Arrive in Havana and start your adventure!
Join us for an amazing cultural exchange in the exciting Cuban cities of Havana and Trinidad. This program is tailored for those who are passionate about environmental conservation. Travel by horseback to the famous Charco Azul lagoon where a reforestation project awaits with local park rangers, sleep under the stars after a waterfall hike, get your hands dirty with local farmers while learning about their sustainable practices and experience youth culture in town with plenty of dancing, food, and new friends.
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 nearby hotel for an introduction and to get some sleep before your real Cuban adventure begins.
Upon arrival to Havana, you’ll travel to Charco Azul, an ecologically responsible horse ranch tucked into the hills of Artemisa, just west of Cuba’s capital city. Here you’ll have an orientation and introduction with your 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 more than 75 protected areas in Cuba and is responsible for maintaining the conservation of these lands. In partnership with local communities they help with reforestation efforts, work with farmers to control the use of harmful toxins, and train them in sustainable farming practices. You’ll take a tour of the ranch and learn about the activities and community service projects you will be participating in over the next few days.
Today you’ll begin you community service by joining local farmers in organic farming efforts designed to help Charco Azul and Rustic Pathways’ students reach auto-sufficiency during their stay at the ranch. You will learn of sustainable farming practices that were perfected during the “special period” when Cuba transformed its focus from a monocrop producer of sugar to a more diverse, seasonal approach, all without heavy equipment and pesticides.
In the afternoon, take a horseback ride along the Charco Azul lagoon and marvel at the local landscape.
Wake up early and head to Cayo Levisa, one of Cuba’s mangrove covered keys along the northern coast. Unlike other keys in the area, there is no birdge to Cayo Levisa, meaning students will have to make the 45 minute journey by boat. They will be welcomed by pristine beaches and crystal clear water perfect for a relaxing swim or snorkeling.
In the morning you’ll get your hands dirty as you work at a local organoponico (urban garden), dedicated to helping offer economical and bountiful produce to local community members.
In the afternoon, you’ll head to Las Terrazas, an eco-community that was declared a UNESCO biosphere reserve in 1984. Explore the Sierra del Rosario preserve and learn how the people in the community strive to live sustainably. Learn about the successful terrace style reforestation efforts that were introduced in order to re-establish over 80% of the surrounding forest. You’ll visit with shop owners and restauranteurs and discuss sustainable sourcing and practices. After lunch, you’ll hike down to the breathtaking falls at the Baños del San Juan.
Today you will take a day trip to the Viñales National Park in the Pinar del Rio region. Entering the park, you’ll witness unbelievable views of the area’s limestone outcrops called mogotes. You’ll then explore the valley below where most of Cuba’s world-famous tobacco is grown. After lunch and some time to walk through town, you’ll take a boat tour of the Cueva del Indio, an ancient indigenous dwelling discovered in 1920.
Hop back on the bus and prepare for the second phase of your trip. Travel to Banao via Santa Clara, enjoying the spectacular Cuban countryside as you drive east. After having lunch in Santa Clara, you’ll head to the Che Guevara Mausoleum, where you’ll learn more about the history of Cuba’s most celebrated revolutionaries.
In the afternoon, you’ll continue on to the Lomas de Banao preserve and upon arrival settle into your rustic base house at Jarico Lodge. After dinner, local Flora y Fauna park rangers will give an overview of the natural preserve and an introduction to conservation efforts and projects your group will be working on.
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.
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 breathtaking views of the valley and coast below. ontinue your hike to Hoyo de Naranjal, where you will be able to enjoy the natural falls of Las Cortinas waterfall. Don’t worry, mules will be available if you need a break.
Tonight, you’ll camp out at a local casa de campesino and your guides will cook a typical cena criolla dinner as you all share stories around the campfire.
After waking up in the valley, you’ll eat a campesino breakfast and then it’s back to the trail for the return hike home. Your group will take breaks along the way to check out beautiful vistas and cool off with a swim. Arrive at base camp in time for lunch and then kick back for a well deserved siesta.
In the afternoon, head into the local town of Banao to explore the small town atmosphere of Cuba.
