7 nights/8 days
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Arrive Havana. Clear immigration, customs and baggage, a process that takes approximately an hour and a half.
We will stop by the Plaza de la Revolucion. The center of government, this area contains most of the offices of the main ministries and is often used for massive rallies, including that of the Pope in 2012.
Check-in to Hotel or Casas Particulares.
Dinner at Bistro Waoo.
Tour the historic Hotel Nacional de Cuba overlooking the Malecón and the Straits of Florida. When it opened in 1930, Cuba was a prime travel destination many illustrious guests including Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner, John Wayne, Marlene Dietrich, Marlon Brando, and Ernest Hemingway.
Complimentary breakfast is served daily in your hotel restaurant or by your Cuban hosts.
Begin our walking tour of Havana Vieja. Please make sure to wear comfortable shoes!
Visit the Plaza Vieja. This plaza is the oldest plaza in Havana, dating from the 16th century. It has been the site of major reconstruction under the leadership of city historian Eusebio Leal.
We see the Plaza de San Francisco, a cobbled plaza surrounded by buildings dating from the 18th century, dominated by the baroque Iglesia and Convento de San Francisco dating from 1719.
Tour the Chocolate Store.
Demonstration of perfume making in the historic Perfumery.
Lunch and live music at La Bodeguita del Medio, the most famous of Hemingway’s haunts.
Continue to the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales. The palace currently houses the Museo de la Cuidad and was the former residence of the Spanish Captains.
Visit the Taller de Grafica Experimental located on the Plaza de Catedral. The Taller is Havana’s printmaking and lithographic workshop. It is a studio, a school and most of all, an art institution that preserves and develops the sophisticated art of print making with relative freedom of spirit and form. The artists will display their works and be available for personal exchanges.
Explore the Plaza de Armas, a scenic tree-lined plaza formerly at the center of influence in Cuba. It is surrounded by many of the most historic structures in Havana as well as important monuments. Continue to the Castillo de la Real Fuerza, a massive fortress built between 1558 and 1577.
Dinner at Havana’s 21.
Interactive "jam session" at ZORRA Y CUERVO with David Faya and his jazz band.
Explore the Parque de Fraternidad, stroll the Paseo de Prado and see the Capitolio.
Salsa, Rumba & Son dance lesson at La Casa del Son. Casa del Son is a popular dance school in Havana. We will meet the directors, Silvia and Raymond, who with their troupe of professional dancers will give us demonstrations and lessons of various popular Cuban dance styles. We will be partnered with experienced dancers who will guide us through an organized lesson.
Lunch at Prado y Neptuno.
Possible baseball game (schedule pending.)
Return to the hotel. Free time to rest or enjoy the hotel pool.
Meet in the hotel lobby and depart for dinner at Doña Carmela, a true Paladar located in the private home of the Barletta family. Unlike State-run restaurants, Paladares provide a window into the lifestyle of these entrepreneurs who have taken the opportunity to better provide for themselves under the loosening governmental restrictions. We dine al fresco in their charming backyard, a wonderful backdrop for a truly home-cooked Cuban meal served family style. Be prepared to pass plates of what seems to be a non-stop feast of delicious appetizers, seafood, meats, vegetables and more.
After dinner we see the cannon blast ceremony at La Cabaña Fortress. These two fortresses of El Morro and La Cabaña comprise the largest and most powerful defensive complex built by the Spanish in the Americas.
See the Museum of Cuban Art (Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes) with art historian, curator and critic Aylet Ojeda. This museum is dedicated to the latest generation of contemporary Cuban artists.
Attend a private dance performance of the Compañia Irene Rodríguez. We will receive a warm welcome by Irene Rodríguez and her company at the Centro Asturianos. Irene is considered by many to be the finest flamenco dancer in Cuba and has recently won first prize for flamenco choreography from an international competition of all Latin nations. We will have an opportunity to learn some dance moves and meet the dancers.
Board bus to continue to La Finca Vigía. Formerly the home of Ernest Hemingway, today it still houses his expansive collection of books. It was here where he wrote two of his most celebrated novels: For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea. Please keep in mind that there are restrictions on passage to preserve the house in the intact state that Hemingway left it.
Lunch at Ajiaco.
Afternoon at Playa Santa Maria or Bacuranao Beach in Alamar. Alamar is the birthplace of Cuban Hip Hop and home to Enrique Mantilla, a break dancing legend from the early 1980's who was featured in the documentary La Cuidad del Hip Hop.
Dinner on your own. Suitable recommendations will be provided.
Lecture by Juan Alejandro Triana, a faculty member of the Department of Economics at the Instituto Politechnico Jose Echevarria (ISPJAE). His research and publications have focused on micro-financing in Cuba and Cuba-U.S. economic relations. Juan will explain the changing government policies regarding privately owned businesses, the changing public perception about making money and the growing interest in entrepreneurism. Other topics will include a short history of Cuban economic model over the last 50 years.
Visit the whimsical home of artist José Fuster who has made a major contribution to rebuilding and decorating the fishing town of Jaímanitas, in the outskirts of Havana, where he lives. Jaímanitas is now a unique work of public art where Fuster has decorated over 80 houses with colorful ornate murals and domes.
