COLOURFUL ISLAND WITH A COLOURFUL HISTORY
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New 2017 Itinerary
Difficulty is measured on many factors such as distance, ascent/descent, terrain, weather and more. There's no magic formula, but from our experience we use yellow for easy, orange for medium and red for hard. Challenger holidays require a high level of fitness and stamina.
The cobbled colonial streets of Havana, Cienfuegos and Trinidad stretch out before you, winding their way through peaceful plazas filled with cultural cues from Spanish, African, French and Asian influences. The tobacco fields and rainforests of Vinales contribute a rich biodiversity, while the peaks, waterfalls, white sand beaches and plantations of central and western Cuba offer a more challenging exploration.
- Spanish colonial cities of old Havana, Trinidad and Cienfuegos
- Walk in Viňales with limestone ‘mogotes’, tobacco fields and rainforest
- Discover Cuba’s history and exotic culture
- Stay in Cuban 'bed & breakfast' accommodation
- Explore the Topes de Collantes trails and the Caribbean coast
- Walks in Cuba’s countryside reveal the timeless heart of the country
- See western and central Cuba in detail
- 14 nights’ accommodation in en-suite rooms
- Full Board from dinner on arrival to breakfast on departure (minus 1 lunch)
- A full programme of guided walks led by a local tour director, local guides and an HF Holidays' leader
- All sightseeing, and entrance fees
- Travel by air-conditioned coach/minivan and open-sided jeeps
Cuba's infrastructure cannot be compared to that of other Caribbean destinations. While city hotels are generally good 3 and 4-star standard, (this is Cuban star rating) accommodation in rural areas is in guesthouses, where the facilities are more basic. Despite Cuba's increasing popularity, it is still a developing country and some of the accommodation is not of a standard that is perhaps expected from a Caribbean destination. The accommodation is all air conditioned and in excellent locations.
As Cuba becomes more popular, hotels are only confirmed 2 or 3 days prior to travel. Even then, things could change during the tour. Many of the hotel facilities are still as they were 60 years ago, and slowly money is only just now being invested in improving the hotels or the infrastructure. If you can see past the accommodation problems, and really travel with a sense of adventure, then I'm sure the locals and the scenery will more than win you over.
Although we use the best available hotels in these areas, standards of service can be leisurely, but this is easily compensated by the warm welcome and Cuba's unique culture and scenery.
Hotel Capri or Notel Nacional, Havana - 2nts at start & 2nts at end of the tour
Our holiday starts and finishes in Havana, in the middle of the Vedado district of Havana, overlooking the harbour, seawall and city. A magical setting, and an excellent introduction to Cuba. The hotel is likely to be the Hotel Capri or the Hotel Nacional.
Los Jazmines, Vinales Valley - 3nts
Our accommodation in the beautiful Vinales Valley; its comfortable rooms and pool make the perfect place to relax after our walks. If we are not in Los Jasmines, then we'll be staying at Casas Particulares (bed & breakfast) with evening meals in local Paladars.
Hotel La Granjita or Los Caneyes, Santa Clara - 2nts
We'll then travel to Santa Clara where we'll be at Hotel La Granjita or Los Caneyes.
Casas Particulares, Trinidad - 3nts
On to Trinidad for 3 nights in Casas Particulares where we enjoy wonderful local hospitality and get a real insight into Cuban culture. Guests will be accommodated in different properties on the same street, those booked in a single room will be staying in a house where other HF guests are staying. All bedrooms have en-suite bathrooms with hot and cold water. They have fans and/or air conditioning. Each house will have its own character and will be decorated according to the tastes of their owner. Food will be hearty home cooking and breakfasts will be in the house where you sleep. Dinner will be in different homes/restaurants each evening. Please note, it is likely that beds may not be made during your stay.
Hotel Faro Luna, Cienfuegos - 2nts
On to the modern facilities and city scenes of Hotel Faro Luna or similar at Cienfuegos.
