Eastern Cuba Roadtrip, Feb 7 - 20, 2017
With Jeremy Woodhouse
February 7 - 20, 2017 (14 days/13 nights including travel time Miami/Holguin/Santa Clara/Miami) Participants: 10
We are currently in the planning stages of this tour. Unlike most photo tours that go to Cuba we will not be going to many of the usual destinations (Havana, Trinidad, Viñales). Instead we will be focusing on the Eastern and Central regions of the island. We will fly in to Holguin from Miami and from there we will continue on to Baracoa, the island’s oldest Spanish settlement. Moving on to Cuba's second largest city Santiago, we continue to Camaguey, Remedios, finishing off in Santa Clara from where will catch our flight back to Miami.
If you are interested in this tour please Register on the interest list.
Where we will be
The nation’s fourth-largest city serves up a slice of Cuba without the wrapping paper. What you won’t find here is four-star hotels, revitalized colonial buildings or tour guides with shiny name badges talking to you in English. What you will find is eager-to-please casas particulares, cheap food in pioneering new restaurants, and a city that loves (and brews) its own beer.
Magic, weird, beguiling, outlandish, unorthodox, mysterious, surreal, psychedelic and hallucinogenic; you can throw a thousand words at Baracoa, but still not come close to nailing its essence. Located over the hills and far away on the wet and windy side of the Cuchillos del Toa Mountains, Cuba’s oldest and most isolated town is a thing to behold, less for the beauty of its architecture (which is scruffy and unimpressive), but more for its atmosphere, people, and je ne sais quoi. Not surprisingly, epiphanies are rife in these parts. Feast your eyes upon the foliage – deep green, fast-growing and wonderfully abundant after the stark aridity of Guantánamo’s south coast – delve into the fantastical legends, and acquaint yourself with a Tolkeinesque cast of local characters both alive and dead. There’s Cayamba, the self-styled ‘Guerrilla troubadour’ who once claimed he was ‘the man with the ugliest voice in the world;’ La Rusa, the aristocratic Russian émigré who swapped one form of socialismo for another and became the inspiration for a novel by magic-realist author Alejo Carpentier; and Enriqueta Faber, a French woman who passed herself off as a man so that she could practice as a doctor and somehow managed to dupe a local heiress into marrying her in Baracoa’s Cathedral in – ahem – 1819! (Cuba’s first same-sex marriage?) Ah, Baracoa – what would Cuba be without you?
Santiago de Cuba
You can take Santiago de Cuba in one of two ways: a hot, aggravating city full of hustlers and hassle that'll have you gagging to get on the first bus back to Havana; or a glittering cultural capital that has played an instrumental part in the evolution of Cuban literature, music, architecture, politics and ethnology. Yes, Santiago divides opinions among Cubans and foreigners almost as much as one of its most famous former scholars, Fidel Castro. Some love it; others hate it; few are indifferent.
Enlivened by a cosmopolitan mix of Afro-Caribbean culture and situated closer to Haiti and the Dominican Republic than to Havana, Santiago's influences tend to come as much from the east as from the west, a factor that has been crucial in shaping the city's distinct identity. Nowhere else in Cuba will you find such an inexorably addictive colorful combination of people or such a resounding sense of historical destiny. Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar made the city his second capital, Fidel Castro used it to launch his embryonic nationalist Revolution, Don Facundo Bacardí based his first-ever rum factory here, and just about every Cuban music genre from salsa to son first emanated from somewhere in these dusty, rhythmic and sensuous streets.
Setting-wise, Santiago could rival any of the world's great urban centers. Caught dramatically between the indomitable Sierra Maestra and the azure Caribbean, the city's casco histórico (historical center) retains a time-worn and slightly neglected air that's vaguely reminiscent of Salvador in Brazil, or the seedier parts of New Orleans.
Santiago is also hot, in more ways than one. While the temperature rises into the 30s out on the street, jineteros (touts) go about their business in the shadows with a level of ferocity unmatched elsewhere in Cuba. Then there's the pollution, particularly bad in the central district, where cacophonous motorcycles swarm up and down narrow streets better designed for horses or pedestrians. Travelers should beware. While never particularly unsafe, everything in Santiago feels a little madder, more frenetic, a tad more desperate, and visitors should be prepared to adjust their pace accordingly.
