Havana, Cuba – Two

Encircling the center of Havana Vieja are numerous other sites worth visiting. These attractions include Spanish forts, the elegance surrounding El Capitolio, waterfront neighborhoods undergoing restoration, a historic square celebrating the revolution plus the former estate of a famous writer who won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

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1 El Morro Fortress Lighthouse in Havana, Cuba

Three fortresses were built during the 16th and early 17th centuries to protect Havana. The Fuera, Morro and Punta castles are featured in Havana’s coat of arms. This is Castle of Tres Reyes del Morro located at the northern entrance to the harbor. Construction of the Castle of the Three Kings lasted 41 years. When it was finished in 1630, El Morro was considered impenetrable. History proved that assumption wrong. The 82 foot tall Faro Castillo del Morro was built in 1845, making it the oldest of Cuba’s approximate 50 lighthouses.

Parque Histórico Militar Morro-Cabaña, La Habana, Cuba
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2 Architect of 16th Century Spanish Forts in Havana, Cuba

This cannon is rusted and silenced. Yet its location at El Morro Castle is symbolic of 16th century Spanish forts stretching from Florida to the tip of South America. The reign of Philip II – King of Spain from 1556 to 1598 – was the height of the Spanish Golden Age. His vast empire extended across every continent. However, the riches the crown collected from the New World attracted constant attacks from pirates such as Sir Frances Drake. So, in 1586, Felipe II appointed a young engineer named Battista Antonelli to first assess the defenses of strategic Caribbean ports (including Cartagena, Panama, Santo Domingo and Puerto Rico) and then build fortifications. While Antonelli was in Havana during the last half of 1587, he designed El Morro and La Punta. He returned to Cuba briefly in 1589 to initiate El Morro. Then, from 1589 – 1599, Antonelli managed the construction of most of the Spanish forts across the Caribbean.

Parque Histórico Militar Morro-Cabaña, La Habana, Cuba
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3 Promontory and Defense Wall of El Morro in Havana, Cuba

This photo illustrates one of El Morro’s key defenses. The fort was built on Cavannos Ridge, helping to protect it from attack by sea. The name translates to “The Rock.” This position on the 70 foot promontory overlooking the harbor entrance was selected by engineer Battista Antonelli. He left a cornerstone here dated September 20, 1589, marking the commencement of the castle’s construction. The stone rampart on the left measures 59 feet thick.

Parque Histórico Militar Morro-Cabaña, La Habana, Cuba
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4 Land Ditch at El Morro in Havana, Cuba

On the land side of El Morro, the high walls were encircled by a wide ditch. This design was expected to slow an approaching enemy while soldiers fired upon them from the crenels in the elevated battlements. This plan failed during the Battle of Havana in 1762. The British, after relentless bombarding the stronghold with artillery, exploded the ditch with a mine. When it filled with debris, the British troops easily crossed the moat and captured El Morro.

Parque Histórico Militar Morro-Cabaña, La Habana, Cuba
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5 Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña History in Havana, Cuba

The British occupation of Havana did not last long after their victory in 1762. The Seven Year’s War concluded with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in February, 1763. Part of the global land exchanged brokered in that agreement was Cuba was returned to the Spanish in exchange for Florida. King Charles III of Spain – determined to enhance the defense of Havana, ordered an additional fort adjacent to El Morro. By the time Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña (Fort of Saint Charles) was finished along the eastern side of the harbor in 1774, the wall stretched nearly 2,300 feet – the largest Spanish fort in the Americas. La Cabaña now hosts three museums: The Command Headquarters of Che Cuevara, the Museum of Arms and a fort history museum.

La Cabaña, La Habana, Cuba
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6 View of Harbor from La Cabaña in Havana, Cuba

The 200 foot, elevated view from Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña provides a panoramic view of La Habana Vieja (Old Havana) and Havana Harbour. Also visible is a cruise ship, the Norwegian Sky, moored at Terminal Sierra Maestra San Francisco. This bay was discovered in 1508 by Sebastián de Ocampo. The Spanish explorer is credited with making the first navigational voyage around the island of Cuba.

