eight days and seven nights in the Pearl of the Caribbean
Tour introduction and overview of activities
This most popular Cuba tour is inspired by Dan Rutherford, a former 25-year international vice president of a Fortune 100 Company, extensive world traveler, and accomplished state legislator and constitutional officer. His first visit to Cuba was in 1999. His Midwest charisma and charm makes for knowing how to put together a fun adventure abroad.
Together with Josh Lanning, a youthful Cuban expert, the two have created an experience within the ever changing US-Cuban relations. The Global Relations Cuba Discovery Tour is meticulously structured and adamantly adhere to the legal expectations of the U.S. Department of Treasury, Office of Foreign Asset Control.
Global Relations Cuba Discovery Tour – well into its multi-year edition – is geared to people who seek to engage with everyday Cubans. It’s for Americans who want to learn about island culture, its people and society. The Tour is an opportunity to visit an exotic foreign country and absorb a culture different than most. It is a tropical paradise.
This highly inclusive Tour is ideal for history buffs, lovers of art, music, culture and architecture. The Tour’s diverse itinerary goes to western Cuba from the metropolis of Havana to the mountain jungles of the Viñales Valley where Cuba’s famed tobacco is grown. The Tour sports comfortable accommodations and tasty Cuban cuisine.
What is the difference between this and other tour opportunities? Email us directly and we will send a very detailed itinerary for the Tour of your interest: DanRutherford@GlobalRelations.US
Dan, Josh and the Global Relations Travel Club Team warmly invite you to Discover Cuba!
Day 1 – Friday :: Arrival U.S. departure city to go to Cuba
- Individual arrival to your U.S. departure city the night before departure to Cuba, for those connecting. You choose your own connecting city and arrange your own flights. Your overnight Hotel accommodation in the U.S. (the night before your Cuban departure) is included in the Tour package. GRTC will make reservations.
- Airport Shuttle Service will be provided to and from your first night hotel at your select U.S. airport departure city. Gratuity for the shuttle driver and porter are not included. The Gratuity Collective will be for group activities on the island.
Day 2 – Saturday :: Arrival Cuba, Old Havana and welcome dinner
- Depart to Havana via your arranged flights.
- You should plan arriving Havana by early afternoon. It will take you about 2 hours to clear Cuban immigration, get your bag and go through customs. You will be met in the arrival hall, after clearing customs, by our Cuban representative holding a ‘Cuba Explorer’ sign to take you to your hotel. They will have your name and will be monitoring your flight arrival in case there is a delay. We will send you your guide’s name and photo closer to your departure from the States. Your first tour activity will be dinner around 6:30, but your guide will finalize details with you. On departure you will be asked to be at the airport 3 hours in advance.
- Arrival at Havana’s José Martí International Airport. Proceed through Immigration, collect your bags and go through Customs, giving them your blue customs form. Participant’s arrival times will vary throughout the day. Airport transfers will be arranged for each flight of arriving participants.
- Havana’s International Airport arrival hall does have bathrooms. They may not have seats or tissue. This is normal in Cuba, so you may wish to bring packets of tissues. It is suggested to use the restroom on the flight before landing.
- Give your ‘Health’ forms to the nurses in white uniforms after you go through immigration & screening. The important question they will ask is if you have been in Africa and exposed to Ebola.
- You will be welcomed at the airport exterior lobby by your guide after you exit Cuban customs. Look for signage of “Cuba Explorer.” They will have your flight number and arrival time and will be waiting for you.
Quote from Lonely Planet: “No one could have invented Havana. It’s too audacious, too contradictory and – despite 50 years of withering neglect – too damned beautiful. How it does it is anyone’s guess. Maybe it’s the swashbuckling history still almost perceptible in atmospheric colonial streets; the survivalist spirit of a populace scarred by two independence wars, a revolution and a US trade embargo; or the indefatigable salsa energy that ricochets off walls and emanates most emphatically from the people. Don’t come here with a long list of questions. Just arrive with an open mind and prepare for a long, slow seduction.”
