Join Cuban Pioneers for our classic annual trip for the Cuban celebration of May International Workers’ Day, by far the biggest celebration in Cuba, and something somewhere in between a Soviet-era parade and a classic Latin American carnival.
Plus, our specialist FARC tour of Colombia that takes us through the capital Bogota to the former cocaine capital of Medellín, and finally the colonial town of Cartagena, with us checking out a whole host of FARC related stuff, indigenous peoples, and stunning nature for this epic combo tour.
For those of you that have seen May Day in the DPRK this is something completely different! The whole of Havana (and Cuba) take the day off to dance through the streets with their work parties listening to Latin-themed revolutionary music extolling the greatness of Fidel, Che, and Chavez, whilst the ruling Communist Party elite look down at us from the balcony. This is the time to be in Cuba, and a truly amazing once in a lifetime experience. We will also visit the towns of Cienfuegos and Trinidad, as well as the Che Mausoleum in Santa Clara.
The tour is accompanied by Cuban Pioneers’ local Cuban guide, as well as a western guide, and we also incorporate the much more relaxed environment that Cuba offers us by giving ample time for free exploration as well as providing a great chance to party the night away as much as you wish.
As with all tours we can offer excellent discounts for YPT members, old customers, and group bookings.
It also includes the Viñales tour extension, giving you the opportunity to visit some extra sights in Havana, including the secret bunker where the nuclear missiles that precipitated the Cuban Missile Crisis were stored, and the upcoming town of Viñales in the Pinar del Rio Province. We’ll explore the sights and the nightlife, including Cuba’s second famous cave nightclub!
Colombia might have had a chequered past, with landmines, and the remnants of the civil war and organized crime still very much omnipresent, but Colombia is slowly waking from its past and hitting the challenges of reform head on.
Join our adventure before these countries are changed forever!
Group arrive at own leisure and transfer from Jose Martí International Airport to the Vedado part of Havana.
An official taxi from the airport is CUC$25. Alternatively, Cuban Pioneers can arrange meet-and-greet pickup in an old 1950s American car for USD $50, or arrive in real style in a classic convertible for USD $95.
On arrival at the casa, your guide will show you to your homestay (all have A/C and hot shower), where you will be free to relax or meet up with other group members to drink some cool beers.
The group assembles at around 8 pm for our introduction into the contemporary night scene of modern Havana.
We head for dinner at Cafe Laurent, one of the oldest, and we feel best private restaurants, with a range of options to fit all budgets
We finish the night in classic Cuban style by grabbing a carton (or two) of rum, and going to people watch on the Malecón – Havana’s famous seawall, known as the “sofa of the city”
Overnight in Vedado
Monday 26th April – Cienfuego
Early morning the group departs for the historic city of Cienfuegos
On the way to Cienfuegos we stop off at a few places of interest such as the Australia Sugar Mill which is where Fidel commanding activities during the Bay of Pigs invasion.
Depending on timing we take a stop at a famous crocodile farm which a chance to feed the friendly reptiles and even have photos with them (optional extra charge)
Once reaching the Caribbean coast we travel along the picturesque Bay of Pigs past the site where the landing of counter-revolutionary exile militia occurred in 1961.
Today we visit the museum here that recounts the events of this conflict which resulted in the first defeat of a US-backed takeover in Latin America. There are some beautiful places to stop for a swim along the way including a sinkhole which resembles a huge natural tropical fish tank, so make sure to pack your swimwear. SCUBA diving and snorkelling are optional activities here.
We take our lunch Cuban style by the beach, before carrying on the journey
On arrival you in with your host family, we will then have an opportunity to have a walking tour of the city. Cubans are known to be very proud people, and the citizens of Cienfuegos call their town La Perla del Sur (the pearl of the south). Founded by the French, Cienfuegos’ appeal lies partly in the European flavour of its colonial hub, with a wide Parisian-style boulevard and elegant colonnades, and there is an ambience to inspire Cuba’s most celebrated Son singer to write the words “Cienfuegos is the city I like best”.
