El Oriente. Eastern Cuba. Closer to Jamaica and Haiti than to Havana and Trinidad, El Oriente is rich with Afro-Cuban and indigenous traditions and graced with staggering landscapes unlike any other on the island. Author and photographer, Jim O’Donnell has led the Havana Imagined Photography Workshop for Espiritu Travel since 2016. He has photographed and written about Cuba for a wide range of publications from the BBC to Vrai Magazine and the Horizon Guides. Working with Cuban photographers and guides, Jim has created a colorful itinerary packed with photography opportunities that will allow you to fully immerse yourself in the unique universe that is Cuba’s Oriente. This photography workshop is a 10-day road trip open to all skill levels and camera types. This workshop, like all Espiritu Travel programs, are crafted to meet the criteria of the Support for Cuban people category of legal travel to Cuba for Americans by staying in charming casas particulares and B&Bs, eating at privately owned restaurants, and getting money into the hands of the Cuban people by directly interacting with farmers, fishermen, artists, dancers, musicians and more.
Day one: January 15, 2022 - Welcome to Cuba
Workshop leader Jim O’Donnell and a representative of Espíritu Travel will meet you at the airport upon your arrival. From there we will travel one hour by van to Bayamo where we will meet our Cuban hosts and check in to our casa particular. After you get settled in your casa, we will visit a one-of-a-kind workshop to see skilled craftsmen construct handmade carriages. We will meet for dinner in the colonial heart of Bayamo. After dinner, we will head out for our first photographic opportunities at Fiesta de la Cubanía, an ebullient street party, the likes of which are found nowhere else in Cuba.
Day two: January 16, 2022 - Landscapes and Culture of Sierra Maestra
After breakfast, we depart for Santo Domingo. Along the way, we will make stops along the way including at the home of a man who still makes coffee in the old way. Upon arrival at Santo Domingo, we will get settled in our casa before heading out to dinner.
Day three: January 17, 2022 – La Comandancía and the Road to Santiago
In the morning, for those who are up for it, we will depart at 10 am for a gentle hike through the Sierra Maestra mountains to reach Fidel’s former rebel hideout, headquarters for the Cuban revolution. Along with the way you will see rural mountain life. Once reaching the hideout, you will understand why it was never discovered. You can see the completely preserved huts where Fidel and Ché Guevara led the group of revolutionaries to ultimate victory in the Cuban revolution. Along the way will have plenty of opportunity for landscape and nature photography. We will return to Santo Domingo and have lunch at about 1:30 pm. From there will have an approximately three-hour drive to the city of Santiago de Cuba. Once we meet our Santiago hosts and settle into our casas, we will head to the dramatic San Pedro de la Roca del Morro fortress overlooking the Caribbean Sea for some astounding photographic opportunities and the sunset cannon-firing ceremony. After the sun goes down we will have dinner at a local paladar and prepare for a busy Monday.
Day four: January 18, 2022 - Santiago de Cuba
In the morning we will explore the historic neighborhoods of Santiago and visit El Avileño, the bright and colorful fruit and vegetable market in the heart of the city. After lunch at a local paladar, we will explore the Calle de la Santeria and experience a private photo session with Tumba Francesa, a Cuban/Haitian dance and culture group. We will have dinner and enjoy some evening music at a local establishment.
Day five: January 19, 2022 - More of Santiago de Cuba
We will depart early for Cayo Granma, an island fishing community. Working with a Cuban photographer we will photograph this island fishing community all morning. We will eat lunch on Cayo Granma before returning to Santiago. In the afternoon, we will visit a number of the area’s historic sites including San Juan Hill, Cuartel Moncada, and Cementerio Santa Ifigenia where both Jose Martí and Fidel Castro are buried. At the cemetery, we will photograph the military honor guard parade.
