Cuba!

March 13 – 22, 2023

The U.S. Government permits travel to Cuba under 12 different categories including “Support for the Cuban People” which is the one we will be using. This category requires travelers to maintain a full schedule of activities that involve meaningful interaction with individuals in Cuba and that help Cubans become more independent. Excessive free time and recreational activities are not permitted. Our itinerary fulfills these requirements with wonderful experiences that include thoughtful, respectful, and kind interactions with the many Cubans we will meet with during our travels.

We are still in the planning stages for 2023, but because enrollment in Cuban Ukulele Rhythms is extremely limited (we only have room for 6) we wanted to give you a heads up so you could start planning now.

The tentative dates are March 13 – 21, give or take a day or two. And if there is enough interest, we may be able to add another tour after this one.

Details on how to secure your spot are below the itinerary. 

The following itinerary is based on our 2022 trip but is constantly being updated as we look for more opportunities for ukulele players, adventure travelers, nature lovers, and history buffs. However, the most important thing is to remember that in all things Cuba, flexibility is the key and often leads to some memorable and happy surprises. 

Day 1 – Havana

Ideally, we will fly as a group from Miami or Fort Lauderdale (details to come) to Havana, arriving in the early afternoon to meet our local guide, Jesus Noguera and “Mimi,” a 1948 Dodge limo that will serve as our vehicle throughout our trip.

After settling in to our accommodations in Habana Viejo (old Havana), we’ll get our bearings by exploring the old town on foot, visiting five centuries of history and architecture at Plaza de Armas, Plaza Vieja, Plaza de San Francisco de Asis, and Plaza de la Catedral. This is a perfect way to begin to understand the place Cuba held in the Caribbean for centuries. (Though the scenes in the streets below your hotel room may be every bit as entertaining.)

Dona Eutima

We’ll have dinner at Doña Eutimia in a festive back alley off the Plaza de la Catedral.

“This is trip-defining food of the highest order, and proof that Cuba’s traditional cuisine, when prepared properly, can be pretty spectacular.”

Lonely Planet

After dinner there may be an opportunity for a little ‘ukulele merriment back at our casa particular. And after that, the night owls can head over to Havana’s most “famous and consistent” jazz club, la Zorra y el Cuervo, where the action doesn’t start until 11:00 pm! (Just going to bed is also an option.)

Day 2 – Havana

Cafe Ajiaco Staff

After breakfast, we’ll pay a visit to an organic farm in Cojimar. Then, after a delightful visit with the farmer, we’ll head to Cafe Ajiaco where we will learn how to make the perfect Cuban Mojito and may be invited to help prepare lunch using the herbs and produce from the farm we just visited. (We’ll also learn the secret ingredient in Cuba’s famous black beans.)

No trip to Cuba is complete without a visit to Finca Vigia, Ernest Hemingway’s home for 20 years and where he wrote many of his books. But first we stop at La Terraza de Cojimar, one of his favorite watering holes. It has a fabulous view of Cojimar Bay, where Hemingway met the fisherman who was the inspiration for The Old Man and the Sea.

Then we’re back on the music trail as we head over to Guampara, the first independent production house and urban music label in Cuba. This was one of our favorite stops in 2022. And what an education! Not only is it a terrific opportunity to interact with local musicians, we’ll also have a go at learning a little roof-top salsa. We’ll have dinner here, as well. And if we bring our ukes, we may be asked to do a few tunes for our hosts!

Day 3 – Havana

This morning we plan to visit Habana Compass Dance. This school/studio is recognized internationally for its dynamic fusion of Flamenco and Afro-Cuban rhythms. Rhythm… nothing but rhythm. It is compelling and the enthusiasm, passion, and energy of these kids are mesmerizing. They do sometimes tour, so our visit will depend on their schedule. In any case, this would be a good place to purchase some claves to use while learning Cuban rhythms.

Jose Fuhrer's home

From Compass Dance we continue on to Jaimanitas. This was once a sleepy fishing town on the outskirts of Havana. But it is now a mosaic-laden piece of living art created by internationally renowned artist, Jose Fuster. Fuster has turned his home (and neighborhood) into a flamboyant masterpiece of tiles, turrets, and Gaudi-esque beauty. And it is open to the public. It’s a fun place to visit. Last year his staff prepared us a wonderful lunch, and we hope they do it again. 

