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!
Day 1 – Saturday :: Arrival Cuba, welcome dinner, Cannon Firing, Old Havana and evening free to explore
- Depart to Havana via your own arranged flights.
You should plan arriving Havana by early 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. We will send you your guide’s name and photo closer to your departure from the States. Your first tour activity will be dinner and your guide will finalize details with you. On departure you will be asked to be at the airport 3 hours in advance.
- Arrival at Havana’s José Martí International Airport. Proceed through Immigration, collect your bags and go through Customs, giving them your blue customs form. Participant’s arrival times will vary throughout the day. Airport transfers will be arranged for each flight of arriving participants.
- 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 the flight before landing.
- Give your ‘Health’ forms to the nurses in white uniforms after you go through immigration & screening. The important question they will ask is if you have been in Africa and exposed to Ebola.
- You will be welcomed at the airport exterior lobby by your guide or driver after you exit Cuban customs. Look for signage of “Cuba Explorer.” They will have your flight number and arrival time and will be waiting for you.
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.”
- Victoria Hotel Havana check in with assistance from your guide. The Victoria was built in 1928 and today is in the heart of the vibrant Vedado area of Havana. (Included) The Victoria is the sister hotel to the Capri, just a short walk away. You will have access to the Capri fitness center and rooftop swimming pool.
- Free time to settle in and get oriented with your hotel.
- This evening you will enjoy a welcome dinner at restaurant Café Del Oriente in Old Havana. This is the restaurant where Secretary of State John Kerry visited in 2015 and Raul Castro entertained Jimmy Carter in 2011. (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. (Optional)
- After dinner your guide will let you know some evening entertainment options for your personal exploring.
Day 2 – Sunday :: Old Havana tour, Vintage American Cars, Museum of Rum, Marine Warehouse and shopping
- Breakfast in hotel. (Included)
- Morning 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. This is a private tour led by your Cuba Tours’ guide. (Included)
- 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.
- Square of Arms, an ancient military parade ground for Spanish soldiers, surrounded by impressive buildings such as:
Palacio de los Capitanes Generales is the former seat of colonial government. Today the building houses the Museum of the City.
Palacio del Segundo Cabo (Palace of the Second Lieutenant) dates from 1770. Today it houses the Center for the Interpretation of Cultural Relations Cuba-Europe.
- Visit the cigar shop La Casa del Habano at the Conde de Villanueva boutique hotel, which may be the best cigar shop in Old Havana. It is hidden on the mezzanine which was once slave quarters. Cigar aficionados can enjoy the patio with its vegetation, mahogany rocking chairs and peacocks. The building was the colonial mansion of the Count of Villanueva, leader of the creole Havana society in the 19th century.
- See the Museum of Chocolate, a small shop with intriguing artifacts relating to the history of chocolate production in Cuba. You can see where chocolates are made at the back of the premises while one sips on a warming cup of hot chocolate or a soothing glass of cold chocolate. The Museo del Chocolate also sells artisanal chocolates singly or boxed.
- You will continue on to 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.
- As you stroll through the historic cobblestone streets you will see the area Ernest Hemingway would walk when he stayed in the city.
- Then on to 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.
- Lunch at Mojito Mojito, great Cuban food and just off of Plaza Vieja in Old Havana. You will enjoy a wonderful meal and friendly staff. (Included)
- From lunch you will have the opportunity to caravan in iconic 1950’s Vintage American cars, a fascinating experience of nostalgia. You will cruise the Malecon (Seawall), stop for photos and be dropped off at the Museum. (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)
- Time to shop for souvenirs at Centro Cultural Antiguos Almacenes de Depósito San José, a giant craft market offering some of the most iconic objects of Havana: garish-colored paintings by local artists, guayaberas (short-sleeve, open-neck Cuban shirts), sculptures, leather, jewelry, and various trinkets & gadgets bearing the image of Che Guevara. The souvenirs are high quality, which is why you will see as many locals as tourists among the shoppers. The metal-framed structure itself, an old, fully renovated maritime warehouse, very retro and Art Deco, is worth the visit alone. (Included)
- Return to hotel.
- Dinner (Not included). Evening is free to return to the vibrant plazas of Old Havana. Enjoy street music, dancing and the island experience. Visit one of the many cafes within easy walking distance of your hotel for a snack or dinner.
- Your Cuban guide will give recommendations if needed. Plan ahead if you want reservations.
Day 3 – Monday :: Valley of magnificent mogotes and richest agriculture land in the nation, cigar factory and meals in country-side paladares
- 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 (lobster), 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 and see the hog pens in the back; it is rustic and wonderful.
- Visit a small local grocery store so you may see some of what locals may purchase and an opportunity for you to get additional bottled water, rum, coffee and snacks. (Included)
- Check into the newest Hotel in Vinales. Hotel Central is in the heart of the small colonial town and its privileged location allows easy access to the main square.
- Private check-in with assistance from your guide.
- A short walk from your hotel is a small grocery store you may visit to see some of what locals may purchase and an opportunity for you to get bottled water, rum, coffee and snacks.
- TOUR HIGHLIGHT: Have a roof top personal discussion before dinner with Yuri about the evolution in Cuba of private business operations and what it is like for a young mother raising a family and running a paladar (private restaurant) and renting out a few rooms in a rural, vibrant, community. (Included)
- ENJOYABLE EVENING AT A 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)
- Evening is free to explore the sights and sounds of the town.
