Join writer & TV host Phil Cousineau on a journey to the cultural heart of Cuba, from Havana to Trinidad & beyond meeting artists, musicians, farmers & baseball players along the way.
Cuba is the land where time stopped, but colourful, passionate, swashbuckling, gritty, revolutionary life goes on. Join us as we travel into the heart of this kaleidoscopic land on the verge of the most dramatic changes in its history. The tour includes visits to captivating museums, walks through the historic centres of well preserved cities, and meetings with dynamic musicians, artists and cultural figures. With veteran tour guide and travel writer Phil Cousineau as your host you will enjoy long conversations, inspiring discussions and time for journaling & sketching. READ MORE
Phil Cousineau is a writer, teacher, independent scholar, documentary filmmaker, travel leader, storyteller and author of over 30 books including the national best-seller The Art of Pilgrimage, The Book of Roads, and Stoking the Creative Fires, winner of the Book of the Year Award from “Spirituality & Health Magazine.”
Traveling anywhere with Phil is a guaranteed magic carpet ride, but going to Cuba was a mythic trip back in time to a place spiced with forgotten dreams, pulsating music and an enduring spirit.Karle Dickerson, Pasadena, CA
Cuba is the land where time stopped, but colourful, passionate, swashbuckling, gritty, revolutionary life – goes on. Join us for our exciting journey into the heart of this kaleidoscopic land on the verge of the most dramatic changes in its history.
Our customized People-to-People itinerary will allow us to explore the gritty genuineness of Cuba’s cultural carnival and enjoy personal encounters with working artists, writers, teachers, filmmakers, coffee and tobacco farmers, and ballplayers, which will reveal just how eager they are to share the heart and soul of their culture.
Along the way you will explore the sizzling nightclubs of Old Havana, breathtaking Biosphere Reserves of the Viñales Valley, the open-air museum of colonial Trinidad, and the gorgeous seaport of Santiago de Cuba. Other highlights include a tour of some of the finest museums and plazas in Havana, including the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales, where the end of Spanish rule was declared in the Salon de los Espejos in 1899; live rumba music in the vibrant Callejon de Hammel, Salvador González’ artistic & cultural project; a literary pilgrimage to Finca Vigia, Hemmingway’s home in San Francisco de Paula, now restored as a museum; visits to exquisite beaches, including the famous Bay of Pigs; and dinners and authentic live music at some of the best restaurants and hotspots, including La Guarida, the restaurant made famous by the 1996 movie Strawberries and Chocolate.
To take full advantage of this historical opportunity for cross-cultural exchange, our journey will include daily contemplative time for you to journal, write, sketch, and paint at some of the most colourful and charming locations in Cuba.
Legal Travel to Cuba for US Citizens
Our Cuba tour is operated by an organization that fosters People-to-People (P2P) tours. The local operator will assist with the mandatory visa (the cost is $85 USD + a $20 shipping fee). In order to legally enter Cuba, you will need to bring with you your registration confirmation proving that you are travelling with Sacred Earth Journeys/Cuba Explorer. You will also need a copy of your full tour itinerary (available on our website). Please contact the booking agent, Sairi, for more information: firstname.lastname@example.org
The best and most economical way to travel to Havana in 2017 is with a commercial airline. A list of approved flights to Havana on commercial airlines can be found here. Your mandatory Cuban medical insurance is often included in the airline ticket price. Please contact the airline directly if the inclusions are not clear at time of booking. For any issues or questions about Cuban medical insurance please contact the local booking operator, Sairi: email@example.com
Money in Cuba
The Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) is the main currency used by island visitors. It can only be obtained in Cuba and is worthless outside of Cuba. (The exchange rate is approx. 1US dollar to 1CUC.)
US credit and debit cards don’t yet work in Cuba. American Express travelers checks can be redeemed but is difficult and not dependable.
Suggestion: Carefully evaluate daily spending needs prior to departure and bring sufficient cash with you to convert to CUCs during your stay. A minimum of $100 per day is recommended. It is better to plan to take more money than to get caught short of funds. (Please note that changing US dollars into CUCs carries a 10% fee.)
