As a veteran of the Cuba scene and a serious bibliophile with a library exceeding 500 relevant titles, I’m a harsh critic of Johnny-come-lately texts about Cuba. Every year sees a few dozen mostly dull and derivative additions. But every year also sees at least one refreshing gem.. among them for this year the soon-to-be-published Havana Without Makeup: Inside the Soul of the City, by Herman Portocarero (Turtle Point Press, August 2017).

When an unrevised and unpublished reviewer’s proof arrived over my transom, I was skeptical upon reading that the Belgian-born author was a former Belgian and European Union ambassador of long-standing in Cuba (1995-2017). How could an ambassador be in touch with Havana’s solares (slum-yards) and über-perplexing and paradoxical culture?

I misjudged him entirely.


Passionate and provocative, Havana Without Makeup provides an uncommonly insightful and empathetic portrait of a city, country, and people steeped in eroticism, eccentricity and enigma.

Indeed, Portocarero hits the nail square on the head. I felt that he—a gifted fiction writer—and I were kindred spirits as he roams the spellbinding city, including seedy and obscure quarters to which I thought I was uniquely privy.

Part memoir, part travelogue, this 264-page spans an astonishing spectrum that weaves history, anthropology, politics and sociology into a fascinating tapestry revealing Havana in its most magnificent, sordid, and intimate glory.

All with a nuanced understanding told with a novelist’s flair for rich detail and delectable prose.

A must read!


Christopher P Baker


Christopher P. Baker, one of the world's most multi-talented and successful travel writers and photographers has been named by National Geographic as one of the world's foremost authorities on Cuba travel and culture. Winner of the Lowell Thomas Award 2008 as 'Travel Journalist of the Year,' he has authored more than 30 books, leads tours for National Geographic Expeditions, Edelwiss Bike Travel, and Jim Cline Photo Tours, among other companies, and is a Getty Images and National Geographic contributing photographer.