‘Planet Cuba’ Photo Tour Workshop
I taught a workshop in Cuba with Luis Alarcón and I think he is a fantastic photographer, a great teacher, a fun person to travel with. Taking his workshop will make you a better photographer and also give you an intimate and unique access to Cuba.
— Magdalena Solé, Oscar-winning photographer, Man on Wire
Cuba has long been an island of intrigue, and since the time of Fidel a virtual ‘planet’ unto itself, stuck in a 1950’s revolutionary time warp. The initial attraction for travel photographers is its colorful streets, rumbling old American cars, crumbling Spanish architecture, and tropical scenery.
But there is so much more waiting to be discovered under the surface, and no one better to show you the ropes than Luís Alarcón. Cuba is his life’s work; he’s not just dropping in once a year to lead a photo tour! Luis cites his marriage to an “extremely Cuban” national and 20-year residency as critical to his insider’s perspective. An outstanding photographer, storyteller and teacher originally from Spain, his modern westerner’s perspective makes him the perfect bridge to cross for those willing to go beyond the picture postcards and into the authentic heart of Cuba.
Please Note: This Cuba photo tour is authorized by the June 4, 2019 U.S. travel sanctions under the ‘Support for the Cuban People’ license provision. Visa cost is included in the tour price, and we will deliver your visa diectly to you, whether traveling from the U.S. or from another country.
Will you still have plenty of classic, “picture postcard” opportunities? Of course! But you will also have the pleasure of going significantly deeper than you would on a typical Cuba photo tour, and who knows, perhaps discover a new and intriguing aspect of your own photography come to light.
Your Cuba photo tour / traveling workshop begins and ends in Havana, spending a total of four nights in this unforgettable city. In addition to the iconic places, you’ll get the opportunity to meet and photograph everyday Cubans in their homes; discover hidden communities; and take advantage of Luis’s very good nature to show you some special street photography locations. He’ll have a long list of photography surprises for you, don’t worry about that.
From Havana we drive to beautiful, bucolic Viñales, the most highly prized tobacco region in the world. It’s also a great place to experience the rural side of Cuban culture up close and personal. And for anyone who wants to try a Cuban cigar while photographing the harvest, please do so with our compliments!
After two nights in Viñales and a memory card change, we take the road to tropical Trinidad for three nights, via French colonial Cienfuegos. The popular and vibrant city, with its beautifully preserved Spanish buildings and horse carriages clippety-clopping along cobblestone streets, is also home to Cuba’s most lively music scene.
So – are you finally ready to explore the otherworldly life on Planet Cuba? And to take your photography to the next level in the process? There’s plenty of more details below so please have a gander and let us know soon!
The Amazingly Kind & Welcoming People of Cuba!
Havana’s Famous Malecon Wall
Exotic Ballet Dancers Shoot in a Colonial Palace
Insider’s Cuba w/ Luis Alarcón, including hidden communities
Live Street Photography Workshop
The Beautiful Rural Tobacco Region of Viñales
Gritty Havana Boxing Gym & Documentary Stortelling
Afro-Cuban Music & Street Dance
Magnificent Spanish & French Colonial Architecture
‘Planet Cuba’ Photo Tour Workshop
Day 1 – Havana – Bienvenidos a Cuba!
Saturday, the perfect time to arrive in Havana! We’ll meet today at 4:30 for a brief orientation before going out for a relaxed introduction to Havana street photography. Luis will offer techniques of humanistic photography including how to approach Cubans for street portraits. Then to the iconic boardwalk known as the Malecon Wall, always a great opportunity to interact with the Cuban people and take pictures.
Day 2 – Havana – Fishermen Afro-Cuban Dance and Hidden Nature
Sunday morning street photography finds Havana quite lively. Eventually we will end up in Hamel Alley to rock & shoot an Afro-Cuban dance show. Hamel is a small street dedicated to artistic expression – painting, sculpture, and dance. After a great lunch, this afternoon will find us in some of Havana’s most hidden corners, even discovering a surprising bit of urban nature.
