- I guess castaways were the original social distancers. We finally were able to get the kids out of the house today for the first time in two weeks. As there are no tourists here anymore, they had the beach to themselves. Hope we can all get back to the beach soon.Our new daily visitor from salud pública who checks our house and every other house in our neighborhood each day to make sure there is no one feeling ill, no cases of coronavirus. This is going on across the island right now in every city and every town. Cuba has many problems but the massive effort that the country is making hopefully will save lives.An eerie photo of a nearly empty plane heading to Cuba by my colleague and friend photographer @svenxman. Sven writes, “A Cuban passenger wears a face mask and plastic gloves aboard Swiss Edelweiss' Airlines last flight to Cuba, Monday 23 of March. The aircraft made its trip to Havana with only 12 passengers aboard, out of 315 max of the Airbus 3300-300. Airlines worldwide are grounding most of their passenger flights due to the Covid-19.” Follow @svenxman for his outstanding photos of Cuba. He also has a new book of his decades of Cuba photography called “Havanna.”The Knights of Havana. Living in Cuba had already made us into recyclers and repurposers. I wish I could take credit but this was all @cubajournal Today was Day 1 of a 30 day or more lockdown in Cuba. No more tourism, international or domestic travel for Cubans among other strict measures to try and combat the coronavirus here.The thing I am probably most proud of in my now 20 years at CNN is when we moved the CNN Havana bureau to its current location. It’s not easy to search out the perfect work space and build a bureau from scratch, especially in Cuba where finding a paper clip is sometimes a challenge. The CNN Havana bureau is a special place though and we have covered a lot of news in the five years we have been at our location in Old Havana. So it was a tough decision to tell my coworkers here last week that we had to work from home for the immediate future. I work with five wonderful Cubans who have become like family to me and I already miss seeing them every day. But to keep each other safe we all need to limit our interactions to the absolute minimum. On Tuesday, Cuba will shut it’s doors for at least 30 days to all tourists. Cuban citizens and residents who return from abroad will have to go into quarantine for 14 days. I hope to report from the CNN Havana bureau soon that Cuba is coronavirus free. In the meantime stay at home, check in with your loved ones and think of the celebration we will all have once this is over. I’ll bring the rum and cigars...Terminal 3 of the Jose Martí International Airport. You get your temperature taken now when you come in to the departures area. A crush of people trying to get home before their countries close their borders and before Cuba begins to turn away visitors starting this Tuesday.Just in: Cuba to shut its borders to visitors for the next 30 days, starting this Tuesday. Commerce will continue and residents of Cuba can still return but will have to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. The 21 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Cuba were all brought in from abroad by tourists or came from contact with visitors. Hopefully these measures will stem the tide of the infection in an island with a large population of elderly and at risk people. So we are on lockdown. Hope to see everyone in 30 days!Waking around Havana this morning.I took my kids this am to see a man in our neighborhood who is building a plane in his garage. This would be an impressive feat anywhere in the world but in Cuba where there are shortages of everything and endless red tape it’s absolutely incredible. Almost unbelievable really. Adolfo — the man whose plane it is— has spent the last seven years making an airplane out of whatever pieces he can find a little bit at a time. Now that it can fly he has to go through the equally daunting process of getting permission to fly it from the Cuban government. My kids asked him if they could use it to escape the coronavirus because that’s all anyone talks about anymore. It did get me thinking about how amazing human beings are and what we have accomplished through perseverance and dreaming big. That in the end is worth more than all the hand sanitizer and toilet paper in the world.Getting honey straight from the source. Thanks for another great visit @fincatungasukHotel construction worker... Old Havana.Following the controversy surrounding Sen. Bernie Sanders comments this week it was interesting to speak with two "alfabetizadores" who in 1961 took part in a massive literacy campaign in Cuba. Juan Hernandez was only twelve but lied about his age to go into the countryside for six months to teach poor Cubans there how to read and write. He went with his brother and said he had his parents permission. Initially, Juan said many of the Cubans he encountered weren't interested in the program but eventually they came around and even gave him a horse so he could travel more easily between the small towns where he taught. Like just about everything Cuba, the literacy campaign is divisive. People point out that there were other rural literacy campaigns before the revolution and Cuba already had a high literacy rate for the region when Fidel Castro took power. Critics say the literacy campaign was a way to indoctrinate many Cubans as the island turned towards communism. The Cuban government says the campaign helped end illiteracy on the island and taught hundreds of thousands of people to read and write. My favorite part of being a journalist is sitting down with people who have different view points and life experiences than my own and getting to hear their stories. Both of these individuals had fascinating experiences to recount and were still very proud of their work on the literacy campaign all those years ago. Interestingly they thought Sanders had made something of an error by defending the literacy program as they didn’t think that would go over very well with US voters. If you listen to people they can surprise you some times.Entrance to the 400 year old Convento de Belen in Old Havana.Picking “tabaco tapado,” cigar tobacco grown in the shade, in Artemisa province, Cuba.It’s Friday! Go buy somebody flowers to celebrate.Bus station. Sancti Spíritus, Cuba.Visiting the Castillo de Santo Domingo de Atarés in Havana today. This Spanish fortress had been closed for decades but recently was restored and reopened to the public. We were the only ones there and my kids loved playing pirates and “españoles.” Thanks for the recommendation @lorecl!The Santuario Nacional de San Antonio de Padua. After years of living near this church and it always appearing to be closed, I drove by today and noticed an open door. Quite beautiful inside.When the peacock won’t move.
