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Cuba

Road Trip + Vounteering + Culture

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Discover Cuba

Enter the time warp and practise your salsa.

Cuba maybe a nation frozen in time with its pretty, decaying, neoclassical buildings and vintage American cars, but this country rocks. Dance, music and mojito's literally flood the streets of Havana making it one the most exciting places to step into and covid may have dampened their spirits but not for much longer as the country opens their borders on the 1st November.

This unique 4 week road trip will show you Cuba's highlights - from the meandering streets of Havana to the tobacco filled valleys of Vinales, to the glorious Caribbean beaches. We promise to get you off the beaten track and immerse you fully by volunteering in community centres, teaching you to dance and roll a cigar.

First team departs in January - get your name down quickly.

Venture out to this Caribbean paradise to explore, contribute and immerse yourself into their culture whilst on an awesome road trip of Cuba's finest hidden gems.


Program Itinerary

This 4 week program provides the opportunity to explore this historic island whilst heading off the tourist trail on an exciting road trip to explore and contribute.

The following is a sample itinerary.

Days 1 - 28

Cuba Culture, contribution and exploration

Welcome to Cuba

Rightly famed for being the most musical nation on the planet and home to stunning old neoclassical buildings, an abundance of vintage American cars and a fascinating history to get your teeth stuck into.

We have worked with our Cuban team here for a number of years and are so chuffed to be able to get leapers back out there to resume work and support the projects once again. The Jakera team in Cuba are hugely respected and go about making small changes sensitively to the communities whilst supporting the culture and chaos within this incredible country. You are going to love it.

So, step back in time, hop into a vintage car and enjoy this jam packed 4-week itinerary we have planned for you.

Wk 1

Old Havana Volunteering + Exploration + Dance

Old Havana

Your main base will be in the heart of Old Havana, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site BTW due to its utterly stunning shabby chic architecture. You’ll live in the Jakera House right in the centre of a myriad of gorgeous neoclassical buildings, buzzing with music, bars and impromptu dancing. Utter heaven.

There is so much to do and see here that we are mixing it up and interweaving volunteering, cultural outings and of course dancing...so take your strictly shoes.

Volunteering

Pre-covid the Cuba team supported three main community initiatives: The Arco and Barrio Vieja Community centre, the El Gimnasio boxing gym and the Escuala y Instituto de Musica Cubana – all iconic centres which supported the well being of families and children.

Sadly, everything came to a grinding halt in March and is only just beginning to open up again.The Cuban team are slowly working their way round to re-order their focus. Closer to your arrival time we know what your project is going to be, but it will involve a refurbishing element in one of these centres.

Exploration

There is so much to see and do here and so much to learn about the history. Our local guides will steer you off the beaten track to lots of interesting places, but this week will focus on the Plaza de la Revolution and the walk on the Malecon.

Dancing

Ok, for all those familiar with Strictly Come Dancing – this is your moment to get in tune with your inner self and let your hair down whilst learning to Salsa, Rumba and Merengue!

Your evenings will range from grabbing a bite to eat in one of the many cheap and cheerful eateries in your neighbourhood to chilling along the Malecon with local Habeneros or a trip to Vedado to enjoy the music and nightlife of this incredible city.

Accommodation

You will live in a large Cuban apartment in a neoclassical tenement building in Old Havana. Like most of Old Havana, the architecture, exterior and communal stairs, are safe but in an overall dilapidated condition (call it shabby chic!). Inside however, the apartment is very comfortable, with views across the neighbourhood from the terraces where you can chill.

Expect dormitory style bedrooms sleeping six, with bathrooms providing hot and cold water showers and western style toilets.

Food

Breakfast and lunch included.
Dinner is extra and can be in one of local cafes or you can cook in the Casa kitchen.

Wk 2

Trinidad History + Dance

Colonial Masterpiece

This week starts off with a few days in Trinidad, which is one of the Caribbean's best-preserved examples of the Spanish colonialism era. Expect to find lots of pastel coloured houses, pretty churches and cobbled streets but it has a big music vibe to it – cool open-air bars and salsa dancing on tap.

On one of the days you will be taken to explore the Valle de los Ingenious (Valley of the Sugar mills) which is another World Heritage Site.

Back to Havana to keep going with the volunteering.

Week overview:

Day 1: Travel to Trinidad / guided night tour of colourful plazas and salsa bars
Day 2: Guided historical walk of Old Trinidad / dance class.
Day 3: Full day tour of the Valle de los Ingenious (Valley of the Sugar mills) / beach time.
Day 4: Travel back to Havana. Volunteering in the afternoon.
Day 5: Volunteering

Accommodation

You'll live with a local family, in a ‘Casa particular’. Expect 2-4 Leapers per family.

Food

Breakfast and lunch included in the house.
Dinner will be extra at one of the local cafes.

Wk 3

Vinales Tobacco Culture + Adventure

Roll yourself a cigar

Another little road trip out to explore Viñales, (another UNESCO World Heritage Site!) owing to the stunning karst valley landscape and rolling tobacco plantations.

