DAY 1 | Feb. 14. Depart for Havana, Cuba
Upon arrival, proceed directly to the Hotel Nacional for a welcome drink in the hotel’s hall of fame. Enjoy lunch at La Barraca Restaurant located outside on the grounds of the Hotel Nacional. We will take the group to an efficient place to change your money into CUC’s before driving along the Malecon to the Parque Central, ideally located in Old Havana. Enjoy cocktails and hors d’oeuvres on the hotel rooftop followed by a welcome dinner at the hotel. (L,D)
DAY 2 | Feb. 15. Havana
Meet in the Antilles Room for an introductory tour briefing and an overview of the trip.
This morning, begin exploring Havana by foot. Be ready to depart the lobby at 10 a.m. wearing comfortable shoes. Parts of the walking today will be over uneven cobblestones. As we walk through Old Havana, we will stop to admire the city’s many squares, its cathedral and talk with local residents, many of whom have returned to their homes that have been renovated by Habaguanex, the semi-private entity that manages the restoration of Old Havana. Stop at the scale-model of Old Havana which serves as an excellent introduction to the lay-out of the city. It is color-coded by age with the historic buildings painted in crimson, pre-Revolution buildings in yellow and the post-revolutionary buildings in ivory.
End the morning at the Plaza Vieja, a stunningly beautiful old square. Although the square was in a sad state of repair for many years, that decay is being reversed by the caring restoration of Habana Vieja.
Lunch at Café Taberna located on Plaza Vieja.
After lunch, enjoy a city orientation tour by bus (and parts by foot) led by architectural historian, Ayleen Robaina. Explore the City Garden of El Vedado which was planned in 1859-60 but not developed until early in the twentieth-century according to modern planning principles that introduced “green” in the city for the first time. Drive along La Rampa which climbs past the offices of Cubana. Stop at the steps to the University of Havana and climb up to view the campus. Close by are 1950s hotels like the former Havana Hilton designed by California architectural firm Welton Becket & Associates in 1958 as well as Art Déco and Streamline modern style apartments influenced by South Beach in Miami. The tour will include an inside visit to the wonderful Riviera Hotel which, when it opened in 1958, was considered a marvel of modern design. It was owned at the time by Meyer Lansky. Parts of the public areas of the hotel have recently been restored to recapture its 1950s ambience. Admire Havana’s tall office buildings such as the award winning 1953 Odontological Building and the 1958 Ministry of Public Health, both designed by Antonio Quintana Simonetti. See the 1956 FOCSA building designed by Ernesto Gomez Sampera and Martin Dominguez.
Return to the hotel late afternoon. Before dinner, enjoy a rum-based evening cocktail on the hotel rooftop (new wing). This is an ideal time to try a mojito, Cuba’s national cocktail which is a delicious mixture of rum, soda water and mint.
Dinner this evening at El Ajibe. There is usually a performance at the Gran Teatro on Sunday evening, and as soon as the schedule is announced, we will let you know. (B,L,D)
DAY 3 | Feb. 16. Havana
Meet in the Antilles room for a discussion on US/Cuban Relations to be led by Professor Raul Rodriguez from the University of Havana. Dr. Rodriguez has written extensively on US-Cuban Relations including an article last year written for the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, Working Papers Series 1-10, Harvard University 2010, entitled “Canada, the United States and Cuba: Triangular Relations as seen in Cuban Diplomatic History 1959-1962.”
After the discussion, depart the hotel and walk to the Presidential Palace, a huge ornate building topped by a dome and now known as the home of the Revolutionary Museum. The history of Cuban political development is illustrated here from the slave uprisings to joint missions with the ex-Soviet Union. Although undergoing renovation, the Revolutionary Museum is still open for visits.
A few minutes away by foot is the Granma Memorial which preserves the vessel that brought Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and other revolutionaries from Mexico to Cuba in 1956. The Granma, a surprisingly large launch, embodies the powerful, unstoppable spirit of the revolutionary movement.
Private lunch at the home and studio of artist Jose Fuster who has turned his neighborhood north of Havana into one dynamic and enormous piece of mosaic art. Fuster is an artist who is dedicated to his creations which consist of a vast array of artwork from ceramics evoking the nation’s African roots, as represented in the Santeria religion, to whimsical paintings drawn from ordinary life in Cuba: commuters crowded inside creaky, smoke-belching buses, the ubiquitous dominoes games in backyards and street corners. Drive though his neighborhood known as Jaimanitas before arriving at his studio and home for lunch.
Walk through the Colon Cemetery to learn more about this beautiful cemetery which represents for many Cuban families the long and painful legacy of family separation. Though Colon is one of 20 cemeteries in the capital, it handles 80 percent of the city’s burials each year. The grounds are so saturated that the state has taken over the giant vaults of people whose families left after the revolution. Legal sales of some of the more than 53,000 burial properties at Colon have ranged from $600 to $1,700 but it is well known that there are many illegal sales of plots. Meet with Cubans as you explore this cemetery which offers an incredible display of architectural styles in the various tombs that are located here. Stop at the tomb of Amelia Goyri, the most visited tomb at the cemetery, because, it is said, she grants miracles.
Return to the hotel for a brief rest. This evening, enjoy dinner at Café Laurent – one of Havana’s best and newest private restaurants known as “paladars.” Owners Lorenzo Enrique Nieto and José Figueroa as well as chef, Dayron Aviles Alfonso will be there to greet the group. (B,L,D)
DAY 4 | Feb. 17. Havana
After breakfast this morning, enjoy a discussion in the Antilles room (located on the mezzanine level of the hotel) led by Ricardo Torres Perez on The Changing Faces of Cuba’s Economic Structure. Mr. Torres is a macro-economist and professor at the Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy at the University of Havana. He has been a visiting professor at the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies and is currently writing his dissertation on the impact of structural change on economic growth in Cuba.