Cuba is not an easy place to visit. Information is often outdated. Many government-owned, supposedly five-star hotels suffer from glacially slow service and inedible food. Used to constant long waits themselves, Cubans sometimes don’t understand visitors’ impatience. But for the traveler eager to experience a unique and changing country, it is a one of kind destination. I recommend renting an apartment or house from Cubans and eating in privately-run restaurants. Not only will your money go to help the island’s growing class of small entrepreneurs, you will experience true Cuban hospitality.
El Paseo del Prado this boulevard is a wonderful place to go for a walk from the Capitolio building to the Malecón seawall. On Saturdays, the Prado is packed with people selling and buying houses, which is now legal to do under recent economic reforms.
El Cementario Colón one of the largest cementaries in the world, El Colón is the place to come to really learn the history of Cuba. There are several centuries of scandal, intrigue and myth buried here. Make sure to visit “la milagrosa,” the woman whose tomb has become a shrine for many Cubans.
Plaza Vieja in Old Havana has been restored recently to its former glory and become a popular area at night with a row of bars and restaurants.
La Rumba del Sábado A great neighborhood block party that takes place every Saturday afternoon (I usually go around 4p). Live music, cold beer and lots of dancing. Calle 4 e/ Calzada y 5ta. Vedado. PALADARS Cuban slang for “privately owned restaurant,” paladars are the place to eat in Cuba. Often you are eating in people’s homes although slowly paladars are becoming quite sophisticated. The food at paladars is more inventive and uses fresher ingredients that what you get at a government restaurant.
Café Laurent one of my favorites, this upscale paladar in a Vedado penthouse offers some of Havana’s best seafood. Its great for dinner but I recommend going before sunset to take in the stunning view of the ocean and city. Ask to sit outside. Tel. 8326890
O’Reilly 304 in Old Havana breaks out from the usual routine of Cuban food, offering excellent ceviche, seared tuna and tacos. Tel. 53 5 2644745 Also not to be missed is
La Guarida. On the top floor of a crumbling former mansion in Centro Habana, la Guarida recently expanded, adding a cigar bar, and is one of the great success stories of Cuba’s private restaurant scene . The classic movie “Fresa y Chocolate” was filmed here. You’ll need reservations. Tel. 2644940
El Corte del Principe in Miramar offers up Cuba’s best Italian food. Fresh pasta served by a professional staff. Tel. 72559091
Doctor Café Simple, fresh food and one my favorite places to eat lunch. Everything they cook on the grill– deer, snapper, octopus— is outstanding. Tel. 2034718.
El Cocinero is one of the new stars of a resurgent Havana nightlife. Cuban artists and musicians are among those who frequent –and can afford– this restaurant, known for its small bites and inventive cocktails. El Cocinero is set atop a former cooking oil factory and you walk up stairs in the old smoke stack to get to the roof-top bar. Check out the Fabrica del Arte next door as well. Tel. 8322355 WHERE TO STAY
Casa Vitrales feels more like a boutique hotel than a casa particular. It is well located in the loma del angel part of Old Havana and offers a fantastic roof-top terrace to take in the city. The casa’s nine rooms have all been recently restored. http://www.cvitrales.com
Habana Vista Enjoy beautiful views and the roof top pool at this well-located Vedado high rise apartment. Tel: 53636181 email@example.com
Villasol has been redone to resemble a Miami Beach boutique hotel. This casa particular is a testimony of the inventiveness of Cubans and their desire to treat visitors well. Tel. 53600456 MarbelyZG@hotmail.com
Café Teatro Jazz Miramar is the best music venue in Havana. Many of Cuba’s top musicians play here and its frequented mainly by Cubans.
The Bertolt Brecht is a very cool club with contemporary music. Like many venues here it starts late.
Sangri-La where Cubans with money to burn come to party. “El Sangri” is loud, dark and always packed.
Espacios is perhaps best known for being the first bar in Havana to have valet parking. The staff have attitude but the back terrace is a great place to enjoy a cool drink at night.
Don Cangrejo Cuban rock played at a seaside mansion.
Alma is a new store co-founded by my wife Alexandra that sells the best Cuban handicrafts, jewelry and artisanal items. Working directly with the artisans, the store aims to refine and take Cuba’s amazing hand-crafted treasures to a wider audience. Calle 18 y 5ta, Miramar.
Mercado de Artesanía Avenida de Puerto Havana’s largest craft markets allows you to buy directly from artisans.
La Plaza de Armas The booksellers in one of Havana’s oldest squares hawk vintage posters, classics of Cuban literature and relics of pre-revolution society.
OUTSIDE HAVANA Not to be missed: The beautiful countryside and tobacco fields near Viñales; the colonial homes in Trinidad and sleepy seaside town of Baracoa.