Cuba is a country best described as being frozen in time. It is a land that thrives on images and myths — no one can be neutral about Cuba! In the 1950s, it was the “Monte Carlo of the Caribbean,” where dollars flowed as quickly as its legendary rum. Havana was a rip-roaring town serving every sensory delight. Since the 1960s, Cuba has been the scene of the most radical revolution in the Western hemisphere. As the heady days of socialism and communism followed, the United States imposed an economic blockade, the effects of which have only recently begun to thaw under economic progress amidst the growing number of once-forbidden tourists.
Although still very much rooted in the past, Cuba is slowly finding its freedom, identity, and future. Typically, many tourists visiting the once forbidden island don’t get a truly authentic visual experience. While in many vivid ways Cuba is a country frozen in the 1950s, it is so much more than a clichéd reference to classic cars, perfectly rolled cigars, and white sand beaches.
This Loculars journey led by Rodolfo Gonzalez and Lopamudra Talukdar offers a visually and culturally immersive eight days in Havana and Trinidad, with a stop at Cienfuegos. Using a documentary and street photography approach, participants are expertly guided to numerous opportunities to make exceptional images as well as get a flavor for the underbelly of everyday Cuban life — one that is lived and breathed on its streets.
There is a delicate and unrefined beauty found on every street and corner in Havana. A big part of the Cuban everyday life is lived on the streets and pavements with friends, neighbours, and family members. There is no better place to absorb and capture the raw and compelling charm of Cuba than its streets. The best Cuba experiences are often had instinctively and on the spur of the moment. We might chat up a local, enter a house or neighborhood market, hang out at a bar into the night or step on to a dance performance depending on the situation and opportunity. For this reason, a degree of flexibility and an open-ended approach is recommended. Having said that, below is a summary of what we will directionally aim to do during our time:
Arrivals, check-in, introductions, and welcome dinner
Havana (Days 1-3 and 7-8)
- Sunrise and sunset walks along the famous Havana seawall, El Malecón, creating images of the fishermen and people-watching as generations of Cubans gather and socialize along the ocean-front boulevard
- Street photography in the lanes of Old Havana (Havana Vieja), Centro, and Vedado neighborhoods that has maintained remarkable architectural integrity despite a glaring contrast between the space occupied by locals and that frequented by visitors
- Visit the working cemetery El Cementerio de Cristobal Colon, founded in 1876 and named after Christopher Columbus
- Experience a glimpse of Cuba’s Afro-Cuban heritage with music, rumba, and religion dance performed in Old Havana’s Callejon de Hamel, in addition to its dazzling array of street art and sculptures
- Day-trip to Valle deViñales (190 kms from Havana), well known for its famous agricultural valleys and world-class tobacco
- The Havana experience would not be an experience without seeing vintage classic cars, the organic farmer’s market, a local boxing ring, and local art
Trinidad (Days 6-8)
- Stop for lunch (legendary food scene in Cuba) and a little rest, and 3 hours of exploring the central square and life around it.
- Marvel at and capture the Parisian flair blended with feisty Carribean spirit of this UNESCO World Heritage town against the backdrop of its 19th-century Spanish architecture
- Street photography and people watching around Plaza Mayor and other pockets of this UNESCO World Heritage colonial town
- Day trip to the Valley of Sugar Mills (including plantation visit) and the Tower of Manaca Iznaga
- Visit local artists in studios to document contemporary art techniques, meet the artists and shoot them at work
- Visit a nearby fishing village (half day trip) and explore the rural countryside
Note: There are limited flights available (depending on your destination) that fly out of Trinidad. You are welcome to fly out of Trinidad, or you can be dropped off at Havana the following day (Day 9). This time there will be no extended stops along the way, the drive time is approx. 5 hours.
- nine-night, double-occupancy accommodations at a comfortable Casa Particular (equivalent of bed and breakfast)
- Airport pickup and drop-off
- All meals, beverages (upto two non-alcoholic drinks per meal), and snacks, including two special dinners (welcome and closing)
- All transportation while in Havana in private cars or cabs
- Regular on-site mentorship and progress reviews from Rodolfo Gonzalez and Lopamudra Talukdar
- Daily instructor-led shoots on the streets of Havana and Trinidad
- Transportation to and from Trinidad in private cars and taxi
- Closing night celebration and display of participant work curated by instructors
- WiFi connection (where available) or Internet cards for up to 1 hour of online connectivity per day
- Round-trip airfare to Havana
- Insurance for your personal photography equipment
- Medical insurance while visiting Cuba, included with your airfare if traveling from the United States. Additional health coverage is recommended for participants with any underlying medical conditions.
- Personal expenses – gifts, souvenirs, or activities not included in the program itinerary
- Cuba travel card required for American citizens, needs to be purchased prior to boarding your Havana bound flight if flying from the United States. Cost for a travel card ranges from $50 to $100 depending on the carrier airline
- Cuban visa for non-American participants, must be obtained from the Cuban Consulate in the country of your residence
- Alcoholic beverages, cigars, and donations related to activities or shoots that are not part of this program
Note: Program fees are based on a double-occupancy sharing basis. A single-occupancy option is also available for an additional $300
Can I legally travel to Cuba?
