Things to Do in Havana: Table of Contents
Havana on C&C
Best Time To Visit Havana
Where to Stay in Havana
Let’s Go For a Drink
What to See and Do
Tipping in Havana
Common Scams & What to Avoid
C&C’s Google Map of the City
Things to Do in Havana: Where, How?
Havana, West Cuba, Cuba, Caribbean, North America
Population: 2.239 million (2016)
Currency: Cuban Peso (CUP) or Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC)
Airport Notes: Known as the Havana Jose Marini International Airport, it is located 15 km southwest of Havana and is the main international gateway into Cuba. There are 4 terminals that 4 million travellers pass through annually. Rental cars can be found in terminal 3 which is the most modern where 24-hour restaurants are as well. While terminal 2 is under construction all US-bound flights are using terminal 5 which is also being serviced by Aerocarribean and Airotaxi. Terminal 1 is domestic flights, Terminal 2 is under construction, Terminal 3 is the most modern and international terminal, Terminal 5 is the Carribean terminal. (Note: there is no terminal 4) Side note: Airport Playa Baracoa is the hub for Aerogaviota airlines and is a separate airport 30 miles west of Havana.
Transportation to-and-from the airport: There is no public bus service from the airport to Havana. Taxis are a good choice. The trip to downtown Havana is about 20-30 minutes at a cost of about 20-25 CUP (or $20-25).
Intra-City Transportation: get around Havana by coco taxi, regular taxi, walking, bus, car, or bicycle
A Note on Taxis: Be sure to agree to a fare before leaving as many taxis do not have meters and the ones that do often do not turn them on. And Uber doesn’t exist in Havana.
Playa and Marianao
Habana del Este
Regla and Guanabacoa
Navigation tips: Remember where the ocean – and the Malecon – are at all times, and you’ll know where north is.
More About Havana on C&C
- VARADERO EXCURSIONS ARE MANDATORY TO SEE THE REAL CUBA
- CUBA: WHAT TO DO OUTSIDE YOUR VARADERO RESORT
- ALL-INCLUSIVE HOTELS: WHAT TO DO… AND WHAT TO AVOID
- GETTING OUT OF YOUR HOTEL: VARADERO, CUBA
Best Time To Visit Havana
Average Monthly Minimum And Maximum Temperatures
Average Monthly Hours Of Sunshine
Average Monthly Rainfall Or Snowfall
Things to Do in Havana: Personal Notes
What’s This Place About?
There is no other place in the world like Havana. Its architecture is unique and brilliant. Aside from the touristic neighborhood of Havana Vieja, the different communities all offer distinctive features that are not at all what you would expect.
There are many noteworthy places in Havana to check out, including the ironic El Barrio Chino (the Chinatown), which doesn’t have a single Chinese person in it; the coastal highway, Malecon; the Paseo del Prado, which is very similar to Las Ramblas in Barcelona; and the iconic Plaza de la Revolucion.
Havana is a place of immense poverty. The infrastructure of the city is in shambles and there are many neighborhoods without electricity. Despite all of this, it is a very impressive and appealing place with a good offer of options where to stay in Havana. This city and its people are very welcoming and delightful and it is a marvelous place to visit.
What’s Great and Fun?
The tourist neighborhood in Havana should not be missed. You will find music everywhere and people dancing. The bars are astonishing and a great place to meet people.
To fully experience Havana, one needs to simply shop in the markets, walk around, or grab a cocotaxi and just drive around seeing the sights. Visiting the outskirts of the city gives a glimpse of what real life in Havana looks like.
The food is amazing and it is amazing how the Cuban people can make something delicious out of so little. And, of course, there are the most famous exports of Cuba, cigars and rum. Havana has places where you can buy the most famous cigars in the world.
The last time I visited, a friend and I were walking in front of El Capitolio when a young man came up to us and asked where we were from.
This is always how scam-type conversations start. The young man told us that the Buena Vista Social Club, the most famous band from Cuba, was playing a benefit concert for medical students in the evening, and he said he would take us there. I was immediately wary and declined the invitation.
