The minute we set foot in Havana we are mesmerized by the blaze of colour everywhere. There is no shyness here about bright colour, whether on buildings, cars, or a scarf tied around a woman’s head.
We have no real itinerary, which is sometimes the best way to travel, and somehow our first wild desire is to get inside one of those amazing candy-coloured classic American cars. We pick a 1949 Buick and hurtle down the Malecon, that famous ribbon of road that hugs Havana’s water front.
At top: one of many American classic cars that are a signature of Havana. Below: the famous Malecon which wraps the waterfront. Bottom: Cuban style is full of colour, much like the city itself.
A trip to Cuba is worth it for Havana alone, but why go to so much trouble to get here and not see so much more?
If you’re aching for a beach day the closest beach to Havana is Bacuranao. It’s not as breathtaking as the beach at
Varadero, but it satisfies the craving for sand and surf. Bacuraneo was gloriously empty mid-week. so we had the beach largely to ourselves,other than some boys selling those addictive rum cocktails served in coconuts.
Everyone can agree that if you love rum, Cuba does not disappoint. While Havana Club is the world’s most famous,
there are other rums you have to seek out–let’s call them“secret rums.” Guayabita del Pinar, or “Little Guava,” is one of Cuba’s super-local rums. It’s micro-distilled, and hails from the Pinar del Rio region, south of Havana
(More on Pinar in a moment.)
In Cuba, You can’t have a cigar without having some rum; and you can’t have rum without having a cigar. Below, tobacco leaves set out to dry.
To answer the question you haven’t asked yet: yes, it’s always happy hour in Havana.
For an authentically Cuban rum experience you have to head to the three most iconic bars in Havana: Sloppy Joe’s,
La Bodeguita de Media, and El Floridita. Ernest Hemingway allegedly only drank Mojitos at La Bodeguita and daiquiris at El Floridita. Both make ample use of this legend. We recommend try both.
Music is everywhere in Cuba, with impromptu jam sessions happening throughout the afternoon and night. Below, the sign for the iconic bar, Sloppy Joe’s, home to arguably the best Daquiri in the world.
Speaking of Hemingway, Papa’s house is just outside of Havana, so we hail a taxi and bump down the road to the quaint working class town of San Francisco de Paula and his famous home, Finca Vigia.
Everything you’ve heard is true: the house is a slightly bizarre time capsule.Other than the swimming pool, which is a ghostly relic, everything is seemingly untouched by time. The magazines are still neatly arranged in a rack in the living room, and his typewriter (on which he wrote The Old Man and the Sea) is at the ready, with a faded notepad beside it imprinted with “From the desk of Ernest Hemingway.”
In the bathroom, penciled notations on the wall indicate his fluctuating weight. Even his aspirin is still in the medicine cabinet. The house is a snapshot of the day the U.S. forced Hemingway to leave Cuba on July 25, 1960, never to return.
Hemingway’s Cuba home, Finca Viga has been preserved exactly as the author left it in 1960. Visitors are only allowed to see inside through the open windows.
We are famished and had taken note that when it comes to dining options, it’s all about the Paladares or in-home restaurants. The menus can be on-the-fly but they’re always delicious.
On a day full of technicolor (because that’s how Cuba seems to look all the time) we head south two and a half hours to Viñales in Pinar del Rio, the agricultural heartland of Cuba.It’s here you’ll find Finca Agroecologica El Paraiso, an organic farm that delivers an entirely authentic farm to table experience.
We feast on roast suckling pig, fried plantains, and the house cocktail called the Anti-Stress, which has enough
rum in it to make it anti-anything. With a nice buzz, we take in the view over the surrounding hills and farmlands, an emerald carpet of lush green vegetation.
A dinner of roast suckling pig, plantains, and several “anti-stress” cocktails at Finca Agroecologica El Paraiso. Below, a view of the organic gardens and distant mountains.
For the drive home, we luck out with a hot pink 1950 ChevroletDeluxe. We sink into the back seat, eyes closed against the late afternoon sun. At dusk we arrive in Havana, the sound of music and the smell of cigars, a dream unlike any other. We would do it all again.
If you plan to go:
- Plan your trip. With the recent U.S. restrictions, you’ll need to calculate many details of your trip. Get more information here.
- Avoid major tourist hotels and book your stay at a guest house instead.
- Remember cash is king in Cuba. While there are ATMs, they are not plentiful and many don’t function.
- Get a private guide who manages your trip start to finish.
- Dress down, not up, there’s no need to show off and you’ll be safer for it.
- Be careful walking the streets very late at night.