Grand (hopefully) Circle

Stroll just about anywhere in Cuba, from the cobblestone streets of Trinidad to the Malecon of Havana and you’ll see that the past and present are inextricably entwined. El coche horse carts share lanes with vintage cars and young people check their text messages in 500 year-old plazas. To visit is not to go back in time so much as to be in many times at once: 16th-and 17th-century architecture reveals the influence of Spanish rule … images of Jose Marti, the spiritual father of independence from Spain, gazes out from countless murals …and the national fervor for the heroes of the 1959 Revolution is still evident from graffiti to statues and even flower beds spelling out “hasta siempre, Fidel”—a promise to remember their former leader “until forever.”

Many travelers feel the same way about Cuba itself. It’s a truly unforgettable blend of natural beauty, rich history, and vibrant culture. Cuba is the rolling mountains of the Escambray, the brightly painted murals of Havana, and the sparkling aquamarine waters of Cienfuegpes and Playa Ancon. It’s a blend of elegant Spanish Colonial colonnades and vibrant Caribbean colors. The infectious rhythms of salsa and rumba float on the air as live music seems to be playing all day long. When night falls, dancers follow the music, whirling away the hours. Across the land, as a new era of openness begins, one thing remains unchanged: the resilient people of Cuba are eternally welcoming, friendly, and eager to share their land with you.

Uncover the mystique of Cuba with Grand Circle Foundation on a journey that reveals Cuba’s complex history, natural beauty, and cultural riches in the most authentic way possible—through its people. Interact and engage with a variety of artists and writers, fishermen and farmers, and Cubans from all walks of life as you stroll the colonial streets of Old Havana, experience Afro-Cuban rumba rhythms of Cienfuegos, and discover the colonial gem of Trinidad. Toss aside any preconceived notions you may have of Cuba—and prepare to be enthralled by the welcoming spirit of the Cuban people and the unforgettable experiences that await you.


Day 1, Sat, Dec 7 - Arrive Miami
(X) After arriving in Miami today and transferring to your hotel, meet with members of your group for a briefing and what to expect for your flight to Havana tomorrow (Please note: No meals are included while you are in Miami). Hotel: Sheraton Miami Airport Hotel

Day 2, Sun, Dec 8 - Havana
(BLD) This morning we fly to Cuba. After we exit Cuban Immigration and Customs at the airport, we’ll be met by our Cuban Trip Leader, who will accompany us to lunch at Il Divino, one of Cuba’s privately owned restaurants called paladares. After our meal, we’ll stop at the nearby sustainable family farm and botanical garden which supplies fresh produce to Il Divino. Then, we’ll make a brief stop at Havana’s historic Plaza de la Revolución.

Next, we'll continue on to our hotel for the next few nights, Melia Cohiba Hotel, where we'll being staying in Level Rooms that overlook Havana's coastline. The hotel is located in the Vedado section of Havana near the Malecón, the University of Havana, the U.S. Embassy, and Coppelia ice cream—featured in one of the most widely viewed Cuban films, Strawberry and Chocolate. An orientation walk around the immediate vicinity will show us this modern part of the city. We'll have dinner together this evening at a paladar called La Moraleja in Havana's Vedado district, where we'll have the opportunity to learn about the difficulties and successes these young entrepreneurs have faced with their private restaurant. Hotel: Melia Cohiba Hotel (3 nights)

Day 3, Mon, Dec 9 - Havana
(BLD) Discover Cuba’s warm hospitality, colorful art, and timeless way of life from Havana to Cienfuegos. Our first full day in Havana begins with a discussion on urban development in Havana, led by Pedro Vazquez, an architect, urban planner, and an associate and adviser to CIERIC, a Cuban NGO focused on habitat, art-related, community-based and socio-cultural issues.

Then, we visit a residential neighborhood, where we visit one of the senior centers that is sponsored by Cuban churches. Sharing photos and stories with senior Habanero residents will give us an intimate glimpse of Cuban family life in this fast-changing island nation.

