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Where to Dine in Havana

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Written by Sophia Bass

Havana is blossoming into a culinary scene in 2018. With new restaurants located in Vedado and Old Havana, restaurants are featuring local Cuban recipes combined with European inspired dishes. Ever since President Obama opened the doors between Cuba and the United States in 2016, chefs have been traveling between Havana and the United States introducing modern cuisine to Cuba. After dining at various restaurants and cafes in Havana, I wanted to recommend a few of my favorite spots.

NAO Bar Paladar

This cafe is perfect if you want to cool off in the shade while sightseeing, listen to local Cuban music, and have an appetizer and cocktail. Offering Caribbean, Latin, Cuban, and vegetarian options, NAO's food is diverse in its use of ingredients. My favorite dish was the cerdo (pork) with black beans and rice. NAO is located at the end of Obispo Street just near the malecón with a fantastic view of the water.

Vista Mar 
If you're a seafood lover like myself, …

Vedado--A Less Traveled Neighborhood in Havana

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Written by Sophia Bass

My first trip to Havana I stayed in Vedado, a modern part of the city that was developed in the first half of the 20th century. Vedado is interesting because it is known as the more affluent part of the city home to businesses and elegant neighborhoods. While staying in Vedado with a family, our homestay mother, Lucy, explained that Vedado was transformed by American investors and individuals benefiting from Cuba's sugar trade.

My favorite night in Vedado was when my partner and I decided to wander the streets and take in views of mansions, Cuban architecture, and government-sponsored cultural centers. One of the most famous landmarks in Vedado is the Hotel Riviera which was built in 1957. You can feel the aftermath of the Cuban Revolution simply by walking around this area of Havana.

Vedado's rich history is not the only reason to wander the streets. This residential neighborhood is filled with public parks where you can take a stroll and enjoy fresh a…

A Day at the Museo de la Revolución

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Written by Sophia Bass

When I traveled to Havana I did not expect the museums to have a lasting impression on me. I discovered the Museo de la Revolución and decided to spend the entire day walking around for hours soaking up the history of the Cuban Revolution.

I learned that the building dedicated to the Cuban Revolution is a critical part of post-revolutionary Cuban history. A historian at the museum explained that the building housed both the Government and the Council of Ministers in 1965. It wasn't until 1974 that the building became a museum dedicated to the Cuban Revolution. The interior decor is remarkable showcasing Fidel Castro and Che Guevara's life when you walk onto the bottom floor of the museum. It was fascinating to see images of Fidel and Che in person for the first time.

As I made my way to the top floor I learned of Cuba's complex history. It was interesting to read about how "Fidelismo" impacted agriculture, education, social services, and e…

Lunch in Playa Larga, Cuba

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Written by Sophia Bass

Cuban cuisine typically combines seafood or meat, African inspired flavors and spices, and influences from the Spanish. Throughout my time in Cuba, I was in awe of the colorful meals I ate outside of Havana. My favorite lunch was in Playa Larga, Cuba when my partner and I decided to escape the city and stay in a small beach village.

As we walked up and down the beach, my partner and I came across a local cafe that served fish (pescado) accompanied by local seasonal vegetables, rice, and avocado. I enjoyed the simplicity of this dish as the Cuban people were utilizing local resources in Playa Larga. The fish was fresh, the vegetables were locally grown, and the rice was perfectly cooked.

I had some of the best seafood that I've ever had in my life in Cuba. The abundance of fresh fish, shrimp, squid, and lobster are often main menu items for travelers. Whether you're getting a quick bite on the beach or dining at restaurant Vista Mar in Havana, you will n…

Walking the Art Market in Havana

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Written by Sophia Bass 

My first trip to Old Havana I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of art vendors, musicians, and colorful fruit stands that colored the streets. I could have spent days wandering around the Cathedral Square that is a central destinations for travelers around the world. After a long day of walking in the heat, I stumbled across the San José Artisans' Market.  Contained in a large warehouse to protect travelers and locals from the sun, arts and crafts vendors set up stands from dawn to dusk to sell paintings, ceramics, clothing, instruments, cigars, and crafts.

I can recall men hustling to sell cigars and handmade wooden boxes. My partner bought a beautiful carved wooden box with the Cuban flag carved on the front and two cigars for my father. As my eyes wandered to the paintings and ceramics, I purchased two brightly colored plates painted with blues, greens, oranges, and yellows to decorate my home.

