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June 25 - July 9, 2016 // 15 Days
Our 2017 dates, pricing and details are almost finalized. Information below is based on our 2016 program.
Kept behind the veil of the U.S. embargo for decades, Cuba finally is becoming more accessible to American citizens. Under a special people-to-people license, The Road Less Traveled makes the most of this pivotal moment in history as political relations begin to thaw. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to visit one of the most dynamic countries in the world. We see all that we can – not just the major cities. Unlike most tours, ours goes coast-to-coast from east to west and north to south.
Our exciting exploration of this jewel island in the Caribbean holds just about everything imaginable: from dramatic, mountainous landscapes, unspoiled valleys, sweeping vistas of sugar cane, tobacco plantations glowing emerald green, and exquisite Spanish colonial cities. Afro-Cuban dance rhythms along with an amazing variety of wildlife are topped off with some of the world’s most beautiful beaches.
Welcoming, enthusiastic, polite, and intriguing, Cuba’s people are its greatest asset, and we get to meet them where they live – finding a new adventure and story around every corner.
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Cuba // You Don't Want to Miss...
Also known as Habana Vieja, this site is one of the most well-preserved colonial centers in the Americas. With narrow streets, brightly colored buildings, cobblestone walkways, and historic plazas, Old Havana has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1982.
This Spanish fortress, or “morro” (meaning rock), serves as a navigational landmark above the port entrance. Built in 1589 and perched on the promontory on the opposite side of the harbor from Old Havana, it can be seen from miles around.
Creased lengthwise from the crown and pinched in the front on both sides, the fedora hat is worn day to night with a guayabera shirt to complete the authentic Cuban look.
Get lost! We navigate a street grid that deviates from almost every other Spanish colonial city in Latin America – the lanes here are as labyrinthine as the game you played as a child. The triangular plazas reveal artistic secrets at every turn.
Reveling in the abundance of bird life (approximately 350 species), we are on the lookout for the colorful tocororo, the tiny bee hummingbird, the critically endangered ivory-billed woodpecker, and the world’s largest flamingo nesting site.
Oh, the cars! City streets are studded with lovingly restored American automobiles that pre-date the 1960 economic embargo, a testament to U.S. engineering and Cuban ingenuity.
Cuban dance styles are some of the best known in the world. Because a large part of its population is of African descent, Cuba has its own form of creolized African dances. The rumba is the most popular.
Santiago hosts the largest and most famous carnival in all of Cuba. An explosion of color, contagious drum rhythms, and dance with vibrant music boiling over brings fabulous costumes, excitement, and song to the town every year.
On the southern coast, Trinidad is home to remarkably beautiful and relaxing beaches. We take time to refresh under the sun in between adventures around town that include hearing Cuban beats and sampling local treats.
A quintessential rural environment in Cuba, the Viñales Valley offers all the ingredients of a tropical paradise: craggy mogotes, impossibly green tobacco fields, bucolic campesino huts, and breathtaking vistas.
Narrow underground chambers complete with colonies of bats and spectacular underground pools make this a thrilling outing reminiscent of “The Lord of the Rings.”
Cigars, despite the health risks (even Field Castro no longer smokes them), remain a centerpiece of the Cuban economy and a coveted fixture of pop culture. A classic episode “Seinfeld” centered on Kramer’s clandestine Cubans, while the stogies’ famous champions include Michael Jordan, Rush Limbaugh, and Lil' Wayne.
Spanish Language Exposure & Cultural Immersion
Exposure within homestays, community and country
Cultural Experience: Sugar plantations, tobacco farming, Naif artists, weaving cooperative, local native Healer, traditional Cuban music performance
Education/Classes: University of Havana/US-Cuba Relations Professor, Polyclinic and Healthcare briefing, Son dance class, UNEAC-University of Writers and Artists, Santeria (traditional African religion which is paired with Catholicism)
Explore: Farmers market, Old Havana, Topes de Collated National Park, Trinidad, Eco-community of Las Terrazas, Camaguey, Santiago de Cuba
Tour: Cabana Fortress, Revolution Square, Instituted of Superior Arts, Museum Playa Giron - Bay of Pigs, Che Mausoleum, El Morro Castle, Moncada Barracks, San Juan Hill
Hike: Las Terrazas Eco-Community, Vinales National Park, Zapata Peninsula and National Park
Hotels and homestays
2016 Tuition (Airfare not included)
Miami, FL (MIA)
A leader escorted round-trip group flight is arranged to fly out of Miami (MIA). Please contact our office for fare information.
