seven days and six nights in the Pearl of the Caribbean
Tour introduction and overview of activities
This most popular Cuba tour is inspired by Dan Rutherford, a former 25-year international vice president of a Fortune 100 Company, extensive world traveler, and accomplished state legislator and constitutional officer. His first visit to Cuba was in 1999. His Midwest charisma and charm makes for knowing how to put together a fun adventure abroad.
Together with Josh Lanning, a youthful Cuban expert, the two have created an experience within the ever changing US-Cuban relations. The Global Relations Cuba Discovery Tour is meticulously structured and adamantly adhere to the legal expectations of the U.S. Department of Treasury, Office of Foreign Asset Control.
Global Relations Cuba Discovery Tour – well into its multi-year edition – is geared to people who seek to engage with everyday Cubans. It’s for Americans who want to learn about island culture, its people and society. The Tour is an opportunity to visit an exotic foreign country and absorb a culture different than most. It is a tropical paradise.
This highly inclusive Tour is ideal for history buffs, lovers of art, music, culture and architecture. The Tour’s diverse itinerary goes to western Cuba from the metropolis of Havana to the mountain jungles of the Viñales Valley where Cuba’s famed tobacco is grown. The Tour sports comfortable accommodations and tasty Cuban cuisine.
What is the difference between this and other tour opportunities? Email us directly and we will send a very detailed itinerary for the Tour of your interest: DanRutherford@GlobalRelations.US
Dan, Josh and the Global Relations Travel Club Team warmly invite you to Discover Cuba!
Full tour itinerary
Day 1 – Saturday :: Arrive Cuba, welcome dinner and Cannon firing
- Depart to Havana via your own arranged flights.
You should plan arriving Havana by mid-afternoon. It may take you some time to clear Cuban Immigration, get your bag and go through Customs. You will be met in the arrival hall, after clearing Customs, by our Cuban representative holding a ‘Cuba Explorer’ sign to take you to your hotel. They will have your name and will be monitoring your flight arrival in case there is a delay. Your first tour activity will be the welcome dinner and your guide will finalize details with you on arrival to your hotel. On departure from Cuba you will be asked to be at the airport 3 hours in advance.
- Havana’s International Airport arrival hall does have bathrooms. They may not have seats or tissue. This is normal in Cuba, so you may wish to bring packets of tissues. It is suggested to use the restroom on your flight before landing.
- On arrival at Havana’s José Martí International Airport proceed through Immigration. Your carry-on will once again be scanned.
- Give your ‘Health’ form to the nurses in white uniforms after you go through Immigration & screening. The important question they may ask is if you have been exposed to Ebola.
- Collect your bags and go through Customs giving them your blue customs form.
- You will be welcomed at the airport exterior lobby after you exit Cuban Customs. Look for the person holding signage of ‘Cuba Explore.’
Tour participant’s arrival times may vary throughout the day. Individualized Airport transfers will be arranged.
- You can change your money into CUC (the convertible currency used on the island) at the airport on arrival, at a Cuban bank, an official exchange bureau or at your hotel. Your guide will be of assistance. Your passport is necessary to exchange currency. Do not exchange money on the street or with an individual Cuban.
Quote from Lonely Planet: “No one could have invented Havana. It’s too audacious, too contradictory and – despite 50 years of withering neglect – too damned beautiful. How it does it is anyone’s guess. Maybe it’s the swashbuckling history still almost perceptible in atmospheric colonial streets; the survivalist spirit of a populace scarred by two independence wars, a revolution and a US trade embargo; or the indefatigable salsa energy that ricochets off walls and emanates most emphatically from the people. Don’t come here with a long list of questions. Just arrive with an open mind and prepare for a long, slow seduction.”
- Private transfer to Hotel Capri for check-in with assistance from your guide. A historic 1950’s hotel once owned by American mobster Santo Trafficante. Actor George Raft was retained to be the public face of the casino in the hotel. The casino closed New Year’s Eve, 1958 when it was obvious the Revolutionaries had toppled Dictator Batista’s forces. Today the hotel is in the heart of the vibrant Vedado area of Havana. (Included)
- Free time to settle in and get oriented with your hotel.
