For five decades, legal travel to Cuba has been almost impossible for Americans, making this island of salsa, Colonial architecture and Caribbean beauty a forbidden fruit for the adventurous. But this enigmatic island and its inviting people are beginning to open — slowly — to a select few.
As one of the lucky few to experience Cuba, you delve into the daily lives of naturalists, entrepreneurs and artists while seeing this nation through the eyes of its people.
Brush aside the Cuba that you “know” from history books and current events, and there is an unfiltered view of this vibrant island found only through the eyes of its people. While traversing the countryside and sipping coffee in small cafés, International Expeditions guests encounter working-class locals eager to share, learn and ensure lives and options are transformed.
Don’t miss your opportunity to connect with Cuba!
Enjoy three distinct Cuba travel programs:
Cuba Voyage: Cruise from French-influenced Cienfuegos to Havana aboard the 48-guest Panorama
Our Cuba people-to-people travel program begins in Miami with a briefing and welcome reception before an overnight at the Cambria Suites Miami Airport. (Meals Aloft)
Miami / Camaguey, Santa Clara or Cienfugos
Early this morning, return to the airport and board our charter flight to Cuba. Depending on your departure day, you will travel to either Camaguey, Santa Clara or Cienfugos. If time permits in Cienfugos, enjoy a performance by the Cienfugos choir. (D)
Drive through the spectacular Valle De Los Ingenios - Valley of the Sugar Mills - an UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site where we see the ruined hulls of 19th century sugar estates. During the 19th century there were more than 40 sugar mills with elaborate estate houses but now most are in ruins. Chat with villagers in Manaca Iznaga while enjoying a glass of cold mango juice. Travel to the architectural jewel of Trinidad, an architectural jewel proclaimed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Red tiled roofs atop pastel stucco structures line the cobbled streets. This port city reflects its 16th century past and founding by Conquistadors. Eighteenth century smugglers and pirates made frequent calls here or even used this port as their base of operations in the Caribbean. The wealth and importance of Trinidad continued into the 19th century, when sugar barons reigned. Experience the community like a local, visiting with shop owners and sampling local fare as we walk through the colonial heart of the city. At Casa Del Alfarero Santander, an artisan workshop, meet local artists and learn about traditional pottery techniques. This pottery studio has been run by the same family for decades, and the Santanders share their family history while we take a turn at the wheel. Stroll through town, with the chance to visit a music club to mingle with the locals and enjoy authentic Cuban music. Spend two nights at Hotel Los Helechos or similar. (B,L,D)
Topes de Collantes / Trinidad
Enjoy a spectacular morning in the Sierra de Escambray mountains at Topes de Collantes National Park, one of the best places to enjoy Cuba's natural beauty. Wet winds coming off the Atlantic make the north face of the mountains a refugee for plants and animals, including Cuban ivory-billed woodpecker and Cuban trogron, the national bird of Cuba. After learning the history of Cuban coffee, relax over a cup of coffee while chatting with your guide. After lunch visit a modern art museum, seeing pieces by important artists. (B,L,D)
Trinidad / Zapata Wetlands / Bay of Pigs
The Zapata Peninsula encompasses a national park protecting Cuba’s most important wetland area. It is also a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve closely resembling the Florida Everglades. There are 900 species of flora, 171 species of birds (18 endemics), 31 species of reptiles and many mammal species calling the Zapata Wetlands home. Join Orlando Ramirez, a local farmer, to search for the world’s smallest bird, the bee hummingbird. On the Bay of Pigs, discuss the importance of the wetlands with a local environmentalist. Spend tonight at Hotel Playa Larga or similar. (B,L,D)
Bay of Pigs / Soroa & Vinales
Begin our day at the Korimakao Project. If the staff is not traveling, we sit in on their practices before a discussion on the transformative power of art. The project houses some of Cuba’s finest musicians and artists, who refine their skills before traveling to remote villages to perform and teach. Present art, music and dance supplies to Yander, the director. Set out toward the western part of Cuba, traveling to Pinar del Rio Province. Stop at locally owned paladar, IL Divino, for lunch. Chat about the "new" Cuban economy with the entrepreneurs operating this small, private restaurant. After lunch, explore the adjacent farm, which uses sustainable agriculture to supply the restaurant. Pay homage to Ernest Hemingway while discussing his work with Cuban Hemingway specialists at his former home, Finca Vigia, preserved as it was on the day of his death. Travelers can only peer through the open windows of this museum, but the inside is arranged almost as if the home was waiting for him to return with guests. Hemingway’s fishing boat, El Pilar, is still on the grounds. Spend two nights at Villa Soroa or similar. (B,L,D)
Soroa & Vinales
Wind our way through the Sierra de los Organos Mountains to Vinales. Enjoy a boating excursion into one of the huge limestone caves running through a mogote — limestone karst outcroppings. Sample the homegrown vegetables grown at an organic farm while meeting the family who is responsible for the land. Stop at a tobacco farm to learn about the processes and history of Cuban cigars. You have the chance to sample a famed cigar and sip a cup of Cuban coffee if you wish. (B,L,D)
Soroa & Vinales / Havana
Survey an orchid garden with staff from the University of Pinar del Rio. Meet local naturalists, business owners and farmers in the planned community of Las Terrazas, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve with just 1,000 residents that was founded on a green ethic. The self-contained community is surrounded by foliage thick with indigenous species, including hibiscus, teak and ebony, trees that were part of a reforestation project. Stop at Cafe de Maria for a cup of locally grown coffee and chat with the family who runs the business. Drive along the oceanfront Malecon Avenue, seeing Revolution Square. Tonight, we have organized an excursion to the famed Buena Vista Social Club. Spend two nights at the Melia Cohiba or similar. (B,L,D)
Havana is the center of all things Cuban, and as we stroll these streets it is like being on a movie set. Classic American cars from the 1940s and 1950s cruise wide boulevards while paint peels from glorious Spanish colonial buildings. Old men in straw hats puff on huge Cuban cigars and while music fills the air. Tour Old Havana before stopping at a community social project. The Arte Corte project began as a vocational program training hairdressers and barbers, but now supports a senior home and children's park. Interact with the locals as we explore an art market. (B,L,D)
Havana / Miami
Board our charter flight to Miami, where you connect with flights home. (B)
Our Cuba people-to-people travel program begins in Miami with a briefing and welcome reception before an overnight at the Cambria Suites Miami Airport.