We meet in Miami, and after a brief orientation, board our plane and travel as a group to Cuba. It’s the largest island in the Caribbean, so we have a lot to cover beyond the cities as we travel from north to south, east to west.
Havana is enchanting and captivating with Art Deco and Spanish colonial buildings, museums, castles, cathedrals, the Capitolio, Plaza de Armas, markets, and salsa dancing, not to mention the pulsating life and unique Afro-Cuban culture. A hodgepodge of buildings and people, each with a different set of stop-and-stare images, line every street. They all seem to have an intriguing story to tell: colonial grandeur, bygone glamor, economic hardship, or revolutionary change – sometimes all within a single block. We meet with a professor from the University of Havana and learn more from his perspective on the quickly changing U.S.-Cuba relations.
El Morro Castle is next (Castillo de los Tres Reyes Magos del Morro), named after three biblical magi guarding the entrance to Havana Bay. We visit Revolution Square, and its overwhelming expanse brings images of former President Fidel Castro addressing the masses.
For a fascinating look inside the life, culture, and art of Cubans, we explore “Fusterlandia” where the work of Cuba’s most celebrated ceramic artist, José Rodriguez Fuster, is on display in a Disneyesque park. Fuster moved into this run-down neighborhood near Havana more than 30 years ago. As he became world-famous, he decided it was time to give back to his community. He created a living, ever-growing art installation that began from his studio and spread throughout the neighborhood.
The weekday market is not to be missed. Trucks crammed with produce and people travel hundreds of miles from every corner of Cuba. Some arrive with the trunks of their 1950s Chevrolets stuffed with garlic, onions, and other produce. Depending on the growing season, up to 44 types of fruits and vegetables are available.
One of the most fun and interactive aspects of Cuban culture is dance. As unique as the music that accompanies it, Cuban dances are the most passionate in the world. One of the most interesting ways to appreciate the vitality of Cuba is by watching and trying the various dance forms, and we do that at a dance troupe performance.
We take a walking tour of Old Havana, meandering along the narrow lanes, chatting with locals, admiring the restored colonial buildings, and feeling the pulse of the music. We savor coffee at one of the four charming plazas and meet with young people participating in job training programs. After touring the Institute of Superior Arts, we again meet with students for dinner in a paladar, a family-owned restaurant in a converted part of their home.
We next go to Las Terrazas, a community of 1,000 residents in western Cuba known for its protected natural surroundings – ideal for hiking, relaxing, and bird watching. Las Terrazas dates to a reforestation project of 1968. Today it’s a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, a burgeoning activity center (with Cuba’s only canopy tour) and the site of the earliest surviving coffee plantations in Cuba. We interact with artists from a picturesque whitewashed village overlooking a small lake, visit with the local school and its students, and head to one of the most beautiful rural areas of Cuba.
When you spy a cigar-chewing guajiro driving his oxen and plowing through a tobacco field, you are within striking distance of Viñales valley. Encircled by mountains, its landscape is interspersed with dramatic rocky outcrops. Deep in the valley are cultivated lands of tobacco, taro, and bananas, with a few scattered campesino peasant homes. We explore the surrounding caves of the sierras. Outstanding among them are Cueva del Indio, which San Vicente River runs through, and Cueva de José Miguel.
From Viñales, we head east to the coastal settlement of Trinidad. Founded in 1514, the city has been one of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites since 1988. We see the art, feel the music, and taste the foods in this classic Cuban location while visiting a weaving cooperative and an old sugar plantation.
