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Imagine spending your holiday exploring Cuba, getting to know the less visited areas of the island on one of our customised Cuba holidays where you really get an opportunity to know the country, its culture and the joyous friendly nature of the Cuban people.
Our dedicated Cuba team regularly travels throughout the island, getting to know the people and places that make our tailormade itineraries so special. We also organise exclusive activities in selected and unusual locations.
Established in 1996, Caledonia has been organising memorable trips ever since, specialising in customised Cuba holidays for individuals, couples, families and groups. We organise and promote culturally aware travel, and strongly believe that our trips provide a unique and authentic way to experience a slice of local life.
If you are looking for a holiday with a difference and want to explore Cuba, let us organise your trip of a lifetime for you!
Cuba’s capital is undoubtedly one of the most impressive cities in the Caribbean, and has a population of around 2m. Highlights are its restored colonial architecture; the famous seafront promenade El Malecon; El Prado avenue running from the sea to Parque Central; historic Plaza Vieja with a wide range of bars and restaurants; the National Gallery of Modern Art and many other museums and galleries; a myriad of small picturesque streets around the cathedral and Plaza San Francisco. Colourful artisan markets selling handcrafts, jewellery and clothes and second-hand bookstalls are dotted around the city, and there are plenty of live music and dance venues to cater for all tastes. Just 30 minutes to the east of the city are the impressive Playas del Este beaches for safe swimming and snorkelling. It is a lively, cosmopolitan place to learn Spanish, dance or music and over recent years has become one of the most visited cities in Latin America.
Las Terrazas was created in the late 1960s as an eco-community in a reforestation programme located in the El Rosario biosphere reserve just 90 minutes drive from Havana. It is recognised by UNESCO and is a popular place to stop off en route to and from Vinales. Las Terrazas has a resident artists community, with open door studios for visiting and buying art works; numerous nature and hiking trails; the San Juan river for rock pool swimming; local horseriding. Guided hiking is also very popular along well marked trails, or to visit the ruins of La Isabelica coffee plantation. For the more adventurous at heart, try the only zip ride in Cuba over the treetop canopy with views over the lake.
Vinales is a small rural town in Pinar del Rio province west of Havana. It lies at the heart of the main tobacco growing area of Cuba and is incredibly picturesque, with rich tobacco fields and high mogotes, the characteristic limestone cliffs soaring out of the red earthen fields. It is one of the most popular places to visit in Cuba, for one day tours from Havana or for longer stays. Guided hiking around the tobacco fields and mogotes can be organised all year round as a half day tour. Other half day options include a guided visit to the Santo Tomas cave, one of the largest in Cuba with impressive stalagmites and stalactites and crystal formations. This tour starts at the national speleological centre for Cuba and a knowledgeable guide will show you around the various galleries and cave areas. You can also take a guided trip into the nearby town of Pinar del Rio including a visit to the Francisco Donatien cigar factory, or a one day tour to Cayo Levisa, a small island just off the mainland reached by a 20 minute boat journey with a pristine white beach, warm shallow water for swimming and snorkelling. See more about Cayo Levisa below.
Maria La Gorda
Maria la Gorda lies just 5 hours drive west driving out of Havana and is one of the most westerly points of the mainland. It is widely considered to be one of the top diving locations in Latin America and the professional scuba diving centre at the resort hotel organises dives all year round. There are many different types of sites to visit, including beautiful coral reefs, vertical walls and sunken ships and an amazing range of fish and other underwater creatures can be seen, even on shallow dives. There is only one hotel, located right on the long white sanded beach, with wooden walkways linking the main hotel building with the bar and restaurant to the numerous low level cabins scattered around the hotel grounds. It is a quiet and picturesque place to spend a couple of nights even if you are not keen on scuba diving and snorkelling but there is no local community or nearby towns and villages.
