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'Self-drive: Havana and Western Cuba'

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.

Spectacular landscapes, rural communities & a scattering of cigars

Spectacular landscapes, rural communities & a scattering of cigars

Pinar del Rio

A lazy rural feel encompasses this region. Visit rural villages, walk amongst family run tobacco farms and witness the sheer beauty of the 'mogotes'.

Rich colonial heritage

Rich colonial heritage

Cienfuegos

The magnificent colonial town of Cienfugos with its lively squares, elegant buildings and fascinating history is a pleasant place to stroll around and get to know the local life.

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.

White sand beaches and emerald green waters

White sand beaches and emerald green waters

Cayo Santa Maria

Accessed by a narrow causeway, the beaches of the Northern Cays offer guests the chance to get away from it all and relax away from mainstream tourism.

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.

Day-by-day itinerary for 'Self-drive: Havana and Western Cuba'

DAY 1

Havana

You are met on your arrival at Havana’s international airport and driven to your chosen hotel for a 3 night stay.

DAY 2
B

Two free days for you to explore Havana under your own steam. There’s lots to see and do in this colourful and intriguing city–see page 9 for ideas.

DAY 3
B

In Havana.

DAY 4
B

Pinar del Rio

Collect your hire car today and set off westwards. If you are starting from Old Havana your route would take you along the seafront on the Malecón and through the western suburbs, to join the start of the East-West highway linking Havana with the town of Pinar del Río (p12). You turn off the dual carriageway into the countryside, where winding roads take you through sleepy farmlands past tobacco ‘vegas’ growing some of the finest leaves in Cuba, into the Sierra de los Organos –a stunning limestone landscape. Here, stubby hills called mogotes rise sheer above a chequerboard of small fields laid out beneath flame trees, and homesteads awash with hibiscus and bougainvillea. Stay at your hotel in the area for 2 nights.

DAY 5
B

There are quite a few options for you today and the next. You’ll want to visit the small country town of Viñales, where you could pick up basic ingredients for a picnic, then perhaps drive among the hills, perhaps stopping at the nearby caves opened as attractions for visitors but generally just out and about exploring this part of Cuba. Beyond the hills, on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, a narrow stone causeway leads to the coral island of Cayo Jutias where there is a small restaurant that serves a delicious sea-food lunch. You could include that in your first day’s trip, or stop there next day en route (almost) to Soroa along the coast road. There’s also the Alejandro Robaina vega (plantation) to see, or the Cueva de los Portales–the rather spectacular cave where Ché set up his HQ during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.

DAY 6
B

Touring in Pinar del Rio. End your day at Soroa, which has an extensive orchidarium that you could visit when you arrive or the following morning. Stay the night near to Soroa.

DAY 7
B

Cienfuegos

From Soroa it is a pleasant few hours’ drive to the colonial port of Cienfuegos (p13), joining for a while the ‘Carretera Central’–the highway that runs from Havana across Cuba to the other end of the island. Cienfuegos stands beside a wide bay that leads to the Caribbean. It was founded by French settlers at the beginning of the nineteenth century and its historic centre retains an air of those times amid the busy streets that have sprung up since. You stay 2 nights in a small restored colonial mansion in Cienfuegos.

DAY 8
B

ome of your options today include taking a break from driving to explore Cienfuegos itself, perhaps with an afternoon at the beach at Playa Rancho Luna around the bay, or you could backtrack to the infamous Bay of Pigs where the US-backed invasion came to grief, or visit the Zapata peninsula which is excellent for bird life.

DAY 9
BD

Trinidad

Along the coast from Cienfuegos is the quaint colonial town of Trinidad, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You could head straight there on the main road, which runs by the sea, reaching Trinidad in an hour or so, or turn off through the mountains of the Sierra del Escambray, Cuba’s second mountain range, a journey that with stops for walks and a picnic could take much of the day. You’ll stay for 2 nights in Trinidad. You’ll want to spend some time in the town itself, both during the day to explore the streets and squares and visit a museum or two, and in the evening to hear some live music Cuban-style. You might flop at the beach on your second day, or explore part of the Sierra del Escambray.

