2019 marked the 500th birthday of Havana and sixty years since Fidel Castro swept into Havana to claim the island. The revolution has left an indelible impression on every walk of life in Cuba that remains in a socialist time warp having existed in relative isolation for over half a century.
We can’t imagine a more exciting time to come exploring Cuba with Art of Living. The place is exploding with youthful creativity in dance, music and art. Grand colonial buildings undergoing restoration sit alongside still crumbling mansions and soviet era ‘brutalist’ highrise. Car journeys on good roads are like travelling in a surreal Hollywood movie, they are so quiet, almost empty of traffic and billboards.
his is a beguiling mix of European, American and African influences.
Don’t come with food expectations but do come expecting to be enamoured with Cuba’s beautiful, resourceful, resilient people who despite their long and tumultuous history exude warmth and generosity that belies what sometimes seems so frugal compared with our Western excesses and abundance.
Here time becomes slippery. American Plymouths from the 1950s, Soviet Ladas from the 1970s, Polski Fiats from the 1980s, donkey carts, farmer’s drays, the odd Peugeot – It is as if every moment that came before is also present now.
Private enterprise is making its mark creating elegant boutique hotels and more diverse dining options and Cuba is drenched in music Unpacking and understanding the time warp that is Cuba is a generational conversation and we have found the best guides – highly educated engineers, architects, physicists, art historians and lawyers who work in tourism for the simple fact it is more remunerative than staying in their original professions. They share their expertise with passion and refreshing openness.
• in Havana meet gifted artists in their studios
• witness the talent of young contemporary dancers
• listen to enlivening music while sipping a mojito
• stay in chic boutique accommodation
• trek the beautiful valley of Viñales
• the charming colonial outposts of Cienfuegos + Trinidad
11 days from USD $7025 twin | double share
A relaxed morning walk to admire the legendary beauty of the old city and understand how Havana became so wealthy. Later, a panoramic tour of the city riding in an open topped classic vehicle to visit the mosaic wonderland of Fusterlandia.
Sip a Cuba Libre at the famed Hotel Nacional on the terrace overlooking the Gulf.
Travel west through the picturesque rolling green hills of Pinar de Rio. The valley of Viñales is spiked with dramatic karst limestone peaks interspersed with tobacco fields and colourful drying sheds. A gentle walk to see how the famous Cuban cigars are made from growing the leaves to rolling the finished product.
Return for an easy day back in Havana to break the long journey south. Perhaps take a salsa class, listen to fabulous music or scout for terrific modern art at affordable prices. This evening experience a classical parador, where the chef welcomes you into their home for a lovingly prepared meal.
The turquoise arc of Playa Girón nestles peacefully near the infamous Bahía de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs), backed by one of those gloriously old-fashioned Cuban villages. After a refreshing swim continue to Cienfuegos to walk this gracious nautical city founded in 1819 by French émigrés, whose homogeneous grid of elegant classical architecture earned it a UNESCO World Heritage Site listing in 2005.
Trinidad, also a UNESCO World Heritage site founded its sugar cane fortunes in the 19thC colonial era, and fabulously rich Spanish families raised gorgeous mansions around Trinidad's main square. After walking the town, a gentle trek through the tropical natural park of Topes de Collantes for lunch with a local family. The walk ends in refreshing waterfalls for those who wish to take a swim.
Stop for a wonderful Mediterranean influenced lunch in a beautiful restored colonial mansion in the university town whose liberation in December 1958 marked the end of the Batista regime. It is famous for its revolutionary landmarks, the Che Guevara mausoleum, and ongoing cultural, social and artistic revolutions. Overnight in a beautifully restored mansion.
A day devoted to the Arts with an art curator. Visit the Cuban Collection at the Museo de Bellas Artes. Later, a personalised visit to the studios of leading young contemporary practitioners. After lunch, the Fabrica de Arte Cubano, a labyrinth of artistic creation, a repurposed former oil mill, this ‘art factory’ is a “hybrid project that is part business, part community project, part art gallery, part nightclub, part theatre and part cinema”.
Unfinished business: Today will be curated according to guests interests. This might be a stroll along the seafront, The Malecón, or through the La Necrópolis de Cristóbal Colón with its elaborate marble monuments; a visit to El Museo de la Revolución whose interiors were decorated by Tiffany's, or Hemingway's Villa; or last minute shopping.
Spend some extra days in the alluring city of Havana with treasures in every nook and cranny and some great museums.
Allow 5 | 6 days to explore Eastern Cuba and the ambient towns of Camagüey, Bayamo, Baracoa and Santiago de Cuba.
Take a seaside break by the crystalline waters.
Your Tour Leader, Marieke Brugman is an avid global traveller/foodie/yogi who has been leading luxury groups of discerning travellers throughout the world from Europe to Asia for twenty-five years. Whilst the sub continent is her most passionate ‘subject’, Cuba is not only easy to fall in love with but also gets under your skin and leaves lasting memories. There is such a sweep of history such a melting pot of cultures, such beautiful architecture, stirring music everywhere, resilient and hospitable people, it makes in her view, an exquisite mélange of experience. She cannot wait to share with you a vintage car ride, a mojito, a dance, and all the romance of this seductive Caribbean island culture.