- Private transfer to the iconic Hotel Sevilla located close to the Malecon and the lively pedestrian Obispo Street. This historic hotel, seasoned with elegance, was where Al Capone and his bodyguards would book the entire 6th floor, when he stayed in the city. (Included)
- Enjoy a welcome cocktail (Included) after your private check-in with assistance from your guide.
- Free time to settle in and get oriented with your historic hotel.
- This evening you will enjoy a welcome dinner at restaurant Café Del Oriente in Old Havana. This is the restaurant where Secretary of State John Kerry visited in 2015 and Raul Castro entertained Jimmy Carter in 2011. (Included)
- Evening walking tour of Old Havana, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You will visit the historic plazas that make Havana unique in the western hemisphere. It contains the largest collection of remaining colonial-era architecture. This is a private tour led by your Cuba Tours’ guide. (Included)
- Cathedral Square, the most beautiful and private 18th century colonial plaza on the island. Named after the masterpiece of Cuban baroque architecture: the Catedral de San Cristóbal de la Habana, was built by the Jesuit order.
- Square of Arms, an ancient military parade ground for Spanish soldiers, surrounded by impressive buildings such as:
Palacio de los Capitanes Generales is the former seat of colonial government. Today the building houses the Museum of the City.
Palacio del Segundo Cabo (Palace of the Second Lieutenant) dates from 1770. Today it houses the Center for the Interpretation of Cultural Relations Cuba-Europe.
- Visit the Museum of Chocolate, a small shop with intriguing artifacts relating to the history of chocolate production in Cuba. You can watch chocolates being made at the back of the premises while you sip a warming cup of hot chocolate or a soothing glass of cold chocolate. The Museo del Chocolate also sells artisanal chocolates singly or boxed.
- You will continue on to San Francisco Square, one of the oldest plazas in the historical quarter. The square is named after magnificent Iglesia y Monasterio de San Francisco de Asís dating from the 16th century. The basilica is a striking example of Cuban baroque architecture.
- As you stroll through the historic cobblestone streets you will see the area Ernest Hemingway would walk when he stayed in the city.
- Then on to Plaza Vieja, the only civic square of colonial times. Absent are churches and government buildings and is in contrast surrounded by opulent aristocratic 17th century residences.
- After the walk: Your guide will let you know some evening entertainment options for your personal exploring.
Day 3 – Sunday :: Hemingway by the Sea, Organic gardening, private cooking lesson and evening free to explore
- Breakfast in hotel, included
- Travel to Cojímar, a small fishing village approximately 7 miles east of Havana. It was Ernest Hemingway’s favorite fishing port in Cuba and the basis for Old Man and the Sea. This is the harbor where Hemingway’s boat Pilar was moored and where Papa and Gregorio would depart to marlin fish or hunt German Submarines. On water’s edge see Hemingway’s bust made from metal, donated by the local fishermen, and get photos in front of the 17th century Spanish Lookout Fort. (Included)
- Visit the small organic garden of Jesus and Julio where they show you how herbs, vegetables and fruits are raised for the private restaurant where you will be cooking later. Up close see mangos, bananas, plantains, squash, avocado, coffee and maybe even the Cuban Bee Hummingbird, the smallest bird in the world, endemic to Cuba. See how organic gardening in a residential neighborhood produces private income and supplies a local business. (Included)
- TOUR HIGHLIGHT: Cooking & mojito making lesson at paladar (private restaurant) El Ajiaco followed by lunch, which you helped prepare. This is a unique experience; in the kitchen, with the chef and staff preparing multiple dishes (lobster, ropa vieja & el ajiaco soup) and then at the bar learning how to properly prepare a Cuban mojito. Humble, but visited by food networks and a number of notable celebrities such as Kevin Bacon and Sigourney Weaver. (Included)
- Return to hotel.
- Dinner (Not included). This is a perfect evening to explore Cuba’s famed paladares or visit one of the many cafes within easy walking distance of your hotel.
