Capitol building at night, Old Havana

Cuba: A Society in Transition

Sponsored by Notre Dame of Maryland University


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Itinerary at a Glance
Day Destination
1 Arrive Miami
2 Miami/Havana
3 Havana
4 Havana & Las Terrazas
5 Havana, Cienfuegos & Trinidad
6 Trinidad
7 Sancti Spiritus, Santa Clara & Havana
8 Havana, Alamar & Cojimar
9 Havana/Miami
Style Custom Group
24 travelers max, dedicated tour escorts & guides throughout
Price Includes
  • Non-stop round trip flights from Miami to Havana via U.S. Government-licensed charter service
  • U.S. Treasury Department license and letter of authorization
  • Cuba Entrance Visa
  • All land transportation, transfers & sightseeing tours to tour sites where stated
  • 8 nights superior first class hotel accommodations including 1 night Crowne Plaza Miami Airport with introductory briefing
  • All meals where stated with beverage where indicated
  • Professional, English-speaking local guide, who will facilitate the educational exchanges with Cubans
  • Health insurance in Cuba (mandatory)
Highlights Havana, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Sanata Clara, Cojimar, an authentic Rumba block party, Ernest Hemingway's Finca Vigia, and a dinner in a "paladar".
What to Expect This fast-paced, escorted educational program includes a reasonable amount of walking or hiking and requires an average level of physical fitness.

Prepare for your trip Already booked? Find everything you need to know before you go, including information about passport & visa requirements, flights, luggage, and more.

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. Friendly Planet is proud to be one of the very few companies in the United States to have been awarded a People to People license by the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control . Join us for 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 people and provide ample opportunities to interact with them in meaningful and rewarding ways, learning and teaching each other about life in Cuba vs the USA. But don't wait to reserve your spot. With a rare opportunity like this, with prices this low, space is sure to fly!


Dates, Prices & Options

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Detailed Itinerary

Dancers, HavanaDay 1 - Saturday, May 11: Arrive Miami. Your unforgettable journey to Cuba begins today as you arrive in Miami, Florida. If you are arriving at Miami International Airport, complimentary hotel shuttle service to the Crowne Plaza is available every 20 minutes from any 2nd level departure terminal, simply hail the driver as they pass. 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 shuttle leaving the hotel the following morning. Accommodations: Crowne Plaza Miami Airport.

Day 2 - Sunday, May 12: Miami/Havana. Transfer to the Miami International Airport to board your non-stop flight bound for Havana, Cuba’s capital city and designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Bienvenidos a La Habana! 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 JonesEnjoy your first lunch at a local restaurant in the center of Old Havana. PRADO Y NEPTUNO

This afternoon, your guide will take you on an orientation walk through the vibrant cobblestone streets of Habana Vieja as you immerse yourself in the colors of Cuba which surround you. Visit the Plaza de Armas with its 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. This evening, enjoy a welcome dinner at the hotel. Accommodations: Hotel Nacional. Lunch & dinner provided.

Students of Angela Landa Elementary SchoolDay 3 - Monday, May 13: Havana. After breakfast this morning we visit a cigar factory (OR we will be hosted to a private cigar process presentation where we learn about this most famous Cuban industry. Our guide explains the entire process to us while we see cigars rolled in their natural form)

After we visit a primary school (ages 5 - 12) located in a beautiful historical building which has been carefully renovated by Havana’s Office of the Historian. We 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.

An official from the Office of the Historian of Havana will guide us through Habana Vieja while explaining the colonial history of this beautiful city as we visit the Palace of the Captains General and its City Museum, and then make our way along colonial, cobblestone streets to the Cathedral, the Plaza de San Francisco, and the church and convent of the same name, the Convent of Santa Clara and Plaza Vieja. There you will learn about and witness the Old City’s famous renovation process.

Lunch is served at the SANTO ANGEL Restaurant in the Plaza Vieja.

After lunch we visit the Federación de Mujeres Cubanas located in the Vedado section of Havana.

Visit to University of Havana, outside and aula magna.

17:30- 18:30 Lecture on U.S./Cuban relations in the 20th and 21st centuries by an English-speaking Cuban professor.

This evening, meet with the owner or general manager and some of the workers of one of Havana’s finest and most interesting in-home restaurants called a Paladar. At Café Laurent, only a short walk from our hotel, we learn firsthand how new businesses – especially restaurants - get started, find working capital, and make a profit in a society where private business ventures are almost unknown. Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided.

Las TerrazasDay 4 - Tuesday, May 14: Havana & Las Terrazas. Depart for Las Terraza 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, we’ll visit the Clinica Las Terrazas to learn how medical services are handled in rural Cuba. The doctor here believes in non-traditional treatments and specializes in homeopathic remedies. Learn how locally-grown plants and other materials are used to prepare remedies and discuss both the merits and problems of homeopathic versus manufactured pharmaceuticals.

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 María, 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 cafés act as places for social interaction.

Las Terrazas is now part of UNESCO’s Biosphere Reserve, much of it reforested coffee plantations. 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. Engage in a lively exchange with members of a local farming community and discuss with Cuban Guajiros (farmers and cowboys) the importance of reforesting. Discuss how the Cuban experience in Las Terrazas has had a positive impact on the ecological movement on society and its similarity or dissimilarity to efforts in the USA.

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

FusterlandiaVisit the art studio of Lester Campa (When in residence). Today he’ll share with us his unique paper recycling process, the results of which are used for various artistic items, and explain the methods used to create the paper.

On 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, José adorns the community with sculptures and mosaics galore.

Around 5:30 this evening we have an open discussion session with an English-speaking Cuban professor on the topic of: “Cuba: “A socio economic system in transition”.

