Guest reviews on travel to Cuba and Havana

Joe creatively shared his tremendous knowledge of Cuba and all things Cuban.  Dr. Scarpaci's  local contacts provided access to important sites, and detailed knowledge that only specialists can provide.  The Center's expert trip planning resulted in just the right balance between active and overwhelming.  Not to be forgotten is that our trip was simply fun!  Joe’s eclectic sense of humor added an unexpected element to an already memorable experience. 

Marian and Gary Silverman, March 2020

The Cuba Bird Watching Trip provided a great opportunity to see many local and migratory birds in numerous locations.  We had great guides who were able to find difficult to locate birds.  Additionally we were able to see other attractions, the people, and how they lived in rural and urban settings.  Rural Cuba is not well developed however the meals were great and the lodging met our needs.  Time in Havana gave us an opportunity to explore the city on many levels.  As a photographer, I had ample opportunity to get great bird as well as urban images.  Samples of my work can be found at:  David Pearce, Blacksburg, Virginia, Februrary 2020 

The birding trip to Cuba arranged by Dr. Joseph Scarpaci exceeded our expectations on many levels.  The knowledge of Cuba that Joe brought to the group enriched our experiences and appreciation for the struggles the Cuban people endure on a daily basis.  His professionalism, communication skills and personal attention made us feel very secure in this country unknown to us. Joe has an extensive knowledge in urban planning, geography, and architecture that gave us a great perspective as we traveled from the mountains to the Caribbean and then to Havana.

The food, accommodations, and transportation were well worth the cost.  This trip was not just for birdwatchers but also for the naturalists and people who want to experience another culture without intrusion. Pat & Stephen Boyle, February, 2020. 

Our birdwatching trip to Cuba was an exceptional experience.  My wife had much trepidation before the trip began, but really started to enjoy Cuba within the first day of the visit.  Joe Scarpaci did a fantastic job of putting us at ease with his preparation and knowledge of Cuba.  We stayed in beautiful bed and breakfasts and enjoyed a wonderful array of foods.  We saw many of the endemic species of birds thanks to the guides Joe had arranged.  The last two days  in Havana were very fun and educational.  Prof. Scarpaci knows Cuba and is flexible in accomodating the wishes of the group.  We signed up for the trip as a once in a lifetime visit to Cuba.  After our recent Cuban experience, we would like to return as long as Dr. Scarpaci leads us.

Jeff and Shelly Kurtzman         Shelby, Ohio   February 2020

Gerri Young, President of the Blacksburg Art Association (BRAA), writes about her trip with us to the recent Havana International/Biennal Art Show to explore artistic creativity --a behind-the-scene look at artistry-- across the island. June 2019

"Thank you for your leadership and guidance on the recent study abroad trip to Cuba. The trip provided a substantial breadth and depth of experiences to underscore the inherent complexity of Cuba’s culture and history. The study abroad experience to Cuba with the Center for Cuban Culture and Economy has renewed my own interest in sound cultural community development strategies, particularly in relation to urban agriculture, agroforestry, food sovereignty, and natural resource conservation."  -Eric Bendfeldt, Extension Specialist, Community, Local, and Regional Food Systems, Community Viability Program, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Department of Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences, Virginia Tech, March 2018

"I have many memories to share and insights, I believe were special to your expertise, contacts and knowledge.  So much was packed into the week.  I could't have wanted or asked for more...Be sure that I have already begun to recommend your tours and will continue to do so."

-Sheila Franklin, Ft. Lauderdale, January 2018

​"Thank you for everything you did to make Cuba such an unforgettable trip!  It was such an amazing experience, and now I am super interested in the Cuban-American relations and how I can get involved.." Cat​ Buffington, Virginia Commonwealth University, June 2017

"This is Garon Morgan. I wanted to email you to thank you for everything you did for us while on the trip. Without you, we would have been lost. " Virginia Commonwealth University, June 2017.

"Thank you, so much for your leadership, advice and guidance over these past couple of weeks. It has truly been an amazing experience."
Quinton Mason, Virginia Commonwealth University, June 2017.

​"Our man" in Havana, Trinidad, Cienfuegos and Viñales, knew exactly what was outside the window of the tour bus and behind the many facades in Old Havana. His wealth of knowledge added an intellectual richness to our faculty/staff trip that no other U.S. academic or Cuban tour guide could.  

