Top 10 Reasons to Visit Cuba

Whether you’re looking for delicious food, vintage car rides, architectural gems, or lively dance, Cuba has it all. Here are the best reasons to visit Cuba…

1. Tour Havana in a classic American car. Drive through Havana in a vintage Chevrolet convertible for a once-in-a-lifetime experience! Adolfo, our guide/driver of a bright pink Chevy, tested our Spanish by explaining details of each site. Highlights include: the stunning view of Havana from La Cabaña (The Fort); photo ops in front of a massive marble statue of Jesus Christ, called Cristo de la Habana in Spanish; sampling delectable scoops of ice cream for four cents at the government run Coppelia Ice Cream Parlor; and meeting the official “Lennon glasses guardian,” Juan Gonzalez, who is in charge of putting Lennon’s famous wire-rimmed glasses on his statue.

old cars of cuba
Vintage American taxi

 

2. Drink a fabulous Cuban mojito or daiquiri. Mojitos are refreshing Cuban drinks with five key ingredients: rum, sugar, lime juice, sparkling water, and mint. Outstanding mojitos are available at nearly every restaurant or bar in Cuba. My favorite mojito was at 5 Esquinas (5 Corners) Restaurant in Old Havana because I got to watch the bartender make it! Daiquiris are cocktail concoctions with three key ingredients: rum, lime juice, and sugar. Bananas or strawberries can be added to the mix for additional flavor. Ernest Hemingway’s favorite Havana joint, El Floridita, also known as “The Cradle of the Daiquiri,” whips up frozen daiquiris, made with blended ice and maraschino liqueur.

3. Smoke a Cuban cigar. Even if you’ve never smoked in your entire life, there’s a first time to try everything! Start with the best by trying a Cuban cigar at a family-run tobacco plantation in the town of Viñales.

A tobacco farmer in Viñales shows how to make the perfect Cuban cigar.
A tobacco farmer in Viñales shows how to make the perfect Cuban cigar.

4. Dine at a traditional Paladar. Paladars are intimate family-run restaurants with a delightful ambiance. These cozy restaurants serve traditional Cuban food, along with wine and delicious desserts. I had a lovely dinner at Paladar Los Mercaderes, located inside a charming colonial building in Old Havana. I walked up a staircase with pink rose petals and took a seat at my table underneath stained glass windows. As I enjoyed a scrumptious meal of succulent lobster with pineapple sauce, I listened to a violinist and guitarist strum “Guantanamera” in the alcove. For dessert, I enjoyed a layered chocolate and wafer treat with a caramelized edge.

5. Stay at a family-run casa particular. These bed-and-breakfast-style casas are everywhere in Cuba. A casa particular typically has a few private rooms, each with its own bathroom, situated inside a family’s home or apartment. You can rent the room at a very reasonable price, usually around $30 per night. The casa’s family members cook breakfast, assist with luggage, and even pick guests up from the airport or bus stop. Staying at a casa is just like visiting a relative for the holidays, except you get to chat about life over mojitos and learn a few rhumba dance moves from the family! It’s a fun experience and you get a chance to bond with local Cubans.

6. Walk along the Malecón and watch an incredible sunset. The Malecón is Havana’s famous thoroughfare where locals gather to chat with friends and enjoy spectacular ocean views. From here, you can see gorgeous sunsets and watch the Malecón’s colonial buildings light up in bright pink and orange. Everyone I met in Havana told me that if you haven’t visited the Malecón, you haven’t seen Cuba!

A couple admires the view from the Malecón.
A couple admires the view from the Malecón.

7. Dance. In a small Havana alleyway called Callejón de Hamel, crowds gather every Sunday at noon to take in the energetic rhythms of Afro-Cuban music. Here, people dance to the beats of pounding drums, spirited singers, and enchanting rhumba dancers moving their hips to the beat. If you’re lucky enough to sit close to the stage, you might find yourself dancing with the group!

8. Visit the town of Viñales. Here, you can photograph soaring evergreen trees and giant limestone cliffs at the magnificent Parque Nacional Viñales. It’s also designated as a UNSECO World Heritage site. Viñales is famous for tobacco plantations, historic caves, and beautiful greenery. Take some time to relax in a rocking chair on the porch of your casa particular and watch the world go by.

A rainbow peaks lights up the limestone cliffs of Viñales.
A rainbow peaks lights up the limestone cliffs of Viñales.

