Colorful Cultural Cuba - A comprehensive small group travel photography workshop including classic cars, countryside, cathedrals, cobblestone, and campasinos
Cuba is a country in transition and yet stuck in some uncertain past decade, and unlike any other destination I've been to (and I've traveled to 55 countries!). If just placed in a part of Cuba without any reference points, you couldn't tell what decade you were in. Horse drawn carriage carts with wobbly wheels and bent axles ply their passenger routes through the city, picking up and dropping off passengers at the central plaza, reminiscent of the turn of last century, while blaring out 1990's Latin regeatone music, and across the street are parked a row of 1950's American classic cars in various states of condition, while young Cubans sit on the curb checking their social media on smartphones at one of the town's few public wifi internet hotspots.
During our 2-week trip to Cuba this past November, we found an endless supply of photographic subjects, centered of course around the Cuban people. Poor rural 'campasino' farmers cutting grass along the road and filling up their horse-drawn carts are friendly and happy to pose for photographers, in exchange for maybe a leftover bar of hotel soap you've forgotten about in your bag. And how about photographing a young man that guides horse riding tours, holding the reins of his horse with the last burst of sunset silhouetting him? Of course no trip to Cuba would be complete without exhaustively photographing the American classic cars, which are in all colors of the rainbow and states of repair, and in addition to walk-by shooting, the best photos come from renting these cars at sunrise to pose them on the cobblestone streets or in front of Spanish forts, cast in golden sunrise light before the rest of Cuba wakes up. There's also the limestone hills called 'magotes' which will offer some outstanding sunrise panoramic landscape shots, crystal clear seas, and tropical waterfalls, for the pure- nature lover. Havana is so rich in photographic potential too, with all it's busy streetlife, and old, dilapidated buildings with faded patina walls and crumbling cement, and the iconic Malecon seawall were locals fish.
This Cuba travel photography workshop will be span 12 full days, 18 - 30 November 2017. This trip will be unique among any other photographic tours here, because we'll incorporate a huge variety of subjects and locations to photograph, from rural farm life to decaying city architecture, from staged classic cars to tropical landscapes. Too many other photo tours to Cuba only focus on the street life in Havana and perhaps one other city, to the neglect of really getting a feel for the rest of Cuba. We'll be working with a local guide that's fluent in Spanish and his own country, and yet also retain that freedom and flexibility that my trips are known for, such as randomly stopping by the roadside to photograph a passing horse cart in sunset light. And we'll arrange a series of opportunities to photograph portraits of real Cubans in their everyday lives, with an emphasis on rural peoples. Havana isn't forgotten; we'll spend a solid 4 days there as well.
Fly into Havana Cuba
18 November 2017
Fly into Havana, on your own flight arrangements (there's plenty of direct flights from USA, and Latin America). Pickup at Airport by local private driver for all passengers. Sunset around Malecon seawall, where tourists and Cubans come to enjoy. We'll attend a Cuban jazz music venue tonight to introduce ourselves to the culture of Cuba (entry included).
Old Havana exploration and the Malecon
19 November 2017
Pre-sunrise dawn blue-hour morning photography around Old Havana and touristy sights, which is the best time for photography with warm/cool color tones and no one in the otherwise crowded plazas. We'll continue to explore Old Havana through the mid morning. Some time off, then we have a Staged indoor portrait session and/or old buildings interior shoot, that will be arranged for us. Sunset shooting around Malecon, of the seawall and locals fishing and classic cars passing by. A great time to also practice some motion blurs of the cars.
Old Havana, Castles, and Classic Cars
20 November 2017
Sunrise staged American Classic car shoot by Castillo Tres Reyes del Morro. This is a perfect place to photograph these beautifully restored classic cars, in wide open spaces all to ourselves and great light lighting up the castle as a backdrop to the vehicles! Every time we shoot a staged classic car shoot, we'll charter 3 different cars so all photographers aren't crowded around one car and have plenty of chances to get amazing shots of a variety of cars. Late morning we'll go for a guided walking tour around Habana Vieja (Old Havana), with possible randome photo ops, and also venture out further into abruptly changing poorer neighborhoods beyond Capitol building, for a real feel of what Havana is like outside the tourist district (it's safe, don't worry!). Sunset shoot at Castillo Tres Reyes del Morro castle and lighthouse for epic sunset views across the harbour to Havana.