Day 3 – Havana – Beauties, Boxers & Streets Less Traveled
This morning we’ll visit a former colonial palace to photograph beautiful ballet dancers in an exotic setting that just oozes colonial Havana. Then for an exercise in contrast, we hit an Old Havana boxing gym where your doc-as art images will tell a story of the “sweet science” which is such a great source of pride for Cubans. The rest of the day we will dedicate to street, portrait and architectural photography away from the main tourists spots.
Day 4 – Havana – Viñales – Tobacco Road Goes Fishing
After breakfast we take a 3-hour drive to Viñales, a small town Pinar del Rio, famous as the best tobacco growing region in the world. February and March are special months for the collection of tobacco, the valleys are green and full of activity. This afternoon will go off the beaten path to photograph at a small fishing village, and then to visit the “charcoal burners” for some striking environmental portraiture opportunities.
Day 5 – Viñales – Cowboys, Farmers & Rural Landscapes
Today we enter the heart of the picturesque Viñales Valley to capture its essentce at one of the best times of the year. Farmers harvesting tobacco, twisting tobacco, cowboys on horseback, beautiful landscapes, etc. You’ll even get the chance to puff on Cuba’s world famous export, gratis, right there where it’s grown! For lunch we’ll enjoy a traditional guajira meal in a farmer’s home. This afternoon is small village street photography, then a sunset shoot with fantastic views from one of Cuba’s most authentic restaurants.
Day 6 – Viñales – Cienfuegos – Trinidad – The Road to Tropical Trinidad
The UNESCO World Heritage site of Trinidad is next, via French Colonial Cienfuegos. In Cienfuegos we’ll stop for lunch and then check out “real Cuban life” on it’s most interesting boulevard. Arrive Spanish colonial Trinidad this afternoon. The city is considered by many the crown jewel of tropical Cuba, and is the most festive and music oriented city in the country. In addition to the photography w/ Luis, here in such an artistically rich & fun oriented town, you will have plenty of free time if you so choose.
Day 7 – Trinidad – Colonial Streets, Panoramas & Photos Humanistic
Morning of friendly and fun street photography with colonial building backgrounds, street portraits, optional artist’s museum. During the afternoon we will visit the great Manaca Iznaga Tower which offers panoramic photographs of the valley and the surrounding neighborhoods. We’ll then walk one of those neighborhoods – well away from the tourist zones – and have the opportunity to interact with local families and make that special, uniquely Cuban kind of humanistic photography.
Day 8 – Trinidad – Jungle de Cubanito, Photographer’s Choice
This morning we get back to nature de Cubanito, in a nearby jungle where we’ll have the chance to photograph birds and scenes in the verdant forest with a river running through it. There’s a swimming hole at the end of the trek, so be prepared if you want to take a dip! Luis will have several photographic choices today, and free time is always an option for those so choosing. After dinner Luis will lead an optional urban night photography workshop, starting at our spectacular colonial restauarant w/ the best piña coladas in Cuba!
Day 9 – Trinidad – Havana– Havana Road Trip & Panoramas
Sleep in a little before breakfast this morning if you please, or get up with Luis and engage in some new location street photography. Then it will be time to head back to Havana, with photo stops and lunch en route. In Havana, visit a colonial penthouse for panoramic veiws of the city, other small photo sessions, and go to see a very interesting Afro-Cuban priest. Tonight will be your special Farewell Dinner at Luis’s favorite Havana restaurant.
Day 10 – Havana – Parts Unknown – Portfolio Reviews & Homeward Skies
Early morning of optional street shooting and/or portfolio review. Luis will have kept up with your progress along the way, and he’s more than happy to offer a final overview of your image making with specific advice for continuing on your chosen photographic path. Bid your fond farewells to Luis and the lovely B & B family, and be ready to be picked up at the appointed hour to catch your return flight (if you can bare to leave!) home. You’ll miss this planet, no doubt. Viva Cuba!
