Focus on Cuba
A People-to-People Photographic Educational Discovery Tour
Join Mike Hagen on a Cuban photography tour that you’ll never forget. Mike has worked diligently to create an itinerary that maximizes photo opportunities while also showing you the best that Cuba has to offer.
This itinerary is approved through the official people-to-people visa program. This means that for US Citizens, we book your charter flight from the USA (Miami, Florida) and coordinate your travel visa. If you are a citizen from another country, then we’d love to have you on board. You will be able to travel to Cuba and meet us directly in Havana on the first day.
Main Tour – Havana, Vinales, Pinar Del Rio – October 6-14, 2018
Trinidad Extension (optional) – October 14-17, 2018
Main Tour Double Room – $4,800 ea.
Main Tour Single Room – $5,400 ea.
Main Tour + Trinidad Extension Double Room – $6,800 ea.
Main Tour + Trinidad Extension Single Room – $7,700 ea.
Day 1 – October 6 – USA/Havana (L,D)
Check in as a group 2 hours prior to departure due to additional procedures for Cuba flights.
On arrival we will be met by our local hosts and escorted to the VIP lounge as our bags and papers are processed. Vintage cars greet us and drive us through the Havana neighborhoods of Miramar and Fifth Avenue to the Malecon and on to our lunch at a private “paladar*”, Café Laurent, a beautiful penthouse restaurant with lovely terrace with an amazing sea view. A short walk from the restaurant brings to our Hotel, the Capri, where our bags await us.
This late afternoon, we will stroll with our cameras through Maceo Park, Maximo Gomez Park and La Punta Square along the Malecon, Havana’s famous and picturesque seaside pedestrian walkway, a great place to meet and photograph local people. Arriving at Cha Cha Cha Private Restaurant for dinner before heading to San Carlos De Cabana Castle to witness the canon firing ceremony, a tradition since Colonial times.
Return to hotel around 10:00PM or enjoy a mojito (optional) at La Barraca outdoor café of National hotel with a spectacular ocean view and the entrance to the bay of Havana and then stroll 1 block to our hotel.
* A paladar is a restaurant that is operated out of a private home as opposed to an “official” restaurant, which is a state-owned establishment. Some paladares have been in business for over 20 years, and their owners/chefs have trained in Europe, Latin America and Asia. Paladares are now the dining venues of choice for travelers to Cuba due to their amazing food and stylish decor, rivaling restaurants found in major cities around the world. Cuisine is often unbelievably delicious using fresh farm-to-table produce from local ecofarms, local wild caught seafood (more lobster than most can eat!), and a fusion of Cuban and international flavors. Since travelers usually want only one or two Cuban cuisine meals during their trip, and well-to-do locals seek foreign gastronomy, most paladares specialize in international fare especially Spanish, Italian and French. We have handpicked only the best paladares for you with a strong focus on the top gastronomy to be found around Cuba.
IMPORTANT! Get ready for Cuba – Cuba is an intoxicating and exotic developing country. Cubans are extremely friendly and warm people but not fully accustomed to international standards of customer service especially punctuality. A smile and a “Buenos dias!” goes a long way to bridge cultural and language gaps. Every day will be an adventure, and that is part of the charm and beauty of seeing Cuba today before it changes. Be prepared to enjoy the unexpected, and in the case of delays or queues/lines, remember you are visiting a place that had been closed off to much of the world for over half a century. Bienvenidos y disfruten! (Welcome and Enjoy!)
Day 2 – October 7 – Havana Vieja (Old Town) and Central Havana (B,L,D)
Havana’s Historic Center was declared a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site in 1982. Our full day photo walking tour of Havana Vieja introduces us to the treasures of the Spanish Colonial times. From the cobble stone streets and horse drawn carriages to the ornate buildings, we will be visually inspired. A photographer from the Escuela de Fotografía Creativa de La Habana (EFC) will join us, pointing out special areas of photographic interest. Our relaxed pace will permit plenty of time to absorb and capture the essence of this charming area. As we walk, we will learn about the history, architecture and culture of old Havana. We will find special views for the city from the top of some of the taller buildings.
Lunch at el Rum Rum de La Habana will provide a relaxing respite from our morning wanderings.
Return to the hotel and late afternoon free, then sunset shoot along the famous Havana Malecon.
Dinner at La Cocina de Liliam Private Restaurant.
9:30PM Evening optional activity: Head over to the world famous Tropicana Cabaret Show. Established in 1939, you will see the real cabaret show that started it all and was the influence for Las Vegas, all on a grander scale featuring traditional Cuban music and dance. (Shorts are not allowed; smart casual to dressy attire required).
Day 3, October 8 –Havana People & Religion (B,L,D)
Today discover the real Cuban people and the real way of life. This morning we tour undiscovered Havana, places where tourists seldom go. We’ll visit the neighborhoods of Vedado, Casablanca and Lawton, and the Muraleando Community Art Project where we will have lunch. Muraleando community art project began in 2003 under the direction of local artists Manuel Diaz Baldrich and Ernesto Quirch Paz with the intention of giving at-risk youth motivation to improve themselves and their community. Muealeando grew into an art collective, painting the neighborhood and providing workshops in all forms of art including ceramics, theater, dancing and music.