Whilst here we will take you into the valley to see the tobacco drying houses where you will learn about the art of curing tobacco and rolling cigars, along with an early morning hike to see the spectacular sunrise.

You will also visit the ‘Cueva del Indio’ and take a boat trip learning about the ‘Guanajatabey’ Indians who built primitive homes hollowed out of the limestone mogotes.

Week overview

Day 1: Travel to Vinales/welcome walk around town
Day 2: Sunrise hike to local farmstead / guided visit a tobacco farm
Day 3: Guided visit to Cueva del Indio and Muro Prehistorico
Day 4: Travel back to Havana. Volunteering
Day 5: Guided Tour of Tobacco Factory

Accommodation

You will stay in a ‘Casa particular’, essentially translating to a government approved ‘individuals house’ where foreign guests can stay. This gives you the opportunity to live with a Cuban family for a full cultural immersion. Expect about 2-4 Leapers per house.

Food

Breakfast and lunch included.
Dinner will be out in a local cafe - please budget about $10 per meal.

Wk 4

Old Havana Volunteering + History + Culture + Dance

Back into Havana

Your last week will be back in Havana to continue your exploration, dance moves and history lessons whilst completing your project.

Week overview:

Day 1: Volunteering / guided tour of Castillo El Morro
Day 2: Volunteering / dance class
Day 3: Volunteering / visit to War Museum to learn about Fidel and the Cuban Revolution
Day 4: Volunteering / dance class
Day 5: Free time to go souvenir shopping / final night out

Food

Breakfast and lunch only in the Casa.
Dinner will be extra at one of the local cafes.

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Covid Protocal

The Social Bubble
The Leap team and staff in the camp will create a social bubble.Handwash and cough and sneeze protocol as stipulated by WHO will be respected. There will be foot baths and handwashing stations around the Casa, plus lots of alcohol gel.

Any staff members not living in the Casa will be considered outside the bubble and will have to socially distance and wear facemasks when addressing those inside the bubble. They will also have clean / work clothes to change into after washing and disinfecting themselves upon arrival at the Casa.

When outside the Casa everyone will have to respect the social distancing rules and wear masks when they are shops, cafes and supermarkets.

Options and costs

A new program for the covid-hit gappers of 2021. This is going to be awesome - dancing, exploring and contributing on this historic island.

20 leapers per departure, our advice right now is move fast and this combines perfectly with Costa Rica and Costa Rica Scuba.

Whats included?

Social Life

The Casa in Havana can accommodate up to 25 Leapers, who come from all over the world, so it's busy and fun.

Cultural Exchange

Through local contacts you will experience so much more than the average tourist.

Dancing

Learning and perfecting the samba is integral to experiencing the heart and soul of this culture.

Road Trip

Your journey will take you from the Caribbean beaches, to the tobacco covered hills of Vinales and beyond.


Monday to Friday

You'll be busy 5 days a week and for the majority of the day, BUT your weekends and evenings are your own to let your hair down – we’re in Cuba after all.

Weekends

Weekends will generally be free time. You’re welcome to stay and chill at the Casa or head off for a change of scene.

Backpacker favourites:

Watch a baseball match - baseball is as Cuban as hand-rolled cigars.
Head out on a road trip to Baracoa, Cuba's oldest city and first capital.
Visit Camagüey, built to stop on-going raids by pirates, the maze-like streets are slightly confusing, but nevertheless an amazing place of colour and culture.
Day trips to some of the best Caribbean beaches.
A night out to the Parisienne Cabaret Show at the iconic Hotel National – apparently this has to be seen.
Guided nights out to the salsa clubs.

Brothers on a mission

Yes, Cuba has opened it doors once again to step in and soak up the glorious decaying neo classical buildings, classic American cars in mouth watering colours, salsa (compulsory) and all the Caribbean heat and sounds you can muster…come on ... it's awesome and should be on everyone's bucket lis


But how about stepping beyond the tourist trail and getting into the local groove?

Well, you can now do just that through our seasoned all Cuban team led by brothers Leonel and Leandro. They are passionate about their country and want to see it fly once again, they want to show you the best bits, the troubled bits and everything in between...

Leaper's Highlights

Have a read of what our volunteers have been up to...

Cuba week 2 Caroline Kenney

Amigos y familia!

This concludes our second week here in La Habana Vieja and I think I can speak for all of us in saying, we have had an absolute blast. We have all learned a significant amount more Spanish from our Spanish lessons, have explored our stomping ground here in Havana quite thoroughly, and have become good friends with some of the people in the hostel as well. We have our favourite restaurants, know where to get the best deals on “limonada” and ropa vieja and have experienced much of the tourist area of Cuba so far. We have toured the various Plazas, have visited art museums and historical Cathedrals, and have learned much of the rich history of this beautiful city.

Although we have all loved our time here in the heart of the city, we are eager to get a broader perspective on life here. That is why tomorrow we will be leaving to visit the city of Viñales. As beautiful and enriching as Havana is, I anticipate that Viñales will feel much more authentic, as it is a smaller western town that lends itself to a more rustic and pastoral experience, from what I have heard. Here, we will continue our cultural exploration and immersion, go horseback riding to an authentic old school tobacco farm, and much more. After returning to Havana for just a couple hours to pack a new backpack, we will then finally start our volunteering endeavours in Playa Girón, and we couldn’t be more excited for it!

