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 Spelman and Carlos Otero Blanco 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 Sunday and after enjoying a late lunch outside of town, we 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. Our last full days allow time to visit different neighborhoods throughout this vibrant city. Our journey culminates on Sunday with a final evening celebration dinner and image presentation of our favorite photographs. We depart the next day and bid farewell to Cuba, until our next visit to this remarkable country.
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 educational program offers a cultural exchange with the Cuban people as well as a rich photographic educational experience. With your camera as your entrée into people’s lives, this inspiring week with Carlos and Jennifer expands your understanding of the inhabitants of this beguiling island and opens the door into less explored Viñales Valley.
True to the requirements of a people-to-people General License with U.S. Treasury Department, Tobacco Road: Valle de Viñales and Havana focuses on educational exchanges with the Cuban people and recording their amazing lives with our cameras.
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 2:00 pm on Sunday, February 18 and return to the U.S. from Havana on Monday, February 26 between 11:00 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 (five nights) the homes all have large front porches with wooden rocking chairs good for enjoying an early morning coffee. In Havana (three nights) we stay in a comfortable boutique hotel in Vedado located only a few blocks from the sea. All rooms are private and include private bathrooms.
$5,995 for up to six (6) travelers; $4,995 if the trip is full with seven (7) travelers. Includes single occupancy for eight nights ($200 discount for couples sharing a room/bed); full breakfast daily plus 10 included group meals. Airfare to/from Havana (airport code HAV) is not included, as well as additional meals, required Cuban health insurance, recommended travel insurance, and Cuban visa.
Jennifer Spelman is a 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 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 Romania, India, Mexico, 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.