Gain a sense of the past and experience the quickly changing present in the capital city of Havana, the coastal town of Cienfuegos, the colonial gem of Trinidad and the queen of central Cuba — Camaguey — on this in-depth cultural exchange with Cuban people. Enjoy beloved Cuban passions and pastimes such as dominoes, art, music and dance.
Day 1: Arrive in Havana [D]
Upon arrival in Havana, meet your Cuban guide who will provide local history and knowledge throughout the program. Drive by the Capitolio, the Malecón – Havana’s seafront promenade, U.S. Embassy, La Rampa, and Havana University. Explore the Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabana, also known as “La Cabana” or “El Morro”. This fortress protected the mouth of the Havana harbor in its day and offers unique views over Havana ideal for gaining a better understanding of the city’s layout. Check-in your hotel. Tonight meet your fellow travelers and tour guide for a briefing and welcome dinner. Overnight in Havana.
Day 2: Habana Vieja, Cuban Business, Community Arts [B,L,D]
We discover a local Farmer’s Market, to understand the cost of living and interact with local vendors. Then set out on exploration of Old Havana. Begin at the Plaza de Armas, the oldest part of the city. See the Greek Roman ‘El Templete’ site of the first Mass and town council meeting in 1519. Enjoy a performance by contemporary dance company Danza Combinatoria (another company may be substituted if they are on tour). Boxed lunch with the performance group, a unique opportunity to have one on one conversations.
In the afternoon, visit the offices of a local business, learn about the details of doing business in Cuba. Engage in a discussion on the changing economics of Cuba with an expert. Enjoy the panoramic views overlooking all of Havana from the office’s advantageous location.
Tonight enjoy homemade cooking prepared by the members of a neighborhood arts center and learn the story of the center’s unique construction. Later, interact with locals at the neighborhood community arts center and enjoy their music and dance party. Overnight in Havana.
Day 3: History of Cuban Music and Arts [B,D]
After breakfast at our hotel, a lecture by a musicologist takes you on a journey through the history of Cuban music. Explore the Fine Arts Museum of Havana with your Cuban Study Leader. Cuban art is renowned worldwide. Delve into the stories that each work of art relates and the statement on politics, culture and society that each artist conveys.
Lunch will be on your own. After lunch, continue your guided exploration of Old Havana including stops at Plaza San Francisco and Plaza Vieja. Overnight in Havana.
Day 4: The Vinales Valley [B,L]
Set out early and head west to the province of Pinar del Rio, to the famed Vinales Valley, a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. The valley boasts Cuba’s most strikingly beautiful landscapes, with anomalous karst formations rising from the valley floor, unlike any other region of the island. Meet a farmer and learn why the best tobacco is found here.
Enjoy a home cooked meal prepared with the produce of their organic farm. In the afternoon we will stroll the main square of the small village of Vinales before returning to Havana. Overnight in Havana.
Day 5: Havana, The Bay of Pigs, Cienfuegos [B,L,D]
Depart Havana to the south of the island, stopping at Playa Giron, known to Americans as the Bay of Pigs a small coastal village and the site of the historical 1961 clash between CIA trained Cuban exiles and Cuban rebel forces. Explore the small Playa Giron Museum, which portrays the Cuban perspective of the infamous invasion and houses many historical artifacts including a Sea Fury fighter aircraft, photos and maps outlining each step of the failed mission.
After lunch at a local paladar, explore the main square of Cienfuegos, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but a city founded by the French, who came to Cuba after the Haitian revolution. The city offers outstanding architecture and is home to a large artistic community. Walk through the main square to the offices of UNEAC, the Union of Authors and Writers. Late afternoon, check in at the hotel. Overnight in Cienfuegos.
Day 6: Cienfuegos Botanical Gardens & Community Service [B,L,D]
Stroll through the main shopping street of Cienfuegos with your Cuban guide, to learn the differences between Ration, Cuban Pesos and CUC stores. Explore the complexity of the two currency system with the opportunity to speak with Cubans shoppers and the shops employees. At the Farmers Market, try making purchases with Cuban Pesos to understand the cost of living for Cubans and learn how much basic necessities cost. Depart on a Field Trip to explore the Cienfuegos Botanical Gardens and the collection of indigenous and exotic plants and trees. Meet with staff and learn about the interesting history of the gardens and its relationship with Harvard University.
After lunch at a local paladar, step inside the beautiful Tomas Terry Theater to learn its history. People-to-People Connection: Enjoy a performance by one of Cienfuegos’ professional choral groups and discuss their training and daily life. Overnight in Cienfuegos.
Day 7: The Sugar Mill Valley & Trinidad, Gem of Colonial Towns [B,L,D]
Depart Cienfuegos into the rolling hills of the Valle de Los Ingenios (Valley of the Sugar Mills), home to some 70 historic estates where vast quantities of sugar were grown and harvested. Meet the farmers and take a turn grinding the sugar, then sample Guarapo, the high energy drink made from the ground sugarcane.
After lunch in a paladar, explore the historic center of Trinidad de Cuba, one of the original Spanish Settlements and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city is a pristine example of Spanish Colonial Caribbean architecture and has just celebrated its 500 year anniversary. People-to-People Connection: Check in at your Casa Particular. Casa Particulares owners have been the first people in Cuba to practice free enterprise.
Enjoy a home cooked meal prepared by your hosts at your Casa Particular. After dinner, relax at your Casa Particular or take an evening stroll through the town.
Day 8: The City of Sancti Spiritus en Route to Camaguey [B,L,D]
After breakfast, depart to Camaguey. Stop in Sancti Spiritus, to see its historic bridge and walk through the charming colonial streets and squares. Enjoy lunch at a paladar in Sancti Spiritus. Be sure to try the Flan for dessert! Continue to Camaguey, arriving in the late afternoon. One of the first seven villages founded by the Spaniards in Cuba, Camaguey played a prominent role as the urban center of an inland territory dedicated to cattle breeding and the sugar industry. It is the 3rd largest city in Cuba and the historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Check-in and overnight in Camaguey.
Day 9: Discovering Camaguey, Its Squares & Its Artists [B,L,D]
Camaguey is reputed to have some of the most talented dancers in Cuba, and is home to three of the country’s best dance companies. People-to-People Connection: Visit a dance company and observe dancers during their daily rehearsal, and learn from the company manager the challenges of operating a performance company, with limited resources for props and costumes. Meet a family of artisan ceramicists who create the distinctive urns traditionally used in Camaguey to store water. In addition to their craft, the workshop is beautifully decorated with the family collection of ornamental plants and cacti.
After lunch, walk back to the hotel via the pedestrian streets of Camaguey. Enjoy an “aperitivo” with two of Cuba’s most creative and prodigious contemporary painters, Joel Jover and his wife Ileana Sanchez. Their magnificently decorated home is itself a work of art. Overnight in Camaguey.
Day 10: Village Life in Cuba [B,L,D]
Mainly agricultural, the Camaguey region produces the majority of Cuba’s beef and dairy. Journey out into the countryside for a taste of country life, Cuban style, on a working cattle ranch. Learn the story of the ranch from the manager and meet Cuban cowboys who demonstrate their skills, sharing many similarities to American traditions of rodeo. The ranch supports a village where the workers and their families live. Visit the humble homes and meet the village families. Try a few words of Spanish and perhaps share a few moments of true intercultural exchange.
Enjoy an authentic pig roast for lunch at the ranch. Return to Camaguey in the afternoon. Overnight in Camaguey.
Day 11: Departure from Camaguey [B]
After breakfast at the hotel, transfer to the airport for your flight back home.