EXPLORE THE FUTURE OF U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS
FEBRUARY 14-22, 2014
Join George Mason faculty on a educational trip to Havana, Varadero, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Santa Clara, and Cojimar.
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.
Join George Mason’s School of Public Policy on a trip to beautiful Cuba, and you’ll engage in a unique learning experience that combines traditional sightseeing with educational exchanges led by Mason’s faculty experts.
This Educational Trip will introduce you to the Cuban community and provide an opportunity to interact with locals and in meaningful and rewarding ways.
- Visit UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
- Meet private entrepreneurs, academics, artists, musicians, and local leaders.
- See community neighborhood centers, grass roots projects, sustainable farming initiatives.
- See rural medical clinics and religious centers, like the Orisha and Santeria that combine African spirit worship with Catholicism.
- Learn about US-Cuban relations, the 2-currency system and rationing,
Mason Policy faculty will facilitate conversations that cover social and development topics. There will be plenty of time for traditional sight-seeing and relaxing as well.
Please Note: Rducational Trips are open to anyone, including students, alumni, friends of the University and curious travelers. However, travelers on Educational Trips do not earn credit towards a degree.
PRORGRAM FEE: $3,399
Day 1: Miami Overnight/Introductory Briefing
Day 2: Havana – Varadero Beach
Day 3: Varadero Beach- Cardenas – Coliseo
Day 4: Varadero Beach – Matanzas – Alamar – Cojimar – Havana
Day 5: Havana
Day 6: Havana & Las Terrazas
Day 7: Havana – Santa Clara – Sancti Spiritus – Trinidad
Day 8: Topes de Collantes – Trinidad
Day 9: Trinidad – Cienfuegos
ITINERARY PREPARED FOR GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY
GROUP TO CUBA – FEBRUARY 2015
Explore beautiful Cuba, travel with interesting professionals, and interact with local businesses/people. We are travelling on a People-People VISA given by the US government.
Day 1: Saturday Feb 14, 2015
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 afternoon at 3:00PM, participate in our one hour, mandatory introductory briefing to get acquainted with your fellow travelers and to review and sign 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 Feb 15, 2015
Havana –Varadero Beach
Today, 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 Havana!
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. Board your air-conditioned touring coach and jump right in as we head directly to beautiful Varadero Beach, 20km of white sand located on a narrow peninsula east of Havana, and our first destination in Cuba. After checking-in, our first afternoon/evening in Cuba will be spent enjoying the resort town of Varadero and our beautiful, all-inclusive hotel.
Accommodations: Melia Varadero. Dinner provided.
Day 3: Monday Feb 16, 2015
Varadero –Cardenas –Coliseo
Breakfast at the hotel this morning, then we’ll depart for a visit to the Danzón’s Club in Varadero. Danzón is the official national dance and musical genre of Cuba. It originated in Matanzas and is practiced by hundreds of Cubans throughout the country. The clubs of “danzoneros” are dedicated to preserving the tradition and history of this dance. While visiting the Danzón’s Club you’ll have the opportunity to talk with its members (mostly elderly) about the history and characteristics of this dance. Of course, you’ll have the distinct pleasure of joining the members while they dance to this traditional and lilting rhythm.
Our next stop will be a visit to a Craft Workshop. Artisans Mariela Alemán Orosco and Marilín Martínez Barrio, members of the Cuban Cultural Fund and the Cuban Association of Artisans and Artists, have received prizes and recognition for their creative work. During the visit you’ll tour the workshop and experience the creative process as it is taking place.
Then, 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.
Our next stop will be lunch at the Coincidencia Farm, founded by Héctor Correa in 1987. 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 farming and how the industry is important to both Cuba and the US.
Return to our all-inclusive beach hotel and enjoy the remainder of the day at leisure.
Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided
Day 4: Tuesday Feb 17, 2015
After breakfast we check out of our hotel in Varadero and drive to Havana. On the way, we’ll stop at a community center in Matanzas to learn more about the Afro-Cuban religion.
We’ll drive to the district of Alamar on the outskirts of Havana, an expansive housing project started in the 1970’s. These Soviet-style pre-fabricated concrete apartment blocks four stories high 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.
