HAVANA AND THE WEST

From $2,195 per person based on double occupancy

9 Days / 8 Nights

Group Size: Max. 6 people
Physical Rating: Easy Physical Rating
HAVANA AND THE WEST map

Accredited by:

Espíritu Travel - Accredited

Member of:

Espíritu Travel - Member

What's included

Accomodations
  • Casas particulares - These are private houses licensed by the government under strict conditions to rent en-suite rooms to foreigners. A sort of micro bed and breakfast that has been set up in people’s homes.
  • Small hotel (María la Gorda)
Meals
  • 8 breakfasts
  • 2 lunch
  • 2 dinners
  • Lunches and dinners are not included while at María la Gorda
Transport
  • Private transport - modern, air conditioned vehicles
Staff
  • Tour leader throughout, local guides where appropriate. Local guides in Havana, María la Gorda & Viñales.
Other
  • Excursions and entrance fees are not included while in María la Gorda
  • Activities as detailed in itinerary
  • Meal tips

What's not included

Insurance
  • Highly recommended for all participants on our programs. Click here for a quote.
Flights
  • Commercial flights are available from American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Airlines, JetBlue and Southwest.
Departure taxes (if any)

Introduction

Visitors thrill to the island of Cuba’s complexities, incredible natural beauty and to the vivacity and spontaneity of its people.  Stroll along the winding streets of Old Havana and soak in the city’s rich history.  Heading out of Havana to explore the western most region of Cuba, Península de Guanahacabibes, a national park and UNESCO biosphere reserve.   Here you will encounter sugar white beaches, translucent waters and pristine coral reefs.  Here, where its remoteness is more a state of mind than in distance from the Capital, you encounter superlative diving and snorkeling, explore caves and see first-hand nesting sea turtles.  Winding your way back to the city, we stop in Viñales to see this incredibly beautiful region with its mogotes and fertile fields where the finest tobacco in the worlds is grown. 

Day 1

Havana

Welcome-to-Cuba

The historic city center and a local market.

Taste the best mojitos in Havana.

Welcome to Cuba dinner.

Day 2

Havana

The highlights of Havana: Plaza de la Revolución and iconic Hotel Nacional.

Fusterlandia art gallery community and Callejón de Hamel, a street that is like one big art gallery.

Take a cruise modern Havana in a classic 1950s American car.

Dinner and show at the bastion of traditional Cuban music, the Buena Vista Social Club.

Day 3

Havana - María la Gorda, Peninsula Guanahacabibes

Depart to María la Gorda.

Visit Alejandro Robaina Tobacco Plantation, to tour of a working plantation.

Continue to the far west of Cuba, make a stop for lunch en route.

Day 4

María la Gorda, Peninsula Guanahacabibes

Free afternoon to enjoy of Today one of the optionals activities or have a relaxing day at the beach.

Day 5

María la Gorda, Peninsula Guanahacabibes

Free afternoon to enjoy of Today one of the optionals activities or have a relaxing day at the beach.

Day 6

María la Gorda, Peninsula Guanahacabibes - Viñales

Depart for Viñales.

Visit workshop-gallery of renowned Cuban artist Pedro Pablo Oliva

Hike to watch the sunset over the valley of Silence, a sight not to be missed.

Day 7

Viñales

Explore this beautiful valley on horseback.

Free afternoon or enjoy one of the optional excursions.

Day 8

Viñales - Havana

Travel to Havana and visit the Partagás Tobacco factory.

Free time to enjoy your last day in Cuba

Day 9

Havana - Depart

See you later Cuba!

Day 1

Havana

Accommodation: casa particular
Dinner included

Welcome to Cuba

A representative of Espíritu Travel greets you at the airport upon your arrival. Transfer to your casa particular and check in if possible. You have a brief orientation meeting before setting off for your city tour.

**It is necessary to arrive to Havana before 2pm.

Walking tour in Old Havana

You start your walking tour in the part of old Havana that few visitors see, the real Havana. You experience the real daily life of Cuban people; visit a local market, a surprising mix between meat, fruits, vegetables and flowers, afterwards, you go to Bodega de Alimentos to understand the monthly rations system.