Viva Cuba itinerary
Walks are 2-7 miles (3 - 10km). All but one walk have an ascent of less than 1000ft (300m), the exception having an ascent of less than 1500ft (450m). Travelling days include sightseeing stops, or short walks.
Days 1-2: Outward flight & Havana
Fly to Havana and transfer to the hotel for 2 nights.
The next morning take walking tour of the historic old centre of Havana, visiting the Plaza de Cathedral, Plaza Vieja and the old city walls. After lunch in the city, the afternoon is free to take in the sights.
Days 3-5: Viňales Valley
Drive west into the beautiful Viňales valley, a picturesque region of small farms and old tobacco plantations. This afternoon walk in the unusual scenery of limestone ‘mogotes’ on the Palmarito trail, which leads through small villages with a traditional way of life. Stay in Viñales for 3 nights. (Distance Havana - Vinales 210km approx)
The next day we walk on the Tradiciones Campesinas trail through tobacco fields and fruit plantations and with wonderful birdlife.
There's also a free morning to relax, followed by an afternoon walk on the Sendero Valle del Silencio through this enchanting countryside. Famous for its mogotes, karsts and tabacco plantations, then we will have dinner for Wilfredo’s Organic Farm, high on the hill above Viñales to enjoy sunset and a delicious organic dinner.
Days 6-7: Santa Clara
Early breakfast and set off towards Central Cuba. We will make a stop on the way for lunch “Pio Cua Restaurant”. From here on to Santa Clara to visit the Che Guevara memorial, resting place for Che and sixteen of his men who were killed in action in 1967 CE in Bolivia. Stay in Santa Clara for 2 nights. (Distance Vinales - Santa Clara approx 502km)
The next the morning we depart for the city of Remedios, located fifty minutes to the Northwest of Santa Clara, well off the beaten track. Remedios is one of the oldest towns in Cuba and the 17th century colonial architecture dominates this peaceful town. Remedios was declared a National Monument town, and on our arrival we depart on a relaxed walking tour of the historic centre. The main attraction of the square is the colonial church “Iglesia Mayor” of San Juan Bautista thirteen beautifully decorated gold altars. Time for lunch and drive back to Santa Clara
Days 8-10: Trinidad
Drive to Jibacoa then continue in Russian trucks to the starting point of the Guanayara trail in Topes de Collantes. Walk to the Javira waterfall and lunch at La Gallega ranch. After that we drive to Trinidad town for 3 nights. (Distance Santa Clara - Topes de Collantes 75km, Topes to Trinidad 25km)
We also walk in the Valley of Sugar Mills, among the remnants of large sugar plantations. This afternoon take a walking tour of historic Trinidad which, with its cobbled streets, colourful churches and quiet plazas, seems to be untouched by the modern world.
The following day enjoy a day at leisure by the beach or explore the charming streets of Trinidad.
Days 11-12: Cienfuegos
After breakfast we drive to Hanabanilla and begin our walk around Hanabanilla Reservoir “Trek la Atalaya”. Lunch in Rio Negro Restaurant. After lunch, we transfer 1 ½ hours to Cienfuegos, a town settled by French emigrants descendants more than 150 years ago, and check into our hotel for 2 nights. (Distance Trinidad - Hanabanilla 95km, Hanabanilla - Cienfuegos 50km)
The next day's excursion visits the Cienfuegos Botanical Garden. Visit the Orchid Garden Macradenia, Palmira, and an orchard. We leave the garden and enjoy this beautiful town. Cienfuegos is one of Cuba’s most charming cities. Set on the shores of a huge natural bay, the city was originally one of Cuba’s most important harbours. Settled by French immigrants fleeing the Slave uprisings of Haiti, the city has elegant boulevards and classical homes, as well as spacious squares and one of Cuba’s most famous theatres (Teatro Terry). We visit the theatre and the main square.