After lunch, we will be treated to a private session with American-born, Cuban musician Pablo Menéndez who will take us on a unique journey through Cuban music. (This is where those claves might come in handy as we learn learn the basic and more advanced rhythms of Afro-Cuban music.)

And because no visit to Cuba is complete without a  tour of modern Havana in a vintage convertible, this may be the day!

We’ll have dinner at a local paladar, possibly followed by music self-made back at our casa particular. That is, unless the seemingly endless nightlife of Havana is calling to us, again. 

Day 4 – Zapata Peninsula and Playa Larga

This is a busy day. After breakfast, we head toward Trinidad via the Zapata Peninsula. This sparsely populated (and zealously protected) region lies within the Ciénaga de Zapata Biosphere Reserve, providing a protected habitat for rare birds and crocodiles.

Corimacao Project

But first, we visit the town of Pálpite and the Korimacao Cultural Project which gives young, non-professional artists from all around Cuba the chance to further their skills in music, theater, dance, poetry, or painting–and share them with people in small communities around the country. (The students may even ask us to play our ‘ukulele for them!)

We’ll have lunch at a local paladar before checking into our accommodations in Playa Largo. The beach here is lovely, with a very local vibe. Luckily, we’ll have some free time to explore it before dinner. After dinner we should have another opportunity to kanikapila with our ‘ukuleles.

Day 5 – Playa Larga to Trinidad

Those willing to get up early will have an opportunity to visit Gran Parque Natural Montemar, the largest cienaga (swamp) in the Caribbean, and one of Cuba’s most diverse ecosystems. We’ll see some amazing birds, including the tiny bee hummingbird, found only in Cuba. (Bring your binoculars, they are really tiny.)

After breakfast, we have an opportunity to go swimming at Cueva de Los Peces and learn more about ecology and conservation efforts in Cuba from our local guide. We may also have time for a little snorkeling. And while there is snorkeling gear to rent, you may want to bring your own, along with a towel.

We will stop for lunch at a private home in Playa Giron then make a quick visit to the museum dedicated to the battle at the Bay of Pigs.

Still enroute to Trinidad, we’ll stop in beautiful Cienfuegos, a maritime city founded by French settlers in 1819. Here we’ll have time for a quick tour of the main square, the Cathedral Church, Terry Theatre, and the Palacio del Valle. The opulence and artistry is truly astonishing.

Eventually, we arrive in Trinidad, a  UNESCO World Heritage site, Cuba’s foremost colonial town, and a vibrant center of art and music. Our stroll around the cobble-stoned Plaza Mayor reveals that Trinidad’s historic center has not changed much over the last 150 years.

Trinidad nightlife

After dinner in Trinidad, those with any energy left can join locals and tourists alike as they start to gather at the open-air Casa de Musica to order a cocktail, sit on the wide stone staircase, listen to the music, soak up the atmosphere, people watch, and/or join in the salsa dancing. If that doesn’t float your boat, there is also Casa de la Trova, Canchánchara Bar, and/or Disco Ayala – a disco in a cave. Or, we can all just retreat to the courtyard of our casa particular and make our own music…or simply go to bed!

Day 6 – Trinidad

After breakfast, we’ll head to the nearby Escambray Mountains. This is the home of Topes de Collantes National Park, a lush nature reserve known for its cascading waterfalls and natural pools. An easy hike through the woods with a local guide reveals a myriad of rare birds and ends at a cascading waterfall, worthy of a swim.

But the special treat here is the lovely lunch prepared by our guide’s brother at their family farm in the mountains. Our terrific meal with this charming family was capped by roasting, hulling, and grinding our own coffee beans then brewing our own Cuban coffee, served in a handmade cup.

On our way back to Trinidad we’ll have some time to visit a local artisan street market and the Santander Family, which has been making pottery for generations. Ideally, we’ll also have some time to spend at ¨Playa Ancón,¨ a ribbon of white beach on Cuba’s south coast, and the small, half-forgotten fishing village, La Boca, at the mouth of the Río Guaurabo with its pebbly beach shaded by flowering acacias. A great spot for a lazy stop to watch the sunset.

But the best part of this day will be a very special house concert in a private home, the site of a successful community project. Community projects abound in Cuba, and this one was organized to teach and inspire young musicians. Indeed, the former students who performed for us in 2022 were incredibly talented and generous with their time and skill. It was one of our most memorable evenings. (Click here for a link to a video of our evening made for Our Man in Havana, Jesus Noguera. Note the smiles and happy faces.) I was so inspired, I gave one of the young musicians my ‘ukulele!