Then we'll have lunch at Paladar Galeria Amos near Habana Vieja. Afterward, we embark on a neighborhood walking tour, where we'll stop and chat with the Cuban people as we walk through the streets and squares of Old Havana. We will see the historic restorations that have revived much of the district’s former splendor—and we begin to gain an understanding of why Havana’s historic heart has earned recognition by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

Later this evening, we’ll head to a Havana barrio to visit Muraleando, a community arts project of colorful murals and various forms of street art, where we’ll meet with some local artists and view their works. Several of the talented artists will then join us for dinner, which they host in their community.

Day 4, Tue, Dec 10 - Havana
(BLD) Our morning starts off with an enlightening discussion on the Cuban economy, the changes it is undergoing, and its connection to U.S./Cuban relations led by a local economist. Then we see what life is like for everyday Habaneros when we hop aboard local transportation—bici-taxis—and head to a local market to meet with vendors and mingle with some shoppers. Next, we have an opportunity to interact with children at a day-care facility sponsored by a local church. Later, we visit Plaza Vieja, where you may stroll among the arched colonnades and choose your own lunch from among the many cafes.

After lunch, you may return to our hotel or continue exploring on your own. Late this afternoon, we'll drive to the outskirts of Havana to visit a public art project in Jaimanitas, a village where Cuban artist and sculptor Jose Fuster has decorated more than 80 neighborhood houses with ornate, Gaudi-inspired murals and domes. After touring what has become known as “Fusterlandia in Jaimanitas,” we have an opportunity to ask the artist (or his son Alex) questions and discuss contemporary Cuban art during dinner.

Day 5, Wed, Dec 11 - Havana • Cienfuegos
(BLD) Today we drive west from Havana to the southern coastal city of Cienfuegos. Home to one of the most captivating natural bays in the Caribbean Sea, Cienfuegos was founded in 1819 by settlers from the former French colonies of Haiti and Louisiana—and has maintained many of its French cultural and architectural influences. Upon arrival, we enjoy a light lunch at our hotel, followed by an introductory stroll through the lively port town, whose historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

This evening, we enjoy a performance of classic Cuban songs by the Cantores de Cienfuegos. Afterwards, we'll get to chat with the talented young singers of this renowned choral group and perhaps share a song of our own with them. Then, we'll have dinner at Villa Lagarto, another paladar. Villa Lagarto is situated at the tip of Punta Gorda with views of the sea. Hotel: Hotel La Union , Hotel Melia San Carlos (4 nights)

Day 6, Thu, Dec 12 - Cienfuegos • Escambray Mountains
(BLD) This morning after breakfast, we visit Cuba’s largest Botanical Park. Dating back to 1899, the gardens feature collections of palms, orchids, bamboo, and myriad other lovely Caribbean flora spread over almost 250 acres.

After leaving the Botanical Gardens, we begin our drive toward and through the Escambray mountain range, an unspoiled wooded landscape of deep valleys punctuated with streams, caves, and exotic flora and fauna. Coffee is also cultivated in the shade of pine and eucalyptus trees of the mountain slopes here, as we'll discover during a visit to a coffee-growing garden where we have an opportunity to taste the local coffee. Next, we visit a small plantation to meet with a coffee farmer and his family to learn what it's like to live and work in this region of great natural beauty, before continuing toward Cuba's southern coast. We'll pause for lunch at a nearby restaurant.

Upon arrival back in Cienfuegos, we enjoy dinner at another paladar in Ciefuegos, La Finca del Mar.

Day 7, Fri, Dec 13- Cienfuegos
(BLD) Explore Cuba like a local, finding traces of European and African influences at every corner. This morning we meet with a few of the writers, artists, and musicians of the Union of Writers and Artists in Cuba (UNEAC) to discuss the role of the arts in Cuban society and how they can help to preserve Cuban culture. Then we visit some artists' studios in Cienfuegos to view their works and hear about the challenges they face in earning a living through their craft. This afternoon, we enjoy a light lunch at Paladar El Louvre with Cuban dominoes players, followed by a few games of dominoes. Dinner tonight is at Paladar Bouyon 1825.

