Elections in Cuba: How it Works

Written by Ian Sergeant and Sophia Bass

Cuba’s presidential elections having just passed, we thought we would help alleviate any confusion that there may be regarding Cuba’s electoral process.

In 2007, Raul Castro assumed power when his brother Fidel Castro fell ill. He was officially elected president in February 2008. After his reelection in 2013, Raul promised that he would only hold power for this second 5-year term, and then step down as president. This was extended by a couple of months after Hurricane Irma, in order to ensure the stability of the republic. On April 19th, 2018, Cuba’s National Assembly elected Miguel Diaz-Canel president of Cuba.

The National Assembly of People’s Power is Cuba’s Parliament and is made up of 605 members, chosen on a local level through democratic elections. The last election was March 2018. They are the only body in the Republic invested with constituent and legislative authority. This means that when it is time to choose new leadership, the respo…

A Lesser Known City in Cuba: Camagüey

Written by Sophia Bass

The majority of international travelers may not know about the lesser traveled destinations in Cuba. Camagüey is one of the first seven villages founded by the Spaniards in Cuba. Founded in 1528, the town became an urban center for the sugar and cattle industry. Known for its beautiful architecture, you can find endless alleyways, performing street artists, and numerous cathedrals as the city is known for its Catholic history.

When arriving in Camagüey, you immediately notice the prevalence of Catholic churches. The Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral is gothic in style and unique to Cuba. Many believe that the Church belongs in Spain or France as it is European in style. Another favorite Church is the Inglesia de Nuestra Senora de la Soledad, a newly renovated church in the center of the city.
My favorite part of traveling is wandering the alleyways and streets of a city, exploring new cafe's, tasting new food, and watching children play soccer in the streets. …

Muraleando: A Community Project in Havana, Cuba

Written by Sophia Bass

The first time I traveled to Havana, I immediately noticed a variety of artistic expression throughout the city. From local art markets and galleries to murals, I wanted to learn the story behind Cuba's innovative art scene. I quickly learned of the Muraleando Art Project founded by Manuel Diaz Baldrich and Ernesto Quirch Paz in 2003. Founder of Soltura Cuba Travel, Ian Sergeant, assisted in funding the creation of the project through the not-for-profit organization, Cuba AyUUda. Situated on the outskirts of Havana, the project has transformed an area of rubble and destruction into a thriving art collective.

The goal of Muraleando is to bring children off the streets of Havana and inspire them to contribute to a community project. In a country where nothing is disposable and everything is useful from telephone wires, iron, to old typewriters, artists in Cuba sought an opportunity to utilize these materials and create something beautiful. Professional artists…

An Unforgettable Journey

Written by Allison Viaja 

Dear Momma,

I have run the Malecon at sunrise, talked politics with people from around the globe in front of kitchy Trump art nuevo at Fabrica de Arte, whose line stretches 1,000 people long, but which the gift of a VIP card allowed me to bypass. I've biked 40km through fishing villages along the northern coast with doctors from Belgium, and free climbed the magotes of Viñales. I've sat 3rd row center at the Cuban National Ballet and been reduced to tears. I've been paraded around cobblestone streets in a horse drawn carriage while men yelled, "You're beautiful!," and "I love you!" up to me like adoring subjects. I've refreshed my salsa skills on crumbling rooftops to sunsets that last longer than my legs do, and to the music of everyday life. I've scuba'd the Bahia de Cochinos and played dominos in the streets of Havana, smoking cigars with men 10x my age and been schooled and taught a thing or two right back. …

Recent Election in Cuba Makes History

Written by Sophia Bass

If you're traveling to Cuba in 2018, you may want to learn about the recent election that occurred on March 11th. For the first time in history, Cuba vote opened a final chapter of the Castro era. This is the first time in nearly 60 years that a member of the Castro family will no longer be in charge of office. As President Raul Castro will be stepping down in April of 2018, this election marks a critical time in history for Cuba as a nation. President Raul Castro will continue as the head of the Communist Party after stepping down from office.

"They're the most important elections of recent years, because we are going to vote for new people who will govern from then on," day-care center guardian Ramon Perez told AFP news agency in
Minute by minute: General elections in Cuba (II).

Thanks to special polling stations, every Cuban eligible to vote was able to participate in the voting process wherever they were in the national territory on March…

Where to Dine in Havana

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 or 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 yo…

Vedado--A Less Traveled Neighborhood in Havana

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 a 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 air…

A Day at the Museo de la Revolución

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…