January 20 – 29, 2024
If you’re looking for jazz, this is the place. From the first thing in the morning, until the last thing at night, music pours out of every doorway in Havana, echoes down narrow alleys, reverberates from balconies and roof-tops, and wafts around historic plazas. The Havana jazz sound is unique: a harmonious mixture of sounds and rhythms from Africa and Spain, with a little seasoning thrown in from China, France, Italy, Mexico, Argentina, and the United States. And nowhere is it celebrated more than at the Havana Jazz Festival.
Join our extraordinary guide, Jesus Noguera, not just for the iconic Havana Jazz Festival, but for everything else we offer, as well….up close and personal. This unique itinerary includes highlights from our popular Cuban ‘Ukulele Rhythms adventure (without the ukuleles) along with the fun and exuberance of the Havana Jazz Festival (aka Jazz Plaza) from beginning to end, along with a day trip to beautiful Las Terrazas in the Sierra del Rosario and a visit to the old haunts of the mob, when they ruled Havana. And, as in all of our Cuba tours, there will never be more than 10 people in our group.
Day 1 – January 20, 2024 (D)
After a morning arrival in Havana, you will be transferred directly to your casa particular in Habana Viejo (Old Havana)to check in, unload your luggage, and freshen up.
Then we’re off for a panoramic drive through modern Havana in an American vintage car….with the top down. This is a great way to get your bearings while visiting some of Havana’s most notable landmarks, including Revolution Square and the Malecón, Havana’s famous sea-front promenade.
At dusk, we’ll gather again and walk to the Plaza de la Catedral for dinner at renowned Doña Eutimia, located in a festive back alley off the square—a tasty introduction to Cuban food.
“This is trip-defining food of the highest order, and proof that Cuba’s traditional cuisine, when prepared properly, can be pretty spectacular.”
Day 2 – January 21, 2024 (B, L)
After breakfast at your casa particular, you’ll explore more of Habana Vieja on foot, visiting five centuries of history and architecture at the Plaza de Armas, Plaza Vieja, Plaza de San Francisco de Asis, and Plaza de la Catedral. Not only will you get comfortable exploring Havana on foot, you’ll begin to understand the important place Cuba held in the Caribbean for centuries.
Then we head over to Guampara, the first independent production house and music label in Cuba supporting urban music. Isnay Rodriguez, a local DJ, will offer some wonderful and enthusiastic insight into the common history and fusion process of Cuban and world music genres. Guampara itself is a fascinating, multicultural, and dynamic space where several cultural expressions of a moving Cuba converge.
After lunch (and salsa lessons!) we’ll visit another bygone era in Havana on the iconic “mob tour.” Following in the footsteps of some of the most notorious characters of the era, we’ll learn how the mob basically “owned” Cuba and then lost it to the Revolution. We start in Centro Habana at the Hotel Sevilla, where the mobsters established their headquarters during prohibition and Al Capone resided in one of its suites. Then, it’s on to Habana Vedado to visit the Hotel Riviera, owned by Mayer Lansky, and the Capri, owned by Santo Trafficante. We will finish up by sipping mojitos at the bar of the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, locale of the infamous meeting of all the mob bosses in 1946.
After dinner (on your own) we will make our way to the Havana Jazz Festival for the opening night festivities and performances.
Day 3 – January 22, 2024 (B, L)
This morning we visit Habana Compass Dance, a school/studio recognized internationally for its dynamic fusion of flamenco and Afro-Cuban rhythms. The talent, enthusiasm, passion, and energy of the kids performing here is mesmerizing.
From there we continue on to Jaimanitas, which was once a sleepy fishing town on the outskirts of Havana. Today it is a mosaic-laden piece of living art thanks to internationally-renowned artist Jose Fuster, who has turned his home and indeed the entire neighborhood, into a flamboyant masterpiece of mosaics, tiles, and turrets, open to the public. But our special treat will be lunch served in the middle of all this Gaudi-esque beauty.
Later this afternoon 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.
Dinner, again on your own, will be followed by an evening full of Havana Jazz Festival activities.
Day 4 – January 23, 2024 (B, L)
After breakfast we venture out of Havana to Las Terrazas, a self-sustained community located up in the Sierra del Rosario, the third largest mountain range in Cuba. This is an area famed for its natural beauty and vast diversity, with lush woods, rivers, low waterfalls, and an abundance of orchids and ferns.
