I Am Cuba

The Spirit of Havana, in Pictures

Photographer Michael Greenberg recently visited Havana. His stunning pictures make clear the indomitable spirit of the Cuban people and the vibrancy of their capital city.

Travel is meaningful — not only because almost every trip you take will move you outside of your comfort zone, but also because every interaction is a chance to contribute to mutual understanding between people. While governments may disagree, the power of hospitality allows their citizens to find common ground and discover the beauty that often lies across borders. It’s a big reason why Tablet exists, and it’s why we recently decided to start adding Cuban hotels to our selection.

As they’ve been for over half a century, U.S.-Cuba relations remain in flux, and the rules for American tourists continue to be restrictive. New York photographer Michael Greenberg just returned from Havana, and his pictures display a couple of other constants of the past 50+ years: the indomitable spirit of the Cuban people and the vibrancy of their capital city.

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Classic Cars and Modern Progress

 

U.S. economic sanctions combine with Cuba’s own laws against buying foreign-made cars to explain the proliferation of 1950’s automobiles on the island. That may be changing, though, as Raul Castro recently began easing regulations on imports. At the same time, the Obama-era rollbacks of American travel restrictions have inspired the country to start making the upgrades necessary to accommodate droves of new tourists (and enjoy the benefits of their spending power). The irony being, of course, that tourists are drawn there partly because of Cuba’s reputation as something of a trip back in time, cut off from many of the technological advancements of the past 55 years.

 

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Highlights in Havana

 

Havana’s history is a living thing, indelibly etched into every monument and façade. Traverse El Malecón, the esplanade and seawall stretching along the coast, to mingle with local fishermen and people-watch at your leisure. Classic-car taxi drivers — enduring emblems of the city’s resourcefulness — can be found in abundance in Parque Central, Havana’s main public park. Be sure to wander through the Callejón de Hamel at some point; it’s a technicolor alleyway full of local artists’ workshops, and one of the best places to snag a memento. Don’t miss the captivating architecture in the 16th-century Plaza Vieja, which bears influences from the Cuban baroque to Art Nouveau and everything in between.

 

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A Complicated Situation

 

If you’re an American planning a trip to Cuba, the current situation is complicated, to say the least. Only recently has it been legal to travel to Cuba without special permission from the government, as long as the reason for your visit fits into one of 12 authorized categories (most choose “Educational Activities,” necessitating a thorough itinerary of learning activities in contact with locals). The Trump administration’s proposed regulations would reverse much of that progress. Needless to say, if you’re interested in going there, do your homework, and keep detailed records — even under current regulations your trip is subject to audit after the fact.

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The Hotels

 

The hotel situation in Havana is still very much a work in progress, slowly evolving from the status quo of military-owned hotels charging exorbitant rates. At present, many of these are off-limits, due to U.S. prohibitions against transactions with the Cuban military. Licensed group tours normally book through approved hotels at inflated prices; many Americans opt for cruises instead, taking advantage of regulatory exemptions for ports.

As for Tablet, we’re working hard to get Cuba’s best hotels online and available to our customers — but our selection there is also a work in progress, both in terms of logistics and of ensuring that they’re capable of meeting our guests’ high standards. At the moment, we’ve got solid relationships with a pair of very fine luxury hotels in the walkable core of Old Havana:

Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski La Habana:
The first full-on luxury hotel to arrive in Havana is a representative of the Swiss-based Kempinski group, and assumes a privileged position in the heart of Havana’s old city, surrounded by luxury brands that make it crystal-clear just how enormously this city is about to change.

Saratoga Havana:
The Saratoga dates back to the 19th century, and its colonial-era architecture has been lovingly restored — but inside it’s a totally contemporary luxury hotel, complete with a rooftop pool deck that offers some of Havana’s most memorable views.

