A 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 exclusively use casas 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 accommodation. For many of our guests, evening or morning visits with their casa hosts are a true highlight of their entire journey to Cuba.
Images & Videos
Commercial flights from the United States to Havana are the standard mode of travel between the two countries, and we ask that our guests book their own travel between the U.S. and Havana. This tour will begin in Havana at approximately 11:00 AM on Day 1. Our meeting point on Day 1 will be Havana's Jose Marti International Airport where your Tour Leader and local guides will meet you to begin your tour.
If you are unable to fly all the way to Havana 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 Havana 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 Havana 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 Havana 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 meaningful interactions with the Cuban people. Cuba has its 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. That said, 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. Your 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 in Havana, Las Terrazas
Bienvenido Cuba! Please arrive no later than 11:00 AM to the Havana Airport. Once we’ve gathered luggage and changed money, we head west to Las Terrazas and the Sierra del Rosario mountains.
Las Terrazas, now a biosphere under UNESCO safeguard, was created as part of Castro’s 1968 initiative to reforest regions over-logged since the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors and defaced by miles of coffee plantations. The 5,000-hectare nature reserve and eco-village is now home to over 117 different bird species, 12 of which are endemic including the tocororo and zorzal. We begin our exploration of Las Terrazas with a trek along the Sendero La Serafina—a 5k trail running through the reforested land and passing by the dilapidated Saint Serafina plantation.
After our afternoon excursions throughout Las Terrazas, we head to our accommodations for the evening and enjoy an authentic dinner of Cuban fare.
Valle de Viñales
We breakfast early and drive west to one of Cuba’s most scenic national parks. Thrust into the rolling rows of the Sierra de los Órganos lies 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 you insight into Cuba’s signal crop, tobacco, as well as the geological forces that shaped this region.
The valley’s notable bulbous mogotes give 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.
Beneath the mogotes are vast fields of tobacco--Cuba’s export that has reached near-mythical status. These are a stunning sight with their rows upon rows of rich umber earth lined with tall stalks of tobacco waving their wide, spring green leaves. We lunch at a farm-to-table organic restaurant, and in the afternoon, have the opportunity to visit one of the valley’s tobacco plantations. After our exploration of the tobacco plantation, we visit a despalillo, a tobacco factory where we learn more of the curing and fermenting processes that follow the harvest.
By late afternoon, satiated with fresh air and well-used legs, we head back to our accommodations.
West to Hemingway’s House & the Bay of Pigs
We drive east to the outskirts of Havana to visit Finca Vigia, the house where Ernest Hemingway lived for 20 years and wrote many of his books. We have lunch at a nearby paladar (private restaurant) and then continue our drive to the southeast. Our destination is Playa Larga, a tranquil village set on the beach at the head of the Bahia de Cochinos, or Bay of Pigs. It was here that the infamous 1961 CIA-sponsored invasion took place.
After we check into our welcoming Casa, we have an engaging presentation from Frank Medina, Director of Zapata National Park, who discusses the joint pressures of tourism and conservation facing the park as well as the Park’s many successes. The Ciénaga de Zapata is both a designated national park and UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. With expansive tracts of dense forests and mangrove-lined swampland, the peninsula 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. Frank is a lively speaker and after the informative discussion, we enjoy a festive dinner of delicious, authentic Cuban fare.
Snorkeling – Hiking – Playa Giron and to Trinidad
Our morning is spent exploring Zapata National Park. We drive along the coast to our favorite snorkeling spot where colorful fish and healthy reefs make for a fascinating hour as we learn about Cuba’s marine conservation program. Cuba boasts the healthiest reef systems in all the Caribbean.
Then it’s on to a hidden trail that 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.
Next up is the small town of Playa Giron to visit the Museum of the Bay of Pigs Invasion. The town’s name comes from the French pirate Gilbert Girón. Girón’s decapitation at the hands of angry locals has been remembered by history through his Playa namesake. After lunch in a local restaurant we drive east to Trinidad. One of the best-preserved colonial towns in Cuba, Trinidad 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.
