Cuba Introduction Tour

Cigar smoking women in Havana

Cigar smoking women in Havana

8 Day Tour for 2016-2017

Join us on the most affordable and encompassing way to witness authentic Cuba for first-time visitors. You’ll relish eight days of action packed learning, fun and friendship in Cuba. Our Introduction to Cuba Tour makes it possible for US travelers to get an up-close and highly personalized slice of Cuba life and culture. Past tour participants describe Cuba as the most fun, safe and welcoming nation in the New World.

While savoring the amazing people-to-people activities on this program, you’ll visit the provinces La Habana, Artemisa and Pinar de Río. You’ll learn about island history, and its social and ecological achievements directly from Cubans. You’ll come to think of them as lost friends – forbidden to us since 1959. You will join others from across North America and enjoy all that Cuba has to offer in a small group, usually sixteen or fewer guests, never more than twenty-four.

 

Departure Dates

Low Season:

2016: May 7, 14, 21, 28; Jun 4, 11, 18, 25; Jul 2; Aug 13, 20, 27; Sep 3, 10, 17, 24; Oct 1, 8, 15, 22; Nov 26; Dec 3

Shoulder Season:

2016: Mar 5, 12, 19, 26; Apr 2, 23, 30; Jul 9, 16, 23, 30; Aug 6; Oct 29; Nov 5, 12, 19; Dec 10

2017: Jan 7, 14, 21, 28; Feb 4, 11, 18, 25; Mar 4, 11, 18, 25 

Peak Season:

2016: Apr 9, 16; Dec 17, 24, 31

Please call for pricing and to confirm availability of your preferred dates! Additional itineraries available, just ask!

Download the Cuba Visa Questionnaire, complete and email to maha@caravan-serai.com

Plaza De Armes

Plaza De Armes, Havana

Day 1 – Saturday: Say hello to Cuba!

The tour commences with the arrival of our charter flight from Tampa or Miami, Florida. As tour participants disembark their plane at Havana’s José Martí International our airport concierge greets you and takes you through a rapid immigration line. You’re assisted with your luggage, and then pass through an expedited customs lane, meet your guide and driver and head to your hotel for check in. On the way to your hotel relish views of one of the oldest and most stunning cities in the New World. 

Upon arrival at your hotel located in the heart of Havana’s cultural district, you receive fast check-in with assistance from your guide. Hotel staff greets you with a welcome drink while your luggage is being delivered to your room. After having settled in and had a chance to rest and freshen up, enjoy a first taste of island cuisine at a group arrival dinner prepared by your hotel’s restaurant chef. Afterwards your tour leader may have some fun evening activities to suggest, time permitting.

Day 2 – Sunday: Getting to know Old Havana and its people

Greet the day with tasty breakfast served at your hotel. Get the lay of the land with a morning visit to the Maqueta de La Habana Vieja [Scale Model of Old Havana] to learn about this nearly 500 year old community and its plans for the future. It’s a 1:500 scale model of Old Havana complete with an authentic soundtrack replicating a day in the life of the city. It’s incredibly detailed and provides an excellent way of acquainting yourself with the city’s original core. Next we will go 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 world, and as such, have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We end our sightseeing with a visit to the Casa del Niño y la Niña [House for the Boy and Girl], a Central Havana neighborhood-sponsored learning facility for young Cubans seeking to expand their academic options following the regular school day. We’ll meet with headmistress for a presentation on her outreach work for kids in the community of Cayo Hueso. We’ll also meet with teachers and students.

Return to your hotel and freshen up. Dinner will be at the Restaurante El Templete. It sits near its namesake temple that marks the spot where the city of La Habana was founded in 1519. Shrimp and lobster headline the main cast on menu’s seafood entrées. After dinner we will witness El Cañonazo – the Firing of the 9PM Cannon at 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. El Cañonazo is an enchanting colonial reenactment dating back to 1519 when the city of Havana was enclosed by a tall thick rock wall to ward off attacks from pirates and the English. The cannon firing signaled the closing of the city gates for the night. If you were outside at the time, you were in “vedado” or the forbidden zone. Today Vedado is an important cultural hub and elegant modern Havana neighborhood.

