Between 1932 and 1960 Ernest Hemingway spent a fair amount of time in La Habana, Cuba and nearby towns. He produced some of his best work there including For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea.
Finca Vigia was Hemingway’s home in Cuba from 1939 until his death in 1961. From 1932 to 1939 when Hemingway visited La Habana he stayed in a room 511 on the top-floor of Hotel Ambos Mundos. Not wanting to live in a small hotel room, Hemingway’s third wife, Martha Gellhorn, persuaded him to relocate to a home in the village of San Francisco de Paula about 12 miles east of La Habana.
The property is now a museum. Admission is 5 CUC ($5). The grounds are open seven days a week. Entrance into the house is forbidden, but the many windows allow a good view of the interior.
Hemingway last resided at Finca Vigia in 1960. After his suicide in 1961 in Ketchum, Idaho, the Cuban government took charge of the property. It was closed to the public until 2007. In spite of the house being listed as one of the world’s most endangered historical sites, it looks remarkably well preserved. His library, furnishings, and artifacts remain seemingly undisturbed. The house looked to be in great condition – perhaps even better than when the Hemingways last vacated it.
In 1946, Hemingway’s fourth wife built a tower on the property to serve as a writer’s studio with a view.
Finca Vigia had a pool and tennis court. The tennis court was removed. The pool is still there.
The Cuban government has even preserved Hemingway’s fishing boat, Pilar, American flag included, and his canine cemetery.
La Terraza de Cojimar
Hemingway was a great outdoorsman. He loved fishing and hunting. Cojimar Harbor was the base for his forays into the Gulf Stream on Pilar in search of game fish. Hemingway often visited the seaside bar and restaurant La Terraza de Cojimar.
It was in La Terraza that Hemingway met Gregorio Fuentes who claimed to have been the inspiration for Santiago in Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, the tale of an epic battle between a down-on-his-luck Cuban fisherman and a giant marlin.
If you go, look for the photo of Hemingway presenting a trophy to Fidel Castro in 1960 for winning the Hemingway Fishing Contest.
Nearby La Terraza is a monument honoring Hemingway that was built in 1962 not long after the Cuban Revolution. Politics is one thing. Mutual respect among people another.
Hemingway won a Pulitzer for his Cojimar novel and it may have been a significant factor in winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954. To show his respect for the Cuban people, Hemingway presented them with his Nobel Prize medal. I think he kept the money.
Hemingway’s fondness for drink turned several bars in old Havana into modern day tourist attractions. Floridita, a bar and seafood restaurant, is located on Calle Obispo a short walk from Hemingway’s room at Hotel Ambos Mundos.
Floridita claims to have invented the daiquiri in the early 1930s. It retains the atmosphere of the Hemingway era. There is much Hemingway memorabilia on display.
La Bodeguita del Medio
La Bodeguita del Medio claims to have created the mojito. Hemingway visited occasionally but was not a regular. His granddaughter, Margaux, Nat King Cole and Salvador Allende were some of the famous folk who frequented this bar. Tourists often scribble an inscription on the walls as Hemingway is said to have done.
While the ownership of Finca Vigia remains an issue between the Hemingway family and the government, maybe it is not so surprising that Cuba took great care of Hemingway’s property after his death and during the subsequent decades of hostility between Cuba and the US. Hemingway had great affection for the Cuban people and culture, and the feelings were mutual.