Cuba: Culture & Remarkable Reefs | Spring 2024
Culture & Remarkable Reefs
Journey Leader: David Guggenheim (aka The Ocean Doctor)
SPRING 2024 (exact dates TBA)
Led by Dr. David Guggenheim, our journey will explore some of Cuba’s most culturally vibrant cities – Havana and Trinidad, passing among the country’s pristine natural ecosystems and farmlands. We will also travel to the little-visited Isle of Youth, the 7th largest island in the Caribbean but little-known to those outside of Cuba. Half of the island is a protected area and we will scuba dive/snorkel in one of the marine protected areas, Punta Frances. We will also visit the small community of Cocodrilo where Ocean Doctor is working to develop sustainable alternatives to overfishing. Upon return to the mainland we will lunch in Playa Girón, adjacent to the Bay of Pigs, where we will visit a museum documenting the infamous conflict of the early ‘60s and may have an opportunity to snorkel. Throughout the trip we will engage with Cuban scientists, officials, artists and community members to explore how Cuba is changing and the type of change Cubans want and need.
Dr. David E. Guggenheim is a marine scientist, conservation policy specialist, ocean explorer, submersible pilot, award-winning author and educator. He is founder and president of the Washington, DC-based nonprofit, Ocean Doctor, dedicated to ocean conservation. He is also an Adjunct Professor at Johns Hopkins University. Guggenheim has worked in Cuba for more than 20 years leading collaborative research and conservation efforts focused on coral reef ecosystems, documented in his recently-released book, The Remarkable Reefs of Cuba: Hopeful Stories from the Ocean Doctor. Read David's full biography here.
Day-by-Day Itinerary Highlights:
PLEASE NOTE: This itinerary is subject to change, based on local schedule and circumstances beyond our control, also to be able to meet someone new, or engage in an activity we could not have foreseen. Hotels, events and restaurants may change at the last minute to a similar category.
HAVANA | Cuba’s capital city is a unique city in many different ways. The Caribbean’s largest and most vivacious city, its romantic atmosphere and infectious energy are the stuff of legends. This is the only place in the world where you can find vintage American cars running alongside Russian Ladas and Polish Moscovich, ration shops juxtaposed against gleaming colonial palaces, and revolutionary sloganeering drowned out by all-night parties.
Day 1 | Arrival to Havana
Your local guide and/or journey leader will meet you at Havana's José Marti Internatonal Airport. After unpacking and settling into your hotel, you will meet your group for a welcome dinner at a local paladar.
Day 2 | Walking tour of Old Havana
Begin your first full day in Cuba with a walking tour of the history of the city’s fascinating past venturing out into the streets and see the four plaza that make up on to Habana Vieja (Old Havana). Continue the walking tour to visit Ambos Mundos, the former residence of Ernest Hemingway and La Floridita, where he claimed served some of the best daiquiris in Havana. Lunch on your own. Afternoon visit to the Museum of the Revolution and Paseo de Prado. Dinner with the group at a local restaurant.
Day 3 | Havana
Visit a local school (Casa de Amalia) and an agricultural cooperative for a day of learning and community building in Havana (TBD). Lunch together. In the afternoon, we depart for a guided tour of Ernest Hemingway's former home in Cuba, Finca Vigía, followed by a visit to Almacenes San José Artisan’s Market where - if you are lucky - you will also find Havana's best gelato bar! Dinner on your own and an optional live music outing!
ISLE OF YOUTH | Cuba’s largest island and the 7th largest in the West Indies, the Isle of Youth is an enchanting island visited by Columbus, pirates and Americans before it officially became Cuban soil in 1925. Once called the Isle of Pines, it was renamed by Fidel Castro in 1978 to Isle of Youth and scores of international schools thrived until Hurricane Gustav in 2008 destroyed most of them. Much of the southern part of the island is part of an enormous protected area and wildlife abounds.
Day 4 | Transfer to Isle of Youth
After breakfast, we transfer by bus to Batabano where we catch the high-speed ferry to Villa Gerona, the Capital of Isle of Youth. Lunch en route. Arrive at your casa particular and settle in after a long day of traveling. If time permits, late afternoon visit the Presidio Modelo Prison Museum.Home cooked dinner together at one of the casas particulares.