We head for dinner at a very famous Cuban family restaurant that is very unpretentious and serves great food
Night out drinking in the bars of Cienfuegos, with clubs available for the truly thirsty ones.
Tuesday 27th April – Cienfuegos/Trinidad
Depart Cienfuegos for Trinidad which is a short 90 minute, or so journey
The beautiful colonial city of Trinidad is home to numerous churches and many beautiful colonial buildings. On arrival here we stop for lunch at renowned pizza restaurant whilst your guides arrange our casa in the city
After checking-in to our rooms in old part of the town we head out for a walking tour of the historic city of Trinidad, including the old town centre, an official cigar shop, and a slightly dodgy back alley one where cheap cigars are available. We finish off with another classic revolutionary museum before heading for some refreshments, which consists of the local Trinidad cocktail.
We take some time to relax and get changed before heading out for the evening
We head to a restaurant called La Redacción which serves contemporary fusion cuisine
The nightlife in Trinidad is probably the most accessible and intense in all of Cuba, with numerous live music venues and many dance performances every day of the week, all amongst the enchanting setting of old colonial buildings and cobblestone streets.
Overnight in homestay
Wednesday 28th April – Trinidad
In the morning we head to the Valle de Los Ingenios, the valley of the sugar mills, where the wealth of Trinidad came from in the 1800s.
In the afternoon we offer a number of optional activities such as horse riding to a waterfall, salsa lessons, or free time to explore Trinidad at your own leisure.
After a hard day in the sun, we offer a few hours to relax before again hitting the town
There are a number of options for dinner depending on the hunger and mood of the group
At night we head to one of our favourite places in the world, the infamous Cave Nightclub (one of the most legendary in Cuba) for a night of debauchery.
Overnight in Trinidad
Thursday 29th April – Santa Clara
Today we travel to the city of Santa Clara, which was a key city in the triumph of the Revolution (3-hour drive)
Depending on road conditions we can take a number of different routes around or through the Sierra del Escambray perhaps making a few stops along the way.
We stop at a genuine tobacco farm to see the process of how farmers make the worlds most famous cigars, and for the adventurous try a little of the produce ourselves. This is a very uniquely Cuban experience
Upon entering Santa Clara there is a huge statue of Ernesto Che Guevara, beneath which is the mausoleum where his remains are buried, as well as seeing the museum that is dedicated to “Che” the most iconic of all revolutionary figures
We stop at one of the highlights of Santa Clara, the train that Che derailed during the revolution, which not only makes for a great picture stop but if you like Che hats and t-shirts this is tac heaven.
Santa Clara is a nice town to spend the evening in, so after dinner, we head to El Mejumje, which is a famous local cultural centre with live music, comedy, and cabaret that very few foreigners visit.
Overnight in Santa Clara
Friday 30th April – Havana
We head back to Havana in the morning, stopping at the open air October Crisis museum overlooking Havana bay, featuring Soviet nuclear missiles (thankfully now inert!) of the period in 1962 when the world came closer than ever to the brink of nuclear war.
Lunch in city
In the afternoon we have a city tour of Havana, encompassing the Plaza de las Armas, complete with a statue of Manuel de Cespedes, one of the leaders of the independence movement. We pass the spot where the city of Havana was founded almost 500 years ago. We visit the famous Museo de la Revolución to learn more about the revolution and its history.
Visit to the Havana Club Museum of Rum! Free samples optional
We head back to our casa for s freshen up for our last night in Havana
For dinner we get ourselves all Presidential by heading to one of the restaurants where the Obamas dined. We will be taking a leisurely one hour stroll to the restaurant, or for those wanting to pimp it up a bit we offer optional hire of a Soviet-era limousine.
Farewell drinks in the old town, with optional nightclub activities for those with the energy
Overnight in homestay
Saturday 1st May – Havana – International Workers’ Day
#TRIP HIGHLIGHT# It’s party time, so we have breakfast at 6 am before leaving at 6.30 am sharp!