Cayo Levisa is the perfect place to relax and chill out and is relatively easy to reach from both Havana and Pinar del Rio. There is no public transport to the jetty where the boat leaves twice a day for this peaceful island, so you will have to have a private transfer. The cost of the transfer also includes return boat tickets (a 25 minute crossing). There is only one small 3* hotel on this idyllic Caribbean island, providing picturesque accommodation in rustic air-conditioned bungalows with balconies overlooking the beach in a peaceful, calm environment – no jet skis, no discos and no traffic! The beach stretches for 3km on either side of the hotel, with turquoise green water as far as the eye can see. The sea is shallow and safe for swimming and the hotel organises an optional half day snorkelling trip each day on a small locally operated boat.
Santa Clara lies in the geographical centre of the island and is possibly best known for its associations with Che Guevara, as it was he who liberated the city in the final throes of the Cuban Revolution in late 1958. The Che mausoleum and the Tren Blindado are two major monuments commemorating this memory and are well worth visiting. Santa Clara has one of the top Cuban universities, a lively cultural scene and a large central square, called Parque Vidal. It is the fifth largest city in Cuba by population (approx. 250,000) and lies on the main highway running through the island.
This small coastal town is best known as the location for the foiled US invasion of Cuba in 1961 to try and overthrow Fidel Castro. It is on the eastern stretch of the Bay of Pigs and the museum telling the story of the invasion is well worth a visit. Playa Giron is very close to the marshlands area of the Cienaga de Zapata, famous for its migrating birds, and is also one of Cubas top scuba diving and snorkelling areas, with steep walls not far offshore and plenty of interesting dive sites.
Playa Larga is on the Bay of Pigs and is a small, quiet coastal town with a long sandy beach, shallow warm water for swimming and glorious sunsets. There are many homestay options here, and it is ideally located for scuba diving and snorkelling and anyone interested in visiting the nearby Bay of Pigs museum just 25 minutes along the coast. Great stopping off point for a night or two between Havana and Trinidad, and ideal for families with young children who want a safe and quiet beach.
This city is often overlooked by first time visitors to Cuba in preference to nearby Trinidad, but it is definitely worth making the effort to come here. Cienfuegos is known as the ‘Perla del Sur’ and was established by French settlers in 1819. Recognised in 2005 for world heritage status by UNESCO, the many neoclassical mansions and aristocratic villas on the eclectic Punta Gorda peninsula, coupled with the 18th century Jagua fortress and spacious avenues and main square (home to one of the oldest and grandest theatres in Cuba, Teatro Tomas Tierry) make this a fascinating small city. Cienfuegos is a major seagoing city too, and the port is home to upmarket yachts sailing to the nearby islands. A large botanical garden lies just outside the city and there are many tours to impressive nearby natural locations such as El Nicho, where you can swim in a waterfall pool.
This jewel in the colonial crown of Cuba is a photographers paradise. Brightly coloured colonial style houses with large windows and wooden doors, cobbled streets, a plethora of markets and live music venues, Trinidad is now one of the top places to visit in Cuba. It has had UNESCO world heritage status since 1988 along with the adjacent Sugar Mill Valley, and is ideally located just 15 minutes from Playa Ancon, a beautiful beach with snorkelling options, and 20 minutes from the Topes de Collantes national park with numerous trails for hiking at all levels in beautiful natural surroundings. The main square, Plaza Mayor, is surrounded by colonial buildings and small bars and restaurants and the open air Casa de la Musica is a wonderful cultural experience.
Camaguey is Cuba’s third largest city (after Havana and Santiago de Cuba) and is famed for its strong arts scene, including the famous Camaguey Ballet. Baroque style churches, colonial style architecture and small streets with a wide range of friendly bars and cafes make this city a favourite for many people. Founded in 1514, Camaguey is one of the oldest cities in Cuba, and in 2008 it gained UNESCO world heritage status for its old city centre.