Days 13-14: Havana
Travel back to Havana (for 2 nights), stopping off at the Bay of Pigs en route. This evening take a guided walk on Havana’s atmospheric waterfront promenade, the Malecon. We'll enjoy a cocktail at El Floridita, one of Hemingway's old hangouts. (Distance Cienfuegos - Bay of Pigs 170km, Bay of Pigs - Havana 200km)
The following day we leave our hotel in classic American cars and travel to Finca Vigia, the home of Ernest Hemingway. After the visit we travel to Cojimar, where he moored his boat, Pilar. The fishing village is full of memories of the great American novelist and he kept a home close by for more than 20 years. We enjoy a daiquiri and lunch at one of his favourite restaurants, Las Terrazas, which overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. We finish with a special farewell dinner. For those that want to, carry on to a local bar for some Cuban sounds and possible dancing.
Days 15-16: Return flight
Transfer to the airport for our overnight flight to the UK.
British nationals require a full valid passport with two months validity from the date of departure from Cuba, and a visa or tourist card to enter Cuba. Other passport holders please check with your nearest Cuban embassy or consulate for entry requirements.
For UK passport holders, the Tourist Card is included in the price of your holiday. The application form will be sent out to you with your booking confirmation. Those who do not have British passports with full right of residence in the UK should check requirements with a Cuban Embassy or Consulate.
Before booking, you should check with your doctor to see if any health precautions are needed. The following websites provide a wealth of information on travelling and health: www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk www.traveldoctor.co.uk
Vaccines: Hepatitis A & Tetanus vaccinations are recommended. Diphtheria, Rabies and Typhoid are sometimes recommended too. Dengue fever and meningitis may also occur.
General standards of health and health services in Cuba are of a high standard. However, there is no reciprocal agreement with the UK. As with all international travel, medical insurance is essential.
Cuban authorities have strengthened their health screening at entry ports; if you show symptoms of a temperature or infectious disease you may be subjected to a medical examination. The Cuban authorities are carrying out chemical fumigation across the island to control the spread of mosquito-borne diseases; the chemicals used may cause some discomfort if you come into contact with them.
Temperatures in Cuba are fairly constant year-round with sub-tropical heat being cooled by north-easterly trade winds. Average temperatures are 27°C (81°F) in February and 26°C (78°F) in November. Cuba has 80% humidity year-round and a wet season running from May to September and this is the main hurricane season.
Vegetarianism is a relatively new concept in this part of the world, and vegetarian cuisine is therefore rather basic. Fish, chicken and pork are the most common options, meals in Cuba can sometimes be rather bland and choices can sometimes be limited. In general we do our best to accommodate dietary requirements, but it is important for travellers to Cuba to realise that there are limitations on food variety and food can be repetitive. You may wish to consider bringing some snacks with you.
There is a dual currency system in operation in Cuba, and tourists and foreign visitors are required to use the Convertible Peso (CUC’s). Cuban Peso’s or ‘moneda nacional’ can be used in small shops, cafeterias and street stalls away from the tourist centres, although this is a rare occurence. The import and export of local currency is prohibited.
Since 2004 US Dollars are no longer legal tender in Cuba. It is possible to exchange US Dollars cash but there are charges of around 20% to do so. MasterCard and Visa are increasingly accepted, provided they are not issued by a US bank, or a bank with links to the USA, but hefty fees are often added. ATMs are more common but not everywhere.
Pounds Sterling, Euros and Canadian Dollars are readily changeable. CUC notes can be exchanged for other currencies on departure at the airport.
Credit cards can be taken as back-up although they incur a commission of over 10%. Traveller’s cheques are not advised.
Tips are included on this holiday.
Cuba survival guide
So many people are wanting to visit Cuba at the moment that we have put together a survival guide which helps you be prepared for a trip to Cuba, the country that is ready to entertain and confound.