My friend, however, wanted to see what was going to happen, so we went with him. We ended up in a bar and the man ordered beer for all of us. I stopped the waitress and asked how much the beer would cost. The waitress looked at the man and nervously responded that it was $10 USD per beer. For perspective, a milkman in Cuba makes $20 USD per month and most beers cost under $1 USD.
I quickly got up and left with my friend, as this guy’s entire story was built around him trying to take $10 off of us. In retrospect and all things considered, it’s still a tiny amount of money…
Things to Do in Havana: Where to Stay in Havana
This city has a lot of diversity where to stay in Havana in its hotel offer.
There are some low-end resorts just outside of the city. Those should be completely avoided when looking where to stay in Havana.
There are a couple of “casa particular”, guesthouses in people’s homes, that are, most of the time, illegal and will not be found on regular booking websites. Note that many hotels where to stay in Havana will make it look like they are “casa particular” but aren’t. This is probably the best option, but it’s difficult to find them when you don’t know where to turn.
There’s a network of smaller, affordable, two-star hotels where to stay in Havana that are accessible by simply showing up and asking if there’s room – a lot of them are located right off the Paseo del Prado. Note that most of them don’t have the internet, and therefore aren’t available on regular hotel booking sites.
In Havana’s barrio chino, or Chinatown district, this is not an uncommon phrase. One of Latin America’s oldest Chinatowns is a shadow of its former self, but it also has a couple of good places where to stay in Havana: Rafa y sus amigos and Osbel and Mileydis Apartment.
Vedado, with its sprawling layout, sumptuous mansions, and sense of 1950s middle-class Havana arrested, couldn’t be more different from Habana Vieja or Centro Habana. Features a range of good places where to stay in Havana NH Capri La Habana, Boutique Hotel 5tay8 Vedado and ARTeHOTEL Calle2 Havana
One last thing: the Hotel Nacional de Cuba is a landmark in itself! Always consider this place when looking where to stay in Havana.
Things to Do in Havana: Let’s Eat!
Famous Foods and Specialties
- Moros y Cristianos (black beans and rice)
- Arroz con pollo (rice with chicken)
- Ropa vieja (shredded beef)
- Pernil Relleno de Moros y Cristianos – stuffs moros y cristianos (black beans stewed with white rice) inside a succulent, savory pork shoulder seasoned with sour orange, garlic, and oregano.
The Best Drunk Food
- Malanga Fritters (grated Malanga made into a batter and fried until crispy)
- Yuca fingers – this is the Cuban version of French fries
- Cuban Black Bean Soup
Our Suggestions – Dishes And Restaurants
Food in Cuba can be scarce. People tend to stick to the basics, especially in the city. In the countryside they will have a garden and raise their own meat but in the city, rice, black beans and white bread are ubiquitous. For that reason, there are no restaurant recommendations in this guide. Just walk around and find a place where locals are eating, and have what they’re having!
There are delicious sandwiches to be had, though I, personally, have never found the famous “Cuban sandwich” that’s so popular in Miami in Cuba itself.
To know more about a couple of restaurants located in Havana, I suggest you read A Side of Sunsets’ guide about the city!
Things to Do in Havana: Let’s Go For a Drink
What Do the Locals Drink?
Rum! Mojito, Pina Colada, Cuba Libre… but mostly straight rum.
Drinking in Public
In Cuba, the age of consent is 16 years old, meaning you are considered an adult by age 16. While there might not be any official legal drinking age, it is noteworthy to know you have to be 18 years or older to purchase alcohol. This is not strictly enforced and most times you are not required to show proof of age. Nonetheless, the best thing to do is have one available.
Our Suggestions – Bars and Pubs
Here are some places to enjoy that much-needed drink;
- Tropicana – 72 A, La Habana, Cuba; telephone +53 7 267 1717
- Casa de la Musica – Ave. 20 No. 3308 esq. a 35, Miramar, Havana Cuba; telephone +53 7 204 0447
- Taberna de la Muralla – Plaza Vieja, S/N, Havana Cuba; telephone +53 7 866 4453
- Café Concierto Gato Tuerto – Calle O, between Calles 17 and 19 Vedado, Havana 30331 Cuba; telephone +53 7 833 2224
- Privé Lounge – Calle 88A #306, between 3ra and 3raA, Miramar, telephone +53 7 209 2719
- Jardines del 1830 – Malecón 1252, on the corner of esquina 20, Vedado, telephone +53 7 838 3091
As regular readers of this column know, I don’t know anything about clubs. Sorry!