Welcome to the maze. Camagüey's odd, labyrinthine layout is the by-product of two centuries spent fighting off musket-toting pirates like Henry Morgan: tumultuous times led the fledgling settlement to develop a peculiar street pattern designed to confuse pillaging invaders and provide cover for its long-suffering residents (or so legend has it). As a result, Camagüey's sinuous streets and narrow winding alleys are more reminiscent of a Moroccan medina than the geometric grids of Lima or Mexico City.
Sandwiched on Carretera Central halfway between Ciego de Ávila and Las Tunas, the city of tinajones (clay pots), as Camagüey is sometimes known, is Cuba's third-largest city, easily the suavest and most sophisticated after Havana, and the bastion of the Catholic Church on the island. Well known for going their own way in times of crisis, the resilient citizens are popularly called 'agramontinos' by other Cubans, after local First War of Independence hero Ignacio Agramonte, coauthor of the Guáimaro constitution and courageous leader of Cuba's finest cavalry brigade. In 2008 its well-preserved historical center was made Cuba's ninth Unesco World Heritage Site and in 2014 the city celebrated its quincentennial.
Camagüey's warren-like streets generally inspire travelers with their hidden plazas, rearing baroque churches, riveting galleries and congenial bars/restaurants. The flip side is the higher-than-average number of jineteros (touts) who can dog you as you stroll. Get lost for a day or two and discover it for yourself.
A small, tranquil town that goes berserk every Christmas Eve in a cacophonous firework festival known as Las Parrandas, Remedios is one of Cuba’s lesser-glimpsed colonial jewels. Some historical sources claim it is Cuba’s second-oldest settlement (founded in 1513), although it is officially listed at number eight after Havana. Lack of a Unesco listing or any Trinidad-style marketing means it’s left off most standard tourist itineraries, a factor that lends its streets a charming, if slightly shabby authenticity. However, Remedios’ lazy days look numbered. It has been chosen by Cuban tourism authorities as an unlikely focus for hotel development: boutique hotels are springing up and there's a vanguard of delightful colonial casas particulares too.
While Varadero courts beach-lovers and Trinidad pulls in history geeks, gritty Santa Clara doesn’t stand on ceremony for anyone. Smack bang in the geographic center of Cuba, this is a city of new trends and insatiable creativity, where an edgy youth culture has been testing the boundaries of Cuba’s censorship police for years. Unique Santa Clara offerings include Cuba’s only official drag show, a beauty pageant for transvestites and the best rock festival in the country, Ciudad Metal. The city’s fiery personality has been shaped over time by the presence of the nation’s most prestigious university outside Havana, and a long association with Che Guevara, whose liberating of Santa Clara in December 1958 marked the end of the Batista regime.
Itinerary in Brief
Pre-Tour: Thu, Jan 5 — Miami
Day 1: Tue, Feb 7 — Arrive Holguin O/N
Day 2: Wed, Feb 8 — Holguin O/N
Day 3: Thu, Feb 9 — Drive from Holguin to Baracoa O/N Hostal 1511
Day 4: Fri, Feb 10 — Baracoa O/N Hostal 1511
Day 5: Sat, Feb 11 — Baracoa O/N Hostal 1511
Day 6: Sun, Feb 12 — Drive from Baracoa to Santiago de Cuba O/N Hotel Casa Granda
Day 7: Mon, Feb 13 — Santiago de Cuba O/N Hotel Casa Granda
Day 8: Tue, Feb 14 — Santiago de Cuba O/N Hotel Casa Granda
Day 9: Wed, Feb 15 — Drive from Santiago de Cuba to Camaguey O/N Hotel Colón
Day 10: Thu, Feb 16 — Camaguey O/N Hotel Colón
Day 11: Fri, Feb 17 — Drive from Camaguey to Remedios O/N Hotel Barcelona
Day 12: Sat, Feb 18 — Remedios O/N Hotel Barcelona
Day 13: Sun, Feb 19 — Drive from Remedios to Santa Clara O/N
Day 14: Mon, Feb 20 — Fly from Santa Clara to Miami
In association with
Dates: Feb 7 - 20, 2017
Single Supplement: $TBA if available
Maximum Group Size 10
10 SPOTS OPEN
The above costs do NOT include flights from Miami/Holguin/Santa Clara/Miami
This trip is limited to 10 participants.