- Dinner at the paladar La Casa, private restaurant, one of the earliest established in Cuba and still in the original home. (Included)
- Attend El Canonazo with Cubans, a Havana tradition which first started hundreds of years ago. At 9 o’clock, a cannon was fired from the ancient Fortress of San Carlos de Cabana to indicate the gates of the Old City were about to close. A large chain was then raised from the water and put across the entrance to the Harbor to keep pirates from sailing in. You will go to the fort for the ceremony where the tradition continues, other than the chain which is no longer used. (Included)
Day 2 – Sunday :: Vintage American Cars, Old Havana tour, Museum of Rum, craft market and shopping
- Breakfast in hotel. (Included)
- In the morning you will have the opportunity to caravan in iconic 1950’s Vintage American cars, a fascinating experience of nostalgia. You will cruise the Malecon (a broad esplanade, roadway and seawall) and stop for photos. (Included)
- Walking tour of Old Havana, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You will visit the historic plazas that make Havana unique in the Western Hemisphere. It contains the largest collection of remaining colonial-era architecture. Meet the private street vendors selling souvenirs out of their homes. This is a private tour led by your Cuban guide. (Included)
- San Francisco Square, one of the oldest plazas in the historical quarter. The square is named after magnificent Iglesia y Monasterio de San Francisco de Asís dating from the 16th century. The basilica is a striking example of Cuban baroque architecture.
- Visit the Museum of Chocolate, a small shop with intriguing artifacts relating to the history of chocolate production in Cuba. You can watch chocolates being made at the back of the premises while you sip a warming cup of hot chocolate or a soothing glass of cold chocolate. The Museo del Chocolate also sells artisanal chocolates singly or boxed. (Optional, Included)
- Plaza Vieja, the only civic square of colonial times. Absent are churches and government buildings and is in contrast surrounded by opulent aristocratic 17th century residences.
- Square of Arms, a military parade ground for Spanish soldiers, surrounded by impressive buildings.
- Cathedral Square, the most beautiful and private 18th century colonial plaza on the island. Named after the masterpiece of Cuban baroque architecture: the Catedral de San Cristóbal de la Habana, was built by the Jesuit order.
- As you stroll through the historic cobblestone streets of Old Havana you will experience the sensations Ernest Hemingway felt and those of the colonialists’ centuries earlier.
- Lunch at Mojito Mojito private restaurant, great Cuban food and just off of Plaza Vieja in Old Havana. You will enjoy a wonderful meal, live music and friendly staff. (Included)
- Visit the Museum of Rum. An important cultural site where historians affirmed it was built in the 17th century (1772-1780). Your guide will show you all the steps in the manufacture of the original Cuban rum. The explanation goes from the raw material in the sugar cane field, history, slavery and up to today’s distribution. In conclusion you will enjoy a toast with Havana Club rum in the tasting bar. (Included) The shop has all the options of Havana Club available for purchase.
- Time to shop for souvenirs at Centro Cultural Antiguos Almacenes de Depósito San José, a large crafts market housed in renovated maritime warehouse. Offerings are garish-colored paintings by local artists, guayaberas (short-sleeve, open-neck Cuban shirts), sculptures, leather goods, jewelry and various trinkets & gadgets bearing the image of Che Guevara. The metal-framed structure is retro and Art Deco. (Included)
- Return to hotel.
- Dinner (Not included). This is a perfect evening to explore Cuba’s famed paladares or visit one of the many cafes within easy walking distance of your hotel and support a Cuban family business.
- Evening is free to enjoy the roof top swimming pool, street music, dancing and the island experience engaging with the Cuban people.
Day 3 – Monday :: Valley of magnificent mogotes and the richest agriculture land in the nation, cigar factory and meal in country-side paladar
- Breakfast in hotel. (Included)
- Hotel check-out.
- Morning departure to the western agricultural province of Pinar del Río.
- In route you will have a discussion with your Cuban guide about the distribution of food to restaurants, the slaughter of the cattle and the food ration book for Cuban citizens.
- In Pinar del Rio visit and tour Francisco Donatién Cigar Factory, located in a former prison and on this site since 1961. You will see how some of Cuba’s internationally renowned premium cigars are made, by hand. Seated side by side at special wooden benches, the cigar makers carry out their work, producing cigars of identical weight and length. (Included)
- Drive through the picturesque Viñales village in the heart of Cuba's prime tobacco growing region. The town itself sits in the center of a flat valley surrounded by stunning formations known locally as mogotes. They are irregularly shaped steep-sided hills that can rise as high as 985 feet and have bases as much as a mile in length. The mogotes were once underwater and during the Jurassic Age, about 200 million years ago, they were the first formations to emerge from the Atlantic Ocean during the creation of Cuba. Many consider this the most beautiful nature spot on the island.
- Late lunch at private restaurant Balcón del Valle (Balcony of the Valley and you will see why when you get there), one of the most spectacular views of the entire trip. (Included) You will have the opportunity to visit the kitchen, chat with the cooks preparing food over charcoal fire; it is rustic and wonderful.
- Check into Hotel Central in the heart of the small colonial town. Its privileged location allows easy access to the main square.
- Private check-in with assistance from your guide.
- Across the street from your hotel is a small grocery store you may visit to see some of what locals can purchase and have an opportunity to get bottled water, wine, rum, coffee and snacks.