Day 7 – Matanzas

Right after breakfast, we leave Trinidad and travel to Matanzas, a vibrant cultural hub that hosts one of Cuba’s finest theaters. Here, we will have lunch at a private home where we will also enjoy the performance of a Cuban music band and have an opportunity to interact with local musicians. Believe me. It is not what you expect at all. This is the music scene that gave the world many Afro-Cuban musical traditions, including the rumba and an assemblage of instruments including conga drums, claves, palitos  (sticks),  marugas (iron shakers), cajones (packing cases), and spoons. 

Cuban rumba is in a class of its own. Percussion-driven, accompanied by song and dance that exudes the physical and emotional intensity of its African roots, it is definitely not the rhumba from the ballroom dance floor. A synthesis of various African traditions and Spanish influences, rumba became the music of the country’s poorest people.  It was in Matanzas that one of Cuba’s most beloved rumba bands, Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, was founded, in 1952, in a tavern where their “instruments” were the bar’s counter, tables, glasses, and bottles. 

Afterward we will visit Ediciones Vigia, a unique and creative book publishing house. Truly a case of necessity being the mother of invention, Ediciones Vigia emerged as shortages of paper and other basic goods forced the writers and artists to use scrap paper, leaves, yarn, and other “found” supplies to publish their works. Since its humble beginnings, Ediciones Vigia has published the most important Cuban writers using only a typewriter, an ancient mimeo machine, and ingenious craftsmanship.

We’ll overnight in a local casa particular.

Day 8 – Havana

Callejon de Hamel

We return to Havana with a stop at Callejon de Hamel, a vibrant, “open-air museum” and community project created by the late artist Salvador Gonzalez in a 200-meter-long alley. The murals and sculptures that appear here are devoted to Afro-Cuban culture and depict some symbols of cultures and religions of African origin, such as Santeria, Palo Monte, and the Abakua Society. We may also be treated to a special performance.

Street market

We’ll have lunch at the former home of the artist and should have some free time to explore Havana, grab a gelato, and do some last minute shopping at the Almacenes de San José art and souvenir market. Our farewell dinner will be at San Cristóbal Paladar, another one of the Top 10 Paladors in Havana. While the traditional fare of Cuban-Creole origin, malanga, yucca, cerdo asado (roast pork), lobster, fresh fish, and shrimp is exemplary, the restaurant itself garners the most comments.

“Cluttered and eclectic, this is a lived-in space on the bottom floor of an early 20th-century mansion. Piles of old books are stacked atop beautiful old furniture; black and white photos jostle for space with antique record covers and bullfighting posters, while a selection of clocks, religious artefacts and, even a full-size zebra pelt, add to the mix.”

The Guardian

Day 9 – Havana & Home

Today we are off to the airport to catch our morning flight back to Fort Lauderdale…unless you opt for the Vinales Extension. More details to come.

Enroll now!

Even though we are still in the planning stages, because enrollment in Cuban Ukulele Rhythms is so limited (we only have room for 6) we wanted to give those interested an opportunity to secure their spot now.  (If there is overwhelming interest, we may be able to add another tour after this one.)

We won’t have the actual cost until we have finalized the itinerary, but to give you an idea, last year’s trip cost $3,599 with a $300 single supplement.

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To secure your place now, you will need to send a $100 US non-refundable* deposit to:

Ukulele Adventures, 1113 Chiles Avenue, St. Helena, CA 94574

You can also pay by Venmo. (Please contact me for more information.)

*If for some reason we decide not to run this trip before the first payment is due, or if we can’t fit you in, we will refund your deposit 100%.


Here’s what you should know before traveling to Cuba. (Please click on the link)

And here is more information on Cuba and the Coronavirus


Please Note: Travel in Cuba requires a flexible attitude. Visiting developing countries can be eye-opening and life-changing. Visiting Cuba is both. That said, accommodations may not be up to the standards you are used to sometimes the hot water or air conditioning may not work, for example. Cuba has its own beat and things don’t always run on time. Our days are full, and as required by U.S. law we have a full agenda of meaningful interactions with the Cuban people. And while we will do our best to make sure we fulfill our obligation under the Support for the Cuban People program, the activities and visits listed are not guaranteed.

So, we ask that you appreciate the authenticity of your cultural encounters as well as the people, food, culture, and adventures that await. Come with an open heart and an open mind and this will be a fascinating and educational experience.

In the meantime, perhaps this will get you in the mood!

 

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