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Cuba: Sea Turtles, Coral Reefs, and Culture

See nesting green sea turtles, snorkel Cuba's reefs, meet local biologists, and explore historic Havana on this one-of-a-kind trip. Open to U.S. citizens!

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Overview

  • Get to know Cuba’s wild side through snorkeling or scuba diving, observing nesting sea turtles, bird watching, and more.
  • Embrace Cuban culture with tours of historic Havana, live jazz performances, authentic Cuban food, and visits to museums and markets.
  • Meet and learn from Cuban marine biologists and conservationists.

We are delighted to bring you this unique exploration of Cuba’s natural side in partnership with SEE Turtles, Cuba Marine Research & Conservation Program, and Altruvistas. While Cuba is well known for its cultural highlights, the country’s amazing natural beauty and conservation ethic are under-appreciated. Our trip will allow you to see and experience Cuba’s natural beauty first-hand, while also providing opportunities to fully enjoy Cuba’s rich cultural heritage.

>> See our 2016 naturalist's trip report and photos.

We will travel to Guanahacabibes National Park, the island’s westernmost point, to look for nesting green and loggerhead sea turtles as well as endemic birds, and to swim, snorkel, or scuba dive at some of Cuba's best coral reefs. You’ll also meet local scientists, explore fascinating Havana, and visit the countryside of the Viñales Valley in Pinar del Río, Cuba’s most fertile province.

This trip is open to American citizens through a "People to People" license given by the U.S. State Department to our partners.

Trip Dates & Cost

2018: July 14–22. From $4,895 per person. Single supplement $875.*
Group size limit: 16

*Trip price does not include airfare to/from Havana. Click here for our full expedition terms and conditions.

Photos
Naturalist

Brian Hutchinson is Oceanic Society's vice president of outreach, co-founder of the State of the World's Sea Turtles Program, and program officer of the IUCN-SSC Marine Turtle Specialist Group. Brian holds a B.A. in zoology from Connecticut College, and has been working to advance global marine conservation for more than a decade.

Itinerary

The following itinerary is provided for informational purposes based on past program itineraries and is subject to change.

Day 1: Arrive to Havana
Upon you arrival into Havana you will be met at the airport and transferred to our hotel in Havana, the legendary Hotel Nacional. That evening, we will meet for an orientation and welcome cocktail and have dinner at a local restaurant offering authentic Cuban cuisine. Overnight at Hotel Nacional.

Day 2: Explore Havana
After breakfast, we will meet with a Cuban architect to learn about the architectural history of Havana, and then we'll take a guided walking tour of Old Havana to see the beautiful restored plazas, historic churches, and other buildings. Old Havana is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and offers a fascinating window into Cuban culture, government, and history. After lunch, we'll visit one of Havana's top-notch museums, the well-known National Museum of Fine Arts (Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes). Relax at the hotel in the afternoon before dinner. Overnight at Hotel Nacional.

Day 3: Havana - Viñales Valley World Heritage Site
This morning, enjoy a presentation from a representative of the Fundación Antonio Nuñez Jimenez, a Cuban organization that promotes conservation and sustainable development. Afterwards, board your bus for a 2 hour drive to Viñales Valley, Cuba’s renowned tobacco growing area. The dramatic valley is dotted with “mogotes,” steep limestone rock formations that pop up from the valley and create one of the most scenic landscapes on the island. We'll have lunch at a wonderful organic farm as we take-in the breathtaking views of the valley. In the afternoon we'll check in to our hotel with time to relax on the hotel grounds or walk through the charming town of Viñales. After dinner, we'll attend a welcome party in town organized by a local town committee, where there will be dancing. Overnight at Hotel La Ermita or similar.

Day 4: Viñales - Guanahacabibes National Park
After breakfast, join your guide for a walk around the beautiful valley to learn about its unique geography, and the process of growing and drying tobacco for cigars. Enjoy lunch in the town of Viñales before boarding the bus for the 3-hour drive to Guanahacabibes National Park, Cuba's westernmost point.

Late that afternoon we'll arrive to Guanahacabibes National Park and check in to our rooms at the beachfront Villa Maria La Gorda Resort (3 nights). After dinner, you'll have presentations from Cuban turtle biologist, Dr. Julia Azanza, who will talk about the sea turtle research program in the park, and from your Oceanic Society naturalist, who will talk about global sea turtle research and conservation. Overnight at Villa Maria La Gorda.

Day 5: Birding, Snorkeling or Diving, and Sea Turtle Nesting
After breakfast, we'll join a park ranger on a short walk to look for some of the unique bird life found within the park, which includes endemic species such as the Bee Hummingbird (the world's smallest bird), Cuban Tody, Cuban Green Woodpecker, Cuban Oriole, Cuban Black Hawk, Cuban Trogon, and Cuban Pygmy Owl.

In the afternoon, you'll have the opportunity to experience the park's impressive coral reefs via a boat-based snorkel (or optional scuba diving) excursion to one of the parks many nearby snorkel/dive sites.

In the evening, watch the incredible sunset and enjoy a drink and dinner by the beach. At around 8:30 pm, we will take a 1 hour bus ride to the sea turtle nesting beach to look for green and loggerhead turtles coming ashore to nest. With luck, we'll be able to observe the entire nesting process as the researchers collect data. While this is not a volunteer trip, some members of the group may be able to participate in the data collection.

Day 6: Ocean Exploration and Sea Turtle Nesting
Today there will be two opportunities to join a boat-based snorkel or (optional) scuba dive trip, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. Today will be a relatively free day, with time to relax by the beach, to snorkel from shore, or to explore the hotel grounds.

After dinner, you will have the opportunity to return to the sea turtle nesting beach to look for more nesting sea turtles.

Day 7: Return to Havana
After breakfast, we will board the bus to return to Havana, stopping for lunch along the way. Check back in to the Hotel Nacional with time to relax or explore the grounds of this fascinating hotel and its on-site museum. That evening after dinner, you can join an optional outing to see Afro Cuban jazz at the famous La Zorra y el Cuervo jazz club, or to visit the unique Fabrica de Arte (Art Factory) for music and other forms of art. Overnight at the historic Hotel Nacional (2 nights).

Day 8: Hemingway's Home & Havana
After breakfast, board the bus and head out of town to visit the former home of Ernest Hemingway. Afterwards, we'll visit El Divino, a unique organic farm and community outreach program, where we'll also enjoy lunch.

In the late afternoon, we'll be treated to a private rooftop concert by Grupo Mezcla to learn about different genres of music in Cuba today with world-class musicians. Dinner will be at La Casa, a wonderful third-generation paladar (family-owned restaurant), for a multi-course meal.

Day 9: Fly home
Take your memories, pictures, and souvenirs home with you to remember this unique adventure. You will be taken to the airport in time for your return flight home.

Accommodations

In Havana we will stay in the historic Hotel Nacional de Cuba, for a total of four nights. Open since 1930, this renowned hotel has hosted guests including Winston Churchill, Nat King Cole, Ernest Hemingway, Ava Gardner, Frank Sinatra, and others. With its privileged location in the middle of Vedado, the center of Havana, it stands on a hill just a few meters from the sea and offers a great view of the Havana Harbor, the seawall, and the city.

In the beautiful setting of the Viñales Valley we will stay one night in Hotel La Ermita or another nearby hotel, with a wonderful view overlooking the valley. Rooms are comfortably furnished and have air conditioning, and there is a pool on the hotel grounds.

In Guanahacabibes we will stay in the oceanside Villa Maria la Gorda (3 nights). The rooms are well-equipped with air conditioning and spacious bathrooms.

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