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ASSISTANCE IN CUBA

HAVANA

(0)5 286 8492 (Alexie)

(0)5 279 9533 (Deisy)

(0)5 285 5323 (Maykeem, Airport)

VARADERO

(01)5 285 2323 (Pedro Luis)

CAYO SANTA MARIA, ENSENACHOS, LAS BRUJAS

(01)5 211 9768 (Yenier)

SANTIAGO DE CUBA

(01)5 285 5730 (Fernando)

HOLGUIN

(01)5 271 3480 (Carlos Rafael)

BARACOA

(0)21 64 51 64 (Roger)

TRINIDAD

(01)5 285 6855 (Floor)

Cross the Island Classic Drive

Also Recommended for: Wedding & Honeymoon , Traveling with Kids/Families , Cigars & Tobacco, Driving, People

Driving coast-to-coast or border-to-border makes for a classic road trip. In Cuba, formidable sites, beaches, and cities run the length and breadth of the island; visiting them on a cross country drive is the definition of travel adventure.

“The Classic [Coast to Coast] Drive” is a popular way to see Cuba, a trip made by untold numbers of foreign visitors who want a comprehensive look at this multifaceted country. With a comfortable rental car and a good map, the road is yours for exploring!

Itinerary

Day 1. Arrival Destination Havana - Visiting the Capital

You can pick up your rental car at the airport upon arrival, but it would likely stay parked (costing you money) while you explore the capital mostly walking. A transfer is the perfect solution – it will get you on your way swiftly and obviate the need to navigate a new city.

Whether you’ve just come off a long, medium or short flight, traveling is always tiring and the whole airport to hotel shuffle is tiresome. When you arrange a transfer with us, our representative Daisy will be there waiting to whisk you to your taxi or bus.

Havana has an extensive selection of hotels: choosing one that’s right for you largely depends on budget and location. How much you want to spend is straightforward; where to stay is another consideration entirely.

A stay in the historic old town (Habana Vieja) is like staying in an open air museum, the architecture is that impressive and at every turn. Indeed, the majority of interesting sights can be explored on foot in this vibrant, colorful and historic area.
See more about offerings in Habana Vieja

The verdant Vedado district is a good second option, with a few additional choices for economic accommodation.
See more about accommodation in Vedado

See more about Havana

We recommend:

Hotel Raquel  4  from US$189

Hotel Terral  4  from US$209

Day 1. Arrival Destination Havana - Visiting the Capital

Day 2. and Day 3. Havana

Havana is a colorful, eclectic city, moving to its own rhythmic pace. Every street transmits a memory, each building a story. Many colonial mansions have been transformed into stylish boutique hotels – even non-guests can pop into their charming courtyards for a coffee or cocktail. Private restaurants provide enticing gastronomic possibilities.

Chevrolets and Buicks – some dating as far back as the 1930s – still chug along Havana’s seafront boulevard. Rent a (private) Classic Car for a few hours, with or without a guide. The fare is very reasonable with two people, let alone if you rent the spacious and comfortable classic car with four passengers.

Pedestrian streets, some cobble-stoned, winding through the old town encourage long, meandering walks and there’s no shortage of cafés, bars and terraces (including some of Hemingway’s favorite haunts) for taking a cocktail. And don’t forget the music and dancing; in the streets, cabarets, nightclubs and discotheques – Havana is always moving and shaking.

Another option – especially for night owls and culture vultures – can be a glamorous music and dance spectacle in Hotel Nacional de Cuba: "Cabaret Parisien", good value for money or in the famous Cabaret Tropicana.

As already mentioned in the “Experience” article about driving, it is recommendable to pick up your rental car in the afternoon, to achieve an early departure the next morning.

See more about Havana

We recommend:

Hotel Raquel  4  from US$189

Hotel Terral  4  from US$209

Excursion Cabaret Tropicana

Excursion Cabaret Parisien - Cover & Cocktail

Excursion Private City Tour in Vintage Car - Morning Drive

Morris Garage MG5

Day 2. and Day 3. Havana

Day 4. Goin´ Up the Country - Havana - Viñales (approx. 179 km)

Hit the road after breakfast, heading out of town on the highway (A4) towards Pinar del Río (A4). After an hour (more or less) driving on this wide, almost traffic-free highway, you’ll reach the sign for the entrance to the picturesque village, Las Terrazas (at Km 52.5). Turn right here and you’ll plunge into the foothills of the Sierra del Rosario, an area of 25,000ha with tropical forests, plants, and wild orchids (declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO). This is a wonderfully verdant and tranquil region to have a cup of coffee or set out on a walk or hike.

