Smithsonian Journeys Travel Quarterly Cuba Issue

What to Read, Watch and Download Before Your Trip to Cuba

Know before you go

(Images courtesy of Amazon)
Smithsonian Journeys Quarterly

Contributing writers and experts from the Smithsonian submitted their suggestions for Cuba-themed books, movies, and online resources to enjoy before traveling. Compiled by Eric Zurita.

Instagram

Artist Jauretsi Saizarbitoria shows the latest trends in culture and art on the island: @thenewcuba

The Ramiro A. Fernández collection displays classic images from 19th- and 20th-century Cuba: @cuba_then

Havana inspired collection #ChanelCruiseCuba #chanelcuba #havana

A photo posted by Get To Know Me @Jauretsi (@thenewcuba) on

Apps

AlaMesa provides a database of cafés and restaurants in 13 of the island’s 15 provinces—more than 500 in Havana alone—listing menus, opening hours, and average dish prices for each establishment. Cuba Casa Directory, like AlaMesa, functions off-line, connecting travelers to owners of casas particulares—the Cuban version of B&Bs.

Cuba Offline Map + City Guide Navigator (for iOS) puts a detailed map of Cuban roads in users’ hands; its split screen allows travelers to simultaneously follow directions and take photographs en route.

Listen to the latest hits Habaneros are enjoying on CubanFlow, an app featuring thousands of songs by Cuba natives.

Websites & Blogs

OnCuba offers a fresh, young perspective on the island; its articles and columns help to bridge the gap between political extremes during this time of diplomatic change.

Translating Cuba is a compilation of translated blogs written by Cubans who live on the island or in exile, including independent journalists and human rights activists. 

Sponsored by Havana Club rum, Havana Cultura promotes the arts in the capital, giving artists a platform to share their work in music, dance, and literature. 

The Farber Collection, founded in 2001, encompasses contemporary work by Cuban-born artists living around the world. 

A side project of the Farber Foundation, Cuban Art News gives visitors up-to-date information on Cuban art and culture, including interviews, videos, and exhibition details. 

Cuba Junky provides useful information on car rentals, flights, sites, and accommodations. 

Music

In Al Final de Este Viaje (1978) Silvio Rodríguez writes songs that are both political and poetic. He inspired the music of singer-songwriter Carlos Varela, often referred to as Cuba’s Bob Dylan; Varela’s All His Greatest Hits (2013) features several of his best ballads.

Interactivo is an experimental music collective whose constantly changing sound draws on jazz, soul, rap, and funk while staying true to Afro-Cuban rhythms, as evidenced in its latest album, Cubanos por el Mundo (2011).

Movies

In Habanastation (2011) director Ian Padrón follows a day in the lives of two boys from different neighborhoods who exemplify growing inequalities under the island’s socialist system. Written and directed by Juan Carlos Cremata Malberti, Viva Cuba (2005) explores the effect of emigration on a budding friendship.

Based on a short story by Cuban writer Senel Paz, Tomás Gutiérrez Alea and Juan Carlos Tabío’s Oscar-winning Fresa y Chocolate (1993) features a gay artist unhappy with the government’s attitude toward the LGBT community. Gutiérrez Alea’s romantic comedy Guantanamera (1995) depicts life in Cuba during the “special period” of the 1990s, as a woman from the province of Guantanamo brings the body of her deceased aunt back to Havana.

A fictional account of Benny Moré’s life as a son and bolero singer, Jorge Luis Sánchez’s El Benny (2006) includes new versions of the artist’s songs by contemporary Cuban musicians such as Juan Formell and Orishas.

After leaving his homeland, a Cuban intellectual finds himself disenchanted with the bustle of Paris, Tokyo, London, and New York in Miguel Coyula’s Memorias del Desarrollo (2010).

Alejandro Brugués’s horror spoof Juan de los Muertos (2011) depicts a zombie-ridden capital, bringing satirical humor to Cuban hardships and reflecting Cuba’s growing cinematic freedom.

Books

Julia Sweig primes travelers heading to the island with Cuba: What Everyone Needs to Know, an evenhanded account of the country’s complex political past.

Dreaming in Cuban is Cristina García’s multigenerational novel about three Cuban women in a family divided by politics and geography.

In Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba Tom Gjelten weaves the history of the rum-making family into that of the island where the company originated.

Patrick Symmes’s The Boys From Dolores follows pupils at a Jesuit school in the late 1930s and early ’40s, adolescents who would later lead the country, Fidel and Raúl Castro among them.

Alfredo Estrada provides an intimate history, extending from Columbus to Castro, in Havana: Autobiography of a City.

In Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life Jon Lee Anderson recounts the tumultuous story of the famous guerrilla leader.

Carlos Eire recalls his experience as one of 14,000 children airlifted off the island in 1962 in Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy, winner of a National Book Award.

Leonardo Padura Fuentes’s novel Adiós Hemingway—part mystery, part biographical study of the Nobel Prize-winning American writer—is a thrilling investigation of a murder case that takes place during a fictional Hemingway’s final days in Cuba.

Evoking a raw realism that has led critics to call him the Caribbean Bukowski, Pedro Juan Gutiérrez puts readers at the center of a hungry, post-Soviet-era city in Dirty Havana Trilogy.

Rachel Weiss analyzes contemporary artwork on the island in To and From Utopia in the New Cuban Art, exploring how the revolution led to a unique artistic movement.

In Pitching Around Fidel Sports Illustrated’s S. L. Price embarks on a quest to understand the passion Cubans have for sports, traveling through the country to meet some of its athletic heroes.

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