We found the country safe, the people welcoming
Cuba was the first destination that came to mind when discussing our fall break family vacation plans. My wife was, at first, hesitant. She was worried about the safety and thought planning a trip to the island in two weeks was too short a notice.
After careful consideration, we decided that we wanted to see the island before the lifting of the embargo would completely change it. My wife, our three children and I packed our bags and headed to this tropical island. In the end, Havana was the best choice we could have possibly made.
We realized we had been wrong to doubt our choice. Not only is Cuba one of the safest countries we’ve visited, but the people were also very open and friendly to Americans. We found a city bustling with life, a culture that willingly opened up its arms to us, and a country that continually surpasses every hardship that it faces.
Trying to fit the entirety of the experience into a single article would be impossible, so I choose instead to try to capture the highlights of each day.
Day 1: Wednesday, October 14
We arrived at the Jose Marti International Airport, where our guide, Mario Otero, greeted us as if we were family. He took us to have lunch at a chic place called Eso No Es Un Café. The cafe is famous for having the best selection of Cuban rum in the country.
Thirsty for more, we then went to the Rum Factory, an interesting museum where you can learn about the process of distilling this local drink and the history of rum manufacturing in Cuba.
To finish the day, we explored art in the city. We stopped by Taller de la Grafica and saw artists working on their pieces. Then we went to Jose Fuster’s Home and Mosaic Garden. This live museum was one of the highlights of our trip.
We stayed at Hotel Sevilla in Old Havana. The hotel was very simple and clean. In the 1920s it was one of the finest hotels in Cuba. Every night there was live music with traditional Cuban bands that guests could enjoy.
Day 2: Thursday, October 15
On the second day we were joined by our good friend and well-known Twin Cities personality David Ellis. Otero took us all out into the countryside. We were able to enjoy the beautiful scenery and see life in Cuba outside of Havana. We had lunch at Secret Garden, a restaurant located in Finca Mario Pellegrini. I can honestly say this was one of the best meals any of us had ever had.
After enjoying this culinary heaven, we headed to Casa de Montesino, home of one of the senior farmers for world-famous Cohiba Cigars. This is the place to be if you love cigars, but the children also loved it because of its beautiful scenery.
Before heading back to Havana, we stopped at the Indian Cave, a place where slaves who worked in the plantations would hide when they ran away. We took a boat trip through the cave and enjoyed some more of the tropical landscapes and viewpoints around us.
The day started with touring around Old Havana and seeing some of its UNESCO World Heritage Sites. We stopped at Parque Central, Plaza Vieja, and Plaza de la Cathedral, and we enjoyed watching the people hang out in the streets. We also went to the Entrada Camara Oscura, where we got to see the entire city through a rare panoramic telescope originally inspired by Leonardo da Vinci.
We had lunch at O’Reilly 304, a trendy place with international fusion dishes. Then, Otero surprised us with a private jazz concert with the noted jazz musician Hector Quintana and his quartet.
The day ended with dinner at San Cristobal, a fantastic traditional food restaurant in a residential part of Old Havana.
Day 4: Saturday, October 17
Our last day was no less exciting. We started by visiting the grounds of Ernest Hemingway’s home and then briefly touring the beautiful Moro Fortress.
Afterwards, we rented two classic convertibles: gold ’52 and a pink ’55 Chevys. We looped around El Malecón and got to see the city from a different perspective.
Then it was time to say goodbye to this wonderful country and its friendly people. We headed back to the Jose Marti International Airport, thankful for the incredible experience, and hopped on a plane back home.
We can’t wait to visit Cuba again.
Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD is a board-certified dermatologist and Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. He also has a private practice in Eagan, MN.