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After decades of isolation and strict government regulation, Cuba is opening its borders to foreign tourism and investment. Through the process of design thinking, you will learn how to adopt an innovative problem-solving approach to development. The skills you’ll acquire as an entrepreneur, innovator, and collaborator are key for any change-maker.

On this Critical Issues program tailored for innovative and critical-thinking minds, learn to create actionable solutions for real-world problems by taking design-thinking training: a technique used by entrepreneurs and innovators. Work with small business owners and entrepreneurs to discover the unique ways they are sparking economic growth in their communities. Horseback ride to a refreshing lagoon swim, hike to stunning lookout views and soak up the sun on turquoise Caribbean beaches in between working alongside local farmers, learning about sustainability and conservation projects, and meet up with Cuban peers for local youth culture.

Components of a Critical Issues Program

  1. Deliberate Focus: Students explore specific global issues as they exist in communities around the world.
  2. Pre-Travel Engagement: Prior to their arrival in the program’s base country, students build an understanding of the issue their program focuses on through readings, film screenings, and various learning opportunities.
  3. Program Content and Discussion: Students progress through a curriculum comprised of activities, discussions, and debriefs designed to expand their understanding and exploration of key topics.
  4. Program Staff: Program Leaders on Critical Issues programs have intimate local knowledge and an academic or professional background in the focus area.

With our No Anxiety Escrow Policy, you cancel for any reason up until the day of travel, and escrow 100% of the program fees for up to two years from the cancellation date.

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2017 Departures

Departs (USA) Returns (USA) Availability
June 20 July 5 Sold Out
July 4 July 19 Limited

Program Profile

Community Service Component
Get to Know
The People,The Sights, Nature
Travel Component
Moderate Travel Involved

Connecting Programs

Schedule two or more programs in a row to create your ideal Rustic Pathways experience.

This program connects especially well with:

An Introduction to Design Thinking

On this program, explore critical issues facing the developing world and turn ideas into actionable solutions. Design thinking is behind some of the most successful products and innovation in modern society. This same process, when applied to social issues, holds the potential of conquering some of the world’s critical challenges.

Sharpen your critical thinking and design skills as you go through a crash course in design thinking, including a real-world innovation challenge. Design thinking is an intentional design process that entrepreneurs and innovators use to solve problems.

Learn how to take an idea from concept all the way to action. Use what you’ve experienced in Cuba as a catalysis as you learn the design thinking process. Leave the program with an understanding of how you can drive towards action and continue to use your newly developed design thinking skills.

Work alongside farmers and forest rangers, helping to protect Cuba’s vast expanse of national rainforest. Learn how Cubans conserve their natural resources and enjoy the spectacular beauty of the well-preserved parks, forests, and coasts. Speak with shopkeepers and small business owners and hear firsthand about the Cuban experience.

Immerse yourself in Cuba to explore the culture, music, and food of this incredible gem of the Caribbean. Explore the old-world charm of Havana and marvel at the lush tropical beauty of Trinidad. Hike through the untouched tropical oasis of Las Lomas de Banao.

Through team projects, reflective activities, and feedback from instructors, peers, and program leaders, students will build confidence, self-awareness, and self-efficacy to align their passion with purpose and pursue meaningful positive change in their local and global communities.

  • Day 1

    Overnight in Miami

    In order to travel to their Innovation in Action: Cuba program, students must travel using a direct charter flight from Miami to Havana and back. Since students are connecting from all over the United States, we’re asking that students fly in on Tuesday to be prepared for their early morning flight on Wednesday. Students departing from the U.S. on the chaperoned group flight should arrive to Miami International Airport (MIA) by 6pm on Tuesday. The timing of charter flights to Cuba requires an early Wednesday departure (check-in will begin at 3:30am).

    Rustic Pathways staff members will meet students upon arrival to Miami. Students will overnight in a hotel near the airport with our staff to prepare for an early morning departure. We take care of all the logistics and costs (transportation, meals, and hotel) –you only need to arrange for domestic connection to Miami.

