Full itinerary and tour activities descriptions

“I really believe that this is the best trip I’ve ever taken!”
– Attorney, Massachusetts, who has traveled to numerous places around the world.

“A great trip – so much fun and so many awesome memories! Dr. McElvaine is an incredible man with a great sense of humor.”
– Health Care Executive, California

The Cuba Arts and Culture Tour commences with the arrival of our group flight from Florida. As tour participants disembark the plane at Havana’s José Martí International Airport a concierge greets us and takes us through a rapid immigration line. We’re assisted in locating our luggage, and then pass through an expedited customs lane. In the airport arrivals lobby we receive a warm welcome from your Cuban guide. Hop aboard our modern air-conditioned tour coach, and on the way to our hotel relish views of one of the oldest and most stunning cities in the New World. During our many excursions around the capital, and beyond, both our guide and Professor McElvaine will provide historical commentary on all points of interest. On this first day, accompanied by our Cuban guide, we will tour potions of the city and then have lunch. The morning will allow for quality exchanges on the history and culture of this amazing city. Later, we visit the Museum of the Revolution where Cuban historians will discuss the museum and its artifacts. Check into our hotel, which is located in the heart of Havana's cultural district. There we receive fast check-in with assistance from our guide. This is a good time to exchange some money into Cuban Convertible Pesos. Hotel staff receives us with a welcome drink while our luggage is being delivered to our rooms After having settled in and had a chance to rest and freshen up, we’ll visit one of Havana’s great paladares (privately owned restaurants). Dr. McElvaine knows many outstanding paladares in Havana. (Dinner tonight is not included in the trip price.) Afterwards Dr. McElvaine can suggest some fun evening activities for those who have not yet collapsed.

Greet the day with tasty breakfast served at our hotel. Then we’ll go on a Walking Tour of Habana Vieja (Old Havana), a World Heritage site. Ernest Hemingway described Havana as the “Paris of the Americas.” He was alluding to its incredible architecture, arts, and of course the city’s engaging, outgoing people. We’ll have a chance to share this impression on a walking tour of four historic plazas that make Havana unique in the western hemisphere. These plazas contain the largest collection of Spanish colonial-era architecture in the Americas. We’ll go to Cathedral Square, the most beautiful and private 18th century colonial plaza on the island. Then we’ll explore the Plaza de Armas, an ancient military parade ground for Spanish soldiers. Here we’ll have quality exchanges with our Cuban friends as they relax along this busy square.

We’ll continue on to Plaza San Francisco de Asís, one of the oldest plazas in the historical quarter. The square is named after the magnificent Iglesia y Monasterio de San Francisco de Asís dating from the 16th century. And, finally, we’ll visit Plaza Vieja, the only civic square of colonial times. In contrast to the churches and government buildings of the previous squares, opulent aristocratic 17th century mansions characterize Plaza Vieja. Plaza Vieja is the first of Havana’s squares to be restored as part of the UNESCO project. All of this takes place in the company of Cubans eager to engage with their American cousins.

Lunch this afternoon happens at a renowned restaurant along the waterfront. Across the river is the Fortress of San Carlos de la Cabaña where Ché Guevara established his headquarters after the Revolution came to power in 1959, four hundred years after the fortress was built, and the Christ statue (there’s a great story behind that and we’ll hear it from Dr. McElvaine).

Then we’ll visit Callejón de Hamel (Hamel Alley) to see the artwork of Salvador González and experience the Sunday rumba. Afterwards, we’ll go across the bay to visit El Morro Castle with its iconic lighthouse.

Dinner on Sunday evening will be at another outstanding Havana paladar. Dr. McElvaine will provide options. Jazz or other musical performances will be optional for the night.

Following our hotel breakfast, we'll visit the Convento de Nuestra señora de Belén, a humanitarian health project in Old Havana. It is home to fifty elderly people and provides physiotherapy and ophthalmological services to many more seniors in the community. Other activities include exercise classes, board games, cognitive rehabilitation, films, crafts workshops, and "love among the elderly" lectures.

