Discover Cuba & Panama | 12 Days

Highlights of Havana & Varadero via Panama

Day 1: Chicago - Panama

Depart Chicago on Copa Airlines – a star alliance partner – from O'Hare at 0900am. CM 236 arrives in Panama at 2:18 pm.

Upon arrival, the bus transfers the group to The Marriott Panama Hotel.

At 6:00 pm, our bus picks up from the hotel for a welcome dinner at a local restaurant in "old Town".  At approximately 9:30-10:00 pm bus brings the group back to the hotel. Anyone wanting to explore on their own can take a taxi back. Overnight at Marriott Hotel Panama City.

 

Day 2: Panama Canal and City Tour

After breakfast, the guide will meet the group at the hotel for a city tour and canal tour. Transfer to the Panama Canal. We will board a ship for a cruise through portions of the Canal, offering snacks and drinks along the way.

Boat Tour Through The Panama Canal: The True Panama Canal Tour. Don´t accept imitations, navigate with us the world famous Panama Canal. Connecting two of the world's greatest bodies of water The Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The Panama Canal is one of the most sophisticated engineering marvels the world has known. Celebrate with us the 100 years of service of this great wonder and be a part of the history. This is the most impressive One-Day Tour in Panama.

Return to the Hotel for your overnight stay.

Panama Canal Tourshttp://www.panamacanaltrips.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/pacificq-fulltour.jpg

Day 3: Panama City - San Blas Islands

After breakfast at the hotel, we depart for San Blas Islands. The San Blas islands are a group of islands in the archipelago de San Blas, located in the Northwest of Panama facing the Caribbean Sea. There are 378 islands in the archipelago and they have scattered around in an area of about 100 square miles. If you leave the Golfo de San Blas by boat you will enter the Caribbean Sea. The majority of the 378 islands have no inhabitants, but on the larger ones you will find the gentle native people known as the Kuna's. These people can be found on the larger inhabited Islands; Aguja Island, Guanidup Island, Chichimei, Yandup Island and El Porvenir.

The San Blas Islands are the number #1 vacation destination in Panama and probably in Central America. This is because the Islands are not yet discovered by the massive tourism industry and fully in control of the native Kuna's. The Kuna's protect their lands against massive tourism and keep them healthy and beautiful. This makes the San Blas Islands of Panama unique if you are searching for untouched nature and culture. You will sleep in eco-friendly accommodations made by the Guna's Indians from natural materials which they found on the Islands and in the jungle. The most common way to get around in the San Blas archipelago is by sailing from island to island, but you can also fly from Panama City to the airports located in El Porvenir, Playon Chico, Achutupu, Ogobsucum or Corazon de Jesus in San Blas. Driving to Guna Yala (San Blas) is also possible, that requires a 4×4 jeep from Panama City to Carti. 

The native people living on the Islands of San Blas call themselves Kuna's or Guna's. The district/region in Panama where you can meet the native inhabitants is officially named after them; Guna Yala or Kuna Yala. The Kuna's are a community of proud people that have their own laws, norms, and values that go with their culture, which is by the way totally different than the traditional Panamanian culture. Since the last headcount of all the Kuna Indians an estimated 300.000 live in Panama, Costa Rica and Colombia, only 50.000 live on the San Blas Islands. When you visit the San Blas Islands don't forget to try some of the traditional Kuna food.

Accommodations to be advised.

 

Day 4: San Blas – Panama City – Havana

After breakfast and a leisurely morning, late morning transfer to the Panama airport. The COPA flight to Havana is mid-afternoon with an arrival approximately at 6:00 pm. Upon arrival at the Jose Marti International Airport and clearing customs, we'll meet your local bilingual Cuban Guide outside the baggage terminal. Your drive from the airport orients you with Cuba's enigmatic capital city, whose nearly 500-year Old Havana is home to the largest collections of Spanish-Colonial architecture in the Americas. Overnight: Hotel Melia or similar. Hotel to be advised.

