On Location

Picturing Cuba: Baracoa and Santiago

with Jennifer Spelman and Carlos Otero Blanco

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Course Description

There are a very few places in this world that are pure magic and Baracoa, Cuba is definitely one of them. Nicknamed “Cuidad Primada,” meaning “First City,” it boasts a special past dating back to the indigenous Taíno people, later discovered by Christopher Columbus, and then a significant history in many Cuban revolutionary movements. Today, Baracoa it is a relatively unknown paradise, boasting wide rivers, a breathtaking coastline, and friendly Cubans. Our adventures lead us through abundant scenery and into rich encounters throughout this beguiling city and surrounding countryside.

Return to Cuba with Santa Fe Workshops in a small group of no more than seven photographers to continue your photographic exploration across the island. Jennifer Spelman and Carlos Otero are your guides and mentors on this unforgettable journey.

After a flight from Miami into Santiago de Cuba, we settle into our casa particulars and then stretch our legs and focus on street photography in the bustling energy of Cuba’s second largest city. The next morning, we travel by private van over the La Farola highway, winding our way up the lush Sierra del Puril mountains before dropping down into Baracoa. Our travels lead us far into the surrounding countryside to engage in meaningful encounters with the gracious Cuban people as they go about their daily lives. We walk along the wide, shallow rivers to visit women washing clothing and families tending small farms. We take a river trip with small boats to access a remote area of coconut farmers. They invite us into their water-side homes for a cup of coffee and interesting conversation. Another day we travel through rural villages to the eastern-most tip of Cuba at Punta de Maisi and a visit the majestic Lighthouse overlooking the Caribbean.

After five days in tranquil Baracoa, we travel back along the La Farola highway for another evening in vibrant Santiago de Cuba. The next day we meet the people in beautiful Cayo Granma and a stop in El Cobre, a former mining village with a special history. Our trip concludes with a celebration and group dinner together. Join Jennifer and Carlos to deepen your understanding of this complex country, broaden your ability to create images that are visually compelling, and celebrate the stories of Cuba.

In alliance with Cuba’s premier photographic organization, Fototeca de Cuba, our unique program allows participants a unique experience in Cuba through the photographer’s eye. Our 9-day educational program offers a cultural exchange with the Cuban people as well as a rich photographic educational experience.

True to the requirements of a People-to-People General License with U.S. Treasury Department, Picturing Cuba: Baracoa and Santiago focuses on educational exchanges with the Cuban people and recording their amazing lives with our cameras.

Additional Information

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.


This SFW Cuba program is open to amateur, advanced amateur and professional photographers. Enrollment is limited to seven participants.

What You Should Know:

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.


View Payment, Refund, Withdrawal, and Transfer Policies for this International Program.

Nature & Landscape, One-of-a-Kind, Street Photography, Travel Photography
© Nerissa Escanlar
Jennifer Spelman

Jennifer Spelman is a documentary photographer. She is co-publisher of CubaSeen, a quarterly magazine showcasing photography and writing about Cuba.

Jennifer received her photographic training as an assistant with Santa Fe 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 Santa Fe Workshops across Cuba since 2011. Jennifer is a patient educator who has co-instructed with National Geographic Expeditions and taught workshops in Morocco, India, Turkey, Romania, Mexico, Japan, in addition to Cuba.

A popular workshop instructor, Jennifer is also part of our Mentorship Program »

Instagram: @jennifer_spelman

Carlos Otero Blanco

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.