March 8 – 16, 2022
The U.S. Government permits travel to Cuba under 12 different categories including “Support for the Cuban People” which is the one we will be using. This category requires travelers to maintain a full schedule of activities that involve meaningful interaction with individuals in Cuba and that help Cubans become more independent. Excessive free time and recreational activities are not permitted. Our itinerary fulfills these requirements with wonderful experiences that include thoughtful, respectful, and kind interactions with the many Cubans we will meet with during our travels.
In addition to providing support for the Cuban people, we have been working closely with our man in Havana, Jesus Noguera, to develop a unique Cuban itinerary for adventurous travelers of the ‘ukulele persuasion. And while our focus will be on Cuban rhythms, percussion, and tres (the Cuban equivalent of an ‘ukulele!), we’ll also get a fair smattering of some of the other opportunities Cuba has to offer while interacting with local people. While a few details still need to be ironed out (private workshops with local teaching musicians, for one thing) the following itinerary describes what we have in store so far.
The price starts at $3,499US/person and does not include airfare to and from Havana. It does include transportation within Cuba, the services of our local tour guide, overnight accommodations, and breakfast each day. (More information is available on the Registration Form)
Pre-trip – date tba
Just so we hit the ground running, we will have a pre-trip, group zoom workshop with Frank Leto, who will guide us through an understanding of Latin music with an emphasis on how the ‘ukulele might fit in. Frank will teach and discuss the clave, the key to Latin rhythms, and how it is applied to Cuban music. We also will learn to play a montuno, a very Cuban way to arpeggiate a chord using syncopated rhythms. And we’ll learn the tumbao, the bass line figure that fits perfectly with the clave and the montuno. These three components played together create the sound that most people identify as Latin music. Of special note to ‘ukulele players: in Cuba the tres, a three-toned guitar (6 strings tuned in pairs of octaves) most often plays the montuno, but we will substitute the ‘ukulele for the role of the tres. We will then to apply these new skills by playing a few songs such as “El Manicero” and “Perfidia.” By the time we reach Havana, we’ll be ready.
Day 1 – Havana
Ideally we will fly as a group from Fort Lauderdale to Havana, arriving in the early afternoon to meet our local guide, Jesus Noguera, who will take us to the boutique hotel that will serve as our accomodations while in Havana. After we have settled in, we’ll get our bearings by exploring La Habana Vieja (Old Havana) on foot visiting five centuries of history and architecture and the four main plazas of Old Havana: Plaza de Armas, Plaza Vieja, Plaza de San Francisco de Asis, and Plaza de la Catedral. What better way than this to begin to understand the exalted place Cuba held in the Caribbean for centuries.
We’ll have dinner at Dona Eutimia in Old Havana then return to our hotel for a little ukulele-merriment. Then, the night owls can head over to Havana’s most “famous and consistent” jazz club, la Zorra y el Cuervo, where the action doesn’t start until 11:00 pm! (Just going to bed is also an option.)
Day 2 – Havana
After breakfast, we’ll pay a visit to an organic farm in Cojimar, for an interaction with Cuban people, followed by lunch at the farm restaurant, Cafe Ajiaco. (We may even get to help prepare it!)
We’ll also visit La Terraza de Cojimar, a favorite watering hole of Ernest Hemingway with its fabulous view of Cojimar Bay, where Hemingway would go fishing and from where he met the fisherman who was the inspiration for The Old Man and the Sea. We’ll also visit Finca Vigia, where Hemingway lived for 20 years and wrote many of his books.
Then we’re back on the music trail as we head over to Guampara, the first independent production house and urban music label in Cuba. Here we’ll also have an opportunity to interact with local musicians and perhaps have a go at learning to dance to some of the most popular Cuban beats.
We’ll have dinner at another local palador, El del Frente, where the frituras de malanga, tacos, and Peruvian ceviche are highly recommended.
And for those still ready to go, there might be another musical opportunity at midnight at the Berthold Brecht Theater, “where the hippest Cuban musicians play for fun.” Sheesh! When do we sleep?
Day 3 – Havana
This morning we will visit Habana Compass Dance, a school and studio recognized internationally for its dynamic fusion of Flamenco and Afro-Cuban rhythms with a “choreographic vision full of passion.”
From there we will continue on to Jaimanitas, once a sleepy fishing town on the outskirts of Havana, now a mosaic-laden piece of living art, where we will visit the workshop and home of the internationally renowned artist, Jose Fuster, who has turned his home and neighborhood into a flamboyant masterpiece of tiles, turrets, and Gaudi-esque beauty. We’ll have lunch at either a local palador or at the home of the artist!
In the afternoon we’ll visit the National Museum of Fine Arts, with a local art historian, an enchanting way to learn about Cuba’s past and most recent history–through the lens of its artists.
And because no visit to Cuba is complete without a tour of modern Havana in a vintage car this may be the day we pick up a six-pack of beer and head back to the sea front to play our ‘ukuleles on the Malecón as the sun goes down.
We’ll have dinner at local palador, O’Reilly 304, followed by music self-made back at our casa particular.
Day 4 – Zapata Peninsula and Playa Larga
It’s a busy day. After breakfast, we head for Trinidad via the Zapata Peninsula, a sparsely populated (and zealously protected) region that lies within the Ciénaga de Zapata Biosphere Reserve, a protected habitat for rare birds and crocodiles that includes the Parque Nacional Ciénaga de Zapata and Laguna de las Salinas.
But first we visit the town of Pálpite and the Korimacao Cultural Project which gives young, non-professional artists from all around Cuba the chance to further their skills in theater, dance, poetry, or painting–and share it with people in small communities around the country.
