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Most Ya’lla tours to our mystery country include dinners and lunches at paladars, like Guitarra Mia. A paladar is a privately owned restaurant, usually family operated and located in a converted home. When we first started selling tours to this country in 2002, food was definitely not a selling point, mainly because of the scarcity of ingredients. Since 1993, the largely state-run economy has allowed the operation of small, private businesses. Relying on black market suppliers, paladars began to pop up gradually in major cities. With further economic reforms in 2010, the industry of small, private restaurants really took off. Today, hundreds of paladars operate across the country, mainly supported by tourists. While it’s not quite a culinary destination, yet, there’s enough variety and innovation here to satisfy the most refined palate.

 

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This national capital building recently reopened after an 8-year renovation.

The Capitolio was built in 1929 as the home of the Congress. After the country’s leftist revolution in 1959, the building, which was loosely modeled after the U.S. Capital building, was neglected as a symbol of imperialism.

Restoration work continues in some areas but the building is open for guided tours. Inside and out, the building is an architectural treasure and not to be missed. The most famous feature inside is a 57-foot bronze Statue of the Republic.

 

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The Pinar del Rio province in the far west of our mystery country is the country’s prime tobacco growing region. Tobacco has been a major segment of the country’s economy since it was first discovered by Spanish colonists in the 16th century. Prior to colonization, natives knew the plant well and used it for medicinal and ritual purposes. Today, most tobacco is produced on small private farms and exported in the form of premium cigars.

 

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Fire Festival, Santiago de Cuba

Fire Festival, Santiago de Cuba, photo credit: trabajadores.cu

Fire Festival, Santiago de Cuba, photo credit: trabajadores.cu

Santiago Fire Festival, June 30-July 7, 2018

Since 1980, for one week every year in early July, Cuba’s 2nd largest city, Santiago, erupts in a wide-ranging celebration of Caribbean culture and history. The festival, known as both the Fire Festival and the Caribbean Festival, brings together artists, dancers, musicians, academics and partiers from around the world. The streets rock with revelers, while music, dance, and theater performances, art exhibitions, religious ceremonies, seminars and workshops take place at venues across the city. Food stalls and pop-up bars and restaurants fortify the crowds with traditional and nouveau Caribbean fare. Street markets feature regional art and crafts. The week of daily parades peaks with the Fire Parade on the last night, which ends with the burning effigy of the Devil.

The Fire Festival is certainly a carnival, but it is not to be confused with The Carnival, another annual summer festival in Santiago, but with more specifically Cuban themes (taking place this year July 18-27, 2018).

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The Malecón is the famous waterfront boulevard in this capital city of a large island nation. From the Malecón one looks out at the mingling waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. Lovers love the Malecón at sunset. Fishers gather along the Malecón at dusk, not for recreation, but to put food on the table for their families. Tourists and locals alike enjoy a stroll on the long promenade that stretches five miles along the coast line from the harbor in the Old City to the Vedado neighborhood.

 

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