Cuba Nature and Culture Expedition
Will I love This Holiday?
Travel Style: Volunteer
Cost: $3,495 USD ex flights
Length: 8 days
Physical Rating: Active
Right For: Solo, small groups, & families, and teens.
Children: 16-yrs+ (under 18-years with adult)
What: Cuba Nature and Culture Expedition, Volunteer Holiday.
Group Size: Small (max 16)
1. This Trip is Open to American Citizens through a "People to People" license given by the US Treasury Department to our (local Cuban) partners. This trip is safe and legal for US citizens. The trip is also open to citizens of other countries.
2. Spend the Night with a Leatherback: Help local researchers and scientists gather data by the light of the moon and stars when the big sea turtles emerge from the ocean and move on to the beach.
3. Unwrap A Culture: Delve into the art, architecture, and music of a diverse, multi-layer culture hidden from the west for over a half century.
4. The Largest and Smallest: The planet’s largest sea turtles are at home here, and so is the planet’s smallest bird, the bee hummingbird, (plus over 170 additional bird species) and some really big land crabs.
5. Enjoy a Cuban concert: This island’s music scene is unlike any in the world. Get to know the unique rhythms of Cuba with a private rooftop concert by a local group.
Is This Trip Right For Me?
Cuba is an extraordinary island with it’s unique culture, gorgeous beaches, and clear waters. The isolation of this country has resulted in well-protected natural areas and coral reefs and great opportunities to see wildlife. Guanahacabibes National Park, the island's westernmost point, is a great place to witness nesting of green sea turtles and to swim in crystal blue waters. We will spend several nights on the beach with one of the country’s leading biologists, observing nesting and helping with data collection where possible .
In contrast with the remote park, the vibrant city of Havana offers a rich cultural experience including live music, fascinating architecture, and more. Highlights include a private concert, a visit to Hemingway’s home, and a walking tour of Old Havana. In the middle, visit the beautiful countryside with its charming towns, organic farms, and more. Profits from this trip will help to save at least 500 hatchlings at a turtle nesting beach per participant.
This trip is open to American citizens through a "People to People" license given by the US Treasury Department to our partners. There is no more travel warning (though travelers were never at risk) and the country remains safe for travelers. The trip is also open to citizens of other countries.
Cuba is a unique destination, which has both positives and negatives. This trip accommodations includes mid-level hotels that are comfortable (if a bit dated) in a safe neighborhood of Havana. This trip includes much time spent time outside, which means some activities are dependent on weather and there can be significant bugs in this area. The trip also involves a lot of time on the private bus, including a 5 hour drive one way back from Guanahacabibes to Havana and about an hour each way from the resort to the nesting beach each evening, which results in late nights, arriving back to the resort as late as 2 am some nights.
We started [this company] in 2008 to encourage travelers to visit turtle conservation projects where their visit will make a difference in efforts to protect these endangered creatures and this has been our most popular tour. With the help of travelers like you, we have generated more than $1 million for turtle conservation and local communities and have helped to save more than 1 million baby turtles at important nesting beaches.
This company was the world's first effort to protect sea turtles through (community based) ecotourism. Originally fiscally-sponsored by the Ocean Foundation and most recently Oceanic Society, it is now an independent 501c3 non-profit. Their programs provide support for important turtle nesting beaches and has helped save more than 1 million hatchlings. They are also responsible for the creation of a campaign working to end the demand for turtle shell products. School programs help teachers and students learn about these incredible animals and how to protect them.
DAY 1: ARRIVE TO HAVANA
Start your exploration of Cuba in Havana. You’ll meet your guide at the airport and head to the historic Hotel Presidente in downtown Havana. That afternoon, meet for a welcome cocktail and orientation and then head with the group to have a welcome dinner at San Cristobal, one of the city’s great paladars (privately-owned restaurants in private homes). Get a good night’s sleep or head out for some live music in town after dinner. Overnight at Hotel Presidente.
DAY 2: HAVANA & VINALES WORLD HERITAGE SITE
The architecture of Havana is a fascinating mix of styles built over the centuries. You’ll see the influence of not only the Spanish and British, who held the city at different points, but also French, Italian, and Middle Eastern styles as well as more modern styles. Old Havana is undergoing an impressive restoration, starting with it’s stunning European squares. This morning, we will have a presentation by a Cuban architect and then take a walking tour of Old Havana. Lunch will be in the city.