La Cabaña, La Habana, Cuba
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7 Paifang at Chinatown in Havana, Cuba

Beginning in 1857, hundreds of thousands of indentured Chinese were brought to Cuba under eight-year contracts to work on sugarcane plantations. They were all men. Thousands more immigrated from the United States. After their contracts, many returned home while others began living in the Chinese community called Barrio Chino de La Habana. When Fidel Castro came to power in 1959, most of the Chinese fled. However, the second and third generations Chinese Cubans who resulted from inter-racial marriages remained behind. This paifang is the entrance to Chinatown in Havana. Once thriving and one of the largest in Latin America, it is now only a couple of blocks of mostly restaurants.

Dragones and Amistad Streets, La Habana, Cuba
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8 ETECSA Telecommunications Building in Havana, Cuba

This Art Deco, 1920s building houses Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba. ETECSA has responsibility to regulate the country’s telecom services. Cubans purchase pre-paid cards to operate their cell phones if they are lucky enough to own one. They are expensive, so mobile phone use is limited. Direct calls to and from the United States were not allowed until 2015. The Internet has only been operative for a few years, is not always reliable and is mostly available by buying one-hour Internet cards. It is easy to find the Wi-Fi hot spots because people are clustered together while operating their phones. It is estimated less than 5% of Cubans have access to the Internet on a daily basis. Foreign visitors can purchase a SIM card at the airport or ETECSA stores. But it is easier to tell your family and friends in advance you will be mostly unreachable during your trip to Cuba.

Águila and Dragones, La Habana, Cuba
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9 Real Fábrica de Tabacos Partagás in Havana, Cuba

Cubans have enjoyed tobacco for over 4,000 years. Spaniards became enthralled with smoking after Christopher Columbus returned to Barcelona in 1493 with the unique crop among his cargo. By the end of the 16th century, Seville became the world’s tobacco capital. In 1717, King Philip V declared a monopoly on Cuban grown tobacco. When this royal degree called Estanco del Tabaco was lifted in 1817, it sparked a boom in cigar factories: over 1,300 were created in Havana during the next 50 years. One of them was Real Fábrica de Tabacos Partagás, founded by Spaniard Jaime Partagás in 1845. Among the brands of habanos they produce are Cohibas and Montecristos. Cigar aficionados will love the building’s aroma and watching the talented cigar makers during the tour.

Industria and Dragones Streets, La Habana, Cuba
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10 National Capitol Building in Havana, Cuba

When the National Capitol was finished in 1929, it served the Cuban Congress until Batista was overthrown by the Cuban Revolution in 1959. The Neoclassical building later became the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment. The 302 foot dome of El Capitolio has a striking resemblance to the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. Perhaps not surprisingly, the cupola was manufactured in the United States. Inside is the 49 foot tall, gilded Statue of the Republic. Notice the extensive renovation in progress. The Havana landmark is being extensively renovated with plans to become the home of the National Assembly in 2018.

San Jose and Paseo de Martí Streets, La Habana, Cuba
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11 Great Theatre of Havana in Havana, Cuba

Tacón Theatre has occupied this site across from Parque Central since 1838. In 1915, when this grand edifice by architect Paul Belau was added, it became the Palace of the Galician Centre. Although that is still the official name, the performing arts venue has been commonly called the Great Theatre of Havana since 1985. The elegant, white marble façade features statuary representing music, theater, education and charity along the first-level balustrade. Gran Teatro de La Habana Alicia Alonso hosts operas and dances by the Cuban National Ballet Company within its 1,500 person capacity García Lorca Auditorium.

458 Paseo de Martí, La Habana, Cuba
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12 Saratoga Hotel Bar Mezzanine in Havana, Cuba

This was previously a mixed-use building for stores, a warehouse and apartments dating from 1879. In 1933, the Saratoga Hotel relocated here. For decades, the luxury hotel’s proximity to the National Capitol Building made it a social gathering place for politicians and bohemians while they listened to Aires Libres, an all-women orchestra. After being nationalized, it suffered a steady decline as a rooming house during the 1960s until finally closing. In 2005, the property was extensively renovated and became the Saratoga Hotel. Ten years later, it was selected by the Cuban Journal as the city’s best hotel. This rose-colored bar on the mezzanine level has a distinct Caribbean flare including lattice ornamentation, fan lights and palm trees.