Day 4 – Monday :: Valley of magnificent mogotes and richest agriculture land in the nation and cigar factory
- Breakfast in hotel, included
- Morning departure to the western agricultural province of Pinar del Río.
- In Pinar del Rio visit and tour Francisco Donatién Cigar Factory, located in a former prison and on this site since 1961. You will see how some of Cuba’s internationally renowned premium cigars are made, by hand. Seated side by side at special wooden benches, the cigar makers carry out their work, producing cigars of identical weight and length. (Included)
- Drive through the picturesque Viñales village in the heart of Cuba's prime tobacco growing region. The town itself sits in the center of a flat valley surrounded by stunning formations known locally as mogotes. They are irregularly shaped steep-sided hills that can rise as high as 985 feet and have bases as much as a mile in length. The mogotes were once underwater and during the Jurassic Age, about 200 million years ago, they were the first formations to emerge from the Atlantic Ocean during the creation of Cuba. Many consider this the most beautiful nature spot on the island.
- Late lunch at private restaurant Balcón del Valle (Balcony of the Valley and you will see why when you get there), one of the most spectacular views of the entire trip. (Included)
- Hotel Rancho San Vicente check-in: a unique hotel in a forest setting and overlooked by mountains. This is a bird watchers paradise with several endemic species and at dusk bats emerge from the multiple caves.
- Evening relaxing time by one of the two pools at the hotel. (Included)
- Dinner buffet at hotel at your leisure and a relaxing evening. (Included)
Day 5 – Tuesday :: Viñales activities, tobacco farming and meals in country-side paladares
- Breakfast in hotel. (Included) You will have a very large lunch and evening meal, plan breakfast accordingly.
- Morning (Optional) Activities: horseback riding in the valley of the National Park (highly recommended), hiking, massage or guided birding tour that will need to be reserved the day before (the guide, not the birds)!
- Lunch at Finca Agro-ecológica El Paraíso (be sure you get a special drink ‘Anti-Stress’ blended from fresh grown organic herbs). Other than the seafood and beef, all of the food you will enjoy at lunch will have been grown on the Finca. (Included)
- Walk the grounds of Finca Agro-ecológica El Paraíso; learn about the family that claimed part of a rocky mountain side to grow vegetables and herbs organically and a cashew tree. Enjoy the outstanding view of the valley. (Included)
- Visit a privately owned small tobacco farm that produces the leaves for the world-renowned Cuban cigar. You will need to walk part of the way to get to there; horse or oxen are the only other means of transportation. Meet the owners, third generation women who run the small farm. You will have a personal demonstration of hand rolling a Habano cigar and discuss with the ladies about the government oversight of the tobacco production and sales. Learn the Cuban government’s process for pricing and delivery of the leaves. (Included)
You may purchase excellent hand rolled cigars that the three generations of women in the family prepare in the evenings. (Optional)
- Visit Cueva del Indio (Cave of the Indian), a short walk from your hotel for a brief boat ride to come out on the other side. It is a part of the National Park and surrounded by rainforest type vegetation. (Optional)
- Return to hotel to relax and freshen up.
- ENJOYABLE EVENING AT, SMALL, LOCAL PALADAR: Dinner at a small local paladar El Campesino, located on the edge of a tobacco field with the mogotes as a backdrop. Meet Yuri and Nino, daughter and mother owners who live on site with their families. Enjoy a wonderful meal of Cuban country-style cooking from the kitchen supervised by the mother Nino. (Included)
- TOUR HIGHLIGHT: Have a personal discussion with Yuri about the evolution in Cuba of private business operations and what it is like for a young mother raising a family in a rural community. (Included)
Day 6 – Wednesday :: Havana return, Revolution and vintage american cars
- Breakfast in hotel. (Included)
- Hotel check-out.