(Photo of Old Havana on main journey page: Gildemax/WikimediaCommons)
Sat, Apr 1
Arrive Havana; Welcome Dinner (D)Read more
Welcome to Cuba! You will be met at the airport and transferred to your hotel in Havana where you'll be able to check in and have some time to relax and refresh after your flight.
Havana is perhaps the best preserved colonial complex in the world. Over 1000 buildings have been designated having historic importance that date to the 1520s. The city boasts one of the world’s most impressive restoration programs, dating back to the late 1970s, which has brought approximately 25% of the buildings back to their previous splendour. Havana’s rollicking history ranges from its sixteenth-century founding by the Spanish to the wild frenzy of the 1950s when American mobsters swooped in, and on to the revolutionary zeal of Fidel Castro over the last six decades. Today, it is one of the most passionate cities in the world, with its hot-blooded music clubs, architectural jewels, neighbourhood art projects, Paladars or homespun family restaurants, love of baseball, and its battalions of “Yank Tanks” or colourfully restored 1950s cars.
This evening we will enjoy a Welcome Dinner followed by traditional Cuban music at our hotel, the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, with members of the Buena Vista Social Club. This award-winning hotel has hosted singers from Josephine Baker to Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole. (Overnight in Havana at the Hotel Nacional)
Sun, Apr 2
Havana; Museum Visits; Meeting with Local Musician (B, L, D)Read more
Since Old Havana, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the greatest walking adventures in the world we begin there, passing through the Four Plazas, the Plaza de Armas, Plaza Vieja, Plaza de San Francisco de Asis and Plaza de la Catedral. Along the way we will visit the oldest Spanish fortress in the Americas, built in 1519, the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales, where the end of Spanish rule was declared in the Salon de los Espejos in 1899, and the Museum of the City of Havana now located on the site. The Baroque Havana Cathedral, and the vast city walls, will give us a panoramic sense of five centuries of the city’s glorious melange of architecture, while a visit to the Museum de la Revolución will lend context to our understanding of Cuba’s dictatorial and revolutionary past.
Lunch today will be at the beautiful Cafe del Oriente, where the King and Queen of Spain dined on their visit to Cuba. Our afternoon will be highlighted with a visit to Callejon de Hammel in the Cayo Hueso neighbourhood – one of the most exciting living arts neighbourhoods imaginable. The Callejon is the work of local artist Salvador González who uses funds from the sales of his artwork to support art & cultural projects in this lively working-class neighbourhood. Here we can enjoy the famous Afro-Cuban rumbas that take place every Sunday afternoon, and meet with González himself. We will cap off our day with an evening meal at the beloved “home-run” Decamaron Paladar restaurant. (Overnight in Havana at the Hotel Nacional)
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Friman)
Mon, Apr 3
Havana; “Fusterlandia”; Finca Vigia (B, L, D)Read more
A surefire way to take the pulse of Havana is to experience its exhilarating arts scene. Today we will encounter Fusterlandia, the studio and home of Jose Rodriquez Fuster, often called the Cuban Picasso, which is festooned with spectacular sculptures and mosaics, and quotations from Cuban writers and Ernest Hemingway. We will enjoy lunch together here before taking a literary pilgrimage to Finca Vigia, the “Lookout Farm”, Hemingway’s home in San Francisco de Paula, now restored as a museum, with a stop at the small fishing village of Cojimar en route. Next, we turn to the dancing arts that are vibrantly on display at the Compas Dance Company, and then partake of the Taller de la Grafica, the avant-garde artists workshop. After a traditional Cuban dinner we will enjoy a musical performance at the legendary Habana Café, which will feature members of the Buena Vista Social Club (optional). (Overnight in Havana at the Hotel Nacional)
Tue, Apr 4
Pinar del Rio; Viñales Valley (B)Read more
We start early today with a stop at the impressive José Martí Memorial at the Plaza de la Revolución before moving on from Havana to visit a few of the natural wonders of Cuba, first passing through exotic landscapes with valleys punctuated with royal palms and farms on our way to Pinar del Rio for a visit to a cigar factory. Founded in 1774, Pinar del Rio was destined to become the tobacco capital of Cuba and its world famous cigar industry due to its lush climate. Here we will enjoy some of the most weirdly beautiful architecture in the Caribbean, and pass into the Viñales valley, a magnificent region of biosphere reserves, splashing waterfalls, spectacular mogotes (carsic formations), and some of the world’s finest beaches and dive sites. We will visit the ancient indigenous dwelling, the Cueva del Indio, and see evidence of the pre-Columbian inhabitants of Cuba, the Guanahatabeys, the nomadic cave-dwellers.
