Havana & Western Cuba
The Key to the New World
In depth analysis of Cuba's colonial & modern history
Well-paced & thorough exploration of Havana and its many facets
Visits to Havana’s art collections & colonial palaces
Opportunity to explore the spectacular Valley of Viñales & colonial Trinidad
Excellent & well-situated 5* hotel in Havana
Cuba’s history explores exceptional levels of daring, folly, courage, ambition and colour. No other Caribbean island possesses such a sense of its past, due to the survival of the first sixteenth century Spanish settlements. Havana, “Key to the New World and Bastion of the West Indies”, became the strategic jewel of the Spanish crown, the gathering point for the treasure fleets which sailed from the Americas to Spain.
Following on from Columbus’ 1492 landing, in 1509 King Ferdinand permitted Christopher’s son, Diego, to explore the island. Settlements were established on the south coast, including San Cristóbal de La Habana and Trinidad de Cuba. Four years later Havana was relocated to one of the world’s great natural harbours. By then, staggering wealth was pouring eastwards across the Atlantic. This drew the attention of Spain’s European rivals and their licensed privateers made frequent attacks on Cuban cities. Havana’s remarkable fortifications and some fine domestic buildings date from this period, expressed as a form of ‘tropical baroque’. Britain captured Havana in 1762, ending Spain’s trade monopoly; foreign merchants and slave traders then taking hold. Subsequently, the city was enhanced during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in a colourful display of architectural eclecticism.
Cuba, however, is not just Havana: Trinidad may be one of the most intact Spanish colonial towns in the Americas, its wealth and status brought about by the ‘Sugar Boom’. In contrast, the Jurassic-like limestone hillocks of the Valley of Viñales are an amazing natural wonder. The Cuban Revolution of 1959 has also left a mixed legacy of achievements and obstacles and an in-depth analysis of its recent history will not be overlooked.
This tour will be led by Juliet Barclay. Juliet worked for the Office of the City Historian of Havana (OHCH), the principal Cuban heritage body and she has written extensively on Havana and Cuba. Now based in London, she regularly visits Cuba to advise and collaborate with the OHCH.
We shall stay in one of the best hotels in Havana, the 5* Parque Central. Situated on the very central Paseo del Prado, there is a restaurant and a rooftop swimming pool. Whilst in Trinidad we shall stay in a range of very centrally located private colonial houses, known locally as casas particulares; the Cuban equivalent of a ‘B&B’, but at the same time much more than that. They include breakfast and en-suite amenities yet offer an ‘inside view’ of domestic life in an atmospheric setting and consequently are the best way to unravel the complexities of living in modern day Cuba - with all the challenges it entails. The 3* Hotel La Ermita is a rural yet basic hotel which enjoys spectacular views overlooking the Valley of Viñales. NB: all the hotels are rated locally and have the facilities that you would expect. However, be aware that Cuba’s accommodation rating system, indeed its infrastructure as a communist country, is entirely different from those in the UK & Europe.
Day by day
- Day 1: Monday 15 January
- We fly from Gatwick, arriving Havana late afternoon and transfer to our hotel for two nights, the 5* Parque Central in the heart of Havana, where we have our first group dinner. A variety of alcoholic drinks, water and coffee are included with all group lunches and dinners.
- Day 2: Tuesday 16 January
- We begin in Old Havana at Plaza de Armas. We visit El Templete, outlining the early years of Spain’s newest colony, followed by a visit to the city’s Cathedral. After a group lunch we visit the Museo de la Ciudad, which provides an essential overview of Havana’s colonial past. The evening will be free.
- Day 3: Wednesday 17 January
- We drive south-eastwards from Havana across the island to coastal Cienfuegos. Founded by French settlers, we visit its delightful Italianate Theatre. After a group lunch in the architecturally eclectic Palacio de Valle, we journey along the coast to the remarkable colonial town of Trinidad. Here we stay in a range of private houses in the historic centre for two nights. We dine later in the evening in Trinidad.
- Day 4: Thursday 18 January
- Today we explore Trinidad - a veritable Spanish colonial ‘Pompeii’, visiting the main church, Iglesia de la Santisima Trinidad and an Afro-Cuban ‘Santeria’ Church. The Museo Histórico Municipal and the Museo Romántico offer an insight into aristocratic living made possible by the ‘Sugar Boom’. After a group lunch the afternoon and the evening will be free.
