Cuba’s rich history and culture makes it known as an artistic and welcoming destination – and yes, traveling to Cuba is legal for Americans. On a recent trip, we showcased what Cuba is known for, including a focus on one of its prized national products – tobacco. We also had to take an in-depth look at traditional Cuban food and drink!
Day 1: Arriving in Havana
With our travel visas secured and using the Support for the Cuban People travel license, we arrived in Havana to begin our Cuban adventure. In route to the hotel, we enjoyed a panoramic tour of Havana, where we saw some of the city’s emblematic places, like the 18th century University, one of America’s oldest; the inviting Malecón; the time witnessed Paseo del Prado and the eye-catching Capitol. We even stopped to take pictures at the Revolution Square.
Antique American Car Ride
After getting settled into the Four Points by Sheraton hotel, we gathered in the lobby and were greeted by a fleet of antique American cars. The drivers proudly answered our questions on how they keep these rolling museum pieces up and running and in such good shape. We hopped in and they drove us to a local paladar for our welcome dinner. Have you heard of a Chinese Fire Drill? Our Cuban drivers had not! We explained how the rotation worked and the proceeded to do so at every red light in order to have a chance to ride in each of the different antique cars. The best part of the tour? Seeing the sunset during our drive to dinner was simply stunning.
Day 2: Discovering Old Havana City
After breakfast, our local driver Bernardo and our Cuban escort Yasel, met us at the hotel. We left for our first adventure of the day – a visit to Romeo y Julieta, one of Havana’s cigar factories – for an in-depth look at how these renowned hand-made products are made.
Afterwards we went on a walking tour through Old Havana City. Yasel was an incredible storyteller, and shared with us the history and architecture. We found ourselves stopping along the way to talk with locals and vendors to learn about present day Havana. We stopped at another local paladar for a late lunch complete with live music, followed by wandering time in the the San Jose Craft Market. We took the evening free time to explore on our own.
Day 3: Meeting the locals of Havana City
Today started with breakfast and relaxing poolside at the hotel. The Ernest Hemingway House & Museum, Finca Vigi was the first stop of the day. We discovered a local market nearby and stopped for a drink and bananas from a street vendor.
We enjoyed lunch at Café Laurent and then went on a guided visit to the Revolution Museum. The Museum is housed in what was the Presidential Palace of all Cuban presidents from Mario García Menocal to Fulgencio Batista. It was an amazing sight to see.
Next, our guests had an important choice. Would they like to go to a Cigar Bar for a tasting, or on a Food Walk in Havana?
For those that chose the Cigar Bar, we stopped at Conde de Villanueva to meet with the cigar-roller and staff while enjoying a cigar and rum pairing. Our group did not want to leave – ever! We even left a bit of Travel Deliciously behind in this location with signed dollars on the wall.
For those that chose to do the Food Walk, we enjoyed local specialties as local chocolates, Cuban coffee, craft beer, and local street foods. The afternoon rain prevented us from too much walking during the tour, but our Cuban escort went to his favorite vendors to gather items for us to sample in the comfort of a local cafe.
We ate dinner at Tocororo which had live music and authentic cuisine. Some of us went back to the hotel to rest while Yasel escorted the rest of us to a local club for some dancing and continued cocktails.
Day 4: Exploring Pinar del Rio – Vinales
We checked out of our hotel after breakfast and our driver Bernardo and Cuban escort Yasel met us to begin another adventure. We departed towards the Viñales Valley, a true treasure among Cuban landscapes. One of our favorite moments was a stop at Los Jazmines lookout point where we saw some spectacular views of the area called, “mogotes,” distinctive mountain formations unique to this part of the island. The lookout point also had a bar with pina coladas, beer and live music which made for an extra festive stop!
We visited Casa de Benito, a local farmer’s home, to get acquainted with the tobacco growing and farming details, and the cigar rolling techniques of Vinales. Our group purchased every single cigar on site, but luckily, there were more to be made! They had a small bar with a man pressing sugar cane. Just add rum & lime and we were all very happy.
Our lunch was at leisure, but most of us chose to eat at El Compensino, which offered delicious food and gorgeous views.
We checked into Rancho San Vicente, our hotel for the night and decided to explore the area more. Some of us stayed back to relax by the pool, some explored the area on their own and were amazed by the colorful colonial-era wooden houses, and others went to nearby caves. We are planning to return to Cuba in November 2020 and February 2021 and have already decided that the cave visit is an absolute must on those trips. The caves included a boat ride and shopping in an open air market.
Day 5: Vinales
We began our day with a choice: relaxing at the pool, hiking, horseback riding, or shopping. All of our travelers enjoyed the chance to customize the trip with their preferred activities!
Next, we departed for another choice activity – seeing a tobacco stripping facility where tobacco is prepared, stored and aged for further processing, or taking a cooking class.
Lunch was at Finca Paraiso, an organic farm offering local favorites and incredible views of the countryside down below.
After a long day in the Vinales countryside, we headed back to Havana for our final dinner before returning home the next day.
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