Havana is a unique city, with a complex history of colonialism and revolution, and a vibrant cosmopolitan culture. This 11-day study tour led by Dr Stephen Wilkinson, Chair of the International Institute for the Study of Cuba, takes you beyond the ‘rum and rumba’ stereotypes, and gives you special access to the knowledge to understand Cuba for yourself – from its fascinating history, its politics and social systems, to its thriving arts scene. This tour includes a day trip to the Las Terrazas ecovillage, an overnight stay in Santa Clara which includes a visit to Mantanzas, and the chance to hear from Cuba’s experts on Cuba.
Understand this unique city and the island’s complex history with the expert guidance of Dr Stephen Wilkinson, Chair of the International Institute for the Study of Cuba
Havana’s vibrant cosmopolitan culture, with its eclectic origins resulting from the city’s location as the gateway between New and Old Worlds
The Cuban revolution, from Che Guevara at Santa Clara to Cuba after Castro
The UNESCO-listed biosphere at Las Terrazas, one of the world’s first eco-villages
The art and architecture of Cuba, from Fusterlandia to the contemporary Fàbrica de Arte Cubano
Days 1–2: Explore the colourful streets of UNESCO World Heritage-listed Old Havana, on foot and by classic car.
Days 3–4: The Cuban revolution, from where history was made in Havana to the Green Revolution at Las Terrazas, an eco-village founded in the 1960s.
Days 5–6: Revolutionary art and architecture: National School of Arts, Fusterlandia, Fàbrica de Arte Cubano and the National Museum of Fine Arts
Days 7–8: Visit Mantanzas, the birthplace of rumba, and stay in Santa Clara, where Guevara and Cienfuegos defeated Batista.
Days 9–11: Visit Hemingway’s house, explore Havana’s thriving street art scene, and the markets that are so much a part of everyday life.
The tour begins and ends at our hotel in Havana. For this tour we recommend flights to Havana via either LA and Mexico with Qantas and its partner airlines, or through Canada. Contact us for quotes and bookings.
Included meals are shown with the symbols B, L and D.
Sunday 10 January : Arrive
The tour begins in the late afternoon in our hotel in Old Havana. Please check your individual travel documents for arrival in Havana. After introducing ourselves, we take an orientation walk of the district, famed for its colourful buildings, bars and music clubs, and we have dinner in a paladar (private restaurant) near the hotel. Overnight Havana (D)
Monday 11 January: Old Havana
Havana was founded by the Spanish in the 1500s to take advantage of the natural port provided by the bay and quickly became the Spanish Empire’s main port in the Caribbean – a gateway between Spain and the colonies of mainland America. The colonial city with its elegant baroque and neoclassical façades, colonnaded passageways, palaces and churches are well preserved in the old town and it has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. But the architecture of the city also evokes an eclectic range of influences, from the Spanish Moorish style, to French colonialism, and Catalan-influenced art-nouveau from the first half of the 20th century. The presence of the past and its many layers is palpable. This morning after a lecture in the hotel, we explore Old Havana on foot, visiting the plazas, monuments and neighbourhoods that reveal the many-layered history of the city. After lunch together, we take a classic car tour of the city, to taste the style of pre-revolutionary Havana, a haven for international expatriots seeking warmth, fun and gambling. The evening is at leisure. Overnight Havana (B, L)
Tuesday 12 January: Cuban Politics
The Cuban Revolution set the country on an inestimably different course, in which a centralised socialist state monopolised power in order to implement sweeping social and economic reforms. That Cuba has maintained its communist system with the decline of its political allies worldwide and the liberalisation of the global economy is a curious anomaly. The policies and practices of the government continue to elicit a wide range of responses worldwide, from condemnation to praise of the effectiveness of its health and education systems despite its troubled economy. Today we explore politics in Cuba, beginning with a lecture in the hotel. We then visit the Museum of the Revolution, whose exhibits – including Che Guevara’s town car, Russian made T-34s, and material from post-revolutionary Cuba – are a dramatic contrast to lavish interiors of the building, which was the Presidential Palace from 1920 to 1959. After a break for lunch, we visit the José Martí museum. Martí is one of Cuba’s most celebrated intellectuals – a poet, essayist and a political theorist whose writing and activism had a profound influence on the formation of Cuban communism. Later afternoon and evening at leisure. Overnight Havana (B)
Wednesday 13 January: Las Terrazas Biosphere
In the late 1960s, when environmentalism was quite radical, a small community set about restoring the natural environment of the Sierra del Rosario, the mountains west of Havana, one of the most deforested and over-farmed regions of Cuba and the location of the first large scale coffee plantation in the New World. The community quickly became self-supporting and ecofriendly – the first of Cuba’s eco-villages. By the mid-1980s the area was listed by UNSECO as a World-Heritage biosphere, and continues to provide a model for new sustainable communities. Today we travel by coach to visit Las Terrazas (“The Terraces”), where we visit the eco-village and its artisans, explore the forest canopy, and, after lunch, visit a sustainable coffee plantation. Returning to Havana, the evening is at leisure. Overnight Havana (B, L)
Thursday 14 January: Revolutionary Architecture