DAY 10
BD

DAY 11
BD

Beach at Cayo Santa Maria

Across Cuba from the Caribbean to the Atlantic. It’s not very far (120 miles in all), and even if you take your time on the road, with plenty of stops to explore, you would plan to arrive in the late afternoon. Soon after leaving Trinidad you’ll see the turning for the Valle de los Ingenios, where you might stop to explore the pretty little village that stands beneath a derelict tower that was once part of a sugar estate (see p18). Onwards along country roads to Sancti Spiritus and Placetas, before you arrive at the delightfully amiable town of Remedios, one of our favourites. Stop here if you’ve time, before pressing on to the beach at Cayo Santa Maria. For the next 3 nights you stay at your hotel on the gorgeous Cayos de la Herradura, part of the Archipelago de Camagüey.

DAY 12
BD

At Cayo Santa Maria.

DAY 13
BD

At Cayo Santa Maria.

DAY 14
B

Havana via Santa Clara

This morning you loop back to Havana via Santa Clara (p13), which played an important part in the Revolution. Here you might visit Ché’s mausoleum and the museum dedicated to him, and stop at the wreckage of the Tren Blindado, blown up by Ché’s men while it brought up government reinforcements–a turning point in the campaign. Navigating into Havana can be a challenge, even with the maps and directions we provide, but you should arrive in plenty of time to check in at the Hotel Nacional (something rather grand to round off your trip!), drop off your hire car, and perhaps even take a look at some of the sights in the area.

DAY 15
B

A morning in Havana for a final museum or two, some sightseeing, strolling or shopping, before you are picked up from your hotel and transferred to the airport for your flight home to the UK.

Guide prices for 'Self-drive: Havana and Western Cuba'

*where possible

options based on all year low season mid season high season peak season other season
Upper range hotels*, Standard Plus Car 2 people sharing
Mid-plus hotels, Medium Car 2 people sharing
Mid-range hotels, Medium Car 2 people sharing
Top range hotels*, Standard Plus Car 2 people sharing
Prices are per person and include:
  • Cuba visa
  • airport transfers
  • all accommodation
  • hire car with insurance x 1 named driver from Day 4 to Day 13 incl
  • meals where specified, B = breakfast, L=lunch, D= dinner
  • guide book and map
  • all transport
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: refundable deposit
  • national park entrance fees
  • car-hire: additional driver insurance
  • car-hire: petrol

Customer reviews for 'Self-drive: Havana and Western Cuba'

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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Pinar del Rio tour of Vinales gave real insight to how Cuba is changing.

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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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Strangely, probably Cienfuegos was our favourite.

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birding in Zapata, snorkelling in Cayo, Levis, Mojitos on roof in Havana

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Havana, Cienfuegos, Vinales

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trinidad, Havana, Diving

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Havana

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Havana, vinales

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Liked 4 elements of the trip - culture/havana town/trinidad and beach. Had a rounded experience. Gained deeper understanding of Cuban History and life in a communist country.

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las terrazas/havana/autopista/locals/transport/coco/art galleries/museums/wildlife/scenery/music/beaches/history

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Baracoa and La Farola. Trinidad train excursion to valle de los ingenios. Independence of driving around and finding our own way.

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havana, trinidad + cayo levisa

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Trinidad, side trips to the coastal ports, hiking in la moka and north cienfuegos

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Trinidad

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Walking tour in Havana, new years eve in Trinidad, being a bus service for the locals

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Loved the atmosphere of Havana, Trinidad, Vinales and Santa Clara.

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Havana

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Vinales was beautiful, Remedios untouched and Cienfuegos was charming.

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The problem was wanting more time in several places - 18 nights was too short for us!

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We enjoyed it all. There was some adventure (as we'd hoped) and we saw the good and bad of Cuban life on our travels.

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Havana, Pinar and Cayo.

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Vinales and Trinidad.

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Havana (especially old town). Driving allowed exploration of beautiful Cuban scenery.

