Cuba is still off limits to U.S. tourists. While this doesn’t pose a problem for European nationals or just about anybody else on the planet, it does cause some issues in the States. Exotic Photo Adventures has been authorized to conduct photographic workshops on the island under the Support for the Cuban People category. Our itinerary brings us in contact with small business owners, “classic” car aficionados, farmers, boxers, ballet dancers and a host of other Cubans who will share their stories with us while we engage in recording the events photographically. Since the US embargo started in the 1950s, Cuba has remained mostly untouched by time. Countless old American cars still roam the streets, the internet is just now making its way onto the island but the island hosts some of the most friendly people on the planet. It is important to document the way it is now since it will not be this way for much longer.
Itinerary: arrive in Havana, Cuba
Day 1 – We will meet in our hotel in the afternoon where we will introduce ourselves and discuss your individual photographic style and the imagery that you wish to capture. We will then head out for our welcome dinner at one of the finest restaurants in Havana. (D)
Day 2 – After breakfast, we start the day with a street photo tour of old Havana passing through areas such as the oldest plaza in Havana, Plaza Vieja, Plaza de San Francisco, Plaza de Armas, Castillo de la Real Fuerza, the oldest stone fort in the Americas. We will walk past street markets and even a bar where Hemingway hung out. The friendly people offset the narrow streets and crumbling architecture. You will discover an amazing amount of life embedded within the culture. There has been a vast shortage of food in Cuba as of mid-2019. If we come across a market that is open and without a long queue, we’ll stop in to photograph the meat and produce along with the vendors and customers and learn what life is really like on the island.
Later we will meet with dancers from the prestigious Cuban National Ballet whom we will photograph either on the streets of old Havana on in an historic mansion. Dancers from all over the world come to train at the school. In the late afternoon, we head to the Malecon to photograph the fishermen lined up on the seawall as the sun sets behind the city. In the evening we will have another adventure as we dine in a refurbished vegetable oil factory that now houses what is considered one of the top 5 restaurants in Havana. Afterwards there we venture to an energetic club where we will be exposed to Cuban music, art and photography. (B) (D)
Day 3 – We start off this day with a walk around Parque Central. Here are parked scores of old American cars with their owners waiting to be hired for city tours. We will also visit the Capitol, which to most looks almost identical to the Capitol of the United States. From Hotel Saratoga’s upper terrace we will be able to get views of the area from a different perspective. We will continue the walk through Chinatown. This is a Chinatown without Chinese. Though the Chinese population in Cuba once numbered well over 100,000, Havana’s Chinese population is estimated now to be around 50-60 people. We then head to the largest and oldest convent in the Cuba. Taking up an entire block, the Convento De Santa Clara was built between 1638 and 1643. Though it fell into disrepair, it is currently undergoing restoration and makes for great photographic possibilities.
At the harbor, we will take a ferry across to Regla. There La Nuestra Senora de Regla church will be seen. Outside is the Virgen de Regla statue that is worshiped in the mixed Catholic/Afro-Cuban Santeria religion. There should be an opportunity to talk with practitioners of Santeria right outside the church. A short walk will take us to the Museo Municipal de Regla where you can get an important incite into the Santeria religion and how it is imbued within the Cuban culture. After lunch along the harbor at Restaurante la Divina Pastora, we then venture to Castillo de San Carlos de la Cabaña. Finished in 1774, it is the 3rd largest fortress complex in the Americas. A short walk then takes us to Morro Castle. Built in 1589, it offers the finest views of the city across the harbor. We will be here for our sunset photos before heading back to the hotel. (B) (L)
Day 4 – Classic American cars are part of the Cuban landscape and today we will take a tour through the city in convertibles. We will see the wealthy neighborhood of Miramar, travel along the Malecon, head out of Havana to the small fishing community of Cojimar, the village that Hemingway made famous in his novella, “The Old Man and the Sea” and then have lunch along the beach in Santa Maria. The experience will also include visiting the shop where these cars are maintained and restored. And, of course, plenty of opportunities for you to photograph the cars in various locations.