Day six: January 20, 2022 - Road-tripping to Baracoa via La Farola
After breakfast at our casas we will be on our way to Baracoa, Cuba’s oldest city, via Guantánamo. We will stop for lunch and a view of the American naval base at La Mirador. Our travels will take us up and over a stunning mountain pass and down into Baracoa, situated on a bay surrounded by mountains clad in the rainforest. After we settle into our casas we will stroll through the streets of Baracoa looking for photographic opportunities. After sunset, we will experience Baracoa’s unique cuisine at a local paladar.
Day seven: January 21, 2022 – Baracoa
In the morning, we will head to the mouth of the Yumari River to photograph fishermen at work, casting nets, cleaning fish, and repairing their boats. Before we leave, we will also take a short boat ride up into the Yumari’s stunning gorge. We will have lunch at a picturesque sea-side restaurant. The afternoon will be on your own to explore the neighborhoods and architecture of this 520-year old city. After dinner, there will be an option to enjoy still more music at Casa de la Trova.
Day eight: January 22, 2022 – More of Baracoa
Prepare for a busy day. In the morning we will travel to the village of El Güirito for a unique opportunity to photograph an indigenous (Taíno) community. Proyecto Kiriba y Nengón will talk to us about the traditions of Cuba’s original inhabitants and perform for us in traditional costumes. We will have lunch in the community. In the afternoon we will join a traditional quinceanera or, coming out party, for a young woman. We will be able to photograph her during her preparation and during her public walk. Dinner and the evening are open for you to explore Baracoa again on our last evening in this magical town.
Day nine: January 23, 2022 - Way off the Beaten Path to Gibara
After breakfast, we will make the trek to Gibara via the village of Biran, the birthplace of Ramón, Fidel, and Raúl Castro. We will visit their childhood home. After lunch, we will arrive in Gibara, a small, rustic, and somewhat run-down fishing town situated on the Bay of Gibara. Gibara is known as the “white village” due to the white buildings that date from the colonial era. Gibara offers beautiful landscape and architectural photographic opportunities. At sunset, we will visit the Fernando VII Battery, a fortification dating from 1817. Dinner in Gibara.
Day ten: January 24, 2022 – More of Gibara
This final day of our workshop is on your own. Walkabout town, visit the Museum of Natural History of the city, a mansion in which the Museum of Art, the Museum of Municipal History, and the Church of San Fulgencio are located. A recommended visit is the Armando Leyva Balaguer Library, the oldest in this province. Also consider the Playa de Caletones, a wild-west-style village along a jaw-dropping beach 17km west of town. In the evening we will enjoy drinks and have a slideshow of everyone’s favorite images from our road trip through eastern Cuba.
Day eleven: January 25, 2022 - Depart Cuba
After breakfast, we will travel for one hour from Gibara to Holguín airport. Time to say goodbye to Cuba. Extend your trip! If you would like to spend a few days relaxing on the beach after so much photography, Holguín province has some of the best beaches in Cuba. Let us know and we can arrange it for you.
We use charming casas particulares. All casas in our portfolio have private bathroom facilities and air conditioning, and we have hand picked our casas to ensure the highest standards and are well located.
Travel with a positive impact
Our “Take a Camera to Cuba” program will provide the opportunity for you to donate your old or unused camera equipment to Cuban photographers in need. With the help of your tour leader you will be able to discover the most spectacular Cuba. You will be able to see how Cubans really live in a unique and very personal experience.
Why travel with us?
Customized and private trip
We’re full of ideas and we take time to design a trip for you that ticks all the boxes. We have the knowledge and contacts to ensure that your trip is a once in a lifetime. Our five star guides bring Cuba to life through their personal stories and life experiences, They are all about showing you the real Cuba to discover things you won’t find out about any other way.
We pride ourselves on delivering an enriching ‘local’ experience in Cuba– and therefore we feel it’s our responsibility to leave a positive impact as well as reduce negative impacts. We are committed to working in a socially and environmentally conscious way, and making a positive difference. Click here for more details about our responsible travel journey.
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