Day 4 – Tuesday :: Viñales activities, organic meal, tobacco farming and explorer Viñales
- Breakfast in hotel. (Included)
- Morning (Optional) Activities: horseback riding in the valley of the National Park (highly recommended). Visit the open air craft market a few blocks from your hotel, amongst the brightly colored buildings, shops and church. Experience small town Cuba.
- Return to hotel to freshen up.
- Lunch at Finca Agro-ecológica El Paraíso (be sure you get a special drink ‘Anti-Stress’ blended from fresh grown organic herbs). Other than the seafood and beef, all of the food you will enjoy at lunch will have been grown on the Finca (farm). (Included)
- Walk the grounds of Finca and see how the family claimed part of a rocky mountain side to grow vegetables and herbs organically including a cashew tree. Enjoy the outstanding view of the valley. (Included)
- 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)
- Return to hotel.
- 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 to choose from.
Day 5 – Wednesday :: Havana return, National Capitol, iconic hotel
- Breakfast in hotel. (Included)
- Hotel check-out.
- Lunch, to-go sandwiches, will be provided on the coach ride and hosted by GRTC Leaders, in order to save time on the return to Havana. (Optional)
- Back to Havana 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. Restoration began in 2013 with the intent to have it completed in 2019, the 500 year anniversary of Havana’s founding. The Cuban National Assembly will once again occupy the Capitol. During restoration a tour may be arranged. (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 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.
- Enjoy a welcome cocktail (Included) after your private check-in with assistance from your guide.
- At the Hotel Nacional and at your leisure, stroll by cannons of battles from the 1800’s and 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. (Included)
- Enjoy a wonderful dinner at Atelier, a private restaurant in a home built in 1928. When President Barack and Michelle Obama visited Cuba the First Lady and a group enjoyed lunch at Atelier. (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 approximately 7 miles 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 (lobster, ropa vieja & el ajiaco soup) and then at the bar learning how to properly prepare a Cuban mojito. Humble paladar, but visited by food networks from around the world and a number of notable celebrities such as Kevin Bacon and Sigourney Weaver. (Included)
- Visit Finca La Vigía, home and farm of Ernest Hemingway, 10 miles west of Havana in the 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 and much of The Old Man and the Sea, among other compositions. This unique National Museum also includes his boat Pilar (made famous, in part, from Papa’s Marlin fishing and hunting German submarines off the north coast of Cuba) and the graves of some of his dogs. The fully furnished home displays his library, manuscripts and personal effects which you will be able to see. (Included)
- Return to hotel.
- Dinner (Not included). With all the great food you have experienced, this is your chance to re-visit one of your favorite restaurants or check out a paladar you may have heard about. Your Cuban Guide will be glad to help. 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 in one of the two pools or a walk the Malecon (seawall) 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.
- 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. There is a currency exchange in the departure hall (1) if it is open and (2) if they have USD $ to exchange for you. They do not take CUC coins.
- 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 with 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)
Costs, dates, book now
Included in tour cost
- As a GRTC member, Global Relations Travel Club leadership will make available a teleconference to go through the itinerary, answer questions and offer suggestions.
- As a GRTC member you will receive a series of briefing e mails before departure to assist you in preparing for the trip.
- All taxes; amounts are quoted in US dollars.
- Fly to Cuba and you will be met at the airport for transfer 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 mandatory Emergency Cuban Medical Insurance coverage during your island stay will be included in the cost of your airfare. GRTC Team will be of assistance if you have questions.
- Hotels in Cuba as listed in tour itinerary, or similar.
- Welcome cocktail.
- All breakfasts, lunches and dinners as per itinerary.
- All activities, services, speakers and meetings as described in tour itinerary except those noted as “Optional” or “Not included.”
- Air-conditioned coach transportation and a Cuban professional driver dedicated to your group.
- Cold bottled water on board.
- An expert Cuban English-speaking guide and interpreter, along with a GRTC Team member from the U.S accompanying your tour.
- As a GRTC member you will receive ongoing travel support from the Global Relations team before and after your stay.
- Emergency collect call access to the United States while in Cuba.
- Certificate of Legal Cuba Travel in accordance with the US Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) section 31 C.F.R. § 515.572(a)(1)
Not included in cost
- Global Relations Travel Club (GRTC) membership: $29 http://www.globalrelations.us/membership.html Membership is a requirement, by Rule, to participate in GRTC tours
- Airfare is not included; you select your commercial flights and book them to and from Havana. Flight reservations are your responsibility. GRTC Team will be of assistance.
- As a GRTC member you will have expedited processing of the needed Cuban Visitor Visa at the standard price of $85, not included, with no fee for shipping and handling when paid for at least two weeks prior to U.S. departure. Information will be sent to you.
- Gratuities for Cuban tour guide, coach/van driver, chambermaids, restaurant staff, porters, etc. of group activities are not included. You will be asked to participate in a ‘gratuity collective’ of $154.89 from which all gratuities for group activities will be paid on your behalf. Details will be sent to you.
- Optional travel interruption and cancellation insurance. See http://globalrelations.ourcuba.com/insurance/