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Do the Dive Drive II

Also Recommended for: Scuba Diving , Hiking/Trekking , Beaches, Cigars & Tobacco, Driving, People

This Travel Idea is again inspired by the theme scuba diving, but actually it is directed to anyone with a broad interest.
Cuba begins with Havana, this is inevitable. A stroll through the old town, with eternal pounding heart, interspersed with a drive by Classic Cars over her beautiful promenade and avenues. The island boasts some of the best diving spots in the Caribbean. Their particular locations combine perfectly with natural areas and less crowded, but equally fascinating towns and stimulate the design of a lovely route. Divers are generally nature lovers, in a broad sense and not only worshipers of the underwater world. For non-divers, the "above-water world" is equally attractive with golden beaches, the classic swaying palms and with access to the same beautiful turquoise water, although less profound.

It really comes down to show you the uniqueness and originality of Cuba. Immersing yourself in its inviting waters, its beautiful nature. Visiting authentic places, revealing Cuba’s history and socio - cultural life and to complete it with a stay at a beach hotel of high international standards. We have it all!

Itinerary

Day 1. Meeting & Greeting Havana

You can of course pick up your rented car immediately upon arrival at Havana’s airport and drive yourself to the city. A prearranged transfer however, can be a welcome option. First of all because you hardly need the car in Havana, so you don´t pay unnecessary rental charges only to park your car. In Havana you walk a lot and it is easy to take a cab (whether or not an Old-timer), relatively inexpensive as well. Furthermore, it is just really pleasant to step in a pre-booked taxi or transfer bus after arrival, without queuing up first for a currency exchange (you can do this later in your hotel) and without having to navigate immediately in a new city.

See more about transfers

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 Telégrafo  4  from US$189

Day 1. Meeting & Greeting Havana

Day 2. Young Old-Havana - walking route

Havana is hip and historic, hot and heartwarming. She has been sung, painted, studied, described and filmed. Centuries ago exotic music already echoed from the Spanish taverns at almost every street corner. Chic European aristocrats strolled along the promenade Alameda de Paula, ship-owners and traders in sugar and tobacco negotiated in the Lonja del Comercio. Colorful people sold exotic homemade goodies in the streets and bohemian artists provided the city with an artistic identity. This is how the city got its current profile.

Its narrow streets and wide avenues have carried and led numerous pairs of shoes and continue to do so. Here is a walking suggestion for which Hotel Telegrafo was taken as a starting point, but the walk may as well start from the hotels Parque Central, Sevilla, Plaza, Inglaterra, Saratoga or Park View. In fact, you can start from any location in Old Havana, only a matter of adjusting your compass.

When departing Hotel Telegrafo, turn left and walk along the stylish Paseo de Marti (Prado) towards the water, where the Avenida del Puerto flows into the boulevard Malecon. Walk up to the castle of San Salvador de la Punta, located across the military fortress Castillo de los Tres Reyes del Morro on the other side of the bay. The legend says that in the sixteenth century, the two forts were connected by a heavy iron chain running through the bay water, in order to prevent access from plundering pirates.

Turn right (when standing with your face towards the fort) and walk along the coast over the Avenida del Puerto (or Avenida Carlos Manuel de Céspedes) to Castillo de la Real Fuerza, one of the first military fortifications by the Spaniards in Latin America. In the tower you can find a replica of the Giraldilla, the symbol of the city. Walking in the direction of Plaza de Armas, stands behind the Ceiba (for many Cubans a sacred tree) a temple-like building. Here, Havana was founded in 1519. In the 18th century, “El Templete" was built to commemorate this historic event. You’re heading now to the Plaza de Armas, one of Old Havana´s emblematic squares. The Plaza is flanked by Palacio del Segundo Cabo and Palacio de los Capitanes Generales, the latter is now the Municipal Museum.

