The remote and rugged northeast coast of Cuba sees few travelers. From Holguin we travel east looking out to the seas Columbus sailed 500 years ago. We hike in Alejandro Humboldt National Park, explore other natural areas around Cuba’s oldest city Baracoa, and finally, delve into the rich culture and history of Santiago de Cuba.
Our home for three nights is Baracoa, the oldest colonial city in the Americas, founded in 1510. Until the early 1960’s there was no road access here. The isolation and remote location has kept Baracoa a treasure. We hike, explore and enjoy this quiet town set on the sea.
Taking a famous road called La Farola, we travel through the mountains from the wettest area of Cuba, to the extreme southeast coast where we see the driest area of Cuba. We end our day in Santiago, a city older than Havana, founded in 1514 by Diego Velazquez and once Cuba’s capital. The city is strategically located on a deep, protected bay with towering mountains to the north. The roots of Afro-Cuban culture started here, as slaves were brought by the thousands and mixed with settlers from the Haitian revolution of 1791 that included both French merchants and plantation owners as well as black Haitians. These roots have nourished a fascinating culture of music, art and architecture, that permeates the city in a palpable way.
More recently, in 1898, Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders came as part of the U.S. Army’s involvement in the Spanish-Cuban-American War. Castro’s revolution came to world attention when, on July 26, 1953, he and his band attacked the Moncada barracks. The city is a hotbed of exciting music, art and architecture and is considered by many as the most Caribbean part of Cuba. Set on a deep bay and flanked to the north by steep mountains, Santiago is a feast for the senses.
Images & Videos
Commercial flights have commenced between the United States and Holguín, effectively replacing group charter flights as the standard mode of travel between the two countries. We now ask that our guests book their own travel between the U.S. and Holguín. This tour will begin in Holguín at approximately 11:00 AM on Day 1. Our meeting point on Day 1 will be Holguín's airport where your Cuba Unbound Tour Leader and local guides will meet you to begin your tour.
If you are unable to fly all the way to Holguín on Day 1 with an arrival before 11:00 AM, we recommend that you consider a "Day 0" for your tour and choose either of the following:
Travel to Holguín on Day 0. With this option, we recommend that you overnight in a casa particular (a private home with rooms for rent) of your choosing and make your way back to the Holguín Airport to meet your Tour Leader, guides, and fellow travelers the next morning.
Travel to Miami on Day 0. With this option, we recommend that you overnight in Miami and take a flight to Holguín on the morning of Day 1.
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
Arrive Holguin on one of the mid-day flights. Meet your local guide and transfer to the city for lunch and your first introduction to Cuba! We explore the city on foot, learning about the history of Holguin, Cuba’s fourth-largest city, known as the “City of Parks” and filled with charming colonial architecture. We also learn about contemporary Cuba and what makes Holguin tick.
Later in the afternoon we check into our accommodations, then enjoy a meal at one of the city’s fine paladars (private restaurants).
Alexander Humboldt National Park and Baracoa
Note: Those participating in our Kayak East Tour join up with this tour mid-morning
We depart from Holguin and drive east towards Mayeri, meeting up with anyone from our Kayak East trip near the town of Mayeri. From here we continue along the northeast coast of the island, paralleling the sailing route Columbus took some 500 years ago. We pass the town of Moa where nickel is mined as one of Cuba’s most important exports. Soon thereafter the road gets worse, there’s practically no traffic and we enter the edge of Alexander Humboldt National Park. This is thickly forested region with many small farms and people living off the land. We stop at park headquarters at Bahia Taco, a beautiful protected bay where manatees sometimes come to visit. Nearby we hike about 3 miles on a trail called El Recreo. This is a region rich in birds, reptiles and amphibians, and with luck we will see many.
Continuing east we arrive in Baracoa by late afternoon and check into our Casa Particulares for the night. Cuba’s oldest city, the next couple of days are full of surprises! We enjoy dinner at a local paladar featuring regional specialties.
We are almost 800 miles east of Havana at this point, and starting to understand the vastness of this Caribbean island. Our day begins with a 50-minute drive further east to the dramatic protected area of the Yumuri gorge. We climb aboard a small row boat that takes us about 600 yards to the start of our hike. We walk along the river on a dirt trail with a local Park Guide who explains the unique flora and fauna of the area. There’s a good chance to see Cuba’s National Bird, the Cuban Trogan (Tocororo) as well as the endemic Cuban Tody. Another highlight of this area are the endemic polymita snails. These colorful painted snails are protected by law and live in the lush forest we visit.
After lunch we stop by a local coffee farm, El Guirito, to learn about the process of making coffee and learn from the family how the economy of farming in Cuba works, while also tasting some of the products from their land including chocolate and coffee. Once back in town we have a short walking tour to gain perspective an understanding of the long and rich history of this area. First we visit the Museo Matachin where we meet a local museum guide who shares stories, bold and true during our People-to-People encounter. (Note: As of December 2018 the museum was still closed do to damage from Hurricane Irma.) If time and interest, we continue on foot to the Museo Arqueologico Cueva del Paraiso to learn about the aboriginal peoples of the area.
Nature Hike and Chocolate Tasting
Depending on weather and the groups abilities, we have a couple options today for our hikes. One would be a classic hike in the Parque Natural Duaba and El Yunque, where there is roughly four or five hour hike up the mountain called El Yunque (the anvil). Revered by the Taino Indians, this massive plateau juts out of the land with sheer cliffs and tropical vegetation. Led by a local Park guide, this People-to-People hike takes us to the summit at around 1870’ with grand views. If this is more challenging than some may want, an optional hike called La Cascada is a great alternative. This hike walks through a small collection of homes, a village school and then a trail to the Duaba River. We swim in the river and cross to a spectacular waterfalls for a swim and photographs. Whichever hike we do, this is a fabulous exploration of the lush forest to learn from our local guide about the endemic species and rainforest ecosystem.