 Joe has a knack for finding varied voices from within the country — dancers & filmmakers, entrepreneurs & state shopkeepers. He encourages them to clearly offer their personal views of a lovely land, its life and its politics, and he reflects from his own perspective as a highly experienced and educated outsider as well. It would be silly to hope that Joe or that any personal guide could deliver ‘the real Cuba’, for the place is complex, contested and rapidly changing. In place of that false hope, Joe finds voices (and some amazing restaurants, too) that he knits together into a unique and evolving experience of a changing Cuba."
-Allegheny College Mellon Internationalization Grant Faculty/Staff Tour,  Jan 3-13, 2016.

"The portions of the trip in which you were in attendance were the most informative parts of the trip.  Your love for what you do showed in all the discussions you led, including the video you produced of the Cuban women's musical group.  Your interest in, and your love of the Cuban people and their culture is so evident.  You had great anecdotes to share in so many situations.  I am sure you will have taken a few stories from the trip of April 2-9, 2016. All our best to you. Thanks for a great trip. "
-Bob Dickson and Terry McCarthy, ​Los Angeles.

I'm certain that our school trip to Cuba would have been significantly less successful without Professor Scarpaci as our scholar. He was extremely organized and knowledgeable, and he had everything running like clockwork. His congenial competence put everyone at ease instantly and allowed us to get the most out of our time in Cuba.  He quickly became like a friend and colleague to the faculty, and with the students, he struck the right tone and interacted with them like their fun Uncle Joe, who's always up for a laugh while commanding their respect and attention.  If I am ever part of another trip to Cuba, either professionally or personally, Joe is the first person I will call.  - Jim Miller, Philadelphia, March 2016.

"Thank you so much for your enthusiastic and informative input during our tour in Cuba. I so enjoyed your information as well as your engaging personality.
- Leonora Horwin, Los Angeles, May 2016.

"We wanted to let you know how much we enjoyed traveling to Cuba with you recently. It was such an incredible trip. The experience we had would not have been available to us without your prior established relationship and insight...and your understanding of the culture and people...The trip was one of our most enlightened and rewarding ones."
- Pat and Rod T., Pittsburgh, Jan. 2014.

"We had the pleasure of having Dr. Scarpaci speak to us our first evening. He is very dynamic speaker and has as marvelous insight into Cuba, its people, its economy, and its culture. On our walking tour of Havana, he explained the facades of the many buildings and told of some of the joint ventures of the foreign investors and Cuba.  We learned of the demise of the sugar cane farming and the cigar manufacturing as well as so much more.  We felt we were very fortunate to have Dr. Scarpaci for the morning.
- Pat P. Houston, TX, November 2012.

I picked this trip not knowing who [Dr. Scarpaci] was and it was a stroke of luck to get his trip. He is nice to all, very bright, fun, full of energy and enthusiasm and his people-to-people skills made the trip not just good, but outstanding. The people connections are what will stay with me. He is not just a leader but a scholar. Absolutely made the trip great."
- Mary H., New York. 

"My visit to Cuba was a treasured and unexpected chance to get to know a country full of beauty, history and contradictions.  I can't imagine a better group leader than Professor Joe Scarpaci, who has such perspective and deep roots there that we met people and experienced the culture in a way open to very few Americans."
- Judi Feniger, Cleveland, Ohio.

"The memories are very vivid because Dr. Scarpaci knows the country as well as the citizens there.  He speaks their language so well and blends in with the culture and the people, so visitors traveling with him likewise get immersed."  
-Lynn Davis, Virginia Tech

My trip to Cuba in 2002 was greatly enhanced by having Joe Scarpaci as a guide.  His breadth and depth of knowledge about Cuba's history, culture and language, and his collegiality served to make my trip a valuable experience.
- Kay F. Edge, Associate Professor of Architecture, Virginia Tech

"We had the pleasure of touring Cuba with Professor Scarpaci who had planned a thoughtfully informative itinerary.  He is an excellent lecturer who knows the island and its people well.  ...“Joe” was always accessible for questions or comments."
- Arleen Glickbarg, California

"I would really like to thank you for the attention and expertise you showed during our class’s trip to Cuba. Being on trips all over the world and deploying with the Army, I have unique insights to many places. However, this trip to Cuba exposed our group to a culture, it’s history and the deeper experience of interacting with locals all across Cuba. We absorbed who they are on a much more intimate level than I have ever had as a tourist. Furthermore, I appreciated the way in which you customized our trip and made it relevant to agriculture and community development. This trip was a once in a lifetime experience that I will always cherish. Thank you so much for making it way better than I ever anticipated. I will definitely be highly recommending you to any one that wants to experience Cuba. Thank you again,-
Dr. Crystal Kyle ALCE PhD Graduate 2018

"Beyond Cuba, generally, [Dr. Scarpaci] was quite simply the highlight of the trip! Well informed; balanced; enthusiastic; intrepid; and much more. It's hard to imagine a trip of this type without him."
- David F., Boston. January 2013.

