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Say hello to Cuba

Vieja Plaza in Cuba.

Laura Davick lives to travel and travels to live. “Traveling recharges my soul and keeps my head clear,” she says. “I try to always have at least two to four international destinations on my calendar every year.” When she’s not hitting the road, her passion is Crystal Cove, where she once lived with her parents in Cottage 2. Davick founded the Crystal Cove Alliance in 1999 to preserve the beach community’s historic district for future generations to enjoy and is currently vice president. When she’s not busy with the nonprofit, she likes to visit countries such as Cuba. “I love to experience other cultures, meet interesting people and explore places that are off the beaten path.”

Time is right
Summer is very hot, but in October, trade winds cool and refresh the island. From October through April, the weather is balmy with little rain. January and February are the coolest months. The hurricane season is from July to November

Why Cuba?
A trip to Cuba is like stepping back in time. The architecture, the old cars, the great music – and the people – make it a must-see travel spot. Go as soon as possible so that you will experience the authentic Cuba. See the way things are now, before it changes. Book yourself into the Hotel Sevilla (hotelsevilla-cuba.com) and just explore and walk the streets and take it all in. Havana has an energy that is palpable.

Best bite
There are many new and delicious private restaurants, but one of the city’s oldest, best and most charming places to dine is La Guarida, housed in a former mansion that practically oozes  atmosphere (laguarida.com/en). Other top choices are San Cristobal Paladar on San Rafael, where President Obama and his family ate when they visited last year, and Chacon 162 Tapas Bar and restaurant at 162 Calle Chacon (facebook.com/chacon162).

Secret tip
It’s really important to find a knowledgeable, experienced guide if you’re visiting Cuba. My favorite is Mary Drobny (cultural-journeys.com), a Long Beach art professor who has been leading groups through Cuba for more than 15 years on over 100 trips.

Must do
In Havana, visit the fruit and craft markets and the museums, then head for Old Havana to explore the churches and reconstructed Spanish-style mansions near three beautiful plazas: Catedral, Armas and Vieja. Don’t miss the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum (hemingwayhome.com). Outside the city, visit Western Cuba’s Valle de Vinales, known for its picturesque landscape, tobacco farms and beautiful white sand beaches. The area has a magical quality I will never forget, full of timeless scenes of rural Cuba, complete with thatched homesteads and farmers driving ox-drawn carts with faithful dogs trotting at their heels.

After dark
Nightlife is everywhere: on the rooftops of Old Havana hotels such as the Inglaterra (hotelinglaterra-cuba.com), at cabaret shows at the Tropicana, (cabaret-tropicana.com) or Hotel Nacional, (hotelnacionaldecuba.com), at the city’s many jazz clubs, and at Fabrica de Arte Cubano (fac.cu), the newest hip venue that combines music, art, dance and more.

Buy in
Art is one of the best finds here. Visit the famous printmaking studio Taller Experimental de Gráfica on Callejon del Chorro in Old Havana, plus the many galleries and private home studios of artists. For a wide variety of arts and crafts, see Almacenes San Jose Artisans’ Market on the waterfront on Avenida del Puerto at Calle Cuba. And if you’re wondering about the status of buying Cuban cigars, don’t worry. It’s no longer illegal to bring them into the United States. You can now buy an unlimited number of Cuban cigars and rum and bring them back into the country, as long as they’re only for personal consumption. 


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