TRVL 300: Cuba Travel Course

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 will offer a Cuba travel course during the spring semester of 2018. The course aims to help 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 will be 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.


  1. Students will familiarize themselves with unique cultures and contrast their own values, opportunities and experiences with those of these groups.
  2. Students will understand the evolution of Cuba’s controversial communist system and will evaluate competing assessments – from academics, policy-makers, and laypersons - of the country’s political and economic institutions and outcomes.
  3. Students will understand the evolution of US relations with Cuba and the role these relations have played in outcomes for everyday Cubans and both governments.
  4. Students will situate 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 will meet 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 will have required readings and complete written assignments and presentations. During the trip, students will keep a journal addressing their experiences and daily reflection questions. After returning to MCLA, students will complete a project based on their knowledge of Cuba and their experiences in the country.


Students will be 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 play a large role in their final grade.



Cuba’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’ll use Havana as our base for the travel component of the course, spending about half of our time in the capital city.

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 will briefly visit 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 will get to know the town and its inhabitants and also visit 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’ll spend half a day hearing its stories and exploring its streets on our way between Trinidad and the Bay of Pigs

Bay of Pigs/Playa Larga

The Bay of Pigs – now home to the small town of Playa Giron – combines history, controversy, and natural beauty. We’ll dive 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 will be no more than $2,500 per student. This fee includes 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 $2,500 you could go to Cuba with no more than $25 of spending money. The cost of this trip will be 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 will be staying in homestays for our ten nights in Cuba. This means you will have the chance to get to know local families and obtain a more local perspective about life in Cuba. Most often there will be two to three students with each family and the houses will be located within walking distance of one another. All houses will have A/C.

Institutional partners

MCLA will be partnering 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 will help ensure your time in Cuba is fulfilling, fun, educational, and authentic.   

Getting around

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



Day 1/March 9th: after an early morning van ride from North Adams to JFK airport in New York City, arrive to Havana in the early afternoon and transfer to Centro de Habana, the neighborhood where your homestays will be located. After meeting your host families and settling in, we’ll do a walking tour of nearby sites, including the Washington-like Capitol building, Paseo del Prado and the ocean-front Malecon! After dinner with your host families, you’ll have the evening free to wander around.

Day 2/March 10th: After breakfast with your host families we will head 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’ll ferry 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 your host families, you’ll once again have the evening free.

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

Day 4/March 12th: After breakfast, head to a local hospital and school to learn about Cuba’s vaunted social services firsthand. Next stop is the Museo de la Revolución, Cuba’s monument to the military and social victories of the Cuban Revolution. You’ll be the judge of the extent to which the museum features ‘history’ vs. ‘propaganda’. After our group lunch, we’ll head 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 will be talking with small business owners about life in the newish and uncertain Cuban private sector. After dinner in your homestays, you’ll have another free evening.

Day 5/March 13th: Eat breakfast and then head back 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’ll head 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, you’ll be on your own for the rest of the day, including for dinner. Take advantage and strike out to some place missing from the itinerary or just wander, snap some pictures and journal in the park.

Day 6/March 14th: Grab and early breakfast and jump on the bus because we are road tripping out of Havana. Sleep or – better yet – watch Cuban life pass by during the three-hour bus ride to Santa Clara, where we’ll have lunch, tour the downtown, and then visit the memorial to all things Che Guevara. You’ll have 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 will be exciting. Once we’ve gotten our Che fix, we’ll get back on the bus for the remaining two hours to beautiful Trinidad. After a brief walking tour to get our bearings, we’ll grab a late group dinner.

Day 7/March 15th: Chat with your new host families over breakfast. Then, we’ll take a short drive into the country side, to learn about the evolution of Cuba’s historic cash crop, sugar cane. We’ll visit the plantations and mills of the Valle de los Ingenios, including Hacienda Manaca Iznaga. Back in Trinidad, we’ll have lunch, visit a local church and – fun twist – take a group salsa dancing lesson. After taking off your dance shoes, you can sample the famed Cuban cigars. Then, take the evening to explore on your own, including stipend money for dinner.

Day 8/March 16th: Bid Trinidad goodbye and head west on the bus. After an hour and a half we’ll arrive in downtown Cienfuegos, Cuba’s picturesque city with a French twist. As we talk colonial and revolutionary history, our guide will soak in the beautiful architecture and visit the Malecon, where posh mansions and sea breezes ring the Bay of Cienfuegos. Next, it’s back on the bus for another hour and a half to Playa (beach in Spanish!!) Larga for a group dinner before you check in to your homestays. The free evening that follows might be a great place to watch the stars with some sand beneath your feet.

Day 9/March 17th: After breakfast with your host families, it will be time to explore the infamous Bay of Pigs. Visit 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, don your swimsuit, grab a snorkel and leave the political controversies and complexities on shore at the beautiful beach of Playa Giron. Dinner is back with your host families in Playa Larga.

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

Day 11/March 19th: Eat breakfast, take a last walk, and then dry your tears as we travel together to Havana’s airport for our flight back to New York City.  From there we’ll be picked up and driven back to North Adams.  

FACULTY LEADER: Dr. David Cupery, Assistant Professor of Political Science. Professor Cupery -shown here in Havana - has spent nearly 3.5 years in Latin America, has visited all travel course destinations and is fluent in Spanish. In 2017, he brought a group of 16 to Peru, with visits to Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca and much more. Click here for more information on that travel course.



"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, 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, 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, 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, class of 2017


For 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