When you’re on holiday in another country, you no doubt want to enjoy all that a foreign culture has to offer you, however you might interpret this. Some visitors might pride themselves on getting off the beaten track, making their way to far flung parts of a city in order to see how the locals truly live, while those locals look at them and wonder if they got lost on their way to a nightclub. Other people might experience the best of a foreign culture with their tastebuds, eating admirably exotic foods that they will never be able to experience at home. And then there is a more definitive way to experience culture.
Do you tend to visit a museum or two while you’re on holiday?
It can be an absolute revelation to see the best of a city or region’s culture, proudly on display to share with the world, and when it comes to museums in Cuba, it also gives you a chance to take a break from the heat. There are a number of remarkable surprises in offer when it comes to touring the various museums throughout Cuba, and there are plenty to choose from. We’ve broken them down into what we believe are the best of the best.
Recent and Relevant: The Museum of the Revolution
Many cultures have been shaped by struggles and revolutions, but there are few places where this is as proudly evident as in Cuba. The Cuban Revolution was perhaps one of the most significant turning points in Cuba’s history, right up there with being settled by the Spanish. Back in 1959, when the serving President of Cuba was disposed in the revolution, the Presidential Palace was perhaps too symbolic of the old leadership of Cuba. This is why the art deco building in the heart of Havana (which opened in 1920) was reborn as the Museum of the Revolution. Largely dedicated to the details of the revolution itself, the museum tells the fascinating story of a tumultuous, transformative period that is only in the fairly recent past.
Lookout for Literature: Finca Vigía
One of the most refined museums in Cuba has a strong literary past. The grand Finca Vigía (Lookout Farm) is the former Cuban home of Ernest Hemingway. A lot of Hemingway’s minimalist and masculine prose was created while he was living at Finca Vigía, and Cuba itself was highly influential when it came to a number of his works. He was also a long-term resident at the Hotel Ambos Mundos in central Havana before renting and eventually purchasing Finca Vigía in 1940 after marrying his third wife, the writer Martha Gellhorn.
The marriage laste for five years, although he owned the home until he left Cuba for the last time in 1960. He died the following year, and the home and land became the property of the Cuban government. It fell into disrepair, becoming a shadow of its former glory. The property (located on the outskirts of Havana) was extensively restored and opened in its current guise in 2007. It’s a beautiful experience – wandering around the home and grounds as Hemingway once did.
One of the Most Iconic Museums in Cuba: Mausoleo del Che Guevara
Originally envisaged as a monument and memorial to Che Guevara, this austere structure in Santa Clara became his final resting place after his remains were recovered from an unmarked grave by the side of an isolated plane runway in Bolivia in 2007. It now serves as a testament to the influence that Guevara had on the country, making it one of the most important museums in Cuba.
In addition to the imposing statue of the man himself and the mausoleum, there is a museum dedicated to Guevara and his achievements in the formation of contemporary Cuba. Whether or not you agree with the man’s methods and motivation, it’s a deeply enriching and interesting experience.
French Flair in the Caribbean: Napoleon Museum
The heart of Havana might seem to be an unlikely place for this impressive collection of French art and antiquities, but there is a certain logic to its existence. The museum is largely concerned with items pertaining to the French Revolution, and the people rising up against unjust leadership is obviously a highly relevant theme in Cuba. It even features the actual death mask of Napoleon Bonaparte, which is not something you would expect to see during your Cuban vacation.
Haunting and Isolated: Presidio Modelo
You will need to take a trip to the Isla de Juventud in order to visit the next inclusion on our list of the best museums in Cuba. It’s an oddly haunting experience, and the island is worth your time too (it will take anywhere between two and six hours on a boat, depending on which service you choose). The isolation of the island made it an ideal place to keep prisoners (it was a similar principle that resulted in Australia being settled as a prison colony).
The so-called model prison (Presidio Modelo) was intended to be a type of prison that could be replicated across the country, and this now abandoned prison once held Fidel Castro, imprisoned for political insurgency from 1953 until 1955. It’s a strange though moving experience, to explore this now empty prison which serves as a truly unique museum.
An Odd and Charming Gem: Artecorte, Casa Museo de la Barbería
The last museum on our list is kind of a weird idea for a museum, in the most wonderful way. The Callejón de los Peluqueros in Havana’s Old Town is known as hairdresser’s alley, which is not all that original when you consider that there are a fair few places on the street at which you can have your hair seen to. You’ll easily spot Artecorte, which is both a hair salon and a museum to the very art of cutting hair. It’s an odd place in many ways, although it’s utterly charming.