- Day 5: Friday 19 January
- We depart Trinidad and drive into the surrounding countryside amongst stunning scenery, where the Valley of the Sugar Mills will allow us to reflect on the Slave Trade. We continue inland towards the outskirts of Cienfuegos to visit the Jardín Botánico de Cienfuegos, an eleven-acre site and the most complete collection of tropical plant species on Cuba. Following a group lunch in Cienfuegos we drive back to Havana for a four-night stay at the 5* Parque Central arriving late afternoon. The evening will be free.
- Day 6: Saturday 20 January
- We continue our exploration of Havana at Castillo de los Tres Santos Reyes del Morro and its neighbour, the Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña. They help sketch in both Havana’s efforts to protect its wealth and the capture of the city by the British in 1762. Our lunch will be in an eighteenth century garrison, now a harbour side restaurant. In the afternoon we visit the Franciscan church in Old Havana and the monumental buildings in Paseo del Prado including Havana’s version of Washington’s Capitol, the Capitolio Nacional, the Gran Teatro and the world-renowned National Ballet School. The evening will be free.
- Day 7: Sunday 21 January
- The stately Centro Asturiano houses a surprising collection of Antiquities and Old Master paintings. We continue to the Palacio de Bellas Artes, the best collection of the island’s art, whose twentieth century section is a revelation. The afternoon will be free, after which we have dinner in Old Havana.
- Day 8: Monday 22 January
- Twentieth century Havana and its Art Deco architecture will come as a surprise as we drive along the iconic seafront, the Malecón, continuing to explore the buildings and spaces of Miramar, Vedado and Revolution Square. Our morning will also take in the newly restored Museo Des Artes Decoratives displaying a dazzling collection in a splendid mansion. We will enjoy a chauffeur-driven ride in a convoy of Classic Cuban Cars as we are taken to a group lunch at iconic Paladar La Guarida - no interior is more representative of the city’s ‘pulse’. On our return the remainder of the afternoon and evening will be free.
- Day 9: Tuesday 23 January
- Today we drive towards the tip of western Cuba and the stunning Valley of Viñales. En route, we stop at Las Terrazas for a group lunch and visit Soroa’s Orchid Garden. We continue to Viñales arriving late-afternoon for a two-night stay at Hotel Ermita. Dinner will be in the hotel.
- Day 10: Wednesday 24 January
- We drive the short distance to the village of Viñales where we visit the lush Jardín Botánico de Caridad. We also visit a tobacco plantation, key to understanding local life. We continue to lunch at the Paladar Finca de Raquel, set amidst the dramatic Jurassic-like panorama of the valley. We return to the hotel via a gentle and scenic drive and our final group dinner will be in the village of Viñales.
- Days 11 & 12: Thursday 25 & Friday 26 January
- We depart for Pinar del Río to visit a Cigar Workshop where some of the best cigars in the world are made. We travel back to Havana for our final lunch overlooking the harbour before continuing to the airport for our evening flight, arriving at Gatwick on Friday morning.
- Price: £3,990 per person
- Price without flights: £3,550
- Deposit: £525
- Single Supplement: £395 for first five rooms booked, £595 thereafter (Double Room for Sole Use)
- Tour Manager: James Hill
Outward: VS63 Depart London Gatwick 1230, arrive Havana 1740
Return: VS64 Depart Havana 1910, arrive London Gatwick 0850
5 Dinners and 9 Lunches with water, wine/drinks & coffee, all local transfers, entry fees & gratuities and services of Juliet Barclay, Tour Manager James Hill and local guide Alejandro Infante
Travel to & from Gatwick, 5 Dinners & 1 Lunch, Visa (from £15) & Departure Tax (Approx. £20)
Our tours generally involve a significant amount of standing and walking, sometimes across uneven ground, or over cobbled streets, or up and down steps and inclines. While we do not have an upper age limit for participants, we require you to have a level of fitness which does not spoil other participants' enjoyment of the tour and you should be able to walk at a reasonable pace and/or stand for at least twenty minutes without aid or requiring a rest. Please note that not all galleries and museums have lifts and may not have seating. We would also remind you that once you have made a booking, should your level of mobility change; it is a condition of your booking that you inform us at the earliest opportunity. Please refer to our full terms and conditions for further information. If you are in any doubt please do contact us for advice on the tour’s suitability for you.