Havana landmarks, classic cars, and Cohimar
21 November 2017
Sunrise staged American Classic car shoot by the Malecone seawall, in front of the capitol building El Capitolio with grand buildings as a backdrop, and also finally a visit to the famous Colon cemetery. Sightseeing afterwards around Che monument. Midday off/free time. Afternoon and sunset shoot and dinner around nearby seaside castles and wharfs of Cohimar and the famous David Livingstone bar.
Havana drive to Viñales
22 November 2017
Last early morning in Havana, sunrise shooting optional. Drive towards Vinales, and first stop at "Fusterlandia" in Playa Jaimanitas on the way, for wacky tile frescos covering a whole neighborhood. After a couple hours of driving, arrive in Vinales with some time to get oriented, check out the small town, and a sunset drive among the surrounding limestone hills called mogetes.
Viñales sunrise vistas and horses
23 November 2017
Sunrise panoramic views over limestone karts cliffs called mogetes, from a panoramic viewpoint at Hotel Las Jazmines. Some additional morning photography in the fields of the Vinales valley. Short midday break, then afternoon through sunset will be spent horseback riding through tabacco fields with stops along the way to check out the tobacco growing and photograph the fields and horses, and then followed up by staged sunset shoot of horses and campasinos in the tabacco fields with sunset behind. (note: while highly recommended, if you don't want to try horseback riding, you can take a guided walking tour of the tobacco fields instead, and then join us for the sunset horse shoot).
Viñales scenic vistas and drives
24 November 2017
Second sunrise view over the mogetes and the valley from a different perspective. Then additional morning photography while exploring the valleys and possible photo ops of sun- wrinkled farmers. Midday private trip to a cave La Gran Caverna de Santo Tomas to photograph at our leisure. Then afternoon thru sunset drive around the north side of the magote hills, with random scenic stops as photo opportunities present themselves.
Viñales to Cienfuegos travel day
25 November 2017
Long drive today from Vinales to Cienfuegos, about 7 hours total. An early start, driving via a scenic road through the magotes, cutting back to the main arterial E- W highway. Stop at Bay of Pigs region for lunch break (swimming not so great, we skip it) or around an area with cenotes, or water-filled caves. Evening shooting around Cienfuegos plaza and fishing docks, and also a good time to explore the colorful side streets with crumbling buildings.
Cienfugoes buildings and horsecarts, travel to Trinidad
26 November 2017
Morning sunrise shooting in Cienfuegos plaza before it gets busy, or possibly Laguna Guanaroca for flamingos and bird life. Also photograph at Cementeria La Reina, and in the Tomas theatre. Here is your best opportunity to take a horse-drawn carriage cart serving as a taxi, just for the experience of it. Midday drive to Trinidad, with possible stops along the way to capture ad-hoc scenes of field workers and horse drawn carts. Arrive to Trinidad in the evening.
Trinidad Unesco colonial architecture + Valle de los Ingenios
27 November 2017
Morning classic car shoot on the cobblestone streets of Trinidad's historic district and architectural Unesco World Heritage Area. Mid-morning we then transition over to rural valley scenes with our classic cars, and photograph the daily steam train on it's way out of town at 09:00am. Midday sightseeing/time off in Trinidad. Afternoon and sunset shoot from observation tower at a 'finca' plantation in the Valle de los Ingenios
Trinidad streets and architecture and Playa Ancon
28 November 2017
Morning shoot on foot around Trinidad city, with included entry to some rooftop overlooks over the town's tiled roofs and bell-towers in morning light. Afternoon leisure time at nearby beaches of Playa Ancon. Staged classic car shoot for sunset at Ancon beaches with beach sunset as backdrop. Recommended night party in a real cave, at Cueva Discoteca.
Trinidad to Topas de Collantes to Havana (Miramar)
29 November 2017
Morning at Topas de Collantes waterfalls and nature photography; locations decided by Joel our Cuban photography guide. Then drive back to Miramar neighborhood, Havana, with a possible roadside stop or two along the way. Last evening in Havana, with included entry a famous salsa club Casa de Musica in Miramar area.
