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.
International Expeditions has once again been granted a special government license to offer legal people-to-people travel to Cuba. 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, IE guests encounter working-class locals eager to share, learn and ensure lives and options are transformed.
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NEW for 2014: Enjoy two distinct Cuba travel programs!
Our Cuba people-to-people travel program begins in Miami with a briefing and welcome reception before an overnight at the Marriott. (Meals Aloft)
Camaguey or Cienfugos / Sancti Spiritus
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 or Cienfugos. In Cienfugos, enjoy a performance by the Cienfugos choir. Those traveling to Camaguey will head to the Camaguey Ballet Company, meeting the dancers and talking to them about upcoming productions. Later, a walking tour introduces you to colonial architecture of these cities while you enjoy spirited interactions with vendors who line the atmospheric squares. Continue to Sancti Spiritus and spend tonight at the Hotel Del Rijo or similar. (D)
Sancti Spiritus / Valle De Los Ingenios / Trinidad
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. 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 Costa Sur or similar. (B,L,D)
Topes de Collantes / Trinidad
Enjoy a spectacular morning drive into the Sierra de Escambray, boarding Russian trucks for this off-road journey to Topes de Collantes National Park. Join a local naturalist for a short nature walk, finding endemic birdlife, including the Cuban trogon and Cuban tody, as we share stories about our favorite sightings. Enjoy a picnic lunch of traditional roast pig before stopping in at a local coffee house. Relax over a cup of coffee, where you are free to chat with your guide and other Cubans. Visit a modern art museum, seeing pieces by important artists. This evening, dinner is in a paladar, a privately owned, family run restaurant. Learn about the challenges and opportunities facing this new generation of Cuban entrepreneurs. Sit down with local Jorge Ortega and his family to discuss daily life and enjoy a few laughs as well. (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, and his friends for a fun nature hike to observe the world’s smallest bird, the bee hummingbird. On the Bay of Pigs, discuss the importance of the wetlands with a local environmentalist. Spend time getting to know the locals who gather in the evening. Spend tonight at Hotel Playa Larga or similar. (B,L,D)
Bay of Pigs / Soroa & Vinales
Set out toward the western part of Cuba, traveling to Pinar del Rio Province. An exclusive stop for IE travelers, begin our day at the Korimacao Project, where we meet one of the directors Hilda Tamayo. 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 Ms. Tamayo and the project staff before an open discussion on the transformative power of art in the lives of ordinary Cubans. 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. Along the way, stop at a tobacco sorting factory, chatting with the 50 women who prepare tobacco to become famed Cuban cigars. Sample the homegrown vegetables grown at an organic farm while meeting the family who is responsible for the land. Enjoy a boating excursion into one of the huge limestone caves running through a mogote — limestone karst outcroppings. While here, visit the private Maria Lezcano Garden, where the owner shares openly about the garden’s joys and difficulties, and browse a bodega, where locals bring their ration books. (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 “green” community of Las Terrazas. Stop at Cafe de Maria for a cup of locally grown coffee and chat with the family who runs the business. Stop to pay homage to Ernest Hemingway by 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. Drive along the oceanfront Malecon Avenue, seeing Revolution Square. Discover the atmospheric squares of Old Havana. Spend time in the Plaza de Armas, Plaza de la Catedral, Plaza de San Francisco de Asis, Plaza Vieja and Plaza de Cristo. 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. Begin our day in Old Havana at a community social project at Belen Convent, discussing humanitarian assistance programs with the volunteers. While touring the facility with director Lourdes Bartolí, meet the senior citizens and young children participating in program activities. Continue to a public library, where we meet librarian Adrian Guerra and local children. Present the children with Spanish versions of popular books and share your favorite classic tales. Interact with the locals as we explore an art market along the harbor’s edge. Our last dinner in Cuba is at a local restaurant. Tonight, we have organized an optional excursion to the famed Buena Vista Social Club (at your own expense). (B,L,D)
Havana / Miami
Transfer to the Jose Marti Airport for 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 Miami Airport Marriott. (Meals Aloft)
Miami / Havana
Board our charter flight to Havana. Stop at a sustainable farm which supplies on of Cuba’s best private restaurants – Il Divino – where we enjoy lunch. Explore the neighborhood where artist Jose Fuster launched a community beautification project. The neighborhood has become a living canvas and our conversations with residents focus on the transformative power of art. Discuss Havana’s past and future with our local guide while stopping at iconic sites such as Revolution Square. Enjoy dinner in Old Havana and stroll to the famed Floridita bar, a favorite haunt of Hemingway. Spend four nights at the Hotel Melia Habana. (L,D)