One of the oldest cities in Cuba, established in 1513, Bayamo is a laid back, relaxed place to visit. Famous for being the home of Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, the first plantation owner in Cuba to liberate his slaves and set in motion the 1868 War of Independence, his former mansion is now a fascinating city museum and is highly recommended. So too is a stroll along the pedestrianised central avenue in the city, with contemporary street sculpture and a range of shops and cafes. Bayamo is where you will see more people on horse drawn carriages or on horseback than any other Cuban city, as this is the most popular form of transport. It is a good place to stay en route to or from the Turquino national park or the western coastline of Granma province.
Located right at the main gateway into the Turquino National Park, Santo Domingo is a small community with one rural hotel and several houses. It lies on the bank of the River Yara which, depending on the time of year you visit, provides a refreshing dip. This is the place to be if you want to get away from it all and have a peaceful break and the views over the mountain tops and tropical vegetation are truly impressive. Most people come to Santo Domingo to hike up Pico Turquino, the highest peak in Cuba, or to visit La Comandancia, Fidels secret hideout in the mountains in the 1950s, now a national monument and museum. There is no public transport available so private transfers or self drive are the only means of getting here.
Santiago de Cuba
This is the second largest city in Cuba after Havana, and the undisputed home of traditional Cuban music and dance. Due to its unique mix of African-Haitian-Cuban influences, Santiago has a very strong cultural identity and this is evident in the myriad of live music and performance venues as well as the numerous dance and music companies based here. Santiago is where Cuban Son originated, the precursor to salsa. Santiago has recently celebrated its 500th anniversary and the historic city centre is an eclectic mix of colonial style architecture and grand civic buildings. The seafront promenade area of La Alameda has recently been renovated and the central avenue of Enramadas is now completely pedestrianised, with a wide range of shops, the crafts market, bars and restaurants from one end to the other. The people of Santiago are known as the most hospitable in all Cuba, and the city is dubbed ‘the cradle of the Revolution’due to its unswerving support of Fidel Castro. This is where we can arrange private dance or music performances with top local artistes, in a range of locations in or near the city.
This small coastal town was only accessible by boat until the mid 1960s, when a two lane road was built over the ‘La Farola’ mountain pass route. Baracoa was originally mentioned by Christopher Colombus in 1492, and was founded 20 years later, and its history and prehistoric remains are well presented in the city museum. Baracoa has a micro climate which provides the characteristic lush tropical vegetation and wonderful fresh produce you will find in the numerous cocoa plantations and coconut groves. Many people come to Baracoa to hike up El Yunque, the 545m high flat topped mountain just inland from the city, and to visit the world heritage site of the Alexander Humboldt national park, home to many endemic flora and fauna and animals. There are options for cycling around the rural roads, cocoa plantations and rugged coastline and also an impressive boat trip through the Yumuri river gorge where you can swim in the cool fresh water. There are other isolated local beaches, rivers and forest areas to explore, and a lively live music scene in the city centre too.
Pinares de Mayari
Requiring either a jeep or a sturdy vehicle to reach Pinares de Mayari, this journey is not for the feint hearted. Isolated and very rural, the only hotel in this location is perfect for those looking for a peaceful break. The hotel grounds have a number of birds (including peacocks) and small animals roaming around, to the delight of young children, and the Swiss chalet style wooden cabins provide comfortable, rustic accommodation. No air conditioning needed here as it lies 600m above sea level and the air is cool and clear. There is a decent sized open air swimming pool with loungers and a covered gazebo close to the central restaurant area, and a man-made lake is within a short walking distance. A number of local nature and eco-trails, including the Sendero la Sabina, a small onsite botanical garden and nearby waterfall hikes provide a range of outdoors activities for people of all ages and levels of fitness.
Holguin is Cuba’s fourth largest city and is dubbed the ‘city of parks’ due to its elegant municipal park areas. Holguin is just 45 minutes from some of eastern Cuba’s most spectacular beaches and all inclusive resort hotels known collectively as Guardalavaca and there is an international airport with regular flights from Canada and Europe for charter holidaymakers. The city lies just 2 hours from Santiago de Cuba and is a popular stopping off point for people visiting Oriente province. Close to Holguin is the pretty fishing village of Gibara, not yet on the popular tourist trail in Cuba but getting better known every year due to its annual Festival del Cine Pobre in late April.