Prado 603 Esquina Draones, La Habana, Cuba
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13 Fountain of the Indian Woman in Havana, Cuba

Havana was founded in 1515 by Conquistador Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar. The original name for this settlement by the bay was San Cristóbal de la Habana. According to folklore, Habana referred to an Indian woman. That legend is personified in Fuente de la India, sculpted by Giuseppe Gaggini in 1837. On her shield is the city’s coat of arms – three castles and the “Key to the New World.” Surrounding the Carrara marble pedestal are four dolphins with water flowing from their gapping mouths. Fountain of the Indian Woman can be found at the end of Paseo del Prado near El Capitolio.

Parque De La Fuente De La India, La Habana, Cuba
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14 Famous El Floridita Bar in Havana, Cuba

This tavern on Calle Obispo has been serving libations since 1817. A century later, it became so popular among Florida tourists it was renamed El Florida and eventually El Floridita. According to legend, a bartender (cantinero) named Constantino Ribalaigua Vert blended together rum, lime juice and sugar then named his sweet concoction Daiquiri after a mine and beach in Santiago de Cuba. Although others claim to have invented the cocktail, the Floridita’s signature drink became a favorite of Earnest Hemingway. He frequented the bar from 1932 until the early 1940s. You can sip yours next to a life-size bronze statue of Papa at the end of the bar.

Obispo and Avenida Bélgoca, La Habana, Cuba
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15 National Museum of Fine Arts in Havana, Cuba

The National Museum of Fine Arts of Havana has two locations. Works by Cuban artists from the 17th through 19th centuries are displayed at Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts) on Avenue Juáez. Within the Palace of the Asturian Center shown here is the museum’s collection of European artwork. Palacio del Centro Asturiano was designed by Manuel Bustos and finished in 1927. After the Cuban Revolution, this building was the Supreme Court of Justice. In a sense, this photo along Avenida Bélgica captures Old Havana’s transition. Against a backdrop of an art museum are tourists riding in a horse-drawn carriage towards a laborer struggling to push a heavy handcart.

Avenida Bélgica and Obispo Street, La Habana, Cuba
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16 Birdcage Attached to Wall in Havana, Cuba

The best way to appreciate Old Havana is to walk through the streets and watch how the Habaneros work, play and socialize. The poverty is obvious but so is the welcome. Cubans seem gracious and accepting with a ready smile. So don’t restrict your tour to the top ten tourist sites. Seek out the city’s nuances and savor the surprises like this birdcage on a wall displaying Ronaldo, the yellow-faced grassquit.

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17 Church of Santo Cristo del Buen Viaje in Havana, Cuba

Prior to 1640, Iglesia del Cristo (Christ Church) stood on this site. The Franciscan hermitage was torn down to make way for the construction of the Church of Santo Cristo del Buen Viaje. After it was finished in 1664, it marked the spot where the annual Stations of the Cross procession ended each Good Friday. When a devastating storm struck in 1694, the church was largely destroyed and had to be rebuilt. The twin, octagonal bell towers were added by 1755. After undergoing subsequent renovations – the last one in 2016 – little remains of the original building. It is called the Church of Good Voyage because mariners came here to pray before transatlantic voyages.

Amargura and Cristo Streets, La Habana, Cuba
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Vintage Cars Statistics in Havana, Cuba

If you are delighted by attending antique auto shows, you will be overwhelmed by what you see in Havana. Estimates suggest there are 60,000 classic American cars in the country. 50% are from the 1950s, like this 1950 Chevy Styleline Deluxe. The rest are from the 1940s and even the 1930s.

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Open Windows Reduce Heat in Havana, Cuba

Most residential windows in Havana are covered with rusted metal bars. Yes, these provide security yet the crime rate is relatively low. They also allow people to keep their windows open and welcome any breeze that might reduce the sweltering heat. Cuba’s average annual high temperature is 83.8°F. In the summer months, it often reaches the mid-90s.

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18 Church of the Sacred Heart in Havana, Cuba

One of the best examples of Neo-gothic architecture in Havana is the Church of the Sacred Heart on Reina Street. Architect Luis Gogtza designed the rose window in the tympanum as the elegant background for the Sacred Heart of Jesus statue. This is one of 60 stained-glass windows adorning the Catholic church. The lace-like tower reaches an impressive and beautiful 253 feet.

