From the rum that fuels salsa dancing to beautiful bays and magnificent colonial architecture, Cuba enthrals with its exuberant politics and culture. Yet this island nation has long struggled to find its place in the world. Its complex history, from invasion, colonial slavery and genocide to populist revolution and a difficult relationship with its superpower neighbour, Cuba is simply unique. The indomitable spirit of the people has kept the country alive through sheer ingenuity and determination, which charm and seduce on this journey of a lifetime. Explore the beguiling island of Cuba on this 15-day tour.
Cruising Havana’s Malecon seafront in a classic car
Discovering Cuba’s economic, political and artistic scene with organised talks and tours with magazine editors, artists, writers and an economist
Revolutionary sites in Santa Clara and Santiago de Cuba, associated with Che Guevara and Fidel Castro
The Spanish colonial influence in Cienfuegos, Trinidad and Camaguey
Afro-Caribbean culture, a legacy of the slave trade, and its influence on Cuban music and culture
Travelling the tobacco route through Pina Del Rio and Vinales
Day 1–3: Explore Havana’s history, architecture and culture, including Hemingway’s favourite haunts and the city’s squares and waterfront.
Days 4–5: Che Guavara at Santa Clara and visit colonial Cienfuegos and Trinidad.
Days 6–7: Drive through cane fields where slaves once laboured, to Camaguey.
Days 8–10: In Santiago De Cuba, explore this melting pot of Afro-Caribbean cultures, where Castro was born and revolutionaries are buried.
Days 11–13: Fly to Havana and onto the Pinar del Rio to tobacco farms and artistic communities in the Vinales Valley.
Days 14–15: Discover Havana’s vibrant arts and crafts scene.
The tour begins and ends at our hotel in Havana. For this tour we recommend flights to West Coast USA with onward connections through Mexico to Havana, or flights to Canada with onward connections to Havana. Contact us for quotes and bookings.
Included meals are shown with the symbols B, L and D.
Saturday 29 February: Arrive in Havana
Meet your fellow tour participants and the tour leader in the hotel in the early evening before our welcome dinner. Overnight Havana (D)
Sunday 1 March: Colonial Havana
We commence at the Maqueta de la Habana, a scale model which provides an overall perspective of the city. After lunch in a local restaurant we embark on a walking tour through the alleys and squares of Old Havana, including the Plaza de Armas and the small Museo el Templete. The Palace of the Generals is a fine example of baroque Cuban architecture built in the 1770’s and having served several purposes over its lifespan. It houses the City Museum and a fine collection detailing events from Cuban history. Cathedral Square is the newest of the city’s four squares and is where we visit the Cathedral of San Cristobal. We stop in to see Hemingway’s room at the Ambos Mundos Hotel and enjoy a mojito cocktail on the roof. Our welcome dinner this evening is in Paladar, ‘La Guarida’, location of the film, Strawberry and Chocolate. Overnight Havana (B, L, D)
Monday 2 March: Modern Havana
Our tour through modern Havana commences with a drive in classic cars along the Malecon, an eight-kilometre seafront thoroughfare and gathering place for musicians, poets and local fisherman. Cruise along the Plaza de la Revolucion and the Avenida de los Presidentes to the Casa de las Americas cultural centre, to meet with Cuban artists and writers. Stop at the Riviera Hotel, a delightfully kitsch 50’s building, and have lunch at the historic Hotel Nacional. This afternoon we visit Hemingway’s Finca Vigia where his yacht stands in the grounds. Overnight Havana (B, L)
Tuesday 3 March: Che Guevara and Cienfuegos
Today we depart Havana for Santa Clara, where Che Guevara led a rebel army of 300 men in a decisive victory against the regime of General Batista’s 3000 men. The city’s capture led to Batista fleeing and became the final battle of the revolution, handing control of the nation to Fidel Castro. We visit the Che Guevara Museum and Mausoleum where the revolutionary’s remains are interred, after being relocated from Bolivia where he was killed fighting the failed revolution there. We continue to Cienfuegos, built by French immigrants from Louisiana, and take in the sunset with a cocktail at Palacio Valle. Overnight Cienfuegos (B, L)