The street Mercaderes connects four plazas (squares). If you turn right - where Mercaderes crosses with Obispo - you walk to the Plaza de la Catedral. A large quadrangle square characterized by the Cathedral and surrounded by elegant mansions from the early eighteenth century, once habited by the bourgeoisie.

Turn left, walk along the Plaza de San Francisco de Asis - with its basilica and terraces - to Plaza Vieja. Turning left, in the street Teniente Rey (Brasil), you can see a fairly recent excavation of the ancient water supply for the city.

Plaza Vieja actually deserves another name. She is so beautiful, so colorful and graceful with beautiful mansions built between the 18th and 19th century, the name "Old Square" hurts her honor.
On the corner (Mercaderes y Brasil), stands the building Gómez Vila - with a particular eclectic architecture, enriched with Art Nouveau details - constructions that make Havana so special. The Cámara Oscura is on the top floor of this building. Through a periscope you can view the city.

Then it´s probably heads or tails. On your left at one corner (Mercaderes/Muralla), is the coffee roasting El Escorial; freshly roasted and grounded coffee served inside the café or outside on the terrace, in numerous variants. At the other corner (Ignacio/Muralla) is Factoria Plaza Vieja, a beer brewery with a huge lively terrace, for homebrewed beer (blond, amber or dark).

You can walk back to your hotel, that depends a bit on it’s the location and on your left energy, the heat and the number of beers. You can also walk to the Plaza San Francisco with numerous taxis, waiting for a ride.

See more about Havana

We recommend:

Hotel Telégrafo  4  from US$189

Day 2. Young Old-Havana - walking route

Day 3. Classy Classic Car Ride

For over half a century, the street-scape of Cuba is strongly colored by the still active Old-timers or Classic Cars. Where in other countries you will find them passively in a car museum, in Cuba Chevrolets and Buicks still whiz along the promenade of Havana.
Book one; a (private) Classic Car for a few hours, with or without a guide. The fare for two people is relatively low and even less if your travel company consists of four passengers, sharing the spacious and comfortable classic car. After yesterday’s walk through Havana, it´s a nice addition to view the capital’s glory during a ride, and is there a more stylish way to do this than with a classic car?

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.

It is recommendable to pick up your rental car in the afternoon (during office hours), so you can leave early the next morning, without any further delay.

See more about Havana

We recommend:

Hotel Telégrafo  4  from US$189

Excursion Cabaret Parisien - Cover & Cocktail

Excursion Private City Tour in Vintage Car - Morning Drive

Morris Garage MG5

Day 3. Classy Classic Car Ride

Day 4. Havana - Viñales (approx. 179km)

After breakfast, leave the city by motorway (A4) in the direction of Pinar del Río (A4). Probably you will see the exit to the international airport earlier, you can temporarily follow the sign until Pinar del Rio will be indicated (don’t continue to the airport). 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 and even farmers driving their oxen and plows.

Viñales is a small, cozy and cute town with wooden houses with porches, carrying rocking chairs from where the inhabitants enjoy the beautiful view of the capped mountains (mogotes) of the Sierra de los Órganos. It is an agricultural area where fruit, vegetables, coffee and tobacco are cultivated according to traditional methods.
In 1999 UNESCO declared the Viñales Valley a World Heritage Site for its special karst formations and for 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.

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

See more about Vinales

We recommend:

Hotel Los Jazmines  3  from US$74

Day 4. Havana - Viñales (approx. 179km)

Day 5. Viñales - Maria la Gorda (approx. 167km)

The indicated distance of 167 km can be treacherous. The ride may seem shorter than it takes, over the provincial dual carriageway (111) to the south. Enjoy it; it´s a lovely, scenery road passing typical rural villages like Guanes - Isabel Rubio - Sandino and El Cayuco.

