Rightly famed for being the most musical nation on the planet, Cuba is a nation frozen in time. Full of decaying, neoclassical buildings and vintage American cars that make its capital - Havana - a constant joy to explore, Cuba has experienced major upheavals and challenges in its recent history.
A 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.
Your base for the first 2 weeks will be in the heart of Old Havana – a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The 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 in the many fantastic bars scatted throughout this popular neighbourhood.
Your time in Havana will be a fascinating mix of cultural exchange and exploration lead by our amazing guides, including Jose Blanco Ramirez, otherwise known as VIANKO. Painter, poet, humourist and writer, Vianko is a celebrated academic with the University of Havana.
With his 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.
You will live with all the volunteers in a large 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 (think shabby chic). Inside however, the apartment is very comfortable with a spacious, nicely furnished sitting room and a large open-air atrium that leads to the dining room and kitchen where meals and your Spanish lessons will take place.
After your cultural fix in Havana it’s time to head to the southern Caribbean shores of Cuba to Playa Giron which gained new found fame after the ‘Bay of Pigs’ invasion in April 1961.
But before and since Playa Giron remains famous 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.
A great destination.
Trinidad, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is one of the Caribbean's best-preserved towns from the sugar-trade and Spanish colonialism era. The architecture is beautiful with pastel coloured houses, pretty churches and cobbled streets.
Around Trinidad there are plenty of things to see: the beautiful El Escambray mountains; Casilda Bay and it's nearby islet with crystal clear waters, white sandy beaches with fantastic diving and snorkelling opportunities and the Valley de los Ingenios (the Valley of the Sugar mills).
Every day you’ll head off on a different activity to explore and enjoy this amazing destination, including;
A 10 km cycling tour to Playa Ancon via some ‘off the beaten track’ villages and stunning beaches.
Half day 5 km hike from Trinadad to the El Cubanito waterfall and caves.
Culture class on the origins of Cuban dance, music & theory.
Guided night out to some of the best salsa clubs in the world. Live open air bars and tiny indoor clubs, our guides will take you to the best places depending on the night this falls on, and the grand finale will be the famous Cave Club, high above the town.
Half day horse drawn buggy trip to Valle de Los Ingenios (sugar mill valley). Visit the impressive open air museum. Take a trip back in time andenjoy this humble and ancient form of transport that still rules in Trinidad as the most popular way to get around.
Every Sunday on the Paseo del Prado Boulevard, artists set up workshops to share their creative talent with local kids for free. On any given Sunday, there are 40 or more artists and literally hundreds of kids drawing and painting using various materials, including up-cycling all manner of waste materials into sculptures and imaginative objects.
Part of our ‘donation initiative’ is to contribute to the energy and excitement of this event, by making discreet donations of materials and organising for you to assist the artists by offering guidance and encouragement to the kids.
Attendance is entirely voluntary, so you will need to use your imagination and fledgling Spanish language skills to encourage kids to get stuck in.
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 this building fit for purpose and an inspiring place to hang out you will help pack the centre with after school clubs, homework supervision, teaching English and drama and music.
Sports Complex Development
El Complejo Deportivo is most famous for the baseball players it has produced, this public sports facility hosts sporting events for several different schools, sports clubs and all the community centres in Havana, making it an extremely important facility.
Here you will work side by the local teams and athletes to improve the facilities and organise local matches for kids in need.
Here you will assist the Cuban Red Cross and the International Dive Centre with protecting the local beaches and shallow waters of the marine park from discarded litter and the lion fish endemic.
The main way of doing this is by snorkelling - using Hawaiian slings to 'spear' both the over populated Lion Fish and garbage laying on the reef, below the low tide mark. Tackling the beach – a bin bag does the trick.
Lion Fish are an introduced species with no natural predator. If you google it you will see that they are decimating indigenous species across the Caribbean. We are, in fact, their only predator! Spearing is an easy job as they are an acutely lazy, sand hugging fish.
While you’re there you’ll also participate in underwater surveys to log endangered species and changes to reefs and rates of growth.
We are currently midway through this large and ambitious development project in Playa Giron where the need was clear: Playa Giron’s baseball community was neglecting its junior members leaving them to practice and compete on unsuitable and hazardous wasteland. As a result the junior members don’t develop their key game skills leaving them unmotivated, unfocused and unable to compete in anyway.
You will work alongside the local community to breath life back into this facility and reboot the community spirit.
There are 2 dance classes per week (in Havana, weeks 1-2) – each approximately one hour long, during which you will be taken through your paces; learning Salsa, Son, Rueda de Casino, Mambo, Cha Cha Cha, the Rumba and perhaps a few other moves you haven’t heard of. Included in the cost.
The lessons are a short walk from your Casa, by a licensed dance instructor, and in the evenings there are MANY free live music venues where you can do your homework!
When you're in Havana (in weeks 1-2) you'll receive 3 hours of intensive group Spanish lessons, Monday to Friday. We consider this to be an integral part of the program, as direct interaction with the Cuban's, in our experience, makes for a more rewarding and enjoyable experience.
On arrival, your Spanish level will be assessed and the group assigned to beginners or intermediate classes. Included in the cost.
Cuba lies between the Atlantic (to the North) and the Caribbean (to the South). It is quieter than many Caribbean islands because of the difficulties of getting here from America. There are many diving areas along its 5646 km of coast. The Isle of Youth (Isla de la Juventud), for example, is a marine reserve, which is sheltered from the prevailing South East winds. It has caves, drop-offs and wrecks.
Our partners at the International Dive Centre, can arrange an intro dive for you for about 45 cuc and/or a full scuba padi course.
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. Our host in Cuba is an adventure outfitter and perfectly placed to get you organised:
Baseball Match Baseball has long been considered as Cuban as hand-rolled cigars! The Cuban national baseball team has won gold or silver in the past five Olympic games.
Road Trip to Baracoa On the eastern tip of Cuba within Guantánamo Province, Baracoa is the oldest Spanish settlement in Cuba and was its first capital.
Viñales South West of Havana lie Cuba’s famous tobacco farms in Viñales. Surrounded by a unique karst valley (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), tobacco plantations and atmospheric caves.
Maria la Gorda Further along to the southwest tip of Cuba, renowned for its diving, idyllic beaches, untouched nature and laidback vibe, Maria la Gorda is the perfect spot to while away some time under the Cuban sun.
Camagüey Also in the south east, built to stop on-going raids by pirates, the maze-like streets of Camaguey are slightly confusing, but nevertheless an amazing place of colour, culture and discovery. Yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We have four different teams departing for Cuba each year: January, April, July and September. Typically the program is six weeks long, taking in all the sights and experiences you'll find described on this page with plenty of downtime for you to explore the country as you please.
Particularly popular is the July departure date, which because of its timing and six-week duration, is an ideal fit for that gap between A-Level exams and results day, or for those on university summer holidays.
Want to join the six-week program and leave early? No problem, get in touch and we'll help you sort something out.