Vintage American cars in front of the Capitol, Havana (Photo: Marcelo Horn)
There are 90 miles between the United States and Cuba, but it could just as easily have been 9,000 miles after U.S. citizens were banned from travel to the island. Finally, a thaw in diplomatic relations offers hope for greater opportunities to travel there and to rediscover a still-evolving island and its people.
Emilio Cueto, a popular Smithsonian Journeys’ study tour leader to Cuba, takes you on a virtual journey around the amazing island of Cuba.
9:30 a.m. Cuba: An Overview
Originally settled by people arriving from lands to its north and west, Cuba was “discovered” during Columbus’s voyage in 1492. It was colonized by Spaniards in 1511 and it remained a Spanish possession until the Spanish-American War in 1898.
Its status as a U.S. protectorate until 1902 left a lasting, complex and contradictory legacy. With a shaky democratic system in place, Cuba experienced economic growth and cultural development, but political and social turmoil led to the rise of one dictator-- Fulgencio Batista in 1952—followed by another, Fidel Castro, in 1959. Castro´s brand of Communism changed Cuba radically. Ties to the U.S. were severed in 1961 and the 1962 Cuban missile crisis very nearly ignited a nuclear event.
Only recently have diplomatic relations between both countries been restored, raising hopes for a new era of greater mutual understanding.
11 a.m. Havana
Seated on Cuba’s north coast, Havana, founded in 1519, has been the island’s economic, social, and cultural hub, going back to the time when cargo-laden ships bound for Spain congregated nearby to sail out on the fast-flowing Gulf Stream. The capital city since the 17th century, Havana is the center of the government and its historic center, Old Havana, with its Spanish colonial architecture, magnificent civil buildings, and military fortresses, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Havana is a city of many diverse neighborhoods, including Central Havana (the Revolutionary Museum, National Capitol Building, and the Grand Theater of Havana); Vedado (University of Havana, Revolutionary Square, and Christopher Columbus cemetery); and Guanabacoa (the Afro Cuban museum). Finca Vigía (lookout house), Ernest Hemingway’s home for 22 years, is now popular house museum located in the hills above the city.
12:30 p.m. Lunch (participants provide their own)
1:30 p.m. Central Cuba: Trinidad and Cienfuegos
Sugar wealth filled beautiful Trinidad with many impressive structures, now well-preserved. The UNESCO World Heritage site is also known for its handicrafts and proximity to the Escambray mountains and Ancon beach.
Cienfuegos, dubbed the Perla del Sur (southern pearl) is on a spectacular natural bay. The city’s classical and eclectic architecture earned it a UNESCO World Heritage Site listing and it features an extraordinary botanical garden; a 1742 fortress, Jagua Castle; and a never-deployed Soviet-era nuclear plant.
3:15 p.m. Camagüey and Santiago
Camagüey, an inland regional capital, has some of Cuba’s finest colonial churches. The first Catholic Cardinal, Manuel Arteaga (1879-1963), was from there, as were such Cubans notables as lawyer-soldier Ignacio Agramonte, playwright Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda), Afro-Cuban poet Nicolás Guillén, and contemporary painters Flora Fong and Joel Jover. Camagüey’s fine cultural institutions include the Ballet de Camagüey and the Cuban-Haitian ensemble Desandann. Santiago has played an instrumental part in Cuban literature, music, architecture, and politics. It has a lively Afro-Caribbean culture and its inhabitants reflect the island’s multiethnic roots. Fidel Castro began his nationalist revolution here, Don Facundo Bacardí based his first rum factory here, and popular Cuban music genres from trova to son got their first hearing here.
S. Dillon Ripley Center
1100 Jefferson Dr SW
Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)