EXPLORE CENTRAL CUBA ON A PHOTO TOUR & WORKSHOP WITH NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PHOTOGRAPHER AND CUBA EXPERT CHRISTOPHER P. BAKER
Cuba’s frozen-in-time stage-set backdrop lends a twilight zone ambiance that Hollywood couldn’t dream up if it tried. It guarantees superb photography. But Cuba’s real magic isn’t its crumbling architecture, one-of-a-kind revolutionary icons, or spruced-up vintage cars. It’s the seemingly mundane, quintessential experience a lo cubano that provide for the most authentic grass-roots photography and which you’ll forever cherish as favorite take-aways.
Our photographic journey through the fascinating central provinces of Cuba explores a lesser-visited, yet culturally and visually exciting, part of the island. From the vivacious port city of Matanzas—steeped in santería and a rich Afro-Cuban musical heritage—to the colorful revolutionary city of Santa Clara, we’ll discover a wealth of colonial-era cities, vibrant landscapes, and genteel and gracious people. Traveling through countryside lushly green with sugarcane, we’ll also explore the now-deserted spa town of San Miguel de los Baños, marvel at the UNESCO World Heritage City of Remedios, and delight in the faded yesteryear ambience of Caibarién, Zulueta, Placetas and Camajuaní, with their faded wooden homes and once resplendent Beaux Arts mansions.
ITINERARY (subject to change)
Day 1: Sunday
We meet at our casa particular (B&B) in Havana this evening for a welcome reception before heading to dinner at La Guarida—a visually stunning and world-famous restaurant—in classic cars. (You will be free to arrive Havana as many days in advance as you wish, pre-approved, under the “support for the Cuban people” license.)
Day 2: Monday
Today Chris (accompanied by an acclaimed local photographer) leads you through his favorite streets of Habana Vieja (Old Havana), including visits to hidden away solares (tenements) and a santería shrine. You’ll be in awe of the opportunities for magnificent street photograph and environmental portraiture, and our afternoon highlight–a chance to photograph ballerinas in a fantastic early 20th-century mansion in the Vedado neighborhood. This evening you’ll have the chance to thrill to an optional visit to the open-air Tropicana cabaret nightclub.
Day 3: Tuesday
After a sunrise photo shoot in Habana Vieja, we’ll drive along the north coast to the former (yet still lived-in) sugar-producing community of Hershey, with its near-derelict American colonial homes. Besides making the most of stellar ops for environmental portraiture, we hope to shoot at the Mayabeque Academía de Boxeo–the unlikely venue for Cuba’s boxing academy. (The legendary “Hershey Train” is currently out of service. If by luck it is resurrected, we’ll take the ferry to Casablanca to board the train for an unforgettable journey to Matanzas.) After departing Hershey, we’ll stop for a coffee break and photo ops at Bacunayagua, Cuba’s tallest bridge. Arriving Matanzas, we’ll explore the historic colonial core, including such highlight sights as Parque Libertad, Plaza de la Vigía, and Puente Calixto García, with its bustling street life. Later, we'll head into the tumbledown Versailles neighborhoods for the "golden hour" and "blue hour"--the Puente de la Concordia bridge offers excellent photo ops of old cars against a tremendous setting.
Day 4: Wednesday
A former slave port, Matanzas is renowned for its Afro-Cuban culture and as the birthplace of rumba, one of Cuba’s defining musical forms: “Without rumba there is no Cuba, and without Cuba there is no rumba,” runs a Cuban saying. Today we'll focus on street photography and santería practices, in the La Marina district, with private one-on-one portraiture with local santeros; plus we’ll photograph a dynamic rumba session. In late afternoon, we'll explore the Río San Juan waterfront, with its funky fishing boats, through the "golden hour" and “blue hour.”
Day 5: Thursday
Today we’ll journey along the Carretera Central, once the main Cuban highway running the length of the island. While others barrel along the Autopista, we’ll thrill to this slow-paced yesteryear highway, with its ox-drawn carts, rusted American classic cars, and Soviet-progeny tractors wheezing through sleepy-paced colonial-era towns. A highlight stop is San Miguel de los Baños, a once-opulent spa town remarkable for its now dilapidated neoclassical villas and gingerbread clapboard houses. We’ll pass through epic country settings, stopping along the way as opportunities arise to photograph such timeless scenes as the zafra (sugarcane harvest) before arriving Santa Clara in time to photograph the street life in the "golden hour" and/or the Cuban flag being raised atop La Loma, a hilltop offering stunning sunset views over the city.
