CUBA: COMPARING PHOTO ADVENTURES
(Photo Workshop Adventures vs. National Geographic Expeditions)
By Michael Chinnici
We are often asked to describe the difference between a PHOTO WORKSHOP ADVENTURES experience and a NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC experience. Honestly, they couldn’t be more different. So much so that we decided to do a comparison chart for these two Cuba People-to-People Photo Adventures to illustrate the differences.
For one, the PWA trip is 9 days vs NG’s 8 days. At PWA we offer small group tours with 6-10 guests vs NG’s bus tours with 20-25 guests. Our trips are more intimate allowing for a better learning experience and more fun. PWA’s trips are also much more “photo-centric” than NG’s which are structured more like a tour with photography as an option. PWA stays in some of the best 5 and 4-star hotels vs. NG’s lower category hotels. We dine at some of the finest private restaurants and paladars and NG (given the shear size of their groups) dines at several government run restaurants. PWA travels in smaller comfortable buses and beautifully restored vintage American cars, where NG uses the typical large tour bus (making it difficult to access small villages, urban streets and rural areas). When it comes to flights we allow you to fly roundtrip to Cuba on commercial flights you book on your own vs. NG requiring you to fly roundtrip to Miami and then roundtrip again from Miami to Havana. Add up the cost for two separate roundtrip flights plus a night in Miami.
In the end Photo Workshop Adventures is actually priced between about $1500 less than National Geographic’s when you factor in the flight expenses and NG’s higher single supplement fee.
PWA delivers top travel photographer leaders, an intimate cultural experience second to none, the best in hospitality and cuisine, non-touristy itineraries and overall “value” when you compare us to our competitors.
Photo Workshop Adventures is a premiere Cuba People-to-People Photo Adventure operator since 2013 and offers over 150 photo adventures in over 50 countries.
Below we have included the itinerary for our 9-Day Classic Cuba Photo Adventure. We hope you enjoy and would love to see you join us in Cuba for the adventure of a lifetime.
Itinerary: Classic Cuba 9-Day Photo Adventure
Saturday (1) Havana
We meet at our hotel in Havana on Saturday afternoon where we will begin our amazing CLASSIC CUBA Photo Adventure. After a meet and greet we will first visit the famous Hotel Nacional for some photography and a cold Mojito. The amazing setting will bring many back to the 1950s, when the mafia held its annual meetings at this historic hotel and walk the streets of Central Havana. The Hotel Nacional is located in the cool and hip neighborhood of Vedado. After we will explore the streets of Vedado.
In the evening, after a sunset shoot along Havana’s famous “Malecon” we enjoy our “Welcome Dinner” at the award winning Paladar San Cristobal, located in the heart of Central Havana. A taste of colonial Cuba, San Cristobal offers wonderful entrees on 19th century china, surrounded by stacks of books, old antiques and nostalgic black and white photographs. You can ask owner Carlos Cristóbal Márquez Valdés all about it. (D)
Sunday (2) Central Havana – Old Havana
On Sunday morning we focus on low light photography throughout central Havana, home to many working class Cubans. After breakfast we will visit a home in Central Havana for a discussion with Magia López and Alexey Rodriguez of the hip-hop/jazz duo Obsesión about their experiences and views on race and gender equality in Cuba. Next we visit a “lost in time” centuries old Cuban mansion for a photography session. Seriously, this grand mansion has been left untouched yet lived in for more than 50 years.
After lunch we will discuss PWA’s “10 Guiding Principles to Great Photography” as well as our “THE ART OF SEEING” photographic technique. We will have informal discussions on what our guests are trying to achieve in their photography, subject matters, styles and techniques. Afterward we will have a socio-economic discussion with urban planner Pedro Mayda, who’s presentation will touch on housing, infrastructure, investment and restoration programs. It’s bound to leave you with a better understanding of why Havana looks the way it does today and possibilities moving forward. In the late afternoon you have the opportunity to experience a fun and exciting photo shoot with Cuban fashion models on the streets of Old Havana, complete with stylist, wardrobe and makeup artist.
