Havana is the capital city of Cuba. Located in the Caribbean, Havana is famous for its UNESCO world heritage sites, mojitos, and rumba! Ruled by the Spanish colonial powers for a long time, Havana also showcases remnants of the Spanish past and its influence on the Caribbean carefree culture. Havana Cuba is also known to the world as a Communist country who are at loggerheads with their once friendly neighbor, United States of America.
A Guest Post by Mayuri Kashyap from To Some Place New
As you explore Havana, you will witness the impact of Fidel Castro and the post-revolutionary movement – some good, some not so good. Nevertheless, visiting Havana is like stepping into a different world altogether – fantasy, colorful, unknown and yet beautiful.
If you are traveling to Cuba, most likely you will fly into Havana Jose Marti International Airport. This airport connects Havana to the rest of the world. In Havana, I would recommend staying closer to Old Havana, as it will allow you to experience Havana’s nightlife and good cuisine. Most hotels in Old Havana as over 50-70 years old – thus allowing you to live amidst history.
Recommended Read: Things to know before Traveling to Cuba
Things to do in Havana, Cuba – Day 1
Old Havana Square
Once you arrive in Havana, you should begin your sightseeing adventure by visiting the best. Head to Old Havana – a UNESCO World Heritage site. Old Havana is the oldest part of the city. Old Havana is made up of 4 historic squares.
Start off by visiting Old Havana Square. This square is also called Vieja Havana and is filled with colorful buildings and restaurants. If you wish to grab a bit to eat, there are amazing restaurants that offer the best coffee!
Continue walking through the narrow lanes of Old Havana and soak in the beauty of the colorful buildings. You will see that some buildings are very dilapidated, but since the area has been declared a World Heritage site, care has been taken to restore some buildings. Old Havana is pedestrian friendly, you can’t take any car or vehicle to access the narrow lanes.
Cathedral San Cristobal Square
One of the most beautiful squares in Old Havana is the Cathedral San Cristobal Square. Lonely Planet has rightly described this square as “music set in stone”. The Cathedral Square houses a cathedral with 2 uneven towers. You can access one of the towers to access amazing views of the entire city of Havana.
This cathedral is also remarkable because the remains of Christopher Columbus were kept here for a few years (currently it is in Seville, Spain). Just like the Old Havana Square, the Cathedral Square is surrounded by open cafes and restaurants. If you like kittens, then you will love the restaurants here – as they are full of cats!
You can continue exploring more of the Old Havana, be sure of keeping your cameras handy as you never know when you might encounter.
Just on the outskirts of Old Havana, you will see a big statue of Jose Marti. Jose Marti is an iconic figure of the Cuban resistance against the Spanish colonists and later also inspired the likes of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara during the Revolutionary period.
Gran Theatre of Havana
Located a few steps away from the Jose Marti Memorial is the Alicia Alonso Gran Theatre of Havana. This beautiful building is home to Cuban ballet and is named after their popular ballerina Alicia Alonso.
The interiors of the theatre are stunning with Galician architecture. The theatre also has large ballrooms where the Spanish prince and princess would come and mingle.
Views from the theatre’s balcony are epic and are worth the 5 CUC that you pay as entrance fees. On the same side of the road, as Alicia Alonso Great Theatre of Havana is the El Capitolio building. This building was the seat of government after the Cuban revolution. But now it is home of the Cuban Academy of Sciences. El Capitolio makes a great prop/background for pictures in Havana.
On the opposite side of El Capitolio, you will find a line of colorful houses, symbolic of the charm of Old Havana.
After a fun-filled day of exploration, head to El Floridita for some drinks. Situated in Old Havana, El Floridita is popular among tourists for its Daiquiris. Ernst Hemmingway lived in Havana for many years and El Floridita was his favorite bar. The restaurant has a big statue of Hemmingway inside. The place is usually very crowded, but it is worth it to see how the bartenders make the world-famous Daiquiris here.
You would need to make reservations if you wish to eat a meal at El Floridita. But attached to the El Floridita is a restaurant named La Pina del Plata. This restaurant serves the good Cuban food at a very amazing price. We ordered a platter of Vieja Roopa (shredded beef), with a dessert and a Mojito – all for 6.50 CUC.
Enjoy some local music, while having dinner – it is a great way to seal your first day in Havana
Things to do in Havana, Cuba – Day 2
If you are staying in Old Havana for the night, let me say – great choice! Most hotels offer free breakfast and they have a rooftop restaurant for breakfast, which is a great way to enjoy mornings in Havana.
After breakfast, head to a museum of your choice. Havana is home to a lot of museums – including history, music, fine arts, tobacco and the list goes on.
Museo de la Revolucion or the Museum of the Revolution
We love history, so we decided to explore the Museo de la Revolucion or the Museum of the Revolution. As the name suggests, the Museum of the Revolution speaks volume of Cuban struggles pre-revolution and highlights the events during the revolution period. Stories and belongings of Fidel and Rauf Castro, Che Guevara and Camilo are kept in the museum.