  • Day 2

    Charco Azul

    Wake-up early for your 7:30am departure to Havana (HAV). Upon arrival to Havana, you’ll travel to Charco Azul, an eco-lodge tucked into the hills just west of the capital city. Here you’ll have an orientation and introduction with you group and experience your first taste of Cuban cuisine.

    After lunch, you’ll listen to a presentation on the work of conservation specialists from Flora y Fauna. Flora y Fauna manages many of the protected areas in Cuba, and is in charge of maintaining the conservation of these lands. In partnership with the local communities they help reforest the area, work with farmers to control the use of harmful toxins as well as train them in sustainable farming practices. After lunch, you’ll tour Rancho Azucarero, a horse ranch and equestrian school and environmental center where Belgian and Percheron horses are bred.
    This evening you’ll dive into your first workshop learning about the design-thinking process and growth mindset.

    Design-Thinking Workshop 1: Design-Thinking 101 and Mindset
    Participate in a mini design challenge and learn what it means to empathize and understand others’ needs. Create a purposeful life and mind map.

  • Day 3

    Horseback Riding and Waterfalls

    Take a horseback ride to the famous Charco Azul lagoon located within the confines of the nature preserve you will call home for this part of the trip.  Named “Charco Azul” for it’s bright blue waters this excursion will be a nice way to cool off with a swim.  You will also spend time contributing to a reforestation project within the Charco Azul preserve.

  • Day 4

    Las Terrazas

    Take a day trip to the Las Terrazas, an eco-community that was declared a UNESCO biosphere reserve in 1984.  Explore this preserve and learn about how the people in the community strive to live sustainably.  Learn about the terrace style reforestation that was practiced here in order to re-establish the forest surrounding the community and prevent erosion.  You’ll visit with local shop owners and restaurateurs about their sustainable sourcing and practices.  In the early afternoon, you’ll hike down to the breathtaking falls at the Baños del San Juan.

  • Day 5


    Today you’ll visit the humble town of Artemisa, the capital of one of Cuba’s newest provinces of the same name. Artemisa reached its peak in the late 19th century due to its fertile ground used cultivate coffee and sugar cane. Though the coffee and sugar industries collapsed in the region, tobacco, bananas and other crops are still cultivated here and transported to Havana. You’ll explore the ruins of an old cafetal (coffee farm), stroll through the main square and visit the casa de cultura and get a chance to experience what Cuban life is truly like outside of the confines of Havana.

    In the afternoon, you’ll continue with your second design-thinking workshop.
    Design-Thinking Workshop 2: Design Challenge: Empathy and Needs Finding
    Group brainstorm on problems that you’ve seen and experienced that you feel are worth solving. Conduct customer discovery interviews. Debrief interviews.


  • Day 6

    To Banao!

    Hop back on the bus and prepare for the second phase of your trip. Travel to Banao (4-5 hours) enjoying the sites of the Cuban countryside as you drive east. Arrive at the Lomas de Banao preserve in time for lunch and settle into your rustic base house at Jarico Lodge. After lunch, the park rangers will give an overview of the National Park and an introduction to their conservation efforts, including the projects you and your group will be working on.

    After some down time, you’ll jump back into the design-thinking mindset you’re your third workshop.
    Design-Thinking Workshop 3: Define and Ideate
    Narrow down the most compelling needs and create a point of view (POV) statement in small groups. Reframe needs as opportunities by creating open-ended questions. Brainstorm solution options to address the need/POV. Start big and bold and then narrow.

  • Day 7

    Wildlife Conservation

    Spend the entire day working alongside the park rangers and conservations specialists. Work in the tree nursery taking care of hatchlings and plant adolescent trees in the forest. You will also assist local scientists in the identification and monitoring of different species of birds. This reserve is home to a large population of endemic and migratory birds, and the work of these scientists is essential in maintaining the species’ population.

    In the afternoon explore one of the locals’ favorite hikes, the sendero to the Cascada Bella where you’ll be able to cool off in the falls.
    In the evening you’ll continue with design thinking.

    Design-Thinking Workshop 4: Prototype/Marshmallow Challenge
    Develop visual prototypes of your solution concepts and solicit feedback from peers and potential customers.