We’ll continue on to the quaint fishing village of Cojimar, the setting for Hemingway’s book, The Old Man and the Sea, and enjoy lunch at a local, privately owned restaurant, called a paladar. Paladars are a classic example of Cuba’s recently revised policies allowing private enterprise to grow. We’ll have an opportunity to converse with the owner about this type of new private venture in Cuba.
After lunch, we’ll walk through the town. La Terraza Restaurant, where the character Santiago from the book, The Old Man and the Sea, brings in the remains of his epic fish, still stands today and the pier where Hemmingway’s boat the Pilar, docked, can be seen from the shore.
We continue our journey with a drive to Hemingway’s Cuba retreat. 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 more than 20 years in Cuba from 1939 to 1960. We will visit Hemingway’s beautiful mansion, now a museum, Finca Vigia, (literally meaning lookout farm), where his 9,000 book library is preserved, as well as his animal trophies and famous fishing boat, Pilar.
Proceed to Havana and check into the famous, Hotel Nacional. The Hotel Nacional is a World Heritage Site and a National Monument. The hotel has housed many famous guests from artists, actors, athletes, writers (including Hemmingway), to famous Heads of State and infamous mobsters.
After some time to rest at the hotel, we will continue on our Hemmingway journey with a stop at the at the famous Floridita bar, one of Hemmingway’s famous haunts which he immortalized in his novel, Islands in the Stream. In this historic bar, where the daiquiri was created, we can drink one or two just like Ernest Hemmingway loved to do. After, we’ll continue to a local paladar for dinner.
Accommodation: Hotel Nacional. Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided
Day 5: Wednesday Feb 18, 2015
After breakfast this morning we’ll drive to Old Havana. Our first stop will be a visit to one of Havana’s most famous cigar factories where you’ll see hundreds of workers rolling the Cuban cigars by hand.
We’ll continue to the Convento y Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de Belen to donate supplies. They are extremely grateful for the support of American tourists.
We’ll then proceed to a primary school in Havana (ages 5 – 12) and meet with some of the school’s administrators and teachers about Cuba’s education system and how it compares to that of the United States. Please note that should a school not be available or in session, Friendly Planet will substitute the school visit with an equally enjoyable and interesting visit to another community project in Havana.
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.
In the center of the city, 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 stop at a local ration store where our Cuban host will explain the system of rationing and the two-currency system as well as the difference between Ration Stores, Cuban Peso Stores, and CUC Stores.
Enjoy lunch at a local restaurant.
After lunch we’ll continue to the Plaza de la Revolucion. This is the most famous and politically important square in Cuba. The square has stood witness to many rallies and revolutions that have altered the course of Cuban history. With its 109m tall tower and an 18m statue, José Martí Memorial is the main attraction of the plaza.
En route to our hotel, we’ll have a panoramic tour of the more modern areas of the city. We’ll drive through Miramar where, today, most of the foreign embassies are located. Prior to the revolution, this neighborhood was home to many of Havana’s upscale residents. There are many large houses and mansions here. During the 1950’s, this was the most glamorous area of Havana. On to Vedado, another of the urban neighborhoods of Havana. We’ll pass the University of Havana, the famous Coppelia ice cream parlor and John Lennon Park, named for the statue of John Lennon located here. This is also where the Jewish religious center, Gran Sinagoga Bet Shalom and the Centro Hebreo Sefaradi are located.
Back at the hotel, we’ll have some time to rest. Then later we’ll meet in our pre-reserved meeting room at the 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. This will give you the opportunity to ask questions in an uncensored format.
Dinner is on your own this evening. Your guide will be happy to recommend one of the many exceptionally good paladars in the area.
Included meals: breakfast & lunch.
Day 6: Thursday Feb 19, 2015
Havana & Las Terrazas.
After breakfast we’ll depart for Las Terrazas, a small community located in the Artemisa Province, nestled within the Sierra del Rosario mountains, which is now a UNESCO designated Biosphere Reserve. Las Terrazas is a reforested coffee plantation and a “must see” in Cuba, known worldwide for its magnificent, scenic beauty and planned economic development strategy.
Las Terrazas was founded shortly after the Cuban Revolution in 1959 as a planned 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. Real reforestation began in the late 1960’s by the local formers who were concerned that their land had been degraded by former French coffee barons. Forest was planted on hills by building terraces to avoid erosion; hence the name Las Terazas, which means the terraces in Spanish.
