Program Details

Location: Havana, Cuba

Dates: Spring 2020: April 8–May 22, 2020

Accommodations:  Primarily camping, occasional youth hostel or rural lodge.

Credits: 15 quarter credits or 10 semester credits

Language: English instruction

Courses: ESCI 437A, ESCI 437B, ESCI 437C

Prerequisites: One college level course of ecology or similar,
18 years of age

Program Costs

Cuba Spring 2020
$      150    Application Fee
$   5,500    Program Fee
$   3,100    Estimated In-Country Group Fee
$   1,000    Estimated Airfare
$   1,000    Estimated Food Money/Personal Spending

$10,750    Total Estimated Cost
Spring 2020: Program fees due by February 1, 2020


The Program

In spring 2020, our team will embark on our first program in Cuba to investigate the unique ecosystems, diverse marine and terrestrial life, and rich culture of the largest island in the Caribbean archipelago. Through field studies, independent projects and seminars, participants will engage in a field study across one of the most biodiverse and unspoiled islands in the world. We will travel from coast to coast, traversing emerald green mountains awash with virgin forests, meet local communities and learn about the unique traditions of one of the most culturally rich nations on the planet. It will be a journey of learning and exploration—ecologically and socially—as we delve into a country caught in a time warp, where the amenities of the western world are but an unattainable dream. We will evaluate how the imminent economic changes Cuba faces could threaten both its wildlife through increased tourism and consequent wealth and development. 

Cut off from the western world for decades, with its unparalleled culture and unique history, Cuba is an unexplored gem in the Caribbean archipelago. Historically forbidden to citizens of the United States, only recently are Americans beginning to set foot on one of the most biologically diverse islands in the world. The country is a melting pot of cultures, whose people, culture and customs derive from aboriginal Taino and Ciboney peoples, Spanish colonialism, African slaves and close ties with the Soviet Union. 

Cuba boasts an extraordinary array of landscapes, from remote jungles and dazzling reefs to pristine beaches and mountainous forests. With low populations levels and over 211 protected areas, covering 20% of the country, Cuba remains largely unspoiled. It is a place where still today exploration in virgin forests unearths new species. Its vast wetlands are home to manatees and crocodiles, its untouched coral reefs house sharks and turtles, and the endemic Cuban pygmy owl (Glaucidium siju) and the Cuban tody (Todus multicolor) reside in its isolated forests. We will travel throughout the country, from coast to coast, exploring remote and uninhabited parts of the country, learning about its wildlife and ecosystems. Through visiting and interacting with local communities, we will learn from the Cuban people about their relationship with the land and sea. On the cusp of significant economic development, Cuba is at a critical point in its history. We will discuss how such economic change could influence the biodiversity of this island nation and evaluate the steps the Cuban government is putting in place to protect its wildland environment. 

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Benita Carmen Laird-Hopkins


MSc in Ecology, Lancaster University, United Kingdom, 2016

Benita is an ecologist whose research focused on how changes in tree diversity affects litter decomposition, soil respiration and insect community composition. Her interests also include marine ecosystems, and conservation and restoration ecology. Benita has worked in multiple tropical locations, from Thailand to Panama to Guam. She has spent considerable time in Cuba, living on a farm and traveling throughout the country learning about the native wildlife and culture. Benita has taught field courses in Panama and the United Kingdom and will be leading the Alaska, Cuba and Pacific Islands programs starting in 2019.

Benita’s Other Programs: