By Joan McIver | Special correspondent | Sun Sentinel
Due to U.S. restrictions, legal travel to this fascinating island has been difficult for American citizens.
But ElderTreks, specialists in small group adventures for those age 50 and older, helps make visits to Cuba legal and convenient by creating a series of 13-day tours co-sponsored by U.S.-based humanitarian and religious human rights organizations operating in Cuba. (The U.S. government ban on people-to-people exchanges to Cuba, which is going into effect Jan. 1, will not affect ElderTreks which, starting next year, will lead tours under a humanitarian license.)
Through the fall and winter, ElderTreks’ Cuban tours follow a circular route that extends from Havana to the old colonial city of Trinidad. The tour begins and ends in Havana with walks through the narrow streets in the city’s historical district, a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. The area is a maze of streets lined with lovely old buildings and interspersed with grand squares such as the Plaza de Armas, where booksellers display their volumes, and Plaza de la Catedral, occupied by an ancient cathedral. Other excursions in Havana will take in cultural sites, art galleries and the Castillo de Morro fortress brooding over the harbor.
The tour travels along the island’s southern coast for a two-night stay in Vinales in the Pinar del Rio province. Then it’s onward to the oceanfront town of Cienfuegos for some swimming and snorkeling plus an excursion to the Bay of Pigs Museum at Playa Giron.
While in the countryside, the tour hitches a ride on the Mal Tiempo Steam Train for a ramble through the region’s small villages and sugar fields.
“This is one of the most popular parts of the trip,” says Gary Murtagh, president of ElderTreks. The sugar cane farms are just like they were in the 1800s. The train makes several stops to talk with the people.”
After the train ride, the tour travels into the Escambaray Mountains to hike along the Orchid Trail, home to 25 species, and stunning views of the mountains and Caribbean Sea.
A visit to Trinidad, known for the country’s best preserved colonial architecture, is a tour highlight.
ElderTreks rates this tour as moderately easy with walks that never exceed two hours. But travelers should be prepared for some steep and slippery slopes and stairs. And because the tours are under the sponsorship of humanitarian groups, travelers will be asked to bring along 20 pounds of humanitarian aid.
The tour price of $2,995 per person does not include airfare to Cuba but covers all meals, lodging, tour leaders, transportation and airport transfers.
For information and reservations, contact ElderTreks at 800-741-7956; e-mail: info@el dertreks.com or the Web at [url=http://www.eldertreks.com]http://www.eldertreks.com[/url]