CHICAGO – Shrouded in mystery for the past 50 years, Cuba is waiting to be rediscovered by American travelers who now have more opportunities than ever before to visit the island. Vacations By Rail, North America’s most comprehensive provider of rail travel and tours, announced the addition of the company’s first rail/cruise cultural exchange tour to Cuba – Cuba by Rail & Cruise – with departures starting February 9, 2016.
“As travel regulations to Cuba continue to relax, we are seeing a huge pent-up demand by our customers for the Cuban experience, and we’re pleased we can now offer them the opportunity to visit through our newest rail/cruise product,” said Todd Powell, CEO and co-founder of Vacations By Rail. “Now is a great time for travelers who love music, food, culture, architecture and history to enjoy the rousing rhythms, lavish landscapes and friendly locals that make Cuba a top travel destination.”
The 12-day people-to-people cultural exchange program begins with overnight rail travel aboard Amtrak’s Silver Meteor from New York to Miami, where guests embark on Haimark’s luxurious and newly refurbished MS Saint Laurent, one of the newest ships on American waterways. Highlights of the cruise include visits to five UNESCO World Heritage Sites including Old Havana and Trinidad; performances by the Cienfuegos Choir and the famous Buena Vista Social Club; learning about the eclectic assortment of architectural influences in soulful Santiago de Cuba; exploring Alejandro de Humboldt National Park, the most important biosphere reserve in the Caribbean basin; and touring the Valley of Vinales’ green tobacco plantations and limestone caves.
Ports of call in Cuba during the nine-night cruise include Havana, Maria La Gorda, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Santiago de Cuba, Baracoa, Alejandro de Humboldt National Park and Holgui, where guests have ample opportunity to learn about Cuba’s rich history and culture:
- Havana: Enjoy a lecture on the colorful history, people and culture that shaped the city, explore art studios, marvel at stockpiles of pre-revolutionary classic cars and visit one of Hemingway’s favorite’s, Hotel Ambos Mundos. In the evening, catch a performance at the Tropicana Theater or listen to the famed Buena Vista Social Club at Cafe Taverna.
- Pinar Del Rio and the Vinales Valley: A designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, Vinales boasts Cuba’s most strikingly beautiful landscapes and the island’s best tobacco. Survey an orchid garden, enjoy lunch at an organic farm, visit a tobacco farm and tobacco-sorting facility, and explore huge limestone caves by boat.
- Maria La Gorda: Learn about Cuba’s butterflies, birds and flowers at Guanahacabibes National Park, the largest of Cuba’s six nature reserves, before heading to the Meteorological Center for a lesson on forecasting weather and the “Honey House” for an overview on beekeeping and honey production.
- Cienfuegos: Explore this former trading post for sugar cane, tobacco and coffee on a morning walking tour and learn about the significance of the buildings from a local historian. Visit a graphic arts workshop and join the Cienfuegos Choir in singing traditional Cuban songs.
- Trinidad: Join a walking tour led by a city historian to learn about the port city founded by Conquistadors in the sixteenth century and frequented by eighteenth century smugglers and pirates who used it as their base of operations in the Caribbean. Mingle with local residents and call on artists in their studios, visit the Museum Romantico and Architecture Museum, and learn about traditional pottery techniques at artisan workshop Casa Del Alfarero Santander.
- Santiago de Cuba: Explore the second largest city in Cuba world-famous for its traditional dances unique to the island, learn about Cuban dance and Afro-Cuban religions such as Santeria, and visit the local citadel of San Pedro de la Roca, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most complete and best-preserved examples of Spanish-American military architecture based on Italian and Renaissance design principles.
- Alejandro de Humboldt National Park: Join a walking tour led by an experienced naturalist on one of the most diverse ecosystems in the Caribbean, home to numerous endangered and protected species such as Cuban Amazon parrots, Hook-billed Kites, and Ivory-billed woodpeckers.
- Historic Baracoa: Take a guided tour of Cuba’s oldest city and meet friendly residents who make their living by fishing or cultivating coconut and bananas.
- Holguin: Visit the colorful port of Gibara where Christopher Columbus landed on October 27, 1492 before exploring the sites and culture of Holguin, spending time with artisans and musicians, hearing their stories and learning about their daily lives.
Photo caption: Trinidad.