I travelled around northern Cuba earlier this year and the first thing I noticed and loved, was just how friendly and welcoming all Cubans were. Everywhere I went, I was greeted by a cheery ‘hola’ and a gorgeous smile. The architecture of the buildings was stunning. Each town and city showing off different eras of history, colour and design. The Cuban lifestyle is literally life - summed up as rum, cigars, salsa, classic cars and Cuban coffee - what’s not to love?!
Havana is probably one of my favourite cities in the world! In total, I spent around seven nights there and loved every single day. There are lots of different areas to Havana including Old Havana, Central Havana, Vedado and China Town (amongst many others). Havana can be described as the buzzing 'London of England’ - but 100x better with much more buzz about it! With classic cars zooming around, horse and carts and bicycle taxis, there’s something for everyone in Havana. This guide highlights ten things to do in Havana.
1. Stay in a Casa Particular
A Casa Particular is essentially a family home, in which one or two bedrooms are rented out to tourists for a very cheap rate, complete with much needed air con and your own bathroom (25-40 CUC per night, depending on the area you stay - although Old Havana is known to be a little pricier). It’s a great way to experience real Cuban life as opposed to a commercial hotel, which are pretty overpriced for Cuban standards (think standard UK hotel price per night). I stayed in a casa in Old Havana.
2. Experience the Nightlife
Although there’s bars everywhere in Havana, the best nightlife is mainly in the Vedado area, which involves lots of Salsa dancing! Fábrica de Arte Cubano, located in the Vedado area, is a really cool place showcasing contemporary Cuban Art, along with bars, rooms showing subtitled movies and mini theatre performances, amongst many other cool things. It’s definitely a place I would recommend! The atmosphere is great at night and it’s open to all ages.
3. Take a Rise in a Classic Car
Haggle a good price with a local driver for a tour of the city, in a classic American car (if you share the taxi with others, the price works out cheaper). The tour is good fun, seeing Che Guevara’s house, The Christ of Havana and seeing an amazing panoramic view of Havana city. The cars are parked up near Parque Central.
4. Experience Authentic Cuban Food
There are lots of restaurants to choose from in Havana, the majority of which are government owned. The rest are privately owned, which to me, means the food is 100% authentic and cooked from the heart! My personal favourite spot in Havana was the restaurant, El Guiro. From the surrounding neighbourhood, it looks a little questionable, however the food cannot be faulted. All homemade and absolutely stunning!
Generally speaking, I would say the food in Cuba is hit or miss. It can either be super bland or super tasty. Black Bean rice is a favourite, along with Cuba’s national Cola (their equivalent of Coca Cola).
5. Walk Around and Appreciate the Architecture
From simply walking around the streets of Havana, there is so much to see, photograph and take in! Dogs wandering around, amazing architecture (El Capitolio, Gran Teatro de la Habana), locals selling food, bicycle taxis travelling from every angle - it’s a brilliant city.
However, when you are walking around in the beaming sunshine in June - you can really feel the tropical humidity! The humidity is something else in Cuba, making you feel exhausted. Just a little something to bear in mind - with August being the hottest month of the year!
6. Visit Hotel Saratoga
Whilst in Havana, visit Hotel Saratoga. The hotel where Jay Z & Beyonce, Rihanna, Usher and Mick Jagger (plus others) all stayed when they visited Havana. The rooftop pool offers an excellent view of the city. However, as nice as the hotel is, I felt I could have been anywhere in the world - purely because I was in a hotel with lots of other tourists. I would say the Casa Particulars are definitely the authentic way to go when staying in Cuba.
7. The Makecón
The Malecón is another brilliant spot to see in Havana. It is essentially a pathway, which stretches for 8km along the Havana coast. It’s where all the locals meet up with friends and family to eat, drink rum, Salsa and socialise. The atmosphere is buzzing, with the best time to go being sunset. From sunset onwards, the Malecón gets busier and busier, with a fantastic vibe. Like mentioned above, the Cuban people are so friendly and forward, so it’s easy to make friends and speak/salsa with the locals.
8. Visit Old Havana
Old Havana is real authentic Havana. There is so much character to the streets, with the hustle and bustle of the locals. O'Reilly is a well known street in Old Havana. It’s got lots of cool bars and restaurants, including Bar 304 which has excellent food and very strong cocktails! Although O'Reilly is a little on the touristy side, it’s one to visit - at least just to help you get your bearings, as each street is quite similar looking and set out in grids in Old Havana (a little like New York City).
9. Take a Trip to Santa Maria Beach
Visit Santa Maria Beach which is around a 20-30 drive from Havana in a taxi or you can take the T3 bus from Parque Central. The beach itself is beautiful with clear, turquoise water and white sand. Although I visited Cuba during hurricane season (June), I was lucky I only experienced a rain storm maybe ¾ times. It literally rains for all of twenty minutes and the sun comes straight back out.
10. Take a City Tour
I would also recommend taking the Havana open bus city tour (bus T1) which is around 1.5 hours long.The bus stop and final drop off point is Parque Central. It takes you around the main parts of the city, including along the Malecón, so you get to see beautiful Havana without walking in the unbearable heat!
If the open bus tour isn’t your cup of tea, a horse and cart tour is equally as great. Again, you can choose a horse and guide at Parque Central. Haggle a reasonable price and you get a lovely personal cowboy tour guide for around one hour.
Overall, my stay in Cuba was amazing! The cost of living isn’t major - it’s not super cheap like Asia, but not as pricey as the UK. I will definitely go back to travel the south of Cuba. Although it is a Caribbean island, it is quite big with lots to see. I feel I have learnt lots about the Cuban way of life which I absolutely love, including lots of Salsa!
I love the Cuban people and their outlook on life - to be happy and optimistic regardless of their background/situation, without a phone/Internet. They are all so pleasant and friendly people, welcoming all tourists to their country with so much pride.
Flights were booked through STA Travel flying with Air France, via Paris. The trip was spontaneously booked as I went along.
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