Late last year, Fidel Castro was quoted as saying to an American journalist that the Cuban economic model, “doesn’t even work for us anymore.” Monumental changes since then have been announced including, but by no means limited to, the laying off of more than half a million state workers, the privatization of small businesses, a new credit law offering certain Cubans bank loans, and the devaluation of the peso to bring it on par with the dollar. As part of our round-table, we will discuss whether these moves signify genuine change or not.
Drive to the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes: Arte Cubano (Cuban Collection) which will be led by curator Lucila Fernandez. The museum’s origins date back to 1842 when the San Alejandro Art Academy started its collection, forming the nucleus of the museum founded in 1913. It expanded greatly after Castro took over in 1959, notably with works from the private collections of Julio Lobo and Oscar Cintas.
Enjoy lunch on the rooftop restaurant of the Santa Isabel Hotel. This hotel has one small elevator and the rooftop is located on the fourth floor.
After lunch, attend a briefing at the US Interest Section.
Visit Ernest Hemingway’s home, which has been lovingly preserved by the Cuban government. The house is just as Hemingway left it, with the books on the tables and many of his favorite photographs on display. Although one can only admire the home from the outside, it is a fascinating visit.
Dinner at leisure this evening. (B,L)
DAY 5 | Feb. 18. Havana
This morning watch a rehearsal of the Danza Contemporánea de Cuba. This extraordinary dance group melds the techniques of classical ballet and American modern dance with the rippling spines and head rolls of traditional or folkloric, Afro-Cuban dance; the complex rhythms of Cuban rumba; and the twirling hands and syncopation of Spanish flamenco.
Continue on to Vivero Alamar, a state-owned research garden to learn more about urban gardening in Havana. The effects of the Special Period and consequent food shortages have had the greatest repercussions in the city of Havana. With approximately 2.5 million people, Havana has about one fifth of Cuba’s total population. Havana’s urban agriculture has taken on many forms, ranging from private gardens (huertos privados) to state-owned research gardens (organicponicos) and this morning there will be a chance to learn more about how these gardens, located near urban areas, grow and distribute their freshly-grown produce. Meet with manager Miguel Angelo Salcines and other staff at the garden.
After lunch at a local restaurant visit a cigar factory where we will have a chance to meet with staff.
End the day at the art and craft center located at the former Almacenes de San José on the Port of Havana. This harbor-side warehouse was built in 1885 and is considered the oldest depository in Old Havana. The sober and imposing façade that looks out onto the city conceals the building’s steel structure, which has endured the passing of time and is perfectly preserved. After a painstaking restoration process of almost three years, the huge edifice is now the Centro Cultural Antiguos Almacenes San José. Conceived as a cultural center with art exhibitions, theatrical performances and recreational activities for children, it has also become a place for local crafts people to display their wares.
Depart the hotel for dinner at La Guarida. This well-known restaurant served as the setting for the main apartment in the film Fresa y Chocolate. Please note that there is no elevator in this building and the restaurant is located on the third floor of the building. (B,L,D)
DAY 6 | Feb. 19. Trinidad
This morning, drive to Cienfuegos, stopping en route at the Bay of Pigs Museum and continue by foot to the actual landing point where, in 1962, about 1,300 heavily armed CIA-trained Cuban exiles came ashore fully equipped to provoke a counterrevolution to topple the Castro regime.
Continue on to Cienfuegos and enjoy lunch at Casa Verde.
Before continuing to Trinidad, enjoy a performance by the Cienfuegos Choir.
Drive to Trinidad and check into Las Cuevas hotel.
Dinner at the hotel this evening. (B,L,D)
DAY 7 | Feb. 20. Trinidad
Begin exploring Trinidad, the fourth of the seven cities founded by Diego de Velasquez in 1514 as a base for expeditions into the “New World.” Today it is maintained as a living museum, just as the Spaniards left it in its period of greatest opulence. It is the crown jewel of Cuba’s colonial cities. The whole city with its fine palaces, cobbled streets and tiled roofs, is a national monument and since 1988 a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Trinidad’s prosperity rested on the sugar industry, which was introduced in the 18th century. As a result of the wealth that the sugar industry brought, Trinidad’s cultural life flourished.
Continue the day at the Plaza Mayor which is in the center of town and elegantly adorned with glazed earthenware urns. Around the plaza is the Museo Romantico, the Museo Arqueologia and the cathedral, Iglesia Parroquial de la Santisima Trinidad which was built between 1817 and 1892. Explore the cathedral, which is the largest church in Cuba, and is renowned for its acoustics. On the left at the front of the church is a crucifix of the brown-skinned Christ of Veracruz who is the patron of Trinidad. The altars are made of precious woods such as cedar, acacia, caoba and grenadine.
After a short walk, explore the Palacio Cantero, a former mansion with breathtaking views over the square from the upper floor balconies. Stop in at the home and studio of artist Carlos Mata; his wife, Barbara Calzada and daughter, Amaya Mata who are also artists.
Visit Trinidad’s Library where the group will learn more about the important role of libraries in Cuba. Meeting with staff at the library, the discussion will focus on the subject of intellectual freedom, a passionately debated issue. Participants will learn more about how books are selected and what censorship occurs. The discussion will also focus on how Havana exerts control in more rural areas. We recommend that you bring a copy of your favorite novel to donate to the museum.
Enjoy lunch at one of Trinidad’s wonderful paladars.
Continue on to visit to the Santa Clara Valley to see the remains of sugar plantations and spectacular landscape.
Enjoy a farewell dinner at a local restaurant. (B,L,D)
DAY 8 | Feb. 21. Depart for Miami
Return flight directly from Cienfuegos to Miami. (B)