Mid day you will have time on your own to walk down the cobblestone street of Old Havana, or photograph the cars lined up around the Parque Central. We will meet in the late afternoon so that we can photograph a training session at the famous open air Rafael Trejo boxing gym. Cuba is second only to the United States in the amount of medals won for boxing in the Olympics and you will be able to meet, talk and photograph the trainers who have made Cuba such a powerhouse in the sport. (B)(L)
Day 5 – An early start heads us to the Pinar del Rio region of Cuba where we will photograph the town and surroundings of Viñales. This region is known for growing some of the finest tobacco in the world including the tobacco used for Cohiba cigars. It is also known for the karst landscape with rounded mogotes (isolated steep-sided residual hills) that rise up above the alluvial valley plain. We will visit the farmers, talk with them about their process and photograph the workers in the fields. We will also get a demonstration on how cigars are made, how they are dried, which tobacco is used for the interior, which leaves are selected for the best exterior appearance.
Lunch will be at a local farm where all the food we eat was grown on the premises. After lunch we will visit a different farm where you will get a different photographic opportunities. For our sunset photos, we will drive to a higher view point where we will be able to see the entire valley. Afterwards we eat dinner while watching as the colors in the sky change from orange to deep blue. (B) (L) (D)
Day 6 – Today we head south to the colonial town of Trinidad. Founded by the Spanish conquistador Diego Velazquez in 1514, it is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Cobble stone streets and pastel colored homes give it a unique, highly photographic atmosphere. Though small, the town has a lot to offer. After dropping off our luggage at our Casa Particular, we will enjoy lunch at a wonderful paladar.
Located within very close walking distance of the Plaza Mayor, we will venture out to places like Museo de Historia Municipal housed in the Palacio Cantero, La Iglesia Parroquial, Museo Romantico and the National Museum of the Struggle Against Bandits. We end the day with taking photos from the bell tower overlooking the entire town. If you are up for it, after dinner there is live music on the steps leading to Casa de la Musica. A great place to sit, watch, dance, enjoy life! (B) (L)
Day 7 – We start off early today so we can capture the golden light as the village awakens but before the tourist come out. The light bouncing off the pastel colored homes, the glow of the cobblestones all lend themselves to fantastic photographic prospects. We will then head off for breakfast. The remainder of the morning is free time for you to explore on your own or rest. After lunch we will then travel to the countryside outside of Trinidad. We will head to El Valle de los Ingenios. Trinidad had over 50 sugar mills at the height of their industry and enslaved over 11,000 people. By 1860, Cuba produced 1/3 of the world’s sugar. Now it is a distant memory. We will visit the ruins of a small industrial plant, old plantations including one where we will be able to climb the 7 story high the watch tower, as well as the countryside, stopping whenever a photographic opportunity arises.
For our sunset shot we will walk a short distance up to a hill top that house the ruins of Ermita de Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria de la Popa. The church is in horrible shape and is fenced off but the view from the hill will give us another vantage point of the Trinidad sunset. (B) (L)
Looking for something to do at night that’s a little different? Disco Ayalu is a club built within a cave. Even if hot and sweaty venues are not your style (it is a cave after all), it is still quite an experience.
Day 8 – Today the tour will take a day trip out of Trinidad into the mountains to El Nicho waterfalls. El Nicho is actually a series of falls located in the Sierra del Escambray mountains. The hike through the dense forest is relatively simple but can get very muddy if it has rained recently. Be on the look out for birds and lizards in the trees as we ascend the trail. Bring your swimsuit so you can enjoy the natural pools. Even though the mountain water may be cold, it will be quite refreshing after a hot hike. Lunch will be at a restaurant located at the trailhead. After we return to Trinidad, you will be on your own to wander through the city streets. Before dusk, we will set up outside of the Museo Romantico so we can get photos of the sun’s glow bouncing off the buildings. There are multiple locations for you to choose to set up your camera position so we will scout the one that best suits your individual photographic style. We will get together for a farewell dinner after sunset. (B) (L) (D)
Day 9 – We gather one last time for breakfast, exchange contact information and share stories of the tour before traveling from Trinidad to Havana’s Jose Marti International airport. We should arrive there around 12:30pm so make sure you leave enough time to check in for your return flight home. (B)