As Old Havana is blend of Afro-Spanish culture, it is f…

My Favorite Cuban Instrument

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Written by Sophia Bass

When walking through the streets of Old Havana, you may notice a variety of instruments being played by Cuban street musicians. Guitar, bongos, upright bass, and the clave are just a few of the many instruments utilized by Cuban musicians. As a songwriter and musician, I was most familiar with the clave as I grew up playing the Cuban instrument in my home.

Claves are one of the most useful instruments for composition in Cuban music. They are comprised of two wooden sticks that are cylindrical in shape. You play the clave by striking them against each other. Originating in the 16th century, the clave was invented by musician Fernando Ortiz. I learned that the clave has historical significance as it was first instrument used to accompany the songs of Hispanic and African dock workers in Havana.

When I was in Havana in 2017, a local musician in Vedado explained that the clave is used to track time signatures, stabilize harmony, and to perform precise patterns. The …

The Story Behind Malanga

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Written by Sophia Bass

One of the first foods I tried in Old Havana, Cuba was a fried starchy appetizer dipped in honey. I had no idea what it was, but I learned it was called malanga. Popular throughout different regions in Cuba, malanga has an unique flavor unlike anything I've ever tried in the United States. It is often confused with taro as it has a similar taste and texture. When shredded and deep fried, it makes a delicious dish.

While traveling throughout Cuba, I learned that malanga is native to the tropical central and northern parts of South America. First discovered by Spanish explorers, it was first domesticated in Central America and brought to the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba and other regions of West Africa.

Malanga can grow in environments that are moist such as flooded areas or marsh areas that receive a high amount of annual rainfall. In Cuba, malanga is available in food markets and some produce shops. I noticed that it was a popular item in tourist res…

A First Impression of Old Havana

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Written by Sophia Bass

My entire life, I was told that Old Havana was known as a music mecca where musicians of all regions of Cuba come to play traditional Cuban music, Spanish serenades, with influences of African and European sounds. When I arrived to Havana in July of 2017, everything I had imagined about Cuba became a reality. The smell of Cuban cigars in alleyways, the sounds of a guitar and a clave in synchronicity, and the smell of pork being cooked over a fire. I was in heaven.

Old Havana is a magical part of the city that still remains untouched by much of outside world. I was captivated by the architecture, old neoclassical Spanish style architecture, and the quaint European Cafe’s that offered Cafe Cubano, Cuba’s signature coffee drink.

After sipping on delicious rich Cuban coffee, I stumbled across a live Cuban four piece band that played Buena Vista Social Club classics such as Chan Chanand Dos Gardenias. Rhythms were in sync and their voices harmonized beautifully toget…

Snorkeling in Cuba

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January 18, 2018

Written by Sophia Bass

Divers, scientists, marine-biologists and snorkelers like myself travel to Cuba to explore it’s vast marine ecosystem, home to magnificent coral reefs. Many snorkeling spots are accessible from the shore and contain a diverse array of marine life. Jardines de la Reina, about fifty miles south from the main island, was declared a Marine Natural Park in 1996. It is often known as the “Galapagos of the Caribbean.”

Atlantic Blue Tang, Rock Beauty, French Angelfish, Sergeant Major, and Stoplight Parrotfish are just a few of the many brilliant colored fish that are among Cuba’s coral reefs. The image below showcases a Spotlight Parrotfish, commonly spotted around Cuba’s coral reefs.


Calenta Buena is a popular protected cove with marine life and underwater rock landscapes. This is an ideal spot for beginners who want to stay close to shore. Located at the entrance of the Bay of Pigs, this excursion is in close proximity to Playa Giron and Playa Larga,…

The History of the Cuban Sandwich

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Written by Sophia Bass

I lived in Florida for nearly 5 years and was introduced to the Cubano sandwich in 2008. Since, it has been one of favorite sandwiches of all time. Cheese, ham, roasted pork, pickles, mustard, caramelized onions that melt in your mouth on toasted bread… I had never had such a delicious sandwich. After traveling around the US, I have noticed the Cubano to be popular among foodies like myself from Portland, Oregon to Miami, Florida.

While it’s called the “Cuban” sandwich after immigrants who settled in Ybor City, Tampa who influenced the sandwich, the ingredients highlight the flavors of southern Italian and German communities who also migrated there.


