Limited to 10 travellers + Norman & Julie. We travel from Havana to Santiago Join us for our wonderful tour through this interesting Caribbean island.
March 3rd - 13th 2020
Land tour price: $3,199 CAD/ person
Begins Tuesday, March 3rd in Havana and finishes Friday, March 13th in Havana.
This is not a beach holiday! Most North Americans and Europeans visit Cuba just to lie on the beach. However, the rural areas and colonial cities and towns away from the centres of tourist development have a tranquillity unspoiled by commercialism and mass tourism. The real Cuba is a country caught in a time warp but is changing quickly! The largest Caribbean island, Cuba offers breathtaking beaches, beautiful scenery and fascinating history rich in culture.
Join us we explore the real Cuba. Our smaller group size (maximum just 10 travellers!) allows us to really experience a way of life that is rapidly disappearing. On this tour, we focus on exploring the daily life for local Cubans. Rather than spend our time in hotels, for most of the tour we stay at the Cuban equivalent of a ‘bed & breakfast”, know in Cuba as a Casas Particulares. We travel by our small coach, enjoy walking tours of the small colonial towns, explore Camaguey by two-person "bicycle taxi”, ride the Malecon (waterfront) in Havana in 1950s classic convertible cars. We even offer you the opportunity to learn how to Salsa dance!
AIRFARE: Our flights specialist estimates the cost of the airfare to be approximately $1,300 Canadian departing Vancouver to Havana via Toronto with Air Canada & returning from Havana via Toronto. PLEASE NOTE THIS IS AN ESTIMATE FROM VANCOUVER AND IS ONLY VALID AT THE TIME OF POSTING. ( it is possible to book your flights with AIRCANADA points into & returning from Havana)
Special Note: This tour is not suitable if you need walking assistance in the form of walking sticks or canes. You must be in reasonably good shape to enjoy this tour – there is walking over uneven surfaces as well as climbing in and out of boats and travelling by unusual means of transport such as Soviet-era trucks! Please ensure you wear comfortable walking shoes as some of our walking tours can take up to 3 hours.
Limited to 10 travellers + Norman & Julie Bruce - there are 2 spaces available
(updated Jan 10 2020)
March 3rd 2020 – TUESDAY
This morning we fly from home to Havana arriving the same evening and transfer to our Bed & Breakfast.
First of 2 nights in Havana at a local casa particular. Casa Alta Habana or similar. No meals.
March 4th – WEDNESDAY
HAVANA CITY TOUR
Cuba has more than 11 million people, with 75 per cent of them living in urban areas. Havana has a population of over 2 million. The exotic capital of Cuba and largest city in the Caribbean, Havana has served for centuries as the gateway to the Gulf of Mexico. The city’s first building, overlooking the entrance to a protected bay, dates back to 1519. Originally christened La Villa de San Cristóbal de la Habana, the city became a repository for treasures that Spanish fleets brought to the New World. It also became the centre of trade and commerce between the old and new worlds. Havana’s strategic geographic position was a major factor in its rapid growth and in the decision to build a city wall in the 17th century. The wall took more than 100 years to complete. The capital of Cuba since 1607, in 1982 Old Havana, the city’s historic centre, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site with its wealth of Spanish Colonial architecture. American novelist Ernest Hemingway lived here for the last 22 years of his life and said that, in terms of beauty, only Venice and Paris surpassed Havana’s charm. During the Prohibition era of the 1920s, Havana became a popular holiday centre for Americans with nightclubs and gambling flourishing until 1959 and Castro’s revolution. Today we explore Old Havana, founded by Diego Velazquez in 1514. Our walking tour will visit its historical sites including the Havana Club Rum Museum, a local cigar factory, Revolution Square, the Museum of the Revolution and some of the most beautiful Historic squares.
Second of 2 nights in Havana at a local casa particular. Casa Alta Habana or similar. Breakfast & Dinner.
