Meet the people of today's Cuba to learn about all that makes this island nation so special.
On this exciting journey designed and led by MTS star guide Sergio Fitch-Watkins, we’ll skip the overcrowded sites to uncover a Cuba beyond its iconic colonial architecture and shimmering beaches. We’ll venture out into its unexpectedly lush countryside and agricultural heartland to get to know what Cuba is all about now from those who know best: the Cuban people. MTS has obtained rare U.S. Government-granted cultural permits that allow our guests to travel legally to Cuba directly from the U.S., and our seasoned team will shepherd you through the customs and immigration process to make your journey as effortless as possible. Once in Cuba, we’ll join with Cubans of all walks of life not only in the best known, best loved corners of La Havana—places like the sun-drenched oceanfront Malecón and Hemingway’s retreat at Finca Vigía—but also in far less known, less trodden corners of this complex island and culture. Places like Viñales, where fragrant tobacco fields push up against the otherworldly limestone buttes called mogotes, and which the industrious residents have made an international model of reforestation and community living since the 1960s. Or the vibrant, eclectic neighborhood of Muraleando—a burgeoning locus of community arts, typical of many communities in Cuba that turned to public art as a way of beautifying their aging urban surroundings. We’ll meet Cubans in their homes and schools, in factories and in the authentic home restaurants known as paladares, where the tastiest local fare can be found. This trip is the best kind of person-to-person experience—an opportunity to learn about the many layers of the country’s rich culture and history, and a rare chance to witness the emerging Cuba.
Cultural exchange; exploration; visits to historic sites
- Visit Cuba the legal way with the Adventure Travel Expert
- Visit UNESCO Heratige Sites of Old La Havana and Las Terrasas
- Engage in an open discussion with an English-speaking historian from the University of La Havana on U.S-Cuban relations in the 20th & 21st Centuries
- Vist Finca Vijia, Ernest Hemingway's private estate from 1939 to 1960
Duration: 9 days Start Location: Miami, USA End Location: Miami, USADownload Detailed Itinerary
Day 1 : Arrive in Miami
Plan to arrive in Miami by early afternoon, to give you adequate time to gather your luggage, transfer on your own to the hotel (a free hotel shuttle is available at the airport), and settle in before this evening’s group briefing with your MTS guide. The briefing will include a short orientation on the next day’s charter flight to Havana, as well as the customs & immigration process when entering Cuba.
Day 2 : Miami to Old La Havana
Plan on a morning check in at Miami International Airport, where we’ll board our short charter flight directly to Havana, Cuba. We’ll meet our English-speaking, Cuban guide as soon as we arrive, and then head directly to Old Havana. Our experience of Cuba’s capital will begin with a visit to the Plaza de la Revolución, the site of numerous political rallies and many of Fidel Castro’s public addresses, which is dominated by a 358-foot monument to 19th century Cuban patriot José Martí. After enjoying lunch along the Malecón, we’ll meander through the Plaza de Armas in Old Havana, finding our way to the Used Booksellers Market, a cross-cultural treasure trove for readers of every genre. Strike up a friendly conversation with Cuban fellow readers at the market, and engage in conversation about popular Cuban and American literature with the independent booksellers we’ll meet—there’ll be plenty of opportunity to compare notes! En route to our hotel in late afternoon, we’ll pause to visit a nearby community housing project. We’ll enjoy a welcome dinner at the hotel, in the company of both our seasoned MTS guide and our Cuban national guide. Afterward, you can take your time settling in, or feel free to venture out and explore on your own.
Day 3 : La Havana – Finca Vigia – Alamar – Cojimar & Murelando
After breakfast, we’ll head over Ernest Hemingway’s Cuba retreat and home for twenty years, Finca Vigía—now a national museum. It was at Finca Vigía that Hemingway wrote The Old Man and the Sea and A Farewell to Arms. After chatting with the staff about the issues surrounding running a museum in Havana, we’ll depart Finca Vigía and drive to the Alamar district, a barrio on the outskirts of Havana, known for its Soviet-style pre-fabricated architecture. An expansive social housing project built in the 1970s, the concrete Alamar apartment blocks are now home to hundreds of thousands of Cubans. The shining gem of Alamar is the Organopónico Vivero Alamar, the cooperative urban gardens where residents have been growing fruit, vegetables, and medicinal plants since the mid-nineties. A uniquely Cuban innovation, but similar to co-ops and community gardens in the U.S., these organopónicos provide Alamar residents with reliable access to fresh produce, and facilitate community development. It’s a privilege to visit these gardens, which few visitors to Cuba have had the opportunity to see. Then, we’ll loop back to the fishing village of Cojimar, which Hemingway made the setting for The Old Man and the Sea, and enjoy our lunch.
