In January 2018, I was sitting at home on my computer searching for the cheapest tickets to anywhere. I often do this because I just want to see the entire world so if the cost is right, then I’m heading there. As I searched, I found a great sale on plane tickets from my city to Cuba so I looked at my husband and said, “Hey, I am headed to Cuba in about two weeks.” And then I bought the ticket. I had no idea what to expect, or pack, or even the must-dos so research was definitely in order. After a little research I knew I’d be walking Hemingway’s route in Havana because it harkens to a romanticized era of Cuba’s past that I love.
Ernest Hemingway In Cuba
The literary great, Ernest Hemingway, loved Cuba and that is indisputable. He spent the last 22 years of his life on the small island nation and considered it a place where he could relax. He is known to have said; “I love this country and I feel like home. And wherever a man feels like home, apart from the place he was born in, that’s the place he was destined to be.” But Cuba was also a place where Hemingway worked. Walking Hemingway’s route in Havana means you will learn why he found so much inspiration during his time on the island. It is, after all, the place where he wrote seven books including one of his most famous, The Old Man and the Sea. That’s what it really came down to for Hemingway. He felt a deep connection to and gained much inspiration from Cuba. The people, places, the sea…it all inspired Hemingway to write. In 1949, he wrote; “You live on this island (…) because in the morning breeze you can work better and more comfortably than anywhere else.”
I think Hemingway’s connection to historic Havana really is as simple as a feeling of belonging. He felt most at home in Cuba and thus was able to work better and accomplish quite a bit. Walking Hemingway’s route in Havana is an exercise in immersive observation. You’ll see historic places, meet interesting people, and experience what life must have been in simpler times. And if you’re anything like me, a warm feeling will come over you and you’ll never want to leave.
Exploring Havana is an inevitable dive into a fascinating history lesson. You can’t visit historic Havana without acknowledging its history. From its Spanish colonial past and near British control, to its American influences, to its Communist government and subsequent isolation, to its current thawing relations with the world, Cuba and it’s jewel city of Havana have so much to offer the traveler yearning for the excitement of a place unspoiled by modern attitudes. Walking Hemingway’s route in Havana Vieja is a major part of this exploration as he is a source of pride for the Cuban people and his impacts can still be felt today.
Walking Hemingway’s Route In Havana
As I was walking Hemingway’s route in Havana, I couldn’t help but notice the convivial and lively atmosphere of the city. Children playing in the street and the sound of salsa music permeating the warm winter air transported me to a place of remembrance. I began feeling nostalgic for a bygone era …one in which I had never lived. Yet it was a deeply rooted feeling of belonging that took over my mind. Bright and colorful laundry hanging to dry on the balconies of Colonial, Neoclassical, and Baroque buildings seemed like the curtains of a stage being drawn back to reveal vibrant street scenes of classic American cars meandering about and every one going about their day-to-day life. It all just came together in a beautiful symphony of cultural influences, sounds, and…life. The bells of a church rang out as if to welcome me to this town trapped in the past yet moving quickly to the future. It was then that I could definitely see why Hemingway fell in love with this beautiful city.
Here’s the route you’ll need to take and what you need to see if you decide to do it on your own.
Port of Havana
Your starting point for walking Hemingway’s route in Havana will need to be the Port of Havana. In fact, you can just start at the Castillo de San Salavador de la Punta and walk along the Canal de Entrada towards the port. This was Hemingway’s first glance of Havana in 1928 when he arrived in Cuba for a 3 day stop over during a trip to Spain with his second wife and family. In 1932, he sailed down this canal as he arrived for a Marlin fishing trip. A year later he returned and would not leave again until 1960. As you walk, enjoy the views of the sea and the old Spanish fortifications across the canal that include Castillo de los Tres Reyes Del Morro, Castillo de San Carlos de la Cabaña, and Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña. These fortifications along with Old Havana, are a UNESCO World Heritage site and definitely worth seeing. Don’t forget to snap a photo of the famous monumental statue, El Cristo de La Habana which was created in 1953 by Cuban sculptor Hilma Madera.