The Revolution brought with it a form of utopianism in which architects saw themselves and their buildings as having a key role in the radical transformation of society. Today we explore some of the different styles of Revolutionary architecture, starting with Plaza de la Revolución. Although the square was started under Batista, it quickly became an emblem of revolutionary Cuba, where tens of thousands would gather to hear Castro’s speeches and celebrate the revolution’s achievements. We then visit the National School of Arts – a project conceived by Castro and Guevara to transform a golf course into a beautiful and tuition-free art school. The architects – Porro, Gottardi and Garatti – rejected the International Style and instead adopted forms and materials that expressed the roots of Cuban culture: Catalan arches, terracotta, stone arcades, and free flowing village like structures. In the afternoon, after lunch, we visit Fusterlandia, a fishing village that Cuban artist José Fuster transformed into a wonderland of colourful mosaics, sculptures, recycled art and winding passages, inspired by Gaudí’s Park Güell. Return to the hotel; evening at leisure. Overnight Havana (B, L)
Friday 15 January: Cuban Art
Cuban art often expresses the diversity of peoples and cultures who’ve made Cuba home – an eclectic combination of African, European, Caribbean and Latin American cultures. This morning, after a leisurely start, we have a lecture in the hotel, followed by a visit to the National Museum of Fine Arts. The museum houses Cuba’s historical collection of art, showing the development of fine art in Cuba from the Spanish dominated colonial era through to the main art movements of revolutionary Cuba. In the evening, after a group dinner, we visit the Fábrica de Arte Cubano – the vibrant centre of contemporary art in Havana. The converted oil mill, with its wide naves, passageways and patios was converted into an interdisciplinary space for all arts – from visual arts, to dance, theatre, architecture and music. The exhibitions they hold run fluidly throughout the space, and encourage collaboration and exchange between artists of all varieties and the public. Overnight Havana (B, D)
Saturday 16 January: Matanzas
Today we begin an excursion overland to Santa Clara, where we will stay overnight (we keep our rooms in Havana, so there’s no need to pack up!). Our focus today will be Matanzas, a city in the north of Cuba, often neglected by visitors even though it is a major cultural centre for Cuban music, dance, literature and poetry. The city was established in the late 1600s to develop the island’s sugar industry and witnessed the importation of very large numbers of enslaved Africans, and their cultures continued to give the region a distinctive Afro-Cuban feel – both the rumba and the danzón developed in this region, for example. After touring the city, we have lunch before continuing on to Santa Clara. Dinner in the hotel. Overnight Santa Clara (B, L, D)
Sunday 17 January: Santa Clara and Che Guevara
Santa Clara, in the centre of Cuba, is inextricable from the history of the revolution, for it was here that revolutionary guerrillas led by Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos defeated Batista’s army, forcing the president to flee the country. This morning, after a lecture on Guevara and the capture of Santa Clara, we visit the Che Guevara Memorial, where the revolutionary leader and 16 guerrillas killed with him in Bolivia were laid to rest. We then visit the site where Guevara led a small group of guerrillas to derail and capture an armoured supply train sent by Batista with more than 300 soldiers to relieve Santa Clara. The Tren Blindado Memorial on the site incorporates the carriages from the train (and the bulldozer the guerrillas used to destroy the tracks). After lunch together, we return by coach to Havana. Evening at leisure. Overnight Havana (B, L)
Monday 18 January: Hemingway’s Cuba
Hemingway frequently lived in Cuba from 1940-1960, writing seven novels, carousing, fishing, coming and going as an international war correspondent, hunting U-boats from his fishing boat, and spending time with his cat. Indeed, it was during his time in Cuba that he reached the height of his success, writing the novels that would secure him the Pulitzer and Nobel prizes. Although he only described himself as a ‘garden-variety Cuban’, and US-Cuba relations deteriorated rapidly after the revolution, he is nonetheless honoured in Cuba as one of the country’s most important cultural figures. This morning we have a lecture on US-Cuba relations, followed by a visit to Finca Vigia – Hemingway’s house, which is preserved as a museum. The afternoon and evening are free for you to do as you wish, as Hemingway mostly did. Overnight Havana (B)
Tuesday 19 January: Havana’s Street Art
For decades the walls of Havana knew nothing but paint, faded ads from the 1950s and exhortations to continue the hard work of the Revolution. Recently, however, street artists – both from Cuba and abroad – have started making the city their canvas (not quite legally), often blending Cuban traditions with emerging street art styles from South America and Europe. This morning we take a walking tour through some neighbourhoods of central Havana, admiring the murals and street art, and seeing more of the city, where locals gather to play music, dance and make life work despite the economic hardships their country faces. The afternoon is free, and you may wish to visit some of Havana’s wonderful markets, such as the Alamacenes San José artisan’s market. In the evening, we have a farewell dinner. Overnight Havana (B, D)
Wednesday 20 January: Departure
The tour ends in the hotel after breakfast today. (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.
Hotels have been chosen for their reliable quality and excellent location. Although the hotels are 4-star rated, please understand that not all tourist services will be the same as typical western standards.
Hotel Sevilla, Havana (9 nights)
Located in the centre of Havana’s arts and culture district, and just minutes from the tree-lined promenade, Paseo del Prado. We will keep our rooms while we take an overnight excursion to Santa Clara.
Hotel E Central, Santa Clara (1 night)
Recently renovated boutique hotel in a colonial building in the centre of Santa Clara.
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, taxis or public transport are 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
Costs involved in obtaining visas for countries visited, where required and when stated as included
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?
Our 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
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