Educational Resources Journey to Cuba

Dr. Steven Derfler Director


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Itinerary at a Glance
Day Destination
1 Arrive Tampa
2 Tampa/Havana
3 Havana & Las Terrazas
4 Havana, Cienfuegos &
Sancti Spiritus
5 Sancti Spiritus & Trinidad
6 Trinidad, Santa Clara & Havana
7 Havana
8 Havana, Alamar & Cojimar
9 Depart Havana/Arrive Tampa

After many years, Americans are again able to travel to Cuba under a new ‘people-to-people’ program authorized by the U.S. Treasury Department, which provides an opportunity to interact with Cubans through educational exchanges concerning art, music, culture, and more. The People to People license issued by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control allows you to enjoy a unique adventure to experience this island which sits 90 miles off our shores and shares such an amazing and extraordinary history with the United States.

Cuba’s culture is rich with contributions from its indigenous, African and European roots. But above all, the people of Cuba are the island’s greatest asset. They are friendly, welcoming, resourceful and full of life. This program will introduce you to the Cuban community and provide an opportunity to interact with them in meaningful and rewarding ways.


Dates, Prices & Options

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Detailed Itinerary

Children in Callejon de Hamel, Havana  Photo by James EmeryDay 1 - Friday, Dec 6: Tampa Overnight/ Pre-tour introductory briefing. Your unforgettable journey to Cuba begins today with an overnight stay in Tampa, Florida. This evening at 7:30pm, participate in an introductory briefing to get acquainted with your fellow travelers and review your documents and program itinerary. You will be informed of the departure time of the group leaving the hotel tomorrow morning. Accommodations: Marriott Tampa Airport.

Day 2 - Saturday, Dec 7: Tampa/Havana. Check-in at Tampa International Airport to board your non-stop flight bound for Havana, Cuba’s capital city and designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Bienvenidos a Havana! You are welcomed by your private Cuban people-to-people representative holding a Friendly Planet sign outside the arrivals terminal at the Havana Airport. Board your air-conditioned coach, and jump right in as you head directly to your first destination in Cuba.

Havana Vieja Photo by Adam JonesVisit the colorful Callejon de Hamel, one of the shortest but most interesting streets in Havana. Here you will discover how the African Cuban religion of Santeria, a fusion of African belief systems like spirit worship and Christianity, is portrayed in the street art and music. Meet with artists, including Salvador Gonzalez Escalona (when in residence), whose prolific murals that adorn the neighborhood reflect the culture and religious beliefs of this area.

Time for lunch at a local restaurant in the center of Old Havana (not included), followed by a leisurely orientation walk with your guide through the vibrant cobblestone streets as you immerse yourself in the colors of Cuba which surround you.

Explore the Used Booksellers Market, a cross-cultural treasure trove for readers of every genre. Meet local independent booksellers and engage in friendly conversation with Cuban readers about popular Cuban and American literature.

Now that you’ve had a taste of what lies ahead during your visit to Cuba, it’s time to check in to your hotel. After time to rest at the hotel, attend a brief orientation meeting to review your travel itinerary and the documentation procedures for re-entry into the USA.

Afterwards, enjoy a welcome dinner at the hotel. Accommodations: Nacional. Dinner provided.

Las TerrazasDay 3 - Sunday, Dec 8: Havana & Las Terrazas. Depart for Las Terrazas in ARTEMISA Province, a “must see” in Cuba and known worldwide for its magnificent, scenic beauty.

Las Terrazas was founded shortly after the Cuban Revolution in 1959 as a model community, where local farmers, known as campesinos, moved closer together in order to help each other overcome the hardships of sleeping in huts with thatched roofs, of living without electricity and of living without local schools or medical services.

First, stop briefly at the Clinica Las Terrazas† to learn how medical services are handled in rural Cuba. Locals visit this small, multi-purpose center for medical advice, often non-traditional and homeopathic, and referrals to larger medical centers in the city, dental care by the area’s sole dentist, and even a haircut by the town hairdresser, with whom the space is also shared.

Continue to the kindergarten of the community. After a tour of the facility conducted by the director and teacher, discuss early childhood education in Cuba and the USA with school staff. Then, enjoy a brief presentation by the children.

Enjoying coffee at Cafe Maria, Las TerrazasAt our next stop, we’ll visit the oldest member of the community, Maria. She is the sole proprietor of the town’s only coffee shop, Café Maria, where she and her family have been welcoming visitors for years to enjoy the “best coffee in the country.” Discuss coffee culture in Cuba and throughout the world and how cafes act as places for social interaction.

Las Terrazas is now part of UNESCO’s Biosphere Reserve, much of it reforested coffee plantation. Real reforestation began in the late 1960s by the local farmers who were concerned that their land had been degraded by former French coffee barons.

Visit the art studio of Lester Campa (When in residence).

Now you’re in for an authentic, country-style lunch prepared and served outdoors at a local farmhouse near Las Terrazas.