Avenida Simón Bolivar and Padre Varela, La Habana, Cuba
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19 Our Lady of Kazan Orthodox Cathedral in Havana, Cuba

Fidel Castro signed his first agreement with the Soviet Union in 1960. When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, the Cuban government relationship with Russia suffered. That diplomatic bond improved when Vladimir Putin first became Prime Minister in 1999. A few years later, Castro offered to build a Russian Orthodox Church in Havana in appreciation for decades of friendship. In 2008, Our Lady of Kazan Orthodox Cathedral was consecrated. In the sunshine, the golden cupola on this Byzantine design by architect Alexey Vorontsov shines as brightly as the 1959 Plymouth Sport Fury convertible parked in front.

Avenida San Pedro and Santa Clara Street, La Habana, Cuba
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20 Waterfront Transition in Havana, Cuba

The waterfront along Malecón from the cruise terminal to Iglesia de Paula is in visible transition. Some of the historic architecture along the harbor have renewed elegance after careful restorations. A new ferry terminal – Emboque de Luz – is under construction. The 18th century promenade called Alameda de Paula has been revitalized with shops and restaurants. Its 330 foot length is lined with trees and is a pleasant esplanade for a stroll. Plus, there is an occasional greenspace like the Parque Aracelio Iglesias. Yet many buildings remain neglected, their once handsome facades in advanced state of decay.

Luz and Oficios Streets, La Habana, Cuba
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21 Hotel Armadores de Santander in Havana, Cuba

This beautifully restored building overlooking the harbor was originally the offices for maritime traders. It was built by José Cabrero Mier, a native of Santander. Inside the curved pediment is the coat of arms of this Spanish city. When a four-star hotel opened in 2002, they gave it a historic name: Armadores de Santander (Shipowners of Santander). The hotel faces Aracelio Iglesias Park, named after Aracelio Iglesias Díaz. While the leader of the Local Maritime Workers’ Federation, he significantly improved conditions for dock workers in the union until he was assassinated in 1948.

Luz and San Pedro Streets, La Habana, Cuba
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22 Archbishop Makarios Statue in Havana, Cuba

Partially hidden among bushes at Aracelio Iglesias Park near the Alameda de Paula promenade is this statue of Makarios III. He was the Archbishop of the Orthodox Church of Cyprus and the Ethnarch (leader) of the Greek Cypriot community. In 1960, he became the First President of the Republic of Cyprus and was compared to Castro’s rise in Cuba. Both men also became leaders in the Non-Aligned Movement, a group of countries “struggling against imperialism” (partial Castro quote). Perhaps that is why they developed a good relationship. In 2013, Bishop Nikiforos of Kykkos visited Havana, received an Ambassador of Cuba designation and gifted this sculpture by Nikolaos C. Kotziamanis.

Aracelio Iglesias Park, La Habana, Cuba
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23 Iglesia de San Francisco de Paula in Havana, Cuba

During the late 17th century, a church and hospital were built dedicated to Francis of Paola. He was a 15th century friar who founded the Roman Catholic Order of Minims. After he was canonized in 1519 – twelve years after his death – he became a patron saint of boatmen and mariners. After the initial church was destroy in a hurricane, it was replaced in 1740 with Iglesia de San Francisco de Paula (not to be confused with the similar named basilica nearby). The Baroque, cross-shaped structure is adjacent to Alameda de Paula promenade near the waterfront. The building is now a concert hall for classical music.

Malecón and San Pedro Streets, La Habana, Cuba
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24 O’Donnell Column at Alameda de Paula in Havana, Cuba

The marble centerpiece of Alameda de Paula, one of Havana’s oldest promenades built in 1777, is the Fuente de la Alameda de Paula. The fountain was erected in 1847 and named in honor of Captain General Leopoldo O’Donnell for his service as Cuba’s governor during the mid-1800s. He is noted for his retaliation against Cuban slaves in 1844 called the Year of the Lash. Later in his political career, O’Donnell was the Prime Minister of Spain.

