The Real Cuba – Steam and Culture
This will be the tenth year we are offering tours to this fascinating destination. Many visitors head just to Havana and the tropical beaches, but we aim to deliver the real Cuba to you, visiting provincial towns and countryside where the passage of time has been suspended. We travel both by road coach and our own chartered vintage American railcar. The tour will appeal to both the dedicated railway enthusiast and those intrigued by many of the outlying places we visit. On rail we travel with diesel, steam and antique electric traction, and off-rail we aim to offer a culture option on most days. Come with us and explore the enigma which is Cuba!
We leave behind the dark and the cold of the British winter, cross the Atlantic Ocean, then the Tropic of Cancer, finally reaching the vibrant island of Cuba, a nation physically close to the USA, yet despite recent changes a chasm away culturally and economically.
Our tour visits the UNESCO heritage sites of Old Havana and Trinidad where, as well as the architecture, one of Cuba’s most distinctive anachronisms, roads full of 1950 classic American cars, can be witnessed. We 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, and many of these are preserved – we expect to see almost 200 of them. We will make visits to where some of the locomotives are used for heritage operations.
We aim to travel by rail to the east of the island using our own chartered service powered by diesel railcar, but we commerce our journey on the Hershey Railway with electric traction. We will be accompanied throughout by our road coach, which will convey our luggage.
Our programme requires flexibility, and we will aim to incorporate all steam operations that are available during 2017 but, as always, we must remain mindful of Cuban infrastructure changes.
Tour Manager: Angelina assisted by Daisy
Thursday 2 March (D) We take morning flights to Havana from London Gatwick arriving early evening, we then transfer to a central hotel, where we take dinner.
Friday 3 March (B,D) We make a leisurely start on our first morning, starting with a visit to a cigar factory followed by a short guided walking tour around Old Havana to obtain an overview of the central area. We have a free afternoon for you to acclimatise to the time-zone, relax and get yourself into the Cuban spirit for the adventure that lies ahead. Dinner will again be at our hotel.
Saturday 4 March (B,L) We begin the day with a panoramic city tour in our bus to make short visits to a number of the significant tourist sites. We include the Capitolio, Gran Teatro, Museum of the Revolution, Bacardi Building, Plaza de Armas, Coche Mambi, Havana Club Museum, Castillo del Morro and along the Malecon. We take lunch in a restaurant central to Old Havana. We head to the port where we have a chartered steam train. We then visit the rail museum at the former Cristina terminal station that includes about 40 preserved locomotives many of which are steam. We visit the Central Railway Station adjacent to which are 6 preserved steam locos. La Coubre terminus. Iglesia de Paula where there are another 5 preserved locos and continue by bus to Castllo de la Real Fuerza. We return to the hotel and have a free evening when you can dine at a restaurant of your choice.
Sunday 5 March (B,L,D) Visit Havana Club Rum Museum. Railfans take the ferry heading for the Casablanca Terminus of the Hershey Railway. This antiquated electric line was built to deliver sugar to Havana for the Hershey Chocolate Co. The stock used today are second-hand emus from Catalonia which we plan to use to transfer us to Hershey and then continue our journey to Matanzas at the end of the line. Our culture group will have the opportunity to visit some of the haunts of Earnest Hemingway before departure to Matanzas. We have a city tour in Matanzas and then take our bus to Varadero and our all-inclusive resort.
Monday 6 March (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. Here a number of steam locomotives are nicely preserved. We can examine these or, be given an explanation of the sugar process while we await our journey behind steam to Cardenas, and onwards with a small amount of street running on the town’s rum factory branch. After lunch near Jovellanos, we transfer to Central Australia mill near Jaguey Grande, for yet another spell of steam haulage during which we halt at a banana plantation. There will be opportunities for photos and to drive the locomotives before we join the main Cuban Autopista by bus to Santa Clara to see the tren Blindado and the Che Guevara Monument before arrival at our resort, Los Caneyes, just outside the city of Santa Clara.
Tuesday 7 March (B,L,D) We commence our day with a transfer north-east past the city of Remedios to the Museo de Vapor Marcelo Salado. Here again there are a large number of preserved steam locomotives, which railfans will have time to observe before we return to Remedios by steam hauled train. Lunch will be taken here by our cultural group before a brief tour of the colonial city with its outstanding central square, followed by some free time. Those with a railway inclination must make do with a packed lunch and are taken to the nearby Central Herberito Duquesne mill, to view British built narrow gauge diesel locomotives at work hauling sugar cane, after which, we all transfer south to extraordinary Trinidad for a 2-night stay in an all-inclusive hotel.
Wednesday 8 March (B,L,D) We have the same program for everyone today. We take the tourist train from Trinidad along the “Valley of the Sugar Mills”. We have lunch at Manaca Iznaga colonial house. We visit the Ignaza Tower and craft market. We return to Trinidad for a guided city tour of the UNESCO World Heritage site and have free time before returning by bus to our hotel.
Thursday 9 March (B,L,D) The day commences with a transfer to Sancti Spiritus, one of Cuba’s oldest towns. We continue then to Ciego de Avila for lunch at a restaurant adjacent to 3 preserved steam locomotives. We depart by bus, stopping briefly at Ciro Redondo before continuing to Central Patria O Muerte, a former and very welcoming sugar mill with a railway museum and many preserved locomotives to view. We board our steam locomotive to the end of the line at Rancho Palma and back to the mill. We transfer by bus to Moron. The rail fans can visit the Moron workshops and the cultural group have a brief guided city visit before both groups check in to Hotel Moron. We have dinner at the hotel.
Friday 10 March (B,L,D) We depart by bus to Camaguey for a short city tour. At Camaguey station we continue our tour by joining our chartered ex-Canadian Budd Railcar that will take us first to Las Tunas with a halt for lunch. Our rail journey continues to Holguin from where our bus takes us to our all-inclusive hotel at Guardalavaca
Saturday 11 March (B,L,D) There is an option for much of the day to remain at the resort and take lunch near the beach. However, railfans have a programme at the nearby Central Rafael Freyre, once arguably Cuba’s most delightful narrow-guage mill, where we plan both a steam journey behind a recently restored locomotive, and a railcar trip along a branch serving an area not connected by metalled road. Then, after lunch in our resort, we take our Budd railcar in Holguin to travel from the north to the south of the island at Guantanamo. Check in and dinner at Hotel Guantanamo.
Sunday 12 March (B,L) We start our day with a bus trip to Boqueron where we have a guided city tour before taking the local Brill railcar to Caimanera. Our bus will take the group to Guantanamo after a halt at Hotel Caimanera for lunch. In Guantanamo we board our Budd railcar until Santiago de Cuba station where our bus will take us to the hotel for 2 nights at Santiago de Cuba.
Monday 13 March (B,L) Today we have cultural activities for the whole group beginning at 10:00 with a guided city tour of Santiago de Cuba. We take our bus to el Morro where we have free time to explore San Pedro de la Roca del Morro Castle before our lunch at Restaurante del Castillo del Morro. After lunch our bus takes us to El Cobre where the shrine is the most important religious site on the entire island and the focus of intense popular devotion.
Tuesday 14 March (B) In the morning we take our bus to Julio Antonio Mella sugar mill for a visit to the working central. We have free time for lunch and exploration At Santiago de Cuba before departure to Santiago airport for our internal flight to Havana. We transfer by bus to our hotel for 2 nights. Alternatively spend the last two nights relaxing on the coast at Varadero.
Wednesday 15 March (B) We have a free day in Havana to catch up on whatever we might have missed.
Thursday 16 March (B) A free morning and departure to the airport for flight home.
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.