Havana is the epicenter of Cuba - the equivalent of New York City. Words can’t do this city justice. It must be experienced. Cuba travel veteran, Howie Axelrod, recently shared 5 must do's while in the capital city. Here are a few more of his favorites to add to your Havana bucket list.
Original aircraft used in Cuban Missile Crisis at Morro Cabana Military Park.
1) Morro Cabana Military Park - aka Cuban Missile Crisis Park – Not far from the beautiful plazas of Downtown Havana in the outskirts of the city lies a unique piece of history. It is here where many of the missiles and armaments that created the rift between Cuba and the US that still exists today have been turned into an outdoor exhibit. In October 1962 Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev ordered a clandestine installation of medium-range missiles in Cuba. These were detected by U.S. spy aircraft, leading to the downing of a US reconnaissance aircraft, a high seas standoff, and the ensuing embargo of US shipments of goods to Cuba that still exists today. You will see the real hardware here. These are not replicas. The Cuban Missile Crisis shaped life in today’s Cuba more than anything that preceded it.
Hemingway's fishing boat "Pilar" on display at Finca Vigia.
2) Hemingway’s Home - aka Finca Vigia (in Cojimar – just outside of Havana) – In the small fishing village of Cojimar Hemingway spent his mornings beginning at sunrise working on what are among his greatest pieces. Ernesto’s experiences in Cuba and his love of the country and its people were his inspiration. Papa spent over 20 years in Cuba, and although he has been dead for 56 years, his stature in Cuba is in the same league as Fidel and Che. Visitors have relatively unrestricted access to the home and grounds and will feel Papa’s presence everywhere. Climb up to the small tower writing studio and you can see the original Corona typewriter that produced some of the world’s greatest works of fiction. Throughout Hemingway's home you will see his hunting trophies, library, and art. In the rear of the property you can see the burial plots and grave stones of his beloved 4 cats, as well the original “Pilar,” Papa’s prized fishing vessel. He loved this boat and spent many hours aboard her on the blue-green waters of the Gulfstream in search of giant Marlin. A Havana club cocktail was always within easy reach. Before returning to Havana go down to the harbor and view the beautiful fort and Papa’s statue looking out to sea. This bronze casting was made in his memory out of scrap propellers donated by the local fisherman who loved him deeply. If you are a Hemingway lover, a visit to Finca Vigia will be a deeply moving experience.
Los Industriales singing Cuba's national anthem at the start of their game.
3) Estadio Latinoamericano (Latin American Stadium) - For an off the charts experience attend a professional baseball game at Estadio Latinoamericano. This stadium is Cuba’s version of Yankee Stadium, and the Havana team the Industriales is their New York Yankees. Baseball and Cuba are inseparable, and a Cuban pro game is a real treat. The players are world class even by US standards. Over 200 players born in Cuba have played in our major league including superstars Jose Canseco, Luis Tiante, Rafael Palmeiro, Bert Campaneris, and Tony Perez, to name just a few. We saw the semi-final game, the winner of which would advance to their version of the World Series. 55,000 fans cheered non-stop, and a hit or play at a base shook the building! The Cuban government’s policy is that baseball tickets should be available to all citizens, not just to the haves. Fidel Castro expressed that sports should be “the right of the people, not the right of the wealthy.” As such, the price of a ticket to this major game was 1 Cuban Peso. That’s 5 cents reader, and this is NOT a typo!
Everything from t-shirts and trinkets to nice artwork, crafts and sculptures can be purchased at San Jose Market.
4) San Jose Market (Avenida del Puerto corner of Calle Cuba) – All of your souvenirs and gifts to bring home can be purchased at this warehouse sized building along the waterfront that houses several hundred craft vendors. Along with the usual tourist items and t-shirts, you can purchase high quality Cuban crafts and artwork. Sculptures, carvings, jewelry and paintings range from a few dollars up to several hundred. Spend an hour or two here. You already have your coffee to bring home, and hopefully a bottle or two of Cuba’s renowned Havana Club rum and a few of their world class cigars in your suitcase. Having seen many great music groups I suspect a few CD’s are in that suitcase as well. Now your shopping is done.
Locals hanging out and relaxing on the Malecon.
5) Walk the Malecón – No trip to Havana would be complete without a stroll on Havana’s iconic sea wall known as the Malecón. Along this several mile stretch you will see young and old, day and night, relaxing, conversing, fishing, and the like. This is where couples of all ages go to “romance.” The local joke is that it would be impossible to find any female over the age of 16 in Havana that has not been kissed along the Malecón. Life in Havana is outdoors. The Malecón is where it all happens. Bands play nightly and singing and dancing are part of the rhythm that is uniquely Havana. Talk with people and get involved. You are totally safe here, and the Cubans will embrace you, so relax and join the fun.
-Blog and Images by Howard Axelrod
Howard Axelrods Bio:
Howard Axelrod is an Ashland, Massachusetts resident, travel photographer, writer, and former high technology executive. He has photographed in 82 countries on six continents, and has travelled to 38 of the U.S. states. He is primarily interested in native and tribal cultures, architecture, and wildlife which he feels are all disappearing at an alarming rate. His goal is to document through photographs and writing as much of this as possible, while it still exists. He can be reached at email@example.com