Following your arrival in Havana's Jose Martí Airport, you will be transported to Miramar district, where Hotel Melia Havana is located. On the way to the hotel you will get your first impressions of Cuba and by all means feel free to request a quick stop should you see a good shot. Check in at the hotel and meet us a little later for a welcome cocktail and orientation talk. During this time, your tour leader(s) will provide essential information on the activities scheduled and the country itself, and will also answer all of your questions.
There are no activities scheduled in the evening or nighttime so you can roam freely through this modern, quiet vicinity, very contrasting with what you are about to see in the downtown area over the next few days. Feel free to ask your tour leader for advice on the best places to eat and drink nearby. There are a great many of suitable, high-end paladares in Miramar.
We are starting day two early! Enjoy breakfast at the hotel and get ready for a day packed with action and fun, lots of walking and shooting in the streets of La Habana. First stop is Old Havana, a beautiful and carefully restored portion of the city. Immerse yourself in a myriad of colours, textures, fascinating locations, colonial buildings and friendly locals. Much of this area is to be regarded as a living museum with hundreds of buildings designated as UNESCO heritage sites. Some landmarks you'll visit and photograph are: the Castillo de la Real Fuerza, Plaza de Armas, Plaza Vieja, the Capitolio, amongst many others.
Lunchtime will be spent at a hand-picked paladar in nearby Old Havana area. Whether it is at Ivan Chef Justo, Doña Eutimia, 5 Esquinas or Café de los Artistas -depending on the tour-, you will get to experience the most amazing fusion of Cuban and mediterranean cuisine and excellent service. Up next, we have scheduled a classic car tour to Fusterland -a vibrant, community art project lead by artist Jose R. Fuster-. Fuster is a self-effacing, naïve painter and sculptor, who has devoted years of his life to erecting a kingdom of mosaic creations. At Fusterlandia, you will have the chance to exchange directly with some of the people involved in this project and see for yourself the wonderful mosaic art that's turned this into one of Cuba's most sought-after community projects.
This day's dinner is at Café Mercurio, which is on the way to the Fortaleza de San Carlos de La Cabaña, where traditional cannon shot ceremony takes place. This is a must see event, and a big plus: we'll make sure you don't miss out on the chance to shoot Havana at night from the other side of the bay.
Early in the morning, we'll be taking a two-hour domestic flight off to fabulous Baracoa. Upon arrival, we'll check you into Hotel Porto Santo, where you will have some time to prepare for resuming the adventure. Right next, you will tour the town, experience it first-hand in an unparalleled people-to-people exchange with locals. Baracoa is a fabulous place to capture candid street moments, resulting from the many layers of reality that merge right in front of your eyes and camera.
Cubans overall are an easy-going, gregarious and happy people, but specially in the Eastern part of the country this becomes even more obvious. Men play dominoes in the streets while kids ride their chivichanas -makeshift wooden carts on which they roll down the hills-. You'll also notice many Cubans speak English and make for some interesting conversation as they are not shy, not to mention they are great subjects for a photo or two, so make them feel comfortable and you'll get interesting portraits to bring back home.
In downtown Baracoa we'll take you to the church and main square. The whole town and its vicinity are full of history, as it was at Baracoa where Columbus first landed in Cuba during his discovery voyage in 1492. We'll also visit Hotel El Castillo and have late lunch at ecological Duaba Farm. Trip back to Hotel Porto Santo will take you by kayak through the Toa river. Dinner is at a charming, local restaurant offering a tasty menu of Cuban creole food. We recommend you always carry your camera along for Baracoa is one Cuba's most photogenic sites.
We will be on a tour across picturesque La Farola route that connects Guantanamo to fabled Santiago de Cuba. There's time allotted for photos as landscape photographers are guaranteed to thoroughly enjoy the experience and outstanding mountain landscape. Lunch is scheduled at El Castillo del Morro for some tasty comida criolla at its best.
Coming up next we'll be touring downtown Santiago and photographing the streets and people in all fantastic locations like Enramada St., Plaza de Marte and notorious Cuartel Moncada, where open combat action and uprising against Fulgencio Batista began in 1953 leading to the establishment of the rebellious army commanded by Fidel Castro. You can still see the bullet holes in the walls of the barracks.
Next stop is at the Santuario de la Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre -Patroness of Cuba-, a remarkably beautiful tall church nestled in a valley, surrounded by the Sierra Maestra mountains. The sanctuary is Cuba's main religious venue for devotees seeking atonement and spiritual guidance and relief. You will have the opportunity to photograph some very interesting characters. You will spend the night at Hotel Meliá Santiago de Cuba.
