Cuba

An Island in Time

It is difficult to synopsize the recent history of Cuba without slipping into the political quagmire surrounding the Castro regime and its impact on the Cuban people. The pervasive animosity between the governments of Cuba and the United States has resulted in a deep schism between the two countries. Cubans have lived under severe travel restrictions imposed by their own government, as well as an American embargo that interrupts passage and trade. It goes without saying that the last 60 years or so have followed a very different trajectory for Cuba than the US, despite that the Florida Keys sit a mere hundred miles away from the shores of Havana.

Today, the country is in a state of flux. Castro’s government is in transition, and American travel restrictions are relaxing. In June of 2015, diplomatic relations between the two countries were finally restored after having been severed in 1961. Whatever your personal take on Cuba’s politics may be, there can be no denying the massive impact that this shift is already having on the Cuban people and its society as a whole.

SoulBuffalo offers our guests a chance to experience the legacy of old Cuba before it undergoes the irrevocable changes heralded by globalization. You’ll view the island through the eyes of the local people who make it the vibrant and fascinating place that it is. Meet Cuban historians, students, artists, teachers and architects as you explore the cultural richness of this unique island. Converse with Cubans and learn firsthand about their experiences, opinions on the past, and hopes for the future.

From the vintage cars of Havana to the sugar plantations of Trinidad, from battlefield memorials of Che Guevara to the shores of the Bay of Pigs, our expedition will dive into the treasures of this captivating country. We’ll complement our cultural focus with visits to areas of rich biodiversity and exquisite natural beauty that are well off the beaten path, such as Cuba’s unrivaled Zapata wetland.

This expedition is permitted through the People-to-People general license category from the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. This kind of excursion to Cuba represents a moment in time: a snapshot of a country and a people in transition. Come with us and seize the opportunity to connect with Cuba’s past and future in a truly remarkable way.

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Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Havana

Accommodation: Higher-end comfortable city hotel

Upon arrival at Havana International Airport, we’ll head directly to our hotel to freshen up and grab a quick siesta. After a welcome meeting and dinner, we’ll turn in for the night so we can get an early start in the morning.

Day 2: Havana

Accommodation: Higher-end comfortable city hotel

Today we’ll explore the streets of this colonial city. With a local historian as our guide, we’ll stroll through the streets, taking in the sights of vintage cars, grandiose buildings and public plazas, and learning about the city’s rich past. After lunch and a break back at the hotel, we’ll meet with local artists, and have the chance to learn from them about Cuba’s contemporary art scene. Later, our local guide will take us to some of the more far-flung sites in the city. Then, it’s back to the hotel to prep for a night on the town of dinner followed by a cruise in a vintage car to the world famous Cabaret Tropicana.

Day 3: Sierra del Rosario Biosphere Reserve/Vinales

Accommodation: Comfortable tourist hotel or a unique homestead

We’ll wake up bright and early to maximize the cooler morning hours. We’ll learn about Cuba’s efforts to conserve the many different native bird, lizard and flower species that populate the island in a meeting with a Cuban biologist and conservationist, followed by a guided hike through the biosphere reserve to spot some of these species. After lunch, we’ll visit a traditional Cuban cigar factory, where local cigar makers will demonstrate the art of cigar rolling and give us hands-on experience of the manufacturing process. We’ll return to our hotel for dinner.

Day 4: Vinales

Accommodation: Comfortable tourist hotel or a unique homestead

Today we explore the breathtaking Vinales Valley, where we’ll visit a farm and spend time with local farmers, learning about the country’s agricultural practices. We’ll also make a stop at one of the many villages that dot the landscape in this part of Cuba to meet with villagers, sample the local food, and learn about their way of life. We’ll take in the Prehistoric Mural Painting, a 120-meter high mural that describes the geological evolution of the “Sierra de los Organos” ridge. We’ll spend our afternoon with a local geologist who will lead us through a massive underground cave system that runs beneath the area. We’ll enjoy dinner back at the hotel.

Day 5: Vinales / Bay of Pigs / Zapata

Accommodation: Comfortable tourist hotel or a unique homestead

Today it’s on to Eastern Cuba for a visit to one of the most infamous places on this island nation: the Bay of Pigs. We’ll start our visit in this region with a stop at a crocodile farm to spend time with a crocodile farmer, and then continue on to a reconstructed Indian village. At Finca Vigía, the former home of Ernest Hemingway, we’ll meet with the museum director for a tour of the property, and learn about Hemingway’s strong connection to the Cuban people. Once back at the hotel, we’ll enjoy a traditional dinner and another beautiful Cuban sunset.

Day 6: Peninsula de Zapata / Sierra del Escambray

Accommodation: Comfortable Mountain Hotel

Today is dedicated to exploring Cuba’s natural beauty as we head out early for a visit to Zapata National Park, the largest wetland in the entire Caribbean.  We’ll enjoy a walking tour with a local biologist who will tell us about Cuba’s efforts to preserve the country’s biodiversity.  After a seaside lunch, we’ll take off for the Sierra del Escambray Mountains.  In the evening, we’ll enjoy dinner at sunset by the sea.

Day 7: Sierra del Escambray/Trinidad

Accommodation: Beach Resort

A local environmental biologist will lead us on a morning hike through the mountains past waterfalls and along the shore of a crystal-clear river.  We’ll finish our walk with a local lunch and then head to the seaside town of Trinidad where we’ll spend the afternoon with a historian learning about the unique history and architecture of this Spanish colonial settlement.

Day 8: Trinidad

Accommodation: Beach Resort

Today we’ll begin our day with a visit to Trinidad’s small rural library, where we’ll meet with the director who will share with us the challenges of government censorship, and the innovative ways that libraries are finding to thrive despite lack of funding. After lunch among this town’s historic buildings, we’ll head to the outskirts of the city for a visit to a sugar production center, where we’ll sit down with the owner of the center, and learn about the importance of sugar in the Cuban economy and the process of sugar-making. We’ll end the day with a sunset cruise on the Caribbean Sea.

Day 9: Trinidad / Santa Clara / Matanzas

Accommodation: Colonial City Hotel

We’ll head north to Santa Clara, home to the Che Guevara Memorial. While in town, we’ll also visit Tren Blindado, a monument to the battle where Guevara’s revolutionaries defeated an armored reinforcement train. In the afternoon, we’ll head to the Casa de la Cultura, where we’ll enjoy a concert of Cuban classics, followed by a talk about traditional music and its role in local culture. We’ll enjoy the late afternoon and evening in the northern coastal town of Matanzas for some relaxation and exploration. At night,we’ll meet local dancers to learn about one of the liveliest elements of Cuban culture—salsa dancing!

Day 10: Matanzas/Varadero/Canimar River

Accommodation: Colonial City Hotel

For lovers of undersea life, today’s morning activities will be a treat. We’ll start the day with a marine biologist who will introduce us to one of the Caribbean’s last untouched reefs. We’ll follow that with a boat ride up the Canimar River for a visit to the La Arboleda Nature Center where we’ll have a chance to meet with local conservationists and students, and learn about the island’s wildlife, either from canoes, water bikes or horseback. Back at the hotel, we’ll wrap up the trip with a farewell dinner and entertainment.

Day 11: Matanzas

Accommodation: Departure

We’ll check out of the hotel to make the drive to Havana in time for flights home. After ten days of exploring this vibrant tropical paradise and meeting so many locals, we wish you a relaxing journey home!

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