Begin our day in Old Havana with a visit to Casa de las Tejas Verdes. Here, a local preservation architect and historian discusses the Old Havana Restoration Project, a 30-year project dedicated to restoring the area’s neoclassical and art deco buildings. Spend the remainder of our morning walking through the squares of Old Havana, calling on local artists at work in their studios. Visit Hotel Ambos Mundos, the hotel that served as Hemingway’s refuge while writing such works as For Whom the Bell Tolls. Spend our afternoon at the Museum of the Revolution. The museum is a living history lesson. Housed in the former presidential palace, the building was site of a failed assassination attempt on Batista in 1957 and the entire museum is dedicated to chronicling Cuban history from the colonial period through the Revolution. Enjoy dinner at Paladar Dona Eutimia, chatting with the entrepreneurs operating this small, private restaurant. Paladar owners are truly Cuba’s new breed of entrepreneurs, and during visits to several of these private restaurants over the next week, you meet the families to discuss the impact of private business on Cuba’s economy. An optional cabaret show at the Tropicana can be arranged. (B,L,D)
Havana: Vinales Valley Day Trip
Spend today in the province of Pinar Del Rio and the world famous Vinales Valley. Vinales boasts Cuba’s most strikingly beautiful landscapes and is where the island’s best tobacco is grown. Sample the homegrown vegetables grown at an organic farm while meeting the family who is responsible for the land. Enjoy a boating excursion into one of the huge limestone caves running through a mogote — limestone karst outcroppings. Cap-off our day by meeting locals in the small community of Vinales returning to Havana. (B,L,D)
Join architectural specialists to discuss the vast array of monuments at Cementerio de Colon. Designed by Spanish architect Calixto de Loira in the mid-1800s, it is laid out in grids around a central chapel. Lunch is in the garden of the historic Hotel Nacional overlooking the sea. In the afternoon we learn about the daily lives of ordinary Cubans as we set off through Plaza Cristo, chatting with those who are out and about. Continuing on foot we explore the wide 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. This afternoon, museum curators lead a special tour of the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. While here we concentrate on the modern art collection, which includes works by such Cuban artists as Wifredo Lam, Rene Portocarrero and Victor Manuel Garcia. This evening, say farewell to Havana with dinner at the elegant Café Del Oriente. Tonight, an optional excursion to hear the famed Buena Vista Social Club can be arranged (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. After lunch in Cojimar, head to Matanzas. Discuss Afro-Cuban culture while touring the Museum of the Route of the Slave located in the restored fortress of Castillito de San Severino, originally built to guard the bay. Spend two nights at Hotel Melia Varadero. (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. Learn about social welfare projects spearheaded by the Cuban Art Instructors School and Matanzas Seminary. Stop at Ediciones Vigia, a publishing house specializing in the creation of handmade books, where the staff eagerly discusses their process for fashioning limited-edition books. (B,L,D)
Varadero / Trinidad
Explore the vibrant streets of Trinidad, meeting artists, musicians and traditional potters. At Casa Santander meet local artists and learn abotu traditional pottery techniques. This pottery studio has been run by the same family for decades, and the Santanders share their family history while inviting us to take a tun at the wheel. Spend tonight at the boutique La Ronda. (B,L,D)
Trinidad / Cienfuegos / Miami
Today we take a scenic drive a short distance along the coast to the city of Cienfuegos, a beautiful city situated on a bay and the only city in Cuba that was founded by French. We check in at the airport and fly non-stop this afternoon back to Miami. B)
International Expeditions is licensed (CT-2013-299822-1) by the US Office of Foreign Assets Control to conduct authorized people-to-people travel to Cuba that connects you directly with the Cuban people — and is 100% legal. Through meaningful daily interactions, we learn from ordinary Cubans as they learn about our lives. IE’s journey offers free-ranging discussions and local interactions touching on all aspects of Cuban life and culture, so that you return home with a genuine understanding of this fascinating destination.
- Be immersed in the daily lives of Cuban people including musicians, artists, naturalists & local birders while discovering Cuba’s top three natural history locales.
- Explore cultural “must sees” including the Bay of Pigs & atmospheric plazas of Trinidad & Havana.
- Discuss Hemingway’s life & work with a local expert while strolling the grounds of his home, Finca Vigia.
- Meet Cuba’s new entrepreneurs at a family-run paladar, café & organic farm.
- Interact directly with Cuban people, learning about each other as you dance, play music, sample local fare, browse markets & stop by a local library.