- Dinner (Not included). Evening is free to take a stroll in the colorful small town of Vinales, all at the doorstep of your hotel. There are several privately owned restaurants and cafes in close walking distance. Most offer free Wi-Fi. Availability will be posted and you get the password when you visit.
- Evening is free to explore the sights and sounds of the small town.
Day 4 – Tuesday :: Explore Viñales, tobacco farming and paladar dinner
- Breakfast in hotel. (Included)
- Morning (Optional) Activities: horseback riding or horse drawn cart ride in the valley of the National Park (either are highly recommended and your guide can be of assistance). Visit the open air craft market a few blocks from your hotel, amongst the brightly colored buildings, shops and church or visit a private botanic garden. A short taxi ride is the Cave of the Indian. Experience small town Cuba.
- Return to hotel to freshen up.
- Lunch (Not Included) at your leisure. Location and time to be determined after the morning activities. There are several privately owned restaurants and cafes in close walking distance. Most offer free Wi-Fi. Availability will be posted and you get the password when you visit.
- Afternoon visit a privately owned small tobacco farm that produces the leaves for the world-renowned Cuban cigar. You will need to walk part of the way for horse or oxen are the only other means of transportation. Meet the owners, third generation women who run the small farm. You will have a personal demonstration of hand rolling a Habano cigar and discuss with the ladies about the government oversight of the tobacco production and sales. Learn the Cuban government’s process for pricing and delivery of the leaves. (Included) You may purchase excellent hand rolled cigars that the three generations of women in the family prepare in the evenings. (Optional)
- ENJOYABLE EVENING AT, SMALL, LOCAL PALADAR: Dinner at a small local paladar El Campesino, located on the edge of a tobacco field with the mogotes as a backdrop. Meet Yuri and Nino, daughter and mother owners who live on site with their families. Enjoy a wonderful meal of Cuban country-style cooking from the kitchen supervised by the mother Nino. (Included)
Day 5 – Wednesday :: Havana return, National Capitol and iconic hotel
- Breakfast in hotel. (Included)
- Hotel check-out.
- Drop by an open air craft market as you depart Vinales, with brightly colored buildings, shops and church. Experience small town Cuba. (Included)
- Visit rest stop on way to Havana for hot or cold sandwiches and wonderful pina coladas. (Optional)
- Back to Havana and visit the Capitol for the Republic of Cuba, El Capitolio. Construction began in 1926 and was completed in 1929. The building was the seat of government until after the Cuban Revolution in 1959. When the Cuban Congress was abolished the Ministry of Science Technology and the Environment eventually moved in. Though there is a striking resemblance to the U.S. Capitol it is not a replica. (Included)
- Hotel Nacional check-in; relaxing time to visit the garden, walk the site depicted in the Godfather Part II movie, enjoy a cigar, a mojito or just have a rest on the veranda where some of the world’s most interesting personalities’ have taken a break while the winds from the Straits of Florida breeze by.
- Check-in with assistance of your guide and enjoy a welcome cocktail. (Included)
At your leisure at Hotel Nacional, stroll by cannons of battles from the 1800’s. Also, visit the bunkers used during the Cuban Missile Crisis, built overlooking the Malecon and the Straits of Florida to Key West. For 13 days in October 1962 the world hinged on the brink of a nuclear war. The epicenter of the conflict was on the island you will be standing. Diplomatic understandings were formulated, treaties were contemplated, blockades occurred, embargoes were strengthened and international legal precedent was challenged. You can go through the bunkers and trenches and be briefed on the happenings of that complex time.
- Dinner will be at Café Laurent where you will enjoy an excellent meal and view of Havana. This boutique paladar evokes a fine tropical island experience of days gone by. (Included)
- Evening is free to explore the sights and sounds of Havana.
Day 6 – Thursday :: Hemingway by the sea, organic gardening, private cooking lesson, Hemingway's home and last night in Havana
- Breakfast in hotel. (Included)
- Travel to Cojimar, a small fishing village east of Havana. It was Ernest Hemingway’s favorite fishing port in Cuba and the basis for Old Man and the Sea. This is the harbor where Hemingway’s boat Pilar was moored and where Papa and Gregorio would depart to marlin fish or hunt German Submarines. On water’s edge see Hemingway’s bust made from metal, donated by the local fishermen, and get photos in front of the 17th century Spanish Lookout Fort. (Included)
Much of the inspiration for The Old Man and the Sea came from Hemingway's time in Cojimar. La Terraza, is a fisherman’s bar on the Bay of Cojimar where Hemingway docked his boat, Pilar. The bar is where he spent many an afternoon drinking with the fishermen, one being Gregorio Fuentes, the Captain of Pilar. Many believe him to be the model for the character Santiago—the old man of the sea. Some say the young boy in the story, Manolo, was based on the young son of the owner of La Terraza, Manolito.