This is the site of a 5,000-hectare-reforestation program carried out in 1967. Terraces were built into the slopes of the mountains to avoid erosion, and thousands of trees such as mahogany, cedar, pine, teak and carob were planted. This was a huge boon to local farmers who were given homes in this new rural community and who saw a dramatic improvement in their living conditions over all.
We will visit this community and the studio and gallery of local artist Lester Campa who is highly committed to the preservation of the natural environment. We will also visit the former home (and now museum) of local country musician and national idol, Polo Montañez.
After lunch we will have an opportunity to take a swim in the crystal-clear waters of the San Juan River (don’t forget to bring a towel!), before heading back to Havana for dinner and more Havana Jazz Festival activities.
Day 5 – January 24, 2024 (B,L)
This morning we visit the home of Cuban-American photographer, Roberto Salas. Salas was a teenager when he returned to Cuba from New York, after the 1959 Revolution, to work as a reporter for a newspaper in Havana. During his long career he traveled abroad with Fidel Castro and took most of the iconic photos of all of the Cuban leaders. Salas was also a war correspondent in Viet Nam. He is still making photos and selling them.
Afterward, we’ll pay a visit to 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 symbols of cultures and religions of African origin, such as Santeria, Palo Monte, and the Abakua Society.
Day 6 – Matanzas – January 25, 2024 (B,L)
Right after breakfast, we leave Havana and travel to Matanzas, a vibrant cultural hub that, among other things, hosts one of Cuba’s finest theaters. Here we will experience real Cuban rumba—in a class of its own. Percussion-driven, it is 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, in 1952, that one of Cuba’s most beloved rumba bands, Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, was founded. The musicians played in a tavern where their “instruments” were the bar’s counter, tables, glasses, and bottles.
One of the highlights of our day here will be an opportunity to interact with local musicians and experience the private performance of a Cuban music band. 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), and cajones (packing cases.)
We will enjoy lunch at a private home before venturing back to Havana for dinner and the evening’s Jazz Fest festivities.
Day 7 – January 26, 2024 (B,L)
After breakfast we begin our day with a visit to the Cuban collection at the Palacio de Bellas Artes (the National Museum of Fine Arts), a world class cultural center. The collection contains an excellent overview of Cuban nineteenth- and twentieth-century painting and culminates in some of the best Cuban contemporary work with regularly changing temporary exhibitions.
From there we pay a visit to the studio of José Ángel Toirac, a visual artist and winner of the National Prize for Plastic Arts of Cuba. Toirac critically reworks the symbols and figures of Cuban history while exposing specific zones of silence and the truth that hides behind the power of the revolutionary epic.
And then we head for the beaches, just a half hour’s drive east of Havana. But, on the way we’ll visit El Morro and La Cabaña, important fortifications built during colonial times to protect the city against pirates and corsairs. Today they are part of the system of fortifications declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1982.
We’ll have lunch at the beach and spend the rest of the afternoon enjoying the beautiful Caribbean before returning to Havana. Then, after dinner, there will be more Havana Jazz Festival Activities to engage in. (It’s also OK to go to bed early!)
Day 8 – January 27, 2024 (B,L)
After breakfast, we’ll visit 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 visit Finca Vigia, Hemingway’s home for 20 years and where he wrote many of his books. We’ll also have an opportunity to see La Terraza de Cojimar, a favorite watering hole of Ernest Hemingway, It has a fabulous view of Cojimar Bay, where Hemingway would go fishing and where he met the fisherman who was the inspiration for The Old Man and the Sea.
After dinner (on your own) we’ll head out for the final performance and festivities of the Havana Jazz Festival.
Day 9 – January 28, 2024 (B,L)
This will be our last full day in Cuba and we’re going to make the most of it. After breakfast we’ll pay a quick visit to Almacenes de San Jose to buy local souvenirs and handicrafts. And then, it’s off to lunch at San Cristóbal Paladar, another one of the Top 10 paladars 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
Then the afternoon is yours….
Day 10 – January 29 (B)
After breakfast, we’ll be whisked away, back to the airport, to catch our flights home.
Price: $3,329 (Single supplement – $259)
Please contact me for additional information.