For United States citizens, we travel under the General License “Support for the Cuban People.” This general license category is one of 12 categories that allow legal travel to Cuba for US citizens and is not being restricted with the new changes. Additional information regarding General Licenses for travel to Cuba can be found here.
Do travelers who fall within the scope of a General License need to submit a written request to OFAC for permission to travel or conduct transactions?
No further permission from OFAC is required to engage in transactions by a person who meets all criteria in a General License. We will travel under the general license “Support for the Cuban People.” A General License authorizes persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction, including travel agents and tour group operators, to provide travel services in connection with authorized travel without the need for specific licenses from OFAC.
What about the recently announced changes by the U.S. Administration on travel to Cuba?
There have been two amendments to CACR by the US administration in 2019. Details for the announcements made on June 5, 2019 and September 9, 2019 can be found here. Neither of these amendments affect travel authorized under the currently sanctioned General Licenses, including “Support for the Cuban People.”
What are Cuban visa and health insurance requirements?
The Cuban government requires all visitors entering Cuba carry non-US medical insurance. This coverage is usually included as part of your airfare for flights originating in the United States. You may choose to purchase additional coverage through a U.S. insurance provider – especially travel cancellation insurance or for travelers over the age of 80. It is critical that you retain your flight boarding pass as proof of medical insurance. It is recommended to obtain supplemental insurance to cover medical evacuation if that is necessary. For non-US travelers, it is recommended that you check with the respective Cuban Consulate in the country of your residence about exact coverage requirements.
What type of accommodations will be used?
We will stay in a premium Casa Particular, a private home or hotel run by the people of Cuba (similar to Bed and Breakfasts in the US). These will include air conditioning, single-occupancy and double-occupancy (based on your booking choice) rooms with private showers. Some houses have WiFi, most don’t. Internet outages are common and power cuts are possible. This is a reality in Cuba, which we will need to adapt to. However, we will stay in neighborhoods and houses that are completely safe and your Casa will be clean and adequately comfortable.
What should I bring?
Please bring all of your personal photography gear that you think you might need. Electrical outlets in Cuba are similar to the 110V outlets found in the US. It is required that you have your personal computer with photo software on the trip as you will be editing and reviewing images with faculty members. Backup hard disks to store your work are strongly recommended.
Please have comfortable walking or running shoes with you as we will spend several hours on foot each day. A light rain jacket is a must in Cuba for shelter from the elements at unexpected times. If you are under any prescription medication, you are advised to carry enough dosage to last you an extra 3-4 days beyond the duration of the trip.
Will I need cash? How are currency exchanges handled?
U.S. credit and debit cards generally do not work in Cuba. Bring cash to cover any personal expenses or just to have some extra currency. The Cuban government requires that travelers declare cash amounts over $5,000 USD. Travelers should note that the Government of Cuba charges a 10 percent fee for all U.S. dollar cash conversions; this does not apply to electronic transactions or cash conversions in other currencies. Conversions can only be made at an official foreign exchange facility licensed by the Cuban government. Other currencies that can be easily exchanged in Cuba are the GBP, EUR, and CAD.
What is the cancellation policy?
Cancellations made within 90 days prior to departure (i.e. July 9, 2020) will be given a 50% refund. Cancellations made within 30 days prior to the departure (i.e. September 9, 2020) will result in a complete forfeiture of program fees.
Can I extend my stay?
Trip extensions desired beyond the program itinerary can certainly be made possible. Depending on your specific situation and needs, arrangements can be made at an additional cost.
I have more questions
Please get in touch by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call +1 404-398-5049
Cuba trips need logistics, advance preparation, and in some cases, administrative paperwork. For these reasons please note the following –
- bookings for this trip must be made by August 31st, 2020 at the latest
- cancellations made within 30 days of this journey’s start date will lead to full forfeiture of payment, in this case applicable to cancellations made after September 9th, 2020
Pick up and drop off will be provided from Havana airport. You will be required to provide your flight information and passport details ahead of time.
Shooting and light conditions change dramatically so fast lenses f/2 or faster are ideal for all lighting scenarios (including low light and interiors). Depending on your personal style or choice prime or zoom lenses that offer coverage of 24mm – 90mm is a very good range. You are welcome to shoot with any camera of your choice, but having a backup second body is a good idea. A small travel tripod is also ideal for early morning and evening photography. Please carry a laptop with your photo editing software installed as well as a backup drive to store all your work.
Medium — While there are no strenuous hikes or climbs, we will spend a lot of time on the streets and walk several hours almost every day. Participants are requested to bring comfortable walking or training shoes. A more thorough “suggested” packing list will be shared with you ahead of your travel date.