Trip begins: 4:00 PM, InterContinental Miami. Travelers flying to Miami should plan to arrive at Miami International Airport by 2:00 PM, and take a Yellow Taxi from the airport to InterContinental Miami (for an average fee of USD $25 plus tip, which will be reimbursed by your Tauck Director). Gather this afternoon at the hotel for a Tauck Director briefing about tomorrow morning's included flight to Santiago de Cuba and the start of your educational exchange trip to Cuba, followed by a welcome reception and dinner at the hotel.
Welcome to Santiago de Cuba / Embark ship
Fly this morning from Miami to Antonio Maceo International Airport in Santiago de Cuba, the country's second-largest city - and, to many, its second most important - behind Havana. Dating back to a village established by Spanish conquistador Diego Velazquez in 1515, it has enjoyed a long and colorful history, serving as the capital of Spanish Colonial Cuba throughout much of the 16th century, and later as the birthplace of the 1950s Cuban Revolution. The city is also known for its thriving cultural life, with strong Afro-Cubano influences and a significant role in Cuban musical genres including son, salsa and trova. Music seems to be everywhere here, in the hometown of many famed Cuban musicians including Compay Segundo and other members of the "Buena Vista Social Club." Your People-to-People discoveries today include meeting some of the city's local musicians. Explore Santa Ifigenia Cemetery, the final resting place of many noted Cubans, including 19th-century revolutionary José Marti and Fidel Castro, whose tombs are guarded by a regularly changing contingent of Cuban soldiers. Experience Parque Cespedes, a vibrant square set on the site of the city's original settlement, adjacent to its oldest existing home, now a museum. And get a close-up look at the Cuban Revolution with a visit to the site considered its birthplace - Moncada Barracks, where young brothers Fidel and Raul Castro led an ill-fated attack on a government barracks in 1956; bullet holes have been preserved on the exterior of the building, which today is a school, museum and historic site. Next, visit Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca (also known as Castillo del Morro) - an iconic stone citadel that has guarded Santiago's harbor from pirates and other threats since its completion in 1700, after more than 60 years of construction - where you'll enjoy a sunset champagne toast. Then continue on to the dock and board Le Ponant for the start of your cruise; attend a welcome reception and dinner onboard the ship tonight.
Cruising Cuba's Coastal Waters
Spend a relaxing day at sea aboard Le Ponant as she sails westward along Cuba's southern coast, bound for the port of Casilda for a visit to Trinidad. Enjoy the ship's amenities as well as a range of onboard activities, including lectures and commentary from your Tauck Directors.
Casilda & Trinidad
After cruising the entire morning and into the afternoon, the ship docks today at the port of Casilda for a visit to the city of Trinidad - although founded early in the 16th century, its fortunes rose and fell in step with those of the sugar cane industry that prospered in this region between the late 18th and 19th centuries. Both the city itself and the nearby Valle de los Ingenios (Sugar Mill Valley) - which you'll explore tomorrow - have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Join your local guide this afternoon for a walking tour of Trinidad's historic center, whose squares, plazas and cobblestone streets reflect the past wealth of the sugar industry - especially the Plaza Mayor, flanked by the Palacio Brunet, emblematic of the city's golden age, and the neoclassical-style Palacio Cantero, home to its municipal history museum today - and engage in People-to-People interaction with some of this vibrant city's local artists in their studios. Return to Le Ponant, docked overnight in Casilda, for dinner onboard this evening.
Trinidad & the Sugar Mill Valley
Disembark the ship in Casilda this morning and travel outside Trinidad to the Valle de los Ingenios - the Sugar Mill Valley - to explore its three interconnected valleys where over 50 sugar cane mills once operated, supported by the forced labor of more than 30,000 slaves who worked in the mills or in the plantations surrounding them. This vast UNESCO site conserves the ruins of many sugar mills, where you'll see traces of barracones (slave quarters) and other structures at plantations like Manaca Iznaga, with its preserved owner's house and 147-foot bell tower built in 1816, or San Isidro de los Destiladeros. Le Ponant departs Casilda this evening and sets sail for Cienfuegos.
