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"THE IRISH LEGACY IN CUBA” PRIVATE JOURNEY: HAVANA – CIENFUEGOS - TRINIDAD "
"Irish visitors to Cuba often remark on the identification they feel with the warmth and sense of fun of ordinary Cubans. While caution is wise with such generalizations, it is a similarity that others have noticed too." There is something Celtic about the Cuban that commands the affection of those fortunate foreigners who really know them ... from the Irish Times.
Many are the connections between Ireland and Cuba, from an O Reilly Street in the island s capital celebrating the Cuban-Irish links with a wall plaque which reads: "Two island peoples in the same sea of struggle and hope: Cuba and Ireland" to the claimed Cuban roots of the politician Eamon de Valera and the world’s best-known revolutionary Che Guevara. Join this tour to track down the Irish legacy in Havana, a unique city that enchants its visitors with the best of the Cuban culture and traditions; its colonial architecture, music, dances, religion, painting, the art of rolling cigars and making rum. Enjoy the amazing landscapes of Viñales Valley, decorated with the intense green of the tobacco plantations. End your holiday relaxing on the white sands of one of the best Cuban beaches at key Santa Maria.
Area Information: Havana
Havana was founded in 1519 as an assembly point for ships taking silver to Spain and was therefore a city of great strategic and commercial importance. Havana is still one of the finest examples of Spanish colonial cities in the Americas and more than any city in the world is like stepping back in time. There is little trace of modern global commerce, no burger joints, no neon and not much advertising. There is little traffic and the cars that do cruise the streets tend to be antique models. The Old City (Havana Vieja), a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is currently being restored to its former glory, while many old mansions are battling against the corrosive effects of the sea air giving the city an atmospheric feel. Today, over 40 years after the revolution, the city has a vibrant music and arts scene and is a lively Spanish Caribbean city.
Transfer: You will be met and taken to your hotel (approx. 30 min).
Accommodation: Hotel O’Farrill 4* for 5 nights
Set in a stunning neoclassical palace, the hotel occupies the former home of Don José Ricardo O Farrill, descendant of one of the most powerful and richest Irish families of the colonial period. It was renovated in 2002 and comprises a total of 38 rooms. The harmonious combination of architectural elements from the 18th and 19th centuries, and the decoration in each of its three levels, bring about an exceptional effect of comfort on visitors to this establishment.
Meals: None other than those served on your flight
Excursion: Walking tour of Havana.
The tour will start with a visit to a cigar factory where you will be able to see the process of hand-rolling the high-quality Havana cigars. Take a walking tour through the twisting streets of Old Havana including the restored Plaza de Armas, the heart of the city, the stately Plaza Vieja with its grand balconied buildings, and the Cathedral. Taste a local beer at “La Muralla” brewery and finally learn about the process of making original Cuban rum at the Rum Museum housed in an old colonial mansion declared by UNESCO a Cultural Patrimony of Havana in 1982.
City Museum: Governors Palace during colonial times. Residence of Leopoldo O Donnell, Irish captain general of Cuba in the 1840s
Hotel Sevilla: The stylish Sevilla is located in the centre of Havana beside the romantic tree-lined Prado promenade, which extends from the centre of town out to the magnificent Malecon seafront boulevard, probably best-known now as the location in Graham Greenes Our Man in Havana where anti-hero Jim Wormold was solicited into the British secret service. The leading members of the Irish community were two partners who owned the Seville Hotel, then called the Seville- Biltmore. O Reilly Str: The street OReilly was named after the general Alejandro O´Reilly inspector of the Spanish troops in 1763 after the English occupation.
Cathedral of Havana: Originally built by the Jesuits as a little hermitage named Saint Ignacio de Loyola. Later on, they decided to build a college to teach the inhabitants, where the Irish professor Thomas Ignatius Butler (1722-1797) teached philosophy.
OPTIONAL EVENING PROGRAMME: Visit to La Cabana Fortress and enjoy the Cannon Blast Ceremony
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch
Excursion: Morning classic car tour of Modern Havana. Your classic car tour will first take you along the Malecon, Havana s seaside promenade stretching for over 10 km between the city and the sea. Although its beautiful buildings have been relentlessly affected by the sea breezes, the drive is still a popular place for festive parades, car rallies or evening walks. Drive past the exclusive neighbourhood of Miramar with its private mansions and embassies and the Christopher Columbus Cemetery to reach Revolution Square, surrounded by the headquarters of the Cuban Revolutionary Forces, the Communist Party Central Committee and several ministries. Take a short stroll around and see the national hero Jose Marti s marble statue before returning to the centre past the University Building and the park adjacent to the Capitol Building.