Day 3 – Monday : Urban agriculture and Hemingway house

Organic co-op farm

Organic co-op farm

After breakfast at the hotel we’ll visit the UBPC Vivero Organopónico Alamar, 15 km (9.3 miles) east of Havana. It’s one of the most successful urban organic farms in Cuba raising ornamental plants, medicinal herbs, and sprouting millions of seedlings for neighboring private and collective farms. Established in the early 1990s by a dozen people, the Alamar cooperative now has over 400 members who together supply a vast range of healthy, organic vegetables to nearby communities. Produce is raised employing the ancient practice of permaculture. No chemical fertilizers or pesticides are allowed. (Note: the ground is covered in red dirt that can stain shoes and socks, please plan accordingly with old shoes, flipflops, etc). We have a special lunch arranged for you at Ajiaco paladar [private restaurant]. It’s considered one of the best private eateries in Havana and ranks tops on TripAdvisor’s restaurant list. Hands down it’s a Cuban dining highlight. It’s located off the beaten path in the sleepy romantic coastal fishing village of Cojímar (the setting for Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea”). Ajiaco is noted for fantastic service, atmosphere and authentic Cuba cuisine. Organic produce and other ingredients are supplied by Vivero Organopónico Alamar and other nearby private gardens to give every dish an delightfully fresh aromatic flavor you’ll always remember. After lunch visit Finca Vigía [Lookout Farm] where North America’s literary bard Ernest Hemingway spent twenty-one of his most important and productive years adding to the building blocks of English literature. Claimed by both the United States and Cuba as their native son, it was Hemingway himself who declared the island his true home. His house has been preserved just as it was when Hemingway lived in it. You’ll see his weird eclectic personal objects, thousands of books, manuscripts and photographs, as well as some animal trophies he bagged on his safaris to even more exotic places than Cuba.

Inside Ernest Hemingway's house

Inside Ernest Hemingway’s house

Return to your hotel and the balance of the afternoon is free for you to relax or explore the city. Dinner is not included this evening but if you do go out be back at the hotel in time to meet the group and head to the 9:00 PM Noche de fiesta cubana – a welcome party organized by dance and music artists eager make friends with you at Club Salseando Chévere in mystical Parque Metropolitano in the Playa neighborhood. This renowned venue gets top marks for joviality and salsa in the city. It’s a great opportunity to meet new people, dance, imbibe and shake your booty. Shy? Don’t worry this activity is so fun you’ll be smiling and having a blast even from the sidelines.

Day 4 – Tuesday : Community center, and African heritage

After breakfast we’re off to visit Convento de Nuestra Señora de Belén [Convent of Our Lady of Belén], a humanitarian healthcare and community service project in Old Havana. Construction of the massive Convent was begun in 1712. It was expanded and remodeled several times over the centuries. Finally abandoned in 1925, it fell into grave disrepair. In 1991 restoration began and continues today with amazing results. The Office of the Historian (our Cuban sponsor), public health authorities and the Order of the Sisters of Charity jointly manage Belén Convent. It is home to fifty elderly people, and provides physiotherapy and ophthalmological services to many more seniors in the community. It hosts a day care and primary school. Other activities include exercise classes, board games, cognitive rehabilitation, films, crafts workshops, and “love among the elderly” workshops. Afterwards we’ll meet with the professors and students of La Escuela Taller Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos [Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos Workshop School]. This unique institution was established in 1992 in an effort to train local youth in the arts, crafts and theoretical knowledge necessary to rehabilitate and preserve their rich architectural heritage. The school teaches archeological and restoration skills to rebuild and sustain Old Havana’s physical heritage and cultural patrimony. The Cuban Capital harbors the largest collection of colonial-era Spanish architecture in the world.

We’ll visit Asociación Cultural Yorubá de Cuba [Yoruba Cultural Association of Cuba]. It’s a religious and cultural institution that provides educational information and history on orishas, their cults and rituals. It has a museum that offers interesting views of Santería, its saints and their powers. It has an exhibition hall named after Merceditas Valdés, a great singer of the Yorubá songs and disseminator of the culture. There are two other halls: the Manolo Ibáñez named after the founder of the association, and another named after Alberto Pedro, a prominent ethnologist and adviser of the association. The association’s library is named after the historian and researcher of the African presence in the New World, José Luciano Franco. 