 "It was an incredible learning experience!"
- Sylvia L., Chicago, January 2013.

Outstanding! So knowledgeable of Cuba and Cuban culture. Inspiring! Gave us great insight into the history and the future of the Cuban culture and economy. - Joe and Mary T., Richmond, VA January 2013.

Outstanding. Just great. Informative, dedicated, energetic, and enthusiastic!  - Richard and Sheila H., Los Angeles, January 2013.

​​​​"Thanks again, Joe, for sharing your love of Cuba. I learned so much and saw so many great people and places." Lynn Tobias, Christiansburg, VA, February 2019

"Thank you for a trip of a lifetime! Incredible! " Jillian G. San Francisco, April 2018

       " I had the great opportunity to participate in a study abroad to Cuba: food sovereignty, culture, and resilience class as part of my Ph.D. degree in Agriculture and Life Sciences lead by Dr. Joseph Scarpaci from the CSCCE. I feel fortunate to have Dr. Scarpaci leading our trip to Cuba because we benefited from his deep understanding of Cuban culture, sociopolitical, and socioeconomic context. My experience went above and beyond a guided tour to Cuba. I was able to construct new meanings about my experience and social interactions in Cuba as well as being able to develop a rapport with many good Cubans that I hope to continue throughout the years.
       "Prior to the trip, I was very curious about Cuba’s culture and agriculture. During the trip, we were able to visit several places in Havana as well as in Pinar del Rio that offered a glimpse of what Cuba is all about. It was very rewarding to have the opportunity to exchange ideas and knowledge with farmers and agriculture professionals. I wish that I had more time to explore the intricacies of the food system in Cuba and its resilience. Well, it may be my excuse for a future trip there. Thanks, Dr. Scarpaci for making this experience unforgettable and inspiring," -- Roberto A Franco, Virginia Tech, Agriculture, Leadership, and Community Education Department, May 2018

"Traveling abroad is always invigorating and generally stress-inducing at points. Exploring Cuba with the Center for Cuban Culture and Economy enhanced the good parts of cultural emergence and minimized the heartburn that sometimes comes with being in a foreign country. I loved the authentic exposure to food, the arts, business, politics and, most importantly, the Cuban people. I’m really looking forward to brushing up on my Spanish and going with Joe Scarpaci to Cuba again!” Greta J. Harris, Virginia Tech Alum-Class of 1983, Virginia Tech Board of Visitors. Better Housing Coalition  President & CEO, October, 2018

"Dr. Scarpaci led an amazing program for our faculty, staff and students while in Cuba. This education abroad course was by far the most introspective experience I have had amongst other international programs. As an American and Black woman my perspectives on culture, identity and patriotism were challenged and stretched in an impactful and meaningful way. I would encourage others to take advantage of the opportunity to learn about Cuba and all its complexity with Dr. Scarpaci." -  Natasha Saunders, MS, Director of S.O.A.R. , MANRRS, Advisor, Office for Inclusion & Diversity, Virginia Tech, August 2018. 

"Thank you for making the trip to Cuba and educational and enjoyable experience. Your leadership, expertise, and planning have made a lasting impression on my life and how I understand and relate to...Cuba." Lacy Watson, School of Public Administration + Policy, Virginia Tech, June 2018

“[The Center]  went above and beyond during our trip to ensure we had an enjoyable and educational time. When walking through the city, no opportunity for education was wasted and  [Dr. Scarpaci's] keen eye would point things out to explain to us that we would otherwise miss. Going to Cuba without someone like [him] would have been a meaningless experience of consumption, [he] made it worthwhile and deep. Definitely recommend!”  Lia Kelinsky, Assistant Director for Intercultural Programs & Program Director, Mozaiko, Virginia Tech, April 2018

 "I wanted to let y'all know that I had such an amazing trip with you, with memories that will last a lifetime.
Thank you all so much for making it so special and [Dr. Scarpaci], your narrative and knowledge were just over the top." Kevin Simmons, San Francisco, April 2018

"We had such a fabulous time with you. My kids and I spent a good portion of our drive home to Fresno today reviewing everything we did. Wow did we do and see a lot!  Your incredible depth of knowledge of Cuba is simply astounding and made the trip just so interesting and put it into my top 5 trips of all time. I am eager to read your books and have them on my nightstand to start. " Heidi G. Feeney, Fresno, CA, April 2018

“ I want to sincerely thank Dr. Joe Scarpaci for his thoughtful expertise and enthusiastic leadership in organizing a phenomenal study abroad trip to Cuba for our Virginia Tech group. I am certain our experience was successful due to his deep knowledge of and respect for Cuba as a profoundly complex and beautiful country.  His scholarship of Cuban politics intersects widely across many accepts of social and cultural life—from music and architecture to food and economic policy.  Dr. Scarpaci’ s ethnographic approach to our everyday study and travel experience in Havana was especially noteworthy.  We met and learned from a number Cuban people whose personal and professional lives touched on our core study area of cultural resilience and food sovereignty.  My students and I are grateful for such a life-changing opportunity.     --- Dr. Kim Niewolny, Virginia Tech, March 2017.”