Alameda de Paula, La Habana, Cuba
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25 Waterfront Artisan’s Market in Havana, Cuba

In 1885, this building on Avenida del Puerto was built by Compania de Almacenes as a waterfront warehouse. At the time, the structure was the most advanced wharf along the Havana Harbor. In 2009, it was transformed as the new home for the Almacenes San José Artisan’s Market. It is now called Centro Cultural Almacenes de San José. Beneath barren steel rafters, locals display their paintings, handicrafts and wares from cramped kiosks. The market is popular among tourists searching for a memento of their trip to Cuba.

San Pedro and Cuba Streets, La Habana, Cuba
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Selling Rum Behind Caged Window in Havana, Cuba

This caged window is a liquor store of sorts. The sign reads you can buy rum by the bottle, medium or a shot. Purchasing rum in Havana was not always this primitive. Facundo Bacardí Massó and his brother José founded a distillery in Santiago de Cuba in 1862. The fruit bats living in their warehouse where the inspiration for the company’s logo. Near this window is the Bacardi Building, a marvelous Art Deco design created in 1930. It was once Havana’s tallest structure. The company fled to the Bahamas in 1957. Since then, it has become the world’s largest family spirits company.

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Rooster Perched in Barred Window in Havana, Cuba

Exploring the streets of Old Havana revels plenty of unexpected sights like this rooster perched in a window behind rusted security bars. He seemed content watching people walking by. Occasionally, he would voice his opinion with a cock-a-doodle-doo.

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26 Che Guevara Mural in Havana, Cuba

Che Guevara was a prominent leader during the Cuban Revolution along with Fidel Castro. The revolt began in 1953 and ended with the ouster of President Fulgencio Batista in January of 1959. This victory lead to the formation of the socialist state. As a result, Guevara is considered a hero by the Communist Party. This mural – located at the intersection of San Ignacio and Santa Clara streets – resembles a photo taken of Guevara by photographer Alberto Korda in March of 1960. The image has grown into a cultural symbol of rebellion against the establishment.

San Ignacio and Santa Clara Streets, La Habana, Cuba
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Education System in Havana, Cuba

These young school children walking hand-in-hand down a street in Old Havana were adorable, causing bystanders to smile and wave. What is their educational future? Prior to the 1959 revolution, Cuba’s literacy rate was 22% while 60% were semi-literate. The new regime nationalized all schools and instituted Marxist theology. Yet they also made education a priority, spending 10% of GDP. The Literacy Campaign reached across the island with adult education. Primary and secondary schools were made compulsory yet free. The tuition at the university and two forms of technical training are also subsidized. The results? By the year 2000, 97% of 15 – 24 year olds were considered literate.

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27 Outdoor Eatery at Plaza Vieja in Havana, Cuba

This square was constructed at the request of Franciscans who complained the merchants at Plaza de San Francisco were disturbing their prayer in the basilica and convent. As a result, when it opened in 1559, it was called Plaza Nueva (New Square). Since then, it has had five other names and is now Plaza Vieja (Old Town Square). Since an extensive renovation in the 1980s, this square sparkles with color. Within the porticos of the 18th century, colonial buildings are art galleries, boutique stores and restaurants like this one. La Factoria Plaza Vieja is also a microbrewery, the perfect place for a cold beer on a hot afternoon.

San Ignacio and Muralla Streets, La Habana, Cuba
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28 Fantastic Voyage Sculpture at Plaza Vieja in Havana, Cuba

This whimsical bronze sculpture of a life-size woman riding a rooster is titled Fantastic Voyage. There is no explanation why she is naked except for high-heel shoes and why she holds a fork. Yet this absurd characterization of women is the hallmark of Cuban artist Roberto Fabelo. Viaje Fantástico was created in 2012 and installed at Plaza Vieja the following year.

San Ignacio and Muralla Streets, La Habana, Cuba
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29 José Martí Monument at Revolution Square in Havana, Cuba

José Martí was a 19th century Cuban intellectual. His political writings advocated freedom from Spanish control and warnings against the growing influence of the U.S. on Cuba. His beliefs were detailed in the Manifesto of Montecristi in March of 1895. The document became the foundation for the Revolutionary Party. Two months later, Martí was killed during the Battle of Dos Rios in the early part of the Cuban War of Independence against Spain. His death rallied the country to fight for liberty. A 59 foot statue of José Martí by Juan José Sicre is on the left. At the top of the five-star-shaped, 358 foot tower is an observation deck. Inside is a museum about the man called the “Apostle of Cuban Independence.” The José Martí Monument is the prominent feature of Revolution Square.

