WEEKEND IN HAVANA

5 Days/4 Nights Departs from Ft Lauderdale

Day 1 – Friday Ft. Lauderdale / Havana: Check in this morning at the Ft Lauderdale airport for our commercial charter flight via Jet Blue to Havana and start yout trip to Cuba. We are met at the airport in Havana by our guide and drive along the outskirts of Havana to lunch at Paladar IL Divino, which is considered by many as one of the best private restaurants in Cuba. Paladar owners are truly Cuba’s new breed of entrepreneurs and during visits to these restaurants you meet the owners and are free to discuss the impact of private business on Cuba’s economy. We also visit the garden that supplies fresh vegetables and other ingredients to the restaurant. Nearby in San Francisco de Paula we pay homage to “Papa” Hemingway at his former home Finca Vigia, preserved almost as it was on the day of his death. Hemingway’s boat Pilar has been restored and is also on display.

We have an expert Cuban guide to tell us the history of the home and about Hemingway’s time in Cuba. Then we drive into Havana and check into our hotel, either the Saratoga or Hotel Parque Central. This evening we have a special welcome reception and dinner at the exclusive beachfront Club Habana, which was once the Havana Biltmore Yacht & Country Club. On the grounds of Club Habana is La Casa del Habano, which is one of the top cigar shops in Havana. (L,D)

Day 2 – Saturday Havana: This morning we visit a Cuban cigar factory, which is a journey back in time. There you will see scores of workers, each making cigars entirely by hand. It’s an unrushed, antique and artisanal process, one that has not changed in any major way for hundreds of years. Today we also learn more about the classic cars of Cuba and how they are maintained, repaired, bought and sold. There is a local saying that “Cuban mechanics work magic” and our visit to a Cuban auto mechanic’s shop will demonstrate why this saying seems so. Lunch is at Paladar Rio Mar, one of the best restaurants for food and the amazing view of the Almendares River mouth entering Havana Bay.

In the afternoon we visit an artist’s studio to learn about her life and work. This evening we enjoy dinner at another of Havana’s fine private restaurants such as L’ Atelier, a paladar in a Vedado neighborhood mansion decorated with wonderful contemporary Cuban art. La Chansonnier and San Cristobal are also good choices. Those who wish to have an even later night out may consider going to the famous Tropicana nightclub, which can be arranged. (B,L,D)

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Day 3 – Sunday Havana: This will be a full day and we begin it by cruising around Havana in classic American cars from the 1950s to get a better overview of the city and the different neighborhoods. We make a stop at Cementerio de Colon to see some of the vast array of monuments and works of art in architecture located here. Designed by Spanish architect Calixto de Loira in the mid-1800s, it is laid out in grids around a central chapel a short visit here gives a great sense of the history of Havana’s wealth and love of artistic expression over the centuries.

We continue past the University of Havana into Central Havana on our way to the old Capitol building where we slowly cruise past the Grand Theater, Central Park and along the Paseo del Prado, a wide avenue separating Old Havana from the central city. Paved in marble, this promenade is a popular place for locals to relax while children play. We see numerous art deco buildings, including the famous Barcardi Building stopping at Sloppy Joes for a drink and for some Hemingway history. Lunch is nearby and desert is at a place famous for ice cream called Helad’Oro.

Then when there aren’t such large crowds of tourists we go for a walk through the historic squares of Old Havana that we did not see yesterday. Some plazas are famous for book sellers lining the edges of the park and others are known for art and music. We see Hotel Ambos Mundos where Ernest Hemingway kept a room for years. The hotel served as a refuge for writing such works as For Whom the Bell Tolls and as a base for frequenting his favorite bars. You have a moment to see the room where Hemingway worked if you wish and then time to enjoy a mojito on the rooftop terrace. Dinner is on our own tonight so some may want to leisurely stroll back to the hotel along Obispo Street, a lively pedestrian boulevard in the middle of Old Havana, to the Floridita, a bar famous as Hemingway’s favorite and known as the Cradle of the Daiquiri.

Others could continue to Plaza Vieja and retreat to Factoria Plaza Vieja, Cuba’s only microbrewery. Enjoy a frosty glass of light, medium or dark beer made with Austrian-imported ingredients. There are many restaurants in Old Havana if you choose to dine here. Music is very important to Cubans and the jazz clubs are popular especially on Sunday nights. One of the newest, and hottest spots is Fabrica de Arte Cubana (F.A.C.) but the action tends to start late at night. (B,L)

Urban scene in a well known street in Havana

Day 4 – Monday Havana: We begin our day with a visit to the popular dance company Havana Queen or to Habana Compas Dance in their headquarters in the Marianao district of Havana. Compas Dance is a private school of dance that is famous for its modern dance troupe. We meet dancers,view training session and a rehearsal rich in history, powerful percussion and unique dance styles. Next we meet a local chef who accompanies us on an exploratory journey through a Cuban food market where local people buy their produce in CUC or Cuban pesos.

Our chef will point out locally grown vegetables, tropical fruits, spices, herbs and explain their uses in the Cuban kitchen. With food being so scarce in Cuba it takes real magic to get all the ingredients needed for a single recipe. We have a late lunch with our chef and the remainder of the day is available for further exploration. Some may wish to visit Havana’s largest arts and crafts market located directly next door to a repository of important automobiles in Cuban history or to relax back at the hotel before a nice evening out. We start with drinks at the historic Hotel Nacional in the gardens overlooking the sea.

Then we drive in classic cars along the Malecon and across the bay for views of sunset and Havana coming to life in the early evening. We have dinner at Paladar La California where we meet the owner who also happens to be a classic car enthusiast. We end the evening with a revue of Buena Vista Social Club music. (B,L,D)

View of Hotel Nacional among green palm trees in Havana. Cuba

Day 5 – Tuesday Havana / Miami: We leave the hotel this morning and drive to the airport in Havana to check in for our flight to Miami where we clear customs and continue home. (B)