The Obama administration is easing travel restrictions to Cuba. After almost three decades of isolation, global tourism is one of the main sources of revenue for the Caribbean island. Five star hotels in La Habana offer deluxe amenities; the Hotel Saratoga provides a superb location for touring this marvelous old city, as it is in the midst of a once luxurious neighborhood. Faded elegance is apparent in the Habana Viejo district of crumbling palaces and winding cobblestone streets, it is still very appealing and staying here provides the most authentic Havana touring location. Plop at the rooftop pool for afternoon Mojitos or an icy Cuban Cristal beer – relax and enjoy the sunset after a long day of walking and sightseeing.
The historic Nacional Hotel is very popular, although it is a bit busy with tourists traipsing through the interiors and gardens of the famed former mobster and movie star hotel; an art deco reminder of the elegance and excess of pre-revolution Cuba.
A trip to the Hemingway Museum in a classic 1955 Chevy is worth every bounce and bump – time seems to have stood still in this suburb just outside Havana. One can understand the Cuban captivation, which kept Hemingway, ensconced at the preserved villa Finca Vigia.
Trinidad is a must visit, retaining the sleepy life of a small colonial town. Founded in 1514, it maintains several beautiful buildings dating from the 17th and 18th centuries. Meander through the streets, many closed to cars, but open to donkey carts. Chickens run free, dogs doze in the shade, and ancient men smoking cigars ponder the lazy day in rural Trinidad.
An afternoon helado (ice cream) is a refreshing afternoon ritual – Castro promised ice cream after the revolution and it is a delicious treat! Even if it costs the tourists more for the creamy Coppelia treat, communist charm dictates an ice cream every day. Sit and enjoy the ice cream, ponder the many Che and Revolution posters, proclaiming Socialism.
Billboards scattered in the countryside and in Havana remind the locals of the importance of their leader. A slice of life – despite the tourism, old traditions are practiced.
I met with several well known artists, one whose work hangs in the Contemporary Art Museum, dined at the best private restaurants, took a class in Master Mojito Making, and enjoyed the vibrant scene at the Ricky Ricardo style ‘Tropicana’ Nightclub!
Traveling with a humanitarian organization facilitates an authorized trip to Cuba; I’ve partnered with a local group – allowing me to select the best hotels, guides and paladars. My sensibilities, their license, your adventure!