You will visit the neighborhoods were Cuban live in Old Havana. After you head to the historic sights of Old Havana which includes the Capital building, the historic center where you see the important squares and monuments including a stop at Casa de la Cultura. We take a break to taste the best mojitos in Havana at a special place. Finishing the tour by crossing the harbor to view the city from the fortress and visit the Missile Crisis’ outdoor museum.

Welcome to Cuba dinner

Dinner at one of the many fantastic paladares in Havana

After dinner, return to your casa or free evening to enjoy live music.

Day 2

Havana

Accomodation: casa particular
Breakfast, lunch and dinner included

Revolution, culture and cigars

Today, your excursion starts at the gigantic Plaza de La Revolución which have the famous murals of Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos. After you will take a stroll through one of the largest cemeteries in the world, Cementerio Cristóbal Colón, a walk through these 56 hallowed hectares can be an enlightening stroll through the annals of Cuban history.

Your final stop this morning is at beautiful Hotel Nacional, an icon of Havana life during the 1940s and 50s.

Visit the Art gallery community and Callejón de Hamel.

After lunch, a short ride to Fusterlandia in Jaimanita town (15 minutes drive). Art gallery community project by Fuster, one of the most original Cuban artist who was also known as the Picasso of the Caribbean.

Continuing with the art theme you head back to Havana to experience Callejón de Hamel, a street that is like one big art gallery, a haven for Afro-Cuban art. Finishing the day with a ride in a classic 1950s American car to do a panoramic tour of modern Havana. The way to experience the city like a local.

Free time to enjoy on. your own before dinner

Dinner and show at the famous Buena Vista Social Club.

A place where you hear Cuba’s icons of traditional music.

Day 3

Havana - María la Gorda, Peninsula Guanahacabibes

Accommodation: small hotel
Breakfast included

Depart to María la Gorda

Today you head to María la Gorda on the Peninsula Guanahacabibes (approx. 4 hour drive), en route you stop at Alejandro Robaina Tobacco Plantation, one of the most famous tabacco plantations of Cuba.

Continue your journey westward.

After the tour of the tobacco plantation, continue your journey to the far west of Cuba, making a stop for lunch en route.

Upon arrival you will have a welcome cocktail and time to rest before dinner at the hotel.

Day 4

María la Gorda, Peninsula Guanahacabibes

Accommodation: small hotel
Breakfast included

Free afternoon to enjoy of Today one of the optionals activities or have a relaxing day at the beach.

Today, you have the option to enjoy one of these options:

• SCUBA dive
• Snorkeling
• Cabo San Antonio/Roncali lighthouse excursion (include beach time)
• Cuevas Las Perlas (hike)
• Del Bosque al Mar (hike)
• Evening turtle watching (in season)

Day 5

María la Gorda, Peninsula Guanahacabibes

Accommodation: small hotel
Breakfast included

Free afternoon to enjoy of Today one of the optionals activities or have a relaxing day at the beach.

Today you have the option to relax on the beach or enjoy one of these options:

• SCUBA dive
• Snorkeling
• Cabo San Antonio/Roncali lighthouse excursion (include beach time)
• Cuevas Las Perlas (hike)
• Del Bosque al Mar (hike)
• Evening turtle watching (in season)

Day 6

María la Gorda, Peninsula Guanahacabibes - Viñales

Accommodation: casa particular
Breakfast included

Depart for Viñales with a stop in Pinar del Rio

Departure to Viñales (approximately 2 hour drive).

En route stop in Pinar del Rio where you will visit Casa Taller, the workshop-gallery of renowned Cuba artist Pedro Pablo Oliva, which promotes and encourages artists in Pinar del Rio. Stop by the Palacio de los Matrimonios with its grand neoclassical façade and opulent building. You are able to wander around the lavish interior which is filled with Chinese artwork.

Hike to watch the sunset over the lush, green Valley of Silence.

You departure will depend on the time of the year but around 4:30 in the afternoon. You will enter the valley by car then you will walk for about three hours, including two stops which makes about 1 1/2 hours.

The first stop is at a lake, where you have a dip with fantastic views. Finally the last stop at the end at a farmer’s house to enjoy the breathtaking view of the entire valley, the view of Los Acuáticos community. You can order drinks at the farmer’s house (paid in cash there).

Relax and enjoy the view.