Havana Tour Tip: You’ll want to turn and walk down O’Reilly Street to head to your next stop.
Ambos Mundos Hotel
Once you’ve had enough of the canal and port, you’ll head to Ambos Mundos Hotel walking through a lovely historic area that includes three museums; Castillo de la Real Fuerza War Museum, Natural History Museum of Cuba, and Museum of the City of Havana. Walking Hemingway’s route in Havana means taking in all the history that comes with it so don’t forget to stop by El Templete Temple, Palacio de Segundo Cabo, and Palacio de los Capitanes Generales. Meander around Plaza de Armas as you contemplate history and don’t forget to notice the wooden street of Cuba Tacón.
When you finally arrive to Ambos Mundos Hotel, on Obispo Street, stand back and admire its beautiful architecture. This is the hotel Hemingway called home for much of the 1930s when he was an avid Marlin fisherman. In fact, his unnumbered room on the fifth floor remains intact exactly as it would have been when he lived there. He would have been able to look out over the city and to the ocean to gauge whether conditions were good for fishing, likely why he chose it as his home. The hotel has many Hemingway photos adorning the wall today and is home to a small museum in his honor.
Havana Tour Tip: If you want an unobstructed photo of the hotel, visit late in the evening. Light will be better and far fewer people are walking around.
La Bodeguita del Medio
If you’re walking Hemingway’s route in Havana then you have to stop by the famed La Bodeguita del Medio. According to legend, this lively bar is where Hemingway came for mojitos and the bar even claims to have invented the refreshing, minty drink. Both claims are dubious but the first is entirely false. The owner of the bar admits this is not true and was a marketing ploy to stir up enthusiasm in order to increase sales. Inside the bar is a famous inscription attributed to Hemingway that reads; “My mojito in la Bodeguita, My daiquiri in El Floridita.” However, Hemingway never wrote this and it’s all part of the marketing ploy.
Nevertheless, you should definitely make a stop here because the mojitos are great and the place is a very interesting part of Hemingway lore in Cuba. The bar is filled with interesting old objects and photos of Hemingway and life during his time in Cuba. It’s a fun stop if you’re walking Hemingway’s route in Havana and at this point you’ll definitely want to stop, take a break, and drink something refreshing. Even though Hemingway probably never had a drink here, other famous writers did including Pablo Neruda.
Havana Tour Tip: Don’t forget to take a sharpie and sign the wall of La Bodeguita del Medio. It’s tradition!
Cuba is famous for being the birthplace of two beverages beloved by the world over, the mojito and the daiquiri. Hopefully you didn’t drink too much at your last stop because El Floridita is considered the place where the daiquiri was perfected and happens to be your next stop walking Hemingway’s route in Havana. Contrary to La Bodeguita del Medio, Hemingway spent lots of time at this bar. He would often head to El Floridita for a daiquiri while sitting on his stool at the bar and chatting with the plethora of interesting people hanging out in this bar from all over the world. Movie stars, diplomats, and local Cuban citizens would all hang out here back in the day. The bar even made a new type of daiquiri for Hemingway which he preferred. I’ve included the recipe below.
Today, the bar is crowded at all hours of the day and night. You’l have to really make the effort to actually get to the bar but the atmosphere inside is contagious. Fun salsa music and a lively atmosphere awaits. Inside you’ll also find a bronze statue of Hemingway sitting at his normal spot at the bar. It’s a popular photo opportunity for all tourists.
- 2 oz white rum of your choice
- .5 oz (1 tbs) of fresh grapefruit juice
- .5 oz (1 tbs) of fresh lime juice
- 1/4 oz (.5 tbs) of Maraschino Liqueur
- .75 oz (1.5 tbs) of simple syrup
Shake all the ingredients together and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Alternatively, you may ad shaken ingredients into a blender with ice and blend until it resembles a Frappe. Pour into a glass and enjoy.
Havana Tour Tip: El Floridita is one of Havana’s major WiFi zones. You can get a WiFi signal out front in the park or you can buy a drink and use the WiFi inside. Going inside will give you a far stronger signal.
