Our Blog

Papa: Hemingway in Cuba Posted in April 28, 2016


The reviews are in, and they’re pretty unanimous: Papa:Hemingway in Cuba stinks.  It was to be expected.  The truth about the history of Hemingway in Cuba is that he’s more of a footnote than a main character.  Hemingway was already famous when he first began drinking, writing, and fishing in Cuba in the 1930’s.  By the time the Revolution came to Havana in 1959, he had been living at his house in Havana’s outskirts, Finca Vigía, for almost 20 years.  Over the years Hemingway certainly came to know Cuba’s power players, dictator Fulgencio Batista, mob kingpins Meyer Lansky and Santo Trafficante, and eventually the victorious Fidel Castro, but it was because Havana was (and is) a relatively small city.  Cuba’s powerful would occasionally run into the famous writer and sometime drinker-about-town, but Hemingway wasn’t one of them, nor did either he nor they particularly wish to be chums.

Hemingway was usually a curmudgeon, and sometimes a full-blown asshole.  He wanted to fish, drink, and face the demons that a working writer must confront, all alone.  He reportedly wrote in longhand, standing, leaning against a bookshelf.  Beginning around sun-up, he’d manage four or five hundred words daily. By mid-morning on a good day he was off Cojímar aboard his fishing yacht, Pilar, and on a bad day he was grumping around the house simmering an argument with his wife, Mary. He enjoyed his celebrity when it suited him.  Afterall, he created it.  But he was a social loner, alone in a crowd that was more often than not gathered around him, the celebrity attraction.  If you want to read some contemporary first hand accounts of Hemingway in Cuba, there are great articles in The Atlantic and Esquire.

One of the best tidbits about Hemingway in Cuba involves him and a much more important figure in Cuban history, Meyer Lansky. Hemingway evidently enjoyed drinking on the shaded patio of the Hotel Nacional (most people do – it’s a great place for a drink or three), and when he learned that Lansky had struck a deal with Batista giving Lansky effective control over the landmark hotel, Hemingway confronted the diminutive mob boss, demanding to know if Lansky intended to “spoil the place” by installing a casino. Imagine a man set in his ways, the 230 pound 6-foot Hemingway, facing off against a man who gets his way, the 150 pound 5-foot-5-inch boss of bosses Lansky. Lansky supposedly looked up at the writer’s bearded ruddy face and replied, “Spoil the joint? We’re making it better. From what you say there’ll be one less drunk hanging around.” Game, set, match Lansky!

One scene of the movie, Papa, places Hemingway in Cuba with the younger sidekick who is the author of the movie’s story at the site of one of the most iconic actions of the Cuban Revolution, the 1957 assault by the Directorio Revolucionario Estudiantil against Fulgencio Batista at the Presidential Palace.  The attack involved a courageous band of grad students who commandeered delivery trucks and uniforms, pulled up in front of the Presidential Palace and charged inside, machine guns blazing.  It was a desperate, crazy act, and it almost worked.  The attackers made it into Batista’s 3rd floor office where they found a still-hot cup of coffee perched on the president’s desk.  Batista narrowly escaped.  The shooting went on for hours.  Tanks surrounded the Palace.  Gunsmoke wafted through the streets of Old Havana.  A few of the attackers escaped.  Most were killed on the spot.  And this movie conveniently places Hemingway and his little buddy on the scene, ducking bullets.

If you travel to Havana with Havana VIP Tours, we’ll give you the true story of Hemingway in Cuba.  Check out our Farm to Table (plus Hemingway) Experience, or our Fortresses, Ché and Hemingway Experience for visits to Finca Vigía, Hemingway’s home in the outskirts of Havana. We’ll show you the Presidential Palace.  It’s called the Museum of the Revolution now, and we’ll point out the bullet holes still in the portico and entry hall.  The delivery truck the student attackers used is preserved around back, right next to the Granma the small ship Fidel, Raúl, and El Ché, sailed with around 70 would-be revolutionaries from Yucatan Mexico to start their armed insurrection on the eastern end of the island.  We’ll show you Hemingway’s house, and some of the places he purportedly liked to drink. Spoiler alert: there’s one Old Havana watering hole that has been fraudulently making money on Hemingway’s name for about 70 years.  If you want to know which place that is, click the button below, and start planning your trip to Cuba with Havana VIP.