FusterlandiaOn the way back to Havana after lunch, we have the distinct pleasure of visiting “Fusterlandia”, the home and surrounding neighborhood of “The Picasso of the Caribbean”, Jose Fuster. Starting with a small wooden home as his canvas, Mr. Fuster has turned his dream into reality and transformed not just his own home but the entire neighborhood into a unique and colorful artistic landscape. Using the money he makes from selling his artwork, Jose adorns the community with sculptures and mosaics galore.

This evening, we meet in our pre-reserved meeting room at our hotel and engage in a discussion with an English-speaking Cuban expert on the history of U.S./Cuban relations in the 20th & 21st centuries with the opportunity to ask questions in an uncensored format. Free evening. Breakfast & lunch provided.

Student, Santa Clara Music and Performing Arts SchoolDay 4 - Monday, Dec 9: Havana, Cienfuegos, Sancti Spiritus. Shortly after breakfast this morning, depart from Havana and drive along Cuba’s “autopista” highway, en route to Cienfuegos, known as the “Pearl of the South” and the capital of Cienfuegos Province on the southern Caribbean side of the island.

Enjoy a lunch at a local restaurant and then explore the main square and the Punto Gordo peninsula.

Your next visit is to an enjoyable and interesting community project in Cienfuegos around graphic art. After this we visit a rehearsal of Cantores de Cienfuegos, a youth choir.

We continue on to the picturesque town of Sancti Spíritus, one of the original seven cities founded in Cuba by the Spanish five centuries ago, and home to Cuba's oldest church, the Parroquial Mayor. We walk through the pedestrian street Bulevar and see how locals do their shopping with offers in both currencies (cuc and moneda nacional). Accommodations: Plaza Hotel Sancti Spiritus. Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided.

Plaza Mayor, Trinidad Photo by Nick GrunwaldDay 5 - Tuesday, Dec 10: Trinidad. After breakfast this morning, we continue our journey to the charming old Spanish colonial town of Trinidad. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, Trinidad is one of the best preserved towns in all of Latin America.

We visit the Casa del Alfarero, a pottery house that was founded and and has been managed by the Santander Family for generations. Today you’ll learn the process of ceramic production and have the opportunity to create a piece of your own.

Continue to one of Trinidad’s many “casas particulares” or bed and breakfasts, where you’ll enjoy a tour and a discussion with the owners. Learn how bed and breakfasts are one of Cuba’s new entrepreneurial opportunities in a society where the state typically owns most enterprises. Ask questions and share insights about U.S. businesses, including the ever popular bed and breakfasts that are ubiquitous in the U.S.

Continue to Templo de Yemaya, where a Santeria Practitioner along with some of the religion’s devotees explains the basic principles of Santeria. Discuss the role of religion and religious organizations throughout both Cuba and the US.

Manaca Iznaga Observation TowerLunch today is at the beautifully restored Hacienda de Manaca Iznaga, located in the heart of the Valley de los Ingenios, a series of valleys once known as a center for sugar production. Built in the late 1700s, the mansion displays an exhibition of paintings depicting the lives of slaves on sugar plantations.

After lunch learn, through the stories of local families, about the region’s harsh past, where great fortunes were made on the backs of African slaves, and where many descendants of the Afro-Cuban slaves still reside.
Check into Iberostar Hotel Trinidad, in the city center.

After time to rest at the hotel, dinner this evening is in a private home and restaurant (known as a Paladar) for a home cooked meal. Meet with the multigenerational family members, and get an intimate look into local Cuban daily life while enjoying one of the best meals you’ll have in Cuba!

After dinner, join Cubans at either Casa de la Musica or Casa de la Trova for a community block party, a celebration where locals from all walks of life and generations come to eat, drink, build friendships, and discuss neighborhood matters. Enjoy the celebration, regarded as one of the best experiences of the trip, and engage in discussions with the locals about community life in Cuba and the US. Accommodations: Iberostar Hotel, Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided.

Women  & children of Cienfuegos Photo by Adam Jones Day 6 - Wednesday, Dec 11: Santa Clara & Havana. After breakfast we board our bus and drive to Santa Clara where we will enjoy a special visit to the Santa Clara Music and Performing Arts School, with dance, theater and music performances by the students. Participate in a discussion with faculty and students about the role of music and education in the USA, and the impact of music on Cuban life and its importance in education in Cuba. Please note that this visit is only possible during the school year (September through early June). Should this school not be available, or in session, during your trip, an equally enjoyable and interesting visit to another community project will be substituted. Lunch will be served buffet style in the Los Caneyes Hotel in Santa Clara.

In the afternoon we continue to Havana and check into hotel Nacional. Free evening. Accommodations: Nacional. Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided.

