Slow Trains to Guantanamo
This will be the tenth year we are offering tours to this fascinating destination. This year we will offer two tours. This one, is tailored for the rail enthusiast, and follows the footsteps of Peter Millar in his Slow Train to Guantanamo. The tour will appeal to the railway enthusiasts and also those intrigued by our visits to provincial towns and parts where the passage of time has been suspended as we deliver the Real Cuba to you. We travel by antique electric traction, steam and diesel, using our own chartered Budd railcar. Come with us to reach this vibrant island, a nation physically close to the USA, yet a chasm away culturally and economically, and explore the enigma which is Cuba!
We visit UNESCO heritage sites, see one of Cuba’s most distinctive anachronisms, roads full of 1950 classic American cars, look at cigar and rum production, and take to the countryside where the sugar harvest will be in full sway. The ‘zafra’ once employed fleets of American steam locomotives, many of which are preserved – we expect to see almost 200 of them, and make visits to where some of the locomotives are used for heritage operations.
Our programme requires flexibility, as we must always be mindful of mañana and the Soviet legacy. We will be accompanied throughout by our road coach, which will convey our luggage and undertake our transfers.
Tour Manager: Angelina assisted by Ray
Thursday 16 February (D) From the UK, we take morning flights to Havana from London Gatwick, arriving Havana early evening, to transfer to the Hotel Plaza, for a rooftop buffet dinner.
Friday 17 February (B,D) Our first morning commences with a guided walking tour of Old Havana. We include Gran Teatro, Capitolio, Floridita, Obispo, Castillo de la Real, Catederal, Plaza de Armas, Coche Mambi, etc. and all of the significant sites of old Havana before lunch (not included). After we continue to Antiguos Almacenes San José where 5 locomotives are preserved and with an opportunity to visit a motor museum (self pay). Late afternoon we hope to have a Steam Train working along Ave del Puerto from Termial de Ferris to Iglesia de Paula and complete our programme at the nearby New Port Avenue Brewery! Dinner is desired to be in restaurant near to our hotel.
Saturday 18 February (B,L,D) We take a packed lunch to visit Central and La Coubre Stations with the adjacent steam loco deposit. We have requested to take our railcar from La Coubre Station (Central closed for refurbishment) to nearby Luyanó with an option by bus, to photo the train under the elevated railway leading to Central. Our bus meets us at Luyanó, for the short distance to Cristina Railway Museum. From Luyanó we continue by rail to the attractive Bejucal Station, terminal of Havana’s first railway, for a small railway artifact museum. Then our bus will continue to Parque Lenin locomotive shed, and a coach restaurant with derelict station at Expocuba. Finally it’s to Cienaga and the 19 November stations (we view through the fence at Cienaga works – service point for Chinese diesels). We return to our hotel via the Plaza de Revolution, Colon Necropolis, the Malecon and the National Hotel. Dinner will be at a restaurant of your choice or, it may be an opportunity to follow in the footfall of star American guitarist Ry Cooder, and visit the famous Buena Vista Social Club (it’s near Central Station) – an enterprise which saw him fined $25,000 in the USA for breaking the embargo!
Sunday 19 February (B,L,D) We commence with a demonstration of the cigar making and an explanation of the origin of coffee with a chance to sample both! Then, we go to the Havana Club Museum, with its magnificent model railway and a chance to sample rum! Across the road from here we take our packed lunches over the water to the Casablanca terminus of the Hershey Railway for the train just after midday. This antiquated electric line was built to deliver sugar to Havana for the Hershey Chocolate Co., but stock used today is second-hand emus from Catalonia. It may be possible to visit the Hershey Railway car sheds but to do so, the journey will need to be continued by bus. At Matanzas, the terminus, there will be time to visit the two other railway stations before our overnight stop in Varadero at the all-inclusive Barcelo Solymar.
Monday 20 February (B,L,D) Today we plan two steam hauled journeys. We transfer on a fast highway to the museum sugar mill of Jose Smith Comas near Cardenas where a number of steam locomotives are nicely preserved. Our journey returns behind steam to Cardenas, and onwards with a small amount of street running on the town’s derelict rum factory branch. Lunch is at a hacienda before Central Australia mill for yet another spell of steam haulage to a banana plantation. There will be opportunities for photos and to drive the steam locomotives. We then return to the main Cuban Autopista for Santa Clara, where time may permit a visit to the railway station and its facilities prior to arrival at our hotel.
Tuesday 21 February (B,L,D) We commence our day with a transfer north-east past the city of Remedios, and past the Museo de Vapor Marcelo Salado to Caibarien, where there is a coach and railcar works, most occupants of which can be viewed through the fence! Returning to Marcelo Salado, there are a large number of preserved steam locomotives, to observe before we return to Remedios by steam hauled train. We will take lunch in the outstanding central square of this colonial city then move to nearby Central Herberito Duquesne sugar mill, where British-built narrow gauge diesel locomotives are expected to be at work. Finally, we transfer to beautiful Sancti Spiritus, one of Cuba’s oldest towns, for a brief city visit en route to our hotel, Los Laureles .