Lisa Cashion Schreiber

They were very organized and we experienced some truly authentic Cuban experiences- highly recommend

See More Reviews
Claudine Rosetti

5 stars for sure! Since I found Havana VIP via an internet search, Tony was very patient in our 45 minute introductory phone call to reassure me that his company was not only legitimate but that they had been in business for over 13 years and knew the ins and outs of Cuban travel for American citizens. Our group ranged in age from 13 to 75 (Grandma~ my mother, came along and she rode a horse in Vinales. Edwardo, our...

See More Reviews
Jane Hammond

We have just returned from a trip to Cuba, arranged by Tony and HavanaVIP. Three couples traveled to Trinidad and Havana, with a particular focus on upcoming Cuban artists. Every plan and arrangement happened flawlessly - guides and drivers were always on time, helpful and endlessly cheerful. Ernesto was our first guide in Trinidad, and he could not have given us a nicer introduction to this amazing country - both the history, and the social state of things today. Attending...

See More Reviews
Nick Nicastro

I can’t recommend HavanaVIP highly enough if you plan to visit Cuba (as you should, and soon!) The island of course is fascinating and friendly and full of interest. But I particularly wanted to mention what great friends our guides Eduardo, Adrian, Mario, Natasha and Olivia became to us. They were beyond compassionate to the needs of my mobility-impaired wife. Tony was always forthcoming and helpful, even as our plans changed due to health circumstances. And HavanaVIPs local connections got...

See More Reviews
Alain Rossmann

A memorable experience, great planning and local execution by Havana VIP.

See More Reviews
Glo Harris

My daughter and I travelled together. She was celebrating her 50th BIRTHDAY. From beginning to end this 5 day trip was magical: planning with Tony was seamless, he took care of each detail just as we discussed, his knowledge of Havana was thorough and his attitude patient and sensitive...and I can be annoying with myriad questions. The guides were the best we have had anywhere, the accommodations on the Malecon comfortable. We particularly enjoyed going to individual artists' galleries, most...

See More Reviews
Rob Boffard

Havana VIP sorted our honeymoon for us. Tony was a pleasure to deal with, and the activities he sorted out for us were perfect. Our guides - Kenia, Ginetet, Eduardo - and drivers - Damaso, Darvel, Eduardo - worked overtime to make us happy. Would highly recommend this company if you ever head to Cuba; they know what they're doing, and they make things simple. Unbelievable trip.

See More Reviews
Santiago Hermes

La Galería Santiago Hermes considera que la agencia Havana VIP realiza un buen trabajo en la promoción de la autenticidad cubana

See More Reviews
Martha Whetstone

We just got back from Cuba and we highly recommend Havana VIP. The quality of the trip was first rate. The guides and drivers were just great and all went out of their way to make our trip run smoothly. The accommodations were all comfortable and we enjoyed our conversations with our hosts. We felt like we really got to see a variety of cities, towns, and countryside. We traveled with two doctors and the guide arranged for us to...

See More Reviews
Martel Angelo Postell
See More Reviews
Jacqueline Postell

Havana VIP made every aspect of travelling to Cuba a breeze. Working with Tony was effortless. Tony and I spoke about the things we were interested in experiencing and then was able to create a seamless itinerary that was startlingly impressive. We met the kindest people; our tour guide, Jorge Gonzalez Estrada and driver, Eduardo, were so knowledgeable, accommodating and welcoming, we felt like family by the end of the trip. The flow of the activities were well timed and...

See More Reviews
Adrián Lamela Aragonés
See More Reviews
Lisa Mastronardi

Imagine hosting 25 friends and family in Havana in August for a 50th birthday celebration. Imagine most of these guys are well traveled, international, seasoned jet setters and you are going to try and wow them with a great adventure. What is a girl to do? Hire the best.

The Havana VIP team both in the US and in Havana knocked it out of the park.

Great housing, fantastic excursions, customized itinerary, amazing experiences,...

See More Reviews
Cara Hogan

Havana VIP Tours did a fantastic job with our trip. My husband and I loved how everything was handled smoothly from the moment we arrived in Cuba until we left. The housing, the tour guides, the drivers, the dinners, and more were all fantastic and well planned out. We learned so much about Cuban culture and history and met some amazing people along the way. If you're looking for an immersive, informative and fun experience of Cuba, this is the...

See More Reviews
Brocky OA

Tony & Havana VIP Tours did an outstanding job from inquiry to finish. We couldn't have asked for more. We were 8 people traveling (4 cousins) whose grandmother & aunts & uncles lived in Havana for 4 years prior to being allowed to enter the US from 1922 - 1926. So we decided to visit where they lived. My wife found the address & we said let's go. We contacted Tony and explained about our journey that we wanted. Tony...

