“Never go on trips with anyone you do not love.” wrote Ernest Hemingway in his memoir, The Moveable Feast. Hemingway, one of the best-known figures in Cuba, was an American journalist, novelist, writer, and traveler. He lived in Cuba on and off for three decades and would travel there to escape winters in Idaho.
Traveling with a companion is great but traveling solo gives you the experience of indulging yourself. Cuba is a famous destination for solo travelers. It is safe and only a short flight from the U.S.
Many of us wonder whether is it possible for Americans to travel to Cuba?
According to the U.S. Embassy in Cuba, there are 12 categories of authorized travel to Cuba. Since tourism isn't technically allowed, the category “Support for Cuban People” is the most common category for traveling from the States. Americans are subject to certain restrictions that include supporting the local economy. This means you should stay in an accommodation owned as a private Cuban residence, eat at privately owned Cuban restaurants, called paladares, and shop at privately owned Cuban stores. In addition, travelers need to have a full-time schedule of activities that have them interacting with the Cuban people.
On my solo trip in August 2019, I used the category “Support for the Cuban people” and stayed at an Airbnb. A confirmed booking was required, and my visa was obtained at the gate before boarding the plane. Check out Cuba Travel for more information.
Traveling solo doesn't necessarily mean you are on your own. You can join a group tour or hire a private tour guide. And if you are friendly (as I am), you may have the chance to meet another solo traveler to hang out with.
I hired the “I Love Cuba Photo Tours” and was lucky to have Rey Cruz as my guide. He is not only a guide but a photojournalist who took my fantastic photos. On my first day, Rey and the owner of a dark red convertible car picked me up early. I was ready to rock and roll.
Our first stop was at the park to meet John Lennon, at least his statue, in a park named in his honor. I learned that Cuba banned his music during the 1960s and 70s. Later his statue was erected because Fidel Castro considered him a “fellow dreamer.” Suddenly, I was inspired to sing my favorite song by John Lennon . . . “You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I hope someday you'll join us. And the world will live as one.”
There is an old house near the park where Rey takes his clients for a photo shoot. The weather was great and the setting was perfect. Rey busily directed me to achieve my classic photo as I asked myself, “Is this how it is to be a model?”
Our second destination was for breakfast at Café de Cuba in Vedado, located in the central business district of Havana. This neighborhood is home to some of the country's nightlife and cuisine. Of course, I had to try the authentic Cuban sandwich. Cuban sandwich in Cuba? What a treat!
Fusterlandia was our third stop, located outside Havana. It is a wonderland of mosaic tiles built by a Cuban artist, José Fuster. He was inspired to build his own by similar mosaic parks in Barcelona and Romania. I've visited the one in Barcelona and I must say that Fuster’s is great too.
Our last stop was the Faro Castillo del Morro, a lighthouse built in 1845 on the wall of the “Castillo de Los Reyes Magos del Morro,” an old fortress guarding the harbor of Havana. It is one of Havana's iconic symbols and one of the most visited places by tourists and locals. The lighthouse has appeared in several movies and is a favorite subject for painting and photography. Unfortunately, the lighthouse wasn't open for climbing that day, so I missed that fun part. However, riding in a classic car to see the lighthouse was more than fun.
The following day, I took a crowded bus with no air conditioning into Old Havana. I believe that immersing oneself with locals and their culture should be a part of travel, so I didn't mind the uncomfortable experience. On the bus, I met two tourists from California whom I joined to explore Old Havana, including a drink at El Floridita where Hemingway used to hang out and drink his favorite daiquiri, the must-have drink in Cuba. The bar was busy, with tourists singing and dancing (including me) to “Despacito.” Everybody was having fun with their daiquiris. Later, we dined at Hotel Inglaterra, Havana’s oldest that housed Winston Churchill when he was a reporter covering the Spanish Cuban War in 1895.
Walking the cobblestone streets, seeing the old architecture, public buildings, and elegant classic cars on the streets of Havana was like watching a period movie.
Visiting El Floridita, drinking daiquiris, and a photo opportunity with his bronze statue was my date with Ernest Hemingway. I call it my Hemingway experience in Cuba!
Plaza de la Revolucion is an essential place in Havana's history where Fidel Castro delivered his speeches. In the plaza's center stands a memorial tower to Cuban national hero Jose Martí. Classic cars for rental are parked in this area, where you can choose your favorite for your joy ride. I've heard that it is almost a sin to leave Havana without taking a ride in a classic car, so you had better do that while in Cuba!
I was delighted to achieve my goals on my trip to Cuba; ride in a classic car, “meet” Ernest Hemingway, see the Faro Castillo del Morro lighthouse, and eat a Cuban sandwich.
Whether traveling with someone or solo, make it a habit to enroll your trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy through the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program to stay connected, informed, and safe.
Cuba is a unique destination, diverse and rich in history. If you love cars, I recommend visiting Cuba at least once in your lifetime. You can travel solo or with someone you love. Traveling to Cuba will give you a classic experience and the feeling of traveling back in time.
Please check out Flying to Cuba for my video story. Until the next trip.