Want to know where to go to follow Hemingway in Cuba? Here’s the list along with what is worth doing and what you should skip.
Traditional tourism in Cuba loves to sell nostalgia and the idea that the country is frozen in time. Hemingway checks all the boxes for tourists who don’t mind being shuffled from one touristy spot to another.
Ernest Hemingway is my favourite author. And he represents unbridled adventure to so many people that there are bars all over the world touting that he once drank there. I often wonder what he’d think about people flocking to a shrine where someone said he once had a drink.
Being in the military and an avid traveler, Hemingway drank in a lot of places – especially as he was an alcoholic. I find much more amusement with establishments that proudly posts signs that “Hemingway did not drink here.”
Why do we want to drink where Hemingway once did? I appreciate this author’s take on it. There is huge money promoting where Hemingway ate, drank and slept in Cuba. So any business remotely connected with him is definitely going to promote the hell out of it.
Hemingway in Cuba
My biggest issue with tourism related to Hemingway is that part of the reason he loved Cuba was because of the Cuban culture. Yet all of the spots on the Hemingway Trail are where you’ll be elbow to elbow with other tourists. The only Cubans you’ll see are tour guides and staff pouring your drinks.
But this post isn’t to be a judgmental jerk for those that want to see where Hemingway ate, lived and drank. It’s easy for me to say I avoided it after I’ve been to all of these places. And so I can’t really judge anyone else for wanting to follow his steps as well.
Yet, I want to share the Hemingway trail with a bit of perspective. These colourful places are great Instagram photos so take your shot and then spend some real time in Cuban culture and go where Cubans are.
When Was Ernest Hemingway in Cuba
Hemingway first visited Cuba in 1928 on a stopover on his way to Spain. He spent three days in Cuba and was enchanted with it. I can really relate to this as my first visit to Havana was a short four days and I knew I needed to return as soon as possible.
I’ve been based here for a year now.
Hemingway spent almost a third of his life in Cuba, spending times here off and on from 1939-1959. He considered himself a Cubano Santo or everyday Cuban and was accepted into society.
Even Castro was a huge fan and said parts of For Whom the Bell Tolls inspired his revolutionary tactics. Hemingway saw the country change dramatically. From the boom of prohibition in the US that drew many Americans…and mobsters to the revolution that put an end to it all.
Hemingway’s House: Finca Vigia
I was initially lured into heading to Finca Vigia, as part of a half day tour outside Cuba. Like most other tourists we took a vintage convertible tour of Havana. We asked our driver if he’d take us on a custom tour the following day.
Reciting the typical options I told friends I didn’t care what else we did but I really wanted to go to Finca Vigia. I was so curious to see what it would be like, did people still live there?
Hemingway bought Finca Vigia, or the Lookout Farm, located just outside Havana with his fourth wife in 1940. However, he married his fifth wife in 1946 and they lived there until 1959 when Fidel Castro took over Cuba. His wife Mary says they intended to return, but it did not happen. A year later he shot himself in Idaho.
I was surprised to see the museum so pristine and orderly as he was somewhat of a hoarder. It didn’t seem to house the spirit of his words that have inspired me. Instead it was a polished restoration. I guess everyone deserves to be remembered a bit more tidy than they really were.
He wrote and published The Old Man and the Sea At Finca Vigia along with many other pieces that were published after his death. His old fishing boat “Pilar” is dry docked on the tennis court. And the pool Ava Gardiner supposedly skinny dipped is now dry. The emptiness somewhat echoes the spirit of the place that his wife generously offered a place of remembrance.
Tour buses efficiently shuffle crowds of people in and out. As I peered into the doors and windows (you can’t go inside) I wondered what Hemingway’s commentary would have been.
Maybe I don’t need to visit where people lived and wrote epic novels. It felt hollow. I left feeling kind of embarrassed.
My Best Advice:
Instead of heading out of town in your convertible to see Finca Vigia, head to Fusterlandia. Cuban artist Jose Fuster is still alive and is often compared to Picasso. He has turned his home and surrounding neighbourhood into a dreamy mosaic playland.
It is meant for tourists, but if you really want to support local Cubans this is the place to do it. Entrance is free but you can purchase local artwork that supports the artist community.
To get to Fusterlandia from Old Havana you’ll drive through my neighbourhood of Vedado, which was modelled after Miami with wide streets and mansions (alas I don’t live in one), some decaying but others being restored. You also see Miramar and Playa, which are upscale neighbourhoods and you’ll see a much different side of Havana.
Km. 12 ½, La Habana
Open Monday-Saturday 10am-4pm
Hemingway’s Daiquiri: El Floridita
This bar celebrated its 200th birthday last year. You see El Floridita was popular long before Hemingway stepped inside.
Its bartenders are credited with many traditional Cuban cocktails and were the first to incorporate the blender to make cool Cuban drinks.
Perhaps that’s why I think it’s so tragic that it has been minimized to simply another bar where Hemingway drank. I’m sure its owners don’t mind as tourists flock here, waiting for their photo with a bronze bust of Hemingway in the corner.
When I see any article listing this as one of the best things to do in Havana I immediately stop reading. I know…I’m getting judgemental again. But you’re reading my site because you want to avoid stupid tourist traps, right?
I could never recommend it as one of the best bars in Havana.
My Best Advice: El Floridita is in the heart of Old Havana, so it’s easy to pop into. Go buy your overpriced cocktail, take the lame photo everyone else has and move onto somewhere you’ll actually interact with Cubans who aren’t there only to pour you a drink.