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Havana, Las Terrzas and Maria la Gorda

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I loved it all particularly Havana, Trinidad and Vinales

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Havana and driving through the countryside

Seasonal information for 'Self-drive: Havana and Western Cuba'

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: Havana and Western Cuba'

Days 1 - 3

Hotel Telegrafo

Parque Central
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Average rating 4.1 (25 ratings)

The Hotel Telegrafo is one of our most popular hotels built in colourful art deco style. It is a very lively meeting point with excellent public rooms, as well as providing very comfortable accommodation with modern furnishings. It is also very well situated on the edge of Old Havana and on Parque Central, the main square, convenient for people collecting hire cars. You are close to all the main tourist attractions of Old Havana, including the Capitolio and National Theatre, the Prado and within walking distance of the Malecón.

Hotel Telegrafo
Days 4 - 5

Los Jazmines

Vinales

With stunning views over the valley of Vinales, Los Jazmines is an ideal spot to bask in the area's beauty. Rooms are clean and comfortable and feature French-doors opening onto a small balcony with fabulous views. The swimming pool is suspended on the very edge of the valley. Like all hotels in Vinales the food is poor and we recommend trying out a Paladar in the village.

Los Jazmines
Day 6

La Moka, Las Terrazas

La Moka
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Average rating 4.4 (46 ratings)

Worth a visit as a place of interest in itself, La Moka is part of a fully self-sufficient eco-community called Las Terrazas, in Piñar del Rio. La Moka has nicely appointed, comfortable rooms with attractive Spanish tiled flooring and wonderful views from the bathroom, as the baths are carefully designed to look into the trees. The verdant grounds are well cared for and you will see how the local community live and work, which is an important part of the whole complex. There are various restaurants for you to choose from, and all use the home grown local fare. La Moka is also good for walking, and even has a zip line for the adventurous! Horse riding is a popular activity here.

La Moka, Las Terrazas
Days 7 - 8

La Union, Cienfuegos

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Average rating 4.7 (32 ratings)

Dubbed ‘the Pearl of the South’, Cienfuegos is a charming, sleepy town and UNESCO world heritage site. La Union is a small , elegant (49 rooms - a mixture of standard room and Junior suites) and comfortable restored colonial hotel with pool and inner courtyard  close to the town's main square and town centre. It has a small rooftop terrace. All rooms have air-conditioning, phone, satellite TV, hairdryer, minibar and room service.

La Union, Cienfuegos
Days 9 - 10

Iberostar Grand Hotel, Trinidad

town 5*
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Average rating 4.9 (28 ratings)

The Trinidad Iberostar is a delightfully elegant boutique  hotel right in the heart of colonial Trinidad.   Situated in the centre of Trinidad on the main square, it is Trinidad's most comfortable hotel. You walk straight out of the hotel  onto one of Trinidad's main squares so you are immediately embraced by the local culture and people. We have received consistently good reports about this hotel, which is also the most expensive hotel in Trinidad. NB There is no swimming pool and children under 16 years are not accepted. There are only 40 rooms at this hotel so early booking is recommended. All rooms at the Iberostar Grand Hotel are fully equipped with telephone, satellite TV, air conditioning, minibar, safe, and en-suite bathroom.

Iberostar Grand Hotel, Trinidad
Days 11 - 13

Melia Buenavista

Cayo Santa Maria
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Average rating 4.5 (2 ratings)

The newest, most luxurious and most modest in scale of four Melia resorts on Cayo Santa Maria. Upmarket in aspiration, the Buenavista is laid out beside a choice of 3 beaches. Its 104 junior suites and suites and one large villa, are generously proportioned and well-equipped, and the restaurants, pools, and spa facilities are all to a high standard. Levels of comfort and service rank amongst the best in Cuba, although the resort would struggle to earn its 5 star status elsewhere. Everything is aimed at a relaxing, quiet, well-tended holiday experience for couples. The resort applies a ‘no children’ policy. Wifi in lobby (Jan 14) and shortly to be extended to rooms. The hotel provides a butler service, beach and pool concierge, YHI SPA, services for weddings and honeymoons, a la carte dining, Day & Dinner Around in all the Meliá hotels in Cayo Santa Maria, swimming pools, tennis court, fitness room and beauty salon.

Melia Buenavista
Day 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