The first people-to-people walking tour in Cuba exploring the unexplored: National Parks!
Cuba is an enigma, able to confound and intoxicate with its embodiment of colonial grandeur, revolutionary rigor, and Caribbean panache. Classic cars glide by on Havana streets. Salsa beats percolate through the night. Rum finds its way into many a glass. It’s the quintessential Cuban tableau, but for those who step off the Malecón - on this walking tour - Cuba reveals itself to be so much more.
Cuba was a popular destination for Americans until the 1959 Revolution changed it all. Since then a fascinating history has unfolded and today, the door has been opened again for Americans to visit. This open door leads to incredible opportunities for learning and immersion into a complex culture replete with rich and meaningful interactions with the people of Cuba. On this Cuban walking tour that we are licensed to offer, we pair daily explorations of Cuba’s land and seascapes with unforgettable interactions with Cuba’s people-scapes.
Led by a team of local guides along with our own tour leader, we are joined during the journey by other local experts. We visit with naturalist guides, farmers, historians, national park officials, artists, small business entrepreneurs and more on this artfully crafted Cuba walking tour. For those who are curious and want to explore on their feet rather than looking out a bus window this journey is the perfect choice. We walk between three and eight miles each day with easy to moderate elevation gain.
Join us to uncover Cuba’s sublime eccentricities on this exciting eight day tour through the best of Cuba’s national parks, nature reserves, and world heritage sites. Cuba’s staggering natural beauty extends beyond its beaches, and its sweeping swamplands and crenellated mountains are known for their rare wildlife as well as their insurrectionist folklore. You also walk city streets where opulent mansions peer out between suburban city planning. Explore the countryside where dilapidated plantations look out on still-thriving tobacco farms. Cuba is an arresting country of contradictory curiosities, and you can experience all of its nuances on this multifaceted walking tour.
To deepen the educational and cultural exchange aspects of this trip, we use a mix of hotels and Casa Particulares. Casas are essentially Bed & Breakfast type accommodations, set within the context of a private house. We have carefully researched available Casas in each location and promise you a mix of warm, welcoming hosts and a unique Cuban family experience or in some cases, simply the flavor of a small boutique hotel. For many of our guests, evening or morning visits with their Casa hosts are a true highlight of their entire journey to Cuba.
This tour begins in Santa Clara which is currently served by once-a-day flights from both American and JetBlue. If you are unable to book a flight that will get you to the Santa Clara Airport by mid day on day 1, we recommend that you consider a "Day 0" for your tour to overnight in Cuba. We suggest staying in a casa particular (a private home with rooms for rent) of your choosing and taking a cab to the Santa Clara Airport to meet your Tour Leader, guides, and fellow travelers the next morning.
We are happy to offer guidance with scheduling your travel to and from Cuba, and our office staff is ready to answer any questions you may have.
Note: Travel in Cuba requires a flexible attitude. Our days are full, and as required by U.S. law, we have a full-time agenda of people-to-people activities. Cuba has it’s own beat and things don’t always run on time. The activities and visits listed are not guaranteed but we endeavor to do our best to provide the content intent of this people–to-people program. Visiting developing countries can be eye-opening and life-changing, and hopefully visiting Cuba is both. Accommodations may not be up to the standards you are used to. Sometimes the hot water or air conditioning doesn’t work. We ask all our guests to appreciate the authenticity of your cultural encounters as well as the people, food, culture, and adventures that are exceptional in their difference. Our local guide, along with your Cuba Unbound Tour Leader promise to do their best to make this a fascinating and educational experience.
Welcome to Cuba!
We ask that our guests book their own travel between the U.S. and Cuba. This tour begins in Santa Clara which is currently served by once-a-day flights from both American and JetBlue. Once both flights have arrived and we have gathered everyone we will transfer about 90 minutes to Cienfuegos.
Bienvenido a Cuba! After arrival to the Santa Clara airport, we transfer to our Cienfuegos hotel, check in, have an orientation meeting, and then head to dinner.
Cuba’s Pearl of the South—Cienfuegos has a French flair and Caribbean verve and is one of Cuba’s most seductive cities. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the French-colonial town sits on the coast, and visitors are drawn to the glittering waters as well as the eclectic colonial architecture. After dinner we stroll the Malecon with views of the natural harbor and, as the night wears on, the main gathering point for the youth of Cienfuegos.
