Grand Tour, Culture

The Real Cuba – Steam and Culture

5 to 18 March
Cuba

Many visitors to Cuba see just Havana and then simply lie on a tropical beach, but we aim to deliver the real Cuba to you, visiting authentic provincial towns, travelling through countryside where the passage of time seems to have been suspended. Much of our journey will be in our own private train, and the tour will appeal to both the dedicated railway enthusiast and to those who are intrigued by the idea of the many unusual outlying places we plan to visit. On rail we will travel with diesel haulage, and steam haulage, and by antique electric traction, but we will be accompanied throughout by a comfortable air-conditioned road coach which takes our luggage from hotel to hotel and ferries us to and from the nearest station. On many days, a ‘cultural option’ is offered, often in parallel with a rail activity. We visit the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Old Havana and Trinidad.

Highlights
  • Unique lost world “time warp”
  • Private charter train
  • Loco(s) in steam
  • World Heritage Sites
  • Stunning scenery
  • Most meals included
  • Beaches

Our tour has been designed and will be led by John Bennett, one of the News Editors of the prestigious UK railfan magazine “Locomotives International”. John is something of a Cuba expert, having first visited the island in 1989 and having been back there almost every year since.

Tour Manager: John

Itinerary

Monday 5 March (D) Our flight to Havana arrives early evening. We transfer to our central hotel, where we take dinner.

Tuesday 6 March (B,L,D) A leisurely start to our holiday: first the cigar factory, then a guided tour around Old Havana, ending at the Rum Museum. Lunch will be taken at a nearby restaurant. The afternoon is your own.

Wednesday 7 March (B,L)  Sightseeing this morning follows the great American author Ernest Hemingway, who lived in Cuba in his later years. We begin at Hemingway’s villa on a hill in the suburbs, complete with his furniture, books and other possessions (typewriter; hunting trophies…), looking like he’s just popped out for a few minutes. Then we will visit two of his favourite bars and the hotel where he stayed—including the room he used to stay in. After Lunch, we go to the Railway Museum, with its collection of mostly USA-built steam engines and diesel locomotives from Europe and the USSR. Then we will go to a waterfront warehouse converted into an enormous bazaar full of stalls selling souvenirs. The warehouses used to be serviced by the WatersideTramroad and several ex sugar industry steam locos are parked outside, one of which will be in steam for us and running up and down a section of the old Tramroad. We return to the hotel and have a Free Evening when you can dine at a restaurant of your choice.

Thursday 8 March (B,L) We take the morning  internal flight Havana—Santiago de Cuba, check into our central hotel and have lunch. Afternoon:  Sightseeing tour of Santiago, Cuba’s second city, to include Fidel Castro’s tomb.

Friday 9 March (B,L/D)  Today we first board our special train! It is a single unit diesel railcar built by the Budd Corporation in the United States in the 1950s and delivered to Cuba before the Revolution. It is not very powerful and cannot get up the hill out of Santiago on the new railway since built by the Soviets, and so we take our bus to San Luis and join it at the top. Thence we travel across country to Guantanamo, the city at the head of the bay around which the American base is situated. There will be water and beer on board our railcar, and lunch boxes. At Guantanamo, we will change into a Brill diesel railcar for a ride along the bay, past the salt pans and alongside the USA’s fence, to Caimanera, where we will have a meal in a hotel with views across the waters of the bay to the buildings of the American base (whether this meal be Lunch or Dinner will depend on the time of our arrival). After our meal, our bus will take us to a hotel in Guantanamo.

Saturday 10 March (B,PL,D)  Our Budd railcar will take us from Guantanamo to Holguín. Again there will be water and beer and lunch boxes on board. From Holguín our bus will whisk us off to Rafael Freyre, where the narrow gauge railway which used to bring in the cane to the now-closed sugar mill has been kept open to offer a passenger service because there is no tarmac road up the valley. There will be an engine in steam shunting the cane cars still lying about in the mill yard, for photographs; then we will ride one of the antediluvian railcars up the valley to the end of the line. There will be an option of staying behind (not travelling on the railcar) for further photography of the remains of the sugar industry and of its railway and stock. Hotel in Guardalavaca, nearby.

Sunday 11 March (B,PL,D) The Budd railcar will take us from Holguín to Morón, via Brasil, where we will visit the sugar factory. Again there will be water and beer and lunch boxes on board. There are rumours the fireless locos which used to shunt the cane cars into the factory have been restored and, if Brasil is milling (as it was in 2017), they will be able to charge them up with steam for us. Hotel in Morὀn.