Return to your hotel and freshen up. Dinner will be at one of Havana’s newest private restaurants Nazdarovie. It’s serves Russian delicious food – no rice, beans or fried plantains! You can order a mojito, but instead of rum is prepared with vodka. Nazdarovie means cheers in Russian. 

Optional evening entertainment: There are two venues in Havana called Casa de la Música, one in Centro Habana and the other in Miramar. They’re both considered the best and most popular nightclubs and live-music venues. All the big names perform from Bamboleo to Los Van Van. Both venues are open every night and different bands perform each evening. Cover fees vary depending on what band is playing – usually between 5 and 15 CUC. There is no dress code, but you’ll fit right in if dressed sharp.

Day 5 – Wednesday : History, Arts, and Cuban Society Today

After breakfast at the hotel we’ll participate in a round table discussion led by retired University of Havana professor, sociologist and noted feminist author Dr. Marta Núñez Sarmiento. Ms. Núñez holds a Master’s in Sociology from the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences in Santiago de Chile, a PhD in Economics from the Academy of Sciences in Moscow, Russia, and has served as a visiting professor at universities in the Dominican Republic, Switzerland, Sweden, the United States, Canada, Spain and Argentina. Núñez is an engaging presenter who will explore with you many fascinating and unique aspects of Cuban society including family rights, property laws and gender issues. 

Jose Fuster House and Restaurant

Jose Fuster House and Restaurant

For lunch we’ll be hosted by José Fúster, one of Cuba’s most important ceramists and painters, at his whimsical studio and restaurant in Jaimanitas, just outside of Havana. Fúster is known as the Picasso of the Caribbean and his art is acclaimed internationally. His artistic mission has been the rehabilitation and decoration of the village of Jaimanitas where he lives. Fúster has decorated over 80 houses with ornate murals and domes to suit the personality of his neighbors. Nowadays, Fúster’s art is a cherished part of Cuban culture and joins the rank of other public artworks such as that of Gaudi in Barcelona or that of Brancusi in the Romanian city of Targu Jiu. He supports his community project through the sale of his paintings and ceramics. After lunch we will have a private guided tour of the Palacio de Bellas Artes [Palace of Fine Arts] dedicated exclusively to housing Cuban art spanning three centuries. 

Return to your hotel to freshen up. Dinner will be at Antiguo Almacén de la Madera y el Tabaco. It’s a huge open-air affair with several barbecue grills, and a brewery on site! Everyone loves the food and especially the beer made on premises. There are three flavors: light amber lager, medium ale, and dark stout ale with a slightly smoking taste. 

Optional evening entertainment. Attend a special dinner and dance show. Eat at the outdoor barbecue Restaurante La Barraca on the paradise-like grounds of the Hotel Nacional de Cuba atop a bluff overlooking the city and the Caribbean. Afterwards enjoy a musical review at the Cabaret Parisién and relish this colorful dance extravaganza. Dinner is 12 CUC, floorshow is 35 CUC. Not included in tour cost.

Day 6 – Thursday : Amazing Las Terrazas, the natural splendor of rural Cuba

Following breakfast at the hotel, we depart for Las Terrazas eco-community in the Sierra del Rosario mountain range spanning the provinces of Artemisa and Pinar del Río. Once mired in poverty and completely deforested as a result of centuries of charcoal production for coffee processing and cooking, Las Terrazas today is a vibrant self-sustaining eco-community. We’ll tour the rural village called Rancho Curujey and enjoy a welcome cocktail while learning about this self-sustaining community’s successes in reforestation, historical preservation, environmental balance, and a good life. Next, we’ll meet with local artists and craft workers in their homes and studios. We’ll visit a local school and talk with its teachers and students. And later we’ll walk the incredible ruins of a French Coffee Plantation built in 1801 worked by African slaves.

We have lunch at an open-air restaurant specializing in traditional country cuisine – La Casa del Campesino – ever popular with tour participants. You’ll have free time to swim in the fresh waters of the Río San Juan and explore the surroundings of this lush tropical paradise. Don’t forget your swimming suit.