Wednesday 4 March: Cienfuegos to Trinidad
The colonial French architecture in Cienfuegos has earned the town a World Heritage listing and we explore some of the palatial buildings on a walking tour, including the ornate Palacio del Valle and the Terry Theatre, where we view the Italianate ceiling fresco and the four-tiered stage hall. We continue to Trinidad with lunch on the way. Upon arrival we explore the city and take a guided tour through the opulent Palacio Brunet. This 18th-century mansion, owned by a sugar baron, now houses the Romantic museum with its fine collection of furniture, china and other period pieces. This afternoon we sample the local drink, made with honey, at the Taberna la Canchanchara before checking into our hotel. Later this evening we visit the Casa de la Trova to experience authentic Cuban musicians and possibly some salsa dancing. Overnight Trinidad (B, L)
Thursday 5 March: Sugar Cane Valley
Today we board an old steam train dating from 1906 and travel through the Sugar Cane Valley on to the sugar mills at Izanaga, where there is the opportunity to ascend the tower built by the sugar-rich Iznaga family to keep watch over their slave workers. After a lunch in Izanaga we continue to Camagüey. Dinner this evening is at La Campana de Toledo, a well-regarded restaurant located in a colonial setting. Overnight Camagüey (B, L, D)
Friday 6 March: Camagüey
We tour Camagüey’s labyrinthine streets this morning on bicycle taxis, exploring the elegant city squares and plazas, and stop in at a working artist’s studio. We descend into the crypt and catacombs of the colonial Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del la Merced church, dating from the 17th century. Camagüey is also the birthplace of Ignacio Agramonte, a cattle rancher who led the revolt against Spain in 1868. We visit the museum named in his honour, which is filled with his personal artefacts and memorabilia from this period. After lunch in a paladar in Camagüey we continue to our hotel in the coastal town of Gibara. Overnight Gibara (B, L, D)
Saturday 7 March: Holguin to Santiago
We depart for Holguin, a charming town and Cuba’s fourth largest, that offers a window into daily Cuban life away from the tourist trail. We learn of the town’s importance during the independence wars on a guided tour with a visit to the museum. Now a national monument, it was constructed and used as a barracks for the Spanish army during the wars. After lunch in Holguin we head into the hills to the village of El Cobre, famous for its basilica. The basilica is Cuba’s most sacred pilgrimage site and the shrine of the nation’s patron saint, Our Lady of Charity, revered for saving the lives of three local fishermen caught in a violent storm. Arriving in Santiago de Cuba this evening there is dinner in the hotel. Overnight Santiago (B, L, D)
Sunday 8 March: Santiago
Santiago de Cuba is considered Cuba’s cultural capital and has been instrumental in the evolution of the country’s music, literature, architecture and politics. A melting pot of Afro-Caribbean culture, it is the place where the country’s rebellions originated. We visit the Santa Ifigenia cemetery, where Fidel Castro and many other leaders of the wars of independence, including the national hero, Jose Martí, are buried. We also witness the changing of the guard. We take a guided tour of Moncada Barracks where Castro’s revolutionaries made their first attack against the Batista regime. After lunch on Cayo Granma Island we visit San Juan Hill, the site of a decisive battle under the command of Theodore Roosevelt during the Spanish-American war. Later we tour San Pedro del Morro, overlooking Santiago Bay, an impressive citadel built in 1633 to protect the city against pirates. Overnight Santiago (B, L)
Monday 9 March: Santiago
Today we head to La Gran Piedra (The Great Stone) in the Bocanoa Park Biosphere Reserve about 25kms from Santiago. The ascent of more than 400 steps to the top takes us through vegetation typical of the area, including native species of orchids and ferns, culminating in spectacular views of the Sierra Maestre and the coast. On the way we visit an unassuming farmhouse, La Granjita Siboney, the launch point for Fidel Castor’s attack on the Moncada Barracks on 26 July 1953. We return to Santiago after lunch in a local restaurant. Overnight Santiago (B, L)