  • Day 8

    The Adventure Begins!

    Head off on an incredible, two-day trek through the Lomas de Banao preserve. Depart after breakfast and hike a bit over three miles to the Sabina lookout point. Here you’ll enjoy the breathtaking views of the valley and ocean below and munch on a well-deserved snack. Continue your hike with a bit less than three more miles to Hoyo de Naranjal, where you will be able to swim under the Las Cortinas waterfall. Don’t worry; mules will be available if you need to a break.

    Tonight, you’ll sleep under the stars! Your guides will cook a typical dinner, una cena criolla, as your group shares stories around the campfire.

  • Day 9

    Hiking Home

    After waking up in the clouds, you’ll eat a campesino breakfast and then it’s back on the trail for the hike home. The group will take breaks along the way to check out the beautiful vistas and cool off with a swim. Arrive at base camp in time for lunch, some time to rest, and an optional side excursion on mules.
    After a day and a half break, you’ll return to the drawing board for your fifth design-thinking workshop.

    Design-Thinking Workshop 5: Test/Lean Canvas & Big Idea Canvas
    Elevator pitches. Share solutions with peers, customers, and businesses. Gather feedback and improve concepts.

  • Day 10


    After breakfast, prepare to set off on a cultural exploration trip to Trinidad, a UNESCO World Heritage site and city full of history and local culture. Learn from local leaders and guides about the history of this town and it’s current cultural make up. Then, head to the beach at Playa Ancón! Relax and enjoy the warm Caribbean waters.

  • Day 11

    A Day on the Water

    Read for another day of nature and adventure? Today you’ll travel to the coast to Tunas de Zaza, a small town at the mouth of the Zaza River.  This is one of the best spots for watching wildlife in Cuba. Spot flamingos and observe native aquatic birds and other wildlife. Enjoy lunch at the park ranger station before heading up the Zaza River on a boat tour.  You’ll help the local ecosystem by collecting red mangrove seedlings and replanting them in areas where the mangroves have been affected by deforestation and hurricanes. Interact with local fishermen; learn about the importance of this waterway for the locals that live on it, and for the birds that live in its watershed.

  • Day 12

    Hands in the Dirt!

    Get ready to get dirty! Today you’ll spend the day working alongside local farmers. You’ll learn about the farming practices they have mastered over generations, and how they have worked to make their practices more sustainable. Learn how produce is grown and get to know the men and women who grow it.
    After a full day of service, you’ll revisit your ideas and concepts with design-thinking workshop number six.

    Design-Thinking Workshop 6: Refine/Pivot
    Lean Canvas & Big Idea Canvas Revisited
    End the day with a group dinner with local community members.

  • Day 13

    Back to Havana

    After breakfast begin your trip back to Havana, passing through Cienfuegos along the way. Known as La Perla del Sur (pearl of the south), Cienfuegos was the hometown to one of Cuba’s most famous musicians, Benny More. Stroll along the bulevar and marvel at some of Cuba’s most well preserved neoclassical buildings.
    In the mid-afternoon your will arrive back in Havana, settle into your hotel and prepare for another design thinking workshop to work on your pitches.

    Design-Thinking Workshop 7: Pitch Practice: Art of the Pitch Workshop
    Develop and practice formal presentations for your idea/concept.

  • Day 14

    Back to Havana

    In the morning, you’ll present your final concept pitches to your group and a panel of judges.

    Design-Thinking Workshop 8: Final Pitches and Feedback
    After lunch you’ll visit the Castillo de los Tres Reyes Magos del Morro and stay to witness the cañonazo (firing of the canon) de las nueve, a ceremony that dates back to the 18th century. A day you won’t soon forget; perhaps you’ll be inspired to write your own account about your adventure in Cuba.

  • Day 15


    Your last full day on the “big island” will be devoted to exploring Habana Vieja (old Havana). You’ll tour the city in an antique American classic car and see its most iconic spots – Hotel Nacional, Plaza de la Revolución, El Capitolio, the Malecón and La Universidad de Habana. You’ll stroll down the colonial streets and remark at the architecture that seems to have been frozen in time. You can’t forget a stop at the urban market where you’ll be given time to purchase those coveted souvenirs that will forever remind you of this remarkable country.
    In the evening you’ll show off your newly polished dance skills and enjoy one last typical cena criolla before you tuck away to get a good night’s rest before your departure home.

