Settle in, this post might get really long. I want to share with you the week my family and I spent in Cuba this year. Also, I tried something a little different with my photos, so they posted not as HIGH of a resolution as I’d have liked, but you can see some more in groups. I might go swap some out at a later date, but for now, it’ll do!
We started in Miami. We flew in and met the rest of our group there.
When we got to Cuba, the first place we visited was Revolutionary Square or Plaza de la Revolución. Castro gave many of his speeches here and the tall structure you see below is the José Martí Memorial.
Already in the square we were flooded with sights of old cars!
We headed to lunch at a Paladar called CUBAPASION. I immediately got a mojito and ropa vieja! It was a perfect meal to kick off the trip.
After lunch, we realized it was too early to check into our hotel so we went to Colon Cemetery. Otherwise known as Christoper Columbus cemetery. Guess who ISN’T buried here?! The cemetery has over 800,000 graves & over 1 million interments. It still has active funerals every day.
Columbus might not be here, but right above is the grave of the inventor of the Daiquiri! We also saw notable graves like that of Amelia and her baby – both of whom died during child birth. Apparently, the child was laid to rest between her mother’s legs, but when the grave was exhumed, the baby was in the mother’s arms. Now, Cubans come daily to pray to her asking for blessings at birth.
Above is the tallest monument in the graveyard. It is dedicated to 15 firefighters that lost their lives in 1890 when a building exploded. The men were misled about the danger they walked into while trying to put out the fire. Later on our trip, we got to see the building that burned down. This grave had an incredible amount of symbolism in the design, including tears hanging from the chains, bats (representing betrayal), crosses, and a pelican (representing their sacrifice).
One of the highlights of the trip was seeing the house of my great grandparents. My aunt and uncle used to go to this apartment as children and we were determined to find it. Our local Cuban guide ended up living in the same neighborhood and he took us there. The little frog pond was still out front, and the Cuban woman who owns it now was generous and allowed us to go in!
We walked around the crumbling streets of the neighborhood my family remembered and admired the architecture. It took us a long time to get back to the hotel because transportation is challenging in Havana. Our guide called a friend with a car to help us out. I really don’t know how we would have seen this house without him!
In Havana we stayed in the Hotel Nacional de Cuba. It sits overlooking the Malecón and ocean beyond. Up on the hill, we sat outside enjoying drinks and the view.
The building is gorgeous and opened in 1930. We had three rooms between the six of us and I shared one with my Aunt Sharon. I marveled at the grounds and the peacocks walking around!
The hotel was built on the site of the Santa Clara Battery so you can see two old costal guns on the property. It is one of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites. There are also tunnels along the hillside.
My cousin Audrey and I wandered down to the Malecón to take photos from underneath of the hotel, ocean and the cars passing by. We sat there for 30 minutes capturing the views and dozens of colors of old automobiles in the sun.
Most of the cars that pulled up to the hotel were taxi cabs taking tourists into Havana itself. This green one caught my attention since it matched my branding so perfectly!
Dinner that night was in a paladar called Cafe Laurent. It was very close to the hotel so we walked there and then up SEVERAL flights of stairs to the top of the apartment building where the restaraunt was.
The view was gorgeous from the top! And the food was equally delicious. We had plenty of wine and great conversation. It was the perfect end to an evening.
The next day we headed down to old Havana. We saw some of the oldest buildings in the city and a hotel where Ernest Hemmingway stayed.
We got an architecture tour from an old professor who was fascinating. I learned a ton about how many types of design styles you could see along the streets.
The walls of this former church in the Plaza de San Fransico were made using coral. You can still see the texture in the walls.
We continued on and say old aquaducts and stopped in the Plaza Vieja.
We returned to this Plaza later in the evening to go to Cafe Taberna. There we saw some former members of the Buena Vista Social Club perform. I got to swing dance there and thoroughly enjoyed the show we saw.
We had lunch in the old Havana area and continued to walk and explore other sites.
Near the Plaza de la Catedral I went searching for an artist my brother had told me about. While I couldn’t find him, we did find an amazing print shop with tons of lithostones that were used to make cigar wrappers.
This is the Monument to the Victims of the USS Maine. The monument was meant to be shaped like the ship.
I spent the afternoon at the hotel pool after all that walking in the morning.
The next day, after a rough night of sleep I might add, we began off around the city again. At first, we tried to go to Havana club, but it was packed, so we ended up at a local art market in an old train station. There I bought an intaglio print and a necklace made of seed beads. We also went to the National Museum of Fine Arts.
We also got the opportunity to tour a cigar factory. It was challenging to hear everything that was going on in the factory, but they did let my Aunt try and roll her own cigar.
When we finished at the factory, we got to see the Museo de la Revolución. The building where the museum is used to be the Presidential Palace. We saw Batista’s office and the room he snuck into during an assassination attempt.
They are working to restore the building in some spots, but in others, they are leaving the bullet holes in the wall.
It was pretty crazy to see the carrerra marble littered with bullet holes.
We also drove around and saw some of the huge variety in architecture from decayingthe Capital building.
Below is The Gran Teatro de La Habana Alicia Alonso where the Cuban National Ballet performs. We actually have a photo of my grandmother dancing with Alicia Alonso as a girl.
The colors and variety of styles truly is incredible.
On our way out of Havana, we stopped at Fusterlandia. Here Cuban artist José Fuster has turned his home into a giant piece of artwork. The walls are covered in mosaic tiles.
Here is a quick video starting on the roof of his home and working my way down.
I’ve never seen so much tile in all my life. It certainly compares to some I saw in Barcelona, but his imagery is unreal.
We also visited an organic farm outside the city. The farm is partially owned by everyone that works it which gave a lot of motivation the farm hands. They had a ton of creative ways to take care of their crops and they showed us how they keep their soil fertilized using worms.
We tried Stevia straight from the plant. They talked to us about how they are trying to educate Cubans to eat more vegetables. Since they don’t eat a lot know, they explained that they have no issues with people breaking in and stealing food. The one plant that does go missing is mint, presumedly for mojitos.
Our last stop outside the city before getting to Varadero was Finca Vigía. This was Ernest Hemingway’s Cuban home. You can walk around the property and peek inside the rooms. Below is his bedroom, with his old school original standing desk with typewriter.
You could also see his boat and bathroom where he obsessively recorded his weight on the wall.
Our hotel in Varadero was much more modern than the one in Havana. It was a true beach resort. My grandmother spent years telling me how gorgeous this beach was, and her stories did not dissappoint. The water was too rough to fully enter but the sand was perfect for resting.
The grounds of the property were fabulous. You could walk the cliffs near the ocean and breathe in fresh air. I even splurged and got a back massage when I was there!
We left the hotel one morning to go see Mariela Orozco’s home studio. She orders specialty cold dyes & paints patterns on the fabric by using found objects & rice. While it’s hard to procure her materials, she has found a way. Her pieces have exhibited in New York City and she has created incredible fashion pieces inspired by other Cuban artists.
She held a fashion show for us and I bought the dress above. It is simply gorgeous and has such a beautiful shape. The rest of the trip was back at the hotel relaxing. We played games by the pool and enjoyed drinks and food with our family.
I have every intention of getting back to this beach one day. I couldn’t imagine going through life not seeing this view again. That’s me in the palms!
Here are my feet gathered up on all the places we visited.
And here are our guides, Frank & Alé. Both of them were so kind and had tons of information to share. I wish I could take another trip with both of them somewhere else in the world.
Hope you enjoyed all my Cuba photos! This was a trip of a lifetime for me and I plan on returning in a few years and trying to see the rest of the island.