Day 7

Viñales

Acoommodation: casa particular
Breakfast included

Explore the beautiful valley on horseback.

Today horseback riding in Viñales national park, here you see the most spectacular views of the valley, visit caves where there are underground rivers that allow riders to cool off from the Cuban heat.

You will ride past the tobacco fields and stop to see one of the drying shed, learn firsthand how the tobacco for the world famous Cuba cigars is grown. See the diverse live in the heart of the valley, while make a stop to taste guarapo (sugar cane juice) prepared by a family that still uses rudimentary methods and traditional processes. During the trip you see the unique identity of this region and how they live in harmony with nature.

Free afternoon after your excursion or enjoy another excursion (not included in the price) to Gran Caverna de Santo Tomás, the largest cave system in Cuba and considered the largest in the Americas.

Day 8

Viñales - Havana

Accommodation: casa particular
Breakfast included

Travel to Havana and visit the Partagás Tobacco factory.

You travel back to Havana (approx 2 hour drive). Arrive back to Havana and finishing your program with a visit to the Partagás Tobacco factory, One of Havana’s oldest and most famous cigar factories, the landmark neoclassical Real Fábrica de Tabacos Partagás was founded in 1845 by Spaniard Jaime Partagás. Today some 400 workers toil for up to 12 hours a day rolling such famous cigars as Montecristos and Cohibas.

Free evening to enjoy your last evening in Cuba.

Day 9

Havana - Depart


Breakfast included

See you later Cuba!

Check out and transfer to Havana International airport for your flight
home.


Cuba is special, you will often here this said by Cubans and visitors who have travelled to the island and you will soon understand why. It is because Cuba tends to be very different to other areas of the Caribbean or world that you may have travelled. The country’s buildings and infrastructure are generally old and may not have been maintained to an acceptable standard. Elevators, A/C, Internet often break down or are not working. Water pressure and hot water can be minimal, in general things happen slowly. Cuba is an amazing place to visit but western expectations should be left at home and a sense of adventure should be your guide.

Understanding Cuba

If you would like to get some background information about the history and politics of Cuba, check out The Cuba Libre Story on Netflix. This documentary series recounts the tumultuous history of Cuba, a nation of foreign conquest, freedom fighters and Cold War political machinations.

Passports and Cuba tourist card

A valid passport with minimum 6 months validity, this rule is set by the airlines. You are required to show your passport at all accommodations even at casas particulars.

A tourist card (¨visa¨) is required for travel to Cuba. JetBlue and Delta Airlines allow you to purchase the tourist card when you check in for your flight at your layover destination (last point of departure from the US). It is important that you keep the tourist card in a safe place, as it is necessary to show it upon departure from the country.

Departure Tax

As of 1 April 2015, there is no departure tax when leaving Cuba.

Accommodations

Espíritu Travel uses almost exclusively casas particulares throughout Cuba. There is no better way to have a people-to-people experience than staying at one of these ‘micro B&Bs’. What they lack in amenities such as a pool or spa, they make up for in oodles of charm, genuine hospitality and the opportunity to speak to locals in a relaxed and comfortable setting. Your understanding and appreciation of Cuba will grow far richer as a result. Casa owners are excellent hosts and their houses can be deceptively small from the outside. The rooms will all have a private bathroom, hot and cold running water, air conditioning and some of have kitchens and/or fridges. However, the hosts are more than happy to store food for you if you there isn’t one available in your room.

Everyday items that we take for granted in the US are often difficult for Cubans to acquire so please be understanding.

Meals

Lunch and dinners that are part of the program include: 1 starter, 1 main course, dessert, coffee and 1 drink (not cocktails such as mojitos). Any other additional items are at the participant’s expense. In addition, we budget for mid-range paladares, if you want to experience high-end paladares, there will be supplemental charge, paid at the time.

Dietary restrictions

Please advise us if you have any dietary restriction, such as vegetarian or vegan. This information will be given to your tour leader. However, there is no guarantee that these restrictions can be accommodated at every meal. It is important to be as flexible as possible because paladares/ restaurants may not be able to accommodate these special needs. If you feel you can’t be flexible, it might be wise to carry some energy dense snacks with you.

What can I bring back?