See more about Las Terrazas

Carrying on further west, the landscape becomes more interesting, with undulating fields dotted here and there with traditional wooden houses. On the approach to Pinar del Río – a small, peaceful provincial town with stately homes framed with Corinthian and Ionic columns – the terrain starts to get hilly and more green still.

After Pinar del Río city, the road winds towards Viñales. The scenery is stunning: bright green tobacco fields run alongside vermilion earth and dark green cedars are interspersed with towering palm trees. Tobacco drying houses are watched over by majestic mogotes – the characteristic karst hills peppering the valley. From your balcony at the hotel Los Jazmines, you’ll be able to take it all in, the fields, the mogotes, even farmers driving their oxen and plows.

See more about Vinales

We recommend:

Hotel Los Jazmines  3  from US$74

Day 4. Goin´ Up the Country - Havana - Viñales (approx. 179 km)

Day 5. Green is the Valley of Viñales

Viñales is a small, friendly village where the wooden houses have porches and the residents enjoy rocking in their chairs contemplating the beautiful vista of the pincushion hills (mogotes) of the Sierra de los Órganos. This is an agricultural area where fruits, vegetables, coffee and tobacco are grown using traditional methods.

In 1999 UNESCO declared the Viñales Valley a World Heritage Site for its special karst formations (the aforementioned mogotes) and the centuries’-old traditional farming methods, especially in tobacco cultivation, practiced here. Caves in the valley once provided shelter and hiding place for Taíno indigenous people and runaway slaves.

A stay in Viñales inspires visitors to get back to nature – hiking and horseback riding are major pursuits here. Or you can take a scenic drive through the lovely surrounding countryside. Cayo Jutía is another option; its beach is a popular place for locals and makes a brilliant complement to a valley visit.

The natural treasures of this area are legendary and varied. The karst mogotes covered in vegetation are a wild sight which contrasts picturesquely with the green tobacco fields and quaint wooden houses. Plus, the nice beach at Cayo Jutía is within easy reach.

When hunger strikes, there are a number of good private restaurants, called “paladares” here, complemented by Don Tomás, a cozy state restaurant, looking adorable thanks to its recent facelift.

See more about Vinales

We recommend:

Hotel Los Jazmines  3  from US$74

Day 6. Heading Southeast - Viñales - Cienfuegos (approx. 426 km)

A longer drive is scheduled for today – the time has come to put some miles on the odometer. Unfortunately you’ll have to backtrack the way you came since the alternative is over provincial roads in questionable condition and is not recommended. So it’s back via the A4, towards Havana before you pick up the Autopista Nacional (A1) - also designated as just "Nacional"- heading east.

You’ll soon enter Matanzas province, a rather flat area, characterized by sugarcane fields and mills.

Continue until you pass Aguada de Pasajeros. For long time this was the exit to Cienfuegos. Recently a new highway has been constructed (beyond Aguada de Pasajeros) and probably will not be shown in the majority of road-maps, though the exit is clearly marked on the spot. It is a well-paved, fast and direct way to Cienfuegos.

See more about Cienfuegos

We recommend:

Hotel La Unión  4  from US$141

Day 6. Heading Southeast - Viñales - Cienfuegos (approx. 426 km)

Day 7. Cienfuegos

Cienfuegos is a beautiful, clean, and spacious city on the southern coast. It was founded in the early 19th century – later than other main cities in Cuba – by French immigrants from France and Louisiana (USA). This gives the city a different flavor and architectural appearance.

In 2005, Cienfuegos’ historic center was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Cienfuegos is known as ‘the Pearl of the South’ for its hospitable populace, abundance of neoclassical architecture and elegant seafront boulevard. A visit to the (Moorish) Palacio de Valle, built in the early 20th century, is an absolute must – sip a beer or a cocktail on the roof terrace at sunset, overlooking the bay and Punta Gorda (Bay district). Stroll through Parque José Martí or take a ride to the 18th century at the Castillo de Jagua, built to protect against the attacks from the Pirates of the Caribbean.

There are plenty of private restaurants where you can dine (Punta Gorda), and the nautical Club Cienfuegos is always good for a drink.