Tuesday 10 March: To Havana
This morning we are scheduled to fly to Havana. Upon arrival we drive west through the lush countryside to Las Terrazas, visiting the Soroa Orchid Garden and stopping for lunch on the way. Overnight Las Terrazas (B, L, D)
Wednesday 11 March: Viñales
This morning we visit the UNESCO biosphere in the Sierra Rosario, one of Cuba’s oldest and most important national parks and a pioneering eco-village. We visit the small artistic community overlooking the lake and explore the studios, woodwork and pottery workshops. We also learn about the forest restoration project and visit an old coffee plantation. After a lunch of locally produced organic food there is the opportunity to swim in the pools of the San Juan River. Overnight Las Terrazas (B, L, D)
Thursday 12 March: Pinar Del Rio to Havana
We travel the ‘tobacco route’ through some of Cuba’s greenest provinces to Pinar del Río. In the Viñales Valley we visit ‘Casa del Veguero’ (house of a tobacco farmer), touring the fields and a drying house. We walk through the Casa de Caridad Botanic Gardens, planted with a variety of tropical fruits. After lunch we see a performance of the local Afro-Cuban dance and then return to Havana. Overnight Havana (B, L)
Friday 13 March: Art
The morning is at leisure. In the afternoon we visit the Museum de las Bellas Artes for a guided tour of Cuba’s National Art Gallery, arguably the best gallery in the Caribbean, featuring the most comprehensive collection of Cuban Art in the world. This evening we gather for a farewell dinner in one of Havana’s fine paladars before visiting the Fabrica del Arte Cubano (depending on opening schedules), a repurposed factory that now serves as an art gallery and night club. Overnight Havana (B, D)
Saturday 14 March: Depart
The tour ends after breakfast at Iberostar Grand Packard Hotel in Havana. (B)
Dr Stephen Wilkinson
Chairman of the International Institute for the Study of Cuba, he holds a PHD on the subject of Cuban literature.
Dr Stephen Wilkinson is Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at the University of Buckingham. Stephen first visited Cuba in 1986 and has been travelling to and writing about the island ever since. Now the Chairman of the International Institute for the Study of Cuba, based in the UK, Stephen has a PhD on the subject of Cuban literature. He has written numerous articles on diverse questions such as the history of European and US – Cuba relations, Cuban attitudes and policy towards homosexuals, Cuban art and the nature of the Cuban state. Stephen’s book, Detective Fiction in Cuban Society and Culture, was published in 2006 by Peter Lang.
Among his other commitments, Stephen teaches at King’s College London, is Editor of the International Journal of Cuban Studies, is a contributor to IHS Sentinel Reports on Cuba and consults on a variety of media projects related to the island. He consulted on the film 638 Ways to Kill Castro in 2006: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B7zf3cUPAa8
Stephen is an experienced guide and tour leader to Cuba and frequently leads academic study groups and people-to-people exchanges to the island. In 2000 he led and designed numerous study tours for a number of US clients including the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Geographic Society and Smithsonian Institute. Between 2006 and 2011 he designed and led week-long study tours for MBA students at Cranfield School of Management in the UK. His other tour projects have included leading birdwatching and trekking tours. His wealth of contacts in Cuba adds greatly to the experience.
Embargoes and lack of infrastructure of many years mean the quality of hotels available in Cuba varies greatly from the cities to the more regional areas. We have secured good quality accommodation throughout the tour, with several 5-star hotels such as in Havana and Santiago, but please be aware that smaller towns such as Camagüey can only offer a 3-star experience at best. Hotels may be subject to change.
