You'll work alongside Cuban university students on a valuable turtle conservation initiative in Guanahacabibes National Park. Learn from the inspiring community of artists and conservationists at Las Terazas. Bike through the breathtaking mogotes of Viñales. Explore the cobblestone streets and amazingly blue Caribbean coast in Trinidad. Hike the highest peak in Cuba while visiting the camp where Fidel Castro hid out with his rebels for 2 years before leading the 1959 revolution.
Venture to the isolated East Coast town of Baracoa and taste its delicious and renowned chocolate, coffee and coconut, while learning about the native Tainos, the island’s original inhabitants. Learn traditional Afro-Cubano dance and visit an impressive fort built to fend off pirates long ago, in the small city of Santiago de Cuba. Swim and snorkel in the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean and the Atlantic! Immerse yourself in Spanish and rapidly improve your ability to converse in the 2nd most widely spoken language in the world!
Its population of over 11 million is accustomed to receiving over 2 million visitors a year – just not Americans (yet). With six Unesco Biosphere Reserves, incredible water clarity, thousands of caves, three sprawling mountain ranges, the world’s second largest coral reef, a plethora of bird species, historically-rich towns and barely-touched tropical rainforest, there’s nothing boring about this archipelago. Geographically considered part of North America and culturally considered part of Latin America, the identity of the largest island in the Caribbean lies more in its years of isolation and unique history than its location.
This summer abroad program is suitable for high school graduates, gap year students, university students and graduates, ideally 18 – 24 years. Optional transferable academic credit is available on this program.
We rendezvous in Miami where you'll be met by your Pacific Discovery Program Instructor. We then fly together, to Havana, Cuba. After a comprehensive program orientation we’ll explore Old Havana (Habana Vieja) and learn about its historic plazas, fascinating architecture and admire its classic vintage cars.
A UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, this park is the only part of mainland Cuba where sea turtles – including loggerhead and green turtles – come ashore at night to lay their eggs, during summer. We will volunteer with the Intercultural Outreach Initiative, working alongside local students, and adopt the nocturnal existence of nesting turtles, to help conserve turtle eggs and improve the survival rate of the hatchlings.
Vinales is known for its mogotes (isolated steep-sided residual hills, composed of limestone and surrounded by nearly flat plains). While here, we bike through the limestone karst valley, visiting various caves and enjoying the unique topography. We’ll also do a sunset hike to the Valle de Silencio where we learn about medicinal plants (and their importance when Cuba was isolated after the fall of the Soviet Union), coffee and tobacco production. Cuba’s largest cave system (and the second largest on the American continent), Gran Caverna de Santo Tomas, also merits a visit before we take a day trip north to swim and snorkel in the bright blue-green waters of the Gulf of Mexico on Cayo Jutias.
Home to the late beloved Cuban musician, Polo Montanez, this small community and eco-village of 1000 people will host us for a few days. We will stay with families and learn how their community works, take a class with local artists, try zip-lining through the forest canopy, and go on one of the many beautiful hikes in the area.
Trinidad is one-of-a-kind, a perfectly preserved Spanish colonial settlement where the clocks stopped ticking in 1850 and haven’t entirely restarted. Among the salsa, son, rhumba and other distinct musical sounds that consistently resonate through the winding streets of this city, you’ll mostly hear the clop of horses' hooves on the cobble stones. We’ll tour the Valle de Los Ingenios (sugar refineries) on horseback, taking in the beautiful landscape and going for a dip in a lovely waterfall. We’ll also take horse buggies on a short trip South to Playa Ancon, the perfect spot to cool off in the Caribbean. The Casas we stay in here are spectacularly colonial.
Camaguey was founded on a street grid unlike any other Spanish colonial city in Latin America; in attempts to avoid the repeated pillaging by pirates, the city is made up of a winding labyrinth of streets and plazas. Here, we’ll visit some of the many artists’ studios that are unique to this city.
