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Cuba

Culture + Community + Spanish

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Itinerary Options

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Looking for something more flexible? Get in touch and we'll chat through options more suited to you.

Discover Cuba

Enter the time warp and practise your tango.

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 explore.

Cuba has experienced major upheavals and challenges in its recent history and its current changing political landscape means that for the first time in several generations, Cubans can now own their own property, engage in private enterprise and even talk to visitors, things are looking up.

No-one knows where this will take Cuba in the long term, but for now it means it’s never been easier to visit, learn Spanish, volunteer and enjoy one of the most unique and exciting countries in the Caribbean.

Venture into this neoclassical delight to learn Spanish, contribute to community projects and enjoy one of the most unique and exciting countries in the Caribbean.


Program Itinerary

This program provides the opportunity to explore this historic island whilst contributing to projects aimed at keeping communities tight and thriving. Spanish lessons will be part of your time here as you will need to know the basics for community interaction.

The following is a sample itinerary.

Overview

Havana

Welcome to Havana

Your base will be in the heart of Old Havana – a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This area is a myriad of gorgeous neoclassical buildings packed with local people living cheek by jowl. At street level, there is a constant musical buzz floating out from the many hip bars scattered throughout this popular neighbourhood.

Get ready for some fun.

Accommodation

You will live in a large apartment in a neoclassical tenement building in Old Havana.

Food

Breakfast and lunch provided, expect a healthy mix of rice and beans with veggies and salad. Lots of fruit and bread. Meat occasionally.
Dinner is not included but you are welcome to cook in the house or eat out.

Wks 1 - 2

Old Havana Spanish + Exploring + Community

Explore, Spanish and Art

Your first 2 weeks in Havana will be a mix of cultural exploration with Spanish, dance and a community art project:

Exploring Old Havana
Led by our amazing guides you will head off the beaten track to explore. With their contacts and knowledge, you’ll have access to parts of Havana not on the tourist trail and we guarantee you’ll meet some fascinating local Cubans.

Dance and Spanish
So you can make the most of your time here we have arranged for you to have a couple of dance classes to take you through a few basic moves and every morning, during the week, some Spanish lessons so you can confidently communicate with everyone, as English is not widely spoken.

Peseo del Prado
At the weekend we have arranged for you to be part of the Arts and Crafts Project on the Paseo del Prado Boulevard. Artists come from all over Cuba to help motivate and share their creativity with the local kids, setting up workshops to draw and turn waste into masterpieces. You'll help here by encouraging the children to join in and start creating with them.

Wk 3

Central Havana Community development

Community Development

During this week you will choose to work on one of the following projects:

Refurbish Community Centres
We sponsor three different community centres in Havana, where kids in need are being cared for.

The centres are a 'home away from home' for kids whose domestic circumstances are difficult. As well as hands-on renovation to make these buildings fit for purpose and an inspiring place to hang out, you will help pack the centre with after school clubs, homework supervision and teaching English, drama and music.

Sports Complex Development
El Complejo Deportivo is best known for their famous baseball players and is a central facility within this city, hosting sporting events for schools, sports clubs and all the community centres in Havana.

Here you will work side by side with the local teams and athletes to improve the facilities and organise matches for kids in need.

Overview

Playa Giron

The Caribbean's Largest Wetlands

After your cultural fix in Havana it’s time to head to Playa Giron on the coast. Playa Giron gained new found fame after the ‘Bay of Pigs’ invasion in April 1961, but the area is equally renowned for its amazing beaches, marine life and the ‘Gran Parque Natural Montemar’, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, which contains the largest wetlands in the Caribbean, home to flamingos, manatee, crocodiles and the world’s smallest bird, the bee hummingbird.

Accommodation

You'll live with a local family. Expect 2-4 volunteers per family.

Food

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

Wks 4 - 5

Gran Parque Natural Montemar Community + Conservation

Community and Marine

While you are down at the coast you will help with our community projects in town and at the beach.

Renovate a Community Baseball Arena (80% of your time)
Baseball is the national game in Cuba and is central to a happy community. You will be part of our ongoing project which is developing a pitch for the junior members to reboot their love of the game and to keep the community spirit tight.

Marine Conservation with the Cuban Red Cross (20 % of your time)
You will also help the Cuban Red Cross and the International Dive Centre with protecting the marine park from litter and the over-populated Lion Fish. Lion Fish are decimating the indigenous species across the Caribbean and have no natural predator apart from us!

The best way of keeping their numbers down is by spear fishing which is an easy job as they are an acutely lazy, sand hugging fish.

Wk 6

Trinidad and Vinales Adventure

Adventure Inland

Whilst you are down south we will take you on a couple of adventures to explore inland.

Trinidad
Trinidad is a stunning UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the Caribbean's best-preserved towns from the sugar-trade and Spanish colonialism era. Expect pastel coloured houses, pretty churches and cobbled streets. Stunning.

You'll be based in town and everyday head out to experience:

  • Cycling around Playa Ancon via some ‘off the beaten track’ villages and stunning beaches.
  • Hike from Trinadad to the El Cubanito waterfall and caves.
  • Culture class on the origins of Cuban dance, music & theory.
  • Best salsa clubs in the world.
  • Half day horse drawn buggy trip to Valle de Los Ingenios (sugar mill valley).

A Weekend in Vinales
Viñales is a peaceful, charming town set in the central western region of Cuba, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site owing to the outstanding landscape, traditional architecture and agricultural techniques still used and famous tobacco farms where you'll see the cigars being created.

Accommodation

Local hostels and family home stays.

Food

Breakfast only provided.
Lunch and dinner will be extra at one of the local cafes.

Program Details & Costs

We have four departures to Cuba throughout the year: January, April, July and September for 6 weeks where you can do everything described above, however it is possible to go for less time to accommodate your needs. Just get in touch.

Depart Jan, Apr & Sep

2018: 3 Sep

2019: 3 Jan, 4 Apr

Costs

6 Weeks

2018: £27182019: £2718

Depart July

2018: 2 Jul

2019: 2 Jul

Costs

6 Weeks

2018: £27042019: £2718

Dates Don't Suit?

Don't worry - we can work around this, just get in touch and we'll chat through options more suited to you.

Social Life

The house in Havana can accommodate up to 35 volunteers, 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.

Spanish & Dancing

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

Contrast

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 (apart from when you are helping with the weekend art project) 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 house 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 Maria la Gorda, renowned for its diving, idyllic beaches and laidback vibe.
  • 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.

Brothers On A Mission

Yes Cuba has opened it doors and everyone, apart from the Americans, can step in to 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 list.


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, getting you involved in community projects which will put the zing back into many peoples lives.

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

September 2017. Credit to Caroline Kenny

Cuba

Culture, Spanish and salsa

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