Daily life here has a kind of raw romance. The houses look like those of a child´s drawing, with a wooden porch on the front, for the inevitable rocking chairs. The yard is tidy and usually decorated with plants and flowers, and often you see laundry drying. If children, dressed in their uniforms, are not on their way to school (even in the smallest hamlet you see the white bust with the striking head of Jose Marti - Cuba´s national hero and apostle of independence - what indicates the presence of a school), they are playing or helping their parents. Dogs appear out of nowhere in the yard, usually friendly barking.

Immediately you will notice when having reached the Guanahacabibes peninsula (the most western part of Cuba). There is hardly any sign of houses and nature is richer and lush, cattle grazes in the verge and it seems as if the grass instantly keeps growing.

In 1987 the area was declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO.

The nature reserve is inhabited by 172 species of birds belonging to 42 families. Experts believe that four of the seven species of sea turtles on the planet owe their survival to the Guanahacabibes Peninsula. Once the area was a haven for the original inhabitants (Guanahatabeyes), resisting the Spanish conquistadors. In addition to a rich flora and fauna, archaeological sites can be found here as well.

Maria La Gorda´s hotel rooms consists of cabañas - the older constructed out of wood and situated closer to the beach. Modern and stylish rooms are housed in different buildings – with two floors – and spread over a vast open terrain. The newer wooden cabañas are located in the forest and accessible by small wooden bridges; they are both atmospheric and tasteful and harmonize with ecotourism and outdoors activities.

See more about Maria La Gorda

We recommend:

Hotel Maria la Gorda  3  from US$59

Day 5. Viñales - Maria la Gorda (approx. 167km)

Day 6. and Day 7. Maria la Gorda - Dive or Laze

It may happen that you wake up and find stray cows grazing next to your room. Local color, corresponding to the destination. Maria la Gorda floats on local color and is especially cozy. "Chubby Mary” sounds already cozy, but it is mainly the informal and blithely atmosphere among an international public, with a shared passion for diving and for the rich serenity of Mother Nature, what gives this destination its special air.

During the day one dives, in the afternoon people lounge on the beach and in the evening guests take a beer in the blue white wooden beach bar, with or without live music, all easy going.

Divers qualify the rich seabed of María la Gorda high in the top ten dive sites in Latin America. The water is crystal clear, with temperatures fluctuating between 24 and 30 degrees Celsius. The underwater landscapes are unique in the Caribbean and house mysterious shipwrecks and a wide variety of corals and caves. There are about 32 dive sites, accessible by boat ranging from 5 minutes to an hour sailing. Notable places are Salón de María (María’s Hall) and El Almirante (the Admiral). The first is a cave with three entrances, “furnished” with sponges and coral formations, visited by many tropical fish. The second is a wall covered with sponge and sea fans, where you tarpon, angelfish, grunts and groupers can be found.

The International Diving Center Maria La Gorda focuses primarily on divers of all levels.

Packages of 5, 6, 8, 10, 12, 15 or 20 dives can be added and booked together with your accommodation.

Scuba diving packages include:
- Tank
- Weights
- Boat
- Diving instructor

Packages do not include:
- Diving equipment

Click here to contact our sales team for a quote and/or booking of the package together with your hotel-reservation.

Non - divers can snorkel, fish or hike (organized excursions) or simply laze on this divine beach under a palm tree. Grab the car and make an afternoon ride along the beautiful coastal road (with a unique, almost abstract sea landscape) to Cabo San Antonio. This is actually the most western tip of Cuba, where a lighthouse such as the one from Cabo San Antonio (Roncali), is inseparable. You can also dive in the waters surrounding Cabo San Antonio, although the underwater world here offers particularly extraordinary big-game fishing conditions. Villa Cabo San Antonio is the sister hotel of Maria La Gorda, also with rustic wooden cabins.

See more about Maria La Gorda

We recommend:

Hotel Maria la Gorda  3  from US$59

Day 6. and Day 7. Maria la Gorda - Dive or Laze

Day 8. Maria la Gorda - Las Terrazas (approx. 248km)

If you want to stay another day in this exclusive nature (especially for those with more time available), please do so, as nature and leisure conditions of this earthly place are heavenly. However, we will go on writing a sequel towards the next nature miracle.