"I would highly recommend Dr. Scarpaci’s services in preparing for travel to Cuba.... In May 2017, I served as the program director for Virginia Commonwealth University’s inaugural study abroad program in Havana, Cuba. The one-week design thinking course was an interdisciplinary course between the School of the Arts and School of Engineering at VCU. Having performed dissertation research on Cuban design, I knew of Dr. Scarpaci’s extensive academic publishing and enlisted his counsel for our project. It became immediately clear that Dr. Scarpaci’s scholarly expertise coupled with his experience as a program director for study abroad trips and private groups over the last twenty-five years would make him invaluable to establishing VCU’s program in Cuba. He assisted in establishing a budget that would include reliable, safe and affordable housing for our students and faculty, cultural excursions that ranged from museum visits to Cuban dance and music classes, and reservations for group meals. In addition to logistical support, Dr. Scarpaci’s academic contacts allowed us to invite scholars to serve as guest critics for student projects, opening the door for conversation about further collaboration. In the week prior to travel, Dr. Scarpaci joined us in Richmond for two days of lectures about Cuban culture, the economy and political history with the United States. This was essential in providing a solid introductory foundation for our students. Because Dr. Scarpaci has been traveling and performing field work in Cuba for the last twenty-five years, he has witnessed various policy shifts and transitions. This is especially helpful as we navigate a new U.S. administration and potential policy shift. Finally, Dr. Scarpaci’s boundless energy and passion for Cuban culture make him a beloved guide. He never tired of answering questions from our students and translating with our Cuban counterparts." Dr. Sara D. Reed, Virginia Commonwealth University, June 14 2017.

"I just wanted to write you and thank you for everything you did for the Cuba trip. It was honestly the most enjoyable trip I think I've ever been on and I think that was largely because of your involvement and passion for it. The trip wouldn't have been the same without you and I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciated all your help and information. It was incredibly informative and really an eye-opening trip." Connor Quatannens , Richmond, VA,  June 2017

 "I wanted to thank you for taking the time out to give us the detailed tours and information you shared with us about Cuba! I really appreciate all of the planning and tours you took us on. It really helped me to understand how the average Cuban is really living in Havana and helped me to develop an authentic view of the REAL Cuba and not just the one we see on travel brochures. " Rachel J. Virginia Commonwealth University, June 2017.

"I wanted to thank you for being such an excellent guide on our trip to Cuba. It was easily one of the best and most invigorating experiences of my life, and I learned so much more than I ever originally expected to. I am very eager for the next opportunity I may have to visit and learn more about this incredible country." 

Meg Thorton, Virginia Commonwealth University, June 2017

"Thank you so much for making our time in Cuba so wonderful.  Wouldn't have been nearly as insightful had you not been there. Thanks also for playing the role of translator at times. You're a beast is what I'm trying to say." Peter Manville, Virginia Commonwealth University, June 2017.

"Studying abroad in Cuba was easily the best decision of my life... I'm already looking for a reason to return back to Havana! Thank [the Center for the  Study of Cuban Culture + Economy]  so much for being so amazing during this trip, I'll never forget it!", Eva Apgar, VCU, June 2017.

"I cannot say enough wonderful things about [Dr. Scarpaci and the Center]. I taught for over 40 years at elite and highly private selective schools...and I know gifted teaching. He is a warm, thoughtful, well-informed and balanced communicator. He handled the 'difficult students' with tact and firmness." - Carol F., January 2013.

"Heartfelt thanks to you for making the trip a wonderful experience. We appreciate how much you shared of your knowledge of Cuban culture and people. We learned so much!"
- Bev and Frank C., Cambridge, MA March 2013.


Traveling in Small Groups

Cuba travelers are curious. Over the years, I've noticed a self-selection process. Folks that join us are mostly amiable and curious. We see the world with a  critical eye but also understand the scale of what we are experiencing: the local, national, and global scenes. Thanks to all of you above for sharing your insights and entrusting our Cuba team to put together a memorable experience for you.