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'Self-drive: Cuba Explorer'

What makes this trip special?

Cuba's unforgettable capital

Cuba's unforgettable capital

Havana

There is no other capital city in the world quite like Havana. Impossible to sum up in only a few words its combination of magificently restored buildings, crumbling apartment blocks, classic cars, lively atmosphere and sense of defiance will stay with you for a long time.

Memories of Che

Memories of Che

Santa Clara

The 'armoured train' in Santa Clara, still showing the bullet holes, that Che and his men derailed days before winning the revolution.  Just outside the town is Che's mausoleum and a small museum in his honour.

Colourful and lively colonial town

Colourful and lively colonial town

Trinidad

The magnificent colonial town of Trinidad has recently been restored under UNESCO World Heritage, with brighly painted facades, cobbled streets, bands playing and horse drawn carts the town feels very much alive.

Taste the real Cuba

Taste the real Cuba

Camaguey

An elegant colonial town, Camaguey is out of reach for most visitors. The town buzzes with life, whilst the cobbled squares and colonial buildings make it an attractive place to stop over.

The Cuban way of life

The Cuban way of life

Bayamo

A typical laid-back Cuban town with pretty pastel coloured buildings and a fascinating history. On Sundays the locals gather to play chess and dominoes in the main square.

Caribbean vibes and fascinating history mixed with rum and salsa

Caribbean vibes and fascinating history mixed with rum and salsa

Santiago de Cuba

A city of contrasts and one that regularly divides opinions, Santiago is a colourful mix of culture, history, arts and scenery.

Day-by-day itinerary for 'Self-drive: Cuba Explorer'

DAY 1

Havana

You arrive at Havana airport, where you will be met and transferred to your hotel in Old Havana for 2 nights.

DAY 2

A free day to explore Havana. There is a huge amount to see, so to get you started we have listed some of the sights on page 9

DAY 3

Santa Clara

You pick up your hire car and set off for Santa Clara, where you spend tonight. You visit the Tren Blindado (hijacked train that marked the end of the revolution . The tren blindado cannot be missed and is easy to find but the small museum section is closed on Monday). Santa Clara’s town main square is lively and worth a visit - the Habana Libre Hotel on one corner still retains the bullet holes from that final revolutionary battle!

DAY 4

Remedios

Move towards the coast today for a day exploring exquisitely pristine Remedios before maybe moving on to spend the rest of the day on the beach at Las Brujas. Overnight in Santa Clara.

DAY 5

Trinidad

You leave Santa Clara today firstly for the magnificent colonial highlights of Cienfuegos and then on to Trinidad, where you are steeped in more colonial heritage but here in contrast to Cienfuegos’ French influenced boulevards the streets are narrow and cobbled with the ballast of the slave ships. You opt to stay either at the beach or in town for 3 nights.

DAY 6

Cuba’s second mountain range, the Sierra del Escambray serves as a backdrop to the cities of Trinidad and Cienfuegos. You could take the car today to explore the countryside and rural communities but be aware the roads are not fantastic and you may well prefer to spend the day in Trinidad and at Playa Ancón (Trinidad’s best beach).

DAY 7

Trinidad’s wealth due to the sugar trade was short-lived and the town became a backwater, which is why much of the town retains its original character, cobbled streets and architecture. Savour the visual delights of the town, learn or practise salsa at the excellent and popular casa de la trova - local music venue or just enjoy the beach and the ambience of 21st century Cuban town in a colonial setting. Alternatively opt for a morning excursion to Topes de Collantes (bookable locally) and end the day at the beach.

DAY 8

Camagüey

Today you drive to Camagüey, a colonial town with winding streets, designed to confuse marauding pirates, and lovely colonial squares. Camagüey is famous for its tinajones, large clay water pots redolent of Byzantine times. The town is situated in an efficiently managed agricultural area. An evening stroll can reveal hidden colonial gems.

DAY 9

Bayamo

A stroll around Camagüey today to enjoy this busy town with its colonial squares then on to Bayamo today, a pretty, friendly town with a lively revolutionary history originally founded by Velasquez in the seventeenth century. Bayamo is a three hour drive from Camagüey. Bayamo played an important part in the Wars of Independence at the end of the 19th century.

DAY 10

Santiago de Cuba

You might opt to drive to Santiago via El Cobre, Cuba’s most important shrine, which featured in the Pope’s 2012 visit to Cuba. Plenty to see in Santiago. It is a colourful, bustling city with a rich revolutionary history, has been a hotbed of revolution over the centuries, so it was not surprising that Castro chose it to launch his first attack on Batista. One of the original seven Spanish settlements, the city was Cuba’s capital for a short time in the 16th century until it was decided Havana was better for trade. Santiago’s port was originally important due to the gold and then copper found locally, but the reserves were small so Santiago sank into the background again until in the late eighteenth century, when French settlers from Haiti realised that the area was ideally suited to sugar and coffee plantations and the city became prosperous once more.

DAY 11

It is worth walking or driving out to the once wealthy suburb, Reparto Vista Alegre, to see how grandly the settlers lived. There has been many a rivalry between the two major Cuban cities, especially as the origins of the citizens are very different: in Havana the population mostly descended from Spanish settlers whereas the Santiagueros were mainly descended from Cuban creoles, who were not happy to be ruled by Spain. Many of the country’s heroes heralded from Eastern Cuba, e.g. Antonio Maceo and Carlos Manuel de Céspedes. Santiago’s history of Jamaican, Haitian and slave labour combined with Spanish influences has resulted in a rich musical heritage. In Santiago music and rhythm are never far away. Eastern Cuba is considered a birthplace of the rhythms and composition of son, a unifying element to much Cuban music. The Casa de la Trova in Santiago is considered the best in the country–even Paul McCartney has paid homage there.

