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Explorica offers exclusive exchanges to Cuba

Morro Castle on the coast of Havana

Once a country sealed off from the U.S., Cuba is slowly revealing the formerly untapped resources it has to offer. You can now experience this cultural revolution firsthand with our Cuba Educational Exchange, a journey that exposes students to new and exciting experiences never before offered.

As a result of the Cold War, Fidel Castro’s dictatorial reign, and decades of a less-than-neighborly relationship between communist Cuba and the U.S., Cuba has become the mythical unicorn of international travel from the U.S. Yet now that Fidel has relinquished power to his more progressive, less dictatorial younger brother, the Cuban political climate has started to shift. With that, the 50-year-old travel restrictions are slowly dissipating, making it easier than ever before to journey to Cuba and learn about this once isolated culture.

The Rev. Raúl Suarez, founder and director of Cuba’s Martin Luther King Center—a stop on Explorica’s exclusive educational exchange to Cuba—recently met with lawmakers and Obama administration officials in Washington, D.C. He was there to talk about the half-century old embargo the U.S. placed on the Caribbean communist country.

“We have always known we are very different: I am Cuban, you are North American,” the Rev. Suarez said. “We speak different languages and have different cultures. But today, through sitting here and talking together, I think we all realize how similar we are. At the core of it all, we are all human.”

A study reveals that Americans, for the most part, would actually prefer stronger ties with the island country. Political isolation for more than 50 years may have in fact helped to perpetuate an anti-capitalist ideal, rather than prevent it.

A woman dances in festive garb

A woman dances in festive garb.

Since the induction of Raúl Castro as president in 2008, the country’s doors have slowly creaked open to free enterprise.

The Cuba Emprende Foundation, a nonprofit concerned with incubating small business in places like Old Havana (another stop on the Cuban exchange), gives people the independence to rely on themselves, rather than the state. Engage with these community members on your educational exchange for front-line perspective of the grassroots restoration in the Historic Quarter and also to glimpse into the evolving economy of this Cuban cultural epicenter.

About 30 miles outside of Havana, the Mariel port, once exclusively the exit for Cuban refugees desperately seeking freedom in the United States, will now open its wharfs to incoming world trade. In fact, with financing from Brazil’s government—$900 million or so—and a separation from state authority with PSA International (out of Singapore) overseeing its operation, Mariel represents Cuba’s biggest bet on global capitalism, writes the NY Times. It’s also indicative of a nation readying itself to share with the world economy.

Explorica offers an exclusive educational exchange to Cuba for North American students. Uncover the mysteries of this island country in the Caribbean that has been closed off from North America for more than half a century.

Cuba Educational Exchange

Cuba Educational Exchange

Go on our Cuba Educational Exchange and unearth this island country’s vibrant culture. Engage with local professionals to learn about the industry and artistry of this uniquely self-sufficient country, and immerse yourself in authentic Cuban culture.



Fundraising ideas: class trip dinner theater

In a recent post, “Class trip crowdfunding: Fundraising for the digital age,” we highlighted crowdfunding as an effective way to raise money for your class’s educational tour. Crowdfunding utilizes the Internet to collect small donations from a vast pool of supporters, anywhere in the world.

The principles of crowdfunding, however, have existed long before the digital age. Traditional forms of fundraising—bake sales, car washes, school performances, etc.—employ the same community concepts, just on a local, rather than global, scale.

We asked two Group Leaders of our Explorica educational tours to talk about how each fundraising model—online crowdfunding and tapping your local community—can benefit the class trip kitty. The moral here is that neither is necessarily better. In fact, a balance of both could maximize your class’s potential to reach its monetary goal.

Dinner and a show will get you to your destination

Justin, an Explorica Group Leader, says dinner theater has been a great way for his class to raise funds.

“We live in a small town that doesn’t have much entertainment,” Justin said. “So giving the community something to do is always good.”

Charging $20 at the door, Justin and his class aim to make sure people get their fill of good food—traditional Southern cuisine with a “creative flare”—and laughs, he said.

