Little Havana in Miami, inspired by Cuba

Going to Cuba while staying in the United States may seem unlikely, but Miami's Little Havana proves it, with its Cuban air and fringe feel. Considered the emblematic neighbourhood of Miami's Latin American community, it welcomed refugees from the Castro regime in the 1970s. Today, Little Havana smells of tobacco, tastes of Cuban coffee and sounds like a timbale. This vibrant Hispanic culture can be discovered through the many colourful murals, monuments to the heroes of the past and its culinary aromas. Little Havana is a source of pride for Cubans, particularly Calle Ocho, a symbol of the American dream. The spirit of the district is one of sharing, and sharing means cooking! A number of culinary stops in Calle Ocho give you the chance to discover Cuban history through a range of dishes. The programme includes typical restaurants, Mediterranean-style houses, the scent of tobacco and Latin music.

In Little Havana, giant, colourful statues of roosters are true emblems of this district.

- © Fotoluminate LLC / Shutterstock

The origins of the district

When Miami was founded in 1896, Little Havana, to the west of the city centre, was nothing more than a stretch of plantations. Over the years, it became a favourite spot for Europeans before being abandoned in the 1950s.

Twenty years later, the district regained its effervescence by becoming a refuge for Cubans fleeing Castro's regime. Salsa took over the airwaves, panaderias (Cuban bakeries) and ventanitas, places where you could socialise and drink the strongest, sweetest coffee of your life, took over the streets. Even today, Little Havana remains a vital point for immigrants from South and Central America, who bring with them their flavours, their "caliente" rhythms and a dynamic working spirit.

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Let's get down to business: it would be a shame to be in Little Havana without stopping off for a cigar. The district breathes the scent of freshly hand-rolled tobacco leaves. There are around a dozen shops, lounges and factories, where you can admire the dexterity of the craftsmen rolling the tobacco leaves.

Did you know that it's impossible to find Cuban brands in Little Havana because it's forbidden to import them into the United States?

A day in Little Havana

The day always starts with a good Cuban coffee. Any ventanita will do, but if you really want to enjoy the experience, go to La Colada Gourmet, one of the few ventanitas to be roasted on site.

It's impossible to go to Little Havana without mentioning Calle Ocho, a veritable Cuban museum in its own right.

- © Fotoluminate LLC / Shutterstock

Cuban life is concentrated on Calle Ocho (between SW 13th and 17th Avenue), a main thoroughfare packed with attractions: cafés, art galleries, cigar factories and restaurants. The best way to explore this bustling street is to stroll along it. The same street is home to the Hispanic version of the Walk of Fame, with its famous stars and casts of the hands of celebrities such as Célia Cruz, Gloria Estefan and Julio Iglesias.

the elders of Little Havana play a game of dominoes in Gomez Park

- © Fotoluminate LLC / Shutterstock

One of the most vibrant and charming spots is in Maximo Gomez Park, nicknamed Domino Park by the locals. Retired Cubans have been getting together for years to play endless games of dominoes while discussing daily life, past and present.

Typical Cuban restaurant at SW 8th Street

- © Kamira / Shutterstock

Generally speaking, art is very present in this district, with galleries and studios such as the Futurama 167 Art Building and the Tower Theatre, which dates back to 1926. The streets are lined with large frescoes, the most famous of which is the "Heroes of Cuba" wall.

One of the best places to visit is the Cubaocho Museum & Performing Arts Center, with its fine private collection of Cuban art. Good mojitos are also served here.

A cigar factory in Little Havana

- © Iv Nikolny / Shutterstock

As night falls, the atmosphere becomes more caliente. There's no escaping the sounds of salsa, jazz and rumba that echo throughout the neighbourhood. Ball & Chain is a legendary 1930s venue that once played host to jazz luminaries such as Billie Holiday and Nate King Cole. Even today, big names such as Brendan O'Hara grace the venue with their presence.

Where to sleep?

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Practical info

👉 When to go

One of the best times to visit Little Havana is in March. The neighbourhood plays host to the Calle Festival de musique d'Ocho, with big-name artists headlining the festivities. This is also the event that marks the start of Miami Carnival. Finally, Los Viernes Culturales takes place every Friday of the month, showcasing local and Cuban artists, dance and music.

by Val HANCOCK
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