Everyone is talking about Cuba’s newly burnished allure and this overnight travel sensation-destination is suddenly in light-speed.
In Part I of Z’Scoop’s Cuban survival guide, we give you a glimpse of what traveling there might be like.
And coming soon, Z’Scoop’s exclusive interview with Grammy Award-winning Arturo O’Farrill, pianist, composer, educator and founder/Artistic Director of the Afro Latin Jazz Alliance.
In the last two weeks, this tiny island 90 miles from Florida hosted: President Obama and family, as well as newscaster Charlie Rose, Rock royalty, the Rolling Stones made tidal waves via a free, mega-concert March 25: Havana America Latina Olé. Cuban travel packages are developing hand-over-fist online, and Carnival Cruise Lines starts going to Cuba in May. What else composes Cuba’s myriad of delights?
Caribbean Magic In a Time Warp
Cuba’s charms are unique: world famous cigars, rum, extraordinary Art Deco architecture, pastel buildings, vintage 40’s cars, the pulsating balmy romantic rhythm of island life at affordable prices.
After decades of Communism, Cuba’s tourist industry with a dilapidated physical infrastructure and just 68,000 hotel rooms is under unprecedented strain to meet the huge influx of tourists en route Although beauty and exciting culture abound, creature comforts may be spotty, including the basics; hot water, internet, etc. so be prepared for roughing it. According to Collin Laverty of Cuba Educational Travel, “From off-loading at the airport to restaurant availability, the infrastructure is maxed out.”
Havana has three main areas with most of the tourist sites: Habana Vieja is majestic and historic. Centrally located Centro Habana: for a glimpse of authentic Cuban life. Vedado is the historic formerly Mafia-owned district with hotels, restaurants, and throbbing nightlife.
Cuisine: On The Cusp of Gastronomic Revolution
Three of the world’s best chef-restaurateurs: Mexican Enrique Olvera, Spanish Andoni Aduriz and Italian Massimo Bottura, are creating a new, world class restaurant in Havana: Pasta, Tapas, Y Tacos.
Basic Cuban fare is also delicious: Great steaks, “vaca frita” simmered beef marinated in Havana’s signature mojo sauce, octopus and abundant seafood, renowned Cuban Sandwiches, bread brochettes, fried plantains, malanga fritters and tomato salsa with crema Catalana or flan for desert.
Restaurants and Cafes:
- 304 O’Reilly (Habana and Aguiar)
- Guardia (Concordia,)
- Cafe El Escorial (Plaza Vieja.)
Ernest Hemingway wrote “For Whom the Bell Tolls” at the Hotel Ambos Mundos. Other Hemingway watering holes include El Floridita for daiquiris, and of course, Sloppy Joe’s.
Where To Stay:
- Hotel Nacional: Perched on low cliffs, it’s a grand eclectic architectural mix pre-Las Vegas casino-hotel once owned by American mobsters Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky and silent partner, Cuban president Juan Batista. Ask for “historic” celebrity-named rooms like: Frank Sinatra-Ava Gardner, Gary Cooper, Errol Flynn or Rita Hayworth, to name a few.
- Hotel Saratoga: Palm trees, neoclassical charm, Mojitos on the roof. Recent guests: Jimmy Page, Jay Z and Beyoncé.
- Hostal Conde De Villanueva: For cigar-afficionados, each room is named after a tobacco plantation. Peacocks and chickens complete the ambiance. Beautiful 18th century, aristocratic mansion.
- Hotel Inglaterra: -Old world charm, the Gran Cafe el Louvre and a great front terrace for people-watching
- Hotel Raquel: Converted from a textile warehouse, preserving a grand baroque facade and dazzling Art Nouveau interior.
- Hotel Santa Isabel: Aristocratic Spanish colonial architecture, balconies over the Plaza de Armas. Favored by: Jack Nicholson, Sting, Jimmy Carter, and Robert Plant.
- Hotel Sevilla: Moorish architecture, convenient yet private location. Live music in courtyard.
Hot News Flash: Cuban Art
A small window of time still exists for discovering the next Jackson Pollock before prices skyrocket. “Visual arts, music and poetry may be Cuba’s greatest exports,” says Sandra Levinson, Executive Director-Center-Cuban Studies-Curator-Cuban Art Space, New York. Be sure to visit the Museum of Cuban Art.
Calendar of Cuban Events:
- Gibalta Film Festival: (April) Low-budget, indie-alternative film, theater,concerts and art exhibits in small coastal cultural hub.
- Carnivale: (July-August) Parades, exotic floats, conga lines, street art, concerts,costume contests.
- Festival Habanos: (February 29-March 4) Fine cigars and luxury
- Havana Art Biannual: (June 2017) artists and collectors from over 90 countries.
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