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Beginning in Havana and striking east into the lesser-explored heartlands of Cuba, our extended private tour takes in the beaches of Cayo Santa María, the historical sites of Camaguey and Bayamo, and the intoxicating atmosphere of Santiago de Cuba. Enjoy intimate dining at paladares - small family-run restaurants that are transforming the reputation of Cuban cuisine - and stay at some of the island’s best hotels, including the luxurious new Paradisus Río de Oro on Playa Esmeralda.
Day 1 On arrival into Havana International Airport, you will be met and transferred to the Saratoga Hotel in Old Havana. You'll enjoy a welcome drink and a short briefing with your guide.
Day 2 After breakfast, visit El Capitolio, the impressive pre-Revolution seat of the Cuban Government. Nearby horse-drawn carriages will take you via Calle Prado to the Cathedral Square, where you will begin a walking tour. Your guide will point out the key sites, including the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales (the former official residence of the governors of Havana), Hemingway's favourite haunts in Old Havana and El Castillo de la Real Fuerza, a stone fortress on the western side of the harbour, dating back to 1562. Enjoy lunch with live music at the Plaza de Armas, the city's main square, before a visit to the Fundación Havana Club, where you can learn about this famous Cuban rum. The rest of your afternoon is at leisure. This evening you will be picked up from your hotel for a tour in a classic American car into the world of the 1950s - Revolution Square, the Malecón esplanade and the legendary Hotel Nacional where you will learn all about the Mafia. Then on to the famous 5th Avenue, the former upper class residential area of Miramar, where the beautiful mansions and the renovated Club Havana still remind you of bygone American times. After dinner at an atmospheric restaurant such as La Esperanza or La Cocina de Liliam, it's time for a night of cabaret at the world famous La Tropicana, a journey through the history of Cuban music and dance.
Day 3 Today, visit one of the famous brand name cigar factories, such as La Corona or Romeo & Julieta, where you will see all the processes involved in the production of high quality Cuban cigars. Later you will visit the studio of a famous Cuban artist, such as José Fuster, the 'Gaudí of the Caribbean', before moving on to central Havana and a short stroll along the Callejón de Hamel, a colourful street decorated with paintings and artefacts dedicated to the Afro-Caribbean 'santería' religion. Enjoy lunch at an intimate paladar or restaurant, with your afternoon at leisure. Dinner will be at a unique venue such as the secluded La Moraleja or the panoramic terrace of Café Laurent. Tonight there may be the option to visit the García Lorca baroque theatre (Friday - Sunday only, additional charge), which plays host to performances by the Cuban National Ballet, and zarzuela, a form of Cuban light opera.
Day 4 An early morning start takes you along the Tobacco Route to the province of Pinar del Río in the western part of Cuba. You'll enjoy a drive through the Mogote Valley with its famous limestone rocks and the picturesque village of Viñales. After lunch you'll visit the Prehistoric Wall, a huge rock painting created by the Cuban painter, González Morillo, in the 1960s. Later in the afternoon you will head back to Havana where you'll overnight at the Saratoga Hotel. In the evening, have dinner at La Torre, with panoramic views over Havana, or the famous paladar of La Guarida, the setting for the 1992 Oscar-nominated Cuban film 'Strawberry and Chocolate'. For night owls, there are several live music options you may be able to choose from tonight, including jazz at La Zora y El Cuervo, traditional Cuban son at the Buena Vista Social Club (normally Wednesdays and Saturdays only), Latin disco at the Hotel Habana Libre, or a salsa concert in Miramar. And don't expect the music to get started until 10pm at the earliest…
Day 5 This morning, enjoy a scenic 3 hour drive to central Cuba and the harbour city of Cienfuegos. Take a stroll around the main square, admiring the French colonial style architecture, before continuing along the picturesque coastal road to the UNESCO world heritage site of Trinidad. Here you will check in to The Grand Hotel Iberostar for dinner and overnight.
Day 6 A walking tour this morning will introduce you to the charming cobbled lanes of Trinidad. Founded in 1513, the city prospered during the sugar boom of the 19th Century, and the idyllic Plaza Mayor is surrounded by the beautiful mansions of the old sugar barons. Visit the rustic Chanchancharra bar, where you can sample the famous local honey cocktail, and enjoy a guided tour of one of the city's museums. The rest of your afternoon is at leisure to explore further, or to just relax before heading out later to sample the city's legendary nightlife.
Day 7 This morning take a step back in time with a journey by steam train to the Sugar Mill Valley, where you will visit the old hacienda of the sugar baron Manaca Iznaga, and climb the notorious Slave Tower. Then continue on to Santa Clara, the site of Che Guevara's greatest revolutionary triumph and his final resting place. After lunch you will head to the charming colonial town of Remedios, and learn about the Parrandas de Remedios, one of Cuba's most famous festivals. Finally, cross the causeway to the idyllic Cayo Santa María, and check in to the Meliá Buenavista for dinner and overnight.
Day 8 Today is at leisure to relax in your beautiful surroundings.
Day 9 This morning stop off at Caibarién, home to a fascinating steam museum, before heading along the northern highway, with a stop at Yaguajay to visit the monument to Camilo Cienfuegos, a close friend and comrade-in-arms of Che Guevara. In the late afternoon arrive at Camaguey, an absorbing city with its labyrinthine lanes and squares, which provided protection against pirates in days gone by. Enjoy a walking tour in the evening, followed by dinner at a local restaurant and live music. Overnight at Hotel El Camino de Hierro.
Day 10 Today you will continue your journey east, through a sweeping landscape of sugar cane fields, to Bayamo where you will stop for lunch. This is where the struggle for independence from the Spanish originated, inspiring La Bayamesa, the Cuban national anthem. After lunch continue to the shrine of El Cobre in the Sierra Maestra, the most famous church in Cuba, before arriving in Santiago de Cuba later in the afternoon. Spend an evening immersed in the city's musical traditions, with a visit to the Casa de la Trova, birthplace of the son cubano, where musicians such as Buena Vista Social Club's Compay Segundo began their careers. Dinner and overnight at Hotel Meliá Santiago.
Day 11 This morning a walking tour will take you through the historic heart of Santiago, including a visit to Casa Velázquez, the oldest house still standing in Cuba. Afterwards, travel by bus through the former upper class residential area of Vista Allegre, where you will see the house of the famous Bacardí family, before enjoying lunch at the El Morro fortress, a UNESCO world heritage site with panoramic views over the bay. On the journey back you will pass Revolution Square, and visit Santa Ifigenia cemetery, where poet and Cuban national hero José Martí is buried, as are the Bacardí dynasty. Dinner is at your hotel.
Day 12 This morning you will head through the heart of Cuba's Oriente, a beautiful green landscape dotted with palms and the shacks, or bohíos, that are home to the local farmers celebrated in so much of the region's music, the guajiros. En route stop at Finca Manacas near Birán, the birthplace of Fidel and Raúl Castro and now a museum, before heading to Playa Esmeralda, on the coast north of Holguín. After a late lunch enjoy an afternoon on the beach at the luxurious Paradisus Río de Oro, where you will have dinner and overnight.
Day 13 Return to Havana via a domestic flight from Holguín, to connect with your flight back to the UK. Alternatively, you may like to extend your stay at the Paradisus Río de Oro and have a few more days on the beach before heading home.
Price / 12 nights from £4,130 per person in low season and £4,399 in high season, based on 2 adults sharing, including daily breakfast, 9 lunches, 10 dinners, private air-conditioned transportation, domestic flight from Holguín to Havana, an English speaking guide, sightseeing as specified, return scheduled flights and use of a lounge at Gatwick.
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