We head to the outskirts of the Plaza De Revolución where the festivities will be starting to begin to soak up some atmosphere and get ready for the start of the parade
The actual parade starts at around 7.30 am, where we will join around a million Cubans parading through the plaza in a quintessentially Cuban fusion of fiesta and old-school communist procession. We’ll get a wave from the top leadership of Cuba, including outgoing president Raúl Castro.
We end proceedings at the baseball stadium (previously visited by Obama) where we will be met by our bus for the drive to Old Havana
Lunch in old Havana
We head for a relaxed walking tour of Old Havana which includes various churches and some of the best Spanish colonial era architecture available anywhere in the world, including our favourite the Bacardi building!
No trip to Old Havana would be complete without a bucket list trip to Hemingway’s favourite bar, the birthplace of the daiquiri cocktail.
We head back to the casa for some rest and a change after the early start, or for those not so tired some beers on the Malecón
In the evening we head for dinner at the famous Soviet-Cuban fusion restaurant, one of the legacies of Cuba’s cold war past complete with borsch, perogi and more Soviet propaganda than you can shake a stick at
Drinks in Havana
Sunday 2nd May – Viñales
We aim to leave at 11.00 am for Viñales, depending on Cuban bureaucracy!
Our first stop is Lenin Hill, which is where the first ever statue of Lenin was erected following his death, this is very derelict and not at all touristy!
Lunch at a Cuban style street restaurant
#TRIP HIGHLIGHT# We now visit the incredibly secret bunker where the Soviet Union stored the nuclear weapons that precipitated the Cuban Missile Crisis. This site is of extreme historical significance and was only recently discovered. This is not on the tourist trail!
We now visit the former Soviet embassy, a huge example of socialist architecture, as well as some other Soviet-era tower blocks for some great fusion photos of Havana’s rich history
We now take the 2-3 hour scenic drive to Viñales. On arrival, we check into our casa before heading out for dinner and drinks in this formerly sleepy town that whilst still relaxing now has a bustling nightlife.
Overnight in Viñales
Monday 3rd May – Viñales
In the morning we head to the prehistoric wall for some amusing photos before heading over to a tobacco farm for a chance to see the process of cigar making, as well as have a try of the produce
Another great reason to come to this farm is for the stunning views of the surrounding rolling hills that you get from here
Lunch at farm accompanied by great views
Viñales is famous for its stunning caves, with a number being big tourist attractions, we avoid them like the plague grab our local guide and head to a cave that is (currently) relatively unknown. It takes an hours hike, and then heading through the cave network with lights before we hit the swimming part of the adventure. Truly stunning, so don’t forget the go-pro!
We head back to the casa for a shower before heading out to a great vantage point to enjoy our last sunset with a cocktail as a group
We finish our last night in Viñales with an authentic home cooked Cuban meal at our casa.
Drinks and conversation in the rocking chairs on the patio to end our last evening
Tuesday 4th May – Havana
Head back to Havana after breakfast
(For those not continuing to Colombia – End of Viñales extension tour)
Check into Havana homestay
Evening – optional visit to an elite private nightclub to party with sons and daughters of generals and colonels.
Wednesday 5th May – Havana/Bogota
Breakfast in Casa
Visit to El Capitolio. This astonishing building was erected in the 1920s – a time known as “The Dance of the Millions” in Cuba due to all the cash coming in from the sugar boom. Modelled on the US Capitol, it’s an incredibly opulent edifice and has recently been refurbished and reopened as the Cuban Parliament.
We head to Jose Martí monument in Revolution Square. Practically every tourist to Havana sees this from the outside – but very few go inside. After several years closed, the elevators are now operational again, and it’s possible to go to the top of this monument, which is the highest point of the city of Havana! This is the closest you can get to the Palace of the Revolution, where the highest levels of the Cuban Communist party ran the country from. See if you can peep into Raul Castro’s office window!
Dinner then head to the airport for late flight to Bogota.
Thursday 6th May – Bogotá
Arrival in Bogotá
Head to the Military Museum where we even learn about the not commonly known role of Colombia in the Korean War!