Granma – the yacht that was used in the revolution to transport soldiers from Mexico to Cuba is also located within the museum grounds. The separate complex is called the Granma Memorial (requires 1 entry fee of 8 CUC at the Museum of Revolution). You can easily spend 1-2 hours at the Museum complex.
National Fine Arts Museum of Havana
Right across the street from the museum is the National Fine Arts Museum of Havana. A must visit for lovers of fine arts.
One of the iconic things in Havana is the colorful 1960-70’s cars. And why not experience a classic car ride, when in Havana? We recommend taking a classic car ride from the museum to Malecon. Malecon is the waterfront of Havana.
If you hire a taxi for an hour for so, it will be around 15 CUC. We hired a classic cab from the museum to El Morro, while riding along the Malecon and it cost us 10 CUC
El Morro is a fortress that was built by Spanish rulers to protect their land from the pirates of the sea. It is worth visiting El Morro and the nearby La Cabana fortress to see what Cuba had inherited from the Spanish rule. Spanish is widely spoken in Cuba, including Havana.
At the nearby La Cabana fortress, there is a tradition of firing cannons at 09:00 pm, which continues as of today. Not only the Spaniards, La Cabana also played an important role during the revolutionary period. Che Guevara made his military base at the La Habana fortress.
Plaza de la Revolution
Head next to the Plaza de la Revolution. Plaza de la Revolution is a huge public square. It was built in the 20th century to host political rallies in Cuba after Fidel Castro came to power. Opposite to the plaza, you will notice 2 iconic images – one of Che Guevara and another one of Fidel Castro. These buildings are government offices, makes for a great photography spot to capture the essence of Havana and its political scene.
In the evening, celebrate your stay in Havana, with a Mojito or Daiquiri in the iconic Nacional Hotel. The Nacional Hotel is well-known for the notorious Havana Conference of the 1940s (of the Mafias). The hotel has also seen the revolutionary struggle of the 1950s, as its evident from the bullet marks on the hotel’s dome. It is worthy of a visit, due to the history and the amazing views it offers from the hotel’s Nautica restaurant – overlooking the Malecon.
To explore many neighborhoods in Havana, including Malecon and the Plaza de la Revolution, you can book a City Tour. City Tours starts at Jose Marti Memorial monument (near Old Havana) and it lasts 2 hours. The tour costs 10 CUC. City tours are a good way to see other neighborhoods in Havana like Playa, Vedado, Miramar, Centro Habana or Central Havana.
If you plan on extending your stay in Havana beyond 2 days, read this Ultimate Travel Guide to Havana – it has travel tips and information about all of Havana’s neighborhoods and further sightseeing spots.
Getting Around in Havana, Cuba
For city sightseeing, you can walk around to cover most of the sights but if you want a ride there are buses and taxis available. There are both government and private buses. Private buses are less crowded but pricier than the government buses. Taxi Particulares are shared taxi rides which run only on set routes with fixed prices.
You can also go for a Hop-On Hop-Off (HOHO) bus which is a great way to get around the city and see maximum sights making most of your time in the city. Coco-Taxis are small taxis which are a cheaper way to travel between city sights.
Airport to City Center
The best way to get from the airport to the Havana city is taxis which are easily available at the terminals. A taxi ride from the airport to Havana city center takes about half an hour. You can either get into the yellow and black tourist taxis or the Taxi Particulares which are shared taxi rides.
Best Time to Visit Havana
Cuba has a pleasant weather all around the year. November – May are the tourist months when the days are mostly bright and sunny. June – October there is a possibility of rain with August to October being the peak hurricane season.
Day Trips from Havana
If you have an extra day in Havana plan a day trip to Vinales and visit the Cigar factories. The region is known for the Cuban cigars, you can visit a factory and see how the tobacco leaves are dried and rolled into the famous Cuba cigars. Vinales is only about 2 and a half hours ride from Havana. If you are looking for a respite from the Havana city hustle bustle then head to the Playa del Este (East Beach). You can either take a bus from Parque Central or one of the shared taxis.
Tips – Know Before You Go
Always haggle and agree on the prices before a taxi ride even for the ride on one of those bright classy Cuba cars.
Casa Particular in Cuba is equivalent to a bed and breakfast where you will get to stay with a local or in a local’s apartment. Staying with a local is a great cultural experience and the prices are considerably less when compared to the hotels.
There are two currencies in Cuba – the Cuban Peso (CUP) and the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC). 1 CUC = 25 CUP. You will mostly need CUC for hotels, Taxis, and even the restaurants, the CUP will be required only if you go shopping in the local markets or some of the local eateries.
During your stay in Havana, it is highly recommended you drink bottled water for hygiene reasons.
Credit cards might not be of great help so carry enough of cash.
The Wi-fi is limited so plan accordingly, download or get map prints to avoid internet dependency.
Suggested Havana Tours
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