Tour introduction and overview of activities

Duration: 5 days and 4 nights of ‘Professional Awareness’, Educational Activities and Support of the Cuban people organized by Global Relations Travel Club (GRTC). GRTC is an authorized sponsor of 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).

Accommodation is at the historic and iconic Hotel Nacional. Highlights will be presentations on Cuba and its infrastructure, discussions with Cubans on municipal services, private businesses on licensing, permits and taxes, visiting Hemingway’s home and a private cooking lesson.

Your adventure will include Old Havana, staying on the Straits of Florida and some of the best private restaurants in Cuba.

Cuba’s big! Its land mass is 42,426 square miles – about 80 percent the size of Alabama. Cuba is nearly as large as Louisiana, and larger than Tennessee, Virginia, Kentucky, South Carolina, Ohio or Indiana. Altogether it’s bigger than Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont combined.

Day 1 – Sunday :: Arrive Cuba, welcome dinner and evening to explore

  • Briefed on the situation in Cuba
  • Depart to Havana via your own arranged flights.
    You should plan arriving Havana by mid-afternoon. It may take you some time 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. Your first tour activity will be the welcome dinner and your guide will finalize details with you on arrival to your hotel. On departure from Cuba you will be asked to be at the airport 3 hours in advance.
  • 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 your flight before landing.
  • On arrival at Havana’s José Martí International Airport proceed through Immigration. Your carry-on will once again be scanned.
  • Give your ‘Health’ form to the nurses in white uniforms after you go through Immigration & screening. The important question they may ask is if you have been exposed to Ebola.
  • Collect your bags and go through Customs giving them your blue customs form.
  • You will be welcomed at the airport exterior lobby after you exit Cuban Customs. Look for the person holding signage of ‘Cuba Explorer’.
    Tour participant’s arrival times may vary throughout the day. Individualized airport transfers will be arranged.
  • You can change your money into CUC (the convertible currency used on the island) at the airport on arrival, at a Cuban bank, an official exchange bureau or at your hotel. Your guide will be of assistance. Your passport is necessary to exchange currency. Do not exchange money on the street or with an individual Cuban.
    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 Hotel Nacional. (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.
  • Enjoy a welcome cocktail (Included) after your private check-in with assistance from your guide.
    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)
  • Free time to settle in and get oriented with your historic hotel.
  • Dinner at the paladar La Casa, private restaurant, one of the earliest established in Cuba and still in the original home. (Included)
  • After dinner your guide will let you know some evening entertainment options for your personal exploring where you can engage with the local Cubans.

Day 2 – Monday :: Cigar factory, tour Old Havana, warehouse and shopping       

  • Agriculture processing, tourism for historic sites, kiosk retail
  • Breakfast in hotel. (Included)
  • Visit the Romeo y Julieta / H. Uppman Factory which makes internationally famous Cuban cigars. Rollers receive their carefully portioned leaves for their blends from the storeroom. A small quality-control area sits off to the side where draw machines test the finished product for the day. As in all Cuban cigar factories, a podium is set up for a lector who reads the news to workers. Two half-hour-long periods later in the day are devoted to novels, or fiction books which the workers select. (Included)
  • 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, 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.
  • See the Museum of Chocolate, a small shop with intriguing artifacts relating to the history of chocolate production in Cuba. You can see where chocolates are made at the back of the premises while one sips on 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 Cuba 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.
  • Lunch at Mojito Mojito, great Cuban food and just off of Plaza Vieja in Old Havana. You will enjoy a wonderful meal and friendly staff. (Included)
    Discussion with restaurant leadership staff on the local government requirements for licensing and permitting a private paladar in Cuba. (Included)
  • Time to shop for souvenirs at Centro Cultural Antiguos Almacenes de Depósito San José, a giant craft market offering some of the most iconic objects of Havana: garish-colored paintings by local artists, guayaberas (short-sleeve, open-neck Cuban shirts), sculptures, leather, jewelry, and various trinkets & gadgets bearing the image of Che Guevara. The souvenirs are high quality, which is why you will see as many locals as tourists among the shoppers. The metal-framed structure itself, an old, fully renovated maritime warehouse, very retro and Art Deco, is worth the visit alone. (Optional)
  • Return to hotel.
  • Dinner (Not Included). This is a perfect evening to explore Cuba’s famed paladares to enjoy delicious food and support a Cuban family business, or visit one of the many cafes within easy walking distance of your hotel.

Day 3 – Tuesday :: Professional awareness program, National Capitol, vintage American cars and evening to explore

  • Latin America & U.S. political landscape, the center of government, economic development, use of organic farming
  • Breakfast in hotel. (Included)
  • Presentation by Prof. Carlos Alzugaray, former director of the Institute of Foreign Relations and former Cuban Ambassador to the European Union at the Saratoga Hotel. He has an exceptional understanding of US-Cuba relations. He will cover the historic relationship of the two countries and follow a timeline to the current political landscape.
  • Visit to El Capitolio, the national Capitol building for the Republic of Cuba. Construction began in 1926 and was completed in 1929. The building was the seat of government until after the Cuban Revolution in 1959. When the Cuban Congress was abolished after the Revolution the Ministry of Science Technology and the Environment eventual moved in. Though there is a striking resemblance to the U.S. Capitol it is not a replica. Restoration began in 2013 with the intent to have it completed by 2019, the 500 year anniversary of Havana’s founding. The intent is to have the Cuban National Assembly once again occupy the Capitol. During restoration, public tours may be arranged. (Included)
  • Lunch at Mediterraneo Havana, a small private restaurant located in a Vedado mansion in a quiet neighborhood. A real treat. (Included) Mediterráneo has established itself as one of the best paladares in Vedado serving local farm produced product, organically.
  • After lunch 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) and stop for photos. (Included)
  • Return to hotel for open afternoon.
  • Dinner at the small and intimate Decameron Paladar, known by some as one of the best paladares in Havana. (Included) Eclectic arrangements of antique clocks and musical instruments on the walls. A boutique location treat.
  • Evening is free to explore the sights and sounds of the city and engage with the Cuban people.