Topes de Collantes Nature Reserve
We depart early to drive up 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, Topes. Weather, the group’s ability and current conditions determine which hiking trail we enjoy along with our local park guide. One option is the Salto del Caburní trail, a 5km round-trip hike that leads to a 62m 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. If the water levels are low we may choose to go on the Vegas Grandes hike, that leads through the fern and pine forests before finishing at a waterfall and pool as well.
Another option is to hike the Sendero La Batata, or Sweet Potato, Trail. This 6km hike takes us through the forest to a prehistoric cave and its underwater river. This trail explores forests rich with lichens and mosses and lucid pools disrupted only by crashing waterfalls.
We return to Trinidad by mid to late afternoon. There we have an intimate meeting with Julio Munoz, an acclaimed photographer whose published work of Trinidad has brought a town evocative of the past into the public eye or perhaps another local artist to learn about the importance of the arts in Cuban culture.
Cienfuegos Botanical Gardens, and Cienfuegos City
We depart Trinidad and drive west along the coast with the towering Sierra Escambray mountains to our north and the turquoise Caribbean to our south. Soon we arrive at the mouth of the Bay of Cienfuegos for a fun (and optional) kayak paddle to visit the Fortress of Our Lady of the Angels of Jagua. The fortress or "castle" was built by order of King Philip V of Spain in 1742 as a defense against pirates who plied the Caribbean coast. After our paddle and fortress visit we feast at a seaside restaurant known for its excellent seafood.
After lunch it's a short drive to the Cienfuegos Botanical Gardens where we enjoy an excellent tour with a local specialist. Founded in 1899 by Edward Atkns from New England, he eventually handed it over to Harvard University on a 99 year lease. It's a stunning collection of over 1400 species of trees and plants from around the world that makes for a delightful walk. We continue on to the seaside port town of Cienfuegos.
Cienfuegos is knows as the “Pearl of the South” and is legendary within Cuba for its long seaside promenade (the malecon) and the mansion-lined Prado. Settled in the 1820’s, the Spanish Crown invited French people from Bordeaux and Louisiana. It's a city filled with fabulous architecture and is another of Cuba’s designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites. We take an informative walking tour of the town visiting many of the majestic buildings including the late 19th century Teatro Tomas Terry and others.
We depart Cienfuegos for the 3 hour drive to Havana. Once there, we set off on a walking tour of Havana Vieja, sometimes known as Colonial or Old Habana. We stop for lunch in one of the city’s fine paladars. Rejuvenated 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 Ciudad, 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 an afternoon on our feet, we enjoy a classic car ride to see more of the city including the neighborhoods of Vedado and Miramar. Finally, we relax with a fine dinner at one of Havana’s best paladars. If you want to explore the city’s music scene there are plenty of options after dinner. One is the very hip Fabrica des Artes, where the best of Cuba’s avant-garde art can be experienced. There’s also a couple of jazz clubs and many other options.
After breakfast transfer to the airport on your own (we will help you arrange a taxi) or join our two-day Havana Extension.
*Taxis to the airport are approximately $25-30 for up to 3 people with luggage.
Note: The listed activities and itinerary above may undergo some changes as they are contingent upon factors such as the availability of guest speakers, weather, and transportation. In such cases, we always attempt to substitute similar activities that maintain our tour’s focus of Support for the Cuban People encounters and further your Cuban experience.
Dates & Rates
We can also run private departures for groups of 2-16 on-demand! Please reach out to us to discuss planning your own private departure.
Rates for 2020/2021 Season:
- $3,190 per person*
*Christmas departures have a supplemental cost ($300 per person) due to our increased prices for accommodations.
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.
Up to 16 spaces available on each tour (depending on the number of solo travelers and available accommodations)
Minimum age: 12
• 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 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 accommodations 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.
We do have a great selection of snorkels, masks, & fins available for your use on this tour. However, if you have your own snorkeling gear, need a very specific size, and/or do not want to share equipment with others, please bring your own snorkeling gear with you. Wetsuits most likely will not be necessary for snorkeling, as the water in the Caribbean is quite warm year-round.