This is the Cuban villa where Hemingway lived from 1939-1960 and wrote many of his best known novels. It sits high in the town of San Francisco de Paula about half an hour outside Havana, and from the patio you can actually see Havana in the distance, hence the name Finca Vigía or “Lookout Farm.” The villa was discovered by Hemingway’s wife at the time, Martha Gelhorn, who was seeking somewhere spacious for the two of them to live. Hemingway had been mostly living and working out of his room on the fifth floor of the Ambos Mundos Hotel in Havana, and it was too small.
In the photos below you can see that Finca Vigía has two studies, one off the bedroom (which Hemingway apparently used most), and a grander one off the living room. The elements of machismo in the house are hardly surprising considering his tiresome fixation on proving his manhood—the bullfighting posters, his hunting trophies from Africa—but otherwise the house is unexpectedly relaxed, airy and not particularly boastful. Hemingway was delighted (his word) with Castro’s overthrow of the grisly Batista regime, despite the fact that Finca Vigía was later expropriated by the state after the Bay of Pigs. By then Hemingway was on his way out of Cuba anyway; his health and mental state were in serious decline and he was already fed up with the flow of houseguests and tourists to the villa. He moved back to his home state of Illinois. Upon Hemingway’s death in 1961 the villa was made into a museum. Nothing has been touched since—almost all of his books and trophies and art and furniture remain. You can’t go in, but they open the doors and windows and you can look into almost every room.
There is also a pretty wooden guest house, not open to the public, where Hemingway’s sons would stay here when they visited. Considering the overcrowding in housing in Cuba it’s weird to see these buildings sit empty, but there is something unexpectedly moving about this place. I had half-expected the Cuban government to have turned it into a monument to Hemingway’s meeting with Castro, but there’s no evidence of that anywhere. For that you need to go to the restaurant in Cojimar and see the framed photos. You don’t see this at Hemingway’s room at the Ambos Mundos Hotel in Havana, either. It too is a museum now, containing a rotating display of objects from the villa. It’s surprisingly small.
Just east of the villa is the fishing village of Cojimar where Hemingway kept his famous wooden fishing craft the Pilar (which is now on the grounds of the villa, sitting on blocks on the old covered tennis court). Cojimar gave Hemingway the setting for his book The Old Man and the Sea, and he is still remembered there—you can still get a drink in the story’s famous La Terazza bar where Hemingway often drank (but then it’s hard to find a bar near Havana that he didn’t drink in). The bar is filled with photos of Hemingway, including the two with Castro, below.
Hemingway kept an obsessive record of his weight which he would often mark directly on the wall. (Closeup here.)
Hemingway had many cats at the villa, but the current caretakers keep dogs. There were about 12 well-kept little Cuban dogs on the villa grounds, and like most dogs in Cuba they’re friendly, trusting and obviously well-treated. There was a “cold” spell this year in Cuba, relatively speaking, and in Havana you could identify which dogs weren’t strays because they were the ones wearing t-shirts. It never got below 10 degrees C.
Below, are photos taken in nearby Cojimar. The first two are of framed photos of Hemingway and Castro from the large collection on the wall at the La Terazza bar. They must have been shot after the revolution in ’59 and before Hemingway’s suicide in 1961.