Cienfuegos Exploration, Hike in Parque El Cubano and Trinidad
After breakfast we start with a walking tour of Cienfuegos’ urban historic center at Parqué Jose Martí, the site of many of Cienfuegos’ most impressive buildings such as the 19th-century neoclassical Santa Iglesia Catedral de la Purísima Concepción, the French and Italian influenced Tomás Terry Theater, and the Palacio del Ayuntamiento. We then make our way to the Paseo del Prado lined with colonial buildings and pastel-painted columns. One of the Prado’s most iconic sites is the statue of musician Benny Moré celebrated as the ‘barbarian of rhythm’. Later in the morning we have a special People-to-People visit with the Cantores de Cienfuegos, a world-renown choir.
Leaving Cienfuegos, we drive along the coast towards the historical town of Trinidad. We stop first at Parque El Cubano for a delightful hike and dip in a pool at the base of a tropical waterfall.
By late afternoon we arrive in Trinidad, a city which has eschewed many modern enterprises in favor of old-world charm. We enjoy a walking tour of the preserved Spanish colonial settlement—now a UNESCO World Heritage Site—where the grand tastes of the past are very much sentient in the Italian frescoes, finely wrought chandeliers, and bone china still gracing the plantation-era mansions. It’s an atmospheric, tranquil town very different from Cienfuegos’ feisty Cuban vibe. Here we check into our Casa Particulares for the next two nights.
We dine at a local restaurant in Trinidad and after dinner, some may enjoy an outdoor concert and dancing at Casa de la Musica, on the city’s steps before retiring to our evening accommodations.
Topes de Collantes Nature Reserve, Trinidad
We drive a short distance outside of Trinidad and begin a trek into the crenellated, Caribbean pine-coated Sierra Escambray mountains (sometimes known as the Guamuhaya mountains). Within the long stretch of mountains lies the Gran Parque Natural Topes de Collantes. Though Topes is not considered a national park in the strictest of senses, it is highly protected by the Cuban government as are the four smaller parks that make up the umbrella park of Topes. We have several choices of hikes. Normally we do the Vegas Grandes hike through a pine forest followed by a steep descent to a plunging waterfall with an idyllic swimming hole.
Another choice is to hike the quintessential Topes trail, the Salto del Caburní trail. This 3 mile round trip hike leads to a 190’ waterfall that crashes down overhanging cliffs into swimming holes below. The rushing water tumbles into a clefted chasm where only the most intrepid adrenaline junkies dare to jump. Yet another option is to hike the Sendero La Batata, or Sweet Potato, Trail. This 4 mile hike takes us through the forest to a prehistoric cave and its underground river. This trail explores forests rich with lichens and mosses and lucid pools disrupted only by crashing waterfalls. Topes is also home to a variety of birds, so make sure to look up on the hikes.
We also visit a nearby coffee plantation with a small museum to learn about the role of coffee in Cuba, and the traditions surrounding it. We have lunch in the mountains before returning to Trinidad later in the afternoon with time to continue exploring the town’s historic center and sites.
Our day culminates with a People-to-People meeting with Julio Munoz, an acclaimed photographer whose published work of Trinidad has brought a town evocative of the past into the public eye.
There’s more time for exploring Trinidad’s music scene in the evening after dinner.
Playa Giron, the Bay of Pigs, Zapata National Park and Playa Larga
We drive west along the coast to one of the most famous locations in all of Cuba – the Bay of Pigs or Bahia de Cochinos. It was here that the infamous 1960s CIA-sponsored invasion took place, but centuries earlier there had been other invasions, including one by the French pirate Gilbert Girón. Girón’s decapitation at the hands of angry locals has been remembered by history through his Playa namesake. The town of Playa Giron is home to an excellent museum we visit to learn about the 1961 invasion.
Today, this is a peaceful place and now people ‘raid’ Playa Girón for the warm Caribbean waters whose wealth of coral reefs and marine life make it a diver’s paradise. We stop for a snorkel session to witness first hand some of the healthiest coral reefs in the world located here within the boundaries of the Zapata National Park. With our local guide we also discuss the reasons for the reefs’ health and Cuba’s role in protecting its marine ecosystems. It’s the perfect place for snorkeling, with colorful fish and transparent, warm waters that make our environmental learning most enjoyable! Those who prefer not to snorkel may enjoy relaxing on the shore.