Today you’ll travel the coast to Tunas de Zaza, a small town at the mouth of the Zaza River. The preserve is one of the best spots for watching wildlife in Cuba. Spot wild flamingos and observe native aquatic birds and other wildlife. Enjoy lunch at the park ranger station before heading down the Zaza River on a boat tour. Along the way, you’ll contribute to the local ecosystem by collecting red mangrove seedlings and replanting them in areas where mangroves have been affected by deforestation and hurricanes. You’ll learn about the importance of this watershed for the locals that and wildlife that live in the area.
Pack your bags and prepare to set off on a cultural exploration trip to Trinidad. Trinidad is a UNESCO World Heritage site and full of historical and cultural significance. Learn from local leaders and guides about its history, dating back over 500 years ago.
In the afternoon, you’ll explore Trinidad’s local beach, Playa Ancón, before heading back to town for dinner and a night of dancing along the steps of the Casa de la Musica.
You will have lunch and then spend a few hours to snorkel and explore the coast at Punta Perdiz.
In the morning, join your group for a salsa dancing lesson in La Bosque de La Habana. In the afternoon, you will return to Havana Vieja to participate in a cultural and sports exchange with students from the Belen neighborhood with community project Barrio Habana.
Your last day in Cuba will be dedicated to getting to know Habana Vieja with visits to its main plazas and the Museo de la Revolución. You will take a city tour in an antique American car, barter at the local artisan market and stroll along the malecon. Your final dinner will be filled with lots of music, laughing and dancing.
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!).
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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 get in touch with our direct visa broker company, G3. Since working with them our visa processing has improved and the process is really easy. Please contact them here: http://www.g3visas.com/rusticpathways.html
Round-trips to Cuba originating in the U.S. to Cuba get:
If you are traveling from a different country check with your airline.
Cuban Health Insurance is included in the purchase of your airline ticket.
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 about your departure date (good to have your return ticket printed and available).
Official’s typical questions:
Access to internet will be very limited, as there is no WiFi at the hotels where we’ll stay. However, there are parks and public squares with WiFi, which you can use after purchasing state-issued internet cards. Please let your friends and family know about communication expectations ahead of time.
One of the legal currencies for Cuba is the Cuba Convertible, CUC (also the newest currency in the country). It’s what you exchange your currency for and make all your purchases with in Cuba. Most tourists will only ever deal with CUC (the other one is called Cuba Peso or CUP). Note that there is a 13% tax charged when exchanging US Dollars in cash, so, you will only receive 87 cents CUC for one US Dollar.
You can exchange money at the some hotels, currency exchange offices 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.
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.
All meals and bottled water will be provided by Rustic Pathways. You 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, lentils and other legumes, grains, 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.
They are available in gas stations for free and they’re usually really clean. Be prepared with toilet paper and small CUC coins ($.05 – .10) when using public facilities. All of our hotels and restaurants will have clean facilities and toilet paper available.
Cuba is a relatively safe destination to travel to and throughout, however, there is a risk of petty theft. Petty opportunistic crimes, such as pickpocketing 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 rare and almost non-existent for foreigners.
Tips to protect yourself from petty theft: 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 (flaunting wealth) and leave valuables in the hotel safe.
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.
No specific immunizations are needed to travel to Cuba.
We will provide you with plenty of bottled water.
Weather follows a similar pattern to the northern hemisphere, where November-March can be cooler months (min. 50 and max. 90) and April-October hotter months (min. 70 max 110). A light fleece and windbreaker should be enough for cool nights and mountain hikes.
All activities in the itinerary are included unless otherwise stated below.
200 should cover for light snacks and drinks on bus trips as well as souvenirs.
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.
Laundry will be available twice on the program.
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 a sample document here.
A school backpack or similar sized bag is ideal (15-40L)
A 50-70 Liter duffel bag or backpack is ideal.
(Travel size bottles in Ziploc bags)
Arrive in Havana and start your adventure!
Head west toward the mountains, arriving at the eco lodge in Chaco Azul after a short 1.5 hr drive.
Visit the Las Terrazas biosphere, and learn about the ecological efforts there.
Drive East to the Alturas de Banao nature reserve to work on conservation and enjoy nature.
Sleepy colonial Caribbean town and UNESCO World Heritage Site.