Havana is no longer frozen in time, at least not completely. With Cuba’s guarded openness to private enterprise grabbing hold, classic American cars and salsa singers now share the cityscape with new and inventive offerings in food, culture, night life and hospitality. No other city in Latin America, or perhaps the world, can claim to be having just the kind of moment that Havana is experiencing now after so many decades of being shut off from the rest of the world.
For visitors, the capital is a mash-up of past and present, freedom and restriction. It’s a city of architectural decay, but also creativity, where artists have turned a defunct cooking-oil factory into a performance space, bar and music venue that on any given night makes Brooklyn look as cool as a suburban Ikea. It’s a city where finding ingredients for a stellar menu requires feats of Promethean ingenuity; where opera is subversive, and kitschy too; where the Internet is just arriving, fully formed and censored; and where young Cubans without money are fleeing, while those with connections and ideas await great success.
Officially, some limits for Americans remain in place. Despite restored relations with Cuba, tourism is still banned by the embargo but Americans are flocking to the island, wanting to savour the “forbidden fruit” before Starbucks and McDonalds arrive. Adventurous Europeans have been travelling to Cuba for years but it’s only recently that Cuba has become so popular that travellers might mistake it for a mainstream destination.
Expect the unexpected
The first rule of any trip to Cuba is that nothing is set in stone. Even though your booking may have been made a year ago and HF Holidays has confirmed that all is in place, things can change quickly and at the last minute. The Cuban tourism industry continues to be controlled almost entirely by the State and its reservations systems are fallible and rickety. By law, most of your services will have to be booked through the central reservations systems – designed for the good old days when barely a European or an American came to the island. Now that Cuba is so popular, the system is critically overstretched and things do go wrong frequently. Go with the flow and take it as part of the Cuban experience.
Cuba really is buzzing at the moment and you will probably come across your fair share of frustrations and hotel cancellations - enjoy Cuba for what it is! A gloriously disorganized, original and off beat place. If your guide does announce a last minute change of plans, rest assured that everything possible has been done to try and avoid the change.
As you will be staying in Casas Particulares (Cuban bed & breakfasts), and eating meals in paladars then you will experience the beginnings of private enterprise in Cuba and you’ll appreciate how efficient, warm and hospitable Cubans can be when they are given the opportunity to run things for themselves.
What will my accommodation be like in Cuba?
Cuba is experiencing an unprecedented rush of visitors; tourism is up by more than 30% in one year and all accommodation is currently very overbooked. The Cuban Ministry of Tourism has responded to this rush by raising the prices for accommodation and other services by 100% in the last 12 months in an attempt to control numbers of visitors to Cuba. But people still keep coming so expect to find full hotels and restaurants wherever you go in Cuba.
Guaranteed hotel reservations are the biggest issue at the moment and it’s wise to expect your accommodation to change at the last minute as the rickety reservations system buckles under the sheer weight of numbers wanting to stay in Cuba. Even though we have reserved rooms months in advance, the central state-run reservations system will only confirm reservations a week or so before your arrival and will often make last minute changes to confirmed reservations. Please understand that we and our local agent in Cuba will have done everything within their power to get the best possible solution for you. These last minute changes are part and parcel of any trip to Cuba for the foreseeable future.
Hotels in Cuba are famously overbooked and unkempt. For years Cuba languished as a forgotten backwater and the chic hotels of the 1950’s slowly became more shabby than chic. Think Fawlty Towers and you’ll begin to get the picture! While some decent restoration work has been implemented on many hotels, especially in Havana, there is very little budget for maintenance so it’s quite common for hotel rooms to have minor plumbing problems and noisy air conditioning. It only takes a short visit to a Cuban home to realize that conditions in hotels are far superior to the average Cuban dwelling.
Regular visitors to Cuba quip that the hotel star system doesn’t really apply in Cuba. The general rule of thumb is to remove a star or 2 from the advertised standard to get a fair idea of what to expect.