 

Day 5: Havana – Varadero

After breakfast, the guide will meet you taking you for a tour and making a photo stop and learn more about the Plaza de la Revolucion, the center of Cuban political life and Havana's largest plaza where huge rallies are held. Your Cuban guide speaks below the grandiose portraits of national heroes Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos, and gives you time to reflect on the fact that you're standing where millions of Cubans have stood while listening to speeches of Fidel Castro. Enjoy lunch at a La Torre Restaurant offering incredible panoramic views high above Havana and the ocean. Depart Havana on a scenic drive that takes you past rural landscapes, small towns to the beautiful turquoise Caribbean Sea. Stop at the Bacunayagua Bridge overlook for photos. Check into your all-inclusive resort located directly on a pristine white sand beach offering beautiful views of the Caribbean and Varadero Peninsula. Enjoy a welcome drink before unpacking and exploring the resort. Dinner is included this evening.

Day 6: Varadero

After breakfast, have a day at leisure. Overnight at the Hotel

Day 7: Varadero - Matanzas – Varadero

This morning following breakfast we head to the town of Matanzas, founded in 1693 and known as the "Athens of Cuba". Enjoy a brief walking tour of the town square and see the Sauto Theater (a national monument of Cuba and opened in 1863), the San Carlos Cathedral, the Pharmaceutical Museum and more. Next visit the Ediciones Vigia (bookmaking shop) to see books being hand made and learn about this craft. Also, meet with a famous local Cuban artist and sculptor in his studio and art gallery. Visit the Matanzas School of Art and Music, a high school for talented children from different provinces throughout Cuba. An opportunity to talk with and interact with the teachers and students to learn about their work and aspirations. Lunch is included at a local restaurant. Next travel back to Varadero and visit an arts & crafts market with an opportunity purchase art and items and to meet and interact with local artists and craft workers. Later enjoy a fun filled Salsa Lesson Class with the locals. Salsa represents a mix of Latin musical genres, but its primary component is Cuban dance music. The roots of salsa originated in Eastern Cuba (Santiago de Cuba & Guantanamo) about 1920 and Afro-Cuban dance such as the Rumba. Dinner is included this evening at the resort.

Overnight: Melia Varadero Resort (B,L,D) or similar

Day 8: Varadero – Havana

After breakfast this morning we travel to Havana. Religion has always played an important role in Cuban society that continues today, enjoy a walking tour with a local historian of the fascinating Colon Cemetery (Cemeterio de Cristobal Colon), founded in 1876 and named after Christopher Columbus. The cemetery is noted for its many elaborate sculpted memorials and contains more than 500 major mausoleums, chapels, and family vaults and is considered by many to be the most ornate necropolis in the world and is the final resting place for noted Cubans including artists, writers, musicians, and ballplayers. Next, enjoy a performance by the amazing Habana Compas Dance Group. Interact with the students and teachers to learn more about the Cuban dance culture. Today visit the famous the Nacional Hotel, once Havana's flagship hotel that has hosted celebrities and world leaders during its heydays, such as Winston Churchill and Frank Sinatra, to name a few. Enjoy a tour of this historic property housing pictures and nostalgia from a bygone era. Meet a former famous professional Cuban baseball player and join in a discussion regarding the history and love of this game in Cuba and the U.S. Check into your hotel for a four-night stay. Enjoy dinner this evening at a local Paladar (privately owned restaurant) with an opportunity to talk with the owners about the challenges of running a private business in Cuba. 