We’ll spend most of our afternoon visiting an impoverished, but vibrant, barrio of Havana known as Muraleando. A small, devoted group of Cuban artists founded Muraleando in 2001—in response to the neighborhood’s physical deterioration and rising crime rates, they engaged young and old alike in neighborhood beautification and community enrichment programs. Muraleando flourished during what is known in Cuba as the “Special Period”—the years that followed the withdrawal of Soviet support—and has evolved into a lively center for arts, music, dance, and theatre. What began as an informal collective of artists, coming together and volunteering their time to better their community, has developed into a trendy artists’ enclave and a go-to destination. Following this eye-opening afternoon, we’ll gather before dinner for a fascinating discussion, led by a local expert, on current economic trends in Cuba and recent shifts toward free enterprise, lately introduced by the Cuban government. Tonight’s dinner will be at a nearby paladar, located a leisurely stroll from our hotel.
Day 4 : Universidad de la Havana – Primary School visit – Callejon de Hamel & La Lavenderia
We’ll begin our day with a campus walking tour of the University of Havana, where we’ll get a glimpse into Cuba’s higher education system. Then we’ll pause briefly at one of the most fascinating and colorful streets in Havana—Callejón de Hamel—soaking in its bright Afro-Cuban street murals, its surrealist mood, and its pulsing rumba music. Later we’ll visit a primary school located in Old Havana, where we’ll have a chance to engage in classroom activities and participate in a discussion session with school administrators and teachers, learning about Cuba’s education system and how it compares to the U.S. After lunch at Santo Angel Restaurant in Old Havana, we’ll head over to the Gallery La Lavandería, a contemporary artists’ studio created in a dilapidated public laundromat, and meet a group of artists dedicated to reinvigorating mundane objects and old techniques in the visual arts. The evening is free to rest up at our centrally located Old Havana hotel, or venture out to explore the vicinity. Dinner is on your own tonight, and there are many nearby options for local cuisine.
Day 5 : Las Terrazas UNESCO Biosphere Reserve – Viñales and Pinar del Rio
This morning we’ll depart for the Artemisa province, in the lush Sierra del Rosario mountains, where we’ll spend the day exploring the small community of Las Terrazas. Designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1984, Las Terrazas is an absolute “must-see”—world-renowned for its wild, exquisite natural beauty and its culture of cooperative living and sustainability. Las Terrazas was founded shortly after the Cuban Revolution in 1959 as a model community, where local farmers or campesinos moved closer together to share resources, helping each other overcome the hardships of sleeping in thatched roof huts, subsisting without electricity, and living without local schools or medical services. Our first stop is the Clinica Las Terrazas, where we’ll learn how medical services are handled in rural Cuba. Cuban locals visit this small, multi-purpose center for medical advice, often non-traditional and homeopathic, and for referrals to larger medical centers in the city. Residents can take advantage of several other services here, too, like dental care by the area’s sole dentist, or even a haircut (the town hairdresser also shares the space)! At our next stop, we’ll visit María, the oldest member of the community and the sole proprietor of the town’s only coffee shop, the aptly named Café María. María and her family have been welcoming visitors here for years to enjoy the “best coffee in the country.” From the unique vantage point of sharing a cup of this delicious brew here in Las Terrazas, we’ll discuss coffee culture in Cuba and throughout the world, exploring how cafés act as places for social interaction. We’ll also have the chance to visit the art studio of landscape painter Lester Campa.
For lunch, we’re in for an authentic, country-style Cuban meal prepared and served outdoors at a local farmhouse near Las Terrazas. Afterward, we’ll take a well-deserved break and optional swim with local residents in the idyllic waters and gentle cascades of nearby San Juan River. We’ll end our afternoon in charming Viñales, in the heart of Pinar del Rio Province, with dinner at the hotel to follow.
Day 6 : Explore rural Viñales
The Valley of Viñales is a picturesque, serene, lush area of Cuba, known for its old-world tobacco fields and its mogotes—the boulder-like karst hills that punctuate the valley floor. We’ll spend the day taking in this remote, unhurried landscape—seeing how tobacco, cassava, and taro are grown, and marveling at the otherworldly limestone protrusions, formed by erosion over 100 million years ago, rising from the valley floor around us. We’ll talk with local Cuban families and learn how they live and work on our tour of a local farm. At a local state-run ration store, we’ll learn about goods distribution and supply in Cuba. Then we’ll encounter the mini paradise of the Caridad Botanical Gardens, a second Eden nurtured lovingly by two widows and brimming over with tropical plants and luscious natural treats—from tamarinds, oranges and starfruit, to guava and grapefruits, bananas and cocoa, lemon and cinnamon trees, and a myriad of ornamental orchids and ferns. We’ll enjoy a delicious lunch at a local farmhouse and then begin to explore the valley’s remarkable terrain, riddled with caves and subterranean rivers. Our moderate afternoon walk will take us to the small skiffs that will carry us the rest of the way to explore the Cuevas del Índio (Indian’s Cave), among the most striking of the valley’s many caves, where we’ll learn about the interesting limestone geology of the Viñales Valley, and the employment opportunities for naturalists and others in this off-the-beaten-track part of Cuba. Dinner is on your own this evening, and it’s a great chance to explore the area and discover one of the many paladares (home restaurants) available in the small town of Viñales.