As hotels become more expensive and as more people want to have a genuine experience in Cuba, casas particulares are becoming a great alternative solution. These can range from quite luxurious and stylish hostels in Havana to very simple country rooms in Trinidad and Viñales. Even though you will be staying in someone’s home, don’t expect too much interaction with your hosts. Most understand that their guests want privacy so will leave you alone unless you specifically make attempts to strike up conversation.
Rooms have en-suite bathrooms (poor water pressure is the norm and most towns only have running water on alternate days so shower quickly to ensure the water tanks don´t run dry!) and air- conditioning units. Décor can be an eye-opener; some rooms will be so plain that they resemble a room in a friary while others are painted in a carnival of colours and decorated with kitsch silky curtains and matching cushions. All will be spotlessly clean.
What’s the food like?
Until recently the simple answer to any question about Cuban food was to state that it was pretty awful! Dreary meals of rice, beans with chicken or pork and a cabbage salad is what the Cubans have been eating for decades so it’s easy to see why Cubans chefs have got into a bit of a rut. Things are changing, however, and there are now some decent paladars ( private restaurants ) in most towns. True, the menus can be a bit repetitive but what’s not to like about cheap lobster?!
Don’t expect spicy food as Cubans hate anything with a hint of “picante” but do expect plenty of gutsy home cooking with an emphasis on creole cooking : black beans, fresh fish, lobster, roast pork and chicken dishes are the staples with more and more restaurants trying to do something a little different with the limited range of ingredients available locally.
Are there any health worries?
Cuba is a tropical country so it’s a good idea to take extra care with personal hygiene to avoid stomach upsets and infections. We recommend that you carry anti-bacterial gel with you at all times and use several times daily and especially before and after meals.
If you’re keen on Cuban cocktails then we recommend that you only drink them in really clean restaurants and bars where the water for making ice will have been filtered. When in doubt ask for your drink without ice or go for bottled or canned drinks instead. Tap water is drunk by the locals but will almost certainly give foreigners stomach upsets.
You should bring a good insect repellent with you and make sure that you apply both during the day and night. The Aedis Aegypti mosquito bites during the day and is the carrier of dengue and zika. While it is highly unlikely that you will catch either disease in Cuba, mosquito bites can cause an allergic reaction or become infected in the hot, humid climate.
If you’re staying by the beach, make sure you apply repellent in the morning and in the evenings just before sunset when tiny sand flies nibble. The bite won’t itch for 24 hours but when it does, boy does it itch! Take anti-histamines orally for a couple of days to stop the itch.
Health and Safety
Generally speaking Health and Safety hasn’t come to Cuba yet. The basics are there so you don’t need to worry about whether your bus is safe to travel. It is. In general there is no obsession with health and safety and many of the safeguards we take for granted are not in place.
So expect some or all of the following:
Potholes Part and parcel of any road trip in Cuba.
Cracked Pavements. Most pavements have their fair share of cracks and uneven surfaces so take care when walking – even in the centre of Havana – and wear comfortable shoes.
Jineteros This is the local Cuban word for a hustler; offering to take you to eat at their cousin’s paladar, or to drink a mojito in their home or offering you cut price cigars they are the most charming band of hustlers in the world and can usually be batted off with a polite “No Thanks”
Dodgy Electrics. Loose wires and electric showers are part and parcel of a Cuban home. It’s not unusual to see loose wires in hotels and some of the casas particulares still use the electric showers. We would love to eliminate all of them but these risks to health and safety will probably be part of Cuba for a number of years to come.
Dehydration It’s quite easy to get seriously de-hydrated , especially during the first days of your trip as you acclimatize to the heat and humidity. Make sure you drink plenty of mineral water and try to avoid drinking too many mojitos.
