With particularly ‘colourful’ political and cultural histories, Central American nations – and especially Cuba – conjure up all sorts of alluring images. This fantastic and unique tour will give you an up close and personal feel for the region, its people, history and culture as well as its rich farming base.
But before we get to Cuba, we will acclimatise with a few days in Mexico, with highlights being visits to the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centers (CIMMYT). Australia is one of CIMMYT’s most consistent supporters and several Australian researchers are currently based there.
Then it’s off to Havana. For nearly four centuries Cuba was the main gateway to the Spanish American empire and the major Cuban cities bear stunning testament to this era. But during the 1950s, Fidel Castro and his small band of revolutionaries changed all that – and political and economic isolation followed. Almost in defiance of this history, Cuba is a world-class cultural and artistic hub. And speaking of hubs, if you’re looking for a spare part for that 1953 convertible, you’ve come to the right place.
The country has existed in a time warp for 50 years but that is now changing. This may be the last opportunity to see the “old” Cuba before the tourist influx really begins.
Not that we expect too many tourists in the countryside anyway – they tend to congregate in Havana and the beach resorts. What we do expect is a fascinating scenic and cultural experience in a country renowned for its friendly people.
We’ll also visit the Panama Canal, an engineering marvel linking the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans – and it’s just turned 100.
This remarkable history, its people, culture and stunning scenery, have made Cuba and Central America a must-do destination.
Depart Australia the morning of August 5; Arrive Phoenix, Arizona (via Los Angeles). Transfer to our hotel for a light meal and an afternoon rest. For those wishing to arrive a day or two earlier, there are plenty of options such as the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas etc
Visit some of the highly productive irrigation areas near Maricopa, close to Phoenix. Arizona is one of the USA's major producers of cotton, grain and cattle in a very hot and dry (usually irrigated) environment.
Today we take a morning flight to Hermosillo in northern Mexico. After completing immigration formalities, we will board our coach for the 3 hour drive to Ciudad Obregon.
Today we visit The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) at Obregon. This is the dryland wheat hub of this famous research facility. Later we will visit the maize research centre near Mexico City. CIMMYT's Global Wheat Program provides elite breeding lines to national wheat breeding programs around the world. The program was started by Nobel Prize winner, the late Dr Norman Borlaug.
The valleys of the Yaqui and Mayo rivers provide some of the most highly productive agricultural areas of Mexico. We will visit some of these farms on the way to El Fuerte.
Early start as we catch the famous El Chepe train through the spectacular Copper Canyon. We will break our journey at Divisadero to take full advantage of the scenery. On arrival at Divisadero, it is just a short walk to our hotel with a wonderful view of the canyon.
More exploration of the canyon this morning before we take a bus ride to the wonderful colonial city of Chihuahua.
Morning flight to Mexico City. When the Aztec war god commanded his people to build their capital wherever they saw an eagle roosted on a cactus gripping a snake in its beak, he really didn’t think that very bird would be sighted in the middle of a huge swamp. But six centuries and 20 million inhabitants later, Mexico City is now one of the largest and most populous cities the world has ever known.
We spend the afternoon on a guided walking tour around Mexico City.
Today we visit The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) on the outskirts of Mexico City. Australia is one of CIMMYT’s most consistent supporters and several Australian researchers are currently based there. The first of over 100 CIMMYT- related wheat varieties were released in Australia in 1973 – around 90% of Australia’s wheat area is now sown to these varieties. We’ll see what’s in the breeding and biotech pipeline. On the way to CIMMYT we will visit Teotihuacan (meaning “Place of the Gods”) and the awesome Pyramids of the Sun and Moon. Free evening.
Morning flight to Merida. Visit to farms in this are of the Yucatan peninsula on the way to Piste. Visit to the famous Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza. Over 1000 yers old, this sacred site was one of the greatest Mayan centres of the Yucatán peninsula. Several buildings have survived, such as the Warriors’ Temple, El Castillo and the circular observatory known as El Caracol. In the afternoon, continue on to Cancun.
Transfer to the airport for the short flight to Havana. Afternoon orientation tour of Havana.