Avenida Paseo and Avenida de la Independencia, La Habana, Cuba
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30 Che Guevara Sculpture at Revolution Square in Havana, Cuba

Che Guevara was an Argentine rebel who was Fidel Castro’s righthand man during the Cuban Revolution. After their victory in 1959, Guevara had key roles during the Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis the following year. In 1967, while Che Guevara was leading gorilla forces called the National Liberation Army of Bolivia, his location was betrayed by an informant. He was surrounded by Bolivian troops, wounded, taken prisoner and executed shortly afterwards. This five-story, steel outline of Che Guevara is on the side of the Minister of the Interior building facing Revolution Square. Inscribed below are the words “Hasta la Victoria Siempre.” The translation is, “Until the Everlasting Victory Always.”

Avenida Paseo and Avenida de la Independencia, La Habana, Cuba
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31 Camilo Cienfuegos Sculpture at Revolution Square in Havana, Cuba

Most of the nearly 18 acres of Revolution Square is open space, making it the perfect place for large assemblies of over a million people. The plaza was also a favorite location for speeches delivered by Fidel Castro. One of two huge sculptures overlooking Plaza de la Revolución is this steel outline of Camilo Cienfuegos on the side of the Ministry of Informatics and Communications building. The 100 ton sculpture by Enrique Ávila Gonzales was erected in 2009. Camilo Cienfuegos was a key figure during the Cuban Revolution. After Castro’s victory in 1959, Cienfuegos became the leader of the rebel army for a few months until his plane disappeared at sea. Beneath this tribute to Cienfuegos are the words “Vas bien, Fidel.” This means “You’re doing fine, Fidel.”

Avenida Paseo and Avenida de la Independencia, La Habana, Cuba
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32 Earnest Hemingway’s Finca Vigia Estate near Havana, Cuba

In 1932, Earnest Hemingway lived 90 miles awhile from Cuba in Key West (see his former Florida home in the Key West section of this site). While visiting Cuba for marlin fishing, he became intrigued with Havana. He frequently stayed at the hotel Ambos Mundos until 1939. The following year, Hemmingway divorced his second wife, moved out of Florida and initially rented and then bought this estate called Finca Vigia. The “Lookout Farm” remained his winter residence until 1960. In the foreground is the guesthouse and garage. On the left is the main house. The 15-acre property is located in San Francisco de Paula about 15 miles from Havana.

Finca Vigía Km. 12 ½, La Habana, Cuba
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33 Earnest Hemingway’s Livingroom at Finca Vigia near Havana, Cuba

This is Earnest Hemingway’s living room at his former Cuban residence, Finca Vigia. He shared this house with his third wife, Martha Gellhorn, from 1940 until 1945 … a period when he covered the war and produced few literary works. His marriage ended when he met Mary Welsh, a magazine correspondent, in Paris. They married the following year. The couple returned to this Cuban retreat annually until 1960 when they abandoned the property in fear of Castro’s regime. The government seized it in 1961, the year Hemingway committed suicide in Idaho. A highlight of visiting this Cuban estate is seeing Hemmingway’s study. This is where he wrote part of “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” “The Old Man and the Sea” and “The Dangerous Summer.”

Finca Vigía Km. 12 ½, La Habana, Cuba
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34 Cruise Ships from the U.S. Return to Havana, Cuba

After 50 years of forbidden travel, the first cruise ship to sail from the United States to Havana was the MV Adonia. When it made the historic voyage in May of 2016, the ship was part of the Fathom Cruise Line (now ceased operations) owned by the Carnival Corporation. The passengers gained entry into Cuba with the promise to conduct social work on the island in a program called “people to people.” Soon other cruise lines offered Havana as part of their itinerary. Technically, embargos against Cuba from 1960 still exist. And President Trump’s executive order in June of 2017 have clouded the future for American cruise passengers and restricted independent travelers. So, book your trip soon.

Bahía de la Habana, La Habana, Cuba
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