The local restaurant where his class performs is very intimate. This allows the perfomers to involve the audience, uniting school and community. The community gets an entertaining, firsthand demonstration of what Howard’s class is all about. (They’re going on a London Theater tour this year.)

Explorica London Theater Tour

London Theater

Step into one of the grand Romanesque or Victorian theaters in London’s famed “theatreland” to see a modern-day play and travel back in time to learn what it takes to put on a Shakespearean play in the open-air Elizabethan Globe Theater.

When Justin’s class performed “And They All Lived,” the big bad wolf lurked through the crowd scaring guests. A woodsman chased after him to bring happiness back to the people. The cast-audience engagement really allowed his kids to shine, Justin said.

“If you can entertain and involve [the audience], they will buy into your cause,” he said. “And it teaches the students a valuable lesson in hard work.”

Fundraising 2.0

The benefits of traditional fundraising—in this case, dinner theater—are pretty straightforward. The class involves its community. They inform the audience of why they’re going on the trip, through performance, while actively engaging them to donate. Plus, it’s fun!

Although, what happens when you’ve exhausted your local community’s resources?

It may be time to go online, where you’re no longer restricted to a zip code. Finding the right community on the Internet, however, can be overwhelming. The World Wide Web is your oyster, yet too many choices can seem like a prison. In short, a bottomless donor pool is worth little with no vantage point from which to launch a fundraising campaign.

Enter Launched in 2000, makes it easy for anyone to help students in need. According to the site, American public school teachers can post classroom project requests online, allowing anyone to contribute any amount to their cause. clearly defines this mission on its About page. It’s backed by A-list celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Stephen Colbert. And its transparency of use lets donors know where exactly their money will be allocated in the teacher’s project.

Furthermore, fieldtrips get funded 14 percent more often than comparably priced projects, according to an infographic from Column Five.

Explorica group leader and Director of Teacher Engagement Walter successfully funded seven international class trips for his Harlem, N.Y. students, via the online platform.

“The site makes it easy for teachers to spread the word about what they are trying to accomplish,” Walter said.

Since there’s no minimum donation, allows classes to set smaller, more attainable fundraising goals online.

“Don’t try and raise all the money with one event or online proposal,” said the seven-year veteran of New York City public schools. “Instead, break up your lofty goal into smaller projects that will quickly add up!”

Since teaching in NYC public schools, Doyle went on to work for full-time. He founded the Kids n’ Culture program which allows inner city students to travel abroad and conduct global cultural research.

If you’re interested in immersing your own class in world cultures, learn more about these enlightening Cultural Immersion Tours…

Explorica French Culinary Tour

French Culinary Tour

This tour will expand your mind and entice your tastebuds, unveiling the secrets of the highly regaled French cuisine to every cook and foodie on your tour.

Explorica Insider's Italy

Insider’s Italy

This Florence-to-Rome tour captures the art and architecture of Ponte Vecchio, Il Duomo, Trevi Fountain and the Sistine Chapel among its can’t-miss stops. As you go, paint a fresco, toss a pizza and experience the monuments like no history book can cover.

Explorica Australia and New Zealand In Depth

New Zealand & Australia in Depth

Explore the beautiful South Pacific on this whirlwind tour of New Zealand and Australia. Visit Auckland, the largest and most populous city in New Zealand, and visit the rich cultural sites this cosmopolitan cultural center has to offer…Hop on over to Australia and explore Queensland, traveling to the Sunshine Coast, Fraser Island and Surfers Paradise.

Browse a complete list of Cultural Immersion Tours…


Educational travel photo of the week: Hierapolis theater

theater at Hierapolis

Imagine traveling back in time to when the great Roman Empire ruled over much of this Earth. Time machines haven’t been invented (yet!), but you can still catch a glimpse of ancient civilizations through such archaeological sites as the theater at Hierapolis, in what is now Turkey.