Our afternoon continues with the people of central Havana and their relationship with the Yoruba Religion (Santeria). Visit of Callejon de Hamel and different places of worship and meeting of Santeria devotees. Return to your hotel.
7:00PM – Dinner at La Guarida (private paladar restaurant). This was the setting for Fresa y Chocolate, the Oscar nomination for best foreign film in 1994. Formerly the Mansion Camaguey, you can clearly see the former grandeur of this Central Havana urban mansion. Make sure you visit the roof-top lounge to appreciate the sheer size of this Cuban structure and take in the rugged, urban cityscape.
Evening event: After dinner, we visit the famous Buena Vista Social Club show at La Rosalia de Castro. Cover and 3 drinks are included per person. (Food and additional beverages are at own cost. Return transportation by taxi is at own cost and is both safe as well as easily arranged at the entrance.)
Day 4, October 9 –Havana – Las Terrazas – Viñales: Nature, Farms, Countryside (B,L,D)
Morning departure for Las Terrazas in Artemisa Province, a must-see in Cuba and known worldwide for its magnificent, scenic beauty. Las Terrazas was founded shortly after the Cuban Revolution in 1959 as a model community, where local farmers, campesinos, moved closer together in order to help each other overcome the hardships of their rural life, sleeping in huts with thatched roofs, without electricity, and with no local schools or medical services. La Terrazas developed into a virtually autonomous community during the Special Times. First, stop briefly at the Clinica Las Terrazas to learn how medical services are handled in rural Cuba. Locals visit this small, multi-purpose center for medical advice, often non-traditional and homeopathic, and referrals to larger medical centers in the city, dental care by the area’s sole dentist, and even a haircut by the town hairdresser, with whom the space is also shared.
Enjoy a rich Cuban coffee at Café Maria. Maria’s family has been welcoming visitors for years to enjoy the “best coffee in the country.” Discuss coffee culture in Cuba and throughout the world and how cafes act as places for social interaction. Las Terrazas is now part of UNESCO’s Biosphere Reserve, much of it reforested coffee plantation. Tour the old coffee plantation. Visit the art studio of Lester Campa (when in residence). Enjoy an authentic traditional, country-style lunch, “puerco asado en pua” at La Casa del Campesino, a local farmhouse prepared and served outdoors.
Continue to Viñales stopping briefly in Pinar del Rio, to experience the daily activities in a typical city outside Havana.
Arrive Vinales and the El Mirador de Los Jazmines before sunset. The Viñales landscape is interspersed with dramatic limestone outcrops, “mogotes” , like islands in a countryside of small rural tobacco farms and ranchos. We have the perfect location to photograph the setting sun over this spectacular landscape.
Dinner in El Olivo in the small town.
Day 5, October 10 –Viñales: Life in the countryside (B,L,D)
Today begins with a photo session with farmers and their families in their home and around the farm as we learn about life on a tobacco plantation. They will explain us how they preserve the rich tradition of farming tobacco- how they grow and prepare the leaves for the famous Cuban cigars.
Lunch family style at a local home.
This afternoon we will visit the Cueva del Indio and a farmer’s home as we walk the backroads through the verdant fields photographing farmers plowing with oxen and the picturesque rural landscape.
Dinner at Balcon del Valle
Day 6, October 11 –Viñales / Cayo Jutías / Havana: (B,L,D)
This is a unique and special event not done by other groups. Cayo Jutías, off the North Coast of Pinar del Río, accessible from the mainland by a pedraplén (causway), is spectacular with white sand beaches, turquoise waters and practically virgin shores. It is exactly what one imagines of an undeveloped island- beaches of white sand, mangroves providing habitat for all manner of marine life, tropical fish, shells and starfish visible through the crystalline waters. There are no hotels or buildings, just a simple restaurant, located on the entrance to the cayo, with a large shaded quincho ideal for something fresh and where you can rent umbrellas. It is probably one of the 3 most beautiful beaches in Cuba.
Informal Lunch in the beach.
In the afternoon, return directly to Havana.
Dinner tonight at Starbien.
Day 7, October 12 –Havana: (B,L,D)
This morning we visit local dance companies to observe and photograph rehearsals and the dancers. Our local photo guide will open doors for us to capture great photographs of the dancers, both as they practice and individually for portraits. Lunch at Ivan Chef This afternoon we meet and network with local Cuban Photographers at Fototeca de Cuba, then visit the gallery of internationally acclaimed photographer, Julio Larramendi. Late afternoon and depending on the Baseball National Series, we will enjoy a baseball game and have an opportunity to photograph the players. If there isn´t a game in Havana, we will photograph a practice and talk baseball with the coach Osmel Tellez.
Farewell Dinner tonight.