Sleep: Isle of Youth
PUNTA FRANCES MARINE PROTECTED AREA (PFMPA) | Located at the southwestern end of Isle of Youth, the PFMPA became a national park in 2011. The PFMPA includes shallow coral reef ecosystems as well as deeper reefs near the insular shelf break, which are spawning and mating aggregation areas for important commercial, and threatened, fish including grouper. The area is also home to extensive mangrove forests, seagrass beds, crucial nursery and living habitats for hundreds of fish species, marine turtles, manatees and saltwater crocodiles. All fishing, with the exception of lobster fishing, is prohibited within the PFMPA.
Day 5 | Punta Frances | Snorkeling/Diving in Cubas Remarkable Reefs
Today we will get in the water! We will learn how Cuba's relatively clean environment has contributed to a healthier eco system of its' oceans and reefs. We will also learn how our journey leader David Guggenheim - the Ocean Doctor - has been working with local communities to ensure the protection and enforcement of Punta Frances PFMPA. Lunch aboard the dive boat. Dinner at a local restaurant.
Sleep: Isle of Youth
Day 6 | Visit to Cocodrilo | Isle of Youth
Today we set out for a day visit to Cocodrilo, a small community approximately 22 km southeast of Punta Frances. Immigrants from the Cayman Islands established this community around 100 years ago, Since its inception, fishing has been their main source of income. Cocodrilo is part of Ocean Doctor's Red Alerta Project, working with environmental leaders in the community to develop ecotourism and bring the citizens to the water by teaching them how to dive, snorkel and monitor the reefs, Lunch in Cocodrilo. Dinner at a local restaurant.
Sleep: Isle of Youth
TRINIDAD | One of the best-preserved colonial towns in the Caribbean and a World Heritage site, Trinidad on Cuba's Caribbean coast dates back to the 1500s. The valley around this historical marker, the Valle de los Ingenios is the home of several idle sugar plantations. Sugar was one of the most important products to the Cuban economy up until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Today, due to the lack of investment in the sugar industry, Cuba imports 60% of the sugar it consumes. Trinidad has a strong artisans community, including an outdoor market, well known for artisan works of woodcarvings and fine handmade lace, as well as ceramics, masks, and musical instruments. Just outside of town lay the pristine Caribbean sandy beach of Playa Ancón.
Day 7 | Transfer to Trinidad
After an early breakfast, we set out for a full day of travel and transfer by bus and high-speed ferry back to the mainland. Lunch en route on the way to Playa Girón. Playa Girón was one of two landing sites for seaborne forces of about 1,500 armed Cuban exiles in the Bay of Pigs Invasion, an American CIA-sponsored attempt to overthrow the new government of Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro. Over 72 hours, fighting took place in many parts of the Cienaga de Zapata, Playa Girón being the last remaining area occupied by the invaders. Afternoon visit to Museo Girón, a small museum dedicated to the historical Bay of Pigs conflict. Time-permitting it may be possible to snorkel in the coral-rich waters of the Bay of Pigs. Check in to our Casa Particular in Trinidad. Dinner at local restaurant.
Day 8 | Walking tour of Trinidad
After breakfast, enjoy a guided walking tour of Trinidad. Lunch on your own. Afternoon free to explore Trinidad's many markets on your own. Late afternoon departure for Playa Ancón, where you will enjoy another dip in the Caribbean and a sunset dinner before returning to our casa particular.
Day 9 | Return to Havana
After breakfast, we board our bus and return back to Cuba's capital. Lunch en route. Possible afternoon visit to artisans’ homes and/or National Museum of Fine Arts of Havana and/or local galleries. Farewell dinner at one of Havana's many amazing restaurants.
Day 10 | Return Home
INCLUDED: CCJ pre-departure itinerary/trip planning, Country Destination Guide (PDF document sent via email after final payment is received; registration and coordination; pre-departure meeting via Zoom (two - three weeks prior to departure); in-country transportation per itinerary; best available accommodation in double occupancy; daily breakfasts; some lunches and some dinners TBD; English speaking local guide; CCJ trip manager (if desired with larger group); guest speakers; all entrance fees on itinerary; preparation materials; potable water on the bus/car (please bring a refillable water bottle to avoid single plastic use)
NOT INCLUDED: International airfare to/from destination; any cost for special visas to enter destination (info will be sent upon registration); meals not on itinerary; alcoholic drinks; excursions not on the itinerary; tips for bellman and hotel staff (optional, yet customary); tips for local guide and driver (optional, yet customary); travel cancellation and evacuation insurance (strongly recommended - info will be sent upon registration)