Explore the Florida Cuban Heritage Trail from Tampa to Miami
By VISIT FLORIDA staff
Cuba and Florida share close proximity, hundreds of years of related history, and cultural influences that flavor both.
Florida Cuban Heritage Trail: Day One
Start your adventure in Ybor City, established in 1886 as a company town for Cubans in Florida who worked in Vicente Ybor's cigar factories.
By the turn of the century, Ybor City boasted a population of close to 15,000 Cubans, Spaniards, Germans and Italians and was renowned as the "Cigar Capital of the World."
It was also home to numerous other cigar factories, restaurants, social clubs, stores, homes and hotels.
Stop by the Ybor City Museum, in the historic Ferlita Bakery, which supplied much of Ybor's fresh daily bread between 1923 and 1973.
Today, it celebrates all the varied cultures -- Cuban, Italian, African-American and others -- that influenced the area.
Next, head to the Cigar Maker's House Museum. Actually, there are six wooden houses, called "casitas," in this reconstructed neighborhood, all built in the early 1890s and moved here in the mid-1980s. One serves as the museum.
A walking tour along the brick-lined walkways of historic Ybor City is highly recommended. The ornate wrought-iron balconies, globed streetlights and majestic architecture recall an earlier, more elegant era.
You'll also see the magnificent preservation and restoration of historic social clubs such as L’Unione Italiana and the Circulo Cubano. Nearby is the beautiful José Martí Park.
Free self-guided walking tour brochures are available at the Ybor City Visitor Information Center, 1600 East 8th Ave. Ste. B104. Call 813-241-8838. The Ybor City Museum Society offers guided walking tours as well; call 813-247-6323.
The world-renowned Columbia Restaurant is the state's oldest and the nation's largest Spanish restaurant and a must-visit while in Ybor City.
Cuban immigrant Casimiro Hernández, Sr. opened the small corner cafe in 1905, and now the restaurant can seat more than 1,700. It is famous for its Spanish cuisine, dinner shows (every night except Sunday), and old-world architectural charm.
After dinner, stick around for while; Ybor City's nightlife is as colorful as the flamenco dancers.
Florida Cuban Heritage Trail: Day Two
The Henry B. Plant Museum, in the historic Tampa Bay Hotel, is unmistakable with its Moorish Revival architecture capped with spectacular minarets. It was built in 1891 by railroad magnate Henry B. Plant, the man responsible for connecting Tampa to the rest of the state.
The museum contains a Spanish-American War room featuring many artifacts from the Cuban War for Independence.
Then, buckle up; it's a drive of about five hours and 250 miles to Miami, your next destination along the Florida Cuban Heritage Trail.
Florida Cuban Heritage Trail: Day Three
HistoryMiami has exhibits relating to Cuban history and culture, and schedules walking tours through Little Havana, as well as other parts of the city, throughout the year. For tours, contact HistoryMiami directly.
The heart of Little Havana is Calle Ocho, a world-renowned stretch of Latin shops and restaurants lining 8th St. Here you'll find exotic fruit stands, Cuban bakeries and casual sidewalk cafes where you can sample Cuban cuisine.
Each March, the area is the site of the massive weeklong street festival known as Calle Ocho Carnaval Miami. It's easy to spend an entire day experiencing all that Little Havana has to offer.
Florida Cuban Heritage Trail: Day Four
Cuban Memorial Boulevard is lined with monuments commemorating the heroes who fought in the struggle for Cuban independence.
Memorials here include the Eternal Torch in honor of the 2506th Brigade, statues of Nestor Izquierdo, General Antonio Maceo and the Virgin Mary, as well as a bronze map of Cuba dedicated to "The ideals of people who will never forget the pledge of making their fatherland free." Allow an hour to view the monuments.
Juan Pablo II Retreat House, a Spanish-style plaza, commemorates the early Jesuit missionaries and Spanish explorers who came to evangelize and convert the native Tequesta Indians to Christianity in the 16th century.
Many of the priests and explorers had lived in Cuba before coming to Florida. In the plaza are five monuments that memorialize the martyrs and heroes of those early missions.
Our Lady of Charity Shrine, funded and built by Cuban refugees in 1966, honors Cuba's patroness. Inside is a breathtaking mural by Teok Carrasco that portrays the history of the Catholic Church in Cuba.
The statue of the Virgin was brought from Cuba in 1961. Behind the shrine, facing Biscayne Bay, are the busts of Cuban patriots José Martí and Father Félix Varela.
At Woodlawn Park Cemetery, a black marble wall features a tribute to the "Unknown Cuban Freedom Fighter" who died in the Bay of Pigs invasion. Exiled Cuban presidents Gerardo Machado and Carlos Prío Socarras are buried in Woodlawn Cemetery.
Explore the following links for more information about the stops along the Florida Cuban Heritage Trail and learn more about the culture of Cubans in Florida:
Ybor City Visitor Information Center (813-241-8838)
Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau (305-539-3000)
Monroe County Tourism Development Council (305-296-1552)