Day 7 : Pinar del Rio and Francisco Donatien Cigar Factory
After breakfast, we travel to the city of Pinar Del Río, nestled in the midst of the world’s best tobacco-growing lands, to learn about the Cuban cigar industry. On our guided tour of the Francisco Donatien Cigar Factory, we’ll talk with factory workers and gain insight into the history and the manufacturing process of this iconically Cuban trade. Unlike the larger cigar manufacturers in and around Havana, this small factory makes it possible to stand mere feet from the workers to get a close look as they ply their craft. Francisco Donatien also houses a school for learning the cigar-making trade, and we’ll have the opportunity to meet some of the apprentices, visit their homes and learn about their lives.
We’ll transfer back to Havana early this afternoon, stopping for a local lunch before heading to “Fusterlandia”—a neighborhood like no other, in the village of Jaimanitas, that serves as the home of José Fuster, the “Picasso of the Caribbean.” Working outward from his small wooden home to the neighboring streets, homes and buildings, and deploying the most colorful mural, mosaic, and ceramic techniques, Mr. Fuster has transformed his surrounding universe into an evocative, surrealist ecocosm. José’s work is labor of love—he uses the money he makes from selling his work to adorn the homes of his friends and neighbors and to beautify communal spaces. We’ll dine tonight at a paladar located near our hotel.
Day 8 : La Havana
Since 1872, Havana’s notables have been buried in Colón Cemetery, including former Cuban president José Miguel Gómez and musicians Ibrahim Ferrer and Ruben Gonzalez, both members of the internationally acclaimed Buena Vista Social Club. This elaborate cemetery, named for Christopher Columbus, rivals Buenos Aires’ renowned La Recoleta in its grandeur, and we’ll explore its acres of angels, saints, cherubs, urns, and crosses—and even a few statues of faithful dogs. Then, it’s on to Miramar, considered Havana’s upscale residential district, where fine mansions line tree-shaded streets. Many of these older homes have fallen into ruin after their owners fled Cuba following the Revolution, but Miramar maintains its moneyed reputation through the many luxury hotels, upscale restaurants and shops, and foreign embassies that have taken up here in recent years. We’ll discuss the role of the wealthy upper class in pre-revolutionary Cuba with our local Cuban guide. After a lunch of typical Cuban cuisine at El Aljibe Restaurant, we’ll have the chance to interact with local vendors at the artisans’ market on the Malecón. Our farewell dinner tonight is a rare treat—we’ll dine at the highly acclaimed Chef Iván Justo’s paladar.
Day 9 : Back to Miami, USA
We’ll bid farewell to Cuba as we enjoy one last breakfast, then transfer to Havana’s José Martí International Airport for our charter flight back to Miami.
NOTE: This itinerary is operated under People-to-People License # CT-2013-305287-1 and provides a full time schedule of educational activities that will result in meaningful interactions between you and individuals in Cuba. U.S. law requires that all persons who participate in this program adhere to this full time schedule, and imposes on Mountain Travel Sobek the obligation to ensure such adherence.
DATES: Best time to go: February, November - December Departures: Nov 8 - 16, 2014 Dec 6 - 14, 2014 Jan 16 - 24, 2015 Feb 7 - 15, 2015 SOLD OUT
2014 & 2015 Prices
Hotel Nacional or similarOld La Havana
81 years of history give prestige to the classic for distinction Gran Caribe hotel chain. The Hotel Nacional de Cuba is considered a symbol of history, culture and Cuban identity . The guns that made up the old Santa Clara Battery are on exhibition at the garden, they were declared part of the World Heritage Site. The Hotel Nacional de Cuba was declared a National Monument and it was inscribed in the World Memory Register.
With its privileged location in the middle of Vedado, the center of Havana, it stands on a hill just a few meters from the sea, and offers a great view of the Havana Harbor; the seawall and the city.
The Hotel stands out due to its refined elegance and its ancient splendor, which since 1930 has attracted a large number of personalities from the arts, science and politcs, such as British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, artists Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner, Johnny Weismuller, Maria Félix, Jorge Negrete, and scientist Alexander Flemming.
Hotel Los Jazminez or similarViñales
With its unbeatable position overlooking the Viñales valley, Los Jazmines is one of the most renowned hotels in Cuba. It's also a great bargain. The views alone are worth the price. But this hotel also has plenty of charm. The main building in a Mediterranean neo-colonial style rises three-stories over a swimming pool suspended on the very edge of the valley.
Properties shown are representative of the accommodations we use on this trip, may not be inclusive of all accommodations we use, and are subject to change.
A native of México, Sergio is Mountain Travel Sobek's senior climbing guide, with over 30 years of experience (his climbing resume is eight pages long—the short version, that is). Besides leading our climbing expeditions in Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, and Argentina’s Aconcagua, he also loves to lead some of our more challenging treks in Nepal and Peru. Having led more than 300 trips for Mountain Travel Sobek, Sergio has acquired a considerable, loyal following!