Back to the main road to Pinar del Rio, which becomes the N4 and passing Consolación del Sur – Los Palacios and San Cristóbal, when driving to Las Terrazas.

In 1968 the Cuban government launched a reforestation project on the terraced hills surrounding Las Terrazas. This created a community where today approximately 1,200 people are living and who largely maintain the independent community. It became an internationally recognized achievement. The design of the buildings in Las Terrazas is as far as possible in harmony with the natural environment - the beautiful Hotel Moka is a good example. In 1985, Las Terrazas and the surrounding Sierra del Rosario Nature Park were declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
Swimming in natural pools, bike trails, nature walks around the ruins of the 19th century coffee plantations and guided hiking trails are a number of activities in this area. Las Terrazas is favored with a wide variety of flora and fauna, including the Tocororo (the national bird of Cuba), the Zunzún (or hummingbird), and dozens of species of orchids. There is also an 800 meter long Canopy ("Zipline") tour. Furthermore, one can visit the open studios of local artists, lunch or dine in El Romero (one of the best vegetarian restaurants in Cuba) and visit the home of the popular vocalist Polo Montañez. After his tragic death in 2002, his house is redesigned as a museum.

Where the visitor in Maria la Gorda meets with the best the underwater world reveals, Las Terrazas shows an authentic socio - cultural profile in the midst of a boundless nature. If you want to learn more about the Cuban everyday society, this is the opportunity. Do it especially with a guide, even if you´re not a fan of organized tours, but this way you get to places you probably won’t find (or enter) yourself - as the studios of the artists - and this way you are able to add knowledge about specific Cuban themes to your luggage.

So ecotourism was already introduced in Las Terrazas long before it became an international understanding, but they also manage a progressive hotel policy. Firstly, there is Hotel Moka, unique, eccentric and serene.
Recently, a special accommodation concept was introduced. Guestrooms were annexed to (5) houses of local residents to accommodate international guests. Through the kitchen - where at dinner of lunchtime black beans are sizzling in the pressure cooker and bananas are fried in oil - you walk to your (separate) room, enriched with works by local artists. The guesthouses are functionally furnished and equipped with air conditioning, private bathroom with shower and toilet and TV. They are administrated by Hotel Moka and do not offer (yet) gastronomic services, but they do offer an exclusive look and let you integrate with Cuban family life.

Maybe Las Terrazas has the highest number of restaurants per average visitor. We already mentioned the outstanding vegetarian restaurant El Romero. For a country experience, go to La Casa del Campesino. Raquel cooks the most delicious black beans, one of the waiters sings incessantly folkloric songs, while serving plates. It is very clean and situated in a beautiful setting, where pheasants and king peacocks roam around, meanwhile you enjoy a great Cuban meal.

Besides the natural treasures, this place beams a kind of magic. It’s hard to describe whether this is due to the proud and independent people, their relationship to nature and genuineness. The perception is that everything is allowed and nothing is mandatory, but most of all you have the feeling that you’re not a tourist here, which is worldwide quite unique.

See more about Las Terrazas

We recommend:

Hotel Moka  4  from US$84

Day 8. Maria la Gorda - Las Terrazas (approx. 248km)

Day 9. Las Terrazas - Santa Clara - Remedios (approx. 347 + 47 = 394km)

If you still feel the need for a splendid espresso or cappuccino after breakfast, then walk to Maria (Café de Maria). For years she made coffee at home and served it her living room. The same tasty coffee is now served in the next-door coffee house.

The distance between Las Terrazas and Santa Clara is about 347 km. You will have to return to Havana, taking the A4, then skirt Havana’s periphery, staying on the highway (A1); Autopista Nacional, also designated as just "Nacional".