Then we’ll visit the UBPC Vivero Organopónico Alamar, nine miles east of Havana. It is one of the most successful urban organic farms in Cuba, raising vegetables, ornamental plants, medicinal herbs, and millions of seedlings for neighboring residential and collective farms. Established in the early 1990s by a dozen people, the Alamar cooperative now has over 400 members and provides a range of healthy, organic vegetables to nearby communities and to Havana restaurants. Produce is raised employing the practice of permaculture. No chemical fertilizers or pesticides are used. Instead, natural biological methods are used to nourish the soil, frustrate pests and conserve water. The result is an increased rate of yield and reduced costs.

Dining highlight: Special lunch at El Ajiaco Paladar [private-owned restaurant] – a chance to dine with our tourmates and tour guide. Lunch here is a real treat.

Next, we will make a visit to Finca Vigía [Lookout Farm] where Ernest Hemingway spent twenty-one of his most important and productive years writing some of the building blocks of American literature. Claimed by both the United States and Cuba as their son, it was Hemingway himself who declared the island his true home. The house has been preserved just as it was when Hemingway lived there. We’ll see his personal objects, thousands of books and photographs, as well as some “trophies” bagged on his frequent safaris.

In the evening, we’ll dine at another of Havana’s great paladares (not included) and then probably go on to a performance of the world-famous Buena Vista Social Club (cost not included), one of the great experiences of the trip.

Following breakfast at our hotel, we’ll examine Cuba's greatest visual masterpieces spanning three centuries at Havana’s museum of Cuban art – Palacio de Bellas Artes. An expert Cuban guide will take us to see an extremely impressive display of Cuban art, including religious subjects, landscapes, narrative scenes of Cuban life and revolutionary works from more recent decades. An open exchange on the history of art in Cuba will enhance the experience.

Then we’ll stop at the Plaza de Revolucion, where Fidel Castro gave many of his very lengthy speeches to immense crowds and where two popes have held huge open-air masses. Then we’ll go out to Jaimanitas to visit the mind-blowing studio and village of famed painter José Fúster, often called “the Picasso of the Caribbean.” We’ll have a fabulous lunch hosted by Sr. Fuster (included).

On the way back to Havana, we’ll stop at John Lennon Park. Dr. McElvaine will have some fascinating stories to tell about Fidel Castro’s changing views on rock ’n’ roll and Lennon.

On Tuesday evening, we’ll dine at another great paladar and have the rest of the evening free for music or other entertainment.

Following breakfast at our Havana hotel. we’ll have an early morning departure as we set out for Playa Ancón on Cuba’s Caribbean coast.  En route, we’ll stop by Bahía de Cochinos [the Bay of Pigs], the location of the first military defeat of the modern United States on April 17, 1961. The CIA-sponsored invasion was smashed within 72 hours. The Cuban death toll was 156. Cuban defenders included the regular army and locals from neighboring communities. Eighty-eight of the invading Cuban exiles were killed in battle. The surviving 1,209 were captured by the Cubans.  They were eventually released in exchange for 53 million dollars in food and medicine for the Cuban people.

As at many other points on the tour, Dr. McElvaine will provide the historical background to the Bay of Pigs fiasco and discuss its connections with such later events as the 1962 Missile Crisis and Watergate.

En route to Trinidad, we’ll stop in beautiful Cienfuegos, a World Heritage site that was founded by French immigrants at the beginning of the nineteenth century.  It is renowned for its wealth of stunning historical buildings. Our guide will recount the story of the origins of this beautiful cosmopolitan city, known as the “Pearl of the South.”  We’ll walk through the Plaza Martí and visit such neoclassical buildings as the Cathedral built with donations from wealthy slave owning families. Inside the Cathedral we’ll see an awe-inspiring marvelously rendered stained glass mural of the Twelve Apostles imported from Paris. The original machinery of the Cathedral's tower clock was also crafted in France and keeps on ticking to this day.

Then we’ll journey on to the historic city of Trinidad and Playa Ancón to check in at our all-inclusive Brisas Trinidad del Mar Resort. Following time to freshen up, the hotel will host a welcome dinner.

Those who wish to do so can go into Trinidad in the evening to the Casa de la Música or Casa de la Trova – both great music venues.  This is an excellent opportunity for exchanges on Cuban and American music. Others will choose to stay at the hotel.

