. We reserve the right to make changes as necessary due to reasons beyond our control. For booking terms and conditions, please refer to our Booking Terms.
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TRIP NOTES
Group size
10-18 plus Tour Leader
Staff & Support
Tour Leader, driver(s), and local step-on guides at various locations.
Accommodation
Well-located, air-conditioned, mid-range (3-star) hotels with en suite toilet and bath throughout (probably shower only). Single rooms are limited and likely smaller than doubles. Porter service is sometimes available though you should be independent with your luggage, especially at airports.
Transport & travel conditions
Road transport by private air-conditioned motor coach, 24-36 seats depending on ultimate group size (see 'group size'). Numerous walking tours on uneven surfaces.
Weather/seasonality
This tour is offered during the northern winter and outside hurricane season. You can expect tropical heat at any time of year.

The following is a sampling of our preferred properties in some of the locations visited on this tour and is meant to be indicative only. Hotel properties are not confirmed until 30-60 days before trip date. You can click on the hotel photo to view the official hotel website (if available). For sample hotels in other locations on this tour, please contact us.

Hotel Armadores de Santander


Rating: 4 Star Accommodation4 Star Accommodation4 Star Accommodation4 Star Accommodation
Location: Havana
Country: Cuba

The Hotel Armadores de Santander (which means ‘Shipowners of Santander’) overlooks the port of Havana. The building’s façade, with its stone reliefs of the coat of arms of Santander surrounded by maritime motifs, is wonderfully evocative of the city’s seagoing past. The Hotel Armadores de Santander was restored and is run by the Office of the City Historian of Havana, so all its profits are reinvested in the restoration of the city’s historical centre.

Click here to visit hotel website

Hotel Los Jazmines


Rating: 3 Star Accommodation3 Star Accommodation3 Star Accommodation
Location: Vinales
Country: Cuba

Most of the rooms are housed in two three-story buildings set on a hillside overlooking the Viñales Valley. All are air-conditioned, clean and comfortable, and feature French doors opening on to a little balcony from where you can soak in the sights. Touches of gingerbread wrought-iron work and stained glass give the place a sense of elegance. Facilities: 2 restaurants, 2 bars, outdoor pool, laundry service.

Click here to visit hotel website