After lunch, board your private bus for a 2 hour drive to Viñales Valley, Cuba’s renowned tobacco growing area. The area is famous for its “mogotes,” enormous isolated rock formations that afford some of the most scenic views on the island. Have some down time before dinner at a wonderful organic farm with a great view of the valley and then have time to walk in the charming town. That evening, you'll attend a welcome party organized by a local town committee, where there will be dancing and snacks. Overnight at Hotel La Ermita or similar.
DAY 3: TO GUANAHACABIBES
Join your guide this morning for a walk around the beautiful valley to learn about its unique geography. Lunch will be at the impressive Mural of Prehistory. Afterwards, board your bus for the 3 hour drive to Guanahacabibes National Park and Villa Maria La Gorda Resort. Arrive in time to take a dip in the ocean before dinner or relax on the beach.
The national park extends into the ocean, protecting a large coral reef that is home to many species of fish and two species of sea turtles (hawksbills, loggerheads, and greens). After a buffet dinner, the group will receive a presentation from turtle biologist Dr. Julia Azanza, one of the country’s lead sea turtle experts, who has managed this program for more than a decade. You’ll learn about the impressive effort that goes into protecting and studying these turtles and the success they have had in growing the number of nesting green and loggerhead turtles. That night, you’ll drive to the nesting beach to look for nesting green sea turtles and hatchlings (about an hour drive each way). Overnight at Maria la Gorda.
DAYS 4 - 5: NATIONAL PARK EXPLORATION
Guanahacabibes is a mix of forest, beach, ocean, mangrove, and other habitats that are home to more than 170 species of birds and many other animals. This morning you'll join a park ranger to look for some of the unique bird life of the park, including the world's smallest bird, the bee hummingbird (which is surprisingly easy to see), and many other species of birds. In the afternoon, you'll have the opportunity to snorkel in one of the park's reefs, either by boat or right from the beach. Around 9 pm, we will head over to the beach again to look for turtles coming ashore and observe the nesting process as the researchers collect data. Some participants may be able to help researchers with the data collection.
DAY 5: SNORKELING & TURTLE RESEARCH
Today, there will be 2 opportunities to snorkel the park's coral reefs, before and after lunch. Take a boat out to one of the deeper reefs to look for hawksbills or explore the area around the resort's beach that has many fish. Tonight will be an optional opportunity to visit the nesting beach to look for green and loggerheads with an earlier return to the hotel to get sleep for the long drive back to Havana the next day.
DAY 6: RETURN TO HAVANA
Take one more opportunity to snorkel the park’s reefs this morning. We will then board the bus to return to Havana, stopping for lunch along the way (5 hour drive). Depending on departure time, the group may have some free time explore the some of the city's great museums late that afternoon. Dinner this evening will be on your own (cost not included) to choose from the many wonderful options and then head out to see live music (entrance fees not included). Overnight at the Hotel Presidente (2 nights).
DAY 7: HAVANA EXPLORATION
After a buffet breakfast at the hotel, board the bus to visit the former home of Ernest Hemingway at a beautiful spot outside of the city. Next you'll visit nearby El Divino, a unique organic farm and community outreach program, where you'll also eat lunch. In the late afternoon, we will be treated to a private rooftop concert by Grupo Mezcla to learn about different genres of music in Cuba today with world class musicians. Dinner will be at La Casa, a wonderful third-generation paladar for a multi-course meal. Head out on the town for music after dinner or rest for the trip home.
DAY 8 DEPARTURE
Extend your stay to visit other parts of the island or get the shuttle to the airport in time for your flight home. Take your memories, pictures, and souvenirs home with you to remember this unique adventure.
What to Expect
Dates: 2019 Date: August 3 - 10
Costs: $3,495 USD per person, double occupancy
Single Supplement: $400.00 USD
$80 discount for paying by check
Included: Accommodations in Havana, Viñales, and Guanahacabibes, All meals except one (as noted in itinerary), Local bilingual guide and transportation (private bus) from Havana to Guanahacabibes, Activities including turtle research, museums, music, and more plus a donation to turtle conservation.
Excluded: Airfare to Havana, Tips for guides and the driver (recommended $80-100 for the guide and $40-50 for the driver).Optional activities at Guanahacabibes (diving & snorkeling), one dinner in Havana, personal items, tips for meals and activities.