See more about Cienfuegos

We recommend:

Hotel La Unión  4  from US$141

Day 7. Cienfuegos

Day 8. Cienfuegos - Trinidad (approx. 81 km)

The distance from Cienfuegos to Trinidad is under 100 kilometers and a fun, scenic ride. Follow the signs to the Jardin Botanico (N12), leaving enough time to visit the garden. The orchard was founded more than a century ago and is one of Cuba’s biggest botanical gardens.

Keep going south on the N12, leading to the Caribbean coast. This is a little explored stretch of gorgeous coast and you’ll be tempted to stop at one of the pretty pocket beaches before reaching Trinidad. Whereas Cienfuegos is the most neoclassic city in Cuba, Trinidad is the most colonial.

This is the halfway point on your coast-to coast-trip; scheduling a break for one or two days here is highly recommended. This will give you the chance to explore charming Trinidad and recharge after a few days on the road. The colonial heritage of Trinidad is complemented by the surrounding landscape: to the north is the Sierra del Escambray – Cuba’s second-largest mountain range - and to the south is a dazzling beach (Playa Ancón), on the Caribbean Sea.

Stay overnight at the home of a Cuban family, this type of accommodation is called Casa Particular. A stay here will definitely increase the sociocultural content of your journey.

See more about Trinidad

We recommend:

Hotel Casa Colonial 1830  3  from US$40

Hotel Casa Particular Barmarin  3  from US$61

Day 8. Cienfuegos - Trinidad (approx. 81 km)

Day 9. Trinidad

Today is a day to pursue whatever floats your boat. It may be hard to choose since there is so much to see and do here, including nothing: a day at beautiful Ancón Beach might be just your speed after putting so many travel miles behind you. Or book an excursion and set sail from Trinidad´s Marina to navigate the Caribbean Sea.

Walking the streets of Trinidad feels like a voyage back in time. Here, the narrow cobble-stoned streets are lined with colonial baroque architecture and cute pastel-painted houses are capped by red tiled roofs. You can book a private city tour, in that case the guide - meanwhile chatting and explaining - walks with you, or you explore Trinidad by yourself.

Impressive nature is just around the corner. The Sierra Escambray Mountains are located at less than 20km from Trinidad. After transport to the mountain village Topes de Collantes, a Jeep or Russian 4 x 4 truck takes you into the mountains, before descending on foot along and under splashing waterfalls and hiking over beautiful mountain trails.

Since tomorrow’s itinerary suggestion is to head north to Santa Clara, you may want to use today to visit Sancti Spíritus (only 80 km away, on the N12). Alternatively, you can stay closer to “home” and visit Trinidad’s historical center and nearby Valle de los Ingenios (Sugar Mill Valley) – together these were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1998. The sugarcane valley is what provided Trinidad its colonial wealth. Here you’ll enjoy the awesome landscape, especially impressive from the top of the Ingenio Manaca Iznaga tower.

See more about Trinidad

We recommend:

Hotel Casa Colonial 1830  3  from US$40

Hotel Casa Particular Barmarin  3  from US$61

Excursion Private City Tour Trinidad

Excursion Mountain Safari to Guanayara Park - hiking tour

Excursion Seafari to Cayo Blanco from Trinidad

Day 9. Trinidad

Day 10. Trinidad - Santa Clara - Camagüey (approx. 114 + 272 = 386km)

Today’s “safari” calls for an early departure. Leaving Trinidad behind, the road goes due north via the N152. It’s a beautiful road, but the map doesn’t always indicate the mountain passes that have to be traversed on the first leg. This part of the drive requires some concentration and time. Enjoy it, because after Santa Clara, there are many kilometers on a rather monotonous part of the Autopista.

Compared to Cienfuegos and Trinidad, not to mention Havana, Santa Clara feels modern. It’s a pleasant city, a model for Cuba´s urban life after the revolution.
First, head to the monument and mausoleum of Ernesto Che Guevara (closed on Mondays). Since the return of the remains of Che and 6 of his fellow combatants from Bolivia in 1997, the place has been a pilgrimage for Cubans of all ages. It’s worth noting that admission is free and that it hasn’t been commercialized with souvenir stalls and the like. This alone makes it worth a visit.