Students of Angela Landa Elementary SchoolDay 7 - Thursday, Dec 12: Havana. Begin our day with a visit to a primary school (ages 5-12) located in Old Havana. Interact with the children in their classrooms and participate in a discussion session with some of the school’s administrators and teachers about Cuba’s education system and how it compares to that of the United States. Then continue on to the private studio of one of Cuba’s talented independent artists such as Eduardo Roca, affectionately known as “Choco”. During your visit you’ll learn different techniques of printmaking, sculpture and other art forms from innovative and internationally acclaimed Cuban artists and their teams. Lunch is served at a local restaurant.

This afternoon, visit the Vocal Leo, a group of 14 talented singers who perform under the direction of Corina Campos, general and musical director of this unique, award-winning group known internationally for its distinctive interpretation of choral music. The group is named for the Cuban guitar virtuoso, composer and orchestra conductor, Leo Brower. After watching a performance or rehearsal, discuss the professional music scene in Cuba and the USA.

Return to Havana and enjoy the remainder of the day at leisure. Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided.

Hemingway's houseDay 8 - Friday, Dec 13: Havana, Alamar & Cojimar. This morning, drive to Finca Vigia, Hemmingway’s Cuba retreat and visit Cojimar, the fishing village that was the setting for his book, The Old Man and the Sea. Then, drive to the district of Alamar on the outskirts of Havana. Started as an expansive social housing project in the 1970’s, these Soviet-style pre-fabricated concrete apartment blocks are now home to hundreds of thousands of Cubans.

Among the buildings in Alamar are community gardens, called Organoponicos, where residents grow fruit, vegetables and herbs for their own consumption and local sale. Similar to co-op and community gardens in the United States, these Organoponicos facilitate community development and offer Alamar’s residents access to fresh produce. Enjoy a visit to one of these Organoponicos, which few visitors to Cuba have the opportunity to do.

Lunch today is an open-air organic feast served by community volunteers and workers from Alamar.
This afternoon, we’re in for a real treat. We travel to the Centro Pro Danza de Cuba, created in 1994 by Laura Alonso, the daughter of Cuba’s legendary ballet royalty, Alicia and Fernando Alonso. Alonso teaches children of all ages and regardless of talent or ability to pay, and she provides professional-minded dancers, who weren’t accepted into the national ballet school and company, with an opportunity to grow study and even perform. Tour the school, housed in a crumbling mansion that was once a hospital and is slowly being refurbished, watch a rehearsal. Then, engage in discussions with the directors and dancers about dance opportunities in Cuba compared with those in the USA.

Plaza de la Catedral, Havana Vieja Photo by KrasivajaAfter some well-deserved ‘down time’ at the hotel, join your fellow travelers at the farewell dinner, served in a privately owned restaurant. Be sure to wear your dancing shoes as you enjoy live, traditional Cuban Buena Vista-style music and salsa dancing. Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided.

Day 9 - Saturday, Dec 14: Depart Havana/Arrive Tampa. Today, bid farewell to Cuba as you transfer to Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport and check-in for your charter flight back to Tampa. Adios Havana! Breakfast provided.

NOTE: This itinerary provides a full time schedule of educational activities that will result in meaningful interactions between you and individuals in Cuba. U.S. law requires that all persons who participate in this program adhere to this full time schedule, and imposes on Friendly Planet the obligation to ensure such adherence.

Infrastructure in Cuba, especially in hotels, may not be sufficient to satisfy demand in certain periods. While all inclusions in your tour will be maintained, it is possible that the itinerary may be rerouted to accommodate hotel availability. Please be flexible and understand that we will always do whatever we can to assure the best possible experience for all our Cuba travelers.

† These visits are subject to availability. When not possible to visit, appropriate alternate visits will be included.


Contact Information

Steven DerflerDr. Steven Derfler
Director Educational Resources, Inc.
Tel: 651-592-3688

An international educational consultant, public speaker, archaeologist, historian, researcher, teacher and writer, Dr. Derfler has been uncovering the histories of ancient civilizations for over 35 years. Tracing the development of western religions from their roots in the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean countries, Dr. Derfler brings insight to current political and social events, bridging the past with the future to promote greater understanding between people from different faiths and walks of life.

A recently retired university professor from the University of Wisconsin- River Falls, Dr. Derfler has been associated with international institutions such as Tel Aviv University's Institute of Archaeology, the Israeli Antiquities Authority, and The Negev Museum of Beersheva. He has also served as a scholar-in-residence at Oxford University, England. He is the director of Educational Resources, Inc- an educational consultancy and curriculum design agency, as well as guest lecturer in a wide variety of venues throughout the US.

His commentaries have been found in such publications as the St. Paul Pioneer Press and The American Jewish World. His research has been published by the Israel Exploration Journal, Tel Aviv Journal of Archaeology, Hadashot Archaologiot, Atiqot, Middle East Review, The ARAM Journal of Oxford University, The University of Minnesota Press and the Edwin Mellen Press. In addition, he has published a fiction novel about archaeology and the Middle East via Xlibris Press.

He has directed international programs to Israel and Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Greece and Turkey as well as Cuba. This will be Dr. Derfler's sixth program in Cuba.