Things to Do in Havana: What to See and Do
Plaza Vieja – this is the utmost mystical of the four colonial quarter’s major squares, they were recently restored for over a decade. You have to see the Museo de Naipes (Playing Cards Museum) and Planetario (planetarium). You can take advantage of an elevator ride to the top of Edificio Gómez, from here you will come to appreciate a 360 degree “look at real-time life viewed through a Cámara Oscura
Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes – this is home to an impressive 1950s Modernist structure, the Cuban section of this three-story Fine Arts Museum captivates with its paintings, sculptures and lithographs spanning about four centuries. Noteworthy is the 20th century exhibitions of Armando Menocal, Wifredo Lam and René Portocarrero. P.S. If you do not speak Spanish you might want to hire an English-speaking guide to enjoy the experience more.
Plaza de la Revolución – Fidel Castro was known to address crowds from this location, rather riveting and mesmerizing speeches, those days are gone and the sheer size of this plaza is sure to draw a few “gasps of appreciation”. The 18-meter tall marble statue of the nation’s hero José Martí stands proudly at the front of the government palace.
Museo Ernest Hemingway – get up close and take a peek, because you cannot get inside, this hilltop estate. This is the “ultimate shrine for fans of “Papa” the Nobel Prize-winning author’s former home, Finca Vigía” where his fishing vessel “Pilar” can be seen in the property’s garden.
Playas del Este – beach, beach, and more beach! You cannot visit a tropical island and not head to the water. Get your tan on whether you choose to laze around or take a swim in the turquoise-perfect water or rent a pedal boat and windsurf. Remember to wear lots of sunblock lotion to protect your skin. Tarará is the finest section and has the most facilities, but it charges for entrance.
Las Terrazas – if you are feeling a bit more adventurous than normal, this area is perfect for hiking and to get some fresh mountain air. There are guides who specialize in birding to help you find the tocororó, the national bird. Do not be afraid to explore the “colonial era coffee estates and stop by the studio of landscape artist Lester Campa.
Habana Bus tours – these are basically “hop off, hop on” tours along the coastline of Havana giving you an opportunity to see the city no pressure.
Tipping in Havana
Just like in most of Cuba, it is expected to tip about 10-15% of the total cost of the bill. It is seen as politeness and a form of respect.
Things to Do in Havana: Common Scams & What to Avoid
There are many scams in Cuba and Havana, most of them involving counterfeit cigars. There are many cheap, counterfeit cigars for sale everywhere, and hotel employees are usually the ones that will offer you the fakes. These cigars look like they are real because many of the cigar factory employees steal the boxes, the rings, and the scraps and use them to make the cigars look authentic. Buy only from official stores to avoid getting a fake.
Be very nice to the people at the airport, because they can decide whether or not to give you a passport stamp. This is important because, without it, you could end up having to pay a fine to leave the country. Most airport employees will give you a piece of paper with the stamp that it is not permanently placed in your passport. For a long time, Americans were not allowed to travel to Cuba, so that piece of paper allowed them to go to Cuba without notifying the American authorities that they actually went there. If you are American, still follow this approach, as you never know when politics will change.
Please note that there are two currencies in Cuba, the CUC and the CUP. The CUC is the convertible peso, the one tourists are required to use, and is worth the same as the American dollar. Locals will use the CUP. If you’re not good with math, keep a calculator nearby!
There is very little crime because the Cuban people are very kind and the penalties for committing a crime can be severe. The police are actually very courteous, which is not the case in many other places in the world.
Cell phone service can be spotty in Havana, which means that most cell phone features travelers typically use may not be available, however GPS’ still work most of the time. Use it!
Even though many neighborhoods of Havana might look run-down and decrepit, Cuba as a whole is quite safe. Regular safety warnings apply.
How to Stay Safe: Tips and Tricks
Because of the spotty cell phone service, you are a bit at the mercy of the taxi drivers. By downloading the Google map of Cuba onto your phone before you get there, you can use it offline to know where you are and determine how much to pay.
READ MORE: Travel Canada Advisory for Cuba