In the evening we enjoy dinner at El Cocinero. This lovely restaurant is housed in a former Power Plant and Factory. Home to Havana’s hip, you might think you are in Soho or Madrid. Following dinner we walk next door for live music, art and photography at La Fabrica de Arte Cubana. Rock star X Alfonso has turned this into a meeting place for young and eclectic Cubans and foreigners. It’s really quite inviting and an amazing experience. (B, D)
Monday (3) Miramar – Havana – Hemingway’s
We begin with an early morning visit to the American Classic Car restoration garage. Owners Nidialys Acosta and Julio Alvarez have taken advantage of the recent economic opening and put together a fleet of 20 plus pristine “Clasicos” (as Cuban’s refer to them), to provide professional service to their clientele. Learn first hand how they restore these classic American beauties from the 1950’s. This setting makes for some amazing photography.
Afterwards we offer an optional excursion to ride in these beautifully restored 1950‘s American classic cars. This 6 hour excursion will take you along the Malecón (Havana’s seawall), visit the mansions in the Miramar neighborhood and experience the bustle of Neptuno and San Lazaro streets in the city center. Then we’re off to La Finca Vigía, formerly the home of Ernest Hemingway. Today La Finca Vigía still houses his expansive collection of Hemingway’s books. It was here where he wrote two of his most celebrated novels: For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea. The beautiful grounds and bizarre tales from Hemingway’s many years in Cuba are captivating. From here we drive to Playas del este, and the turquoise blue waters and soft sand beaches of Santa Maria Beach for lunch.
In the late afternoon we attend a session at the famous “Rafael Trejo” Boxing Gym in Old Havana. Here we will have the opportunity to photograph boxers in session. In the early evening we are treated to a musical performance with Frank Delgado, renowned singer and songwriter, for a discussion about the nueva trova movement in Cuba, followed by a musical performance. Frank is often referred to as the Billy Joel of Cuba.
In the evening you have the option to experience the world famous La Guarida Paladar, the set to the movie “Strawberry and Chocolate,” and known for it’s spectacular ambiance and delicious desserts, not to mention amazing photographic opportunities. (B)
Tuesday (4) Pinar del Rio – Vinales
We leave early on Monday for Pinar del Rio, a day-trip excursion to the western-most province, famous for its rich soil, tobacco production and spectacular scenery Here we will visit the charming little village of Viñales nestled in the Sierra de los Organos mountains. Viñales Valley is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and settlement dating back to the Spanish colonial era.
We start off by visiting one of Cuba’s most renowned tobacco farmers, who produces tobacco used in world famous Cohiba cigars. For lunch we visit a local organic farm to learn about Cuban agriculture and tobacco production, where we will have a tasty 20-dish meal, all farm-to-table. The view of the valley from the farm is breathtaking. After lunch we explore Viñales, where we will meet with farmers, small business owners, average citizens and others out and about; taking photos throughout.
After we say goodbye to Vinales we will visit a small village where Mario Pelegrin, a community activist, has created a charming neighborhood art project dedicated to local children. In this tranquil setting, a collection of rustic cabins provide a home for amateur art programs. This wonderful program gives local kids the opportunity to have fun while learning new skills in the areas of music, dance, theatre and art. After we return to Havana for a free evening. (B, L)
Wednesday (5) Old Havana
On Wednesday morning we enjoy an early morning Bicycle Taxi Photo Tour through Old and Central Havana. providing us with many photographic opportunities. We will explore Havana’s Old City a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Wander through the Plaza Vieja, the oldest plaza in Havana, dating from the 16th century. See the Plaza de San Francisco, a cobbled plaza surrounded by buildings dating from the 18th century, dominated by the baroque Iglesia and Convento de San Francisco dating from 1719. Visit Plaza de la Cathedral and the Cathedral de San Cristóbal de La Habana. Visit the Plaza de Armas, a scenic tree-lined plaza formerly at the center of influence in Cuba. It is surrounded by many of the most historic structures in Havana as well as important monuments. We will end our ride at one of the most photogenic produce markets in Central Havana.