Cienfuegos or Playa Girón on the Bay of Pigs
Le Ponant arrives this morning in Cienfuegos on Cuba's southern coast, dubbed the "Pearl of the South." Founded in 1819 by French and Spanish immigrants and known as a haunt of pirates and privateers in its early days, Cienfuegos - whose name translates to "one hundred fires" - became wealthy as a trading port during the 19th century; no other city in the Caribbean can lay claim to as large a collection of Neoclassical buildings from the 19th and 20th centuries. Today, you have a choice of activities. You can stay in town and explore Cienfuegos' historic center - named a UNESCO World Heritage Site as the finest existing example of early 19th-century Spanish Enlightenment urban planning - on a walking tour with our local guide, then visit the local LA UNEAC social project for People-to-People interaction with members of the community. Or you can join us on an excursion to Playa Girón on the Bay of Pigs (Bahia de Cochinos), which served as a landing site for the unsuccessful invasion by CIA-sponsored Cuban exiles attempting to overthrow the Castro government in April, 1961; visit the Museo Girón, which chronicles the invasion. Return to Le Ponant for dinner tonight as your cruise continues.
Punta Francés on La Isla de la Juventud
Le Ponant arrives early morning at Parque Nacional Marino de Punta Francés (Punta Francés Marine National Park) on La Isla de la Juventud (Island of Youth), a tear-shaped island about 60 miles off Cuba's southern coast. Back in the 16th and 17th centuries, the island's coves, caves and beaches saw many skirmishes between Spanish ships and privateers like Henry Morgan and Sir Francis Drake... and oft-told tales of pirate booty. In the 20th century, the island was the site of a prison of the Battista regime - Fidel Castro and Che Guevara were both held there after a failed revolutionary attack in the 1950s - and later a post-revolution Communist university established by Castro in the 1970s. Today, the island is one of Cuba's hidden gems, highly popular with divers, possessing a wealth of natural beauty and protected wildlife, but little development. At Punta Francés Marine National Park on the island's southern coast - accessible only by sea - you'll join a local naturalist for an excursion through the mangroves, and have an opportunity to practice some snorkeling before returning to the ship for dinner onboard.
Day at Sea
Enjoy all the amenities your ship has to offer on an entire day at sea, as Le Ponant sails westward from La Isla de la Juventud, then northward around the western tip of Cuba, bound for the capital city, Havana.
Havana & Hemingway's Cuba
Your 7-night Cuba cruise ends this morning as Le Ponant sails into Havana, Cuba's capital city, where you'll disembark and bid adios to your captain and crew. Stop at El Morro ("The Rock," a.k.a. Morro Castle), the iconic stone fortress that has guarded Havana's harbor since the 16th century, en route to Finca Vigia ("Lookout Farm") in San Francisco de Paula. American novelist Ernest Hemingway made his winter home here from 1939 to 1960, which he shared with third wife Martha Gellhorn, and later with fourth wife Mary Welsh. On a walk around the preserved house (which cannot be entered, but can be viewed through windows and doors) and grounds, you'll see the author's 9,000-volume library and his yacht, Pilar, and talk with a docent about Hemingway's life here. Continue along the coast to the little fishing village of Cojimar - the community whose people and way of life inspired Hemingway to write The Old Man and the Sea - where you'll see a memorial to "Ernesto," have lunch at a paladar, and engage in a People-to-People exchange at a fishermen's cooperative. Return to Havana and check into your hotel, before dinner with entertainment this evening.
Historic Havana, Cigars & Revolution
Today's People-to-People exchange in Havana begins on a guided walking tour through Habana Vieja - the city's nearly 500-year-old heart, now a pedestrian-only UNESCO World Heritage Site - with a local expert to discuss the city's architecture and historic restoration efforts, and how Cuban citizens are playing an important role in preserving and revitalizing the area. Visit a local Havana cigar factory for a firsthand look at the production of one of Cuba's most popular exports: traditional hand-rolled Havana cigars. After lunch at a local paladar, head over to what was once Cuba's Presidential Palace, which now houses Havana's Museum of the Revolution. Join your local guide for a tour of the museum's exhibits focusing on the Cuban Revolution of the late 1950s. Stop at Plaza de la Revolución, with its memorial tower honoring 19th-century patriot José Martí, and huge metalwork portraits of national heroes Ché Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos. Stop at Plaza de la Revolución (Revolution Square), with its memorial tower honoring 19th-century patriot José Martí, and huge metalwork portraits of national heroes Ché Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos, before returning to your hotel for tonight's farewell reception and dinner.
Depart the Meliá Cohiba this morning for Havana's José Marti International Airport and your return flight to Miami International Airport. Trip ends: 2:00 PM, Miami International Airport.