In the Viñales valley, we will also view the Viñales Mural de la Prehistoria, the creation of the former Director of Mapping at the Cuban Academy of Sciences, Leovigildo González Morillo. His epic work portrays world history up until the age of humans on the face of a rock wall. Our evening will again be highlighted with the raucous joy of some traditional Cuban music (optional). (Overnight in Havana at the Hotel Nacional)
Wed, Apr 5
Cienfuegos; Trinidad (B, L, D)Read more
Today we travel by coach to Cienfuegos for a guided tour of its historic centre, pausing for lunch on the way. “The Pearl of the South” is how Cubans have long regarded this French-influenced corner of Cuba. Founded in 1819 by Louis D’Clouet, a French immigrant, Cienfuegos is Gallic rather than Spanish, and its architecture and culture so unique it was named a World Heritage Site in 2005. Built on sugarcane profits, its fame now rests on not only its French cuisine, but its Neo-Classical architecture that was visionary in its emphasis on the need to eradicate slums, promote hygiene, and create beautiful public spaces; such an accomplishment that it influenced Baron Haussman’s reconfiguration of Paris. Here we will visit an art centre and meet with local artists working in the area.
The highlight of our afternoon will be visits to two of Cuba’s lushest beaches, Playa Larga and Playa Girón, where the infamous Bay of Pigs invasion took place in 1962. We will also have an opportunity to visit the Bay of Pigs museum located close to the landing site, before continuing to Trinidad. Dinner this evening will be at a local restaurant, followed by al fresco music and dance at the enchanting Casa de la Musica (or similar). (Overnight in Trinidad at Brisas Hotel)
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Gorupdebesanez)
Thu, Apr 6
Trinidad (B, L)Read more
A one of a kind, perfectly preserved Spanish colonial settlement built on the vast fortunes of the nearby sugar plantations, Trinidad is now an enchanting World Heritage site, and commonly regarded as Cuba’s most beautiful “outdoor museum.” Founded over six hundred years ago – in 1514 – it seems to stand still in time with its cobblestone lanes, braying donkeys, wandering troubadours, benefited by a prescient preservation law passed in the early 1950s. Our day will include a visit to the lush Valle de los Ingenios just outside Trinidad as well as a languorous guided walk through the beautiful cobbled city centre, followed by a visit to the Romantic Museum, the restored home of one of the area’s fabled sugar barons.
Lunch today will be at a local restaurant or Paladar. The afternoon will offer you an opportunity to explore an important part of Cuban spiritual life: a special visit to a casa de santos (house of saints), an Afro-Cuban religious house for a discussion about Santeria ceremonies and rituals. This evening we will enjoy dinner and music at the outdoor Casa del la Musica (optional). (Overnight in Trinidad at Brisas Hotel)
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Gorupdebesanez)
Fri, Apr 7
Santa Clara; Camaguey (B, L, D)Read more
Today we journey from art and music-soaked streets to the revolutionary streets of Santa Clara and the labyrinthine streets of Camaguey. Founded in 1689 by a small group of settlers from nearby Remedios who were escaping the raids of pirates, Santa Clara became known for its textiles and tobacco plantations. In 1958, it became ground zero of the Cuban Revolution when Che Guevara liberated the city from the Batista’s army. Here we will visit the Tren Blindado monument and museum of the Cuban Revolution as well as the Che memorial and mausoleum. Lunch will be at Los Caneyes Restaurant in Santa Clara.