Cuba is the Caribbean’s largest and least commercialised island and one of the world’s last bastions of communism. The island’s political isolation has prevented it from being overrun by tourists, and the locals are sincerely friendly towards those who do venture in. For nearly four centuries Cuba was the main gateway to the Spanish American empire and the major Cuban cities bear stunning testament to this era. But during the 1950s, Fidel Castro and his small band of revolutionaries, changed all that. The Bay of Pigs fiasco, the Cuban/Russian missile crisis and political and economic isolation soon followed. Almost in defiance of all this, Cuba is a world-class cultural and artistic hub. And speaking of hubs, if you’re looking for a spare part for that 1953 convertible, you’ve come to the right place.
In this historic seaport, classic American cars clatter along streets lined with Spanish architecture – all pulsating with African and Caribbean rhythms. Old Havana’s baroque facades, massive-columned palaces, and lush patios reflect Cuba’s colonial past. A free day to do your own exploration of this intriguing World Heritage listed city.
Today we start our exploration of Cuba's rural heart as we head to Trinidad, on Cuba’s southern coastline. On the way, we pass by the famous Bay of Pigs. Founded in 1514, Trinidad is one of Cuba’s most historically significant cities and is World Heritage listed. It is the best preserved and most visited of the country’s provincial colonial cities. Some say the clocks stopped ticking in 1850 and have yet to restart. Built on huge sugar fortunes amassed in the adjacent Valle de los Ingenios during the early 19th century, the riches of the town’s pre-War of Independence heyday are still very much in evidence in illustrious colonial-style mansions bedecked with Italian frescoes, Wedgwood china and French chandeliers.
Located on the foothills of the Escambray Mountains overlooking the Caribbean, this beautiful city also commands stunning views.
We have a guided tour of Trinidad this morning before lunch and a free afternoon to do your own exploration of this beautiful location. There are also many local markets showing off the local produce and handicrafts (especially textiles and crochet work).
Today we continue northwest along the spine of Cuba and into the Camaguey region. We have a farm visit on the way at Ciego de Avila and meet with local farmers. We then continue onto Camaguey, Cuba’s third largest city, for overnight.
After almost continuous attacks from pirates the original city (founded as Santa María del Puerto del Príncipe around 1515 on the northern coast) was moved inland in 1528. The new city was built with a confusing lay-out of winding and blind alleys – that lead to squares of different sizes. One explanation is that this was done by design, to make the city easier to defend from any raiders.
The symbol of the city is the clay pot or tinajón and clay pots are everywhere. Local legend has it that if you drink water from a girl’s personal tinajón, you will fall in love with the girl and never leave her – maybe the fellas on this tour only need a one-way air ticket?
Camaguey is one of the major farming centres of Cuba and we will spend the day visiting a variety of farms.
In the evening, we will have a barbecue dinner at a local farm.
We travel east to the colonial region of Bayamo with a farm visit on our way. This town is where the secret meetings and conspiracies took place leading up to the Independence War between 1868 and 1878. Also, in Bayamo’s main square, the Cuban National Anthem was sung for the first time.
In the afternoon, continue on to Santiago de Cuba. Santiago de Cuba is the second largest city in Cuba and is in a partly submerged valley of the Sierra Maestra mountains. Santiago has been an important port for more than four centuries. Back in the 1950s, Fidel Castro launched his revolution from here. The city has played an instrumental part in the evolution of Cuban literature, music, architecture and the nation’s social fabric. It is a cosmopolitan mix of Afro-Caribbean culture, situated closer to Haiti and the Dominican Republic than to Havana.
We take a short guided tour of Santiago de Cuba including both the modern and older parts of the city. Then a free afternoon to do your own sightseeing or maybe even pursue a more adventurous option such as a spot of Caribbean game-fishing.
This morning, we say goodbye to Cuba and fly to Kingston, Jamaica. Christopher Columbus described Jamaica as “the fairest isle that eyes beheld; mountainous — all full of valleys and fields and plains.” Afternoon tour of Kingston.
The island’s idyllic tropical climate means that dramatic fluctuations in temperature are virtually non-existent, the unique environment needed for the production of the world’s finest, most exclusive — and most expensive — cotton type, Sea Island.
Morning flight to Panama City where we will do an afternoon tour of the Panama Canal followed by a farewell dinner.
Depart Panama City for a direct flight (7hrs) to Los Angeles and connection home to Australia (15hrs). Arrive home Sunday morning (Aug 21). You also have the option of resting up in LA for the night before your flight home the following evening. We will help you arrange a hotel and transfers.
There’s also plenty of options to fill in your day such as a guided tour of Hollywood, Santa Monica, Rodeo Drive and other iconic LA sights.