NOTE: We will request Carlos Alzugaray and / or Rafael Hernandez to speak to the group. Should either or both not be available we do guarantee highly professional academic speakers to meet with the group.

Remainder of the evening at leisure. Breakfast & lunch provided.

Women  & children of Cienfuegos Photo by Adam Jones Day 5 - Wednesday, May 15: Havana, Cienfuegos & Trinidad. Shortly after breakfast this morning, depart from Havana and drive along Cuba’s “autopista” highway via Bay of Pigs. Visit to the Bay of Pigs Museum. Continue through small towns and villages 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 Punta Gorda peninsula. (PALACIO DE VALLE RESTAURANT)

We visit the historic centre with its Parque Martí, the Teatro Terry and Prado Boulevard with its many stores, where your Cuban guide will explain the system of rationing, the two-currency system, as well as the difference between Ration Stores, Cuban Peso Stores, and CUC Stores.

Our next visit affords a singular opportunity to engage in an educational exchange with the faculty, staff and students of the Cantores de Cienfuegos. We learn how students are trained in the musical and performing arts in this institution, and discuss the similarities and differences between the Cuban and American educational programs in music and the arts. Our opportunity to chat with and listen to the wonderful choir music performed by these students is a very special part of our program in Cuba.

Continue the drive along the Caribbean coast 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. Dinner this evening is at our beach front hotel located on Playa Ancón on the Caribbean Sea. Accommodations: Las Brisas Del Mar. Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided.

Plaza Mayor, Trinidad Photo by Nick GrunwaldDay 6 - Thursday, May 16: Trinidad. After breakfast, visit the Casa del Alfarero, a pottery house that was founded and has been managed by the Santander Family for generations. Today you’ll learn the process of ceramic production.

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 Yemayá, where a Santería Practitioner along with some of the religion’s devotees explains the basic principles of Santería. Discuss the role of religion and religious organizations in Cuba and the US. Should a genuine Santeria ceremony be available this day it will be included in the program.

Manaca Iznaga Observation TowerLunch today is at the beautifully restored Hacienda de Manaca Iznaga, located in the heart of the Valle de los Ingenios, a series of valleys that were once the center for Cuba’s 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.

After time to rest at the hotel, dinner this evening is in a private home and restaurant (known as a Paladar) SOL ANANDA 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 Música 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. Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided.

Mausoleum of Che Guevara, Santa ClaraDay 7 - Friday, May 17: Sancti Spiritus, Santa Clara & Havana. After breakfast, depart from Trinidad and visit 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 Iglesia Parroquial Mayor. We will have the opportunity to walk through the street mall in this small town where locals purchase food and clothing items. We’ll also visit one or two “home ration” stores where commonly used household goods are sold at bargain prices to the local community.

Continue to the town of Santa Clara where lunch will be served buffet style in Santa Clara’s Los Caneyes Hotel.

If possible, we will arrange a visit in Santa Clara to meet with a family doctor or local clinic, where staff will explain about the urban health care system. Accommodations: Hotel Nacional or Telegrafo. Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided.

Hemingway's houseDay 8 - Saturday, May 18: Havana, Alamar & Cojimar. In the 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 thousands of Cubans. Meet with some local residents and discuss the process of buying and selling or otherwise obtaining housing in Cuba. Also learn about the tradition of having multi-generational living arrangements.

Visit Alamar’s community gardens, called organopónicos, 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 organopónicos facilitate community development and offer Alamar’s residents access to fresh produce.

Lunch will be an open-air organic feast served by community volunteers and workers from Alamar.

Girls looking through a bus window Photo by Adam JonesIn the afternoon, we will visit Cuba’s National Museum of Modern Art (Museo de Belles Artes), where we concentrate on the Cuban art portion of the museum.

Later, we visit a community free pharmacy, where pharmaceuticals that are donated by visitors from throughout the world are distributed, free of charge, to everyone who needs them.

Afterwards, return to the hotel.

We complete our day with a visit to Teatro América which is located near the Casa de la Música in Havana. We’ll be able to view a dance or singing rehearsal by the students who study here.

After some well-deserved ‘down time’ at the hotel, join your fellow travelers at the farewell dinner, served in the rooftop restaurant of the Ambos Mundos Hotel, where Hemingway lived in the 1930s and wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls. Be sure to wear your dancing shoes as you enjoy live, traditional Cuban Buena Vista-style music and salsa dancing. Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided.

Plaza de la Catedral, Havana Vieja Photo by KrasivajaDay 9 - Sunday, May 19: Depart Havana/Arrive Miami. Today, bid farewell to Cuba as you transfer to Havana’s José Martí International Airport and check-in for your charter flight back to Miami. Adios Habana!

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.


Contact Information

Leonor Blum
Emeritus Associate Professor, History/Political Science,
Notre Dame of Maryland University
Email: and
Tel: 410-358-4248 (h), 410-591-0547 (c)

Leonor Blum specializes in Latin American Studies and has traveled to Cuba many times with student groups, and to attend professional conferences.

Notre Dame’s Cuba trip provides an exclusive look at everyday life and culture in a transitioning, socialist society. We will be receiving lectures from University of Havana professors. You will learn about colonial, early 20th century, revolutionary, and present-day Cuba as you explore the streets of Old Havana, visit museums, schools, a hospital, food markets, and a Santería ceremony. Please feel free to contact me via email or telephone.

We encourage trip participants to attend the two pre-departure meetings in April. Franklin W. Knight, the Leonard and Helen R. Stulman Professor of History at Johns Hopkins University, will address the group at one of the meetings. The other meeting will cover logistics. For students taking the trip for credit, attendance is mandatory. There will be further information about the time and location of the meetings closer to the departure date.