Visitors can bring back $400 worth of art and an unlimited amount of cigars and rum.

Artwork

You can buy so called tourist art on the streets of Havana. These do not require an exportation procedure. However, when purchasing art from a gallery, it needs to be authenticated. You should receive a receipt or export permit to show Cuban customs, provided the artwork was purchased at an official shop. If the gallery can’t provide an export permit or you didn’t receive an official receipt, you can obtain documentation for the art from the Registro Nacional de Bienes Culturales (National Registry of Cultural Goods) and Centro de Partimonio Cultural (Center of Cultural Heritage) in Havana. Permits are also available at regional offices in provincial capitals, when traveling outside of Havana. It generally takes two days to process art licenses, and artwork must be brought to the office directly. If the piece of art is too large to bring into the office, a photo will suffice. Either way, it’s important to plan ahead.

Cigars

Now you are allowed to bring back as many cigars as you would like. However, the cigars should only be bought at government stores, Casa del Habano. Please do not ask your tour leader to try to get you a better deal from somebody he might know at the factory. This puts the tour leader in an  awkward position, if the cigars turn out to be fakes. We have advised our tour leaders that they are not to participate in this type of transaction.

Paladars vs Restaurants

Paladars are small, family-run restaurants and are one of the best ways to enjoy local cuisine. Many paladares appear and operate much like a normal restaurant but often the owners have converted part of their home. Restaurants are government owned and as such are part of the larger state run tourism apparatus.

Money Matters

The Cuban Convertible (CUC) is pegged to the US dollar, 1:1 but when you exchange your dollars for CUC, you will be charged a 10% commission.

Dual currency

Cuba has a dual currency system, Peso Cubano (referred to as moneda nacional, abbreviated MN) and Peso Convertible (referred to as CUC$). In general, travelers will pay almost exclusively in CUC, however, you might need to have a small amount of Peso Cubano for paying for items you might purchase from a street merchant such as bottled water, a snack or often you need to leave a tip for the bathroom attendant. Try to ask for some smaller bills like 5s and 10s as sometimes local vendors or souvenir stands are unable to break 20 notes.

Credit cards

U.S. credit cards are now accepted in Cuba, however you will not be able to use them in many places (it is an evolving situation). Cuba is still a cash economy so we recommend that you bring all the money you will need for your trip in cash. Bring a credit card for emergencies only. In some government shops and in major hotel chains, you should be able to use a credit card.

Exchanging money

Cuban bureaus changes are called Cadecas. Only exchange at Cadecas or a major hotel chain. Make sure that you receive a receipt for the transaction and count your change. Do not ever change money on the street; these hustlers are trying to fleece you with money-changing scams.

Cash declarations

You may bring an unlimited amount of money to Cuba but you must declare amounts that exceed US $5,000.

Money Scams

A few scams to look for while in Cuba.

Make sure to check your restaurant bill to make sure that only the items which you ordered are on the bill. Most of our tours include all the meals but there are some tours where you have few nights with dinner on your own. The Nature of Cuba program has the least amount of meals included.

When paying in CUC, make sure that the change you get back is also CUC and not CUP (the national currency). It is common to give change back in Peso Cubano which is virtually worthless.

The Million Dollar (or peso) Question

How much money do I bring? As a general rule, you should plan to bring as much money as you would spend on any other vacation of this type in the U.S. Prices are similar to those in the U.S. (average prices). Think about your spending habits to answer the questions: Do you like to go out for drinks after dinner? Or do you love to buy lots of souvenirs? Do you plan to buy cigars (a box of Cohibas is expensive), rum or ‘real’ art? This would require that you bring more money. As mentioned above, for any meals you might have on your own, budget for an average priced dinner in the U.S. Usually, 50CUC per day per person is sufficient to cover incidental expenses if you are on one of our tours, excluding the items mentioned above. If you bring too much money, you can always bring it back and you can exchange CUCs back to U.S. dollars before leaving Cuba.

Americans in Cuba

Like all visitors in Cuba, Americans are welcomed by Cubans and will genuinely be curious to know where you are from. Cubans feel a close kinship to the U.S. not only due to the proximity but most Cubans have a relative and/or friends who reside in the U.S. Cubans aren’t necessarily outwardly friendly but most will be eager to engage in conversation if it arises. As Americans, they are eager to give you a warm welcome and discuss the recent changes to Cuban-American relations and the positive hope for the future. The best way to get to know Cuba and its people is from these spontaneous interactions.