Day 8, October 13 –Havana / USA (B)
Transfer to the airport for your flight home OR stay on for the Trinidad Extension (details below).
Day 8, October 13 –Havana / Cienfuegos (B,L,D)
We have a long bus journey to Cienfuegos. The breakfast will be early so as to have plenty of time to explore the distinctive ambiance and architecture of Cienfuegos. Arriving Cienfuegos, we will go straight to Villa Lagarto for a delicious lunch.
Cienfuegos, a “young” city in Cuba (just under 200 years old) was founded by French settlers as seen in its unique architecture not found elsewhere on the island. We will visit the main square, stop at the Teatro Tomás Terry and Catedral de la Purisima Concepcion, and have time to stroll down its quaint, walkable streets. Interact with and photograph some of the many friendly street vendors and local artists that may be selling their work.
Hear and photograph the Children’s Choir of Cienfuegos, then free time to take a ride in a horse drawn taxi and explore the popular life of this beautiful city. Sunset is beautiful from the Malecon as well as from the hotel pool deck area.
Dinner at Palacio del Valle, a fabulous restored mansión of a colonial sugar barron.
Day 9, October 14 – Cienfuegos / Trinidad (B,L,D)
Drive to Trinidad by the coastal road. Trinidad, one of the first 7 towns settled in Cuba, was founded by Diego Velazquez in 1514. We will be in and around picturesque Trinidad for 3 days. From early morning photo shoots to photo walks around the colonial center, to night time streetscapes, we will capture the essence of this beautiful town that time passed by.
We will meet the Village Historian who will share knowledge of the Colonial Heritage in the region and will facilitate encounters with local artists who will explain their motivation to create art in this ancient village of Cuba. We begin our photo walk of the colonial center facilitated by local photo guide. Street musicians make great photo subjects as they serenade passersby in the parks with local rhythms based on Cuban “son”. Surely the lively Latin beat will put a little extra bounce in your stride.
Lunch at San José.
Free afternoon for independent shooting.
Dinner will be served at Museum “1514” accompanied by local musicians and dancers.
Tonight we will visit La Casa de la Trova, to enjoy and photograph a live performance of local musicians.
Day 10, October 15 – Trinidad (B,L,D)
Leisurely 9:00 AM boarding of the Old Steam Train from Trinidad to the Valley of the Sugar Mills. We will journey through the Agabama Valley* where over 50 major sugar plantations once thrived. Visit the Casa de Iznaga Sugar Mill ruins, one of the leading plantations back in the day. Cuba was a former economic leader due to its production of sugar, and the Iznaga family held great power until it declined after a tragedy of love (can’t wait to hear the full story of that!!). You may climb the Manaca Iznaga Tower for amazing 360 degree views of the region then explore the downtown and photograph the local market. At a local farm, we enjoy a traditional coffee or an exquisite sugar cane juice or coconut water, before sitting down to a delicious traditional Cuban lunch.
Refreshed, we continue to El Cubano National Park and the Jabira waterfall, where we will have free time for photos and exploration then on to the Mirador of the Sierra of Guamuhaya, for a spectacular view of the flora and fauna of the territory.
Returning to Trinidad we visit La Casona 759 Hacienda, where you can photograph the daily activities with horses and have a photo session with Cuban cowboys at sunset.
Dinner at El Dorado
10:00PM – ? After dinner, you can dance the night away to live salsa music at the #1 rated nightlife hotspot in Trinidad, Casa de la Música.
Day 11, October 16 – Trinidad / Casilda (B,L,D): Fisherman
Departure to Casilda Bay, where you can meet and photograph local fisherman and learn about life in a small Cuban fishing village. Boundless photo opportunities here from boats, fishing equipment, portraits of fishermen, harbor and street scenes.
Lunch at La Marinera Restaurant.
Late afternoon sunset cruise in catamaran.
Return to Trinidad.
Day 12, October 17 – Trinidad / Santa Clara / Departure (B,L)
Departure to Santa Clara, the “City of the Revolution.”
Time permitting, we will visit the Mausoleum Ernesto Che Guevara and the Tren Blindado.
Santa Clara City Tour.
Lunch at Finca Ta.
Then transfer to the airport for your flight home.
Oct 6-10, Havana, Hotel NH Capri
Oct 10-12, Vinales, La Ermita
Oct 12-13, Havana, Hotel NH Capri
Oct 13-14, Cienfuegos, Hotel Jagua
Oct 14-17, Trinidad, Hotel La Ronda
Price Per Person Includes
⎯ VIP Salon in Havana Airport
⎯ VIP Salon in Havana Airport
⎯ Assistance and English speaking guide service
⎯ All transfer in A/C bus
⎯ All activities and entrances fee according to itinerary
⎯ Lodgment in Standard Room
⎯ 2 bottle of water per person – 500cl daily
⎯ Meals according to the itinerary
⎯ ALL TIPS: GUIDE / DRIVER / RESTAURANTS / P2P ACTIVITIES
⎯ International Flights
⎯ Drinks at meals
⎯ Personal expenses