  • Day 16

    Adios Cuba!

    Today you’ll say goodbye to your group and program leaders. Return home with many memories to share (and maybe even a few dance moves!).

An Important Note About Schedule Changes

Rustic Pathways reserves the right to change, alter, or amend the daily itinerary for this trip at any time. Changes can be made for various reasons including changes in flight or program schedules, changes in the schedules of various external tours incorporated in our trips, the addition of new activities into a trip, or the substitution of an old activity for a new activity.

The itinerary shown here provides a good outline of the anticipated daily schedule for this program. As with any travel program, some changes may occur.

“Optional Activities” are fully included in the cost of your program, but you can choose to not do these activities.

“Add-On Activities” are not included in the cost of your program and must be paid for separately. Add-on activities are rare, but include things like skydiving, bungee jumping, or weekend side-trips. Not every program has add-on activities.

For more information, email cuba@rusticpathways.com

Packing the right gear (and the right amounts) is the first step to an incredible travel experience. Follow these tips to pack like a pro:

Travel light. Pack only the essentials. You’ll need less than you think!
Bring the right clothes. Pack clothes that are culturally appropriate for your destination and acceptable for service projects. This means bringing long shorts (think Bermuda and basketball shorts), t-shirts with sleeves to cover shoulders, and appropriate footwear.
Leave your valuables behind. While traveling, it’s easier for things to get lost, stolen, or damaged. Keep any prized possessions safe at home.
Check with TSA. Make sure your luggage complies with TSA regulations, especially your carry-on. Useful tip: Pack an empty water bottle and fill it up after security.
Extra paperwork? If you need additional forms filled out to get credit for your service hours, no problem! Bring these forms with you so they can be completed in-country.

Rustic Gear. Want to get all your shopping done for your program in one place? We’ve got you covered. Check out Rustic Gear and get all the essentials sent right to your door.

Students traveling to Cuba must complete two copies of a Consent to Travel Statement, this document must be notarized and a hard copy must be returned to us by mail. The student should travel with the other copy on their person when departing for and returning from their program. More information on this will be emailed to you after enrollment, or you can download and complete this fhere here.


A school backpack or similar sized bag is ideal (15-40L)

  • Passport
  • Photocopy of passport
  • Wallet/money
  • Book and/or journal
  • Pen
  • Phone
  • Camera
  • Chargers
  • Change of clothes
  • Water bottle
  • Medication
  • Additional community service forms
  • Consent to Travel form
  • Rustic Pathways emergency contacts


A 50-70 Liter duffel bag or backpack is ideal.


  • Socks (12)
  • Underwear (15)
  • Pants/capris (3-4)
  • Jeans (1-2)
  • Long shorts (Community Service appropriate*)
  • Long skirt
  • T-shirts (8-12)
  • Long sleeved shirt (1-2, lightweight)
  • Pajamas
  • Swimsuit
  • Quick dry towel
  • Beach towel/sarong
  • Rain jacket
  • Sandals (like Tevas or Chacos)
  • Sneakers/ Hiking boots (Closed-toed comfortable shoes)
  • Sunglasses
  • Hat (for sun)
  • Work gloves


(Travel size bottles in Ziploc bags)

  • Shampoo
  • Conditioner
  • Body wash
  • Face wash
  • Toothbrush
  • Tooth paste
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug spray
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Contacts
  • Contact solution
  • Foam ear plugs
  • Personal med kit
  • Deodorant
  • Wet Wipes
  • Razor/shaving cream
  1. a

    Arrive in Havana and start your adventure!

  2. b
    Charco Azul

    Head west toward the mountains, arriving at the eco lodge in Chaco Azul after a short 1.5 hr drive.

  3. c

    Drive East to the Alturas de Banao Nature Reserve to work on conservation and enjoy nature.

  4. d

    Sleepy colonial Caribbean town and UNESCO World Heritage site.