Day 1 | Feb. 11. Havana
Depart the US.
Upon arrival, proceed to the Nacional for lunch. The Hotel Nacional is an iconic hotel opened in 1930 when Cuba was a prime travel destination for Americans. In 1955 Meyer Lansky managed to persuade Batista to give him a piece of the property and that same year Pan Am’s Intercontinental Hotels Corporation took over management of the hotel. Lansky planned to take a wing of the 10-story hotel and create luxury suites for high stakes players. Batista endorsed Lansky’s idea even though there were objections from American expatriates like Ernest Hemingway. Under Lansky’s impetus, a wing of the grand entrance hall was refurbished to include a bar, a restaurant, a showroom and a luxurious casino. It was operated by Lansky and his brother Jake, with Wilbur Clark as the front man.
Meet for an introductory tour briefing and an overview of the trip before enjoying a private cocktail reception and welcome dinner.
Day 2 | Feb. 12. Havana
This morning, begin exploring Havana by foot. 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.
Enjoy a fabulous lunch at La Moneda Cubana located on Plaza de la Cathedral. The view from the dining room of old Havana is magnificent.
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. 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.
Early evening meeting with Norma Guillard, who is featured in the documentary film La Maestra. View the documentary La Maestra (running time 33 minutes) which tells the personal stories of the youngest women literacy workers who went to the mountains and valleys across the island to teach – and found themselves deeply transformed in the process. Dr. Guillard was one of those women. Dr. Guillard is also an adjunct professor at the University of Havana teaching largely on issues of psychology and gender. She is a past president of the Cuban Association of Psychologists and an Advisor to UNESCO and UNDP on the issues of gender in the prevention of HIV/AIDS.
Dinner this evening at the elegant Café del Oriente where a talented jazz trio will perform for the group.
Day 3 | Feb. 13. Havana
Meet 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.”
Continue on to 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.
From the shop, drive in the classic cars to a private lunch at the home and studio of artist Jose Fuster, who has turned his neighborhood into one enormous piece of mosaic art. Fuster is dedicated to his creations, 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.
After the discussion, depart the hotel and visit NostalgiCar, a classic car mechanic shop. Here you will meet with the owner of the shop who will talk about his business. From the shop, drive in the classic cars back to the hotel.
This evening, enjoy dinner at La Atelier – one of Havana’s best and newest private restaurants known as “paladars.”
Day 4 | Feb. 14. Havana
This morning visit a cigar factory where we will have a chance to meet with staff and learn more about the tobacco industry in Cuba.
Continue 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. Lunch will be served at Le Figaro Restaurant located in the community project of Arte Corte. After lunch meet with project director, Gilberto Valladares. Supported by Eusebio Leal from the City Historians’ office, Mr. Valladares has been actively restoring the neighborhood with cooperation from the city. He has opened a school for barbers in the area, provides free hair-cuts certain days of the week and has just opened a children’s park with a barber theme. Learn more about the project and Mr. Valladares efforts to bring together barbers, hairdressers, models, artists and historians who seek to preserve and disseminate the history of their community. The group will have the opportunity to walk through the area and visit a ration store. These ration stores are found in every neighborhood of Cuba and provide, each month, basic food to all Cubans at a subsidized price.
This afternoon, 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 and our local guide here will provide some interesting insight into Hemingway’s life in Cuba.
Return to the hotel to participate in a discussion 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.
In 2012 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.
Dinner at leisure this evening.
Day 5 | Feb. 15. Trinidad/Cienfuegos
This morning, drive to Cienfuegos, stopping en route at the Bay of Pigs Museum which is dedicated to the Bay of Pigs invasion. In April 1961, during the Cold War, approximately 1,400 Cuban exiles invaded the Bay of Pigs – Playa Girón – with the aim of overthrowing Cuban leader Fidel Castro. This attack failed with most of the forces being taken prisoner and around one hundred killed. The Bay of Pigs invasion was particularly humiliating for the US government under President John F Kennedy, who supported the exiles in their attempted coup by land and by air as well as training them. Today, Museo Playa Girón is a small museum near the exiles’ landing site and battle sites. It houses a collection of photographs and other historic pieces relating to the invasion, while outside there lie the remains of an American aircraft as well as other military vehicles.
Enjoy lunch in a private home.
Continue on to Cienfuegos and enjoy an orientation tour of the city which was founded by French settlers in 1819. Its historic center was declared a World Cultural Heritage site in 2005 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). UNESCO recognized it as an outstanding early example of implementation in urban planning in Latin America in the 19th century.
Late afternoon drive to the Museo Historico Provincial to attend a performance of Cantores de Cienfuegos, a versatile, 23-member choral group. Under the direction of Honey Moreira Abreu, who became their conductor originally as part of Cuba’s required community service and loved it so much that she stayed on. The choir has an eclectic repertoire, singing everything from Renaissance to Japanese fisherman’s folk music.
Dinner at the hotel this evening.
Day 6 | Feb. 16. Trinidad/Cienfuegos
Today enjoy a full day excursion to 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.
Begin 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 at the studio of Yami Martínez whose works of art center around coffee makers. The coffee makers are portrayed as women. Coffee makers shown to be leaning forward demonstrate a shy woman, the back leaning ones are for confident ones, a side leaning one represents a crazy woman whereas the straight or upright coffee maker is symbolic of a balanced woman. The pots come in all sizes and are made from metal, papier-mâché and clay.
Walk to the home of Julio and Rosa Munoz, one of Trinidad’s most dynamic and charismatic personalities. Muñoz comes from a line of prominent Spanish immigrants and their spacious, ochre-colored family casa sits on a brilliantly sunny corner of Trinidad, adjoining the maternity clinic where Julio was born. The house has been in his family for generations, though they lost their other properties and businesses after the revolution. Today, Julio, by training an electronic engineer, is a renowned photographer and a proud Worker’s Union representative. Their beautiful home is a traditional Trinidad house and we will get a chance to chat with the family.
Enjoy lunch at one of Trinidad’s wonderful paladars – Sol Ananda – where the owner will greet the group and talk about running a small, private business in Cuba.
After lunch drive east of Trinidad to an area known as Valle de los Ingenios which used to be the center of the sugar industry. Trinidad’s immense wealth was earned not in the town itself but in this verdant valley where sugar was grown and processed. Most of the mills were destroyed during the War of Independence and the Spanish-Cuban-American War when production shifted to Matanzas. Today this area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Enjoy a dinner at a wonderful local restaurant.
Day 7 | Feb. 17. Havana
This morning, drive back to Havana.
Enjoy lunch at the home of curator Milagros Borges Gomez. Enjoy her lovely home and a chance to admire the art the works of many different Cuban artists including Kunta, Ruben Rodriguez, Salvador Corratge and Orestes Hernandez.
Continue on to visit 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.
After lunch visit 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 look 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 your farewell 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.
Day 8 | Feb. 18.
Return to Havana for your return flight.