Cuba with Galapagos Travel

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The Mural of Prehistory in Cuba's Parque Nacional Viñales. Photos by Nili Olay

Cuba, just an hour’s flight from Miami yet so foreign! When my husband, Jerry, and I received an email from Mark Grantham, owner of Galapagos Travel (Aptos, CA; 800/969-9014), announcing a trip to Cuba, we were interested.

We had gone on a number of successful trips with Galapagos Travel: to the Galápagos (June ’04, pg. 66), Antarctica (Jan.’08, pg. 72), Madagascar (Nov.’10, pg, 6) and Chile and Easter Island (May ’11, pg. 65). We trust that their trips will be well planned and sensitive to the environment and culture of each area. 

Decorations in Fuster’s neighborhood in Havana.

Although the US does not have a diplomatic relationship with Cuba and there is an embargo in place, travel for seven days is allowed from Miami with an authorized tour company that has the proper permits and if the aim of the trip is educational or humanitarian.

Galapagos Travel teamed up with Tony Ransola of Bringing Hope, Inc. (Miami, FL; 305/868-9597, e-mail tonyransola@yahoo.com), for our Nov. 1-9, 2012, trip. Our mission consisted of each of us taking about 20 pounds of over-the-counter pharmaceuticals, such as cough medicines, which we donated to the St. Vincent de Paul in Havana. 

The cost was $3,850 per person, double occupancy (single supplement, $465), including a night in Miami and all meals in Cuba except a lunch and a dinner. We were driven in a bus that comfortably held the 23 of us and our guide, Yaritza Barroso. In Viñales Valley we also had local guides.

Highlights of our 2-night stay in Viñales Valley, about two hours west of Havana, included visits to a tobacco farm and a cigar factory, cave exploration, lunch under Las Murallas (a huge mural by Leovigildo González Morillo) in Parque Nacional Viñales and a visit to Buena Vista Park, which houses an old coffee plantation. We stayed five nights at Hotel La Ermita Las Terrazas, located on a cliff with magnificent views.

Our hotel in Havana, the Parque Central, was wonderfully located across the street from Central Park, next to the Prado and within walking distance of colonial Havana. It is a modern hotel with an open roof restaurant and a pool and gym on the top (eighth) floor. Just to remind us that we were in Cuba, only one of the hotel’s three elevators was working at any one time. 

The taxis in front of the hotel were a wonderful assortment of 1950s sedans and convertibles.  

Taxis in front of Hotel Parque Central in Cuba.

Colonial Havana, less than one mile square, is best toured on foot. The architecture is fascinating, with restored and crumbling buildings often next to each other. The four main squares, each very interesting, are a short walk from each other. 

On Calle Mercaderes, just off Plaza Vieja is the Chocolate Museum, where you can sip hot chocolate for 55 cents and eat a chocolate tidbit for 15 cents. Don’t miss the Floridita Bar, where Hemingway spent many hours.

Farther afield, our bus took us to Hemingway’s House, now a museum, to Fort San Felipe del Morro, to Hotel Nacional and to artist José Fuster’s house and studio. The latter has decorated both his house and the entire neighborhood in Gaudí-style mosaics.

We spend a day in Cienfuegos, 3½ hours from Havana. Highlights were lunch at the Moorish-looking Palacio del Valle on Cienfuegos Bay, the Opera House and a private choral concert by the Cantores de Cienfuegos. They sang an arrangement of “Shenandoah” that was magnificent.

NILI OLAY

New York, NY 

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.
The Mural of Prehistory in Cuba's Parque Nacional Viñales. Photos by Nili Olay

Cuba, just an hour’s flight from Miami yet so foreign! When my husband, Jerry, and I received an email from Mark Grantham, owner of Galapagos Travel (Aptos, CA; 800/969-9014), announcing a trip to Cuba, we were interested.

We had gone on a number of successful trips with Galapagos Travel: to the Galápagos (June ’04, pg. 66), Antarctica (Jan.’08, pg. 72), Madagascar (Nov.’10, pg, 6) and Chile and Easter Island (May ’11, pg. 65). We trust that their trips will be well planned and sensitive to the environment and culture of each area. 

Decorations in Fuster’s neighborhood in Havana.

Although the US does not have a diplomatic relationship with Cuba and there is an embargo in place, travel for seven days is allowed from Miami with an authorized tour company that has the proper permits and if the aim of the trip is educational or humanitarian.

Galapagos Travel teamed up with Tony Ransola of Bringing Hope, Inc. (Miami, FL; 305/868-9597, e-mail tonyransola@yahoo.com), for our Nov. 1-9, 2012, trip. Our mission consisted of each of us taking about 20 pounds of over-the-counter pharmaceuticals, such as cough medicines, which we donated to the St. Vincent de Paul in Havana. 

The cost was $3,850 per person, double occupancy (single supplement, $465), including a night in Miami and all meals in Cuba except a lunch and a dinner. We were driven in a bus that comfortably held the 23 of us and our guide, Yaritza Barroso. In Viñales Valley we also had local guides.

Highlights of our 2-night stay in Viñales Valley, about two hours west of Havana, included visits to a tobacco farm and a cigar factory, cave exploration, lunch under Las Murallas (a huge mural by Leovigildo González Morillo) in Parque Nacional Viñales and a visit to Buena Vista Park, which houses an old coffee plantation. We stayed five nights at Hotel La Ermita Las Terrazas, located on a cliff with magnificent views.

Our hotel in Havana, the Parque Central, was wonderfully located across the street from Central Park, next to the Prado and within walking distance of colonial Havana. It is a modern hotel with an open roof restaurant and a pool and gym on the top (eighth) floor. Just to remind us that we were in Cuba, only one of the hotel’s three elevators was working at any one time. 

The taxis in front of the hotel were a wonderful assortment of 1950s sedans and convertibles.  

Taxis in front of Hotel Parque Central in Cuba.

Colonial Havana, less than one mile square, is best toured on foot. The architecture is fascinating, with restored and crumbling buildings often next to each other. The four main squares, each very interesting, are a short walk from each other. 

On Calle Mercaderes, just off Plaza Vieja is the Chocolate Museum, where you can sip hot chocolate for 55 cents and eat a chocolate tidbit for 15 cents. Don’t miss the Floridita Bar, where Hemingway spent many hours.

Farther afield, our bus took us to Hemingway’s House, now a museum, to Fort San Felipe del Morro, to Hotel Nacional and to artist José Fuster’s house and studio. The latter has decorated both his house and the entire neighborhood in Gaudí-style mosaics.

We spend a day in Cienfuegos, 3½ hours from Havana. Highlights were lunch at the Moorish-looking Palacio del Valle on Cienfuegos Bay, the Opera House and a private choral concert by the Cantores de Cienfuegos. They sang an arrangement of “Shenandoah” that was magnificent.

NILI OLAY

New York, NY