Friends & Family of George Mason University

Hosted by the School of Public Policy, GMU

Havana, Cojimar, Varadero, Cardenas, Coliseo & Matanzas


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Itinerary at a Glance
Day Destination
1 Miami Overnight &
Introductory Briefing
2 Miami/Havana
3 Old Havana, Callejon de Hamel
& Cuban Ration Store
4 Havana, Matanzas,
Coliseo, Cardenas, Varadero
5 Varadero, Cojimar, Alamar
& Havana
6 Havana & Las Terrazas
7 Havana departure
Style Small Group Tour
24 travelers max, dedicated tour escorts & guides throughout
Departures Scheduled Dates
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 & porterage in Cuba
  • 1st night Crowne Plaza Miami Airport Hotel with Pre-tour introductory briefing
  • 5 nights superior first class hotel accommodations in Cuba
  • 13 meals: 5 breakfasts, 4 lunches and 4 dinners
  • 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)
Departs Miami (MIA) (flight schedule)
Highlights Havana, Cojimar, Callejon de Hamel, Las Terrazas, Ernest Hemingway's Finca Vigia, Varadero, Cardenas, Mantanzas & Coliseo
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.

George Mason Universit: School of Public Policy  logo

Just 90 miles from U.S. soil, the Caribbean island of Cuba has remained elusive to most Americans. But thanks to the People to People program, now entering its third year, more and more American travelers are visiting Cuba as part of these unique educational exchanges. Friendly Planet Travel is proud to be among the first operators to be awarded a People to People license, and we’re especially excited about our partnership program with George Mason University, featuring a 4-night stay in Havana and an overnight stay in Varadero, long considered one of Cuba’s most beautiful beaches.

You’ll begin your adventure in Havana, where you’ll be introduced to a rich culture with indigenous, African and European roots. You’ll meet artists in their studios in Old Havana, visit schools, tour organic farms and explore an ingenious, creative society with much to share and an eagerness to learn. In Varadero, you’ll meet a young teacher who has become another of Cuba’s emerging private sector stars. You’ll tour a “coincidental” farm in nearby Cardenas and discover what growing fruit and making pottery have in common. Your 5* beachfront resort hotel is perfectly situated to offer opportunities to enjoy the Caribbean in your spare time.

We guarantee you it’ll be a travel experience unlike any other.

Dates, Prices & Options

Sorry, there are no currently available tour dates.

Detailed Itinerary

Highlights of Havana & Varadero tour itineraryDay 1 - Thursday, Feb 13: Miami Overnight/Introductory Briefing. Your unforgettable journey to Cuba begins today with an overnight in Miami, Florida. If you are arriving at Miami International Airport, a complimentary hotel shuttle service to the Crowne Plaza Hotel is available every 20 minutes from any 2nd level departure terminal, simply hail the driver as he passes. Individuals can check into the hotel at their leisure. At 7:30pm, participants will meet for an introductory briefing to review documents, the program itinerary, and get acquainted with fellow travelers. Accommodation: Crowne Plaza Miami Airport.

Day 2 - Friday, Feb 14: Miami/Havana. The group will transfer from the Crowne Plaza Hotel to the Miami International Airport to board a non-stop flight bound for Havana, Cuba’s capital city and designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. Upon arrival to Havana, we will be met by our private Cuban guide holding a Friendly Planet sign outside the arrivals terminal, to welcome the group.

Students of Angela Landa Elementary SchoolWe board our touring coach and drive to Old Havana. In the center of Old Havana, our guide will lead us on a leisurely orientation walk through the cobblestone streets of this vibrant area. You will find many Cubans out strolling with their families offering you a perfect opportunity to immerse yourself in the local life surrounding you.

We'll visit a community project while there, most likely a primary school (ages 5 – 12), and talk with students and administrators.

After, we'll drive to the famous Hotel Nacional and check in. There will be free time to unpack and enjoy the hotel. This evening before dinner, the group will have a short, informal meeting to review local laws and procedures for re-entry into the USA. The evening will end with a delicious group dinner at the hotel.
Accommodation: Hotel Nacional. Dinner provided.