Group Travel

Our programs never have more than 6 participants on any given departure.

All programs are organized as group tours with a professional Cuban tour leader who is bilingual, you have specialist or local guides where appropriate. Working with Cuban tour leaders provides you with opportunities to meet locals and experiences what you would not otherwise be able to attend. All tour leaders are professionally certified but more importantly they have a wealth of knowledge about their island that they can share with you.

Full participation in the scheduled program is required under the OFAC people to people program, participants are able to explore once the scheduled program has finished.

Communications

American cell phone service providers have now some coverage in Cuba. T-mobile, AT&T and Verizon offer roaming. As an example AT&T will charge $3/minute for voice, .50/text and $2.05/ MB for data. Check with your provider for exact rates. Again, this is an evolving situation.

For more budget-friendly Wi-Fi and Internet service, you can visit the state-run Etecsa (telepuntos); you will find one of these air-conditioned offices in almost every provincial town. And it is your best point of call for fast and reliable Internet access. Often these areas are located near the central park of provincial towns so you will able to sit in the park and check your emails. You will have no trouble determining which park has Wi-Fi as it will be full of Cubans and foreigners busy on their cell phones and laptops. Your tour leader can point you in the right direction.

In order to access Wi-Fi, you will need to purchase an access card which will have a printed password. Please note that connection speed in Cuba may be slower than what you are accustomed to in the U.S. and Skype does not work anywhere in the country. Also due to slow speed, Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites might not work either.

In most cases private homes are not permitted to have Internet including the casas where you will stay. However, as with other things in Cuba at this time, it is an evolving situation.

Participants on our programs will receive a complimentary 1 hour Wi-Fi card upon arrival in Cuba.

We have also been advised by returning travelers that accessing your work emails may not be possible due to servers being blocked, the Cuban government controls and censors the Internet.

Water

Tap water in Cuba is not reliably safe to drink. Bottled water is available almost everywhere but it is advisable to buy it in the morning as stores often run out by the end of the day. You will need to budget around $5 each day for purchasing water, usually between 2-3 liters per day per person. See the responsible travel document for information about an alternative to buying bottled water.

Weather

Nov – Apr is the dry season and the temperatures ranges between 70 and 80 degrees. May – Oct is the wet season, with high humidity and temperatures ranges between 80-90 degrees.

Electricity

The electrical current is mostly 110 volts AC (same as the U.S.).

Female Travelers

Cuba is one of the safest countries in the world. Sexual assault of any kind is practically unheard of and women are typically free to go wherever they want, whenever they want without worry. That being said always use good judgement and take precautions when necessary. Women do tend to receive unwanted attention in the form of catcalling when walking by groups of local men and it is best to walk by without acknowledging it.

Everyday Items

It is important that participants bring all the personal items that they will need during the trip. Goods are scarce in Cuba and everyday items such as toiletries and clothes can be difficult to find.

LGBT Travel

Havana’s LGBT community scene has really taken off in the last couple of years. The focus of gay life is around Centro Havana and Vedado. Nightlife centers on Humboldt, 52 and nearby Pico Blanco disco in Hotel St John and Caberet Las Vegas.

Tipping

Tipping is not required but it certainly is appreciated! Tips go a long way in supplementing the average Cuban’s income. Gratuities for meal throughout the tour are handled by us. Customary end-of-tour tips for your tour leader; local guides, driver, and casa owner (end of stay) are left to the participant’s discretion and should be based on the guest’s satisfaction with the level of service received.

The dual currency system has created a have-and-have-not society. Many everyday items in particular, good quality food, clothing and household items are only sold in CUC, however most Cubans are paid in Cuban Peso (CUP) which means that accessing CUCs is critically important and it is part of most people’s daily struggle, which in Cuban parlay is La Lucha, literally the struggle. Cubans who are able to earn CUCs will share their tips with family and friends who don’t have access to them.