We return to town in the late afternoon with time to visit the House of Chocolate, always a favorite! Cocoa is an important crop in this region. Baracoa has a number of intriguing art studios as well, and if there’s interest we enjoy a short tour of an art cooperative with a variety of paintings, sculpture and more by local artists.
The region has a number of unique culinary delights and in particular, coconut is used in many recipes. One delightful sweet is called Cucurucho and is made with shredded coconut mixed with orange, honey, papaya and nuts and then wrapped in palm leaves. It is only found near Baracoa. There’s also sacoco, a mixture of rum and coconut milk. Fish is another local favorite, including the rare teti, a very small fish we hope to sample for dinner. Dinner includes some local specialties, and also enjoy some evening music.
Tour Guantanamo, Arrive in Santiago de Cuba
We depart Baracoa to head south over the mountains on La Farola, a winding road that is one of the most dramatic in Cuba. Stunning mountain scenery greets us as we pass from the wettest part of Cuba to the driest, the southeast corner of the island and Guantanamo Province. There’s a viewpoint for a brief look at the very distant U.S. military base of Guantanamo. Next is a stop in the town of Guantanamo for lunch and a short walking tour. If possible, we also enjoy a performance by a local group that features the Tumba Francesca. This dramatic Afro-Cuban genre of dance, song, and drumming was introduced to Cuba by slaves from Haiti who came to this region during the Haitian slave rebellion of the 1790s.
From Guantanamo, we continue to Santiago de Cuba, the second largest city on the island. Santiago is on the one hand slow-moving and romantic, and on the other, frenetic and thumping. Music is everywhere. This is where Cuba’s Afro-Cuban musical roots began, influenced heavily by the Haitian migration of the 1790’s as well as the over one million African slaves that were brought here from the 16th century on. Santiago de Cuba displays this culturally diverse background on a vivid palate, replete with music, myths and ritual.
Explore Santiago de Cuba
This is a full and fascinating day as we further explore Santiago. The city’s proximity to tropical islands like Jamaica has infused it with an urbane glamour and vibrant Afro-Caribbean culture evident throughout the streets. It’s also a cultural capital that has played pivotal roles in Castro’s revolution and the Bacardí rum business.
Our walking tour takes us to Parque Céspedes, a quintessential Cuban square where colonial architecture is foregrounded by troubadours smoking cigars and writers seek literary inspiration in terrace bars. A statue of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, the man who incited the 1868 rebellion, overlooks the modern bustle. Next to the park we find the Diego Velázquez Museum, home of Cuba’s first governor built in 1516 reputed to be Cuba’s oldest house. Our local expert guide brings these places all to life while providing an excellent educational exchange.
After lunch our exploration continues with a visit to the Moncada barracks where Castro’s revolution got off to a failed start in 1953. Then we visit the Cementerio de Santa Ifigenia where Cuba’s national hero, Jose Marti rests and nearby, the grave of Fidel Castro. Not far away is San Juan Hill where you learn about the Spanish-American War and Teddy Roosevelt’s role with the Rough Riders.
A stroll down the vehicle-free Boulevard for some souvenir shopping, and on to the El Tivoli neighborhood, named by French plantation owners who had fled Haiti during the Haitian slave revolution and settled here. Narrow streets crisscross steep hills that head towards the bay and one of Cuba’s only brewpubs where we enjoy a beer or soda before returning to the casa.
In the evening we have our farewell dinner and for those who want, enjoy a night in the energetic town.
Fly home or to onward travels.
This morning we provide transfers to either the Santiago Airport or a three-hour return to the Holguin airport.
Note on Flights: There are daily direct flights to and from Holguin on Jet Blue and American from Florida. The flights from Florida arrive around 11am to noon. At the end of the trip, we offer the option of a transfer back to Holguin from Santiago (3 hours). As of May 2019 American Airlines has said they are starting daily flights to and from Santiago de Cuba to Miami.
Dates & Rates
**This trip can be booked on-demand for small and large groups at any time, and works well as an add-on to our Kayaking in the Wake of Christopher Columbus tour. Please inquire with us to start the booking process for your group today!
Up to 16 spaces available on each tour (depending on the number of solo travelers and available accommodations)
Single Supplement: $350
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.
Optional Pre-Tour Extension:
Extend your exploration of Eastern Cuba with a our Eastern Cuba kayaking tour! One of Outside Magazine's top 25 tours of 2018.
• 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, alcoholic beverages, additional entertainment outside the standard itinerary, and incidentals
FAQ & More
This is something you'll hear in Cuba a lot. A casa particular is a private accommodation or private home stay 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 casa particulares, making for a full and authentic visit to Cuba.
We walk between two and five miles. Our pace is casual and most walks have little to no elevation gain. Most of the walking will be done during the day in the cities that we will visit. There will be plenty of breaks to take pictures and to learn about the history of the area from our specialized guides. The hikes in the parks will also be guided by experts and the pace will be set depending on the group's abilities.
Trails are generally well maintained, but loose rock and dirt are common. All paths may be slippery when wet. Good walking shoes or boots are essential; walking poles are not necessary. In the cities where we walk, careful attention to holes in the sidewalks or streets is critical.
We will provide clean drinking water at all times during the tour!