Lunch at El Laurel overlooking the Marina Hemingway canal.
Continue to Callejon de Hamel with host and guide will Elias Aseff, a Cuban scholar, who will explain the role of African religion and culture in Cuba and the importance of Santeria in everyday life. He will also explain how Afro Cuban religion has influenced the evolution of Cuban culture.
We will be invited into the home of a Babalao, (Yoruba Priestess) who will receive the group and explain via Elias the religious deities and elaborate alters in her home. The home is very large and many visitors pass thru during the day to give offerings.
Dinner at Nazdarovie - a new Cuban-Soviet inspired restaurant on the Malécon. We will be greeted by Gregory Biniowsky, an attorney from Canada who moved to Cuba over 20 years ago. Six months ago Gregory and his Cuban wife Attorney Danelys Coz opened Nazdarovie as a personal ‘oeuvre de coeur’ & as a way to pay homage to the Soviet women who settled and established families in Cuba. They have created a space of nostalgia and memories for the thousands of Cubans who spent ‘the best years of their youth’ studying at universities in the USSR - a nostalgia which transcends politics and ideology.
Return to the hotel. Tonight you will need to pack your belongings, checking to make sure you have your passport and have emptied your safe.
Check-out and depart for the pioneering eco-community of Las Terrazas in Sierra del Rosario. We will be greeted by a local guide who will educate us on the significance of this "green" project.
In 1968, President Fidel Castro founded the green revolution. Architect Osmany Cienfuegos mobilized work brigades that created over 1300km of terraces of timber, fruits, ornamentals and vegetables. They carved 170km of roads through the mountains to build homes, schools, playgrounds, and clinics all surrounding the lake of San Juan.
The biosphere came under UNESCO protection in 1984 due to the success of the reforestation project. It is now home to 117 bird species, including 12 that are endemic. We will be greeted by a local guide who will educate us on the significance of this "green" project.
Visit to the ruins of a French Coffee Plantation built in 1801by the French who escaped Haiti after the 1791 Haitian revolution. We will learn about the history of the island and the Cuban slave trade in the Caribbean and we really want the students to understand this.
Continue to Hotel La Moka, an ecological hotel with trees growing up through the balconies and ceiling. The income generated from tourism has funded the community library, the new Aire Libre café, a museum and the expansion of the Hotel with a second hotel in the pipeline. Cuba’s recent economic reforms haven't yet reached Las Terrazas as private businesses such as Casas and restaurants are prohibited. We will learn about the budding private ownership laws that exist in Havana and the contrast with the laws and policies in Las Terrazas.
Lunch at Casa del Campesino restaurant. Delicious, plentiful, family style meals in a natural outdoor setting. Local musicians serenade guests with traditional country music.
If time permits we visit Río San Juan river for a refreshing swim.
Arrive in Piñar del Rio for our visit to Proyecto Grabadown. The Grabadown Project was started ten years ago by Jesus Carrete and his daughter Linianna, who was born with Down Syndrome. What began as way for Jesus to share his love of art with his daughter has grown into a well respected community project supported by many other families who have discovered the benefits of engaging their special needs children with art and music. Starting with a simple printing press that offered the children a chance to express their creativity, the program has grown into a multi-discipline creative workshop where the children are encouraged to sing, dance, create art and take a more active role within the community.
Continue to the Viñales Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Considered by many to be the most beautiful place in Cuba, the Viñales Valley National Monument holds stunning landscapes. The area is also famous for being the premier tobacco growing area in the world. We will be received by Cuba Cultural Travel Representative Yaniel Luis, a local, expert guide and eco-tourism specialist.
Check-in to Casa Particulares (private homes of Cuban families). There will be a minimum of two students per home in double accommodations. All of the Casas are located in a quiet neighborhood and many of the homes share connecting backyards so there is often a lot of visiting between families.
Dinner in the home of your Cuban family. Real home-cooked food by the best chefs on the Island... Mamas! This evening you will practice your Spanish and spend time getting to know your extended Cuban family.
Breakfast will be served in the home of your Cuban family.
Following breakfast we will meet our local guide Yaniel Luis and travel by foot into the Valley. We will visit a rural family-run tobacco plantation where will see the fields, farming practices and the drying barns.
Continue on foot to the private farm, Finca Paradiso Agroecological, where we will see the production of a multitude of organic fruits, vegetables, grain and livestock. We will participate in agricultural activities. No John Deere tractors here - just oxen and old fashioned manual labor.
Lunch will be a community event as we will help with the preparation of the meal. We will be served a large variety of organic fresh vegetables, fruits, chicken and roasted pork - a true field to table experience.
Swimming in a nearby river or beach.
Visit the Viñales Arts & Crafts market located in the historic town center.
Return to your Casa to freshen up for dinner.
Farewell dinner at El Olivo restaurant. This restaurant offers a Mediterranean-inspired. The chef lived and worked in Barcelona for over 20 years so there is strong Spanish influence in the cuisine.
Evening entertainment to be determined.
Return to Havana for departure from Cuba.