The Roman Emperor Vespasian commissioned construction of a theater, in the 2nd century A.D.  Hollowed out from a hillside  to the east of Hierapolis, which in Greek means “Holy City,” the ruins overlook the modern Town of Pamukkale in Turkey. They currently comprise an archaeological museum designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, indicating that this ancient place has cultural and physical significance.

Building of the theater was not complete until 206 AD, after alterations were made by Emperors Hadrian and Severus. Workers used the remains and seats from an earlier theater destroyed by an earthquake. In the year 352, the theater underwent a thorough restoration and was adapted for water shows, which were a popular attraction of the time.

The auditorium featured stacked seating with a capacity of 15,000. The lower part originally had 20 rows and the upper part contained 25. The proscenium—an ancient Greek or Roman stage—consisted of two stories with ornately decorated niches to the sides. Statue depictions of the Roman gods Apollo, Dionysus, and Diana once graced the decor of this now ancient theater. You can view these statues in the onsite museum.

To experience this and other relics of the Western world’s antiquity, take one of our educational tours to Turkey.

Turkey tours by Explorica Educational Travel

Explorica Turkey Tour

10-day Turkey Tour

Travel outside the capital to Turkey’s ancient cities of Canakkale, Kusadasi, Pamukkale and Bursa.

Explorica Turkey and Greece tour

Turkey & Greece

Pass through the ruins of Troy, Pergamon and Ephesus before embarking on an Aegean cruise to Athens. Once you reach the birthplace of democracy, visit the Parthenon, the Acropolis, Hadrian’s Arch and the Temple of Olympian Zeus.

Explorica Athens, Istanbul and the Aegean tour

Athens, Istanbul & the Aegean

Tour the ancient Grecian ruins in the bustling capital of Athens, explore the city of Istanbul to wander along mosque-lined streets and haggle over silk scarves at open-air markets, then set sail to discover Greece’s idyllic Aegean Islands.


Class trip crowdfunding: Fundraising for the digital age

Catching the crowds at Sacre Coeur, in Paris

You’ve booked an educational tour with Explorica. You’ve held an informational meeting with students and their parents (Step Three in the tour process). Everybody’s on board.

Great! Now what?

Establish a plan to reach your fundraising goal for the overall cost of the class trip.

Nowadays, online crowdfunding can be a powerful asset. Think of holding a bake sale where anyone, anywhere, and at anytime can donate to your cause.

Though crowdfunding—raising money in small amounts from many people over the Internet—is still somewhat of a new phenomenon, a multitude of sites have sprouted up within the last few years. They’re not all for everybody, but these three sites may help you and your class get to your destination.

Three crowdfunding sites for class trips

It’s important to note which sites are appropriate for your specific needs., for instance, is a popular crowdfunding site, but caters to causes attempting to finance creative projects.

You won’t find much support for a class trip on Kickstarter, but these three sites may show you and your students some love…

“I had an idea that it should be easy for friends and family to come together online and raise money for life’s important events.” — Brad Damphouse, co-founder and CEO of GoFundMe is great for individual fundraising. It’s the #1 crowdfunding site for personal causes and life events, according to its media page.

This may come in handy if, as the group leader, you decide that each student should raise their own fare. You could even show kids how to set up their own fundraising page during your trip’s informational meeting.

Fees for this site amount to about eight percent. So certainly aim higher than the bottom line to pad this cost. Unlike other crowdfunding sites, however, there’s no time limit on your campaign. In this case, time really is money. And you’ll have more of it to reach your monetary goal. GoFundMe collects donations through a third-party website called


Like GoFundMe, Fundly processes donations through, as well. And much like GoFundMe, it’s also geared toward the individual fundraiser.

The site walks users through a step-by-step process, when setting up their online fundraising page. It taps into their Gmail or Yahoo contacts for an email blast that will drum up donations. Fundly also avails the user options to connect Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Tumblr accounts for further promotion. And the page provides embed code so that the user can feature their Fundly campaign on any website or blog they administer.