Cellejon de HamelDay 3 - Saturday, Feb 15: Old Havana, Callejon de Hamel & Cuban Ration Store. After breakfast this morning, we'll visit one of Havana’s most famous cigar factories where we will see hundreds of workers rolling Cuban cigars by hand. Our motor coach will continue on with visits to Revolution Square, Moro Castle, and Columbus Cemetery, a miniature city of mausoleums, crypts, family chapels, vaults, and beautiful sculptures and ornate gravestones.

Next, we’ll visit the colorful neighborhood of Callejon de Hamel. Here you’ll find brilliant mural paintings, stalls selling herbs for curing colds and lovesickness alike, kiosks offering beaded bracelets representing spirits of the Orisha religion (which combines African spirit worship and Catholicism) and on most days live “street musician” music. You’ll meet and exchange ideas with artists, including Salvador Gonzalez Escalona (when in residence), whose prolific murals that adorn the neighborhood reflect the culture and religious beliefs. There are numerous community activities in the Callejon de Hamel neighborhood, including art instruction aimed at educating the children, and you will discover how the African Cuban religion (a fusion of African belief systems like spirit worship and Christianity), called Santeria, is portrayed in street art.

Group lunch at Prado y Neptuno Restaurant.

Scale in a ration store photo by  Jeremy Woodhouse, pixelchromeAfter lunch, we will visit a local ration store in the Vedado section of Havana. Our Cuban host will explain rationing and the two-currency system as well as the difference between Ration Stores, Cuban Peso Stores, and CUC Stores. Later in the afternoon, we'll stop at the Convento y Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de Belen to donate supplies. They are extremely grateful for the support of American tourists.

At 5:30 PM, the group will gather in a hotel meeting room to engage in a discussion with an English-speaking Cuban expert on the history of U.S./Cuban relations, with an opportunity to ask questions in an uncensored format.

This evening we'll take a short transfer from our hotel to a privately owned restaurant for dinner (La Guarida). La Guarida is a famous "paladar" and was recently patroned by Beyonce and Jay Z when they visited Cuba. The restaurant this evening is a classic example of Cuba’s recently revised policies allowing private enterprise to grow. Breakfast, lunch and dinner provided.

Varadero beachDay 4 - Sunday, Feb 16: Havana, Matanzas, Coliseo, Cardenas & Varadero. We check out of the Hotel Nacional and drive to Varadero. On the way, we'll stop to learn more about the Afro-Cuban religion and then continue our drive to the Coincidencia Farm, founded in 1987 by Héctor Correa. Senior Correa was an agriculturist with an interest in preserving certain native species of fruit that he knew and loved as a child. With a cart full of seedlings, he began to plant his farm. In order to multiply the effort, he created a seed bank so that any interested farmers could also cultivate the plants. In addition to farming, Correa created the first ceramics workshop in Matanzas, blending art with nature. Correa’s children have kept the family tradition alive by studying and working hard both on the farm and in the workshop. After touring the farm and ceramics workshop, we'll have the opportunity to engage in a discussion about opportunities for creative expression in Cuba and the US.

The group will have lunch in Matanzas at the Coincidencia farm.

After lunch, we are off to the provincial town of Cardenas. Here we’ll observe village life first hand, including the varied (and often quite creative) means of transportation residents rely on, like handmade bicycles and horse-drawn carriages. We'll continue on to Varadero and overnight at the beautiful, all-inclusive Melia Varadero hotel. Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided.

Finca VigiaDay 5 - Monday, Feb 17: Varadero, Cojimar, Alamar & Havana. There are many historical and cultural ties between Cuba and the United States, and one that is known and appreciated by all is the legacy of Ernest Hemingway, who lived in Cuba from 1939 to 1960. We'll visit the mansion and museum of Hemingway, Finca Vigia, where his 9,000 book library is preserved, as well as his animal trophies and famous fishing boat, Pilar. We’re then off to the village of Cojimar, “Papa” Hemingway’s setting for the novel The Old Man and the Sea.

