When our catalog team headed to Cuba for our soon-to-be-released March campaign, we went straight to an in-house aficionado for everything there is to know about this exquisite place.
Julie, our Associate Director of Partnerships + Experiential, recently married her fiancé (who is Cuban) in Havana, where most of our March Catalog was photographed. Cuba holds a very special place in her heart — not only because it was the first country they visited as a couple, but also because it is the home to her new family. For more about Cuban culture and the must-do’s and -see’s in the capital city, here’s what Julie had to say:
Cuba is an incredibly complex place to even attempt to describe – you can’t capture its spirit, its tastes, its colors, or its people in words that could ever do its unconventional splendor justice. It’s a place you must just visit and see for yourself. For this reason, my Cuban-American now-husband Michael and I chose to get married in Havana just a few weeks ago. There is so much magic and mystery in this often misrepresented country that we wanted to share the beauty we saw over the course of our visits to the island with our community. At a surface glance, you will quickly see two extreme ends of the spectrum that make up Cuba’s culture – on the positive side it is vibrant, flavorful, full of wonderfully warm Cubans, exceptionally safe, and bursting with music and culture, while its darker side is deeply lacking in resources, extremely gritty, confusing to navigate, and “frozen in time.” But beneath surface extremes and shadows of the past, an innovative, forward-thinking modern culture exists, spearheaded by the Cuban people themselves, who are turning their creative ideas into art galleries, inclusive community projects, thoughtfully designed culinary experiences, and vibrant performing arts venues.
Curious? Head to Havana! Current American legislation may make the feasibility of a visit unclear, but it’s actually easier than you think. Filling your daily itinerary with private cultural activities including live music concerts, artist studio visits, and meals at locally run private restaurants (paladars), will qualify you for the “Support for the Cuban People” General License, and will make a visit as an American possible. I’m sharing a few of my favorite spots around the city, all of them founded and led by creative pioneering Cuban people, in hopes that you’ll get to experience the magic of this unique Caribbean island yourself.
- Callejon de Hamel: A small upcycled art-packed alley in the Centro district of Havana, celebrating the local community and its roots in Santeria, and hosting a rumba festival every Sunday.
- Casa del Son: A salsa and son school located in the heart of Havana Vieja that can prep you for a night on the town.
- Cuba Skate: Sign up for this Airbnb experience to visit a woodshop, a DIY community skatepark, and to find out how this non-profit is keeping the local youth skateboarding community supported and thriving.
- El Malecón: Stroll down this coast lined main street that is truly the heartbeat of local culture in the city. Keep your eyes open for community cookouts and performances that usually take place on weekends.
- Fabrica de Arte Cubana: A bustling multimedia home to modern Cuban arts, featuring galleries, live music, a restaurant in an renovated former cooking oil factory.
- Gallería Taller Gorría: A new art gallery located in the up and coming Havana district of San Isidro hosting rotating exhibitions and community block parties.
- Teatro Bertolt Brecht: A favorite of locals to see the latest in local bands and dj’s.
- El Dandy: A favorite among locals and tourists alike, this well situated café in the heart of Havana Vieja is a great place for Cuban coffee or a mojito.
- El del Frente: Visit this beautiful terrace in Havana Vieja for a delicious Cuban-meets-international menu and inventive tropical fruit drinks.
- Food carts around the city: Keep your eyes open when walking around Havana Vieja for small local food vendors wheeling their carts of Cuba’s most traditional treats: churros, fried plantains, guava pies, and peanut candies.
- Mas Habana: A fresh take on modern Cuban cuisine. My favorite spot in the city because of its innovative take on classic Cuban dishes.
- Alma Cuba: This female owned shop is Havana’s best for locally made artisan accessories and goods for the home.
- Clandestina: This female owned boutique is the heart of the modern Havana maker movement. Stop by to pick up upcycled fashion and hand silkscreened modern art.
- Dador: A new fashion and artist boutique featuring beautiful linen apparel made just upstairs in the brand’s artisan workshop.
- Habana 1791: A beautiful traditional fragrance shop located in Havana Vieja where you can customize your own scents from locally made essential oils of tobacco, guava, and citrus.
- Airbnb: Casas privadas are the way to go when visiting Havana. This way you can stay in residential neighborhoods and have a closer connection to the culture through your Airbnb host.
- Malecón 663: A female founded, thoughtfully designed 4-room boutique hotel located right on the Malceon.
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Havana imagery by Michael Groth.