Our snorkeling is within the boundaries of the Zapata National Park, also called Ciénaga de Zapata. It is also a designated UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and has expansive tracts of dense forests and mangrove-lined swampland, within a peninsula that is wild and largely untouched. Wildlife such as crocodiles, iguana, flamingos, and boars inhabit the wetlands, and it’s one Cuba’s main attractions for birders who can find endemic species such as the Cuban pygmy owl, bee hummingbird and Zapata rail.
After a picnic lunch we continue to one of the nicer trails in the Park, the Enigma Las Rocas, which weaves through the forest among cenotes (sinkholes) common in this limestone geology. It’s also an excellent birding area and we may see the Key West Quail Dove, Cuban bullfinch and Cuban Peewee.
We arrive late in the afternoon to the small town of Playa Larga and check into our Casas Particulares. Those interested may want to take a swim at the beautiful beach just a few yards from our accommodations and enjoy a tropical sunset.
Before dinner have an engaging People-to-People presentation from Frank Medina, Director of Zapata National Park, who discusses the joint pressures of tourism and conservation facing the park. He’s a lively speaker and after the informative discussion, we enjoy a festive dinner of delicious, authentic Cuban fare.
Hemmingway’s House, Parque Lenin, Pinar del Rio.
We rise early and drive northwest to the edge of Havana where we visit Hemingway’s former estate of Finca Vigia, home to the Museo de Ernesto Hemingway. While Hemingway lived here, he found inspiration for several of his books. We take a short walking tour of the estate to learn about this very interesting history and US-Cuba relationship.
A short drive and we’re at Parque Lenin, one of Havana’s largest parks, constructed between 1969-72 under the direction of Celia Sanchez, long-time associate of Fidel. We stop to stretch our legs and have a picnic lunch and then continue driving west to a mountain resort called Soroa, where we check into our hotel and if there’s time, visit a local orchid garden. Soon it’s time for dinner and sharing memories of our days thus far.
Vinales National Park, Soroa
We breakfast at the hotel and then we’re on our way to one of Cuba’s finest national parks. Thrust into the rolling rows of the Sierra de los Órganos lays the Valle de Viñales, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the source of several stunningly unique habitats. We spend our day walking throughout the varied living landscapes the Valle de Viñales nurtures, giving us insight into Cuba’s signal crop, tobacco, as well as the geological forces that shaped the rare valley. We spend the day exploring all that the valley has to offer. With obscure “trail systems” that sprawl chaotically throughout the valley, it’s common for visitors to create their own pathway. The valley’s notable bulbous mogotes give this valley an otherworldly quality. They appear like explosions of limestone rapidly rearing from the earth, where in fact they are the remains of limestone hills eroded away by slow rainfall around 160 million years ago. One of the more iconic sites are the Mogote dos Hermanas, or two mogote “twin sisters,” that lie side by side standing sentinel over stretches of flat fields.
The limestone mogotes are coupled with Cuba’s limestone karst valley riddled with complexes of caves. The caverns hold underground pools and occasional vegetation as well as anthropological evidence that the cave systems were once used by the indigenous Guanahatabeys as refuge.
This region is also the most famous in the world for fine tobacco. Like Burgundy is to wine, Vinales is to cigars. We meet with a cigar maker, visit a tobacco processing plant or despalillo, (not to be confused with a cigar factory), where we see the long, dried leaves hanging in lines and learn more of the curing and fermenting processes that follow the harvest and learn about the interesting and very involved process as a green tobacco leaf transforms to the final product.
We also explore fields of tobacco--Cuba’s export that has reached near-mythical status. The vast fields are a stunning sight with their rows upon rows of rich umber earth lined with tall stalks tobacco waving their wide, spring green leaves. We have the incredible opportunity to visit one of the valley’s tobacco plantations where we might hear the melodious sounds of the vaguero, or field workers, whose songs speak of the valley’s unique synthesis of indigenous, Spanish, and African cultures.
By late afternoon, satiated with fresh air and well-used legs, we return east to our tranquil resort where we enjoy dinner and rest.
Soroa to Havana, Walking Tour of the Old City, Classic Car Ride
Leaving the countryside, we head to Havana and arrive to the old city for an eye-opening walking tour of Havana Vieja, also known as Colonial or Old Habana. We stroll down Obispo Street and visit historic sites of revolution and colonialism such as the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales, the Museo de la Cuidad, the Plaza de Armas, the Plaza de la Catedral, and the Catedral de San Cristóbal de La Habana. As we walk, we learn more of Havana’s turbulent past of plundering privates and affluent colonials as well as the Cubans of today, many who have come to the busy city with hopes for the future.
