This year for Father’s Day, my sister and I took our father to Havana, Cuba for a long weekend getaway. He apparently told my sister that he’s always wanted to visit Cuba since his naval ship was briefly docked in Guantanamo Bay when he was in the navy. I was game. Cuba has always piqued my curiosity.
Prior to the trip, I was told by many people that we wouldn’t be able to get into the country. Of course we would not just book airline tickets and keep our fingers crossed that we would get into the country. The truth is, Americans can travel to Cuba. It is preferable to book certain aspects of your trip through Cuban owned businesses or accommodation rentals to support the Cuban people and their culture. We booked an AirBnB rental privately owned by a Cuban citizen and we booked a tour with a locally owned tour operator.
In the Fort Lauderdale airport, we checked in at the Jet Blue Cuban travel counter. It took all of five minutes and no questions were asked. Upon arrival in Havana we breezed through immigration and customs. Our return trip was equally as uneventful.
In our short stay, we saw as much as we possibly could, but I left wanting to see much more of the country. Being in Cuba is a bit like stepping out of a time machine. Havana was vibrant and lively. The people were friendly and as Americans we felt very well received. There were only a couple of occasions when we were asked for money, but other than that there was no pan handling or begging. I felt very safe. I ran both mornings we were there and was not alone running along the Malecon and through the main streets of Havana and Old Havana.
The food was delicious and for the most part very affordable. The coffee did not disappoint. I have never been a fan of rum, but when in Cuba, I highly recommend trying a frozen mojito and perhaps a shot of Cuban rum. My smoking days are long over, and I was never a cigar smoker, but my dad enjoyed one.
We visited Hemingway’s home and the iconic El Floridita, home of the Cuban daiquiri and a favorite drinking haunt of Hemingway. I’m really not a big drinker, but again when in Cuba, have a daiquiri at El Floridita, and if not just go in for 10-15 minutes to cool down in the A/C and appreciate the spirited vibe of the place. We took a vintage car tour with a private tour guide. We explored the Bellamar Caves. We toured a Mexican naval ship in Havana harbor. We went to the Castle of the Royal Force. Mostly we wandered the streets and squares in Havana and Old Havana.
A photo tour of our weekend in Cuba
Friday, June 15, 2018
About 10 kilometers outside of Havana in the town of San Francisco de Paula is Finca La Vigia, the house that belonged to Ernest Hemingway. He lived there from 1940-1960. In 1961, the Cuban government expropriated the home along with thousands of books. Though the home is now a museum, you cannot go inside. You can only peek through the window to catch a glimpse of the eclectic lifestyle of Hemingway. On the grounds are the graves of Hemingway’s dogs and his boat Pilar.
Back in Havana we visited a favorite of Hemingway – El Floridita.
On our first night in Cuba we were led to a cute little Cuban eatery I believe was called Paladar Doña Eutimia. The food was simple yet delicious and so reasonably priced. We enjoyed mojitos before our meal and then we were treated to shots of Cuban rum after dinner.
After dinner we explore Old Havana on foot. The Castillo de la Real Fuerza was beautifully lit up. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1982. Construction of the castle began in 1555 and was completed in 1577. The Real Fuerza castle is considered the oldest Spanish stone fortress in Latin America.
Riding back to our AirBnB in style!
Saturday, June 16, 2018
My day began with a run through Havana and along part of the Malecon, a seaside avenue. From my AirBnB, I ran past the capitol building, El Capitolio, and Museo de Bellas Artes down the Prado.
As I circled back to the capitol building less than an hour later, a race had almost magically appeared. I received conflicting information about the distance and I cannot seem to find any information online. I finished up my run around 8AM and the race was starting at 10AM. It was already very hot and humid. I cannot imagine beginning two hours later.
We spent the day in a classic car with our own personal Cuban tour guide.
We dined at La Guarida. This not so little “hole in the wall” paladar, the term used to describe private Cuban restaurants sometimes located in a one’s home, is perhaps best known as a location for the Oscar-nominated film Fresa y Chocolate. It is unique and inviting. The food was delicious. The decor was kitschy and creative. The rooftop bar was stunning. Reservations are strongly encouraged.
Sunday, June 17, 2018
Sights seen along my morning run on our last day in Cuba.
Breakfast at El Cafe. That was the name. It took us 2.5 days to find the little eatery, but it was well worth it. Cuban coffee for me, fresh pineapple juice for my dad, and fresh guava juice for my sister and me.
After breakfast we made our way slowly through Old Havana marveling at the intricate details on the buildings, the spectacular doorways, and the beautiful colors all around us.
We made our way through the Castillo de la Real Fuerza
We returned to the AirBnB to pick up our things and catch a taxi.
By afternoon we were back in Ft. Lauderdale. Never underestimate the value of long weekend adventures.
Until next time Cuba!