We then travel on to Camaguey, where we will find the most labyrinthine complex of passageways since the Palace of Knossos, on Crete. Known as “the city of pots,” the warren-like city is a treasure box of shops, parks, plazas, bars, cafes, and galleries. Here is another example of the preservation of the past made possible by the “pause on development” over the past decades, and a true feast for all the senses! We enjoy dinner this evening at a local restaurant in Camaguey. (Overnight in Camaguey at the Hotel Colon)
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Ramon Rovirosa)
Sat, Apr 8
Camaguey; Bayamo; Santiago de Cuba (B, L, D)Read more
From cobbled Camaguey we venture into the Granma Province and the quaint city of Bayamo, founded in 1513, and enriched by its nearby cattle plantations. Bayamo is known as “ciudad de las coches” because of its beloved horse carts. It is also renowned for its passionate chess players, its school of modern art, and for being the birthplace of Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, the beloved “father of the motherland”. Here we will walk around the Plaza del Himno in the historic centre and take lunch at a local restaurant.
We will then travel to the mountain province of Santiago de Cuba, often regarded as the most Caribbean corner of Cuba. From here Fidel Castro launched his plans for revolution, the first rum factories were built, and salsa music was born. Tonight after dinner we will venture out to one of the veritable shrines of Cuban music, the Casa de la Trova (optional). (Overnight in Santiago de Cuba at the Melia hotel)
Sun, Apr 9
Santiago de Cuba (B, D)Read more
After breakfast this morning we will explore Santiago de Cuba, including a visit to El Cobre town and the Church of Our Lady Virgin of the Charity, Cuba's Patroness. We then enjoy a walking tour of Santiago’s historic centre, and the intriguing Museo de la Lucha Clandestinidad. The bones of the city’s founder, Diego de Cuellar, are believed to reside below the cathedral, and its first mayor was the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortez, later famed for “discovering the Pacific”. It became infamous for its slave markets, then for its pirates, and later, in 1898 as the flashpoint for the Spanish-Cuban-American War. Here in Santiago, on January 1, 1959, Fidel Castro announced the triumph of its long struggle for independence. Today, it is one of the most colourful and dynamic cities in Cuba, known for the wild revelry of its Carnaval, music festivals, and folk dance groups.
Dinner this evening will be at a restaurant or casa, after which we can again enjoy the local music at the Casa de la Trova or Tropicana Santiago (optional). Or we may have an opportunity take in a game of Cuban baseball at the beautiful Guillermon Moncada stadium (optional & subject to availability). (Overnight in Santiago de Cuba at the Melia hotel)
Mon, Apr 10
Santiago de Cuba; Havana (B, D)Read more
After breakfast today we transfer to the airport for our flight back to Havana. Here we can enjoy a free afternoon of strolling in the city and picking up any souvenirs to take back home. This evening we will join together for our closing banquet dinner at La Guarida, the restaurant made famous by the 1996 movie Strawberries and Chocolate. We will have time to discuss the captivating sites we have explored over the past 9 days with our newfound friends and intrepid tour leader Phil Cousineau, as we ready ourselves to say a reluctant farewell to this vibrant country. (Overnight in Havana at the Hotel Nacional)
(Photo: La Guarida restaurant)
Tue, Apr 11
Depart Havana for Flights Home (B)Read more
After breakfast you will have a morning at your leisure to prepare yourself for your flight back home. After checking out of the hotel, you will be transferred to Havana International airport for flights home.
The Heart of Cuba with Phil Cousineau
April 1 - 11, 2017
Arrival and departure transfers
Daily breakfasts, 6 lunches and 8 dinners
10 nights accommodation in select hotels (based on double occupancy - hotel rooms in Cuba get booked up quickly, up to a year in advance; it is therefore preferable to book a double room. Please contact us for further information about this if needed)
Flight from Santiago de Cuba to Havana on Day 10
Private coach transportation
Entrance fees to all sites noted on itinerary
Hotel taxes & service charges
Travel with Author, Teacher, and Filmmaker, Phil Cousineau
Meetings with local artists, writers, farmers, and ballplayers
Visits to museums & historical centres
“Long conversations” with Phil to fully explore the unique history and culture of Cuba
Time for journaling, writing, and drawing at inspiring locations
Tour Does Not Include:
Airfare to and return from Havana (See Flights section on Description page for more information)
Cancellation & Medical Insurance (ask us for a quote)
Meals and drinks not specified
Cost to obtain valid passport
Any items of a personal nature such as laundry, drinks and telephone calls
Any item that is not specifically detailed on our website or in the final retreat itinerary