Monday 12 March (B,L,D)  Morón was once the headquarters of the Cuban Northern Railroad and the town still has a large locomotive works and motive power depot complex, the home base of the 50901 Class of Bo-Bo DE (built 1955!). We begin visiting the engine shed and Works, after which we board an antiquated railcar for a transfer by rail to the former Patria sugar mill, now a railway museum. One of the engines will be in steam to take us through the cane fields on what remains of the mill’s field system. At the end of the line, we will be served a Cuban style lunch in a Cuban barn. Finally our Budd railcar will take us to Sancti Spiritus, to a hotel in one of Cuba’s oldest towns.

Tuesday 13 March (B,L,D) Today we visit Trinidad, a fine example of a Spanish colonial town. But first our bus takes us to nearby Manaca Iznaga where we will visit a slave-owner’s estate and have Lunch in his colonial-style mansion. Railfans will have the option to forego lunch and visit instead an embryonic railway museum being established in the now-closed FNTA mill, though it has to be stressed we don’t know what we will find there—we will be some of its first-ever visitors. After Lunch, we will take the Trinidad Tourist Train for a picturesque ride into town. This used to be steam-hauled but is now diesel. The last three steam engines to work it are all lined up at Trinidad Station (and a fourth is at FNTA). In Trinidad, we organise a walking tour of the city centre but the rail enthusiasts may prefer to stay at the station and take a ride on the service diesel railcar to Casilda (Trinidad’s port). At the end of the afternoon, our bus will take us all back to S.Spiritus.

Wednesday 14 March (B,L,D)  This morning our Budd railcar will be waiting at S.Spiritus Station, to take us up the main line to Santa Clara, where we branch off towards Remedios and the former Marcelo Salado sugar mill, near Caibarien. There will be beer and water and lunch boxes on board. Those who are not railfans will be offered the option of detraining in S.Clara, for a city tour to include Ché Guevara’s Mausoleum and the Armoured Train Memorial Park. Meanwhile, remaining passengers will be taken to the amazing M.Salado museum collection of sugar industry steam locos, one of which will be in steam to give us a ride to Remedios. Hotel in S.Clara.

Thursday 15 March (B,L,D)   Our Budd railcar will continue westwards along the main line and we will hope to meet several heavy freights and maybe one or two long-distance passenger trains. At Jovellanos, we branch off northwards along the little-used Cardenas branch to reach the José Smith Comas factory, another closed sugar mill converted into a rail museum. JSC also has an interesting collection of steam locos and one of them will be shunting cane cars around the mill yard for the photographers. Then the engine will take a train of their home-made tourist cars, with us aboard, to Cardenas to get more photographs on the roadside Docks branch. Finally our bus will take us to the nearby beach resort of Varadero, where we will check into an all-inclusive hotel for our last two nights.

Friday 16 March (B,L,D) Today there is the option to stay all day poolside at our all-inclusive hotel. The rail enthusiasts, however, will want to go on our final excursion, to ride the Hershey Railway = a genuine USA-style electric interurban and an amazing survivor. The Hershey is proving somewhat unreliable these days, with staff shortages and breakdowns, so we will get our bus to take us to Jaruco and ride the service train on the Jaruco branch which the management says is the most reliable. By special arrangement, the train we are on will go into and terminate at Hershey (Street Seven) Station i.e. it will go past the car sheds and workshop very slowly, thus enabling photographs. Then it’s back to our Varadero hotel for a very civilised final evening.

Saturday 17 March (B,L)  Today we go home, but we can stay in our hotel all morning, and have lunch before we leave.

Sunday 18 March (B) Our flight arrives back into London mid-morning.

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 – although we have better hotels in 2018 than we have had for the last few years. 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! 

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.

 

 

Place(s) available
Holiday prices per person
  • Including flight from London Gatwick (13 days): £3,899
  • Own travel to Havana (13 days): £3,299

Options

  • Single room Supplement: £360

Deposit

  • Travelling by air: £1,250
  • Own travel: £600
Price includes
  • All travel and excursions as outlined in the itinerary
  • En-suite accommodation
  • Meals as shown in the itinerary; B = Breakfast, L = Lunch, D = Dinner
  • Services of our tour manager. Holiday is fully escorted.
Online Booking
Travel Option:
Room Option:
Places :

Click here to see our Booking Conditions

Click here to see our Privacy Policy

We recommend you also check the FCO website for the latest travel advice https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice

Flights
  • Virgin Atlantic direct from Gatwick or other airlines via Spain.