You’ll soon enter Matanzas province, a rather flat area, characterized by sugarcane fields and mills. The first part of the Autopista Nacional isn’t directly nominated for a beauty award, but the sensation might be in that many international drivers have been deeply impressed by the broad highway with relatively little traffic, feeling themselves the “King of the Road".

A visit to Santa Clara is unquestionable, especially for its contribution to the Cuban revolution. Santa Clara looks modern. It is a pleasant (university) city and state model for urban life in Cuba after the triumph of the revolution. Visit the monument and mausoleum of Ernesto Che Guevara (closed on Mondays). Since the return of the remains of Che and six of his fellow combatants from Bolivia in 1997, the place became a sort of pilgrimage for Cubans of all ages. Admission is free and the complex is not stuffed with souvenir stalls and other touristic services. The monument is considered a national memorial, accessible for an international audience and not a tourist attraction.

Go back to Santa Clara’s bypass (“circunvalacion”) and take the exit in northeasterly direction, also indicated as the direction to the Cayo´s; the three "keys" (Cayo Las Brujas, Cayo Ensenachos and Cayo Santa Maria), part of Jardines de Rey, which in turn belongs to a larger archipelago "Sabana - Camagüey". It is a beautiful country road, along peaceful villages colored by Cuban rural life. After about an hour´s drive you will reach Remedios; like Las Terrazas, again an authentic Cuban town, albeit with a more historical character.

Remedios is one of the oldest towns in Cuba, and today a beautiful, idyllic village with about 30,000 inhabitants. Examples of 17th century Spanish architecture are still present. In 1980, the center of the city was declared a National Historic Monument. Remedios is the smallest town in Cuba with two churches on the central square. Each year between 16 and 26 December, the quiet town converts into a real party-town during the festivities known as “Las Parrandas the Remedios", one of the oldest events in Cuba. During the rest of the year, the Museum of Parrandas displays photos, documents, and handmade objects that are associated with this unique tradition.

See more about Remedios

We recommend:

Hotel Mascotte  3  from US$50

Hotel Barcelona  3  from US$95

Day 9. Las Terrazas - Santa Clara - Remedios (approx. 347 + 47 = 394km)

Day 10. Remedios - Cayo Las Brujas (approx. 53 km)

You can take it easy this morning, today’s distance is limited and after having passed Caibarien, you will hit the pedraplén to the Cayo´s. A pedraplén is a kind of dyke-road, constructed of rocks and better resistant to erosion and inundation. It´s an incredible experience to drive here, surrounded by endless waters.

We suggest Cayo Las Brujas as destination, the name (and legend) match nice in a way with Maria la Gorda. The location Cayo Las Brujas is more concentrated on water sports like scuba diving and big game fishing, with facilities provided from the International Diving Centre. Day and night dives at different levels of the coral reefs are organized and the underwater world houses shipwrecks and caves.

Villa Las Brujas is a straightforward accommodation in an exclusive and natural environment. If you aim more comfort and a more extensive gastronomic offer, just drive on to Cayo Santa Maria, with plenty of attractive hotel offers. The most luxurious of the Key-trio is Cayo Ensenachos, sandwiched between Cayo Las Brujas and Cayo Santa Maria, with two private beaches.

We do recommend tough to drop-off the rental car here, you wouldn’t make much use of it anyhow. To return to Havana (or to Varadero or any other place) in order to board your international flight, we can arrange a private transfer at any departure-time you prefer, or book an economic transfer (called Seat-in-Bus) operating according a fixed schedule.

Domestic flights are available from the airport of Cayo Las Brujas to Havana. It is not recommendable, to book a domestic flight connected with your outbound flight, a technical or any other situation that may occur, could harm the connection of your international flight. If you want to arrange domestic flight, book a last hotel night in Havana (or Varadero ) for a carefree travel back home.

See more about transfers

See more about domestic flights

See more about Cayo Las Brujas

We recommend:

Hotel Villa Las Brujas  3  from US$73

Day 10. Remedios - Cayo Las Brujas (approx. 53 km)
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