After lunch in a scrumptious Paladar, we have more time to explore this fascinating city. There’s the large art and craft market of Mercado San Jose, the Museum of Belles Artes with an impressive collection from around the globe, lively neighborhoods, and the seafront Malecon where lovers wander. In the evening we celebrate our week together with a fine farewell dinner at one of Havana’s best paladars. If you’re worn out from our busy day, feel free to find your way to our evening’s accommodations. If, however, you’re feeling the infectious energy of the city, you might want to visit Fábrica des Artes, where the best of Cuba’s avant-garde art can be experienced, or for a more low-key experience, head to UNEAC (The Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba) for an evening bolero and other singing performances.
This morning we offer one airport transfer at a time that matches the departure time of the majority of the group. For flights that don’t match up well, we recommend you take a taxi to the airport at your convenience (not included.)
Dates & Rates
|Dates||Adult (USD)||Child (USD)|
|Mar 25, 2018 to Apr 01, 2018||$3,490£0€0$0$0||$3,490£0€0$0$0||BOOK NOW|
|Apr 01, 2018 to Apr 08, 2018||$3,490£0€0$0$0||$3,490£0€0$0$0||BOOK NOW|
|Apr 08, 2018 to Apr 15, 2018||$3,490£0€0$0$0||$3,490£0€0$0$0||BOOK NOW|
|Apr 22, 2018 to Apr 29, 2018||$3,490£0€0$0$0||$3,490£0€0$0$0||BOOK NOW|
Rates: $3,490.00 per person*
Note: Christmas departures have a supplemental cost ($300 per person) due to our increased prices for accommodations.
Up to 16 spaces available on each tour (depending on the number of solo travelers and available accommodations)
Minimum age: 12
Single Supplement: $500
If you are traveling solo and prefer private accommodations (pending availability) you may elect to pay the single supplement fee. If you are traveling solo and wish to be paired up with another solo traveler of the same gender in order to avoid the single supplement fee, please let your Adventure Consultant know at the time of booking. We will do our best to find another traveler to pair you with, however if there is not another solo traveler of the same gender willing to share on your trip, you will be charged the single supplement fee.
• Experienced English-speaking guide(s)
• Specialized activity guides based on activity of trip (kayaking, biking, hiking, etc.)
• Specialized equipment needed for activities such as kayaks, bikes, helmets, paddles, personal flotation devices, etc.
• Private pre-tour orientation meeting
• Cuba Unbound hand-crafted itineraries
• Accommodations as noted in the itinerary
• All meals as noted in itinerary
• Certification of travel to Cuba under the U.S. Department of Treasury general license
• Small group size (Custom tours for 2, group tours are 16-18)
• All entrance fees to include events and activities
• All in-country ground transportation
• Clean drinking water available at all times
• Gratuities for presenters, luggage handling, and restaurant staff
• Round-trip air to/from Cuba
• Cuba Tourist Visa Fee (ranges from $50-$100 depending on where you buy it)
• Guide and driver gratuities
• Personal expenses such as souvenirs, gifts, additional drinks/entertainment, and incidentals
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FAQ & More
This is something you'll hear in Cuba a lot. A casa particular is a private accommodation or private homestay in Cuba, very similar to a bed and breakfast, although it can also take the form of vacation rental. On ROW's Cuba Unbound tour, you can expect to stay in a mix of traditional hotels and casas particulares, making for a full and authentic visit to Cuba.
We walk between three and eight miles each day. Our pace is casual and most hikes have little to no elevation gain. An exception is on day 1 and day 6 when our hikes do have 300-600’ elevation gain/loss.
Trails are generally well maintained, but loose rock and dirt are common. The day 6 walk in Topes de Collantes is on paths that are uneven and steep in places. All paths may be slippery when wet. Walking boots are essential; walking poles are recommended. In the cities where we walk, careful attention to holes in the sidewalks or streets is critical.
Cuba has some beautiful beaches that are perfect for snorkeling. The flourishing ocean life is an ecological treasure. We have one specific times dedicated to snorkeling. We do recommend you try snorkeling ahead of time for your trip to get the most out of your experience, if you have never done so.
While snorkel gear is sometimes available for rent in Cuba, we advise that you bring your own snorkel and mask (fins and wetsuits not required). Your own equipment also ensures a better fit and better hygiene, as well as prescriptions if needed.