After lunch at a local palador in Palpite or Playa Larga, we’ll continue our exploration of Ciénaga de Zapata National Park and its three distinct eco-systems. It turns out our local guide is also a naturalist. You might want to bring your binoculars. . . . .
We’ll have dinner at Playa Larga, where we’ll also stay the night.
Day 5 – Playa Larga to Trinidad
After breakfast in Playa Larga we head off to Trinidad with a stop in beautiful Cienfuegos, a maritime city founded by French settlers in 1819. Here we’ll have time for a quick tour of the main square, the Cathedral Church, Terry Theatre, and the Palacio del Valle.
There may also be an opportunity to go swimming at Cueva de los Peces and learn more about ecology and conservation efforts in Cuba from our local guide. While there is snorkeling gear to rent, you may want to bring your own, along with a towel.
After lunch we’ll make our way to the cobble-stoned streets and pastel-colored houses of Trinidad, a UNESCO World Heritage site and Cuba’s foremost colonial town.
Trinidad’s historic center that has not changed much over the last 150 years! We’ll take a stroll around the Plaza Mayor, visit the Museo Palacio Cantero, and spend time at the local artisan street market, where splendid wood carvings, fabric art, crochet pieces, and straw works are for sale. We will also be able to visit some local artists, including the Santander Family that has been making pottery for generations.
We’ll have dinner at a local palador, but the real action begins around 7pm, when locals and tourists alike gather at the open air Casa de Musica to order a cocktail, sit on the wide stone staircase, listen to music, soak up the atmosphere, and/or join in the salsa dancing.
Or, you can simply call it a night……
Day 6 – Trinidad
After breakfast at our casa particular, we’ll head to the nearby Escambray mountain range, home to Topes de Collantes National Park, a lush nature reserve known for its cascading waterfalls and natural pools.
After lunch at a local palador, we’ll have some time to visit ¨Playa Ancón,¨ a ribbon of white beach on Cuba’s south coast and a small, half-forgotten fishing village, La Boca, at the mouth of the Río Guaurabo with its pebbly beach shaded by flowering acacias. A great spot for a lazy stop to watch the sunset.
In the evening we will return to Trinidad for a little nightlife, possibly at Casa de la Trova, Canchánchara Bar, and/or Disco Ayala – a disco in a cave. Traditional and Afro-Cuban music abounds in Trinidad, and we should have ample opportunity to enjoy it all, and perhaps get a few workshops of our own in, as well.
Day 7 – Matanzas
Right after breakfast we leave Trinidad and travel to Matanzas, a vibrant cultural hub that hosts one of Cuba’s finest theaters. During our stay here we will visit Ediciones Vigia, a unique and creative book publishing house. Truly a case of necessity being the mother of invention, Edciones Vigia emerged as shortages of paper and other basic goods forced the writers and artists to use scrap paper, leaves, yarn and other “found” supplies to publish their works. Since its humble beginnings, Ediciones Vigia has published the most important Cuban writers using only a typewriter, an ancient mimeo machine, and ingenious craftsmanship.
One of the highlights or our day here be will lunch at a private home where we will also enjoy the performance of a Cuban music band and have an opportunity to interact with local musicians. It is the music scene here that gave the world a number of Afro-Cuban musical traditions, including the rumba and an assemblage of instruments including conga drums, claves, palitos (sticks), marugas (iron shakers), and cajones (packing cases).
Cuban rumba is in a class of its own. Percussion-driven, accompanied by song and dance that exudes the physical and emotional intensity of its African roots, it is definitely not the rhumba from the ballroom dance floor. A synthesis of various African traditions and Spanish influences, rumba became the music of the country’s poorest people. It was in Matanzas that that one of Cuba’s most beloved rumba bands, Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, was founded, in 1952, in a tavern where their “instruments” were the bar’s counter, tables, glasses, and bottles.
We’ll overnight in a local casa particular.
Day 8 – Havana
We return to Havana with a stop at Callejon de Hamel, a vibrant, “open-air museum” and community project created by artist Salvador Gonzalez in a 200-meter-long alley. The murals and sculptures that appear here are devoted to Afro-Cuban culture and depict some symbols of cultures and religions of African origin, such as Santeria, Palo Monte, and the Abakua Society.
After lunch at a local palador, we’ll have free time to explore Havana and perhaps visit Fabrica de Arte Cubano, an artist’s collective housed in a former century-old cooking oil factory. Art installations, photography exhibits, music concerts and movies all have a place here, along with a gourmet restaurant, coffee shops, and many bars! We should also have free time to do some last-minute shopping at the Almacenes de San José art and souvenir market.
After our farewell dinner at Restaurant San Cristobal we’ll have one last social and music-filled evening together!
Day 9 – Havana & Home
Off to the airport to catch our morning flight back to Fort Lauderdale. (Though we need to arrive and depart as a group, you will be responsible for booking your own flights.)
Here’s what you should know before traveling to Cuba. (Please click on the link)
And here is more information on Cuba and the Coronavirus
Please Note: Travel in Cuba requires a flexible attitude. Visiting developing countries can be eye-opening and life-changing. Visiting Cuba is both. That said, accommodations may not be up to the standards you are used to: sometimes the hot water or air conditioning may not work, for example. Cuba has its own beat and things don’t always run on time. Our days are full, and as required by U.S. law we have a full agenda of meaningful interactions with the Cuban people. And while we will do our best to make sure we fulfill our obligation under the Support for the Cuban People program, the activities and visits listed are not guaranteed.
So, we ask that you appreciate the authenticity of your cultural encounters as well as the people, food, culture, and adventures that await. Come with an open heart and an open mind and this will be a fascinating and educational experience.
In the meantime, perhaps this will get you in the mood!