After our “Hemingway” visits we’ll drive to the Alamar district on the outskirts of Havana, an expansive housing project started in the 1970’s. Alamar began as a social housing project of the 70’s and 80’s. Now, hundreds of thousands of Cubans live in apartment blocks four stories high, in Soviet-style pre-fabricated concrete buildings. Community gardens, called Organoponicos, are located between the buildings, where residents grow fruit, vegetables and herbs, for their own consumption and for local sale. Similar to co-op and community gardens in the United States, these Organoponicos offer Alamar’s residents access to fresh produce as they facilitate community building. Few visitors to Cuba ever have the opportunity to visit this area and experience how many Cubans live on a daily basis. We'll even lunch at the Cooperative. After lunch, we'll transfer back to our hotel, The Nacional. The evening is free for individual activity. Breakfast & lunch provided.

Las TerrazasDay 6 - Tuesday, Feb 18: Havana & Las Terrazas. Depart for Las Terrazas in Pinar del Rio Province, a “must see” in Cuba and known worldwide for its magnificent, scenic beauty. Pinar del Rio Province is also home to much of Cuba’s tobacco farming.

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.

Enjoying coffee at Cafe Maria, Las TerrazasFirst, we'll 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. Here, they are given 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. At 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.” We'll discuss coffee culture in Cuba and throughout the world and how cafes act as places for social interaction.

Friendly Planet traveler posing for picture, FusterlandiaLas Terrazas is now part of UNESCO’s Biosphere Reserve; much of it is a 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. If in residence, we'll visit the art studio of Lester Campa. After, we'll share an authentic, country-style lunch prepared and served outdoors at a local farmhouse near Las Terrazas.

Returning to Havana after lunch, we should have time to stop at “Fusterlandia”, the home and surrounding neighbourhood of “The Picasso of the Caribbean”, Jose Fuster. Mr. Fuster’s home is located in Jaimanitas in the northwest corner of Havana.

Cuban dancersAfter a rest at the hotel, our evening will start at the famous Floridita bar. In this historic bar we should drink daiquiris just like Ernest Hemingway used to. After a "sundowner" or two, we'll continue to the private restaurant Casa Vieja, where we'll converse with the owner about private enterprise in Cuba. Our last dinner in Cuba will include a band playing the traditional Cuban music known as Buenavista and dancing. Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided.

Day 7 - Wednesday, Feb 19: Havana departure. Transfer to Havana airport for your flight to Miami. 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, including even the best hotels, may not always be up to U.S. standards. The hotels really do try to maintain quality accommodations, and in the properties we select for our tours, they generally do a good job. However, Cuba’s resources and climate do sometimes impact a hotel’s ability to keep up with maintenance and indoor air quality. For example, in Cuba’s tropical climate, you might notice musty odors in some buildings, including hotels. We do our best to select the highest quality hotels, restaurants and paladars that Cuba has to offer, but we appreciate your flexibility and understanding when you encounter a minor imperfection. Cuba has a long way to go before it’s hotels, highways, public restrooms and other features reach US levels, but all in all, you will not suffer any major difficulties in tolerating the small issues that may occur. If you have any medical or dietary concerns, however, please inform us when you make your reservation, so we can take whatever special precautions are required to assure your comfort and well-being.

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


Contact Information

Michal McElwain Malur
Director of External Programs, School of Public Policy, GMU
Tel: 703-993-1577

Terry Holzheimer
Director of Economic Develpoment Arlington County, VA
& Adjunct Professor, GMU

Robert Rogowsky
Retired Director of Operations, US International Trade Commission
& Adjunct Professor (GMU, Georgetown & Monterey Tech)

Educational Travel with SPP is a unique way to see the world. Trips are designed to maximize your ability to explore international destinations by combining an active itinerary with a learning experience. Group programs are complimented by interesting conversations led by our leading faculty. The trips afford networking opportunities as well. Join us. All welcome.

In the words of Mark Twain, "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."

The School of Public Policy at George Mason University is recognized as one of the largest, most diverse, graduate public policy schools in the nation and is the leading university-based public policy institution in the Washington DC metro area. The faculty, among the best in the public policy field, is widely published and respected for its expertise. Faculty members are deeply engaged in regional, national, and global communities.
To learn more about SPP visit,

"You know more of a road by having traveled it than by all the conjectures and descriptions in the world.
- William Hazlitt.