Then, after dinner, we return to UNEAC to hear a local son band such as Los Naranjos (who have been playing Cuban classics since 1926) perform for us. Son is the lively Afro-Cuban musical style played over a rumba beat that has enjoyed worldwide popularity—and we may find it difficult not to break out in dancing with some of the local artists and writers who will attend the performance with us.

Day 8, Sat, Dec 14 - Cienfuegos • Trinidad * Cienfuegos
(BLD) This morning, we drive to Trinidad for a day of exploration. We begin our day by visiting with someone who practices the Santeria religion. During our discussion, we’ll have an opportunity to learn about Santeria and how this religion is practiced in Cuba.

Next, we'll transfer into colonial Trinidad for a walking tour of the historic core—a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We'll begin in the home of a local family, then visit a bodega, a local artist, and the church. This gives us a revealing glimpse into everyday life in contemporary Trinidad as we meet some of the people who live in this historic Cuban city.

After lunch on our own, we'll return to Cienfuegos. Dinner this evening is at Paladar de Paris.

Day 9, Sun, Dec 15 - Cienfuegos • Cojímar • Havana
(BLD) On our way back to Havana this morning, we stop at Cojímar, the fishing village where Hemingway visited in the 1950s and met Gregorio Fuentes, the fisherman who served as his inspiration for The Old Man and the Sea. While here, we'll join the the local fishermen for lunch at Paladar Ajiaco Cafe.

Next, we'll visit El Cristo de Habana, a large statue of Jesus Christ with sweeping views over the city of Havana. We arrive at our hotel late this afternoon and regroup later for dinner at Paladar Al Carbon in Old Havana. Hotel: Hotel Saratoga (3 nights)

Day 10, Mon, Dec 16 - Las Terrazas • Havana
(BLD) Let the rhythms of Cuba captivate you in this music-driven video, highlighting everyday scenes from across the island. After breakfast this morning, we venture to the eco-village of Las Terrazas. Our first stop is the local school (when in session), and then we'll visit the lakeside gallery and studio of artist Lester Campo. We'll learn more about this village, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, at its community center, where a local guide will share a coffee with us and describe village life. A local bodega, doctor's clinic, and lunch at a nearby restaurant round out our time in this fascinating place.

This afternoon, we visit Hemingway's home for 20 years in the Havana suburb of San Francisco de Paula. Respected by Cubans for living in a modest area among the people he fished with, the famous author wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea at his home called Finca La Vigia (meaning “lookout house”). Dinner is on your own this evening.

Day 11, Tue, Dec 17 - Havana
(BLD) After breakfast, a Director of the Ludwig Foundation—a non-profit organization created to promote Cuban culture—will speak with us about the role of dance and art in contemporary Cuba. Then, Malpaso, one of Cuba's first private dance companies, will welcome us into their studio to watch a private rehearsal, followed by a chance to chat with the dance members. After our visit with the Malpaso dance company, we continue on to Havana's handcraft market where we will converse with the artisans who display their wares here and learn about their entrepreneurial spirit.

We have lunch on our own and some free time to explore before a short discussion on jazz music with William Roblejo's Trio. Our last evening in Cuba features dinner at Paladar La Habanera, a 1930s home in Havana's Playa neighborhood, where we'll speak with both the owners and staff of the restaurant. This will be our last conversation with Cuban locals about both the struggles and success of running a private business.

Day 12, Wed, Dec 18 - Return to U.S.
(B) Today, we bid Cuba a fond adios as we board our flight to the United States. And 6 days at home before Christmas.

Please note: This is a representative itinerary. Features are subject to change as availability is controlled by the Cuban government. While this is the itinerary that we strive to follow, due to local circumstances (such as moveable holidays, museum/site closing days, and weather conditions), it is important for you to understand that we may not always be able to follow this plan in the exact order. The sequence of places visited may vary.

Night 1 MiamiSheraton Miami Airport Hotel
Night 2-4 HavanaMelia Cohiba Hotel
Night 5-8 CienfuegosHotel La Union , Hotel Melia San Carlos
Night 9-11 HavanaHotel Saratoga