Departure from Cuba
30 November 2017
Private driver to airport, departure flights on your own today.
General Trip Information
Group Size: Maximum size of 10 photographers; minimum size of 5. We'll be a small group travelling in a minibus with a local driver, for optimal chances to stop frequently on the road for photo ops and be as flexible as possible and to facilitate working with local people. Non-photographers are welcome, although no discounts offered, as we have max 10 travelers + 2 guides.
Start/End: This Cuba photo tour will start on 18 November 2017, with your pickup from the Havana international airport. We will advise about flights, insurance, and Visa requirements, but these are up to you to arrange, and you are responsible for this. You will be brought to your accommodation in Havana, and then you have free time until the group meeting and first outing in the late afternoon or early evening of today. This photo workshop concludes on the morning of 30 November 2017, and you will be transferred to the airport with an included private transfer at a time of your choosing. (no included activities or meals today). The trip cost does not include airfare to Cuba - once booking this tour you will arrange your own flights to sync. If you wish to stay longer in Cuba, of course you may; however we feel this tour pretty comprehensively covers the various cultural aspects of Cuba and you'll be ready for home after this tour.
- 2 professional photographers and guides with you the entire trip (a local Cuban photographer/guide (Joel) and an international photography tour leader (Johnathan Esper)). All photographic instruction and local guiding included.
- All transportation in-country, when as a group, in a 12-pax mini-bus and a local Cuban driver. Note: there may be some instances when on your own during free time in some afternoons you may wish to take your own taxi somewhere
- Havana international airport pickup and dropoff by a private driver direct to our accomodations
- All breakfasts and dinners for entire tour (breakfast served in our guesthouses, and dinners as a group in the nicest restaurants. Also included are normal drinks ordered at dinner, OR first alcoholic drink at dinner.
- A couple lunches as a group when travelling. Note: Most days will include time off midday and lunch will be on your own those days, and most other days.
- Accommodation for all 12 nights during our tour in Cuba, typically in private bed and breakfasts called Casa Particulares. Note: Price is based on twin rooms, sharing with another traveler in our group. Roommate matching is standard/included. There are very limited number of single room upgrades available, for an extra fee of $35/night. Rooms should all include private bath, but this is not guaranteed and no refunds given should substitution of accommodations occur. )
- Entry fees to all music venues, attractions, viewpoints, and museums visited as part of a workshop group outing and event. Also included are entry fees to first and last nights music venues. Note: entry fees to additional museums or venues you visit on your own during free time not as a formal whole group, are on your own. This includes the cave discoteque.
- All Model fees and tips paid to Cubans that we photograph as a group and that the guides organize, all either pre- arranged and ad-hoc. Note: You may also decide to photograph additional Cubans on the street, on your own or by stepping aside from the group momentarily, and sometimes you can do this unobtrusively for free, and other times you may feel led to give them a dollar or other item as compensation, on your own.
- Fair compensation, and basic tipping, will be covered for all our guides and people we work with as a group.
- 4 staged American classic car shoots - 2 in Havana and 2 in Trinidad. Each shoot will feature 2-3 vehicles for our group to have plenty of options and not be too crowded.
- Horse-riding afternoon tour in Vinales, and subsequent staged horse shoot at sunset.
- International flights to and from Cuba
- Any time in Cuba before and after the trip start and end times as listed in itinerary
- Travel insurance and Travel Medical Insurance. Note: travel medical insurance is required by the country of Cuba, and you may be denied entry without it. Bring copies of your coverages. Wildernesscapes Photography also requires you have regular travel insurance covering cancellation, etc.
- Immigration / travel Visa fees. Note: For Americans this can usually be obtained at the departure airport before boarding for Havana
- Most Lunches are not included and on your own, typically eaten during free time not with group. Also snacks you buy in between also on your own. There may be a couple lunches included in trip price, during travel days and eaten as a group.
- Alcoholic Drinks beyond first one at dinner, and all alcoholic drinks at music venues and all other times.
- Tips and gifts you give choose to give to Cubans that may pose for your photographs, or that ask you outright. While group sessions photographing Cuban people arranged by guides will be included in trip fee, ad-hoc photographing of other people on your own, is on your own. Guidelines will be discussed with group.
