TRVL 300: Cuba Travel Course

SPRING 2018Malecon_students
Travel dates: March 9-19, 2018
Dr. David Cupery

Destination introduction


Detailed itinerary

What participants have to say

For more information


Step back in time, immerse yourself in a vibrant, foreign culture, and dig deep into bucket-loads of controversy. Just 90 miles south of the Florida Keys, visiting Cuba feels like traveling a world away and decades back in time. And with fundamental political and economic changes possible in the near future, now is the time to visit. With this in mind, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts offered a Cuba travel course during the spring semester of 2018. The course helped students understand the country’s controversial political and economic systems and relationship with the U.S. while also exposing them to the rich cultural diversity of the island. This was accomplished through several weeks of on campus study and in-country visits to sites of historical and cultural significance and meetings with a broad array of local experts, activists, entrepreneurs, and artists.

LEARNING OUTCOMESHavana streets_Victoria

  1. Students familiarized themselves with unique cultures and contrasted their own values, opportunities and experiences with those of these groups.
  2. Students understood the evolution of Cuba’s controversial communist system and evaluated competing assessments – from academics, policy-makers, and laypersons - of the country’s political and economic institutions and outcomes.
  3. Students understood the evolution of US relations with Cuba and the role these relations have played in outcomes for everyday Cubans and both governments.
  4. Students situated the value of their travel within their larger college experience.

This is a 3-credit hour course and prior to and after the trip, students met weekly as a group with Professor David Cupery, the faculty leader of the trip, to study and discuss issues related to Cuban history, politics, culture and society. Students had required readings and completed written assignments and presentations. During the trip, students kept a journal addressing their experiences and daily reflection questions. After returning to MCLA, students completed a project based on their knowledge of Cuba and their experiences in the country.


Students were evaluated on the following: attendance at on-campus classes, participation in classroom and on-site discussions, quizzes, in-class presentations, travel journals, written reflections, and a final project. Students’ behavior during the travel portion of the course will also played a large role in their final grade.



Havana streetsCuba’s capital city is bustling with action and immediately brings you face to face with much of what makes the country unique. From crumbling yet magnificent architecture to ubiquitous revolutionary slogans and government propaganda Havana is sure to please lovers of history, politics and art.  And, from the energizing notes of salsa and rumba to palm trees and the ocean-hugging Malecon, the city also features plenty of fun.  We used Havana as our base for the travel component of the course, spending about half of our time in the capital city.

Santa Clara_Che_group

Santa Clara

Three hours west of Havana, Santa Clara is best known to outsiders as the place where Che Guevara made his name during the Cuban Revolution and was later laid to rest. We briefly visited the city to check out the Che Guevara monument, mausoleum and museum while also touring the quaint and friendly downtown.


Wake up to the click-clack of horse carts and step out into the cobblestone streets of Trinidad and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped centuries back in time. This UNESCO world heritage site provides a window into colonial Cuba and its quaint streets and historical buildings are easy on the eyes while also playing host to plenty of artists and museums. We got to know the town and its inhabitants and also visited the source of the city’s colonial wealth: the area’s now-abandoned sugar plantations.


Perhaps Cuba’s most attractive city, Cienfuegos is located on a beautiful south coast bay and features heavy French influence from the thousands of settlers that made it their home after leaving Haiti and other French colonial possessions in the Caribbean. We spent half a day hearing its stories and exploring its streets on our way between Trinidad and the Bay of Pigs

Bay of Pigs/Playa LargaGiron_group

The Bay of Pigs – now home to the small town of Playa Giron – combines history, controversy, and natural beauty. We dove into it all during two nights on this southcentral coastal location by visiting the government-run museum and also donning masks and snorkels to get ‘below the surface’ of the beautiful Caribbean.

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The cost of this trip was $2,250 per student. This fee included the following:

  • All transportation between North Adams and Cuba, including van travel between North Adams and New York City and direct, international airfare between New York City and Havana.
  • All transportation within and between cities while in Cuba, including travel on an air-conditioned, private bus between Havana, Santa Clara, Trinidad, Cienfuegos, and the Bay of Pigs.
  • 10 nights in double or triple, air-conditioned rooms in homestays
  • All meals in Cuba except for 2 lunches and 1 dinner
  • Local guides, speakers, entrance fees and entertainment
  • Cuban tourist visa
  • Travel health insurance

Basically, after paying the $2,250 participants could go to Cuba with no more than $25 of spending money. The cost of this trip was paid in four installments between the end of September, 2017 and the end of January, 2018.

Some scholarship support is available. Click here for more info.


We stayed in homestays for our ten nights in Cuba. This gave us the chance to get to know local families and obtain a more local perspective about life in Cuba. Most often there were three to four students with each family and the houses were located within walking distance of one another. All houses will had A/C.