- Visit the small organic garden of Jesus and Julio where they show you how herbs, vegetables and fruits are raised for the private restaurant where you will be cooking later. Up close see mangos, bananas, plantains, squash, avocado, coffee and maybe even the Cuban Bee Hummingbird, the smallest bird in the world, endemic to Cuba. See how organic gardening in a residential neighborhood produces private income and supplies a local business. (Included)
- TOUR HIGHLIGHT: Cooking & mojito making lesson at paladar (private restaurant) El Ajiaco followed by lunch, which you helped prepare. This is a unique experience; in the kitchen, with the chef and staff preparing multiple dishes (seafood, ropa vieja & el ajiaco soup) and then at the bar learning how to properly prepare a Cuban mojito. It is a humble paladar visited by food networks from around the world and a number of notable celebrities such as Kevin Bacon and Sigourney Weaver. (Included)
- Visit Finca Vigía, home and farm of Ernest Hemingway, southeast of Havana in the small town of San Francisco de Paula. He lived longer in his Cuba residence than any of his other homes. It was here he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature and wrote portions of A Moveable Feast, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Islands in the Stream and much of The Old Man and the Sea. Now a museum, you will meet the docents and curators who affectionately maintain his library, manuscripts and personal belongings. His boat Pilar (made famous, in part, from Papa’s Marlin fishing and hunting German submarines off the northern coast of the island) and the graves of some of his dogs are all on the grounds. (Included)
- Return to hotel.
- Dinner (Not included). With all the great food you have experienced, this is your chance to re-visit a favorite privately owned restaurant or one you may have heard about. Your guide will be of assistance in helping you select a good private paladar. Plan ahead if you want reservations.
- It is your last night in Cuba so enjoy! Your guide can help arrange tickets to the Tropicana or Buena Vista Social Club if you like. We suggest informing your guide soon on arrival to ensure tickets. (Optional)
Day 7 – Friday :: Havana and home
- Breakfast in hotel. (Included)
- Depending on the time of your airline departure you may enjoy a relaxing early morning swim or a walk along the Malecon with the Straits of Florida next to you.
- Hotel check-out.
- Transfer to José Martí International Airport in Havana for flight home. (Included)
- Airlines recommend you be at your departure airport 3 hours before takeoff. Please prepare accordingly. Your guide or driver will meet you in the lobby of your hotel.
- It is prohibited to take Cuban currency (CUC) out of the country. After your airline check-in there is a currency exchange available for you to change your CUCs into US dollars (or another currency). Be sure to do so before entering Immigration.
- After you clear Cuban Immigration, you will be screened and your carry on will be scanned. In the departure hall there is a duty free shop, places to buy snacks and drinks, as well as souvenirs. They accept U.S dollars.
- When arriving to your U.S. entry airport you will need to clear U.S. Immigration and U.S. Customs. If asked by an Immigration Officer about your trip to Cuba, note that you were on a sanctioned Tour. If asked what you did, tell the truth and explain it was an opportunity to directly engage and support the Cuban people, learn about their life and country. To be clear: You were not on a vacation.
- Memories of a wonderful visit to the Pearl of the Antilles: Cuba! (Included)
- Your support for the Cuban people is forever appreciated!
Included in Cuba tour package cost
- Global Relations Travel Club (GRTC) $29 one-time membership fee is included with your tour. Membership is a requirement, by Rule, to participate in Global Relations (GR) tours.
- A Certificate of Legal Cuba Travel, per participant, in accordance with the US Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) section 31 C.F.R. § 515.572(a)(1).
- Your needed Cuban Visa is included and as a GRTC membership benefit processing will be expedited and there will not be a fee for shipping or handling.
- You will receive a series of briefing e mails before departure to assist you in preparing for the trip.
- All taxes and amounts are quoted in US dollars.
- Fly to Cuba and you will be met at the airport and transferred to your hotel. On your last day of the tour the transfer to the Cuban airport is included.
- Airport departure tax from Cuba and the Cuban mandatory Emergency Insurance coverage during your island stay is covered in the cost of a U.S. carrier airfare.
- Hotels in Cuba as listed in your itinerary, or similar.
- Welcome cocktail.
- All breakfasts, lunches and dinners as per itinerary.
- All activities and services, as described in tour itinerary except those noted as “Optional” or “Not included.”
- Air-conditioned transportation and a Cuban professional driver dedicated to you.
- Cold bottled water on transport.
- An expert English-speaking Cuban guide who will also serve as interpreter.
- You will receive ongoing travel support from the GR team before and after your stay.
- Emergency collect call access to the United States while in Cuba.
- Airfare is not included; you select your commercial flights and book them to and from Havana.
- Gratuity for your Cuban tour guide, driver, chambermaids, restaurant staff, porters, etc. is not included.
- Optional travel interruption and cancellation insurance. See http://globalrelations.ourcuba.com/insurance/