Standards of hygiene. Cubans are extremely clean and house proud but lack the cleaning products which we take for granted. This can make it extremely hard to give the impression of a well cleaned bathroom when, for example, the bathtub is stained by hard water deposits. Replacement taps, toilet seats or broken tiles can be impossible to buy due to the US Embargo which still makes importation prohibitively expensive, so even hotels sometimes lack the basics or fail to replace leaking taps or faulty toilets. This can give the impression that high standards of hygiene are not being demanded of cleaning staff. No matter what standard of accommodation you’ll be staying in, expect some of the equipment to be faulty!
For flights information please see the Dates and Prices tab
Peter Snelson, aka ‘Wolfy’
Wolfy was fortunate enough to be Expedition Leader for a young adult development expedition to Laos and Vietnam for 3 weeks in 2014. He enjoyed it tremendously and found the culture and friendliness of the people he met wonderful. He is leading an HF Worldwide Holiday to Vietnam in November 2016.
During the summer of 2016 he led a Youth Development Expedition to south India, travelling from the west coast to the east. Having learnt lots about the diverse & varied cultures here he is looking forward to comparing & contrasting them to Sri Lanka with our HF guests in February 2017.
He also leads youth expeditions on a regular basis to Morocco, exploring the High Atlas Mountains. His Youth Team in 2016 completed a 4-day trek to the summit of Jebel Toubkal (4,167m), making it the 4th time he has personally reached the summit, twice in winter conditions.
He leads for HF Holidays in UK, mainly at mountain houses, and also in European resorts.
Wolfy also ‘freelances’ as an outdoors instructor at various Outdoor Adventure Centres. He trains, supervises and assesses Duke of Edinburgh teams, National Citizenship and Princes Trust groups. He loves to offer groups real adventure in wild places whether on foot, in kayak or open canoe.
People of a certain age often remember ‘Wolfy Smith’, of BBC TV ‘Citizen Smith’ comedy fame. Maybe that is why he is so keen to visit Cuba along with our guests in Autumn 2017? He may let you in on why he’s called ‘Wolfy’.
Wolfy is leading 6 November 2017
He has been leading for HF Holidays for some 17 years during which time he has lead in the UK, Europe and to various worldwide destinations, mostly in the less developed parts of the world including the first HF Holidays' cycling trip to Cuba in 2014. His own independent travels to countries as diverse as Venezuela, Vietnam, Malawi, etc, plus time spent working in Uganda, have given him a good understanding of different cultures. He takes great pride in working closely with our local staff and finding out about their lives and he actively encourages our guests to do likewise. Cuba is a fascinating country going through a period of great change and it will be fascinating to see and interpret the changes since 2014.
Colin is leading our 21 December 2017 departure.
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Dates & Prices
|6 Nov 2017||CUWHW - Viva Cuba - Without Flights||14||£2,699.00||Book Now|
|6 Nov 2017||
CUWHW - Viva Cuba
Flight - Outbound
Flight - Return
|5 Feb 2018||
CUWHW - Viva Cuba
Flight - Outbound
Flight - Return
|5 Feb 2018||CUWHW - Viva Cuba - Without Flights||14||£3,025.00||Book Now|
|5 Mar 2018||
CUWHW - Viva Cuba
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|5 Mar 2018||CUWHW - Viva Cuba - Without Flights||14||£3,025.00||Book Now|
|9 Apr 2018||
CUWHW - Viva Cuba
Flight - Outbound
Flight - Return
|9 Apr 2018||CUWHW - Viva Cuba - Without Flights||14||£3,025.00||Book Now|
|5 Nov 2018||CUWHW - Viva Cuba - Without Flights||14||£3,025.00||Book Now|
|5 Nov 2018||
CUWHW - Viva Cuba
Flight - Outbound
Flight - Return
|22 Dec 2018||
CUWHW - Viva Cuba
Flight - Outbound
Flight - Return
|22 Dec 2018||CUWHW - Viva Cuba - Without Flights||14||£3,195.00||Book Now|
Prices are per person
- Single room: £540 (2017) £600 (2018)
- Non-member associate fee: £10 per person