The Railway Museum: Historically, most of the Irish who came to Cuba arrived from the US for the construction of railways used to transport products to and from the sugar plantations in the latter part of the 19th century, and for the construction in 1902 of the 1,000-km trans-Cuba railroad. The memory of the Irish and other builders of Cuba’s first railway are present in the Cristina Station Museum, former departure point of the old Western Railway. Colon Cemetery: This is one of the great historical cemeteries of the world. There is one in Genoa, La Recoleta in Buenos Aires, Pere Lachaise in Paris, and Colon in Havana, you can associate these places with history and art. To walk the streets of this 136 years old cemetery is to be introduced to its varied and storied citizens, including the cemetery’s Spanish architect, Calixto de Loira who became Colon’s first occupant when he died before his work was completed.
OPTIONAL EVENING PROGRAMME: Tropicana Show
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch
Excursion: Full day tour to Vinales with lunch.
This morning, drive out of the city towards the western tip of the island through unusual landscapes of mogotes, caves, mountains and tobacco plantations. Visit the Vinales Valley. Vinales is a charming old town in a valley in the Sierra de los Organos surrounded by the limestone hills called mogotes. After lunch visit the Indian Cave, including a short boat ride past the beautiful rock formations.
Drive to Havana late this afternoon.
OPTIONAL EVENING PROGRAMME: Dinner and performance by members of the Buena Vista Social Club.
At leisure / optional tours available
Area Information: Zapata Swamp National Park
The Zapata Peninsula juts off the southern coast of Matanzas province. The peninsula itself is almost entirely uninhabited; most of it is protected as part of the Parque Nacional Ciénaga de Zapata (Zapata Swamp National Park), a haven for bird-watchers and naturalists. The eastern edge of the peninsula is defined by the Bahía de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs), the site of the failed 1961 U.S.-backed invasion of Cuba. The Bay of Pigs, and Playa Girón in particular, is a sort of national shrine to this stunning David-over-Goliath victory. Just off the shore, all along the Bay of Pigs and toward the east, the coast drops off steeply for 305km (1,000 ft.) or more, making this a true haven for scuba divers.
Road Journey: Drive to Cienfuegos visiting Zapata en route
Excursion: Guamá boat tour
Accommodation: La Union 4* for 2 nights
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch
Area Information: Cienfuegos
Known as La Perla del Sur (the Southern Pearl), Cienfuegos is an uncharacteristically calm and inviting port city. Although Columbus visited the deep and protected harbour here on his second voyage, and the Spanish built the Castillo de Jagua in 1745, it wasn’t until 1819, when a group of French colonists settled here, that Cienfuegos began to grow and develop. During the first third of the nineteenth century there was a wave of immigration towards the island of settlers from different European countries and North America, amongst whom there were also Irish people who participated in the foundation and development of two new towns like Cienfuegos. The city of Cienfuegos bears the mark of the Irish settlers in its neighbourhood of the north part of the Jagua Bay which has the name O’Bourke. The historic centre, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the beautiful bay and harbour front buildings and Malecón make it a wonderful city to explore and enjoy.
Excursion: Morning City tour of Cienfuegos
Excursion: Afternoon Visit to Cienfuegos’ botanical garden
The Jardín Botánico Soledad was begun by U.S. sugar magnate Edwin Atkins in 1900, and taken over by Harvard University in 1919. With more than 2,000 species of plants covering some 90 hectares (222 acres), it is the largest and most extensive botanical garden in Cuba. The grounds are beautiful to walk around, and there is usually good bird-watching here.