Overnight: Melia Havana (B,L,D) or similar

Day 9: Old Havana (UNESCO)- Museum of the Revolution - Casa Fuster

This morning enjoy a guided walking tour of pedestrian-only Old Havana, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. See the beautiful Cathedral de la Havana, built in baroque style in 1748 and learn about its preservation and continuous restoration. Visit the Marqueta Vieja Havana Museum that houses the scale model of the City of Havana and to meet with an expert on the city's architecture and restoration efforts. Begin with a presentation and lecture from a local architect who discusses Havana's unique architecture, the current challenges of restoring the city's historic buildings and the future of the city's restoration effort. Following lunch in Old Havana, we visit the famous Museum of the Revolution that displays documents and artifacts, weapons and planes from the revolution. See artifacts & learn more about the Bay of Pigs, the 1961 historic clash between the CIA trained Cuban exiles & rebel forces, the event that defined US-Cuba relations for decades. The museum is housed in the former Presidential Palace which was the home to Cuba's leaders from the 1920's until 1959. This building offers beautiful architecture as well as an interior that was designed by Tiffany's. Next head to the charming fishing village of Jaimanitas to visit the incredible Home and Work Shop of world famous artist, painter and ceramicist Jose Fuster, often called the "Picasso of Cuba". He has adorned a neighborhood with colorful ornate murals and domes. Here we spend time with the Fuster family and staff to discuss the influence of the artist's work and their lives and community. Dinner is on your own this evening allowing you to experience the restaurants, cuisine and jazz clubs of Havana. Perhaps even take in the world famous Tropicana

Cabaret Show on your own. The Tropicana Cabaret opened in 1939 and is an extravagant spectacle with a revue of glamor and nostalgia. Before the revolution, the Tropicana was a casino owned by gangsters and visited by the Rich and Famous. An evening of music and history that is not to be missed at this famous nightclub show that presents song-and-dance performances reminiscent of 1950's Cuba. 

Day 10: Havana - Vinales Valley (UNESCO) - Pinar Del Rio - Havana

Today we travel out of Havana and into the rural Cuban countryside to the Vinales Valley located in the western most mountainous range in Cuba and declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This region, the western province of Pinar del Rio is known for its stunning scenery, a landscape of prehistoric looking flat-top mountains or "mogotes", tobacco plantations, caves, and rivers. Stop at the Francisco Donatien Cigar Factory for a guided visit to learn about the manufacturing of fine Cuban cigars and interact with the factory workers about the history and process. The factory specializes in Cohiba & Monte Cristo cigars. Next, visit a traditional Tobacco Farm and Farmhouse to meet with the farmer to learn about tobacco cultivation, the drying process and experience a cigar rolling demonstration inside the drying hut. Enjoy a visit inside his farmhouse, meeting and interacting with his family while enjoying some Cuban coffee. A great opportunity to witness up close, how Cuban families live in a rural setting. Later stop at the Los Jasmines viewpoint on the way back to Havana for incredible panoramic views of the Vinales Valley and an opportunity to enjoy the spectacular scenery and take photos of this beautiful and unique region. Return to Havana and the evening is free to explore on your own.

Overnight: Melia Havana (B, L)

Day 11: Havana - Hemingway Farm - Old U.S. Classic Car Club - Farewell Paladar Dinner

After breakfast, the guide will take you to the world of Ernest Hemingway with a visit to Hemingway's Farm, Finca La Vigia (meaning 'lookout house'). This beautiful property hosts the house where the Nobel Prize winner lived with his wife Martha for 21 years. View the perfectly preserved home where many of the Hemingway personal belongings remain intact. View his yacht on display, the Pilar in which he used to patrol for Nazis in the Caribbean waters and featured in his novel "Islands in the Stream". A photo stop is made at the Morro Castle, built in 1589, to protect the mouth of the Havana Harbor. "Morro" in Spanish means a rock which is very visible from the sea and therefore serves as a navigational landmark. Perched on the headland on the opposite side of the harbor from Old Havana it can be viewed from miles around as it dominates the port entrance. Next visit the San Jose Craft Market and Art Center or similar to meet and interact with the local artists to discuss and learn about the importance of their art in Cuban culture. Learn from the artists who share their experiences of pursuing the arts with limited access to materials and funding. Before dinner, meet with the local Old Style Car Club owners. A chance to interact and talk with the owners and learn why Havana's streets are filled with vintage American automobiles and understand what it takes to keep them on the road. Enjoy a drive through the streets of Havana in a vintage car to your Farewell Dinner at a local Paladar (a privately owned restaurant). After dinner, you have an opportunity to meet and discuss with the owners how this private enterprise works in Cuba. 

Overnight: Melia Havana (B,L,D)

Day 12: USA

After breakfast morning at leisure until it is time to transfer to the airport for an afternoon flight back to Panama and Chicago with incredible memories of the culture and people of Cuba and your Highlights of Havana & Varadero - Discover Cuba Tour.

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