Institutional partners

MCLA partnered with Tsikbal International Educational Agency for our time in Cuba. Tsikbal is headquartered in Mexico and has a long history of overseeing long-term study abroad programs of US institutions in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. They also have extensive experience organizing shorter-term study trips to Cuba, as well as other Latin American countries. Their local contacts and guides ensured our time in Cuba was fulfilling, fun, educational, and authentic.   

Getting aroundU de Havana_group

We used a comfortable, air-conditioned transportation between cities and took taxis or other local transport for some of the longer-distance journeys within Havana. But, it is worth noting that the trip featured loads – 5-10 miles/day – of walking. The major perk of all of this walking is you get to see a lot more of Cuban life up close. As we passed markets, schools, parks, and apartment blocks we saw and hear people going about their daily lives.



Day 1/March 9th: after an early morning van ride from North Adams to Boston Logan Airport, we arrived in Havana in the early afternoon and transfered to Centro de Habana, the neighborhood where our homestays were located. After meeting our host families and settling in, we did a walking tour of nearby sites, including the Washington-like Capitol building, Paseo del Prado and the ocean-front Malecon! After dinner with our host families, we had the evening free to wander around.

Plaza de la Revolucion_groupDay 2/March 10th: After breakfast with our host families we headed straight to Plaza de la Revolución, full of revolutionary fervor and monuments to Che Guevara, Jose Marti, Camilo Cienfuegos and other Cuban independence and revolution-era heroes. After lunch we ferried from Habana Vieja to Regla neighborhood to get personal with local hip hop group Obsession (check them out here) and discuss social and political problems faced by Cuban artists. After dinner with our host families, we once again had the evening free.

Day 3/March 11th: We ate breakfast at home and then walked to the prestigious University of Havana, where we received a campus tour and a lecture on US-Cuba relations from a local professor. After lunch, we heard from Afrika Queen, a Cuban artist and performer that works with Spoken Word. Our conversation with her covered gender, racism and more. After a group dinner at Café Brown, we enjoyed an evening of music and the arts at the hip Fabrica de Arte Cubano.  

Day 4/March 12th: After breakfast, we headed to a local hospital and school to learn about Cuba’s vaunted social services firsthand. The next stop was the Museo de la Revolución, Cuba’s monument to the military and social victories of the Cuban Revolution. Students were left to be the judge of the extent to which the museum features ‘history’ vs. ‘propaganda’. After our group lunch, we checked out the bohemian area Callejón de Hamel, for a close up and conversation regarding African influence in Cuba in the form of music, Santeria and more. Our last group activity was talking with small business owners about life in the newish and uncertain Cuban private sector. After dinner in our homestays, students had another free evening.

Fusterlandia_studentsDay 5/March 13th: After breakfast we returned to the University of Havana, this time for a lecture on the Cuban political and economic systems by a local professor. After the lecture, we headed to the outskirts of Habana to Fusterlandia, a funky, art-defined neighborhood. Next, see how affluent Cubans and expats live as we tour the Miramar neighborhood. After lunch as a group, we hopped in a line of classic cars for a driving tour of the city. Students were given the rest of the afternoon and evening to explore on their own.

Day 6/March 14th: We grabbed an early breakfast and jumped on the bus to road trip out of Havana. We watched Cuban life pass by during the three-hour bus ride to Santa Clara, where we had lunch, toured the downtown, and then visit the memorial to all things Che Guevara. We had read about this enigmatic, revolutionary character, so having a chance to put a face (well, only in the form of monuments, pictures, etc) to the controversy was exciting. Once we'd gotten our Che fix, we got back on the bus for the remaining two hours to beautiful Trinidad. After a brief walking tour to get our bearings, we grabbed a late group dinner.

Day 7/March 15th: We started our day with a short drive into the country side, to learn about the evolution of Cuba’s historic cash crop, sugar cane. We visited the plantations and mills of the Valle de los Ingenios, including Hacienda Manaca Iznaga. Back in Trinidad, we had lunch, visited a local church and – fun twist – took a group salsa dancing lesson. After taking off our dance shoes, students had the chance to sample famed Cuban cigars. After dinner at a beautiful hilltop restaurant most of the group took in live salsa music.

Day 8/March 16th: We bid Trinidad goodbye and headed west on the bus. After an hour and a half we arrived in downtown Cienfuegos, Cuba’s picturesque city with a French twist. As we talk colonial and revolutionary history, we soaked in the beautiful architecture and visited the Malecon, where posh mansions and sea breezes ring the Bay of Cienfuegos. Next, it was back on the bus for another hour and a half to Playa (beach in Spanish!!) Larga for a group dinner before checking in to our homestays. The free evening that followed was a chance to take in the countryside stars, with or without some sand beneath our feet.

Day 9/March 17th: After breakfast with our host families, it was time to explore the infamous Bay of Pigs. We visited the government-run museum to learn the Cuban version of the time the U.S. sponsored a failed, counterrevolutionary invasion of Cuba. Then, after lunch, we donned our swimsuits, grabbed snorkels and left the political contrCapitolio_groupoversies and complexities on shore at the beautiful beach of Playa Giron. Dinner wass back with our host families in Playa Larga.