Obispo No.557 esq. a Monserrate, Habana Vieja
Open 7 Days a Week 11am-12am
One of the lesser known facts about Cuban cuisine is that the Sloppy Joe was invented in Havana. It’s actually a sandwich variant of Cuban classic ropa vieja, which you must eat in Cuba! The bar, owned by Spaniard Jose Garcia, was notoriously messy and was deserving of its name.
It was once a common place for American tourists who didn’t want to experience the real Havana but to simply party like a king on a pauper’s budget. Along with many establishments like this it closed in 1959 due to the revolution. Sloppy Joe’s re-opened in 2013.
I have less contempt as it’s also the backdrop for the video above by my favourite Cuban singer, Leoni Torres.
My Best Advice: Sloppy Joe’s doesn’t need to scream “Hemingway drank here” as it’s already again an established tourist spot. I’m pretty sure he likely drank here too.
It’s not far from El Floridita or El Bodeguita del Medio if you’re making the rounds you may as well stop here as they do have feature classic Cuban cocktails beyond the mojito and daiquiri . I don’t recommend getting the Sloppy Joe, unless you like really dry ground beef on a hamburger – then you’ll love it.
Calle Zulueta No. 252, E Animas y Virtudes, Old Havana
Hemingway’s Bar: Bodeguita del Medio
On the walls here is an unverified Hemingway scrawling of “Mi mojito en la Bodeguita, mi daquiri en El Floradita” but many locals call bullsh*t on Hemingway drinking here.
Yet, given his reputation to drink far and wide I think it’s likely he drank here a few times, especially as it’s around the corner from Floridita. Remember he was an alcoholic, he probably switched it up from daiquiris now and then.
Who knows if he helped concoct the first mojito as owners brashly claim or if he did scrawl that proclamation on the wall. Pablo Neruda, my favourite poet also visited and while I’ve walked by so many times I can’t bear to go in. Especially as Mari says it’s one of the worst, and offers better options.
There is always a crowd around the outside Bodeguita del Medio. Half are tourists wanting to get in, half are Cubans, some jinteros, some pickpocketers and others just trying to sell you something.
This continues to be a spot popular only with tourists who don’t seem to mind paying $5 for watered down cocktails.
Empedrado No. 207, Old Havana
Open 7 Days a Week 8am-12am
Hotel Ambos Mundos
In 1932, long before Finca Vigia, Hemingway lived in this hotel in Old Havana for seven years. He started writing, For Whom the Bell Tolls, one of my favourite books here.
Although the hotel continues to operate, room 511 is no longer for rent. However, for 2 CUC you can visit the room as it’s been preserved for visitors and includes many photos and the typewriter he worked on.
While it’s most well known for where Hemingway lived in Cuba, Hotel Ambos Mundos has one of the best rooftop bars for a sunset cocktail. If you feel like splurging this is a good spot to do it.
153 Obispo, Old Havana
This beach, located in Cayo Guillermo, was the inspiration for Islands in the Stream, which was published years after his death. Hemingway fished here and named his boat after this beautiful beach.
This fishing village on the outskirts of Havana inspired The Old Man and the Sea. It was a regular spot for him as it was where his fishing partner Gregorio Fuentes lived, who is said to be the inspiration for the protagonist in the novel. It is also where Hemingway docked Pilar.
The restaurant La Terraza, where Gregorio and Hemingway regularly visited still exists and their regular table in the corner overlooking the view is kept as a shrine.
Calle 152 #161, Cojimar, Cuba
Hemingway won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954 and wanted to give it to the Cuban people. However, he did not want to turn it over to the Batista government. Instead, he gave the medal to the Catholic church to display and it’s now at a sanctuary in El Cobre, a small town outside Santiago de Cuba.
The sanctuary is known as the Cuban Lourdes and is home to many items from those with and without hope. The medal was on display until the 1980s, when it was briefly stolen. Although it was recovered in a few days the church decided to no longer keep it on display.
How to Really Experience Hemingway in Cuba
Cuba is changing rapidly, sure the classic cars remain the same but we can never experience what Hemingway did. And perhaps that’s a good thing as he would write each morning and then drink all day. Not something I really aspire to.
But I am inspired by this Hemingway quote:
In order to write about life, first you must live it.
And that means stepping outside your comfort zone. For some people just visiting a non-English speaking country is enough. For others it’s getting off the resorts and doing a day trip.
It means getting over the fear of looking foolish for the gain of experiencing something real. Don’t be intimidated by the dual currency in Cuba, if you have money and want to buy something they will take it.
Cubans are incredibly kind, so if you see a bunch of people eating in an unmarked restaurant go in. They may not have exactly what you want but this is what spaghetti looks like here, and it’s less than $1 so even if you hate it you will understand Cuba a bit more.
Over the last nine years I’ve traveled throughout Latin America but Cuba is completely different. Cuba is the most challenging country I’ve visited because most writers don’t share more than cigars, rum and classic cars.
This is part of a series of posts about traveling Cuba independently. It’s not as complicated as you think, you just need to know how things work.
Go get the mojitos, classic convertible rides and frozen daiquiris. Then be open to the culture in Cuba beyond the tourist joints because it really is incredible. You may never meet a country with people as fierce in spirit as they are knowing the unofficial slogan of Cuba is no es facil (it’s not easy).
Want More Ernest Hemingway in Cuba?
Want to Watch More About Cuba?
If you have Netflix I love Cuba and the Cameraman as well as the Cuba Libre series that explains the history of Cuba. With both of these you’ll have a greater understanding and appreciation of Cuba.