Mustard was a condiment that was favored by the Germans, while salami was added by the Italians, giving it exquisite flavor and taste. It’s important to note that Salami is not favored in Miami, but mainly to those in Tampa and other restaurants that prefer the Italian style.

The Cuban sandwich has become so popular…

Escambray Mountains

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Written by Sophia Bass

When thinking of Cuba, breathtaking beaches, elaborate Afro-Cuban dancing, and Spanish music usually come to mind. Folks who have not been to Cuba don’t usually think of it being known for it’s gorgeous mountainous region. When I traveled to Cuba last summer, I was in awe of the Escambray Mountains that begin before entering the old Spanish colonial town of Trinidad.

The countryside of the valley that lies at the foot of the Escrambray Mountains is breathtaking. Guava, orange, and lemon trees grow throughout the region, colorfully painting the grassy area with pungent colors. Cuban farmers live scattered throughout the valley growing coffee in the region. I learned that Cuba is known for it’s arabica coffee beans, currently popular among the global coffee industry, so it’s a great destination if you’re a coffee lover.

I remember we stopped on the side of the road to acquire some mangos during our taxi ride to Trinidad. We were surrounded by the lush tropical mount…

Why I Traveled to Cuba

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Written by Sophia Bass

After the revolution in the 1950s, Cuba became somewhat of a mystery to the outside world. As someone who studied in Florida and lived in Ecuador during graduate school, I desired to travel to Spanish speaking countries where I could practice my knowledge of the language and immerse myself in the culture. Cuba had always attracted my attention.

While living in St. Petersburg, Florida for four years, I was accustomed to Cuban food, cerdo (pork), arroz (rice), and frijoles (beans) for lunch. My favorite restaurant in town served the most delicious Cubano and coffee. The aromas of the food and friendliness of the people continued to spike my interest in traveling to Cuba in the near future.

I knew that understanding Cuba in 2017 would require seeing it through the eyes of the younger generation. Architects, dancers, musicians, and artists are paving the way for a more expressive and individualistic Cuba for the first time in decades.


It is brilliant to speak with …

Cuba is for Artists and Musicians

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Written by Sophia Bass

Traveling to Cuba in 2017 was an experience I will never forget. As a musician who was born and raised listening to the sounds of Latin beats and Spanish melodies, I was in awe of the talent of the Cuban people.


The diverse flavors and colors stemming from African and Spanish cultures create complex artwork and music that has become known to countries around the world. In Cuba, Spanish-European and African communities live peacefully among each other writing powerful music and painting beautiful masterpieces that highlight the hardships of the Cuban people.

After visiting Trinidad, Cuba, I was so inspired by the vibrant colorful colonial homes that I decided to paint my impression of the town. The cobblestone streets and brilliant sunsets portray the feeling of Trinidad at dusk. I can only imagine the inspiration artists have gained from this colorful colonial town over the last few centuries.

Walking around the old Spanish colonial town of Trinidad or Old Hava…

Raul Castro Will Step Down as President of Cuba Later Than Expected

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Written by Sophia Bass

On Thursday, Cuba announced that Raul Castro will remain in power two months longer than expected. He is expected to stay in power due to the impact of Hurricane Irma in September delaying the political cycle. Many Cubans expect Vice President Miguel Diaz Canel, 57, to replace Castro's policies.

For more information, read the article in TIME, Raul Castro


Going back to the 1500's

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Written by Sophia Bass

When I first traveled to Cuba, I thought I would stay in the Havana region and explore Cuba's rich music and art scene. I wanted to immerse myself in the history of the Revolution. I knew Havana had a lot to offer, but I also wanted to see other parts of the country as my boyfriend and I only had 10 days on the island. My friend had recently been to Cuba and insisted that we visit Trinidad. She said it was her favorite part of the island and it was well worth the four hour taxi ride from Havana.

It was Tuesday morning and we decided to depart from Plaza de San Francisco in Old Havana and catch a ride to Trinidad. We piled into an old VW with a young German couple who was nearly our age, and began on our journey. Through the windows of the car we passed farms, plantations, fruit trees, and small villages as we approached the Escambray Mountains.

Upon arriving to Trinidad, I felt like I had gone back in time to the 1500's. Cobblestone streets, Spanish style …