The upper-left corner of the screen—prime real estate on any webpage—provides space to upload a video or engaging picture. Further down the page, the user’s wall features campaign progress in the form of comments and blog posts. The blog is particularly useful, when the user needs more content (they can share on social media spaces like Facebook and Twitter) to generate buzz about their trip. Fundly gives fundraisers 60 days to reach their goal.

Indiegogo is a bit more basic and sports a slightly pricier, 9-percent processing fee. Its comments section is not as prominent. So funders have to click around the page, if they want to check progress.

A unique feature to Indiegogo, however, is its right margin, which allows users to display prizes based on the amount of donation. Depending on decided rewards, these conditional incentives could convert more people to support your class trip.

Perhaps, for $5, you’ll promise to send supporters a postcard from one of these life-changing tours…

London, Paris, & the Alps

Taken back by London landmarks like Buckingham Palace and Big Ben, travelers will cross the English Channel in the Eurostar Chunnel to Paris. There they’ll feast eyes on the Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower and many other breathtaking Parisian wonders. Other destinations include Zurich and Munich, Germany.

Japan highlights

Included in this tour: the sacred Sensoji Temple; Tokyo’s Imperial Palace; Mount Fuji. Choose to complete the tour in Osaka or Hiroshima.

Best of South Africa

Destinations: Johannesburg, the magnificent Lisbon Falls, Kruger National Park, and the tiny country of Swaziland.



educational travel photo friday: Peru

Student with llama on educational tour in Machu Picchu, Peru

Llamas are just one of the amazing sights you’ll see when you visit Machu Picchu on one of Explorica’s Peru tours.


educational travel photo friday: New York

Kissing Andersen's statue

Here’s a cute photo of an Explorica student traveler showing Hans Christian Andersen’s statue some love during a tour in New York’s Central Park.


New Edu-Tour: The Galapagos & Machu Picchu

Explorica Educational Tour Galapagos Machu Picchu

Go to the center of the earth. Then walk in the footsteps of Darwin, and see centenarian giant tortoises around a volcanic archipelago. Just when you get your head around the theory of evolution, take a mind-blowing hike in the cradle of Incan civilization…

Our new tour to the Galapagos Islands and Machu Picchu is full of amazing outdoor, hands-on educational activities. Read on to learn more about our three favorites, or check out the entire itinerary now.

Primicias Ranch Visit

The Galapagos giant tortoise is the largest living tortoises in the world, can weigh up to 660 pounds and can live as long as 150 years in the wild. The wild population of these amazing creatures has dropped sharply since the seventeenth century due both to excessive hunting and the introduction of predators and humans. For a rare chance to see these amazing endangered tortoises roam free in the natural habitat, head to Primicias Ranch.

Quito Guided Sightseeing Tour

Explore the Ecuador’s beautiful capital on this guided tour of Quito’s downtown. Visit sites dating back to Spanish colonization, and continue to Panecillo where you will find an impressive panoramic view of the city and the surrounding valleys. Jump from the southern to northern hemisphere in an instant at Mitad del Mundo – the Equator Monument that marks the equinoctial line.

Cape Rose Excursion

Prepare yourself for one of the best days of your trip! After navigation aboard a typical fisherman boat for an hour and a half from Puerto Villamil, you will reach Cape Rosa or Finado Bay on the western side of the island. This is one of the most beautiful places nature has bestowed upon humankind. Here you can walk over the connected lava tunnels situated in the blue sea waters.

See the entire The Galapagos and Machu Picchu itinerary



Educational Travel in France

Visit the Louvre on an educational tour

This article was originally featured in Explorica’s 2012 educational travel magazine featuring high school tours to France that are teacher-led. We’ll be sharing 20 life-changing travel experiences throughout the season. Transform your students’ lives (and maybe your own) with any of these exceptional, teacher-led educational travel experiences.