After living in Ambos Mundos Hotel for some time, Hemingway and his wife bought a home just outside the city in San Francisco de Paula in 1940. The home consisted of the main house, a carriage house, a swimming pool, and a tennis court with a view of the city of Havana; though neither of the latter exist anymore. You can see all of the house from open windows and doors but you are not permitted to enter. That privilege is reserved for VIPs. I believe the Obamas were the last visitors permitted entrance. The house is kept exactly as it was left by Hemingway before he left Cuba and shot himself. Inside you’ll see books, furniture, taxidermy, and get a feel for how he lived.
One interesting thing to look out for is the writing on the wall in the bathroom. He was obsessed with his waist size and weight and would record it everyday on his bathroom wall. You’ll also see a typewriter in his bedroom which he used to write the Old Man And The Sea as well as For Whom The Bell Tows. As you walk through the gardens (where the swimming pool and tennis court use to be), you’ll arrive to three small graves which belong to his favorite dogs, Black, Negrita, Linda, and Neron. Behind this is his boat, Pilar. A fine old vestle made of wood, you’ll have the opportunity to walk around the boat via a boardwalk to look inside.
In order to get to Finca Vigia, you’ll have to hire a taxi. I suggest you hire a classic American car taxi which you can get at Parque Central near El Capitolio building (the Capital building). This will be your cheapest option and it’s part of the experience in Cuba.
Havana Tour Tip: Learn some Spanish, it’ll help you get a cheaper price. If you’re traveling with someone of Latin-American descent, let them get your taxi for the best price. The entrance fee for Finca Vigia is $3 CUC and it is open each day of the week.
I did not visit the small town of Cojimar that sits just 20 minutes east of Havana but Hemingway spent a lot of time here. Therefore it is a great end to your long day walking Hemingway’s route in Havana. This is the picturesque town where he docked his boat, Pilar and where he found inspiration for one of his most famous works, The Old Man And The Sea. The village literally serves as the backdrop for this book and the old man in the title is thought to be his guide and Cojimar local, Gregorio Fuentes.
When you visit Cojimar, you’ll definitely want to pay a visit to the Hemingway Memorial which was put up a year after his death. Additionally, grab lunch or dinner at La Terrazza de Cojimar Restaurant which is where Hemingway often dined. You can even see his table in a corner facing the sea which is set in perpetuity waiting for the literary great to return.
Havana Tour Tip: If you are on a budget, just grab a drink at the La Terraza to see it and then purchase a meal at one of the local paladeras and have dinner by the sea.
Walking Hemingway’s Route in Havana- Guided Tour
You can do this tour on your own or you could hire a knowledgeable guide who will explain the history of Havana as well as Hemingway’s impact on Cuban history and culture. I chose to hire a guide which is how I learned most this information and it was so convenient and definitely worth the price. Walking Hemingway’s route in Havana means there is a lot to take in. A guide will help keep you on track and will answer any lingering questions you might have.
I chose to hire a guide through Airbnb Experience’s and highly recommend the Discover Hemingway’s Havana tour (I’m not paid to say this either and am not currently affiliated with Airbnb). My guide was extremely knowledgeable about Havana’s history as well as Hemingway. He was able to tell me tons of stories about Havana’s secret history and walked me all over that city. For just $90, the tour includes:
- An expert guide who is knowledgeable about Hemingway’s life in Havana and the history of the city
- A walking tour through Old Havana, the historic district of the city
- A bottle of water
- A cocktail at either La Bodeguita del Medio or El Floridita
- Entrance to Finca Vigia: The Hemingway Museum
- Transportation to the museum in a classic American car
- Lunch at your guide’s family home
- Daiquiri making lesson
It’s definitely worth hiring this guided tour because of everything you get for your money. Plus if you are American then you must spend most your money in local businesses in Support of the Cuban People. This helps meet your Visa requirement. On top of that, you can book this with a credit card before you leave home. Remember once you get to Cuba, you won’t be able to use your credit cards anymore.
Venture outside of Havana and head to Trinidad, Cuba for some UNESCO World Heritage Realness!
So what do you think?
Does walking Hemingway’s route in Havana seem like something you’re up for?
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