Hemingway in Cuba

Literary giant Ernest Hemingway loved Cuba: its fishing, its climate, the daiquiris he discovered at a local bar and would popularize. Cubans, in turn, adored “Papa” Hemingway, who described himself as “Cubano sato,” an average Cuban. He first saw Cuba as a layover on his way to Spain, and ended up living on the island for most of his last two decades (1940-60). 

Hemingway wrote three of his best-known works, A Moveable Feast, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and The Old Man and the Sea, at his unpretentious island home, nicknamed Finca Vigia, or Lookout Farm. Writing The Old Man and the Sea, the author drew inspiration from fishing excursions off the Cojimar coast. That book’s main character, a feisty mariner with an indomitable spirit, is said to have been modeled, at least partly, on Gregorio Fuentes, captain of Hemingway’s fishing boat, the Pilar. “Old man,” indeed! Fuentes lived to age 104. The novella won Hemingway the 1954 Nobel Prize for literature. He donated his gold medal to the Cuban people.

During World War II, the author hunted German U-boats from The Pilar. The vessel had been named for his wife, Pauline, though the boat and the couple’s marriage predated his move to Cuba. Hemingway resided on the island with two subsequent wives: Martha Gellhorn and Mary Welsh. 

Hemingway met Fidel Castro (accompanied by revolutionary “Che” Guevara) briefly in 1960 at a fishing contest named for the writer. Shortly after Castro’s rise to power, however, the Hemingways left Havana for their home in Idaho. The author would die there a few months later. 

Image from the interior of the Floridita bar, in Havana, Cuba. Statue of Ernest Hemingway by Cuban artist José Villa Soberón. 
Photo credit: Frederic Schmalzbauer 

Hemingway’s Legacy

Finca Vigia is now a museum. Hemingway’s favorite bars (La Floridita, where he was introduced to the Daiquiri, and which boasts a life-sized statue of the literary lion, and Bodeguita del Medio, famous for its Mojitos) still receive scores of visitors each year. The Hotel Ambos Mundos, where the author stayed before establishing a permanent home in Cuba, preserved his room as a tourist destination. West of Havana, amid low white buildings with colorful rooftops, stands Marina Hemingway, where the annual Hemingway International Billfish Tournament has run for more than 60 years. As Cuba left its impression on “Papa” Hemingway, so, too, did Hemingway leave his mark on Cuba.

Hemingway Marina in Cuba. Photo credit: Robin Thom

 Text by Chelsea Lowe