High School Tour France: Come Face to Foot with Napoleon

Maybe your students have seen it miniaturized within an art or history textbook. Perhaps you’ve even displayed it with a projector to generate classroom discussion. But neither you nor your students have ever truly experienced the epic grandeur of Jacque-Louis David’s painting, The Coronation of Napoleon, until you’ve seen it in person. Displayed in the Louvre, Paris’s temple to art, this painting is a must-see. Of course, standing more than twenty feet tall and over thirty feet wide, you could hardly miss this masterwork. As the title describes, the subject is the crowning of Napoleon Bonaparte as the Emperor of the new France. The painting, which took over three years to complete, was for the time a nearly photo-realist depiction of one of France’s most important historic events—albeit with a few embellishments (ever the maman’s boy, Napoleon had David add his mother to the adoring audience).

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When you view the painting in person, your eyes are drawn to the vivid detail etched onto every face and façade. Because of the painting’s immense size, mistakes would be magnified, so David created an entire miniature replica of the characters and settings. As you scan the canvas, note the sumptuous textures of the fabrics and clothing, knowing that the shades and colors depicted only became fully realized through the use of costumed dolls.

After giving yourself time to take in the whole scene, take a moment to reflect on where this important art work is displayed. Were it not for the event depicted in the painting, you might not get to see it at
all. Built in the 12th century as a palace fortress, the Louvre was later turned into a museum open solely to European royalty. Although the sweeping changes of the French Revolution opened the Louvre to the public, some feared Napoleon’s consolidation of power might lead to a return to royalty-only admission. On the contrary, the new emperor kept admission available to all art-loving citizens, while also adding new museum wings.

In 1807, after first viewing The Coronation of Napoleon, a pleased Emperor Bonaparte remarked to David: “This is not a painting; you walk in this work.” In other words, this painting is an experience unto itself. Through a truly amazing confluence of subject matter, style, and even display venue, viewing this painting in person is a life-changing event for any student— and for students of all ages.

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educational travel photo friday: China

Summer Palace China Explorica Educational Tour

A beautiful view of the Summer Palace across the Kunming Lake in Beijing, China. (Taken by a student traveling on an Explorica educational tour, of course!)


New Educational Travel Tour: San Jose and the Coastal Puntarenas

Explorica Educational Travel Tour San Jose and the Coastal Puntarenas

Say “pura vida” to the monkeys, sloths and parrots as the plentiful wildlife will surely put a smile on your face. Then spread joy on a visit to local students where you’ll truly sense the jovial culture of ticos. Can’t get enough? Add a splash of white water rafting!

Our new student tour takes you from the beach to the jungle–and back again. Here’s our three favorite activities from this jam-packed new educational itinerary:

Manuel Antonio National Park Guided Visit

Take a tour of this national park with your Tour Director who is certified as a professional, local guide. Manuel Antonio includes 12 islands and is known for its white sands and array of wild life. You will share the park and its four beaches with sea turtles, parrots, three-toed sloths, tapirs, howler monkeys and iguanas. A word to the wise—be careful of the sneaky white face monkeys. They know how to unzip backpacks. The park boasts an estuary, mangroves, a lagoon and paths, one which leads to an observation tower for a 360° view.

Folklore Evening

Costa Rica’s culture draws on African, Caribbean, and Spanish roots to create a unique and lively blend. Sit back as you and your students surround yourselves with this colorful culture during an evening of fine food and fiesta. Brightly costumed locals serve up a typical Costa Rican meal of beans, rice, white cheese, fruit, and a main dish of fish, chicken, or beef, and a performance of traditional music follows.

River Rafting (on tour extension)

After getting full safety and paddling instructions from your guide, head off into lush rainforest teeming with toucans, herons, and iguanas. Be on the lookout for basilisk lizards — these reptiles can scurry across the water on their hind legs, a feat that earned them the nickname “Jesus Christ lizards.” End your tour of Costa Rica’s most popular river with a traditional lunch prepared by your guide.

Interested in learning more about this educational tour? Check out the entire itinerary.