Tipping guidelines

1) Restaurants (10% of bill if no tax/service already added)

Many restaurants (state and private) now add 10% service to the bill. This is annoying since you feel cheap leaving the exact money but equally no one wants to be the sucker paying twice. In some places they will suggest that this is a tax in line with new tax legislation. It is unclear if this is actually true but typically in private places they will simply say that this is a service charge.

If your waiter has been good and you like him, then splashing another 5% will do no harm. If service has not been added, then 5-10% is reasonable. More than 10% is unnecessary.

2) Toilet attendants (10-25c)

Often even if there is a toilet attendant, the bathrooms can still be not the cleanest person. Yes, it would be nice if toilets had running water, toilet paper and some semblance of hygiene but let’s face it, sitting outside a toilet collecting cash is not the best job either. So get some change, grin and bear it.

3) Musicians (CUC 1-2 per group)

If you like a musician who is playing in a bar or a café and they play a few songs especially for you, then there is an expectation that you should pay something. There is no need to pay more than a dollar or two. But, never the less, music is the life of Cuba and a peso here or there is appreciated.

4) Tour Guides (CUC 2-5 per person per day)

As is the case anywhere, do what you think is feels right especially if you have really enjoyed the excursion.

5) Casa Owners

Similar to how you would tip at hotel or again, if you feel that the casa owners have gone out of their way to help you and make your stay as enjoyable as possible, tip them more.

5) Tour Leaders

Tips can be anywhere from 50 – 100 CUC per person depending on how many days is the tour.

These are not hard rules, these are just suggestions. If you feel you want to tip more, than tip more.

Donations for the Pelligrín Community Center (Hello Cuba! program only)

Participants on this program will visit this community center on day 3 of the program. If you would like to bring donations, the items that are needed are of course related to creating art: painting brushes, watercolor paint, acrylic paint, pencils, crayons, etc.

Vaccinations to Travel to Cuba.

We are not able to provide any health related recommendations regarding immunizations.

You must contact the Center for Disease Control (CDC). www.CDC.gov or 404-639-2888. Typically travelers to Cuba do not require special vaccinations.

Security & Safety

Cuba is very safe. Visitors have little reason to worry about personal safety on the streets even in Havana. Cuba is not prone to violence and it has the lowest crime rate in all of Latin America.

However, since you will need to bring cash with you, we recommend the use of a neck wallet or money belt while travelling, for the safe keeping of your cash. Leave your valuable jewelry at home – you won’t need it while travelling.   Although the casas particulares are secure, a lock is recommended for securing your luggage. When travelling on a group trip, please note that your tour leader has the authority to amend or cancel any part of the trip itinerary if it is deemed necessary due to safety concerns.  While your tour leader will assist you with options available in a given location after your scheduled tour has finished please note that any optional activities you undertake are not part of your itinerary, and we offer no representations about the safety of the activity or the standard of the operators running them. Please use your own good judgment. Although the cities visited on tour are generally safe during the day, there can be risks to wandering throughout any major city at night even one as safe as Havana.  Again, it is up to you to use your good judgement.

Water based activities have an element of danger and excitement built into them. We recommend only participating in water based activities when accompanied by a guide(s). We make every reasonable effort to ensure the fun and adventurous element of any water based activities have a balanced approach to safety.

Swimming, including snorkeling and Scuba diving are always at your own risk.

We take all prudent measures in relation to your safety.

Making Friends with Locals

Sexuality is very open in Cuba and that can shock some travelers, especially women. There are many Cuban men and women (known as Jineteros), who make a living escorting foreigners. Offers of this service are very common in Havana. Be aware of this practice and keep in mind that some locals who approach you may do so to take advantage of your presence. We advise traveling around the streets of Havana in small groups, rather than individually (especially for female travelers). In addition, we suggest not carrying any easy targets for potential troublemakers like cameras, purses, or anything that is easy to snatch or grab. We advise this not expecting trouble, but rather erring on the side of caution.

Traveling during Christmas and New Year.

If you are traveling during the week between Christmas and New Years, please be aware that many places will be closed, such as art galleries and some activities might not be available during this time.

Feedback

After your travels, we want to hear from you! Your tour evaluation will be emailed to you at the conclusion of your trip. If you do not receive the tour evaluation in the days after your tour has finished, please drop us a line at info@espíritutravel.com and we will send it on to you.