The Parque José Martí, formerly the Plaza de Armas, is the city s hub. It is a broad city park with a gazebo/bandstand at its center and an Arc of Triumph dating from 1902. Surrounding the park, you’ll find Cienfuegos most interesting historical buildings. On the north side of the park is the Teatro Tomás Terry. Inaugurated in 1890, the theatre has been wonderfully maintained. It has been declared a national monument, and stars such as Enrico Caruso, Sarah Bernhardt, and Anna Pavlova performed here. Out on the end of Punta Gorda is the historic old Palacio de Valle, an eclectic architectural masterpiece, which covers vast stylistic ground in its compact floor plan, which tries to imitate the intricate Moorish stucco and tile work of Spain s Alhambra. There’s also a wonderful third-floor rooftop balcony bar and lookout.
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch
Area Information: Santa Clara
Santa Clara was founded in 1689 by settlers from Remedios looking for a site inland that would be less vulnerable to pirate attack. Heading east from Havana, Santa Clara marks the start of Cuba s central region. It played an important role in both the independence and revolutionary wars. Thanks to the latter, Santa Clara is known as Che Guevara s City. Today, it is also home to several industrial factories, the legacy of Guevara s tenure as Minister of Industry and his special relationship with this city. In addition to being an interesting destination in its own right, Santa Clara serves as the gateway to the colonial treasure of Remedios and the up-and-coming beaches of la Cayería del Norte (the Northern Cays).
Road Journey: Drive to Trinidad visiting Santa Clara en route
Accommodation: Iberostar Trinidad 5* for 2 nights
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch
Area Information: Trinidad
Tiny Trinidad is, quite simply, one of the finest colonial towns in all the Americas. Wholly disproportionate to its diminutive size, Trinidad ranks as one of Cuba s greatest attractions. A few square blocks of cobblestone streets, pretty pastel-colored 18th- and 19th-century houses, palaces, and plazas, Trinidad s colonial-era core can be toured in just a few hours. However, its serenity is so soothing that many visitors are easily coaxed into much longer stays. Magically frozen in time and tastefully scruffy where it needs to be, the city has streets that are more populated by horse-drawn carts than automobile traffic, and old folks still crouch by windows, behind fancy wrought-iron grilles, to peer out at passersby. When the bottom dropped out of sugar by the 1860s, Trinidad s economy collapsed and the town drifted into obscurity. Its economic failure in the late-19th century is a true blessing in the 21st: Trinidad escaped further economic development and modernization that surely would have obscured the colonial nucleus that UNESCO honoured as a World Heritage Site in 1988. Even in the 1950s, in prerevolutionary, capitalist Cuba, the beauty and historical value of Trinidad prompted the government to declare it off-limits to further development.
Excursion: Half day tour of Trinidad with lunch Unquestionably, the greatest attraction in Trinidad is the town itself, which constitutes one of the finest colonial centers in the Americas and, justifiably, has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in its entirety. The town s cobblestone streets contain a treasure-trove of small and grand colonial homes, churches, and quiet squares. Visit the Valley of the Sugar Mills, located near Trinidad and one of the most photographed landscapes in Cuba. The monumental value of the 65 sites that form the valley increases the interest to visit this place, where important vestiges of the island s sugar colonization still survive.
The neo-baroque, 19th-century Plaza Mayor, elaborately adorned with serene sitting areas, statuary, towering palm trees, and gardens enclosed by white wrought-iron fences, is one of Cuba s most beautiful plazas. It is ringed by magnificent palaces and pastel-colored houses with red-tile roofs and wood shutters. On the northwest corner is the cathedral, Iglesia de la Santísima Trinidad, which most locals refer to as La Parroquial Mayor. The highlight of the Plaza Mayor, and the most evocative reminder of Trinidad s glory days, is the lovingly restored Palacio Brunet. The colonial mansion dates to 1704 and houses the Museo Romántico. Its splendid collection of period antiques culled from a number of old Trinitario families convincingly evokes the life of a local sugar baron in the 1800s. The former Palacio Cantero, an 1830 palatial residence built by a noted sugar baron, houses the Museo Histórico Municipal. In addition to antiques and 19th-century furnishings, there are bits and pieces of slave history, old bank notes, and exhibits of revolutionary Cuba. For many visitors, though, the highlight is the climb up the narrow and rickety wooden stairs to the tower, which has terrific bird s-eye views of Trinidad and the surrounding area.
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch
Transfer: You will be collected at your hotel and taken back to Havana
Accommodation: O’ Farrill hotel 4* for 1 night
Day 11Transfer: You will be collected at your hotel and taken to the airport
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