The rhythms of the Caribbean, 1950s and 60s American culture and the grandiose style of the Spanish colonialists all clash, yet somehow conspire together to present you with an island which throbs with life, color and energy. In Havana you’ll see the remnants of American excess in the classic cars that lumber past faded colonial mansions – contrasting neatly with austere monuments of Castro’s revolution.
In Vinales there’s evidence of the old tobacco industry, whilst Cienfuegos is redolent with history. Trinidad’s multi-coloured houses give you the essence of the Caribbean’s style, while the beaches of Cayo Santa Maria tempt you with white sand and warm seas.
Fly to Havana where you’ll be met and taken to your accommodation – a luxurious two bedroom apartment in the heart of Habana Vieja, the oldest part of the city and the most picturesque. You’ll be able to saunter out of your apartment and into Plaza de San Francisco. Cobbled streets lead you to wedding cake-style churches, tiny shops and colonial mansions decorated in faded pastel colours. Balconies with ornate railings and shuttered windows add to the air of time-eroded gentility.
As well as wandering around the capital – and doubtless talking to any number of locals – you’ll enjoy tours of the Cigar Factory, art studios and the Hemingway Museum in a 50s or 60s American car. You’ll visit Old Havana’s four historic plazas – Vieja, de la Cathedral, San Francisco de Asis and Plaza de Armas – as well as the haunts of 1930s gangsters – the notorious Al Capone amongst them.
Stay: Three nights in Suite Havana, a stylish, two bedroom apartment in central Havana.
On your way to Trinidad you’ll call in at the Che Guevara Memorial and museum on the site of one of his most celebrated battles at Santa Clara, regarded as the turning point in the revolutionary war. Travelling on to Trinidad presents you with another side to Cuba – this charming town is famous for its gaily decorated houses. You’ll be staying beside scenic Santa Rosa Valley, in a piece of Trinidad’s history; your hotel was originally one of the oldest houses in Trinidad.
You’ll take a walking tour with an expert guide who will introduce you to the history and sites that have helped make the town’s cobbled streets a revered UNESCO World Heritage Site. You’ll also visit a local sugar plantation, complete with an opulent owner’s mansion, to gain an insight into the hardships of slavery, before journeying to Topes de Collantes, a region of outstanding natural beauty and botanical, zoological and ecological interest.
Stay: Two nights in a double room at Finca Kenia.
Don’t worry if you lose yourself in Camaguey city – its labyrinthine streets, blind alleys and passages were deliberately created to confuse and confound the invading pirates who continually attempted to sack the town in the 16th century. And anyway, your guide will be able to navigate the way around decorative facades, romantic squares, over-sized churches in the Baroque style and beautiful parks.
Stay: One night in a double room at Casa Castillo.
Students of the 1959 Revolution will find themselves in their element here. As well as being Cuba’s highest mountain, Sierra Maestra was the natural hideout for Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and the band of revolutionaries that eventually overthrew the existing government and ended America’s domination of the country.
You’ll browse around unspoiled Bayamo before moving on to Santo Domingo where you’ll find Castro’s old HQ, medical centre, radio station, museum and home. You’ll also be able to go horse riding, mule trekking, hiking and walking through the gorgeous local countryside.
Stay: Two nights in a cabana at Villa Santo Domingo.
Santiago de Cuba
You’ll find Cuba’s second largest city a place of celebration, music and monumental architecture. Santiago de Cuba is beautifully situated between towering mountains and the Caribbean Sea, and rejoices in its tropical character. You’ll also be able to visit coffee plantations, the beaches, lakes and mountains of Baconao Park.
Not to mention listen to the indigenous salsa music of the city, watch its renowned dancers and tour around great buildings like the revolutionary 26th July Museum, San Pedro de la Roca del Morro Castle – wonderful at sunset – and the Sanctuary of El Cobre. A half day tour will introduce you to the city’s historic centre, the Moncada Barracks and the delightful Cespedes Park.
Stay: Two nights in the San Basilio boutique hotel.
Now your Classic Cuba tour takes you to the island’s main cacao producing town, located in Guantanamo. It was originally a Spanish settlement so remote that it could only be reached by sea. Today you can drive there but it remains unspoiled, with a timeless atmosphere and the only remaining cross supposedly brought to the New World by Christopher Columbus.
A walking tour shows you the local church, the original fortress built to repel pirates and La Punta Fortress. Then the Humboldt National Park – where wide rivers, humid jungle and mountainous terrain encourage a huge natural biodiversity – invites you to explore. Expect to discover parrots, lizards, hummingbirds, Cuban solenodon and a wide variety of exotic plants.
Stay: Three nights at the Villa Maguana.
A short domestic flight from Baracoa will take you back to the salsa bars and lively nightlife of Havana.
The next morning you’ll be able to attend a rehearsal of the world renowned National Ballet Company before transferring to the airport for your evening flight out of Havana.
Stay: One night in Suite Havana.