Cuba is a Caribbean Island full of colour and intrigue
From revolutionaries to hand-rolled cigars, Cuba is a Caribbean Island full of colour and intrigue. Nestled just off the Gulf of Mexico, a healthy dose of Latin American influences combine with the laid-back soul of the West Indies to reverberate through the city streets. And its pristine, sugar-white beaches are a wonderful compliment to the history of the sugar industry that helped shape the culture of generations.
We set out for the Caribbean island and archipelagos of Cuba today, flying directly from Gatwick airport to its capital city - Havana. On arrival this afternoon we transfer to our hotel for the next three nights, the 5-Star Iberostar Parque Central.
Havana is a hive of activity and colour, and a hotchpotch of architectural styles that lend it a relaxed and mellow atmosphere. As a former Spanish colony, and therefore springboard for the eventual conquest of the Americas, Havana became an important port city often raided by swashbuckling buccaneers for the galleons of treasure brought through from the New World. But it also is and has long been, a hotbed of creativity, where rising temperatures raise the artistic output of its fevered inhabitants. We explore it's many personalities with a guided walking tour on Day 2 through the streets of the Old Town, ending in style with a potent daiquiri at one of Ernest Hemingway's chosen watering holes - El Floridita. After such well-deserved refreshment, we continue by coach to the Steam Engine Train Museum for a tour of the exhibits. As a forerunner in developing reliable rail travel to transport the precious sugar harvested throughout the country, locomotives on display here are of particular cultural significance.
Journeying by coach west into the tropical heartlands of Cuban agriculture today, we discover the luscious landscapes of the Viñales Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage centre thanks to the unusual mogote structures that litter the plains, as well as for the time-honoured methods of farming still in use here. Renowned for its tobacco production, here we visit a cigar factory to learn all about how some of Cuba's most famous exports are made. Following lunch at a local restaurant, there is the chance to embark on an optional walk through the valley that leads us to the impressive Los Jazmines viewpoint. Here you can drink up sights of the mountains and palm trees that naturally frame the bright, verdant fields, before drinking another complimentary cocktail. Back in Havana this evening, we enjoy dinner together at out hotel.
Our time in Havana comes to an end, for now, as we board The Hershey Train at Casablanca Station. This historic commuter service operates the only electric train on the island, and gives a vibrant insight into life outside of the busy cities. We disembark after a roughly two hours at the town of Hershey, founded by the American chocolate magnate Milton S. Hershey in 1916.
Officially named Camilo Cienfuegos, the more colloquial name is the one that stuck, despite the breakdown of Cuban, US relations in 1961. Today it presents a surreal snapshot of a fabricated Americana, though the passage of time has taken its toll on the now crumbling factory and the uniform clapboard houses of Mr Hershey's former workers. Next we board our coach, which will take us to Hotel La Jagua, Cienfuegos, stopping en route at the Zapata Wetlands, the most important in terms of conservation in the entire Caribbean.
Here we can hope to spot some indigenous wildlife, such as the Cuban Crocodile, Zapata Sparrow and red flamingo. We also call at the infamous, 'Bay of Pigs', still well-known as the site of a failed US military invasion. Here on the sands of Playa Girón, an innocuous inlet on the Gulf of Cazones, a group of American soldiers, alongside Cuban defectors trained by the CIA, came ashore with hopes of overthrowing Fidel Castro.
Day 5 welcomes you to Cienfuegos, the town our hotel is on the outskirts of, which also operates under the name, 'Pearl of the South'. Boasting an enviable waterside location beside one of Cuba's most picturesque bays, it is also home to a fascinating nautical history, with the fortress Castillo de Nuestra Señora de los Angeles de Jagua protecting its assets from marauding pirates during the 18th and 19th centuries. We take a walking tour to discover more before enjoying an afternoon at leisure.
Today we enjoy a full-day's excursion to the UNESCO listed town of Trinidad, that flourished during the late 19th century thanks to the wealthy landowners making their fortunes through the sugar trade. We delve into their stories with a visit to Valle de los Ingenios, or Valley of the Sugar Mills, by steam train. Setting out from Trinidad we spend an hour winding our way out into the countryside, pausing for time at the Iznaga, a tower that offers a viewpoint over the mountains and plantations. Returning to the city in the afternoon, we enjoy a walking tour of Trinidad which, with a bright, rich palette and a plethora of colonial Spanish buildings, is a pure delight to amble around.
Day 7 includes entrance to and a tour of the Museum of the Agro-Sugar Industry, a destination which details the refining process that took place here through interactive demonstrations,. It interestingly combines this with the chance to experience another slice of Cuba's railway history, by means of a short ride on one of the museum's steam locomotives. Afterwards we continue to Cayo Ensenachos, a small island that resides within the UNESCO acknowledged Reserva de la Biosfera Buenavista. White-sand beaches and azure seas are the order of the day here, and our base - the all inclusive, 5-Star Iberostar Cayo Ensenachos - allows us to make the most of our last few days in Cuba.
Fronting both the beaches of Ensenachos and Megano, the next two days are all about relaxation, as you spend the next two days enjoying all the facilities our hotel and the surrounding area has to offer. Perhaps treat yourself to some time at the hotel's spa with its sauna, Turkish baths and massage options (payable locally). Or why not talk a dip in the freshwater pool, alternating between the cool water and the warm sun as you unwind? Alternatively you could meander along the beach, or arrange a day trip through the hotel staff (payable locally). Live entertainment is also provided in the evenings, allowing you time to catch up with new friends. And with all food and drink included during your stay, this is a true opportunity to indulge yourself.
Revolutionary strongholds are on the menu today with an excursion inland to Santa Clara, a city with deep connections to Che Guevara. After a guided walking tour and time for lunch, we transfer back to Havana for the last two nights of our tour. On Day 11 you are at free for some final sightseeing before we are treated to a farewell dinner at the Café del Oriente. We catch our flight back to the UK on Day 12, landing on Day 13.
You may check in at the first hotel on your itinerary anytime after 14:00; this is where you will meet your Tour Manager.
An escorted experience and all travel arrangements
Comfortable accommodation in your destination
Delicious meals included
Exciting excursions and free time to explore
Cuba is a Caribbean Island full of colour and intrigue