Day 4 – Wednesday :: Hemingway by the Sea, organic gardening, private cooking lesson, Hemingway’s home,  a community project and last night in Havana

  • Tourism based on personality, organic garden production, community project for children & seniors
  • Breakfast in hotel. (Included)
  • Travel to Cojimar, a small fishing village 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)
    Much of the inspiration for The Old Man and the Sea came from Hemingway's time in Cojimar. La Terraza, is a fisherman’s bar on the Bay of Cojimar where Hemingway docked his boat, Pilar. The bar is where he spent many an afternoon drinking with the fishermen, one being Gregorio Fuentes, the Captain of Pilar. Many believe him to be the model for the character Santiago—the old man of the sea. Some say the young boy in the story, Manolo, was based on the young son of the owner of La Terraza, Manolito.
  • 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 (seafood, ropa vieja & el ajiaco soup) and then at the bar learning how to properly prepare a Cuban mojito. Humble paladar, but visited by food networks from around the world and a number of notable celebrities such as Kevin Bacon and Sigourney Weaver. (Included)
  • Visit Finca Vigía, home and farm of Ernest Hemingway, west of Havana in the small 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, Islands in the Stream and much of The Old Man and the Sea. Now a museum, you will meet the docents and curators who affectionately maintain his library, manuscripts and personal belongings. His boat Pilar (made famous, in part, from Papa’s Marlin fishing and hunting German submarines off the northern coast of the island) and the graves of some of his dogs are all on the grounds. (Included)
  • Proyectongo is a community project focused on art education and opportunities for children to learn and create. Seniors also utilize the facility. It is supported by the sale of the art by local artists and is only a few block from Hemingway's home.
  • 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 privately owned restaurants you may have heard about. Your guide will be of assistance in helping you select a good private paladar. Plan ahead if you want reservations.
  • It is your last night in Cuba so enjoy! Your guide can help arrange tickets to the Tropicana or Buena Vista Social Club if you like. We suggest informing your guide soon on arrival to ensure tickets. (Optional)

Day 5 – Thursday :: Havana and Home

  • Breakfast in hotel. (Included)
  • Depending on the time of your airline departure you may enjoy a relaxing early morning swim or a walk the Malecon with the Straits of Florida next to you.
  • Hotel check-out.
  • Transfer to José Martí International Airport in Havana for flight home. (Included)
  • Airlines recommend you be at your departure airport 3 hours before takeoff. Please prepare accordingly. Your guide or driver will meet you in the lobby of your hotel.
  • It is prohibited to take Cuban currency (CUC) out of the country. After your airline check-in there is a currency exchange available for you to change your CUCs into US dollars (or another currency). Be sure to do so before entering Immigration.
  • 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. They will accept U.S dollars.
  • When arriving to your U.S. entry airport you will need to clear U.S. Immigration and U.S. Customs. If asked by an Immigration Officer about your trip to Cuba, note that you were on a sanctioned Tour. If asked what you did, 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)

Your support for the Cuban people is forever appreciated!
Cuba Travel is a challenge. GRTC staff and Cuban partners work 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 in support for the Cuban people.

Tour meals at your hotel and at fine restaurants
  • GRTC one time membership fee is included in your tour. Membership is a requirement, by Rule, to participate in GRTC tours.
  • A Certificate of Legal Cuba Travel, per participant, in accordance with the US Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) section 31 C.F.R. § 515.572(a)(1)
  • As a GRTC member we will make available a teleconference with those participating in the tour to go through the itinerary, answer questions and offer suggestions.
  • As a GRTC member you will receive a series of briefing e mails before departure to assist you in preparing for the trip.
  • All taxes; amounts are quoted in US dollars.
  • Fly to Cuba and you will be met at the airport for transfer to your hotel. On your last day of the tour the transfer to the Cuban airport is included.
  • Airport departure tax from Cuba and the Cuban mandatory Emergency Insurance coverage during your island stay is usually covered in the cost of your U.S. airfare.
  • Hotel in Cuba as listed in your itinerary, or similar.
  • Gratuities for Cuban tour guide, coach/van driver, chambermaids, restaurant staff, porters, etc. for group activities. The ‘gratuity collective’ is included in your Tour.
  • Welcome cocktail.
  • All breakfasts, lunches and dinners as per itinerary.
  • Cuban Visitor Visa needed to enter Cuba is included. GRTC will provide expedited service.
  • All activities and services, as described in tour itinerary except those noted as “Optional” or “Not included.”
  • Special presentations for participants, value added educational experiences.
  • Air-conditioned transportation and a Cuban professional driver dedicated to the group.
  • Cold bottled water on board.
  • An expert Cuban English-speaking guide who will also serve as interpreter.
  • 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.