We’ll meet the environmental scientists and technicians responsible for the restoration of the jungles and forests of Las Terrazas. We’ll learn the principles, approaches and practices that combined serve to sustain the region.

Return to your Havana hotel to rest and freshen up, dinner is on your own this evening. 

Optional evening entertainment: Shake your booty to the best Afrojazz, Cubajazz and Sonjazz at Club La Zorra y El Cuervo [The Fox and the Raven] featuring astonishing performances by island bands. It’s a popular haunt for Cubans and foreign guests. Not included in tour cost.

Day 7 – Friday : Cuban music and arts day

We’ll visit the Colibri recording company [Hummingbird productions] and Abdala music studio where the great musicians of Cuba (and many from Latin America) record their songs. Colibri is the production arm of the Cuban Institute of Music, which hosts the Havana Jazz Festival. Colibri produces new music including son, bolero, country music, Latin jazz, danzon, la trova, ritual songs, rumba, choirs, vocals, instrumental and other rhythms. Colibri is charged with rescuing and preserving recordings of past Cuban performers and composers. Abdala was built in 1998 and has grown into a world-class studio. The project has hands-on support from renowned troubadour Silvio Rodríguez. We’ll meet and talk with the staff, engineers and recording artists. We’ll learn the intricacies of sound recording, tour the facilities, and as a special gift receive a digital CD and a welcome cocktail.

Lunch will be at one of Havana’s most popular restaurants: El Aljibe. Afterwards we visit the astonishing Museo de la Revolucion y Memorial Granma (Museum of the Revolution and Granma Memorial). It is the former presidential palace and was once home to US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista. The marble staircase and the magnificent upstairs ceiling mural tell one story while galleries, with displays of items from colonial times to the present, tell another; the contrast is effective. Photographs of tortured revolutionaries, maps tracing the progress of the war, the bloodstained uniforms of rebels who fell in the 1953 Santiago de Cuba Moncada Barracks attack, and photos of Fidel and Ché complete a comprehensive tour of the Revolution’s history. In the garden is the Granma Memorial – the Yacht Granma in which Fidel Castro and 81 other rebel combatants returned to Cuba from exile in Mexico in 1956 to launch the Revolution. Also in the garden are various vehicles used in the liberation movement, including a Russian tank used in the Bay of Pigs Invasion and a turbine from a U-2 spy plane downed during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

Return to your hotel to freshen up. Group farewell dinner at the new Restaurante Conde del Castillo located in the Hotel Palacio del Marqués de San Felipe y Santiago de Bejucal that is located in Old Havana’s Plaza San Francisco. 

People enjoying the breeze off the ocean on the Malecon

People enjoying the breeze off the ocean on the Malecon

Optional evening entertainment. Enjoy the pulsating tunes, good eats, drinks and music at the Jazz Café. This popular modern jazz supper club with chrome trimmed tables and fairly bright lighting is located on the Malecón seawall in the Galerías de Paseo shopping center. At night the venue swings into action with live jazz, timba and, occasionally, straight-up salsa. It attracts plenty of big-name acts. Not included in tour cost.

Day 8 – Saturday : Say goodbye to Cuba – for now

Breakfast at your hotel. Then it’s time pack up and check out, and transfer to Havana’s José Martí International airport for your flight home.

End of services.

Want to stay longer in Cuba following your tour? Contact us and we will help make it happen.

 


Included:

  • 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 on tour start and end days
  • Accommodations in quality Cuban hotels, double occupancy
  • Meals as indicated in itinerary: breakfasts at the hotel, lunches on tour days, several dinners out
  • 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
  • Ongoing support from our US and Cuban staff before, during and after travel

Not included:

  • Air fare: Round trip air from Tampa is $569*, and from Miami is $599* (except during December holidays when airfares are higher). Cost 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, or coming early and departing later, Cuban airport transfers are not included. Cost is $35 each way for up to two people
  • Tips for tour guide, bus driver, chambermaids, restaurant staff, porters
  • Optional tours, activities not listed on itinerary, personal expenses, internet access

*Charter flight prices subject to change without notice until booked. 

Classic cars and coco taxis

Classic cars and coco taxis