Havana & Western Cuba

The Key to the New World

Havana, National Capitol Building
Cuba
Thursday 5 - Monday 16 March 2020 (12 Days)

Price

£4,570
Places

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

Tour Overview

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 newly opened 5* Iberstar Grand Packard.  Situated at the end of 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.

Juliet Barclay was an invaluable guide and gave us a real flavour of Cuba
Mr & Mrs M, London

Day by day

Day 1: Thursday 5 March
We fly from Gatwick, arriving Havana late afternoon and transfer to our hotel for two nights, the 5* Iberostar Grand Packard in the heart of Havana, where later in the early evening we have our first group dinner.  A variety of alcoholic drinks, water and coffee are included with all group lunches and dinners.
Day 2: Friday 6 March
We begin in Old Havana at the city’s Cathedral. We then visit the Fortezza de la Real Fuerza containing model naval relics. El Templete outlines the early years of Spain’s newest colony, followed by a visit to the Franciscan Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco de Asís. 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: Saturday 7 March
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: Sunday 8 March
Today we explore Trinidad - a veritable Spanish colonial ‘Pompeii’, visiting the main church, Iglesia de la Santísima Trinidad and an Afro-Cuban ‘Santeria’ Church.  The Museo Histórico Municipal offers an insight into aristocratic living made possible by the ‘Sugar Boom’.  After a group lunch we drive into the surrounding countryside amongst stunning scenery, where the Valley of the Sugar Mills will allow us (at two separate sites) to reflect on the Slave Trade. In the evening we dine in Trinidad. 
Day 5: Monday 9 March
We depart Trinidad and return 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* Iberostar Grand Packard arriving late afternoon.  The evening will be free.
Day 6: Tuesday 10 March
We continue our exploration of colonial Havana at the nearby 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. Following our group lunch, we visit Plaza de la Revolución, dedicated to the twin heroes of Cuba’s struggles: Jose Marti and Che Guevara. We also visit to the Cemetery of Colon, the city cemetery graced with extraordinary memorials. The evening will be free.   
Day 7: Wednesday 11 March
We visit the Gran Teatro, home of Cuba’s National Ballet. We continue with the stately Centro Asturiano housing a surprising collection of Antiquities and Old Master paintings.  We end our morning at the Palacio de Bellas Artes, the best collection of the island’s art, whose twentieth century section is a revelation.  Lunch (not included) and the afternoon will be free after which we have a group dinner in Havana.
Day 8: Thursday 12 March
Twentieth century Havana and its Art Deco architecture will come as a surprise as we drive along the iconic seafront, the Malecón, to explore the buildings and spaces of Vedado, Western Havana. We visit the newly restored Museo de Artes Decorativas displaying a dazzling collection in a splendid mansion. The Callejón de Hamel is a vibrant display of Afro-Cuban Street Art whilst the Museo de la Danza is dedicated to the National Cuban Ballet. Following a group lunch, we will enjoy a chauffeur-driven ride in a convoy of Classic Cuban Cars. On our return to our hotel the remainder of the afternoon and evening will be free.
Day 9: Friday 13 March
Today we drive towards the tip of western Cuba and the stunning Valley of Viñales.  En route, we stop at the Jaimanitas in Havana’s western suburbs to visit Fusterlandia, the home studio of Cuban artist Jose’ Fuster. We pause at Las Terrazas for a group lunch and visit nearby 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: Saturday 14 March
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 take place overlooking the Viñales Valley.    
Days 11 & 12: Sunday 15 & Monday 16 March
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 at the iconic Paladar La Guarida - no interior is more representative of the city’s ‘pulse’. After some free time in Havana, we continue to the airport for our evening flight, arriving at Gatwick on Monday morning.
What made it so so enjoyable was not just what we saw and the splendid company of our fellow travellers but the masterful manner in which James and Juliet managed it. Nothing was too much trouble they were not just wonderful company full of pertinent anecdotes and slivers of history but superb organisers with a plan B. Boundless patience and cheerfulness, stunningly good advice in fact I run out of superlatives it was the best of magic carpet rides
Mr & Mrs B, Dorset

Practicalities

  • Price: £4,570 per person
  • Price without flights: £3,870
  • Deposit: £750
  • Single Supplement: £495 (Double Room for Sole Use)
  • Tour Manager: James Hill

Hotel Details

6 nights with breakfast (5, 6 & 9 – 13 March) 5* Iberostar Grand Packard, Havana, 2 nights in private house accommodation in Trinidad, 2 nights at the Hotel La Ermita, Viñales

Flights

Virgin Atlantic                        

Outward:  VS63 Depart London Gatwick 0900, arrive Havana 1410

Return:     VS64 Depart Havana 2030, arrive London Gatwick 0910

Price includes

6 dinners & 9 lunches with wine, water & coffee, all local transfers, entry fees & gratuities & services of Juliet Barclay, Tour Manager James Hill & a local guide

Not included

Travel to/from Gatwick, 4 dinners & 1 lunch, Visa (from £15)

Weather

Current Conditions

Weather Conditions for Cuba in March are:
Average Temperature between: 18oC - 28oC / 64.4oF - 82.4oF
Rainfall: 40mm / 1.5inches

Fitness levels

We do expect a reasonable level of fitness. For full details see our frequently asked questions.

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