Till next time!

Adventure in Trinidad and volunteering in Havana Liz Reid

So now we have returned for our final 10 days in Havana, in which we will be volunteering.

We spent 2 more days in Trinidad since I last gave you an update. On Tuesday, we cycled to the coast – a classic Cuban picturesque white sanded beach where we spent most of the day in the sea and the beach bars that line the sand. On Wednesday, we went trekking on horseback along a disused rail track and through the countryside just outside of the city. We rode through the beautiful landscape – past banana and sugar plantations – and then trekked to a waterfall in which we went swimming. And despite the various aches and pains experienced the next day from the ‘caballos’ it was a fantastic experience!

Back in Havana have been helping out at a local children’s centre. On Thursday, having travelled from Trinidad to Havana, we went to cook with the children – making guacamole and sweet potato chips. Despite the limited resources that this centre has we made the most of everything there and saw with how little we were able to give the kids so much. We went back the next afternoon after Spanish classes to play games with the children – charades, musical chairs and other team games. This week we are starting work on a basketball court in Havana – repairing and repainting the facilities that are there already.

As well as the volunteering work, we have been keeping up the Spanish lessons every morning and have down time in the evenings and weekends spent soaking up the buzz and atmosphere of Havana for our final week here!

A day in the life of a volunteer in Cuba Liv Reid

In Playa Girón we started our volunteering; marine conservation, building a baseball field and catching the predatory lion fish which were introduced into the area by human error. Playa Girón is a small town on the coast, it wasn’t so much the historical significance nor the idyllic white sand beaches that blew me away but the tight sense of community and family – the ‘mi casa, su casa’ philosophy. The close community there were tightly bound by their strong sense of family and their love of music and dance.

Our group leader in Girón was the slightly ‘loco’ but loveable Alfonso who is involved with the local baseball team and therefore oversaw our work on the basbellito. Having worked on and off on the field, on our last day we played a game against the junior team. Despite the 10-15yr age gap, it’s fair to say that they claimed an emphatic victory.

We also volunteered to help out the local area by cleaning the beaches. We initially went around with rubbish bags just picking up what we saw and then later made rubbish bins to place around. Materials are very hard to source in the area, so we had to make do with whatever we could find – broken planks and small tree trunks – leaving the finished products looking rather… ‘abstract’.

Our third volunteering activity was hunting the lion fish around the coast. We snorkelled for the majority of the morning pointing out the fish to be speared and those that we caught we grilled and ate for lunch there.

As well as volunteering, we did find time also for some relaxation in the picturesque surroundings of Girón. This included snorkelling, swimming, bike riding and cocktail making. Alfonso took us to a natural clear water pool in the middle of a forest to swim and then to the coast to watch the sunset.

The gratitude and warmth which we received from the community in Girón was humbling. Alfonso threw two parties for us whilst we were there and the way which he spoke of the baseball field and the kid’s response to our work highlighted the importance of something, such as sports facilities, that are all too easily taken for granted at home.

Watch our videos

Cuba

Dance lessons in Cuba

Cuba

Casa Jakera

Cuba

Leap Accommodation

"What an amazing time "

After just arriving back from our boat trip i wanted to mention what an amazing time we experienced during outreach and the dedication and support of the leaders was more than any of us could have asked for.

We really couldn’t have asked for a better itinerary and we are so grateful for the unwavering enthusiasm and encouragment from both Will and Renne our leaders. The food was incredible and the leaders were always willing to make sure all our needs were met, we genuinely couldn’t have asked for a better time.

- Thea Cottrell

"​I highly recommend first time travellers to use the Leap"

The trip to Madagascar is incredible as you get to experience such a diverse, beautiful island. The locals are super friendly and life on camp is great as you start to feel like a family. As the leap is one of three volunteering schemes on the same camp it’s easy to make lots of friends. Scuba diving was the most amazing experience.

Teaching was very very rewarding and made it easier to make friends with the local community. As I was ill whilst out there I can honestly say that The Leap was definitely worth the price as I was cared for very well and had someone come to hospital with me and translate everything as well as being very kind and caring. Overall, Madagascar was an amazing trip and I will definitely go back.

- Lucy Newman

"The most incredible experience"

This 10 week programme was truly the most incredible experience, where I have made amazing friends and immersed myself in getting to know a whole new place and culture.

The camp itself has members of all different volunteer programmes, allowing you to develop incredible relationships with people from all over the world in such a unique environment. I did a month of marine conservation and a month of teaching. The marine conservation was beautiful, and being able to get an advanced open water PADI in marine protected areas of Madagascar was very special.

As for the teaching, this was something which was so special to me, it allowed me to become so connected with the community, and I created bonds with people that I will truly never forget. Seeing students progress over time was so rewarding and allowed me to develop such close relationships. The staff members are super relaxed and it really feels like your own community! Honestly the best experience!!!

- Izzy Proud

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