Miami / Havana
Board our charter flight to Havana. Discuss Havana’s past and future with our local guide while stopping at iconic sites such as Revolution Square. Enjoy dinner in Old Havana at La Imprinta and stroll to the famed Floridita bar, a favorite haunt of Hemingway known as the “Cradle of the Daiquiri”. Our path takes us along a lively pedestrian boulevard, where we mingle with locals out for an evening walk. Spend four nights at the Hotel Melia Cohiba or similar.(D)
Stroll through the atmospheric squares of Old Havana, calling on artists in their studios as we pass. These parks and plazas are popular with locals who frequent the stalls selling books along the edges of the park while musicians fill the air with sound. Lunch is at the Spanish restaurant La Paella and then we continue our exploration and discussions this afternoon. See Hotel Ambos Mundos, where Ernest Hemingway kept a room for years. The hotel served as a refuge for writing such works as For Whom the Bell Tolls and as a base for frequenting his favorite bars. You have a moment to see the room where Hemingway worked if you wish before sampling a mojito at the rooftop bar. This afternoon, learn more about Cuban history at the Museum of the Revolution, housed in the former Presidential Palace, or join an expert in modern art to tour the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. While here, our small group concentrates on the modern art collection, which includes works by such Cuban artists as Wifredo Lam, Rene Portocarrero and Victor Manuel Garcia. Visit Hotel Nacional for a drink overlooking the sea before dinner at Paladar Dona Eutimia. Paladar owners are truly Cuba’s new breed of entrepreneurs. Dinner is followed by Cuban music nearby at Café Taberna which is the venue for the Buena Vista Social Club revue. (B,L,D)
Havana: Vinales Valley Day Trip
Head west this morning into the province of Pinar Del Rio to the famed Viñales Valley. Viñales boasts Cuba’s most strikingly beautiful landscapes and is where the island’s best tobacco is grown. At a family-run tobacco farm, the family discusses their lives and why their crop is among the world’s best. The valley is punctuated by huge limestone caves that form inside one of the many spectacular mogotes – limestone karst outcroppings. A small boat takes us on a river running inside the cave. Sample the homegrown vegetables grown at an organic farm while meeting the family who is responsible for the land and prepared our lunch. Cap-off our day by meeting locals in the small community of Viñales before returning to Havana. Dinner tonight is at Restaurant El Tocororo located in a restored mansion, where our meal is accompanied by jazz music in the main dining room. (B,L,D
Learn about art and dance in the lives of Cubans elite and ordinary citizens. At Centro Prodanza, a private school of dance, we attend rehearsals and meet director Laura Alonso, the daughter of famed ballerina Alicia Alonso. After stopping by the prestigious National School of Arts, head to the outskirts of Havana to the interesting neighborhood of Jaministas. It was here where he grew up that distinguished artist Jose Fuster launched a community beautification project. The entire neighborhood is a living canvas and our conversations with both residents and local artists focus on the transformative power of art in the lives of ordinary Cubans. After perusing an upscale artist studio and gallery, drive along the Paseo del Prado, a wide avenue separating Old Havana from the central city. Paved in marble, this promenade is a popular place for locals to relax while children play. See numerous art deco buildings, including the famous Barcardi Building. Mingle with locals at an art and crafts market on the harbor, where we chat with artists and vendors displaying their wares. Say farewell to Havana with dinner at the elegant Café Del Oriente. You may cap off the evening with an optional lavish cabaret show at the famous Tropicana (at your own expense). (B,L,D)
Havana / Matanzas / Varadero
Pay homage to Hemingway at his former home Finca Vigia, preserved as it was on the day of his death, and discuss his life with Cuban experts and researchers. Stop to chat with the farmers at a sustainable garden which supplies one of Cuba’s best private restaurants – Il Divino – where we enjoy lunch. Travel west to Matanzas and the Atlantic Coast. In Matanzas, learn about Afro-Cuban religion and its influence on dance at Callegon de las Tradiciones. Cross the peninsula to Varadero, where we check into our hotel for the next two nights. (B,L,D)
While the Varadero Peninsula is known for its beautiful beaches, our time here will focus on the area’s people! Matanzas was Cuba’s major colonial-era port, exporting coffee, tobacco and sugar, and it also served as a slave trading port. The bay is the deepest in Cuba and during one battle in 1628 more than twenty Spanish galleons were sunk here by a Dutch admiral. Discuss the history of traditional dance with the young musicians and dancers at Las Munequitos de Matanzas and the School of Arts. Enjoy a taste of the area’s history at a colonial pharmacy. Lunch is served on the terrace of the storied Xanadu Mansion, built by Irenee Dupont de Nemours. Also on our agenda is a stop at the Varadero Art Museum. Enjoy a sumptuous farewell dinner at Restaurant Kike Kcho, specializing in local lobster. (B,L,D)
Varadero / Havana / Miami
Our Cuba tour ends when we return to Havana for lunch before heading to the airport for our charter flight to Miami. (B,L)