Havana, Parque Central (3 nights)
Cienfuegos, Melia San Carlos (1 night)
Trinidad, Iberostar Grand Hotel (1 night)
Camagüey, Grand Hotel Camagüey (1 night)
Holguin, Iberostar Gibara (1 night)
Santoago de Cuba, Melia Santiago (3 nights)
Las Terrazas, La Moka (2 nights)
Havana, Iberostar Grand Packard (2 nights)
What is included in the tour price?
Unless otherwise stated in the itinerary, our tours include the following:
Any flights mentioned in the itinerary that take place during a tour
Land travel by private air-conditioned coach. Where appropriate public transport is also used for short distance travel on some tours
All accommodation in hotels or apartments as stated in the itinerary
Breakfasts, lunches and dinners specifically stated as included in the itinerary
Drinks at welcome and farewell meals. Other meals may not have drinks included
Background talks on tour, site notes and online resources
Services of tour leader throughout tour
All entrance fees to sites mentioned in the itinerary
Local guides at some sites
Tips for drivers, local guides and restaurants for included meals
Tours begin either at the arrival airport or the first hotel, depending on the itinerary. If you have booked your international flights with Academy Travel and arrive before the tour commences, we will provide airport to hotel transfers to the closest main city on your arrival, and to the closest airport at the end of the tour. These may be either individual or group transfers.
What is not included in the tour price?
Open-age tours do not include the following:
Return international/domestic air travel unless those flights take place during the tour
Special taxes and airport levies that can only be paid in cash at the destination. We will advise you of these charges (if any) before you depart
Costs involved in obtaining visas for countries visited, where required
Travel insurance. We require all participants to have comprehensive travel insurance. A typical policy for one of our tours will cost from $160 upwards, depending on your age, pre-existing medical conditions, the countries you are visiting and the overall length of your trip
Lunches and dinners not specifically mentioned as included in the itinerary
Personal expenses such as laundry and phone calls
Costs associated with any activity mentioned as “optional” in the itinerary, or any suggested free time activity
You will be asked to sign an acknowledgement of these conditions when you book a place on a tour.
A deposit of $500 per person is required to confirm your booking on a tour. Final payment of the tour fee, insurance and any additional travel will be due 60 days before departure.
If you decide to cancel your booking the following charges apply:
More than 60 days before departure: $500*
60-45 days before tour start: 25% of total amount due
44-15 days before tour start: 75% of total amount due
14 days or less before departure: 100% of total amount due
*This amount may be credited to another Academy Travel tour within 12 months of the original tour you booked.
Unused Portions of the tour
We regret that refunds will not be given for any unused portions of the tour, such as meals, entry fees, accommodation, flights or transfers.
Academy Travel requires all participants to obtain comprehensive travel insurance. We offer a comprehensive policy with a reputable insurer if required.
Passport and Visa
A valid passport is required for all international travel. If you do not hold an Australian passport you may require a re-entry permit. Some countries require a visa to be issued before you depart Australia. We will advise you of all passport and visa requirements, but it is your responsibility to ensure that you meet passport and visa requirements before you depart.
Will the tour price change?
If the number of participants in a tour is significantly less than budgeted, or if there is a significant change in exchange rates Academy Travel reserves the right to amend the advertised price. If this occurs you will be given the option of cancelling your booking and obtaining a full refund. If an Academy Travel tour is forced to cancel you will get a full refund of all monies paid.
Will the itinerary change?
Occasionally circumstances beyond the control of Academy Travel make it necessary to change airline, hotel or to make slight amendments to daily itineraries. We will inform you of any changes as soon as they occur.
Full and final payment for the tour, airfare travel, insurance and any additional travel you book is due 60 days before departure. Payment may be made by bank deposit, cheque, cash or credit card. Please note there is a surcharge for payments made by credit card.
Academy Travel reserves the right to decline the booking or terminate the holiday of any traveller.