Overnight: Santa Clara
Day 6: Friday
Our accommodations in the colonial heart of Santa Clara are within steps of charming Parque Leoncio Vidal, graced by the Teatro La Caridad and other neoclassical buildings of note. We’ll spend the early morning hours photographing street life as the sun rises, followed by a private photo session (accompanied by a top local photographer) of a quinceañera in a colonial gown celebrating her fifteenth birthday. We then focus our lenses on colorful nail salons, the Coppelia ice cream salon, the lively railway station, and other venues that speak to Santa Clara’s daily life. The city has notable historical significance as it was here, in late December 1958, that Che Guevara’s guerilla army seized the city—a decisive victory in the Rebel Army’s struggle against the Batista regime. In late afternoon, we’ll head to Plaza de la Revolución to visit the museum and mausoleum where Che’s remains are interred, and to photograph the Monumento Ernesto Che Guevara at sunset.
Overnight: Santa Clara
Day 7: Saturday
After an optional sunrise shoot as Santa Clara awakens, a short journey today leads via Camajuani, with its aged colonnaded streets, intriguing cemetery, and rusty yet still-active railroad. We may also choose to visit Camajuani’s cigar factory before traveling through Vuelto Arriba tobacco country: we’ll hope to photograph tobacco farmers before arriving in Remedios, a small and almost perfectly preserved colonial town—founded in 1578, it’s one of Cuba’s oldest settlement and justifiably a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We’ll delight in our afternoon photographic exploration of the city as serendipity delivers non-stop vignettes while walking the streets.
Day 8: Sunday
We’ll eagerly rise at dawn to photograph as the city awakens. After a morning shooting in streets rich with activity, including the stunning Iglesia de San Juan Batista, we’ll lunch on a hearty country meal at nearby Finca El Recreo. We’ll then visit the nearby Museo Industria Agroazucarero, in the former Marcelo Salado sugar mill, with its collection on antique steam trains (including still-active locomotives–we’ll photograph the mechanics at work); and the historically important fishing port of Caibarién, where we’ll photograph the fishers and their funky wooden boats and wharves in the "golden hour."
Day 9: Monday
Today we’ll return to Havana via the Autopista, arriving in time for early afternoon lunch. Your afternoon is at leisure before a slideshow of everyone’s favorite images, followed by our farewell dinner.
Day 10: Tuesday
Depart for Miami and home.
Trip cost: $4,875
- Photograph the sensational Afro-Cuban musical and religious culture of Matanzas, birthplace and heartbeat of guanguancó and other musical forms, as well as of santería.
- Revel in the colonial street life of Remedios, a UNESCO World Heritage City where the clip clop of hooves still resounds through cobbled streets.
- Shoot quintessential scenes in tobacco country.
- Visit the Che Guevara mausoleum and memorial and savor street photography during the 'golden hour' and 'blue hour' in Santa Clara.
CHRISTOPHER P. BAKER
No-one knows Cuba as well as renowned travel journalist, National Geographic photographer, and Cuba expert Christopher P. Baker–the Lowell Thomas Award 2008 ‘Travel Journalist of the Year.’ Chris has authored and illustrated eight travel books on Cuba (including the National Geographic Traveler Cuba and Moon Cuba guidebooks, plus a coffee-table book Cuba Classics: A Celebration of Vintage American Automobiles). During three decades of travel to Cuba he has written about and photographed Cuba on behalf of entities from the BBC and CNN to National Geographic, New York Magazine, and Playboy, including a recent assignment about Santa Clara for Thomas Cook Holiday magazine. He has led more than 100 tours to Cuba, including photo tours for Jim Cline Photo Tours, National Geographic Expeditions, and Santa Fe Photo Workshops.
Despite President Trump’s restrictions on travel to Cuba effective September 24, 2020, and still in effect, every U.S. citizen can still legally travel to Cuba, pre-approved and at any time, under the “support for the Cuban people” license. This program is designed in accordance with U.S. regulations intended to maximize “support for the Cuban people” through stays at private B&Bs, meals at private restaurants, and interactions with independent artists, private tobacco farmers, owners of classic convertible taxis, etc.