First, 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 town’s only coffee shop, Café Maria. Café Maria is owned by the oldest member of the community, Maria. 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.
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, Casa del Campesino, near Las Terrazas.
Returning to Havana after lunch, we’ll stop at “Fusterlandia”, the home and surrounding neighborhood of “The Picasso of the Caribbean”, Jose Fuster. Mr. Fuster’s home is located in Jaimanitas in the northwest corner of Havana. Jaimanitas is now a unique work of public art where Fuster has decorated over 80 houses with ornate murals and domes to suit the personality of his neighbors. He has built a chess park with giant boards and tables, an Artists’ Wall composed of a quilt of dozens of tiles signed and donated by other Cuban artists, a theatre, and public swimming pools.
We’ll end the day with a visit to 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.
Dinner is on your own this evening. Your guide will be happy to recommend one of the many exceptionally good paladars in the area.
Included meals: breakfast & lunch.
Day 7: Friday Feb 20, 2015
Havana – Santa Clara – Sancti Spiritus- Trinidad
Shortly after breakfast this morning, we’ll depart from Havana and drive along Cuba’s “autopista” highway to visit the town of Santa Clara.
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.
Proceed to the Che Guevara Mausoleum. It houses the remains of executed Marxist revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara and twenty-nine of his fellow combatants killed in 1967 during Guevara’s attempt to spur an armed uprising in Bolivia. At the site, there is a museum dedicated to Guevara’s life and an eternal flame lit by Fidel Castro in Che’s memory.
Lunch will be served buffet style in the Los Caneyes Hotel in Santa Clara.
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.
En route to Trinidad, we’ll stop at the beautifully restored Manaca Iznaga Hacienda. Located in the Valle de los Ingenios, 15km from Trinidad, it has a superb exhibition of paintings depicting the brutalities of plantation life in the days of slavery, and a startling sculpture showing two slaves with balls and chains. Estate owner Pedro Iznaga became the richest man in Cuba using the sweat of thousands of African slaves.
After checking into our beach hotel, Las Brisas, you’ll have some time to rest and then the group will meet for dinner at a local paladar. 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: Hotel Las Brisas. Included meals: breakfast, lunch & dinner
Day 8: Saturday Feb 21, 2015
Topes de Collantes -Trinidad
This morning we’ll drive to Topes de Collantes in the Sierra del Escambray mountain range, not too far from the colonial city of Trinidad. It’s not only a bio-diverse natural park with many endemic species, but it’s also an area of outstanding natural beauty with a healthy climate especially inviting for hiking tours and those who want to get off-the-beaten track. One of the defining characteristics of Topes de Collantes is the quantity and quality of its waterfalls, some plunging over 60 meters into deep blue pools. At an elevation of 800 meters above sea level, you can easily appreciate the magnitude of this beautiful diverse landscape surrounded by mountains. You will also explore a medicinal garden and coffee field with a Cuban specialist in Topes de Collantes.
After lunch in the park, we’ll continue to Casa del Alfarero, a pottery house that has been managed by the Santander family for generations.
Returning to Trinidad we’ll visit the museum housed in the former palace of Count Brunet, which exhibits a wide variety of furniture and other decorative arts owned by the bourgeoisie of Trinidad during the 19th century. The building itself faithfully represents the style of Cuban colonial architecture. You’ll see samples of decorative arts which the aristocracy of Trinidad displayed in their mansions; jewelry, porcelain, silverware, paintings and sculptures which belonged to the Spanish nobility.
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.
We’ll stop along the way to visit Templo de Yemaya where you’ll have an opportunity to see a Santeria (main Afro Cuban religion) altar dedicated to Yemaya, the Goddess of the Sea and learn a bit more about this religion.
This evening, enjoy your included dinner at the hotel (all inclusive property). Or, if you prefer, you may join your tour host and fellow travelers who will be saying farewell to Cuba at a local paladar in Trinidad (cost of paladar dinner and transfers not included in your tour cost).
Included meals: breakfast, lunch & dinner
Day 9: Sunday Feb 22, 2015
After breakfast at the hotel, we’ll transfer to Cienfuegos International Airport for departure flight to MIA.
Included meals: breakfast.