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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-Stress Travel 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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2018 Departures

Departs (USA) Returns (USA) Availability
June 12 June 27 Available

Program Profile

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

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

    Travel Day

    Depart from Miami, USA, for Havana, Cuba on Tuesday evening (6:30pm). Your Rustic Pathways staff will greet you upon arrival and take you to the Hotel Copacabana for an introduction and to get some sleep before your real Cuban adventure begins.

  • Day 2


    Students will begin the day with an orientation followed by a visit to the Plaza de la Revolución and lunch at a paladar. They will then check-in to their casas particulares before beginning the first design thinking workshop.

  • Day 3


    Today starts off with a visit to the Museo de la Revolución to understand a little bit more about the historical context of the revolution and how it is woven into the fabric of everyday life. Students will then have a ride in a classic car and interview the drivers. The classic American cars are an iconic example of the ingenuity and innovativeness of Cubans and private tours are one of the legalized privatized businesses that the government has allowed since 2011.

    After lunch, students will take a walking tour of Havana and visit the San Jose Market where they will be able to interview artisans and shop owners about their goods and businesses.

    In the late afternoon of day two, students will participate in the second design thinking workshop.

  • Day 4


    Students will start of the morning with a design-thinking workshop and challenge. After lunch, your group will head to Havana Vieja to participate in a cultural and sports exchange with students from the Belen neighborhood with community project BarrioHabana.

  • Day 5


    Students will have the opportunity to visit the Organopónico Alamar and learn of the importance of organic sustainable farming in La Habana the necessity of agricultural innovation during the Special Period of the early 1990s. They will visit with local workers and also participate in a community service project within the gardens.

    After lunch, students will enjoy a dance class in El Bosque de La Habana before making their way to Charco Azul.

    Upon arrival, students will have time to check in and change before diving into design thinking before dinner.

  • Day 6 - 8

    Charco Azul

    Over the next few days, students will be staying at our community service partner’s (Flora y Fauna) accommodations in Artemisa, one of Cuba’s newest provinces which is around a 45-minute drive from Havana.

    Students will dig further into the importance of sustainable agricultural initiatives as well as the rising importance of eco-tourism on Cuba’s local and national economy. Day trips will take students to Viñales and Las Terrazas. Viñales is one of Cuba’s most picturesque villages and one that has been transformed by tourism in recent years. Las Terrazas is Cuba’s first eco-village fully devoted to eco-tourism and offers a great case study and model for sustainable agriculture, energy efficiency, and environmental education. This self-sufficient and sustainable community includes a hotel, artisan shops, a vegetarian restaurant, primary school, and housing. Students will be conducting interviews during these trips and participating in design-thinking workshops each afternoon.

  • Day 9

    Travel Day (Santa Clara)

    Next, students will head to Santa Clara, a city known for its new trends and creativity and famous for a decisive battle by Che during the revolutionary triumph. Here, students will learn about the city’s history and visit monuments dedicated to Che Guevara and the Revolution. (No design-thinking workshop)

  • Day 10 - 11

    Lomas de Banao

    Students will stay at Lomas de Banao, an ecological preserve located in the Sancti Spiritus province, and participate in reforestation/mangrove restoration community service initiatives while learning about the importance of protecting the local natural environment and major issues that threaten environmental policy locally in Cuba as well as on a global scale. Design-thinking workshops will continue in the afternoon on both days.

  • Day 12 - 13


    Next, students are off to Trinidad, a colonial town situated along Cuba’s southern coast that has over 500 years of history. Students will learn about the importance of tourism to the local economy and will be encouraged to visit with restaurateurs, shop owners, and musicians during a scavenger hunt. Students will be encouraged to refine their ideas and work on pitches.

  • Day 14

    Travel Day to Havana and Final Pitches

    Students will depart early in the morning for Havana and upon check-in will be given one hour to set-up and prepare their Design-thinking Final Pitch presentations for the judges.

    Afterwards, students will have a celebratory dinner and witness the cañonazo ceremony at La Cabaña Fortress (9pm).

  • Day 15

    Beach Day

    Students will celebrate finishing up with their design-thinking workshops and challenge with a beach day at Santa María del Mar, a local habanero favorite among the Playas del Este, just east of Havana.

  • Day 16

    Today you’ll say goodbye to your group and program leaders. Return home with many memories and a new perspective to share.

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

Program-Specific FAQs

    • Valid passport
    • Valid visa, travel card (can buy online or at the airport – see visa information below)
    • Cash – no credit or debit cards can be used in Cuba
    • Bring as much cash as you think you might need. We recommend $150-200
    • Required Forms
    • Consent to Travel and airline paperwork if you are and underage minor
    • People to People Application – travel affidavit confirming reason for travel
  • Cuba requires that all arriving travelers have a Cuban Tourist Card (Visa) to enter the country. Travel Visas can be purchased in-person at the airport (look for the ‘Cuba Ready’ Kiosk) or online through Cuba Travel Services. The Travel Visa has a cost of $100 if purchased at Charlotte or Miami airports (subject to change without notice). Alternatively, you can purchase the AA Visa Card online for $85 (included 5-7day standard delivery or an additional $40 for overnight delivery). The traveler should fill it out with black ink and no mistakes. In case a mistake occurs the traveler needs to purchase a new visa. The Travel Visa is perforated in two sections one is for entering in the country. The immigration representative (in Cuba) will keep one perforated portion and the second section will be turned in upon departure.