See More Reviews
Josh Poling

My wife and I traveled to Cuba with my parents in November 2016. Tony and Havana did a great job coordinating a custom trip to meet our interests. All of the guides and drivers they set up were very professional. I honestly can't imagine travelling to Cuba any other way! We made sure all of our guides knew we wanted to experience the real Cuba and get off the beaten path, and they were always more than happy to oblige....

See More Reviews
Nancy Pettersen

From our first conversation with Tony we felt we were in the right hands. He listened to what we wanted down to small details like food and music, customizing our trip for 4 adults. The wonderful Cuban people who guided us through Trinidad, Cienfuegos, and Havana were interesting and a great highlight, even down to our Havana driver Pedro who was so much fun. We found our days informative, educational and great fun filled with history, culture and the arts...

See More Reviews
Elizabeth Furst Frank

Tony organized a fantastic family visit to Havana for us. Magalys was a wonderful guide - full of information, always on time, and very friendly. Lidice gave a family cooking lesson in traditional Cuban food. And we loved our family salsa dancing lesson as well. We highly recommend Tony and his team.

See More Reviews
Lj Pruitt

I struggled with finding a tour operator that understood the new laws for Americans to legally travel to Cuba. I called Havana VIP Tours and was pleasantly surprised to speak with someone that knew more than me – Tony. In addition, it was clear that Tony had a deep knowledge of places and things to do in Cuba.

We are a family of 4 ranging in age from 15 years to 83 years. Our interests are...

See More Reviews
James West III

Having traveled extensively, allow me to say that in all aspects the service provided by Havana VIP Tours was the probably the best in all aspects; Communication, Logistics,Transportation, Lodging, On the ground support services, and, well, everything. Tony laid out what was to be offered in the Tour package, and unlike many in the business, he delivered to the most minute of details. His coordination of Flights was well taken care of, as well as necessary Visas. He communicated what...

See More Reviews
Judith Chevalier

We visited three cities and Tony arranged the housing and the transportation and a number of experiences for us. We are a family of 5 and the kids range from 19 to 7, but everybody was very happy with the places we stayed and the activities we had. We really did get to meet a number of interesting people and got a closer look at life in Cuba than we would have if we had set it up on our...

See More Reviews
Mercedes Sera
See More Reviews
Paul Audia

An amazing experience from start to finish.

From the planning of the trip to the people we met and guided us through the country, this was an educational and informative trip filled with Cuban culture, history, and Art.

I'm not big on planned trips but I am so glad we found you and your team for this experience! Thank you!

See More Reviews
Deisy Suarez

Tony is the best ! He arranged a 5 day havana tour for me and my friends. We stayed at a private house and ate at the best local places. Our driver was amazing and couldn't recommend any other concierge company in havana. Our experience was truly magical and unique.

See More Reviews
Stephanie Marsh
See More Reviews
Linda Meier

Tony arranged a 2 1/2 week custom visit to Cuba in March for four couples. We stayed only in "casas", frequently ate in private restaurants, visited with families and were very pleased with our itinerary. I would agree that of all the wonderful experiences we had, the people themselves and their stories and friendliness were the highlight. I would highly recommend using Havana VIP to organize a customized trip free of hassle and complete with backup support should it be...

See More Reviews
Jennifer Brandenburg

Our visit to Cuba was a fabulous experience. We learned so much about its interesting history, rich arts and culture through a very full and diverse set of daily activities. Our interactions with Cuban people were insightful. The trip took a lot of advance planning and precise scheduling by Tony and his Havana VIP Tours team. Our guides and drivers, as well as our hosts at the casa particulares, all took good care of us – special recognition for Hector,...

See More Reviews
Pat Topitzer

Tony arranged our 8 day visit and he completely hit itout of the park. We presented something of a challenge... 2 no-longer-young grandparents with their 23 year old granddaughter. and one of us had some significant physical challenges as well. Between the guides and the drivers, the lodgings, restaurant recommendations, the itinerary, I cannot imagine we could have been any more thrilled with our first visit to Cuba, The people, of course, are the major draw in our view, but...

See More Reviews
C Cybele Raver

Tony and his team were terrific- we felt lucky to be so fully immersed in art, culture, and history while visiting Havana and Trinidad. Tony listened closely to our preferences and interests, providing us with excellent itinerary, superb guest-house stays, talented and engaging tour guides, and warm and helpful drivers for ground transport.

See More Reviews

Havana VIP Custom Independent Cuba Travel

No Strangers, No Tour Buses
Exclusive Immersive Experiences
100% Legal Travel for US Persons
Luxury Trips at Affordable Prices