COVID-19 Update: For all in-person workshops and trips in 2023, Santa Fe Workshops highly recommends that all participants, staff, and instructors attending be up to date with Covid vaccinations (per definition of the CDC). For international trips, local laws will apply, so it is important that you confirm you will be fully vaccinated according to the countries on your trip.
Cuban cigars are widely accepted as the best in the world. What makes them so admired is a mixture of fact and fiction. The mystique of the Cuban cigar has been cultivated by Cuba itself, in part through the most legendary faces of the island—Fidel Castro and Ernest Hemingway. The reality is the tobacco plant is indigenous to the island and the climate and rich sandy loams of the Pinar del Río region are ideal for growing it. The first plantations arose in the 18th century and tobacco quickly became, after sugar, Cuba’s second most important crop.
Join Jennifer and Carlos for a well-planned program to Cuba’s most scenic region. Our Tobacco Road trip explores Cuba’s western-most province and the dramatic beauty of the Viñales Valley. We travel back in time to a quieter and simpler Cuba where small, independent farmers work family plots and use ox-power to plow their fields. Leisurely traversing the lush countryside, we meet the generous Cuban people to discover the essence of their lives and culture with our curiosity and our cameras.
We arrive in Havana on Thursday, January 26th and after enjoying a light lunch outside of town, depart by van to the verdant Valle de Viñales, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Our comfortable casa particulars are located a few blocks from the village center of tranquil Viñales and feature large front patios with rocking chairs perfect for unwinding after a day exploring in the countryside.
Over the next four days, we slowly meander through the beautiful landscapes. Our travels take us off the tourist path, exploring authentic fincas to engage with the humble local farmers and their welcoming families. We make photographs as they harvest their delicate tobacco crop and ready the broad, flat leaves to be hauled off by slow-moving oxen for storage before the sorting and drying process. We visit the communities of Minas de Mahatambre—a small rural town remembered for traditional copper mining—and nearby idyllic coastal villages to meet Cubans from all walks of life.
We take a different route to travel slowly back to Havana, stopping along the way to meet Cubans in small towns. Our last full day is a time to re-explore Havana and to visit some of the different neighborhoods, culminating that evening with a lively group dinner. We depart the next day and bid farewell to Cuba, until our next visit to this remarkable country.
This SFW Cuba program is open to amateur, advanced amateur and professional photographers. Enrollment is limited to eight participants.
Participants should be technically self-sufficient, as this is not a program to learn how to use your gear or editing software. Participants should be in very good health with good stamina and mobility, as long days are spent exploring—this means walking, sometimes for two to three hours at a time, occasionally up steep stairs, steep hills, and along uneven terrain.
Participants make their own air travel arrangements to arrive in Havana between 11:00 am and 3:00 pm on Thursday, January 26 and return to the U.S. from Havana on Thursday, February 2 between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm. Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Tampa are good connection points in the U.S. You may need to consider staying over the night before your Havana flight. Once the trip is confirmed, additional information and travel details are provided. SFW cannot help facilitate travel extensions.
Instead of staying in hotels, we will be enjoying a more authentic Cuban experience by staying in casa particulars (rooms in private homes). In Viñales the homes all have large front porches with wooden rocking chairs good for enjoying an early morning coffee. In Havana the homes boast stunning views of the city and the sea.
$5,995, includes single accommodations for seven nights ($200 discount for couples sharing a room/bed); full breakfast daily plus two lunches and three group dinners. Airfare to Cuba (airport code HAV) is not included, as well as additional meals, required Cuban health insurance, recommended travel insurance, and Cuban visa.
Jennifer Spelman is documentary photographer and member of the Jibaro Photos Collective. She is co-publisher of CubaSeen, a quarterly magazine showcasing photography and writing about Cuba.
Jennifer received her photographic training as an assistant with The Workshops, working with some of today’s most preeminent photographers: Jay Maisel, Norman Mauskopf and Joe McNally.
A sensitive photographer of people, Jennifer strives to create portraits with energy and insight. She is most at home on the streets of Havana and has worked with The Workshops across Cuba since 2011. Jennifer is a patient educator who has co- instructed with National Geographic Expeditions and taught workshops in Romania, India, Mexico and Japan, in addition to Cuba.
A popular workshop instructor, Jennifer is also part of our Mentorship Program »
Carlos Otero Blanco is a photographer who specializes in underwater photography. Despite the fact that Carlos left Cuba after finishing high school in Havana to study hydrogeologic science in a university institute of the city of Novocherkas, Russia, he recalls art was always his main interest. In fact, in the cruise ship that took him to the late Soviet Union, he was already shooting b/w film with a Zorki camera, one of the few available in Cuba in the 80’s. Carlos recalls that very soon after arriving to Russia, he was already doing extracurricular activities with the institute’s photographer and starting to learn the trade. So, back to Cuba with a university title, Carlos never really went into what he study abroad, but instead sold his old Moskvich soviet car and bought his first digital cameras. Since then, photography has been the main tool for his artistic drive, with a wide range of thematic interests that span from documentary photography, to portraiture, to conceptual art, and nature.
In documentary photography, Carlos is probably best known for his photographic study on Cuban bedrooms, with hundreds of these shot all over Cuba since 2009. This effort of years (still ongoing) has led to a specific book (“Dormir con…” [“To Sleep with…”], co-authored by Enrique Rottenberg), has been shown in several national and international exhibits, and in recently featured articles in the New York Times (Cuba’s Secret Bedrooms), other publications, and books on Cuban photography.
Carlos is also a deep lover of nature and adventure photography. He has done studies in subaquatic archeology, and holds several diving master and instructor international titles. In consequence, Carlos is a certified subaquatic photographer and video instructor, and has participated in apnea and diving productions, and has won prizes in three international subaquatic photography contests.
This workshop is currently full. Use this form to sign up for the waitlist, and SFW will reach out if a seat becomes available.