The Ultimate Guide to Havana, Cuba

A classic city frozen in time and packed with history, see the wonders that Cuba's cultural capital has to offer.

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Welcome to Havana, Cuba

You give up a degree of certainty when visiting Cuba. With the unreliable internet, no cell coverage and no access to your finances other than the cash in your pocket, it's easy to feel anxious disconnecting from the outside world. That feeling quickly dissipates once you're immersed in the vibrant culture and history of the place and able to interact with the amazing people that reside there.

Where to Stay

While there are a number of hotels to stay in around Havana, it's common for tourists to spend their visit residing in a Casa Particular (similar to a B&B or vacation rental). These accommodations can be found everywhere throughout Cuba and are marked with the blue symbol pictured above. You can get a taste of everyday life in the city perched on an apartment balcony as music, traffic and conversation resonate from the narrow streets below.

Engaging With the Locals

Many American visitors come to Cuba on a "People to People" visa with the expectation being they interact and engage with the Cuban people. You don't have to try very hard to meet the visa requirements given the jovial, community-oriented nature of the Cuban people, who were more than welcoming to outsiders. While some locals know English, you'll be better off having a basic understanding of Spanish to fall back on (or a good translation app).

Transportation Around Havana

If you're spending most of your time in Havana, there's no need for a rental car. With taxi options ranging from vintage cars to yellow, egg-shaped coco tricycles to simple bike cabs tricked out with elaborate sound systems, you can always find a ride. It's not uncommon to barter your cab rides down a bit in price. A cab from the airport to the city shouldn't be more than $20-25 USD, and a ride across town shouldn't cost you more than $10-15 USD. Also, be sure to agree on a price ahead of time, and clarify it's the total cost and not a per person charge.

Vintage Cars

Most of the iconic vintage cars cruising the streets of Havana are cabs for hire. While the convertible fares tend to be a bit more expensive, prices are reasonable, and it's definitely worth taking at least one cruise around town during your visit. In general, the roadways are an interesting mix of vintage American and Russian models with deceivingly well-maintained exteriors and Frankensteined-together interiors in an attempt to keep them running after decades of heavy use with limited resources for repair.

Dining Options

Fruit is abundant, but your other options may be in short supply. Don't be surprised if items listed on a restaurant menu aren't offered on a given day because they don't have access to the ingredients. As an alternative option to eating out, many Casa Particulars will offer to make breakfast or dinner for a reasonable price. If you have dietary restrictions, bring food with you.

Staying Hydrated

Two of Cuba's better-known commodities are its rum and coffee, both of which you can find with relative ease throughout the city. While mojitos and pina coladas are abundant, be sure to drink plenty of water especially during the mid-day heat. Pictured above are iced rum and coffee concoctions found at Cafe el Escorial.

Abundant Art

Whether you're perusing galleries, walking through markets or simply walking down the street, you're bound to run across art no matter where you are in Havana. Despite the varying states of disrepair, beauty can even be found in the architectural elements of the fading art nouveau facades that make up much of the city.

Local Music

Much of the energy and excitement you feel walking the streets of Havana can be attributed to their lively music culture. You'll be hard-pressed to find a place anywhere in the city where you can escape the sounds of Salsa, Rumba or Afro-Cuban music.

Dancing

Where there is music there is bound to be dancing. Havana is littered with salsa and rumba clubs that fill up each night with locals and visitors alike. If you want to hone your dancing skills before a night out on the town, there are a handful of schools, like La Casa Del Son, that offer lessons for a reasonable price.

Exploring Central Havana

The densely populated Centro Habana is just west of Old Havana. It's full of Casa Particulars and is within walking distance of many of Havana's major attractions.

Central Park

The Parque Central is situated next to The Capitol on the western edge of Old Havana. A pedestrian path (Paseo del Prado) extends to the north all the way to the Malecon that frequently has markets.

Hamel's Alley

This narrow, two-block alley is packed with artwork and sculptures and has become a shrine to Afro-Cuban religions. You can frequently find rumba groups playing here as you explore the vibrant pedestrian street in Central Havana.

Walk the Malecon at Sunset

A five-mile-long seawall that acts as a small barrier between Havana and the rocky coastline, the Malecon provides idyllic views of the city and is a perfect spot to perch in the evenings to watch the sunset over blue Caribbean waters.

Exploring Old Havana

Old Havana (La Habana Vieja) is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is the heart of the original city. You'll find many of Havana's main attractions in this neighborhood, and because of that, it's the most tourist-oriented area.

Plaza de la Catedral

This square in Old Havana is the site of the Cathedral of Havana. For a small fee, you can go to the top of the bell tower which provides great views of the surrounding city.

Museums

Centralized around Old Havana, there are a number of museums in the city that cater to crowds interested in a wide variety of subjects, from art (Museo de Bellas Artes) to history (Revolutionary Museum) to rum (Museo del Ron Havana Club).

Plaza Vieja

Filled with restaurants, bars and cafes, the Old Square (formerly known as the New Square) is a great destination to grab a bite while exploring Old Havana.

Morro Castle

Spanning the shore of Havana Bay opposite of Old Havana is the stone fortress of Morro Castle. In its centuries standing since it was built in 1589, it has been under Spanish, British and now Cuban control.

Transportation By Bus

If you don't want to rent a car or join a tour to visit neighboring regions of Cuba, then you can use the Viazul bus system. Either buy a ticket before your trip, or if you plan to get one on the day of, know that the ticket queue opens up exactly one hour before the bus departs, and there's usually a line with no guarantee of a seat.

Day Trips From Havana

While there's more than enough to do in Havana to keep you occupied, there are also plenty of day trips you can take out of the city. Head east for a day basking in the sun on one of Cuba's pristine Caribbean beaches, or head west to the mountainous Viñales Valley and visit one of the many tobacco farms in the region.

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