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Like much of the U.S. travel industry, we’re fascinated by the Cuban people and culture, and we’re looking forward to the day when all traces of the embargo have vanished and we can help more travelers explore this special place. If you’ve had the pleasure of visiting Cuba, we’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below.

Special thanks to Michael Greenberg for his contribution to this story. Michael is an entertainment and advertising photographer based in New York City. You can view more of his work at his website or on Instagram.

 

19 Comments
  1. Read: Against All Hope by Armando Valladares…you will learn the reality of Cuba. It is the one great book written by a Cuban since 1959.

  2. As a Cuban that lives away from the island I appreciate very much when a foreigner visits my native city of Havana. Thanks for sharing your experience and the beautiful pictures.

  3. My Great Grandfather was from Santiago De Cuba, I wish to know more about him and hi family in Cuba.

  4. Old Havana is one of the most fascinating urban spots in the world: beautiful old baroque buildings, the safest place of Latin America, live music at any corner, cheap hamd made cigarss, no fast foods, great coffee without global coffee companies and no bad signs of mass tourism. I hope Cubans will manage to preserve it.

  5. Will be visiting Cuba in November, assuming it will still be there after Irma. My mother honeymooned in Cuba in 1924 and I have wanted to visit based on her amazibg stories.

  6. I plan on visiting Cuba in December. I am very excited to visit the country and explore the history!!!

  7. Is Tablet going to have hotels for Cuba soon? I was looking the other day but I did not see it yet. I am really looking forward to it!

  8. Beautiful article! I recently traveled to Cuba and the culture is so amazing. I stayed in Saratoga Hotel and it was very nice, and the employees were very helpful. I can’t wait to get back and explore again.

  9. I loved Cuba for its people especially the children. They all wear uniforms the color of which tells you if they are of primary or secondary school age. They had an energy I have not seen here for years. They do not have cell phones, etc. and seem to really communicate with each other and put their all into whatever they are doing. I saw only one person who might have been on drugs or alcohol or maybe just sick. Otherwise everyone seemed to be taking care of business. The cars, though lovely are dreadful in terms of pollution, partially because they have Russian desile parts after all these years.

  10. I am proud to say I celebrated my 50th birthday in Cuba on September 7th. I planned this bucket list trip with family and friends months ago. It DID NOT disappoint. I instantly fell in love with Cuba’s people and the architecture. We brought in my natal day at The Jazz House. The musicians were excellent. It iwas a trip of a lifetime. I am up early this morning looking at the devastation that Irma has heaped onto the island ?. I am praying for my new friends made during our vacation as well as everyone who will have to rebuild their lives in Irma’s aftermath.

  11. Yes, I am from Santiago de Cuba and I love my beautiful island. However, I have read Against All Hope by Armando Valladares and I agree with the commentaries above form a reader. The book is shocking!!! I thought it was bad in Cuba but the book opened my eyes even more. It is very sad what happened in Cuba and most Americans have no idea. Too bad. All you have to do is open a book and learn what has happened for the past 60+ years in that island. Some day……

  12. If you’re going to visit Cuba, don’t put money into the hands of a corrupt and selfish regime by staying in a hotel. ALL hotels are 100% or 51% government owned. Support the Cuban people by staying in privately owned AirBNBs. That is the true way to immerse yourself in Cuban culture. Enrich the pockets of the victims of the Cuban revolution, the people.

  13. stunning pictures! I recently visited Cuba, and can attest to the honesty he captured in the beauty of the people and colors of the country. LOVE!

  14. I visited Havana Cuba earlier this year and found it fascinating, colorful and exciting. I navigated my way around to and from my hotel and I never felt afraid. I was serenaded to by singers in restaurants that I stopped in to eat each day. I stayed in a small hotel with basic amenities which was all I needed since I was out all day, every day. The cars are so beautiful and colorful. There was entertainment on many street corners and tourist could be found dancing in the streets or sitting outside eating and drinking. I have many pictures similar to the ones above and reading this article brought back fond memories. I would love to go back again. .

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