“Never go on trips with anyone you do not love” said Ernest Hemingway, one of Cuba’s most famous residents. As directed, I traveled to Havana with three women whose friendships have endured through highs and lows for three decades. The laughter quotient was high, and seeing a new side of an old friend is one of the best gifts a journey can give you.
Havana is a trip for everyone. It is great for families with kids that can roll with the quirky. The musician Dave Matthews and his young family were staying at our hotel while we were there. It is great for friends, lovers and traveling solo. It is a place that delights and amazes you in understated and predictable turns in equal measure.
After the resumption of US-Cuban diplomatic relations in 2015, it is commonly reported that everything is changing in Havana. And indeed, just days after we departed, Chanel showed its Resort Collection on the Malecón, and the first cruise ship came into port with much ballyhoo.
But despite the huge increase in tourism over the past 18 months, the city still feels like it is holding on to time in all the right ways. For now.
Where to stay
Hotel Saratoga is right in the thick of Old Havana. Full of charm, nice rooms and a great location. Request a room on a high floor in the back to miss the exhaust and noise from the street below. A rooftop pool is great for post-touring relaxation. There isn’t a hotel (yet) in Cuba is 4 or 5 star, so be prepared
Hotel National- the McKim, Mead & White (Pennsylvania Station, Brooklyn Museum) designed hotel has large grounds on the Malecón with a view of Havana Harbor, the seawall and the city.
La Guarida –Havana’s first paladar (private restaurant) a cool old, crumbling limestone Mansion with a bustling restaurant bursting with charm
El Cocinero - an old factory setting with an intimate restaurant next to La Fabrica de Arte Cubano. It is great to stroll through the art exhibitions and have a night cap on the roof after dinner.
Dona Eutimia - casual Italian place by the cathedral
Café Artes Aguiar near the Callejon de los Peluqueros in Old Havana
Esperanza in Miramar- Feels like you are in a home out of The World of Interiors magazine
Café Ajiaco- located in the fishing village of Cojimar, the village that provided the inspiration for Hemingway’s novel, “The Old Man and the Sea”. Eat on the deck overlooking the water.
What to do
Hemingway’s house “Finca Vigia” in the town of San Francisco de Paula, was an absolute highlight. Not only does it delight the Architectural Digest fan in you, but the stories of how he wrote, dined and entertained do not disappoint. Go early, this is a popular tourist destination and the early bird gets the worm here.
Rent a classic convertible car to drive to dinner or lunch.
National Museum of Fine Arts
Take an architectural tour of the city
Roll your own cigars at a local factory
Have a drink at the retro Hotel Habana Riviera
Listen to jazz at La Zorra y el Cuervo
A few tips
At the time of writing, you still need to have a special visa to get into the country. We used Bespoke Travel (212) 352-8012. They can arrange all your travel visas, hotels, guides and restaurant reservations.
Be prepared to have very limited Internet. Bring extra soap, in bar form. You will need it and the locals will be beyond grateful to have it handed to them on the streets.
US Dollars cannot be used in Cuba, you must convert o the CUC, which you can do at most hotels. Credit cards cannot be used.