Next, we travel to Camaguey, founded early in the 16th century via Santa Clara, and stop at the Che Mausoleum. Camaguey is nicknamed "La Ciudad Confusa” – “The Maze” – with narrow, twisting streets and alleys starting or ending in public squares. We carefully navigate this complicated labyrinth, intentionally designed to confuse pirates and other raiders. The oldest part of the city is distinctive with its cool, leafy inner patios that contain large earthenware jars, a symbol of the city. We meet with the headmaster and students at the local school, visit UNEAC (the Union of Writers and Artists) and their studios, and in the evening we experience a Cuban-Spanish flamenco dance performance.
Back on the road to Santiago de Cuba, we stop for lunch at an artist’s home in Mella, a town known for its naïf artwork. We visit a polyclinic in the afternoon to learn about the healthcare system in Cuba.
Santiago de Cuba is the most exotic city in the country and one of the most picturesque – situated on Caribbean and set against a backdrop of mountains. Hands down, the residents of Santiago are its most unmistakable treasure. These joyous, hospitable people of many ethnic groups are embody inspiring virtues. We swim, snorkel, and spend time in the gorgeous Caribbean waters with friends all around. They are proud to live in the only city in Cuba officially declared to be “heroic,” a title recognizing the extraordinary contributions its sons and daughters made to Cuba’s wars of independence.
We get to know Santiago through its people as we discover its narrow, winding streets lined with large windows and balconies overflowing with flowers, and music and history everywhere. We learn and laugh as we practice the dance steps to son, a traditional music of the area.
July is carnival time in Santiago and its celebrations are the most spectacular in the country. In fact, it is the cradle of nearly all the music genres of Cuba, a country that expresses its soul and essence in music. And we are there during its most vibrant season.
On our final day, we convene with a local professor to discuss Santeria, the traditional African religion that is paired with Catholicism. We have time in the afternoon to shop for souvenirs and explore the city before departing. We celebrate with a traditional RLT farewell dinner before returning home to the States, privileged participants during a momentous time in this once unreachable, magical country.
Gather in Miami from all over the globe. Get familiar with everyone in the group and be briefed on the exciting program in Cuba.
Board the group charter flight for a quick hop across the Caribbean to Havana. Settle in and start exploring the great food, music, art, and history.
Head west. Spend time in the eco-community of Las Terrazas before making it to Viñales for meals on a traditional farm, hikes through Viñales National Park, and cultural immersion at homestays filled with stories, smiles, and opportunities to practice Cuba Spanish.
Transfer to Trinidad. Spend time with a cooperative of weavers, explore a sugar plantation, enjoy dinners along the coast, and soak up one of Cuba’s most interesting cities.
Take a bici taxi ride through town and visit the headquarters of UNEAC, Union of Artists and Writers. Enjoy great live music and dance performances.
Experience naïf artwork, festival preparations, and celebrations. Learn dance steps to son music and savor the last couple days together in country.
With bags packed, board the chartered group flight out of Santiago de Cuba to Miami to say farewell and catch any connecting flights home.
The Road Less Traveled does not require any vaccinations or immunizations to travel with us, other than an up-to-date tetanus shot or booster (within the last nine years).
Please visit the CDC’s website to read more about recommended vaccinations for travel to Cuba. The decision to get some, none, or all of the recommended vaccinations is a personal one, and should be discussed with your family doctor. Please note that there will be mandatory doctor’s forms to fill out once your student is officially accepted to the program, no matter what course of action you chose to pursue.
Please click below to view your program’s equipment and packing list!
For an emailed copy of this program’s day-to-day calendar, please call our office between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. CST at 773-342-5200, and we’ll happily send you one!
The Beyond Borders program offers a Group Flight for all of its participants. All students and leaders will meet at the Miami International Airport (MIA) on the first day of the program. All students and leaders will be on the same flight from Miami to Havana and back. Families are individually responsible for booking their own airfare or making their own travel arrangements to get their student from home to Miami on the first day of the trip, and from Miami back home on the last day of the trip. RLT will be responsible for booking the flight for everyone from Miami to Havana and back.
It is imperative that no one make any travel arrangements until RLT directs them to do so. We will provide directions to our clients, including timing specifics and airline details, at the appropriate time of year (usually mid-spring).