- Visit an open air craft market as you depart Vinales, with brightly colored buildings, shops and church. Experience small town Cuba. (Included)
- Lunch, to-go sandwiches, will be provided on the coach ride and hosted by GRTC Leaders, in order to save time on the return to Havana. (Optional)
- In Havana, visit the Museum of Revolution housed in the palace of former dictator Fulgencio Batista. Behind the palace and a part of the grounds is the refurbished glass enclosure which houses Granma, the boat which took Fidel Castro, Raul Castro, Che Guevara and their revolutionaries from Mexico to Cuba for the Revolution. There is a surface-to-air missile of the type that shot down a U.S. Lockheed U-2 spy plane during the Cuban Missile Crisis and the engine of the American U-2 airplane itself. It is an amazing look at history through the eyes of Cuban Revolutionaries. (Included)
- Hotel Nacional check-in; relaxing time to visit the garden, walk the site depicted in the Godfather Part II movie, enjoy a cigar, a mojito or have a rest on the veranda where some of the world’s most interesting personalities’ have taken a break while the winds from the Straits of Florida breeze by.
At the Hotel Nacional and at your leisure, stroll by cannons of battles from the 1800’s and visit the bunkers used during the Cuban Missile Crisis, built overlooking the Malecon and the Straits of Florida to Key West. For 13 days in October 1962 the world hinged on the brink of a nuclear war. The epicenter of the conflict was on the island you will be standing. Diplomatic understandings were formulated, treaties were contemplated, blockades occurred, embargoes were strengthened and international legal precedent was challenged. You may go through the bunkers and trenches and be briefed on the happenings of that complex time. (Included)
- Early evening you will have the opportunity to caravan in iconic 1950’s Vintage American cars, a fascinating experience of nostalgia. You will cruise the Malecon (Seawall), stop for photos and be dropped off for dinner. (Included)
- Dinner at the paladar La Casa, private restaurant, one of the earliest established in Cuba and still in the original home. (Included)
- Evening is free to explore the sights and sounds of the city.
Day 7 – Thursday :: A community transformed by art, Hemingway's home and last night in Havana
- Breakfast in hotel. (Included)
- Visit the community project Muraleando, a neighborhood in Havana which was inspired by the children of the community and housed in an abandoned water tank. Murals, sculptures and paintings adorn the buildings and street corners of what was once a very depressed area. Instruction of music, dance, sculpting, painting and other arts are available for the children, many who come from low income families or have behavioral challenges.
Jeanne Schulz, the widow of cartoonist Charles M. Schulz (best known for his comic strip Peanuts which featured Charlie Brown and Snoopy), visited Muraleando and subsequently authorized an artist, her son, to paint two Snoopy murals for the community center. A large Snoopy will greet you at the entrance. Enjoy live music and maybe even sneak in a dance instruction. You can visit the artesian shop on the way out. (Included)
- Lunch at Mediterraneo Havana, a small private restaurant located in a typical Vedado mansion in a quiet neighborhood. A real treat. (Included) Mediterráneo Havana has established itself as one of the best paladares in Vedado.
- Visit Finca La Vigía, home and farm of Ernest Hemingway, 10 miles west of Havana in the town of San Francisco de Paula. He lived longer in his Cuba residence than any of his other homes. It was here he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature and wrote portions of A Moveable Feast, For Whom the Bell Tolls and much of The Old Man and the Sea, among other compositions. This unique National Museum also includes his boat Pilar (made famous, in part, from Papa’s Marlin fishing and hunting German submarines off the north coast of Cuba) and the graves of some of his dogs. The fully furnished home displays his library, manuscripts and personal effects which you will be able to see. (Included)
- Return to hotel.
- Dinner (Not included). With all the great food you have experienced, this is your chance to re-visit one of your favorite restaurants or check out a paladar you may have heard about. Your Cuban Guide and GRTC Team will be glad to help. Plan ahead if you want reservations.
- Evening is free to visit the vibrant plazas of Old Havana to enjoy street music, dancing and the island experience. It is your last night in the Republic of Cuba, so enjoy!
Your guide can help arrange tickets to the Tropicana, Buena Vista Social Club or the Jazz Café if you like. We suggest informing your guide soon on arrival to ensure tickets. (Optional)
Day 8 – Friday :: Havana and home
- Breakfast in hotel. (Included)
- Hotel check-out.