First thing we'll be off on a road trip to the city of Bayamo, where Cuba's national anthem was written during a patriotic uprising against the Spanish government. Cuban culture and history has deep roots in Bayamo and you will most certainly get that feeling during your visit. The town and surrounding estates were deliberately burnt to the ashes by its own inhabitants in the 19th century -during the Cuban independence war- to prevent Spain from retaking and benefitting from any of its assets.
We will spend the morning in a photo-safari expedition to the city's core. We'll visit and photograph the main square and church, as well as other relevant plazas, streets and landmarks. There's also a tour on horse carriage that will let you shoot the streets and people of Bayamo from a vantage point. After a hearty lunch at a local paladar or restaurant, we'll be back on the road as we head to Camagüey and Hotel Islazul Colon. During all road trips we have allocated some stopovers to take photos of Eastern Cuba's stunning landscape and peasant villages that are in the skirt of the road. After late afternoon check-in at Hotel Colon, diner is set at restaurant Campana de Toledo. Nighttime will be left free for you to explore around at your own pace or get some rest after such intense previous days.
Camagüey is a fantastic city, clean, well-preserved, slow-paced. During our morning expedition you'll see all the main plazas featuring Los Trabajadores, Del Gallo, La Caridad, San Juan de Dios and Ignacio Agramonte. We will spend the morning shooting in the streets from where you'll capture a wide array of historic buildings and most gripping street scenes.
Camagüey is also known as the “Ciudad de los tinajones” for its original big-sized, pottery containers for water that were semi-buried in patios during the colonial ages. People are friendly and photogenic as in all of Cuba, whilst places and buildings will most certainly add a certain melancholic charm to your photos. Lunch is at a top-rated paladar or restaurant. Right after, we'll be on our way to Trinidad, where we will be checking-in at all-inclusive Brisas Trinidad del Mar hotel. Enjoy a relaxing time by the pool while you flicker through your camera roll and share a cocktail with fellow CubaFotografia adventurers.
Trinidad is a preferred destination for those seeking to immerse themselves in the allure of a well-preserved, colonial city. It is amongst Cuba's oldest cities and subsequently holds a vast, gripping history and, of course, a myriad of photogenic places. There's so much to see in the streets of Trinidad -which by the way, are to be regarded as a good example of colonial, maze-like city layout-, from elegant buildings and villas that were at some point turned to museums to spacious cobblestone plazas with a certain nostalgic feeling. We will be on a route to make sure you don't miss out on landmarks and all main streets.
This walking city tour will take you to a crafts market, where you can buy some memorabilia and souvenirs to bring back home. Our schedule for the day features a trip to world-famous UNESCO heritage site El Valle de los Ingenios, where notorious lookout, the Torre Manaca Iznaga, stands as a watch to all the realm. Right after lunch, which will be at a local paladar, there's a half hour road trip to the city of Sancti Spíritus. We will be exploring the downtown area as we take an afternoon walking tour that covers for all relevant sites of interest and special photographers' spots. Dinner is at a nice downtown restaurant. Night will be spent at Hotel El Rijo.
It's time for Cienfuegos! Right after breakfast at Hotel El Rijo in Sancti Spíritus, there's a little over an hour ride to the city and province of Cienfuegos, known as La Perla del Sur, where we'll be on a jampacked city tour experience. Architecture highlights in Cienfuegos are predominantly comprised of neoclassical revivals, which make for an outstanding backdrop and overall setting for your street and travel photographs.
Cienfuegos is also known for housing Cuba's longest promenade street, where locals come and go at any time of the day. Usually afternoons are quite chill. The southern city is also famous for being the hometown of legendary sonero and self-taught musician Benny Moré. Photographing the streets and people of Cienfuegos makes for an excellent opportunity for those seeking to capture candid moments with their cameras, eye and heart. Locals are friendly and easy-going, like in most of Cuba, so don't be too concerned about bothering them with up-close Bruce Gilden-style shots. Late lunch will be at Palacio del Valle, a classic Cuban cuisine restaurant, near famous Hotel Jagua. Coming up next, we'll hit the road once again as we head to Villa Clara province. Night will be spent at modest yet comfortable Hotel Hanabanilla, right next to Cuba's biggest dam.
As usual, the day starts early, as we'll be on an early-morning boat ride across the Hanabanilla dam and lake onto El Nicho, a natural, unpolluted haven with a myriad of astonishing waterfalls and lush vegetation. This whole area is comprised within a protected national park that treasures a huge biodiversity, a true paradise for birdwatchers and nature photographers. You will be left plenty of time to take photos of this unique location and landscape. Nature lovers are guaranteed to enjoy this expedition into the wild.