March 5th – THURSDAY
HAVANA – BAY OF PIGS – CIENFUEGOS
Cuba is a long, narrow island (1,200 Km from Cabo de San Antonio on the westernmost tip to Punta de Maisí on the eastern tip.) At its widest point, it measures 210 Km and at its narrowest 32 Km. Its fertile plains are dominated by four major mountain ranges. The country’s highest peak is Turquino at 1,974 metres high. The landscape is diverse, ranging from semi-deserts to tropical rain forest. This morning we leave Havana on Cuba’s northern (Gulf of Mexico) coast for the Zapata Peninsula on the south (Caribbean) coast. This is one of the least populated areas in Cuba and today is synonymous with luxuriant tropical vegetation and fine deserted beaches. On the peninsula, Montemar Natural Park is one of the most complete wildlife reserves in the Caribbean, covered mainly by a huge swamp with forested areas, mangroves, lianas [air rooted plants] and tranquil lagoons. In Montemar Natural Park we take a boat ride on the Treasure Lagoon to visit the reconstructed Indian Village of Aldea Taina to learn about the original inhabitants of the island – the Taino people. Further down the road, we pass by the Bay of Pigs and stop at the commemorative museum where our guide will review the events of the April 1961 invasion. We continue driving to Cienfuegos, a laid-back maritime city with a lazy, tropical atmosphere which perches on the shores of picturesque Jagua Bay. The city was first settled by the French, who dubbed it “The Southern Pearl”. We drive along the Punta Gorda Peninsula, Cienfuegos’ most exclusive neighbourhood. We take a guided tour of the well-preserved colonial centre of Cienfuegos, which UNESCO declared a world heritage area in 2015. The inhabitants are proud of the city’s musical traditions and Cienfuegos was once home to Benny More, one of Cuba’s most famous musicians. In the early 19th century, wealthy Frenchman D’Clouet of Louisiana promoted this area to the French who began to populate the region from Bordeaux, among other places. French and indigenous architecture abounds in Cienfuegos. In the circular Martí Park, a granite compass marks the point where the first French villagers started building the city. The Terry Theatre, built in 1869, is a good example of eclectic Creole architecture.
Overnight in Cienfuegos at a local casa particular. Casa Manolo or similar. Breakfast & Dinner.
March 6th – FRIDAY
CIENFUEGOS & TRINIDAD
On our short drive to Trinidad, [1 ½ hour] our first stop is the Botanical Garden, founded in 1901 by Harvard University. It is home to thousands of fascinating specimens including many unusual trees. Later we travel along the south coast to Trinidad, one of the first townships founded by the Spaniards in the early 16th Century. It became a major centre for trading sugar and slaves for almost 200 years. A long period of isolation from 1850 to 1950 protected the city from development, leaving the original layout largely unchanged. Extensive restoration work, which continues today, can be seen throughout the colonial centre right down to the finest details such as the street lights and the whitewashed railings surrounding the main square. Visiting the beautiful city of Trinidad is like entering a time warp with cobblestoned streets, tile roofs, window grills and patios. This stunning 500-year-old town is a museum in itself, with palatial 18th- and 19th-century houses contributing to its unique colonial ambience. The colonial town and adjacent Valle de Los Ingenios, (Valley of the Sugar Mills) was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. Trinidad is also blessed with magnificent Caribbean beaches and the Escambray, a rugged mountain range. Our guided walking tour of Trinidad’s Colonial core includes the place where the city was founded (the Plaza Mayor), the Holy Trinity Church and its surroundings, including a visit to the local craft market area. This afternoon you have some free time to explore the streets of Trinidad at your own pace or you might like to participate in a 1 hour optional (extra cost) Salsa Dance lesson.
First of 2 nights in Trinidad. Las Brisas del Mar Resort or similar. Breakfast & Dinner.
March 7th – SATURDAY
TOPES de COLLANTES NATURE RESERVE
Today we drive from Trinidad to the Topes de Callantes Nature Reserve in the Escombre Mountains and take a Russian army truck that will drive us to Finca Codina, a former coffee estate. There we have a local guide to walk in the forest to learn about the local vegetation and flowers that make this beautiful area unique.
Second of 2 nights in Trinidad. Las Brisas del Mar Resort or similar. Breakfast and Dinner.
March 8th – SUNDAY
TRINIDAD – CAMAGUEY
We drive through the province of Villa Clara, a traditional sugar producer. We visit the ruins of a sugar mill in the UNESCO recognized Valley of The Sugar Mills. Excellent coffee grows on its southern mountain slopes, as does one of Cuba’s important tobacco crops. We drive on to the city of Camaguey, which lies in a vast sea of open plains, pasture land and cattle ranches in the heart of Cuba. Dating back to 1514, Camaguey has been wiped out several times by battles and pirates (led by Henry Morgan). When it was rebuilt its streets became a labyrinth as if to confuse any future invaders. Today, these winding streets lined with rainbow-coloured houses have given it a distinctly different feel from other Cuban cities. Camaguey has a proud history of heroism and patriotism from the independence wars but today is known more for its active cultural scene. The symbols of Camaguey are large ceramic jars known as ‘Tinajones’ which can be seen in parks and gardens all over the city. They can be up to 2 metres tall and are still used to store rainwater and food. We explore this charming, quiet town by two person “bicycle taxi”, seeing the Plaza de Santa Ana, the Cathedral and buildings surrounding the Square. Nearby is Revolution Square, named after Major General Ignacio Agramonte y Loynaz.