See more about Santa Clara

After Santa Clara, you’ll get on the Autopista again; you’ll have to cover some ground to get to the eastern part of the island. Cuba´s only expressway turns into a highway at Taguasco, becoming the Carretera Central (CC). The landscape of this agricultural area is rather flat and boring; the small villages and communities en route offer some variety. Camagüey is known for its livestock and after crossing into this province, you’ll see ranches surrounded by immense meadows dotted with grazing cattle.

Camagüey is another of Cuba’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites (2008). This provincial capital is a very old city, formerly called Santa Maria del Puerto Del Príncipe and later renamed Camagüey (after the original indigenous habitants). The city is rich in history and culture, but still a bit off-the-beaten-track for mainstream tourists. It is clearly a transit city from west to east or vice versa, where the average overnight stays is one night. This could be the reason that Camagüey has maintained authenticity, giving visitors a taste of Cuban daily life.

See more about Camaguey City

We recommend:

Hotel Camino de Hierro  3  from US$108

Hotel La Avellaneda  3  from US$108

Day 10. Trinidad - Santa Clara - Camagüey (approx. 114 + 272 = 386km)

Day 11. Camagüey - Santiago de Cuba (approx. 334km)

Today you’ll cover consider distance to make it to southeastern Cuba. The highway leads east to Las Tunas and from there, turns south towards Bayamo, the capital of Granma province. Here, the Sierra Maestra mountain range begins (and ends); the scenery is majestic and there are several natural parks. The massif covers the southern provinces of Granma and Santiago de Cuba.

“Bienvenido a Santiago de Cuba” - “Welcome to Santiago de Cuba”, the island’s most Caribbean city. The Sierra Maestra mountains in the background and the bayside location give Santiago de Cuba a unique photogenic feel, accentuated by the winding, hilly streets. This is an historical and musical city, where dancing is held in high regard and is a favorite pastime. “Santiagueros” are real partygoers and if carnival had yet to be invented, these folks would have taken out the patent.

Hands down, Santiago’s flagship hotel is Hotel Casa Granda, the nearby Hotel Encanto San Basilio or Hotel islazul Rex are recommended as well.

See more about Santiago de Cuba City

We recommend:

Hotel Casa Granda  4  from US$101

Hotel San Basilio  4  from US$108

Hotel Islazul Rex  3  from US$62

Day 11. Camagüey - Santiago de Cuba (approx. 334km)

Day 12. Santiago de Cuba

There are plenty of landmarks in Cuba’s second city. Parque Céspedes, for example, is a gathering place for Santiagueros young and old. Day or night, people are playing chess, making music or sitting on a bench watching passersby. It’s a great starting point for visiting many attractions, including: the Diego Velázquez Museum, the oldest house still standing in Cuba. On the corner is the municipal building where the first speech after the victory of the revolution was held. The Cathedral of Santiago de Cuba is opposite the municipal building.

Within walking distance of Parque Céspedes you’ll find the Carnival Museum and Bacardí Museum, the latter displaying the private collection of the famous Bacardí family.
Last but not least are historical and cultural sites such as the Moncada Barracks, Morro Castle, La Maison, Casa de la Trova, and Calle Heredia.

See more about Santiago de Cuba City

We recommend:

Hotel Casa Granda  4  from US$101

Hotel San Basilio  4  from US$108

Hotel Islazul Rex  3  from US$62

Day 12. Santiago de Cuba

From Day 13. Options

Our travel ideas are sometimes designed as open-ended adventures. This way, you can tailor the final day(s) of your classic drive trip to fit your personal interests. Here are some ideas of great ways to wrap up your trip.

- Drop off your rental car in Santiago de Cuba, enjoy a wonderful day exploring Cuba’s second city and take a domestic flight back to Havana (4 x per week).
- Don’t drop off the car. Instead, drive the seriously scenic route to Baracoa, the first city founded by the Spaniards. Baracoa is that special Cuban blend of mountain, sea, beach, and history. There are flights from Baracoa to Havana (4 x per week); you can leave the car in Baracoa.
- Kicking back on the beach after covering so much ground is divine. You can drive right to the Guardalavaca resort (178km; via Holguín), with a good choice of beach hotels in all categories. You can also drop your car at Guardalavaca and take a few lazy days on the beach. There are daily flights from Holguín to Havana.
- If you don’t feel like driving, but relish the idea of a few days on the beach in Guardalavaca, you can contract a private transfer at any hour for about USD 200.00 per 2 passengers.
- For more ideas, please contact our travel consultants.

See more about Santiago de Cuba City

From Day 13. Options
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