- Extra Tips to your two photography guides, our driver, or any other Cubans working with us, is totally up to you and not required. Fair compensation, and basic tipping, will be covered for all our guides and people we work with as a group.
- All souvenirs and gift items you buy, including Cuban cigars, including even when part of a pre-paid group activity
- Anything else not listed as being included
Notes about Travelling to Cuba for Americans: Cuba is a country in transition, and it is now legal for Americans to travel to Cuba, for one of 12 standard, generic reasons for travel. At the airport will you be given a document where you need to check off and sign your reason(s) for travel, and you can check off 'person to person' interaction, and/or 'workshop' attendance among the list. No proof is required, just a paper you sign. Americans and some other citizens must also obtain the Cuban travel visa, which can usually be done just at the airport checkin counter. Finally, you do you need travel medical insurance, and any standard travel insurance that covers medical (primary) in the country of Cuba is fine, and I recommend sorting the plans offered through InsureMyTrip.com, which linked to valid applicable plans. Other than these 3 minor things, it's easy and safe and legal to travel to Cuba! While we are working through a local Cuban travel agency for this workshop, we are not a travel agency ourselves, and neither of our companies can provide this paperwork for you - you must do this yourself. The small Cuban travel agency I'm working with has always recommended their clients to go through Marazul Charter Agency when booking flights, as they work with a lot of American travel agencies that bring people to Cuba so they have all the info and paperwork necessary to come to Cuba. You can of course do all this on your own for probably a way, way cheaper price, especially now that there are direct commercial flights.
Cuba itself is a pretty safe country to travel in, as of now, because the past Communist mindset of the people was one of respect for authority and fear of punishment. Capitalism, along with it's associated financial-driven crime, is still in it's beginning stages. So you don't have to worry about always being ripped off, as in other Latin American countries. Still, basic precautions and common sense are advised. However, many people will ask you for things, for money, or for even basic items like soap, clothes, etc. It is our policy to encourage you to not just give things to people who ask or beg, as that encourages that sort of behavior, and to firmly but politely say no and move on.
Etiquette when photographing people: Please observe basic photographers' etiquette when photographing people - from a distance you can discreetly and freely photograph people without any problem. However, up closer or when it's apparent you're photographing them, it is always encouraged to seek some sort of permission, either explicit, or simply non-verbally with a smile and a wave of your hand, showing you respect them and they're not a 'thing' or 'object' to photograph. If they start stop what they're doing and then pose for you and/or you work with them a bit personally (moving around them getting different angles, having them look at the camera, etc), and in essence they are acting as ad-hoc model for you, then it is encouraged that you offer them some token of appreciation for their time, which will be minor for you but major for them. This could be 1 Cuc ($1), or some hotel soap or shampoo, or even household or personal items or even your used unwanted clothing, that you could offer them. It is highly recommend that you bring some items with you to Cuba, with the intention of giving away. The poor Cubans would be very happy with your old clothes (clothes that Goodwill second-hand stores would even reject), or some small soaps or something.
Experience and Equipment Needed: This tour is open to digital photographers of any skill level, because the guides can work with you at your own level and based on the camera equipment you have with you. Non-photographers or casual photographers are also welcome to join; however, they must love travelling and culture and people, have a good travel energy and enthusiasm, respect the photographers on the tour, and be nice people! Also everyone must be willing to at times spend long days with the group sometimes without the possibility to 'opt-out' of group activities. You will be sent a packing list and to get the most out of the trip and for your's and the instructor's sake it is requested you bring the listed photography gear. It is highly recommended you bring a very good DSLR camera that can handle large dynamic ranges of light and have lower noise at high- ISO's. This is a 'soft' requirement for all photographers on the trip, as it's essential for good travel photography. If you have additional questions, the trip leader will be happy to answer them over the phone or by email.