Overnight in Camaguey at a local casa particular. Casa San Jose 508 or similar. Breakfast & Dinner.
March 9th – MONDAY
TRINIDAD – SANTIAGO DE CUBA
This morning we pass through Granma Province, which is named after the boat that Fidel Castro used in his revolution. Situated in Cuba’s wild southeast, Granma is a great valley crossed by the longest river in Cuba and framed by the magnificent Sierra Maestra Mountains on the edge of the island’s rugged Caribbean shore. These mountains provided shelter for Castro’s revolutionaries. The area’s history is intertwined with stories of slavery and struggles for independence. We visit Bayamo city, the provincial capital which was founded by Spanish conquistadors in 1513. At the beginning of the War of Independence in the 19th century, the city was seized and burned by Cuban rebels to prevent it from falling into the Spanish colonialists’ hands. In the city, which is now a National Monument, we see Anthem Square and the Cathedral of Bayamo. On the way to Santiago, we visit the Basilica Del Cobre, which is a place of pilgrimage for many Cubans. Here we learn about the blending of the Catholic & Santeria religions.
First of 2 nights in Santiago. (Cuban) 5 Star Melia Santiago Hotel or similar. Breakfast & Dinner.
March 10th – TUESDAY
SANTIAGO DE CUBA
Santiago de Cuba is the second most important city in Cuba, with a population of over 1 million. Set in an attractive bay flanked by the impressive Sierra Maestra Mountains, Santiago de Cuba is a vibrant, passionate city that rivals Havana with its rich cultural heritage, colonial architecture and its unique and sometimes overwhelming character. Our guided tour of Santiago city this morning includes visiting the Moncada and the monument dedicated to Antonio Maceo Grajales, famous for the role he played in the Cuban war of independence. Later, we visit the sturdy Castillo del Morro fortress guarding the entrance to the beautiful harbour. This fortress was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1997. We also take a boat ride across part of Santiago de Cuba Bay and enjoy lunch (included) on the island of Cayo Granma and explore the picturesque fishing village that makes its home here. This afternoon, we visit the Casa Diego Velazquez Museum, an early 16th-century mansion built for Spain’s chief conquistador. The centre of Santiago revolves around Céspedes Park, near the historic City Hall. Like Havana, Santiago has a rich mixture of attractive colonial squares and moody streets which contrast well with the imposing communist Plaza de la Revolucion and the luxuriant tropical surroundings. Tonight, you are free to find your own restaurant for a quiet dinner (not included).
Second of 2 nights in Santiago. (Cuban) 5 Star Melia Santiago Hotel or similar. Breakfast & Lunch.
March 11th – WEDNESDAY
FLY SANTIAGO – HAVANA + ERNEST HEMINGWAY HOUSE
Early this morning we fly from Santiago to Havana. We begin our tour in Havana with a visit to the famous Cristobal Colon “Christopher Columbus Cemetery” which was built in 1869 by Galician architect Calixto Arellano de Loira y Cardoso. The cemetery now has around 2 million graves, the same size as the current population of Havana and is world-renowned for its flair and architecture. The “who’s who” of Cuban history is interned here – with over 500 major mausolea. There is everything from Roman temples to Egyptian pyramids to medieval castles! The styles range from classical to art deco. Continuing our tour, we explore one of Havana’s most famous residences Finca la Vigia – the home that Ernest Hemingway lived in for close to 20 years. It was here that he wrote ‘The Old Man & the Sea’ and ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’. Hemingway fell in love with Cuba on his first visit in 1939. He was initially attracted to Cuba because of the Marlin fishing. We finish the afternoon at the local craft market where you can buy a snack or just enjoy wandering around looking at the local crafts.
First of 2 nights in Havana at a local casa particular. Casa Alta Habana or similar. Breakfast & Dinner.
March 12th – THURSDAY
This morning we visit the pioneering eco-village of Las Terrazas, which dates back to a reforestation project in 1968. Today it’s a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, a burgeoning activity center (with Cuba’s only canopy tour) and the site of the earliest surviving coffee plantations in Cuba. Later we return to Havana and visit Fusterlandia – the studio, residence and wild kingdom of the famous Cuban artist Jose Fuster. Roofs, walls, doorways and benches, stretching for blocks around the epicentre of his studio enclave, are adorned with his brightly coloured sculptures and mosaics of mermaids, fish, palm trees, roosters, Santería saints and quotations from Alejo Carpentier, Onelio Jorge Cardoso, and Ernest Hemingway. More than 80 neighbours have allowed Fuster to use their homes as his canvas. Later this afternoon we ride in 1950/60’s American convertibles along the Malecon waterfront boulevard.