Wednesday 22 February (B,L,D) We plan taking a packed lunch and to ride (subject to ticket availability) or photo a midmorning scheduled train to Tunas de Zaza possibly alighting at Guasimal. We will then transfer to Manaca Ignaza and, if operating, those who wish can ride the Tourist Train to Trinidad station through the Sugar Mills’ Valley. Alternatively, one continues to extraordinary Trinidad by bus, for a walking tour before regrouping again at the station where, subject to the local conductor, we can ride or photo an antiquated railbus on the Casilda branch. Our programme culminates with a visit to a bar which serves a special honey drink before returning to Sancti Spiritus.
Thursday 23 February (B,L,D) We now continue by rail, taking our chartered Budd railcar from Sancti Spiritus station. We break our journey at Jatibonico to observe rail action at Central Uruguay sugar mill then continue to Ciego de Avila, where we transfer, by bus, to the loco deposit in the north of the city and pause for lunch. Continuing north, we stop at Central Ciro Redondo for further rail action before arrival at Moron. Here we expect to connect with a steam locomotive charter train hauling us onward to Central Patria O Murte, a former and very welcoming sugar mill with a railway museum, and many preserved locomotives. We expect to be given some of their home-produced alcoholic potion before continuing to the end of their line. We round off our day with a visit to the Moron workshops of the FCC, which service ex-USA diesels before retiring to the Hotel Moron.
Friday 24 February (B,L,D) We are now a week into our holiday, and it’s time to relax and watch the Cuban landscape pass as we transfer to Gaspar taking a packed lunch for travel further east in our railcar. Leaving Camaguey, we will go slowly past the FCC workshops which service the ex-USSR diesel locomotives. At Las Tunas, we leave our railcar and hope we can connect with one of the local street railcars, following which we transfer north to the FC Manati, a provincial rail system operating a Brill Railcar. Our day is completed by transfer to an all-inclusive resort near the town of Rafael Freyre for two nights.
Saturday 25 February (B,L,D) We visit Central Rafael Freyre, a charming narrow gauge former sugar system which continues to operate a public passenger service. In the morning, we hope to travel to Potrerillo at the end of the west branch by a railbus. We will return to our resort for lunch. In the afternoon, we return and wish to travel as far as possible with a steam locomotive on the east branch to Altuna and beyond. These branches are not all connected by tarred roads.
Sunday 26 February (B,L,D) We take a packed lunch and transfer to Holguin Station to join our railcar, which by now will have turned on the ‘wye’. We plan to pause at Caocum Junction for rail activity and then travel to Julio Antonio Mella for transfer to visit an active working sugar mill for its rail activity. Subject to demand, we could also break our journey at Alto Cedro to visit Lugar de Nacimiento de Fidel Castro, the reconstructed birthplace of the Castro brothers. We rejoin our train at Julio A Mella station and continue downhill to Santiago de Cuba for a brief city tour of the cultural music and dance ‘capital’ of the Republic, before retiring to our hotel.
Monday 27 February (B,L,D) We transfer to Combinado to board our Budd car at the top of the bank and travel on to Guantanamo. Then, we transfer to a local Brill car and take the Caimanera branch, past salt pans into a restricted area close to the American Naval Base border. We take lunch at the fine hotel in Caimanera where we can look across to Boqueron, on the other side of the bay, where another branch to Guantanamo exists, but it seems there’s no way to cross the water. We then return to Santiago by bus on the fast highway.
Tuesday 28 February (B,L,D) We have another transfer to Combinado with packed lunch to join our Budd railcar. The railcar will be returning west and we travel with it, hopefully via the Bayamo/Marti route. There should be a lunch stop at Las Tunas and an evening break at Santa Clara. There is also an option to fly back to Havana for free time on flights at 8:30 and 18:00. With demand we could offer a cultural programme including a mountain, an island, and the Castillo del Morrow guarding the entrance to Santiago Bay prior to the 18:00 flight (no dinner included if one flies).
Wednesday 1 March (B) Our rail journey is continued from Santa Clara, aiming to arrive in Havana around lunchtime. A free afternoon follows before our final night is spent in Havana. For anyone opting to fly, there is free time in Havana to catch up on anything missed, either rail or cultural.
Thursday 2 March There are transfers to the airport for the evening Virgin flight to London and other booked departures, but an extension in Havana is to be recommended.
Disclaimers: (1) The Cuban authorities reserve the right to change any arrangements if circumstances should make it necessary, and we cannot promise that everything outlined above will be achieved. However, the Cubans are also good at offering an alternative and we will not have any “empty” days. (2) The PTG tour of Cuba goes off the beaten track and stays away from the tourist resorts. Some of the hotels we are assigned might not be of the standard PTG usually manages to get in other countries. People booking onto this tour are understood to have read these Disclaimers, and to accept the situation. We have always had a good time in Cuba but things rarely go exactly to plan! A supplement to upgrade to a better hotel in Havana is available for those who book early.
Seats on the direct Virgin Atlantic flights to Havana are extremely limited in this peak season. Passengers are recommended to book early if you want to use these flights. Prices shown are based on the low value of the GBP as of July 2016 and prices will reduce if the GBP recovers by early 2017.