Photography Instruction and Philosophy: This travel photo workshop is all about in-the-field field travel photography and situational instruction, some staged and some ad-hoc, working alongside your trip leader. Each day, the group will photograph diverse cultures and people and cities and rural scenes. Cuba is colorful and there's no shortage of photographic subjects! So the main emphasis is on travel-themed cultural and people imagery, although there's opportunities for pure landscapes the last day at some waterfalls and also the beaches and valley scenes of Vinales. One evening toward the end, we will try to have a single image sharing and critiquing session on clients' laptops, so that we can learn from each other a bit and see how others see things.
Photographic subjects we'll shoot include portraiture of both urban and rural Cubans in both staged and natural surroundings and in formal posing and 'street style' captures, rural farmers with their horses in the fields, Cuban architecture and historic and culturally valued towns and cities, classic cars from the 1950's period, and some rural countryside landscapes. So overall just a superb mix of all that Cuba has to offer, in a really well balanced approach to getting a feel for the 'picture-perfect' Cuba as well as the 'authentic' Cuba. Weather is generally favorable and often hot and sunny, in the 80's F. Most days will allow for some time off midday to rest and be on your own exploring a bit, although we still have all mornings and evenings planned and on a few days we'll be on the 'go' all day for some long days spanning sunrise to sunset 6am- 8pm! A maximum group size of 10 photographers ensures you will receive ample personal photographic coaching in the field from a full time working pro, and provide an intimate small group adventure experience. All balanced with the need to keep this trip affordable and with best- in-class pricing!
Guides: Johnathan Esper of Wildernesscapes Photography LLC, based in the USA, will be leading the trip, his 60th+ in several countries around the world. Johnathan is a full time photographer and international photo trip leader, spending most of his time between Iceland and the Adirondack region in New York State where he's from. Johnathan has worked with hundreds of photography workshop clients from all 6 continents, bringing with him a passion for photography and capturing high-quality intentional imagery and a motivational energy and enthusiasm, all while creating and facilitating once in a lifetime experiential opportunities for his clients. Johnathan works with several top names in the international photography workshop community, and is a staff member of the Adirondack Photography Institute. Fine art prints of his are enjoyed by thousands of clients and businesses. He is also represented by Aurora Photos stock agency.
Joel Hernández Marín is our Cuban photographer and local guide. He's a full time Cuban photographer and guide, and guides many photography tours around Cuba, including for some large agencies like Roads Scholars. Joel Hernández Marín became a biology teacher after graduating from the Enrique José Varona Teacher Training College in Havana. He has worked on environmental issues since 2003, and began studying photography in 2004. His first photography exhibition in 2009 focused on an arid region of Guantanamo province. Since then, Joel has had more than 15 photography exhibitions. Mr. Marin is currently a Photography professor at the School of Audiovisual and Communication Arts of the Universidad de Artes, and since 2015 has been working with Road Scholar as an assistant photo instructor.
Trip Terms and Conditions
Deposit: An $600 deposit is due at the time of registration, and the remaining balance is due Three weeks prior to the trip start. Until payment is sent, your place is not guaranteed. You may conveniently pay your deposit here (near bottom of page) securely with your credit card, processed by Paypal payment processor. The deposit portion may also be paid via personal or bank check for USA and Canadian clients. Please contact me if you need any assistance in signing up!
The final payment for the balance due on the trip (after your paid deposit), is due three weeks prior to the trip start. Payment options include bank transfer (details on request), cash in person at the trip start (with prior permission), personal or bank checks (preferred for USA and Canada clients), and credit cards (a 2.5% credit card fee will be added for final payments with card).
Cancellation Policy: In the unfortunate case if you need to cancel, cancellation policy is: Deposit payments are refundable as 100% future scheduled trip credit up to 120 days before trip start, minus a $100 cancellation fee, 50% future scheduled trip credit if cancellation is 120-60 days before trip start, and non-refundable less than 60 days before start. Final payments for the full trip balance are 100% refundable as cash until the trip start, and non-refundable after the trip start. If I am able to fill your empty spot on the trip, half of what you'd lose will additionally be returned to you, for all the above situations. If I cancel the trip for some major reason, such as overwhelming volcanic activity, trip leader health crisis, changing political climate, etc, then I fully refund everything in cash or Paypal, or a pro-rated amount if the trip must end early for the same reasons. I am not responsible for reimbursing you for travel or other ancillary expenses you incur in prep for the trip. You must have travel insurance.