Walk around the Parque Simon Bolivar and see what the locals get up to outside of work
Stop by the Congress and Supreme Court, which was seized by the Marxist guerrillas in 1985
Lunch in the city
We visit the Colon Theatre, which is where the peace process between the government and FARC was signed, as well as the Museo Banco De República, the main modern art museum
Head to the south side of the city, the main working-class area, for a bit of people watching. We head for dinner and then for a Friday night salsa night to remember in the Colombian capital. If you can’t dance don’t worry, rum will be available
Overnight in Bogotá
Friday 7th May – Sierra Nevada National Park
We get up early for the under two hours 9am flight from Bogota to Cartagena
On arrival, we transfer directly to the Sierra Nevada national park, which is home to many of the indigenous peoples of Colombia as well as its most diverse biosphere.
Lunch in Sierra Nevada
We will have lots of opportunities to explore the area and see wildlife
At night we not only camp out in the reserve but also do the whole BBQ and rum thing
Saturday 8th May – Sierra Nevada National Park
We visit one of the local indigenous peoples the Wiwa in an Indian Reserve in the mid-highlands to learn about how they live
Local lunch with the Wiwa
We head back to Cartagena, where we check into the hotel before heading out for dinner to a Peruvian restaurant and drinks in Café Havana
Overnight in Cartagena
Sunday 9th May – Cartagena
Cartagena is an old colonial city, so we spend the day touring around this historical city
We check out the old town and the city walls, as well as its 500-year-old coral stone forts from the Spanish era
Lunch at Interno, a restaurant staffed by former political prisoners
Climb La Popa Hill for a great view of the area and visit the 17th century Santa Cruz monastery
Check out the Spanish Inquisition Palace, where people were tortured and executed for crimes against Catholicism
Head out for local food and drinks in the Cartagena old town
Overnight in Cartagena
Monday 10th May – Medellin
Take a 10am flight to Medellin, Colombia’s second city
Medellin was the notorious crime-ridden home of drug lord Pablo Escobar, but since the mid-1990s things have calmed down a lot.
Head to the famous Museo de Antioquia including the world-famous sculptures by Fernando Botero in the park outside the museum
Go for dinner and drinks in Medellin
Overnight in Medellin
Tuesday 10th May – Medellin
Breakfast in the hotel before we jump on our bus to begin the tour of Medellin
In the morning we drive out to visit a project that helps farmers change from cocoa growing to coffee, part of the plan to eliminate the drug trade in Colombia
Lunch in a roadside almuerzo
After lunch, we visit a village that was recently de-mined by a charity and learn about the impact that the civil war has had on the people
Before dinner, we meet 2 former FARC soldiers who discuss their experiences during the civil war
Dinner and overnight in Medellin
Wednesday 11th May – Medellin
You can’t go to Medellin without learning about its most infamous resident, so we do the full Pablo Escobar tour!
Our first stop is La Paz, the very modest community where Pablo grew up, with our local expert giving us a few interesting insights
We then go to explore the many luxurious buildings used to launder his money, as well as check out his bombed-out safe in the Monaco building, which was where the first car bomb in Colombia was detonated
After visiting Pablo´s prison or the “Cathedral”, get spectacular Medellin views and get ready to visit a private cemetery where siblings and cousins of the mafia boss finally rest even near Griselda Blanco or “black widow”, who was once Pablo´s mentor.
We finish off the tour by visiting the infamous La Manuela Mansion, where the notorious drug lord lived his somewhat over the top lifestyle
We take a boat over to the mansion where we will have enough free time to explore, take photos, and who knows maybe bump into a Hippo
Overnight in Medellin
Thursday 12th May
We get up early for our morning flight to Bogota, where the tour ends, with YPT being able to arrange ongoing transport or accommodation for those that need it.
Alternatively join us for a tour extension to Cali, and find out about Escobar’s deadly rivals the Cali Cartel!
Breakfasts and lunches
Transport including domestic flights
Experienced YPT guide and local English-speaking guide
Flight from Havana to Bogota
– Transport to complete the itinerary
– Breakfasts for each day of the tour, except the arrival day and all lunches (excluding arrival and departure day)
– Local English-speaking guide and experienced, western Cuban Pioneer guide throughout
– All entrance fees as per itinerary