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
  • U.S. Treasury Department license and letter of authorization
  • Cuba Entrance Visa
  • All land transportation, transfers & porterage in Cuba
  • 1st night Crowne Plaza Miami Airport Hotel with Pre-tour introductory briefing
  • 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
  • Comprehensive educational exchange program, including entrance fees
  • Friendly Planet escort
  • Professional, English-speaking local guide, who will facilitate the educational exchanges with Cubans
  • Health insurance in Cuba (mandatory)
Highlights Havana, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Santa Clara, Cojimar, lectures by university professors, chats with students, doctors and entrepreneurs. Ernest Hemingway's Finca Vigia, and dinners at "paladares".
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 10, 2014 - Miami Overnight/Pre-tour introductory briefing. Your unforgettable journey to Cuba begins today with an overnight stay 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 tomorrow morning. Accommodations: Crowne Plaza Miami Airport.

Day 2: Sunday, May 11, 2014 - 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 JonesAn 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. 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.

Enjoy your first lunch at a local restaurant in the center of Old Havana. PRADO Y NEPTUNO

After lunch, we continue the walking tour making 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.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 12, 2014 - Havana. After breakfast this morning we visit a cigar factory 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.
Later, we visit Convento de Belen. There is 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.

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.

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

After lunch (around 2:00PM) we visit the University of Havana, outside and aula magna, and talk about higher education in Cuba.

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

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. Accommodations: Hotel Nacional.Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided.

Las TerrazasDay 4: Tuesday, May 13, 2014 - 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.

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

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, 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”. (Rafael Hernández)

Remainder of the evening at leisure. Accommodations: Hotel Nacional. Breakfast & lunch provided.

Women  & children of Cienfuegos Photo by Adam Jones Day 5: Wednesday, May 14, 2014 - 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 (paladar El Tranvia) and then explore the main square and the Punta Gorda peninsula.

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 Cienfuegos Choir. We learn how students are trained in the musical and performing arts, and discuss the similarities and differences between the Cuban and American educational programs in music and the arts. Our opportunity to chat with the singers and listen to the wonderful choir music performed 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 25, 2014 - Trinidad. After breakfast, visit a Santería Templo, where a Santería practitioner 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.

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.

Lunch 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.

Manaca Iznaga Observation TowerAfter 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. Accommodations: Las Brisas Del Mar. Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided.

Mausoleum of Che Guevara, Santa ClaraDay 7: Friday, May 16, 2014 - 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.

Dinner this evening is at El Aljibe restaurant. Accommodations: Hotel Nacional. Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided.

Hemingway's houseDay 8: Saturday, May 17, 2014 - Havana, Alamar & Cojimar. In the morning, visit Cuba’s National Museum of Modern Art (Museo de Bellas Artes), where we concentrate on the Cuban art portion of the museum. 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 (*visit subject to availability).

Lunch will be an open-air organic feast served by community volunteers and workers from Alamar (*lunch at organoponicos subject to availability).

Girls looking through a bus window Photo by Adam JonesIn the afternoon, we will 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.”

We complete our day with a visit to Teatro América or similar cultural center where we will have the opportunity to see a choir practice, or drama rehearsal or similar activity, performed by students at the organization.

After some well-deserved ‘down time’ at the hotel, join your fellow travelers at the farewell dinner, served on the second floor of the Asturian Society. Be sure to wear your dancing shoes as you enjoy live, traditional Cuban Buena Vista-style music and salsa dancing. Accommodations: Hotel Nacional. Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided.

Plaza de la Catedral, Havana Vieja Photo by KrasivajaDay 9: Sunday, May 18, 2014 - Havana/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 Havana!

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

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.