DAY 12

It is worth driving out to the imposing fortress of El Morro, and perhaps up to Gran Piedra if you have the time.

DAY 13

Havana

This afternoon you drop off your hire car at Santiago’s airport. There will be a drop off charge to pay. Take the mid afternoon flight back to Havana, where you are met and transferred to the historic Hotel Nacional.

DAY 14

A free day based at your 1950s hotel on the Malecón with garden setting and pool. We can pre-book a tour for you at an additional cost, see page 9 for ideas.

DAY 15

Free time today until you are collected from your hotel and driven to the airport for your return flight to the UK.

Guide prices for 'Self-drive: Cuba Explorer'

*where possible

options based on all year low season mid season high season peak season other season
Mid-range hotels, 'medium' rental car 2 people sharing
Upper range hotels*, 'standard plus' rental car 2 people sharing
Upper range hotels*, 'medium' rental car 2 people sharing
Prices are per person and include:
  • Cuba Visa
  • airport transfers
  • all transport
  • all accommodation
  • hire car from Day 4 to Day 12 incl,
  • meals where specified, B = breakfast, L=lunch, D= dinner
  • Guide book and map
Prices do not include:
  • international flights
  • travel insurance
  • items of a personal nature such as drinks, tips, laundry, etc
  • car-hire: taxi from hotel to car-hire pick-up point
  • car-hire: additional driver insurance
  • car-hire: refundable deposit
  • national park entrance fees
  • car-hire: petrol

Customer reviews for 'Self-drive: Cuba Explorer'

Recent reviews are shown here from holidays based on this initial design. In each case the itinerary may have been modified (a little or a lot) to suit the individual traveller.

Average customer rating 97%

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The two hotels at Chivirico and Jibacoa were the best but we liked our stay in Havana. A couple of nights in Vinales might have been a good addition also.

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Mountains and Country

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The people/rum + cigars, weather and architecture

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We enjoyed the contrasting settings of urban and rural /garden hotels. Havana is obviously highlight and Melia Santiago a relax point

Seasonal information for 'Self-drive: Cuba Explorer'

Along this route in January

Day Location Max °C Monthly rainfall

Typical weather for January

rainchart

Max °C figures are the average daily maximum temperatures for the month. Rainfall is the average precipitation for the month.

Hotels for 'Self-drive: Cuba Explorer'

Days 1 - 2

Tejadillo

The Hotel Tejadillo is composed of three restored colonial mansions dating from the 18th and 19th centuries. The location is ideal, just around the corner from Cathedral Square in the heart of Old Havana. Most of the hotel’s 32 rooms are arranged around a small, pleasant and tranquil courtyard adorned with a central fountain and pierced dramatically by a tall, tropical tree.

Hotel facilities include a bar, lifts, TV room, restaurant and tour booking desk.

Tejadillo
Days 3 - 4

Hotel Villa la Granjita, Santa Clara

East of Havana

This hotel consists of a series of traditional and modern concrete, air-conditioned cabins scattered around a natural palm and pine planted park. There are 80 rooms, an excellent swimming pool, bar and a large adequate restaurant. The hotel is perfectly adequate for a one night stopover in Santa Clara. Hotel facilities include a TV room, Internet (on hotel pc), car rental service, medical services and a nightclub.

Hotel Villa la Granjita, Santa Clara
Days 5 - 7

Costa Sur Hotel

Small all-inclusive hotel with swimming pool and plenty of daily activities to choose from, Costa Sur was refurbished in 2008 and is situated a ten minute drive from Trinidad at Playa Aguilar. Rooms are a mixture of two storey hotel, garden and bungalow rooms, some of which open straight onto a small private beach (good for snorkelling) set apart from the rest of the hotel and the main beach.

Costa Sur Hotel
Day 8

Gran Hotel, Camaguey

Camaguey

This 19th century building became a hotel in the 1930s and retains much of its original charm with its old fashioned reception and lift. The reception area is furnished in colonial style and there are four bars. The rooms vary in size but all are comfortable.There is a pleasant top floor restaurant with windows opening wide across the town's rooftops, where breakfast is served. The Piano bar serves excellent cocktails and hosts  frequent salsa sessions. The pool area hosts a synchronised swimming display on occasions, which is fun to watch. There is a good atmosphere at this hotel, the staff are very courteous and it is one of our favourite hotels in the area but it can get very noisy in this part of the city so bring ear plugs.

Gran Hotel, Camaguey
Day 9

Royalton

Bayamo

Built in the 1940s and refurbished in the last few years the 2* Hotel Royalton has 33 rooms and  is a comfortable choice for your stay in Bayamo. The hotel is centrally situated facing the attractive Parque Cespedes.  There is a small restaurant, mini bar, nightclub, car rental facilities and parking.

Royalton
Days 10 - 12

Hotel Las Americas, Santiago

This is a no nonsense simple hotel with pleasant service and nice pool. It is situated opposite the more luxurious Melia Santiago on the Avenida las Americas and is very convenient for drivers as there is a supervised carpark.

Hotel Las Americas, Santiago
Days 13 - 14

Hotel Nacional, Havana

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Average rating 4.1 (48 ratings)

The historic Hotel Nacional, a short taxi ride away from Old Havana and overlooking Havana's seafront Malecón, has enjoyed the patronage of many distinguished guests in its time, Winston Churchill and Franklyn Roosevelt to name but two. There is oodles of atmosphere and the hotel is always lively. It has a lovely terrace and gardens overlooking the Malecón - a great place for that evening mojito. This is a hotel to watch people and it is a meeting place for Cubans doing business with non-Cubans. The rooms are standard business hotel type rooms but the majestic lobby and regal gardens add a certain frisson.

Hotel Nacional, Havana