    For further information, see: http://www.cubatravelservices.com/plan-your-trip/visas/

  • Round-trips to Cuba originating in the U.S. to Cuba get:

    • 1st bag $25 and second bag $40
    • 1st and 2nd bag free back to U.S.
  • Cuban Health Insurance is included in the purchase of your ticket
    • Asistur Insurance
    • For coverage benefits, see this link.

  • Upon arrival to Cuba, you will make your way to immigration with your visa and passport. Make sure to fill out the blue customs form (given on the airplane or upon arrival) and white health form prior to arrival. Be prepared for questions they may ask, and a photo will be taken during the check-in process. You will then turn in your customs and health form to an official.

    Official’s typical questions:
    Q: How many days are you planning to stay?
    A: 15 days
    Q: Where are you staying?
    A: Hotel Copacabana, Address: Calle 1A No. 4404 Entre 44 Y 46
    Q: Are you traveling alone?
    A: No, I am with a group
    Q: This is you first time visiting the country?
    A: Yes or No (depending on your situation)
    Q: What is the purpose of your travel?
    A: People-to-people exchange
    Sponsoring Organization: Rustic Pathways & Havanatur

  • For more info on phone/internet access, click here.

  • The major legal currency for Cuba is the Cuban Convertible Peso, CUC. It’s what you exchange your foreign currency for and make all your purchases with in Cuba. Most tourists will only ever deal with CUC. For international exchange purposes 1.00 Cuban Convertible Peso = $1.00 USD.   Note that there is a 13% penalty charged when exchanging USA dollars cash, so, you will only receive 87 centavos CUC for one USA dollar when changing the money, allowing for the 13% interest. The second legal currency in Cuba is the Cuban Peso, CUP, which is rarely used by the vast majority of tourists, but it’s still something you should know about as it is perfectly legal for tourists to use.

    You can exchange money at the airport, some hotels or banks. We suggest that you do not use Travelers Checks because they are not insured and may not be accepted. Therefore, it is essential to travel with enough cash during your entire stay in Cuba. Note: You may find small locations called CADECA where you can also exchange money.

  • Remember that historically the U.S. and Cuba have had a very tenuous (strained) relationship. You and your group are a part of a new wave of global citizens and change makers that are ushering in a new era of establishing a diplomatic and social relationship between two nations that have long been considered foes. Much of what is portrayed about Cuba in the U.S. and global media is biased and untrue often leading to common misconceptions about the country – it is up to you to decide what Cuba is really like through travel, personal experience and research, and building relationships. Always remember that you are representing not only yourself and your school but also your country.

    • Don’t take pictures of state personnel – military, police, customs officials, etc. or airport and government bases and buildings

    • Don’t speak negatively of:

    • Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Jose Martí, Camilo Cienfuegos, other Cuban revolutionary heroes (alternatively, ask questions about who they were and why they are important to modern day Cuba)
    • Communism/Socialism (alternatively, ask questions about the positives and challenges of Cuba’s political, social, and economic systems)
    • The lack of material wealth and average salary (alternatively, ask questions about basic rights, healthcare and education and learn about the economic embargo against Cuba)
    •  Most importantly be respectful and come with an open mind
  • All meals and bottled water will be provided by Rustic Pathways. Students should bring a one-liter reusable water bottle to refill. It is recommended to only drink bottled water, canned drinks, and packaged food when buying from local vendors.

    Vegetarian options will be available at restaurants and local accommodations (plenty of rice, beans, vegetables, fruit, eggs, etc). Please understand that typically Cubans don’t adhere to a vegetarian/vegan diet and it is not common among the population. If you are a picky eater, it is recommended to bring plenty of snacks as there are no specialty food stores in Cuba.

  • Be prepared with toilet paper and small coins ($.05 – .10) when using public facilities. In most cases there will not be a toilet seat or toilet paper. Avoid throwing away paper into the toilet due to flushing problems. It is advisable to use the waste basket placed next to the toilets.

  • Cuba is a relatively safe destination to travel to and throughout, however there is a risk of petty theft. Petty opportunistic crimes, such as pick-pocketing and bag-snatching are primarily reported in the capital city of Havana, especially in Old Havana, on public transport, at major tourist sites and in nightclubs. Violent crime is less common and rarely targets foreigners. Travelers are advised to take sensible precautions to protect personal security and keep valuables out of sight, avoid carrying large amounts of cash, avoid wearing expensive jewelry and leave valuables in the hotel safe (try not to flaunt wealth – the average state salary in Cuba is around $25 USD equivalent).

    Beware of thefts from rooms, particularly in private guest houses (‘casas particulares’) and/or hotels. Items like phones and laptops are highly sought after in Cuba and are particularly attractive. Theft from luggage during baggage handling, both on arrival and departure, is also common. Remove all valuables and lock all luggage.

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.