For lunch we'll be back to the hotel and right after we'll take the road as we head to Santa Clara, the province's capital city. Once in Santa Clara we have scheduled a walk around city-centre tour. The group will be exploring the downtown area and the slums alike, and visit landmarks such as the Plaza Ernesto Che Guevara, the biggest and most important monument ever erected to commemorate the Argentine guerrillero's legacy on the island nation. Late lunch will be at a local restaurant. Right after lunch we will head to Matanzas city, where you'll stay at charming Hotel Canimao.
The city of Matanzas is also known as the Athens of Cuba, although this is more of a flattering remark than a righteous title based on facts. They also call it City of Bridges, as heavy-looking iron bridges define the nature of the cityscape. The bold angles of industrial-looking bridges and web-like patterns on their metal structures make for an interesting element to combine with light specially in dusks and dawn hours. Strong shadows are casted in the mornings and afternoons, creating a rather intriguing look photographers have used to their advantage for long years. Your photographer guide will walk you through the very inwards of Matanzas and point out places of interest and facts about the city and the province.
Building on this city tour, we have scheduled a quick stopover at the Cueva de Bellamar, one of Cuba's most celebrated caves, where spelunking lovers will be at their best. There's also a visit to Río Canímar and a little yet charming fishermens' settlement by the river's bank. Right after, we'll continue our trip across Cuba, this time heading to Varadero beach, arguably one of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean and perhaps the entire globe. Lunch will be at Kike-Kcho restaurant, from which there is an amazing view of Varadero's flamant new marina.
Following our visit to Varadero resort and beach there's two-hour road trip to Havana, featuring a stopover at the Mirador de Bacunayagua, a lookout over the valley that flaunts an astounding scenic view of the mountains and marks the boundaries between Havana and Matanzas provinces. Once in Havana you will spend the night at Hotel Melia Habana. Drink a Cuban cocktail and rest for the remainder of the evening, so you can make the most out of the next day's expedition to the Valle de Viñales.
The Valle de Viñales, in the very heart of the Island's westernmost province of Pinar del Río, is one of the more recognizable and photogenic places in the whole of Cuba. The valley itself is defined by lush tobacco plantations and endemic, flat-topped mountains known as mogotes. We will be exploring the valley both from vantage points and by getting down all the way to its very core. For lunch, we have reserved at a local, country-style type of restaurant.
At the valley and its surroundings we will be visiting some prestigious tobacco farms, where you will have the opportunity to buy your quota of world-acclaimed Habanos cigars at rock-bottom prices, directly from local campesinos. Simpler but fair photo ops in the smaller nearby towns of Guanajay and Bejucal are to be enjoyed as part of this trip. By the time we are heading back to Havana you are guaranteed to have taken some of your best photos yet. Bare in mind that a Cuban professional photographer-guide will always assist you in exchanges with local farmers and provide helpful tips and insights to improve on your experience.
After all the activity from the previous days, we have designed day twelve to be less demanding for you and your fellow tour mates. We will be on a Hemingway in Cuba type of route, visiting all main museums and places that celebrate Ernest Hemingway's oeuvre and legacy on the island nation. Highlights of this day include the fantastic estate of Finca Vigía, in the outskirts of the city, and seaside town of Cojímar, from which the American Nobel Prize-winning author took inspiration for his flagship piece The Old Man and the Sea.
Lunch is at Las Terrazas de Cojímar restaurant, briefly featured on the novel above mentioned and just by the home of Cuban master photographer Raúl Corrales, who made some of the Revolution's iconic photographs of its early years. Cojímar is followed by the town of Guanabacoa, where religious traditions have deep roots. We will be on a walking tour of the town's main streets, squares and landmarks. Make sure to bring your best game at street and people photography, as Guanabacoa will most likely offer a great many of opportunities to capture memorable stills. In the evening, we'll visit world-famous Tropicana club and cabaret, where you will be able to witness the acclaimed Diosas de Carne -flesh goddesses- dancers and the Paraíso Bajo las Estrellas late-night show. Dinner is included for your Tropicana night.
It's been well over a week of new, amazing experiences in soulful Cuba. Your last day with us will show some room for a final camera roll review with your photographer-guide, as well as some time for you to spend on your own, whether it is by going out to the streets one last time or simply staying at the hotel and prepare for your flight back home. Bare in mind, it is never too late for a quick getaway to Havana's seafront Malecón.