Bayamo is known as the city that kick-started Cuban independence from Spain, and we’ll learn about its historical importance, while also enjoying the typical Saturday night Fiesta de La Cubania, complete with pipe organs, whole roast pigs and dancing.
Pico Turquino is the highest peak in the Sierra Maestra, Cuba’s main mountain range. We will hike to and from its summit over a 3-day/2-night excursion, learning about the flora and fauna, enjoying the majestic views, and discovering the resonant history of the guerrilla war that raged throughout the region between 1956-1958. We’ll visit Fidel’s rebel hideout/headquarters and see where he planned the Revolution.
Baracoa is located in the spot where Christopher Colombus landed on his first voyage, and was thus named the original capital of the Spanish colony (although the island was already inhabited by the Taino people). Cut off by land and sea for nearly half a millennium, Cuba’s oldest city developed in relative isolation until a paved road was built in 1964. This is a great contributor to the different vibe that the East coast brings. We’ll swim where the Atlantic meets the Caribbean, sample the incredible local cuisine, and bask on the lovely secluded beaches. Oh, and of course there will be dancing!
We’ll finish our incredible adventure in this city known for its music and folkloric dancing. Spending a short stint as Cuba’s capital in the 1500s, Santiago’s close proximity to Haiti and the Dominican Republic give it a much stronger Afro-Caribbean flavor than the rest of Cuba. We’ll explore an old fort used to fend off pirates and take an Afro-cubano dance class. On our final day we fly to Havana and connect with our flights home (via Miami).
Note: Each week there will be some designated free time in a town or city so that you can catch up on email and laundry, rest, and explore independently with others in the group.
Guanahacabibes National Park is on a peninsula in the Western-most point of the island of Cuba. It is one of the country's largest natural reserves is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve globally recognized for its conservation value. It is home to almost 200 bird species, and experts believe that 4 of the 7 species of marine turtles living on the planet have survived in the Guanahacabibes Peninsula. The coastline also contains preserved coral reefs.
Working alongside Intercultural Outreach Initiative and the University of Havana's marine conservation team, we'll be volunteering, learning about, and supporting valuable turtle conservation initiatives. Be prepared for late nights, as we help nesting turtles lay their eggs in safe locations, guide hatchlings to their ocean freedom, and undertake bio-data surveys. We’ll also be helping on visitor impacts, species preservation and monitoring. You do not need any experience to undertake this work – just an interest in conservation and some enthusiasm!
Open to high school graduates, university students and graduates, ideally 18 – 24 years. This program is suitable for anyone of average fitness with an enthusiasm for conservation, new experiences and different cultures. It is an excellent option for students and graduates wanting to be exposed to and immersed in a culture different to their own. You don’t need to have had previous experience with international travel or any of the activities offered. You do not need to speak Spanish, but if you have studied Spanish this is a great opportunity for you to take your conversational ability to the next level!
The program is a shared group experience. We expect you to join the program with an open mind and a willingness to work together with your group mates to make the program an amazing experience for the whole group. Additionally, the program will be as much about the inner journey of personal growth and learning about yourself as it is about what you will experience in the outer physical journey. We expect you to be open to learning and challenging your ideas and assumptions.
Our accommodation will vary from simple family-run guesthomes (casa particulares) with shared facilities, to simple hotels with private bathrooms. Laundry and WiFi facilities will be available approximately once per week. Accommodation is diverse, comfortable and carefully chosen to fit our needs.
Meals are simple and healthy. Special dietary requirements and vegetarians are catered for. 85% of meals are included in the program cost. The remaining few meals are not included to allow a choice of when, where and what we eat. For the meals not included, you will have the option of dining out, or self-catering with others in the group. We recommend you budget the sum of $10 per day for snacks, drinks and meals not included in the program cost (approximately $300 for the program).
Visa; All scheduled program transport and travel (not including flights); All accommodation; Most meals; All activities, excursions, entry fees and adventure travel as described in the itinerary; Service-learning project in turtle conservation; Informal lectures from resident experts on environment, culture, history, and development; Experienced Pacific Discovery Program Instructors and local guides; Online image library for your program.