Cuba at the Crossroads: A Snap-Happy Travel Itinerary for Photo Xpeditions

Cuba has long been a dream destination for many American travellers, and it is gradually becoming a genuine possibility. Relaxed regulations have made it easier for Americans to get to the island for reasons of cultural exchange, though unfettered travel is still some way off the cards. One thing is for sure; Cuba is on the cusp. A dramatic change looms ahead, though right now, much of what makes this country so special – the classic cars, undeveloped beaches, decaying yet beautiful buildings and inimitable atmosphere – is still very much present.

One of our clients, Photo Xpeditions, is enabling travellers to experience this fascinating nation through a new photographic workshop. And our team at World Words produced the web copy and travel itinerary around this. The nine-day tour takes in the country’s second-largest city, Santiago de Cuba; the lesser-known coastal city of Baracoa; labyrinthine Camagüey and many more places besides. Led by two professional (and award-winning) photographers with years of experience snapping and exploring Cuba, the workshop promises the chance for photographers to both experience and capture the island’s unique essence during this most interesting of times.

Fancy a taste of this photographic travel opportunity? Scroll on down to read an excerpt from our Cuba itinerary.

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Crumbling colonial buildings, thatched fishing villages and palm-covered peaks that sweep down to the sea – Cuba is a treat for photographers. And thanks to year-round sunshine, life happens outdoors: stoops fill like grandstands, alleys act as baseball diamonds for children, plazas as musicians’ stages and national parks as biological playgrounds. As relations ease with the US, Cuba is on the brink of a shift that will likely see it utterly changed within the next decade. For now, however, the island remains wholly unique: stunted but stunning.

Yet for all its camera-ready qualities, photographing Cuba isn’t without its challenges. Guiding photographers through the technical, practical and artistic processes during this workshop is Magdalena Solé, an award-winning social documentary photographer whose past projects have covered such diverse subjects as the aging day laborers of Kamagasaki, Osaka and the communities of the Mississippi Delta. She is currently working on a new photography book: Cuba: hasta siempre (Cuba: Forever). Joining Solé on the workshop is photographer Luis Alarcon, who specializes in introducing guests to an authentic Cuba away from tourism. Luis manages one of the most important Cuba YouTube channels for the Hispanic market, a product of his long-time experience in this beautiful and unexplored country.

DAY 1 – MIAMI – SANTIAGO
The adventure begins. Today we meet early at Miami international Airport for our charter flight to Santiago de Cuba. The workshop begins in Cuba’s second city. Here, you’ll wander the colonial center and visit the 16th-century home of Spanish conqueror Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar. Sip coffee and watch life unfold on a central square, Parque Céspedes, then admire the view over the bay from Balcón de Velázquez lookout.

A mid-day boat ride will bring you out to the speck-sized Granma Island, where you can mingle with the tight-knit island community, who are still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. Back on the mainland, investigate the bullet-scarred Moncada Barracks, where in July, 1953, a young Fidel Castro led his failed coup.

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DAY 2 – SANTIAGO DE CUBA
Head out onto the Santiago streets to further explore the city. Join locals at the farmers’ market, stroll through El Tivoli, where peeling houses exude a weathered colonial charm, and point your viewfinder onto the sun-bleached tombstones of Cementerio Santa Ifigenia.

Photograph the deteriorating mansions of the Vista Alegre district, where the wealthy pre-revolutionary elite once lived. You’ll also browse the exhibits at the Museo de las Religiones Populares, where you can learn about Santeria, an Afro-Cuban religion borne out of the slave trade. During your down time, you may want to experience the city’s music scene – unquestionably the best in the country. You’ll also have your first group meeting today, during which you can review your photography and set out your objectives for the workshop.

DAY 3 – SANTIAGO – GUANTANAMO – BARACOA
A scenic morning drive will include a stop-off in Guantánamo to find out about indigenous music at Casa de Changüí. Back on the road, we’ll skirt the coast and climb La Farola mountain pass – a mountainous road hewn out of the rock in 1965. Prior to this, Baracoa was only accessible by sea.

Upon arrival in Baracoa, get acquainted with the town and the sparkling bay, forests and mountains that surround it. Bring your camera and try to capture the fading afternoon light.

DAY 4 – BARACOA
On Day 4, our journey will take us east along the coast through the Túnel de los Alemanes (German tunnel) natural arch. We’ll emerge at Boca de Yumurí where the Yumurí River flows through a deep canyon into the Atlantic. After a boat ride through the canyon, we will continue on to the Playa Manglito beach and the remote village of La Maquina, where you’ll have the chance to chat with locals. You may want to bring along gifts – fishing equipment (hooks, lines etc.) will be particularly well-received.

On the way back to Baracoa, we’ll stop at a beautiful seaside village to photograph fishermen returning with their fresh catch at sunset.

Want to discover what PhotoXpeditions have in store for the last five days of the trip? Read the full itinerary here. Got something to say about Cuba? Let us know in the comments section or get in contact on Twitter.

Images: Luis Alarcon / Photo Xpeditions

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