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Cuba's Wild East - A Cultural Cuba Tour

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.

 

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Itinerary

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Day 0

Please book your own flights to Holguin, Cuba, currently served by American Airlines with daily flights.  You can either arrive on Day 0 - the day before the tour start date, or on Day 1.  If you arrive on Day 0 then you are responsible for your own airport transfer into the city. Taxis are readily available and cost about $25. We are happy to make your accommodation arrangements for you for the extra night.  Since some guests may arrive on Day 1, if you arrive on Day 0, our office will inform you of the meeting time and place Day 1.

Once we have everyone together on Day 1, the tour will officially start with a walking tour of the city of Holguin.

Since all flights to Holguin originate in Miami, for many people it may work best to fly to Miami on Day 0, spend the night and continue to Holguin the next day. 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.

Day 1

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).  

 

ACCOMMODATION : Casa Particular
MEALS INCLUDED : Lunch, Dinner

Day 2

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.

 

ACCOMMODATION : Casa Particular
MEALS INCLUDED : Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 3

Explore Baracoa

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.

 

ACCOMMODATION : Casa Particular
MEALS INCLUDED : Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 4

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.

 

ACCOMMODATION : Casa Particular
MEALS INCLUDED : Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 5

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.

ACCOMMODATION : Casa Particular
MEALS INCLUDED : Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 6

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.  

 

ACCOMMODATION : Casa Particulare
MEALS INCLUDED : Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 7

Adios Cuba!

As of April 2023, American Airlines has a daily late-morning flight from Santiago de Cuba to Miami.  If necessary we can arrange a taxi for an extra fee to return you to Holguin.

*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 Support for the Cuban 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 Support for the Cuban 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 differences.  Our local guide, along with your Cuba Unbound Tour Leader promise to do their best to make this a fascinating and educational experience. 

 

MEALS INCLUDED : Breakfast

Dates & Rates

DatesAdult (USD)Child (USD)
Jan 01, 2023 to Dec 31, 2024
Guaranteed departures for 4 or more people
$2,790£0€0$0$0$2,790£0€0$0$0
Jan 01, 2025 to Dec 31, 2025
Guaranteed departures for 4 or more people
$2,790£0€0$0$0$2,790£0€0$0$0

Supplementary Information

Dates: Guaranteed departures for 4 or more people! Please inquire today to begin the booking process.

Note: This trip works well as an add-on to our Kayaking in the Wake of Christopher Columbus tour. 

Up to 16 spaces available on each tour (depending on the number of solo travelers and available accommodations)

Rates 2024 Season: $2,790

- Single Supplement: $500

*Note: Christmas departures have a supplemental cost ($300 per person) due to our increased prices for accommodations.

 

Rates 2025 Season: $2,790

- Single Supplement: $500

*Note: Christmas departures have a supplemental cost ($300 per person) due to our increased prices for accommodations.

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.

**Note: We can guarantee trips for 2 with a supplement of $300 per person on trips between May 1 and December 15.

Included:

  • 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
  • Cuba Visa (a $80-120 value)

Not Included: 

  • Round-trip air to/from Cuba 
  • Transfers to the airport at the end of the tour
  • Guide and driver gratuities 
  • Personal expenses such as souvenirs, gifts, alcoholic beverages, additional entertainment outside the standard itinerary, and incidentals

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FAQ & More

Can US citizens legally travel to Cuba?

Yes, you can travel to Cuba as a US citizen! Although, the United States is the only country that restricts its citizens from traveling to Cuba for touristic reasons, however, the U.S. does allow travel to Cuba under one of 12 permitted travel categories. Of these categories, most of our travelers are traveling under either "Support for the Cuban People" or "Educational People-to-People" travel.  

For more information on Cuba travel entry requirements, please see here

What is a Casa particular?

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. For more information on casa particulares, chech out our blog post here.

How difficult is the walking?

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. 

What are the trail conditions?

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.

Can I drink the Water in Cuba?

Generally it's best to drink filtered tap water or bottled water.  In an effort to reduce the use of single-use plastic, we encourage you to pack a wide-mouth water bottle with a filter built in.  There are many brands available. We will also provide clean drinking water at all times during the tour!

Is ice safe to have in my drinks?

If you are getting a drink at a hotel bar, or other bar establishment, the ice is most likely made with filtered or bottled water, so should not cause any issues.

Can I eat salads in Cuba?

Cubans pride themselves on proper hygiene and food handling.  The restaurants we use on our tours are very good and eating any salads or raw vegetables that are served is fine.

Custom or Private

You love this itinerary but want to change it a bit to make it perfect for you?  Or, are you wanting to simply make it private?  Either way, we can do it!

Fill out this quick form to begin a custom or private adventure of a lifetime:

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