*Please note the above Cuba photo tour itinerary is only a brief. It’s purposely flexible as to the day to day shooting schedule, to remain open to new opportunites as they arise. A 30+ page detailed schedule and information kit concerning traveling for photography in Cuba will be sent to all participants approximately 100 days prior to tour start date.
**All photographs on this website are by Luminous Journeys photographers or participants.
What’s Included in the Price of Your Cuba Photo Tour?
English & Spanish speaking professional photographer leader fees, local guide fees
Cuba Visitor Visa
All tour accommodation – high quality B & B’s
All tour related ground transport
All meals – dinner Day 1 to breakfast Day 10. Includes water & 1 drink (rum based cocktail, beer, local spirit, juice, soft drink)
Ample bottle water & refresh towels throughout
All tour related entrance fees
Extra drinks @ restaurant meals
Trip cancellation or medical insurance
Gratuities for hotel porters, local guide/driver
End of trip gratuities for photographer tour leader
More Knowledge – Better Pictures
The Cuban Black Ballet
The Cuban Black Ballet centers around religious dances that honor the African roots of the group. These are mainly to honor the “orishas”, or African Gods that are still very present in the Cuban society. Contrary to common belief, Cuba is a very religious country, and became more openly tolerant of religious practices in 1990.
Although the island is known mainly for traditional Ballet originally practiced by the Cuban bourgeoisie which existed before the revolution, there are still traditional dance groups, called “folklore”. The Black Ballet is a folklore group. It is mainly made up of dancers and musicians of African descent, and although it does do theater performances, they are most often busy performing in Afro-Cuban religious ceremonies. The dancers, singers, costumes and percussionists are essential to these performances of course, but it is the lead drums that take the show to its maximum intensity, often resulting in the dancers entering states of trance.
As far as visiting the Black Ballet to photograph them, it is entirely dependent on their schedule as they are often traveling around the island on relatively short notice. So – we to be a lucky! For now you can see some fantastic photographs of them on Luis Alarcon’s Bio page.
Viñales – The Best Tobacco on Earth
The red earth of Vinales is the protagonist in the history of this rural area of Cuba. Centuries ago Spanish emigrants, mainly from the Canary Islands, brought their knowledge of tobacco to this region. They also brought their many traditions, including music, cuisine, and even cockfighting.
Traveling to Viñales is to travel to a place of tranquility. In Cuba it is said that the people “of the countryside” have a great nobility and hospitality, and this can be felt in the interactions with them. They are always willing to talk, to invite us to a coffee, to meet the family, etc. From January to May Viñales is filled with green colors. This is the harvest period for the world’s best tobacco and a wonderfully active time to visit and take photographs. Even non-smoking travelers become captivated with the pleasure of sitting down to chat with tobacco in their hands, and even light up a cigar on occasion!
Only 180 Kilometers from Havana, Viñales has become one of the most important tourist centers in the country, offering horseback riding, cave exploration, climbing, organic cuisine and great scenery. But for our purposes on Cuba photo tour, will not be on the tourist routes much, but rather we will visit nearby small towns, friendly families, verdant farms, and other locations where the picture making possibilities are
Boxing – The Pride of Cuba
While baseball was a great love of Fidel and became Cuba’s national pastime much as it did in America, soccer has now become the number one team sport. Boxing however, remains the king of individual sports, and Cuba has a long and storied history of great Olympic champions which is a great source of pride for the Cuban people. There are numerous gyms where boxing is practiced from childhood, and it is impressive how this seemingly brutish sport is so full of discipline, order, and respect for the rival.
Boxing provides one of the few paths for young Cubans to rise above ordinary life and reach for the stars. The training is difficult and the condition of the gyms are not exactly world class. But they do provide an extra element of toughness, and the very real sense of rising up from nothing to make a name for themselves. And for those who do not rise to the top, they have gained valuable experience for living their lives with the heart of a warrior. In the best sense of the word.
We will visit one of the most well known boxing gyms in Havana on tour, and have great access to photograph the activities. Luis will offer tips on what to look for and to capture impressive documentary style images with the purpose of telling a story.