We recommend travelling from November – April as this period is the coolest and least humid. The average temperature in Havana in December – January will be a very pleasant 20c or so, although it may drop to 15c at night. In Santiago and the Oriente province you can expect daytime temperatures of around 25c and a bit less at night.
Of course, it is perfectly feasible to go to Cuba at other times of the year, but you just need to be aware that it may be quite a bit hotter and more humid, with heavy tropical rainfall (the sort of warm rain that dries off in 20 minutes when the sun comes back out) common in July/August. From September to mid October it is hurricane season in the Caribbean and the weather can be stormy and unsettled, but not always.
Your decision on when to travel will depend on what you plan to do when you get to Cuba.
Although we do not book flights for you, we can certainly advise you on the best routes and scheduled flights for your trip.
Most visitors to Cuba require a visa to enter the country known as a tourist card – please check with us if you require a tourist visa. We can provide this at a cost of £25 (£20 + £5 admin fee) plus postage. The visa is valid for 30 days from the date you enter Cuba. Please note that your passport should be valid for at least 6 months from date of entry to Cuba. If you are travelling direct from USA, you will have to apply direct to a US authorised travel company for your visa. Ask us for more information about this procedure.
Please ensure you arrange comprehensive travel insurance for your trip including repatriation costs. This is a legal requirement imposed by the Cuban government and you may be asked to present a copy of your policy at immigration when you enter Cuba.
Public Holidays in Cuba
It’s good to be aware of the following public holidays in Cuba as there can often be special events on these days which may also mean that transport and local services are not scheduled or open as usual.1 January – New Year
1 May – International Worker’s Day
25 July – Anniversary of the Revolution Holiday
26 July – Anniversary of the Revolution
27 July – Anniversary of the Revolution Holiday
10 October – Independence Day
25 December – Christmas
Festivals / Special Events in Cuba
Festival de la Trova Longina, Santa Clara
Feria Internacional del Libro de La Habana, Havana, February (mid/late Feb–early March)
Festival del Habano (Cuban Cigar Festival), Havana and Pinar del Río (late Feb)
Festival de la Trova, Santiago de Cuba
Memorial Guillermo Barreto Festival, Havana
Festival Internacional del Cine Pobre, Gibara (mid-April)
FIDANZ, Santiago de Cuba. Every 2 years in April (last took place in April 2017)
International Urban Dance Festival: “Old Havana, City in Motion” Havana (mid-April).
Bienal de La Habana, Havana (April–May)
International Workers’ Day, Havana and across Cuba, 1st May
Romerías de Mayo San Isidoro de Holguín, Holguin, (May 2-8)
Feria Internacional Cubadisco, Havana (13-21 May 2017)
Trinidad Carnival – Fiestas San Juaneras, Trinidad, (end of June)
Festival de Boleros, Havana and Santiago de Cuba (21-25 June)
Camagüey Carnival (mid June to late June).
International Corhabana Choir Festival, Havana, (June – July)
Festival del Caribe, Santiago de Cuba
Carnaval, Santiago de Cuba
Carnaval de La Habana, Havana, (late Jul- early Aug)
Festival Internacional de Rap (Simposio de Hip Hop Cubano Havana), Havana (late August)
Festival Internacional de Ballet de la Habana Havana (late Oct to early Nov)
Festival de Matamoros Son, Santiago de Cuba
Havana International Theatre Festival, Havana, (Oct-Nov)
Festival de la Habana de Música Contemporánea, Havana (late Nov)
Baila en Cuba – Encuentro Mundial de Bailadores y Academias de Baile de Casino y Salsa, Havana (late Nov)
International Choir Festival, Santiago de Cuba. Every two years in late Nov (last took place in Nov 2015)
Festival Internacional del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano, Havana (early Dec)
Havana International Jazz Festival, Havana
Parrandas de Remedios Remedios, Villa Clara