After the breakfast buffet at our hotel, we’ll explore on foot the historic central plaza of Trinidad de Cuba, a World Heritage site. Its 16th century edifices are the most pristine and unblemished on the island. The village was established in 1514 on orders of the conquistador Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar who traveled to Cuba with Columbus in 1493. It was from Trinidad de Cuba that conquistador Hernán Cortés de Monroy y Pizarro (1485–1547) launched his attack on the Aztec Empire.

We’ll Visit Plaza Mayor, Museum of Architecture, Museum of the Romantic Era, the main church and other remarkable sites, examining the oldest architecture in the Americas. It will be quickly apparent why UNESCO declared the city a World Heritage Site in 1988.

Trinidad is well known for its pottery makers. We’ll meet a family that has been passing on the tradition for generations, the Santanders. We spend time talking with these artisans and perhaps learning some secrets of their craft.

Then we’ll board our bus and stop at a mirador [lookout] overlooking the Valle de los Ingenios [Sugar Mill Valley], also an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Sugar was king in Cuba for centuries. Spaniards introduced the sweetener in 1512. It enriched conquistadors and nobles, returning more wealth than all the gold and silver extracted from South America. It helped make Cuba the wealthiest nation in Latin America. Sugar’s stellar profits – produced, of course, by slave labor – allowed select families to build incredible mansions and monuments. The lust for sugar was the engine of the African slave trade. Today sugar plays a greatly diminished role in the Cuban economy.

After lunch at the mansion of Manaca Iznaga, we’ll return to our hotel to interact with the local musicians and entertainers.  Dinner will be at the hotel.  The Casa de la Música or Casa de la Trova will again be evening options for those who are not content to stay at the resort.

Following breakfast at the hotel, we’ll board Soviet Army trucks to climb the peaks of Topes de Collantes in the Sierra Escambray. Joined by an expert Cuban ecologist, we’ll discuss the importance of protecting these incredible natural resources and what Cuba is doing to achieve this task.

Upon arrival at Hacienda Codina, an old Spanish coffee plantation, our Cuban guide will lead a walking tour of the area to admire the beauty and learn about the surrounding natural landscape and the animals and plants it hosts. Then we’ll enjoy a traditional Cuban lunch, featuring roast pig. Then we’ll descend the mountain and return to Havana, check into our hotel and freshen up for our farewell dinner.

Breakfast at our hotel is followed by packing and checking-out of our hotel for transfer to Havana’s José Martí International airport.

Keep in touch with your new Cuban friends – exchange email addresses! Bring some business cards to pass out. Take pictures and keep a journal. Upon your return, we’ll post them on this website for all to see and enjoy.

We’ll miss you and hope you will return soon! In Cuba we say: A true friend remembers the song in your heart when you have forgotten the lyrics.

Cuba travel is a challenge. Our staff and Cuban partners work super hard to make your tour unfold seamlessly despite Third World conditions on the island. Sometimes things don’t go as planned. Flexible travelers understand this is part of their Cuban adventure.

Included in tour cost

Tour meals at your hotel and at fine restaurants
  • Small group size, usually sixteen or fewer guests, never more than twenty-four
  • US Department of the Treasury authorized people-to-people Cuba travel
  • VIP airport welcome for Tampa arrivals: expedited immigration and customs, and luggage assistance
  • Havana airport and hotel transfers for Tampa and Miami arrivals
  • Quality Cuban hotels
  • An expert English speaking guide and tour leader throughout the program
  • Luxury air-conditioned bus and professional driver (bottled water on the tour bus)
  • All activities, entrance fees, services, speakers and meetings in tour itinerary
  • Cuban emergency medical insurance
  • Flexible monthly tour payment options
  • Emergency telephone and internet access to America from Cuba
  • Cash advances for participants facing money problems while in Cuba
  • Participants become Club Cubano alumni and receive future tour discounts
  • Ongoing support from our US and Cuban staff before, during and after travel

Not included in cost

  • Round trip air cost is ${Airfare Low Price} (except during December holidays when the cost is ${Airfare High Price}). It includes US taxes, Cuban tourist visa, Cuban medical insurance, and for most flights Cuban airport departure tax
  • If arriving from cities other than Tampa or Miami, Cuban airport transfers not included (cost is $35 each way for up to two people)
  • Gratuities for tour guide, bus driver, chambermaids, restaurant staff, porters
  • Optional travel interruption and cancellation insurance. See USI Affinity Travel Insurance Services