- Transfer to José Martí International Airport in Havana for flight home. (Included)
- You need to be at your departure airport 3 hours before takeoff. Please prepare accordingly. Your guide will meet you in the lobby of your hotel.
- After you clear Cuban Immigration, you will be screened and your carry on will be scanned. In the departure hall there is a duty free shop, places to buy snacks and drinks, as well as souvenirs, so you may want to have some Cuban Currency (CUC). There is a currency exchange in the departure hall (1) if it is open and (2) if they have USD $ to exchange for you. They do not take CUC coins.
- When arriving to your U.S. entry airport you will need to clear U.S. Immigration and U.S. Customs. If questioned by an Immigration Officer about your trip to Cuba, note that you were on a sanctioned Tour of “People to People Activities.” If asked what that is, tell the truth and explain it was an opportunity to directly engage with Cuban people, learn about their life and country. To be clear: You were not on a vacation.
- Memories of a wonderful visit to the Pearl of the Antilles: Cuba! (Included)
To receive a more detailed itinerary for a specific Tour, with hotels, please email Dan Rutherford at DanRutherford@GlobalRelations.US or call Josh Lanning at 815-842-2475Cuba travel is a challenge. Our staff and Cuban partners work super hard to make your tour unfold seamlessly despite Third World conditions on the island. Sometimes things don’t go as planned. Flexible travelers understand this is part of their Cuban adventure.
Costs, dates, book now
Included in tour cost
- As a GRTC member Global Relations Travel Club leadership will make available to you a teleconference to go through the itinerary, answer questions and offer suggestions.
- As a GRTC member you will receive a series of briefing emails before departure to assist you in preparing for the trip.
- All taxes, amounts are quoted in US dollars.
- Hotel in the U.S. the night before your Cuban departure.
- Fly into your U.S. departure city the first night of the Tour and your lodging is included. The next day fly to Cuba and your Transfer at the Cuban airport is included. On the last day of your Tour the transfer to the Cuban airport is included.
- Airport departure tax from Cuba and the mandatory Emergency Cuban Medical Insurance coverage during your island stay will be included in the cost of your airfare. GRTC Team will be of assistance if you have questions.
- Hotels in Cuba as listed in tour itinerary, or similar.
- Welcome cocktail upon arrival.
- All breakfasts, lunches and dinners as per itinerary.
- All activities, services, speakers, meetings and meals as described in tour itinerary except those noted as “Optional” or “Not included”.
- Air-conditioned coach transportation and a Cuban professional driver dedicated to your group. Cold bottled water on board.
- An expert Cuban English-speaking guide whose background matches tour content and a GRTC Team member from the U.S. accompanying your tour.
- As a GRTC member you will receive ongoing travel support from the Global Relations team before and after your stay.
- Emergency collect call access to the United States while in Cuba.
- Certificate of Legal Cuba Travel in accordance with the US Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) section 31 C.F.R. § 515.572(a)(1)
Not included in cost
- Global Relations Travel Club (GRTC) membership: $29 http://www.globalrelations.us/membership.html Membership is a requirement, by Rule, to participate in GRTC tours
- Airfare is not included; you select your commercial flights and book them to and from Havana. Flight reservations are the responsibility of the participant. GRTC Team will be of assistance.
- As a GRTC member you will have expedited processing of the needed Cuban Visitor Visa at the standard price of $85 with no fee for shipping and handling when paid for at least two weeks prior to U.S. departure.
- When checking out of your Hotel in the U.S. the night before your Cuban departure, gratuity for your U.S. shuttle driver and porter are not included.
- Gratuities for Cuban tour guide, coach/van driver, chambermaids, restaurant staff, porters, etc. of group activities. You will be asked to participate in a ‘gratuity collective’ of $154.89 in which all gratuities for group activities will be paid on your behalf. Details will be sent to you.
- Optional travel interruption and cancellation insurance. See http://globalrelations.ourcuba.com/insurance/