After an afternoon break we take the ferry across the harbor to Regla, a community off the tourist grid for an amazing photographic opportunity. Regla is very different than the city of Havana. It reminds us more of Santiago de Cuba in Eastern Cuba.
In the evening you are free to enjoy our hotel’s amenities. (B)
Thursday (6) Havana – Trinidad
On day six we depart for Trinidad, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, known for it’s cobble stoned streets, pastel colored homes and small-town feel. Here we will visit the Plaza Mayor and the famous Iglesia Parroquial de la Santisima church, as well as the many other restored architectural gems in this charming village. Upon our arrival we will enjoy a hearty lunch at a favorite paladar, a recently opened restaurant with a diverse menu featuring everything from lobster and ropa vieja to pizza. Trinidad will be filled with tourists at this time, so we will spend the mid-day hours away from the crowds.
After lunch we will have a discussion and walking tour with architect, city historian and preservationist Nancy Benitez, who will provide an overview of the history and architecture of the city. By mid-afternoon we check into one of Trinidad’s finest authentic casa’s located in the heart of the old city. After a relaxing break we set out to photograph the people and architecture of Trinidad, ending with a sunset photo shoot from the famous bell tower. (B, L)
Friday (7) Trinidad
A sunrise photo walk through Trinidad is a must. Here we will witness the city come to life, well before the tourists arrive. Not only is the light at it’s best, but the photographic opportunities are seemingly endless. We’ll witness Cuban children of all ages on their way to school as well as shop owners beginning their day. After a morning exploring Trinidad we take a break to stay out of the midday sun.
In the late afternoon and evening we will do a photo walk through Trinidad and the surrounding rural neighborhoods. These rural areas are rich with unique and authentic photo opportunities. As the sun sets the light in Trinidad turns magical. Long shadows and twilight blue hour.
After sunset we have a conversation with artist Yami Martínez at her gallery, La Casa de los Conspiradores. Yami has achieved international recognition for her art depicting the strains of life on Cuban women. Followed by dinner at Yami’s Los Conspiradores Paladar (B, D)
Saturday (8) Trinidad – Cienfuegos – Havana
On day eight, after one last sunrise walk we say goodbye to Trinidad and depart for Cienfuegos, referred to as the “Pearl of the South”. Cienfuegos is one of Cuba’s only cities to display French and Spanish architecture. Housed on one of the country’s largest bays, the city offers beautiful ocean front landscapes, and is deeply rich in culture. We will meet with internationally recognized photographer “Omar Garcia Valenti” from Cienfuegos, who will show us some of his work and then lead a photo shoot in the downtown area. After lunch we enjoy some Music and discussion with the local chapter of UNEAC, the National Union of Artists and Writers of Cuba, featuring an opportunity to meet local photographers, musicians and other locals.
After a beautiful day in Cienfuegos we hit the road and return to Havana. Here we will enjoy our final evening in Cuba where we will celebrate with a wonderful “Farewell Dinner” at one of our favorite Cuban restaurants. (B, D)
Sunday (9) Havana
Our final day in Cuba includes an early Sunday morning photo walk of Havana followed by breakfast and a review of your favorite photos of the trip. Here we will sadly bid your farewell, check out of our hotel and depart for Havana airport. (B)
We Offer Six Amazing Cuba Photo Adventures
If you are interested in going to Cuba, we offer both photo and non-photo adventures to this amazing “lost in time” island nation. These include our CLASSIC CUBA and HAVANA only trips, our new VANISHING CUBA™ trip, EASTERN CUBA and our CUBA UNPLUGGED for lower priced and more authentic Cuba experience. And of course you can always organize your own PRIVATE CUBA group travel. Join us today for the adventure of a lifetime.
NOTE: See our recent blog post LEGAL U.S. TRAVEL TO CUBA for clarification on legal travel to Cuba for U.S. Citizens. Non-U.S. Citizens are welcome on all our Photo Adventures.