Renowned as being one of the last bastions of Communism, in many ways Cuba is stuck in a 1950s time warp. Any sense of modernity stagnated following the Cuban Revolution, as evidenced by its iconic vintage cars, abundance of horses and carts, absence of advertising and lack of globalised corporations. Whilst a recent ease in restrictions to travellers means that it’s easier than ever to explore this remarkable island, it still holds a unique charm.
Truly a country of contradictions, this is in essence what makes Cuba so captivating. Lively, yet laid back, this is a place where colonial mansions and Art Deco elegance lie side by side with Brutalist tower blocks; decaying heirlooms nevertheless exude a sense of grandiosity; music and dance reveal a diverse cultural melting pot. A plethora of pastel colours dominates the architecture in many of the ramshackle towns, which feel magical and theatrical despite their faded grandeur.
Cuba’s exuberance extends beyond its complexity and culture, however. Lush natural landscapes burst forth with fecundity, harbouring sparkling waterfalls amongst verdant valleys. Its coastal scenery is nothing short of spectacular: idyllic cays and pristine bays abound, where bright white sand contrasts with startlingly turquoise waters.
based on two sharing in a twin/double room, with a minimum of 25 passengers travelling in a specific month
January, February, March
As this tour takes in several locations, the accommodation is spread across the island to avoid excessive travel times. The cost of this itinerary includes:
Explore the iconic sights of Havana’s old town – known as La Habana Viejo – on a tour with a local guide who knows the city’s secrets. UNESCO-listed, this neighbourhood is a seductive combination of audacious, grand palaces and a sense of deterioration. Vivid with street life, wrought-iron curlicues frame this ravaged yet beautiful district which feels both intimate and atmospheric.
Synonymous with Havana, Cuban cigars are a premium product uniquely crafted by hand to this day. Earthy and intoxicating, a factory visit is a fascinating insight into this historic Cuban industry.
The Museo de la Revolucion presents a view of the events leading up to and following the Cuban Revolution, and harbours scars and relics from this period. Housed in the former Presidential Palace, this early 20th century construction evokes the grandeur of Versailles and the glamour of Tiffany’s, particularly in its glimmering Hall of Mirrors.
Enjoy a chauffeur-driven excursion through the city in one of its beautiful 1950s motors. After seeing the enormous image of Che Guevara overlooking Revolution Square, allow these vintage American icons to sweep you down the Malecón – Havana’s quintessential seafront promenade – as well as visiting the elegant Miramar district and the Bosque de la Havana, an incredible tropical park known as the ‘lungs of Havana’.
The enchanting Viñales Valley is a vision of agricultural tranquillity. Dramatic limestone monoliths, known as mogotes, rise evocatively from the mist of this picturesque and prehistoric landscape. A sleepy pace of life exists amongst the tobacco fields, where the richly russet-coloured earth is still ploughed by plodding oxen.
Teeming tropical forests and early coffee plantations make up this Biosphere Reserve, which is lush with rushing waterfalls and glistening pools. An area of outstanding natural beauty, birds and orchids flourish in this important ecological area.
A creative and cultural town with a colonial centre, Santa Clara is also an important location in terms of the history of the Revolution. The liberation of the city marked the turning point against the Basista regime, and today it is home to a stark memorial, mausoleum and museum which is the resting place of Che Guevara and several of his comrades, as well as the Tren Blindado – the in situ remains of the derailed government train overthrown by the Revolutionaries.
This bold lookout neighbouring an hacienda dates back to the mid-18th century, when it was used to watch over the slaves who were put to work in the sugar mill here. Today, it affords wonderful views and stands witness to the history of slavery in this region.
Beautiful Trinidad, like Havana, also feels frozen in time – but a little further back, to the 1800s. Trinidad’s colourful, cobbled streets were once the home of wealthy sugar barons. Explore its historic centre on a walking tour, and learn about 19th century family life in this UNESCO site’s history museum. Trinidad is also known for its vibrant live music.
The idyllic park of El Nicho is a pristine gem, secluded amongst dense forest and looming mountains. Small cascades and sparkling pools are surrounded by abundant wildlife and an unspoilt sense of tranquillity.
Known as the ‘Pearl of the South’, this graceful coastal city has a French influence. Lavish, classical buildings enjoy a location by a glorious natural bay. Tour the Cienfuegos Botanical Gardens: one of the largest in the Americas, these extensive tropical gardens are home to over 2,000 species.
Now an aquatic paradise, this bay was the site of the ill-fated invasion of Cuba backed by the CIA. Visit the Museo Girón, whose exhibits present the details of the skirmish and give an insight into one of the major world events of the 1960s.
Not far from the lovely beach town of Playa Larga, Guamá is a replica of a traditional village of the Taíno, who were the original settlers of the island. Located inland on a string of tiny islands amongst the mangroves, this replica village depicting the lives of early settlers is reached by an exhilarating boat journey.