► We pair individual travelers up with others of the same sex to share rooms.
► If we aren't able to pair up or a single room is preferred, the single supplement is $400.
► Minimum recommended age is 16 years old, under 18 needs to be accompanied by an adult.
► Group size is limited to 16 people maximum.
► Private tours and short-term volunteer opportunities are not available at this time.
For your first night, you’ll stay at the historic Hotel Presidente in downtown Havana. This 4 star hotel has a beautiful interior, attractive rooms, good views of the city from most rooms, and an inviting pool area.
Hotel Maria La Gorda
The beachfront resort in Guanahacabibes National Park. We will stay in rooms just a short walk from the water. The rooms include air conditioning, satellite TV, private bathroom, and balcony. Meals are buffet-style and usually include a variety of meats and side dishes, fresh bread, juices, and other options. Vegetarians can be accommodated though selection can be limited at times.
Wildlife You May See
Wildlife You May Work With
Green Sea turtles
Additional Wildlife You May See
Birds: Oriente Warbler, Cuban Green Woodpecker, Stripe-headed Tanager, Cuban Solitaire, Cuban Vireo, Red-legged Honeycreeper, owl species (Screech-Owl, Pygmy Owl, Stygian Owl), Quail dove (Blue-headed, Grey-headed), Cuban Trogon, Olive-capped Warbler, Cuban Grassquit, bee hummingbird, Cuban Tody, Frigate Bird, Flamingo… If you’re very lucky you might spot the Giant Kingbird, Tyrannus Cubensis. Native species include the Zapata Wren, Zapata Sparrow, and Zapata Rail.
Marine Life: Dolphin species include the Risso, spinner, Fraser’s, Climene and striped dolphin, and lemon, nurse, whale, silky, black tip and Caribbean reef sharks, the West Indian manatee. Green, hawksbill and loggerhead sea turtles.
About The Cuba Nature & Culture Expedition
The Program Partners
A local research group headed by turtle biologist, Dr. Julia Azanza, and volunteers. Your visit and an American based turtle conservation organization helps to support this program.
What is Special About this Project?
The trip helps to highlight and encourage habitat preservation and turtle conservation efforts in this emerging economy. You will visit Havana and also small cities where you ill be welcomed by a local committee.
Guanahacabibes National Park covers the westernmost point of Cuba’s main island. Its one of the largest protected areas in the country with a size of more than 150 square miles (about 400 km sq). Home
to a variety of habitats including coral reefs, beaches, mangroves, scrublands, and evergreen forest, Guanahacabibes has more than 170 species of birds and dozens of reptile and mammal species. The beaches here are home to the second largest breeding population of green turtles in the country with an average
of more than 300 nests per season. The Billion Baby Turtles initiative supports the turtle research and conservation efforts at Guanahacabibes. Its support helped to save an estimated 280,000 hatchlings over the past several years.
Night time beach surveillance for green sea turtles and hatchlings.
Night time opportunity to look for loggerheads.
Some help with data collection.
How This Trip Makes a Difference
Wildlife and the Environment
You will be visiting Guanahacabibes National Park covering the westernmost point of Cuba’s main island. Its one of the largest protected areas in the country with a size of more than 150 square miles (about 400 km sq). Home to a variety of habitats including coral reefs, beaches, mangroves, scrublands, and evergreen forest, Guanahacabibes has more than 170 species of birds and dozens of reptile and mammal species. The beaches here are home to the second largest breeding population of green turtles in the country with an average of more than 300 nests per season. Protecting this habitat is vital for the survival of these sea turtles. Bringing wildlife and nature tourists to this site helps to create an immediate economic value and reason to keep this area protected.
Local Culture and Community
This small island has a unique culture, an amalgam created from it diverse inhabitants: the ancient Taino people from the 4th millennium and others, followed by the Spanish who conquered and settled, and influenced by French and British traders (and conquerers), and the arrival of formerly enslaved people from Haiti via Africa. For awhile it was the playground of famous and wealthy Americans. Then followed over 50 years of isolation and suppression.
The combination of this unique cultural cocktail has resulted in architecture, art and music that is unique in the world. As the country modernizes, the economic benefits of cultural tourism will help to encourage its preservation. And most importantly, international tourism helps to foster understanding and appreciation between two former (political) enemies.