Second of 2 nights in Havana at a local casa particular. Casa Alta Habana or similar. Breakfast & Dinner.
March 13th – FRIDAY
Fly from Havana, arriving home the same day. Breakfast if not leaving too early.
- Accommodation in Casas Particulares (Cuban bed & breakfasts) and hotels of a 4-Star North American standard.
- Breakfast & Dinner daily except on March 10th (when we include lunch together instead of dinner. This allows you to enjoy dinner that night at a restaurant which may be too small to accommodate groups.) On this tour, we take dinner out at local restaurants and paladars (private houses licensed to cook & serve food to guests)
- Lunch on Tuesday, March 10th in place of dinner.
- Land and water transport.
- Domestic Flight: Santiago – Havana.
- Sightseeing and entrance fees as mentioned in the itinerary
- Tips for driver and local guide.
- Guiding by Norman and Julie with the assistance of expert local guides.
- Visa fees. Canadian passport holders must obtain a tourist visa known as a “Tourist Card.” This is usually provided by the airline you are flying into Cuba with and the cost is included in your airfare. Please note your Canadian passport must be valid for at least 1 month beyond your expected departure date from Cuba (i.e. until at least April 13th 2020.)
- Lunches except on Lunch on Tuesday, March 10th, when we have lunch in place of dinner.
- Dinner on Tuesday, March 10th
- Arrival & departure transfers. We can arrange individual or group transfers when we have confirmed the arrival & departure times of your flights. The exact price will depend on the number of people arriving on your flight.
- Porters We do NOT include tips for porters. Porters MAY be available to help you with your suitcase and you should be prepared to tip them if you use their services. Please only bring one piece of luggage per person and make sure your luggage has wheels so you can move your own luggage when necessary.
- Trip Cancellation/Interruption and Medical Insurance. We offer insurance coverage with Manulife Insurance. Please contact us for a quote.
- Single Supplement charge, if requested ($600 Canadian)
- Personal Expenses such as souvenirs, laundry, drinks not included at meals.
- Camera fees, where applicable.
- Tips for supplemental guides
HEALTH INSURANCE (updated Aug 22 2019)
Upon arrival in Cuba, you must present proof of health insurance that is valid for the period of your stay.
All health insurance policies are recognized, except those issued by U.S. insurance companies. If you do not have proof of insurance coverage, you may be required to obtain health insurance from a Cuban insurance company upon arrival.
Cuban authorities won’t let you leave the country if you have outstanding medical bills.
Proof of health insurance may be:
- an insurance policy
- an insurance certificate
- a medical assistance card (photocopies are accepted)
You can book the Land portion of the tour with us and make your own flight arrangements or we can put you in touch with our flights specialist. From Vancouver, our flight specialist suggests flights with Air Canada via Toronto into Havana and returning from Havana via Toronto. You do NOT have to come to Vancouver to join this tour. Please contact us for flights & fares from other cities. You can also book flights using your frequent flyer points
Our published price is based on 2 people sharing a room. If you would like to share, we will do our best to find you a roommate. If you wish to be GUARANTEED a single room, there is a Single Supplement charge of $600 Canadian. Those people traveling alone but wishing to share will be informed 3 months prior to departure if a roommate is not currently available. At that point, you will be invoiced for the Single Supplement. If a roommate subsequently joins the tour, your single supplement will be refunded with the final documentation.
The land portion of the tour must be booked directly with Royal Heights Tours. You can secure your place on the tour with a $400 per person non-refundable deposit. We take payment by cheque, Visa or Mastercard for the $400 /person deposit. Your invoice for your Land tour will be e-mailed to you at the beginning of December 2019. Payment will be due by January 3rd 2020. Price quoted is for FINAL PAYMENT by cheque. Should you wish to pay the outstanding amount for the LAND tour by credit card there will be an administration fee of 3% on the outstanding amount.
- Please ensure your luggage has wheels so you can move it easily.
- This tour is NOT suitable for those people who need walking assistance in the form of canes or walkers. Most of our walking tours will be over uneven surface in the local villages
- Our office staff is not medically qualified to advise you on which immunizations you require. Please consult your local travel health clinic.
BC Travel Registration # 3379
Terms, conditions and restrictions apply; pricing, availability, and other details subject to change and/ or apply to US or Canadian residents. Please confirm details and booking information with your travel advisor.
Like this tour?
Kenya Safari Oct 2018By DG Port Coquitlam, BC trip to Anywhere
This was our second trip with Royal Heights. We appreciate the personal approach to ensuring that everyone thoroughly enjoys their vacation and has a great experience. Julie is a pleasure...