9. Admire Cuban architecture. Only in Cuba will you find a mix of different architectural styles ranging from baroque to modern art deco. Stroll past ancient churches, narrow alleys, and cobblestone plazas to admire the colorful architecture. In an open top bus tour (which is only $5 per person), you’ll drive by art noveau buildings in central Havana’s hip neighborhood of Vedado.

The National Capitol Building in Havana
The National Capitol Building in Havana

10. Check out the art. It’s everywhere. Cuba’s art scene is vivacious and unique. The Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (The National Museum of Fine Art) hosts intriguing exhibitions from Cuba and abroad, including a recent art show from the Bronx. I was in town for the Havana Biennial art celebration in May, so all the galleries had amazing art shows on display. I also visited a hip, new gallery called Clandestina, started by a young graphic designer named Idania del Río. Her shop in Old Havana is full of colorful posters, T-shirts, and other fun items.

Havana Skyline

Go Eat Give organizes Destination Turkey

As part of our monthly focus on cultures in Atlanta, Go Eat Give hosted Destination Turkey an evening to discuss the cuisine, culture, travel and issues in Turkey. The event was held at Cafe Mezo, a Midtown establishment opened in January 2014 by two brothers who migrated from Istanbul. Kemal, one of the brothers, was visiting US as a tourist, and met his future wife. They got married and decided to stay back for 2 years to gain some experience living abroad. Turned out their passion for the restaurant business lasted much longer, so they decided to open another restaurant in Atlanta (the first one being in Istanbul).

The evening started with networking and cash bar featuring traditional Turkish beverages such as Ayran (non alcoholic yogurt, water and salt), Boza (fermented bulgur with water and sugar), Raki (strong, clear, anise-flavored spirit, similar to Greek ouzo and French pastis), and a selection of Turkish beer, wine, tea and coffee.

Turkish food at Cafe Mezo

A private space upstairs seated 50 Go Eat Give guests who enjoyed family style dinner in an in time environment. Cold Mezes (appetizers) included delicately spiced shoksuka (eggplant salad) and sweet and savory carrot salad, served with warm bread. For entree, long wooden planks boasted tender pieces of Mezo lamb kebabs and boneless chicken kebabs, decorated over thin sheets of pita and dressed with an unassuming bulgur and onion salad. Vegetarian diner enjoyed a special platter of grilled vegetables prepared just for them. For dessert, we had homemade Turkish Baklava with chopped pistachios and honey, that tasted like it had just come out of the oven a few hours ago.

Dr. Mustafa Sahin, who runs academic affairs at the Atlantic Institute shared his journey of coming to the US. He said when he wanted to go abroad to study, he only thought about US. Except for the good education system, he was fascinated by the fast cars (as seen on popular TV show Knight Rider) and the city of Miami, where Turkish people dream to have a home at. When he arrived in Atlanta, he realized that the popular Italian restaurant called Veni, vidi, vici is actually a Julius Caesar phrase that means “I came, I saw, I conquered” that originated from Zile, a Tokat province in Turkey, where Dr Sahin grew up.

Dr Sahin pointed out that Turkish-American relations dated back to 1802 when President Jefferson appointed a US consulate to Smyrna, Turkey. Even today, Muhtar Kent, Chairman and CEO of Coca Cola, cardiothoracic surgeon and award-winning author Mehmet Öz, along with a number of scientists, professors, and business leaders are contributing to the society at large.

Click here to see the full speech by Dr Mustafa Sahin

Live entertainment was performed by a local artist, Joshua. A self taught American dancer, he was deeply interested in the male form of belly dancing called köçek.  Popular in the Ottoman culture, the köçek was typically a very handsome young male rakkas, “dancer”, usually cross-dressed in feminine attire, employed as an entertainer in the courtrooms. The male dancers were generally more prized than the female ones.

Watch live köçek dance at Destination Turkey.

Joshua wowed the crowd with his sword balancing acts and encouraged the audience to participate. Not everyone felt so confident with sharp edged swords on their heads, but at least they posed for photos and had the most unique Turkish experience in Atlanta.

Go Eat Give organizes Destination events every month featuring a different country. Sign up for our mailing list to receive an invitation for the next destination.

See photos from Destination Turkey

Cafe Mezo
794 Juniper Street
Atlanta, GA 30308

Little Balinese Dancers

Go Eat Give volunteers in Bali were invited to a family temple in Sukawati village for a ceremony and festivities. This temple celebrates its anniversary every six months, when all the village residents get together to pray and the little ones put up a performance of music and dance. Only the family members that are related through generations attend the ceremonies at the festival.

Continue reading “Little Balinese Dancers”