A Quick Guide to Cuba

Before our wedding, Dapper Husband and I took a pre-honeymoon trip to Cuba.  We found it frozen in time a completely unique destination among all the places visited.

Havana

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As the capital city of Cuba with a population over two million, the city is sprawled out and divided into three areas: Old Havana, Vedado, and newer suburban districts. We stayed in a newer section of the city called Miramar.   You can take a drive through the neighborhood to see the beautiful mansions that line the streets; once home to Cuba’s rich (before the revolution), most of the mansions are now embassies.

We wandered around the Miramar area from our hotel where we found the Miramar Trade Center. Hidden in the center’s mix of retail and office space was Halo-Paco’s Wine shop.  It was the only wine bar we saw in our time there.  They offered imports from Chile & Spain, we enjoyed the atmosphere and the drinks.  It made for a lovely evening if you too decide to stay in the area.

Things to see in Havana:

The Rum Museum

It is no joke to say rum flows like water in Cuba.  During our first night at the hotel bar, a travel companion requested a vodka soda and the bartender gave a blank stare and asked, “Con rum?” You can get a little bit of historical context and brief education at the Rum Museum.  Should you find yourself here, you absolutely must try the orange juice based drink they server on the first floor.

 

Tropicana Night Club

Perhaps best known as a fictional, glamorous night club in Manhattan where Ricky Ricardo from I Love Lucy performed: The Tropicana is a real club whose Havana location still operates. The historic cabaret club was the perfect stop to taste cuban culture with amazing dance performances where women float across the stage with giant chandeliers balancing on their heads and of course, plenty of rum.  Towards the end of the night, the dancers descend from the stage and dance with some of the audience.  It was both the beginning and end of my career as a cuban dancer.

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Hotel Nacional de Cuba

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Perhaps one of the most famous sites in the city,  with guests like Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner, Marlene Dietrich, Marlon Brando, Ernest Hemingway and Jean-Paul Sartre and patrons, Winston Churchill, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.  The Hotel Nacional De Cuba quickly became my favorite spot in the city. It has a view to die for, the best mojitos in town and something intangible with its touch of illustrious history.  The very embodiment of grand.  You can enjoy a mojito or glass of wine with the peacocks.

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Hemingway Museum
Finca Vigía, the house of Ernest Hemingway, is now a museum.  It’s rooms overflowing with books and surrounded by lush greenery is a lovely place to spend an afternoon.

Old Havana

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Perhaps, charming in its dilapidated beauty. A taxi tour in a classic car through Old Havana fulfills every touristy vision I had of what visiting the country would be like.  They’re easy to pick up from the front of the Hotel Nacional and our driver was quite friendly.  We were driven around for far longer than we had requested as a way to fluff the fare, but honestly, the ride was still fun and the cost not too terribly high.

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Beautiful Colonial Cities

Cienfuegos

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Established during the colonial era, it’s a beautiful city with a lovely cluster of neoclassical structures in its downtown area.  We saw a number of school children in their uniforms playing in the streets.  The entire experience was charming and we found a stroll through town was a lovely way to spend the afternoon.

Trinidad

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A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Trinidad, is one of the best preserved cities in Cuba; A trip to its cobblestone streets will give you nothing less than a picturesque escape.  We wandering the streets and into a museum featuring local artists.  Down an alley we found street musicians and little shops filled with trinkets to take home.

 

Outside of the Cities

The Beach

In true Carribean style, Cuba isn’t without beautiful water and soft, sandy beaches.

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We went snorkeling in the “Bay of Pigs.” And relaxed on the beach with a good book until the sunset.

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Las Terrazas

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A small community and nature preserve in west Cuba, Las Terrazas is a peaceful visit away from the hustle and bustle of Havana.  UNESCO biosphere reserve, you can find beautiful lush hills.  For a unique experience , take a tour of the Buenavista coffee planation.

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Final Thoughts

Cuba was unlike any other place we’ve visited around the world. Uniquely preserved in time, friendly people, and yet, sprinkled with propaganda and museums that remind you of how much hate and strife existed between the “imperialist pigs” and the saviors of the people, the revolutionaries.

We feared that the new relationship between the US & Cuba would alter it forever.  So we ran to see what it was like before the flood.  We hope to return in a decade or two to see how it has changed.  There was already an inkling of capitalism around the tourism industry.  How far will it spread? How will they deal with the widening gaps between the rich and the poor? Time will tell.

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