Day 10/March 18th: We ate breakfast and then boarded the bus for the two-hour journey back to Havana. We had a group dinner that evening to celebrate the last night of a fascinating time in Cuba. But, before that students had a nice chunk of free time to buy souvenirs, catch up on journaling, or take a last stab at exploring unchartered territory.

Day 11/March 19th: We traveled together to Havana’s airport for our flight back to New York City, where we were picked up and driven back to North Adams.  

Havana_CuperyFACULTY LEADER: Dr. David Cupery, Assistant Professor of Political Science. Professor Cupery -shown here in Havana - has spent over 3.5 years in Latin America and has been to 36 countries in all corners of the globe. He has visited all travel course destinations and is fluent in Spanish. In 2017, he brought an MCLA group of 16 to Peru, with visits to Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca and much more. Click here for more information on that travel course.



"Professor Cupery’s travel course to Cuba was by far the most memorable and impactful experience of my time as an undergraduate student. Pulling from all aspects of the liberal arts, we first studied and then experienced the art, history, culture, economics, and the authentic day-to-day lives of the Cuban people we stayed with. Professor Cupery ensured that the trip was safe and exciting, while encouraging us to be both mindful of our surroundings and allowing us to explore and tailor our free time to our individual interests. This trip was a life-changing, mind-expanding experience that I would recommend for anyone!"

~Henry Ayles, Cuba 2018, class of 2018

"Going to Cuba with professor Cupery was a life changing experience. The trip struck the perfect balance between learning about the history of Cuba and experiencing the culture firsthand. Every day we had new unforgettable experiences, whether it was attending a lecture from a Cuban University Professor or snorkeling by the Bay of Pigs. Professor Cupery’s planning made the wildly new experiences feel fun and comfortable. I would highly recommend a trip with Professor Cupery to anyone who wants to experience the history and culture of a foreign country."

~Sam Payne, Cuba 2018, class of 2018

"Prof. Cupery’s Cuba travel course was well-planned, thoughtful, and fun. The classes leading up to traveling in March were packed full of information that complemented things we learned in Cuba. Prof. Cupery fits so much into 11 days of travel but I was rarely overwhelmed and always excited for what was next. If you have never traveled before or if you are a well seasoned traveler, there is something that you will love with this travel course. Prof. Cupery plans everything efficiently, looking for savings where he can and getting the best value for his students. Based on my exceptional experience in Cuba, I highly recommend going to Mexico with him."

~Victoria Munoz, Cuba 2018, class of 2019 

"Traveling to Cuba with Professor Cupery’s class was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life. Professor Cupery made learning about the history, art, culture, and economics of Cuba fun through this unforgettable course. Each day was packed with places to go, things to do, and people to learn from. We had the opportunity to stay with locals, a chance to explore the streets of Havana, go dancing in Trinidad, swim near the Bay of Pigs, and speak with University Professors, artists, private business owners, and so much more. This course was developed to not only be incredibly educational, but also fun and enriching. If you’re looking for a life changing experience I would highly recommend taking a travel course with Professor Cupery."

~Cassandra Lavoie, Cuba 2018, Class of 2018

"I've gone on travel courses before, but my trip to Peru with Professor Cupery was the best. He ensured we experienced and learned as much as we could, while still providing time for us to relax or explore independently. I also loved how he planned it so we weren't just tourists, but really allowed us to immerse ourselves in the culture by attending local events and markets. All around, I wouldn't trade the experience for anything."

~Samantha Giffen, Peru 2017, class of 2018

"Traveling abroad with Professor David Cupery was one of the greatest experiences I have had the joy of embarking on. From his knowledge of the cultures, his strong interpersonal skills, to his well-thought out and detailed itinerary you’re sure to enjoy every step of the trip and learn a great deal about a culture very different from our own."

~Anthony Corbett, Peru 2017, class of 2018

"Traveling abroad with Prof. Cupery will be the most memorable three credits you’ve ever earned. Prof. Cupery is well-organized and meticulous in planning his trips, so you’ll experience beautiful and electrifying destinations in a way that won’t keep your mom awake at night. In the classroom portion he’ll impart you with interesting and important information about the country. Then all you have to do is pack your bag, make some room in your camera, and have a bon voyage."

~Anika Pommers-Dear, Peru 2017, class of 2017

"Professor Cupery’s Peru travel course was exciting, well-balanced, and efficiently planned from start to finish. I felt completely safe under his supervision. His ability to communicate with locals and the depth of experience he has traveling in South America make him the perfect person to run a travel course like this. I had an amazing time in Peru and wish I could join the Cuba course as well!"

~Diana Faulkner, Peru 2017, class of 2017


victoria and cassieFor more information, please contact:
Dr. David Cupery
Department of History, Political Science and Public Policy
Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts
375 Church Street
North Adams, MA 01247
Phone: 413-662-5493

Faculty page