Havana, Cuba. A melting pot of culture and history, fixed in a permanent 1950’s time warp, unlike anywhere else on Earth. A visit to Cuba feels like one of the final frontiers for travel, as it allows young explorers to experience a world so different from today.
We were lucky to even get to Havana this trip – Hurricane after Hurricane was smashing the Carribean and Havana Airport was closed the day before we arrived. We managed to just get across as all the weather was dying down and the clean up was beginning.
We were staying in an AirBnB in the Old Town – we were nice and close to all the things to visit and see in Havana, all within walking distance.
Here are my top 5 must do things in Havana:
1. Try all the Mojotios!
Havana proudly boasts being the birth place of the Mojito. ‘The Floridita’ claims to have Ernest Hemingway’s Mojito and the La Bodega his Daiquiri, however it is believed that he also only visited ‘The Floridita’ to see a prostitute and he only ever had one Daiquiri at the La Bodega! Despite this, both places are worth a visit for both of these famous drinks. They don’t come cheap compared to the rest of Havana (Mojitos and cocktails start a 6 CUC at The Floridita) but the atmosphere is fantastic.
Another great spot for some rooftop mojitos is the the Gran Hotel Mernazza looking over the Central Park. Its a beautiful spot for some sundowners.
2. Take a tour through history via the Museum of the Revolucion
The Museum de Revolcion is a must see while in Havana, and also a welcome break from the midday heat. Ironically sitting in the old Presidential Palace, the Museum feels like a dedication to the countries modern history, from the 1950’s Che and Castro led Revolution through to socialism in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The cost is 8 CUC for foreigners, the museum is open from 10am to 5pm (closed on Tuesdays). Bullet holes can still be seen in the facade of the building, re-iterating how close to home these events where.
In the outside exhibit, you an take in up close the tanks and missile launchers from the Cuban missile crisis, as well as the famous ‘Yate Granma’ yacht, used by Castro and 80 other men to travel from Mexico to Cuba to start the Revolution. It’s seen by locals as the founding image of the countries movement.
Unfortunately, most of the exhibits are in Spanish with only a few with English subtitles. Another reason to scrub on your Spanish!
3. Explore the Old Town and the Local Cuisine
A free walking tour departs at 9.30am and 4pm everyday from the the corner of San Ragael and Consulado. The tour runs for 3 hours. The afternoon is better if you can – it is less hot and there is more shade to find refuge in. The tour starts in Central Park and weaves through Old Town and the four main Plazas from the Capitol Building, all the way to the city’s waters edge.
We finished the tour at the Hotel Raquel, on the corner of San Ignacio and Amargura, for some rooftop Mojitos.
The walking tour is an excellent way to get your bearings on the city and to get some good tips on where to eat, drink and salsa dance!
We also did our own exploring around the cobbled streets and fell upon the Plaza de Aramas. We then headed east of this to the Plaza de La Cathedral to the ‘El Patio’ for lunch. We listened to some beautiful local music, while enjoying some delicious seafood looking over the Cathedral square.
Some other good lunch spots include Habana61 Cafe for some good local food and Mas Habana on Habana and O’Reilly Street. A cool, little modern restaurant, we shared a delicious seafood paella and a few Cervezas in the welcome air conditioning.
For dinner we went to the recommended to Los Nardos opposite the Capitol Building. Huge portions at good prices!
4. Take a city tour in a 1950s Vintage Car
Unless you manage to totally avoid the Central Park area in Havana during your stay, it is likely you will be approached at some point for a City Tour in one of Havana’s famous Vintage Cars that line the cities Central Park all day. We managed to negotiate a 30 minute ride for 25 CUC in a beautiful red 1957 Ford Fairlane. We got to see some of Havana’s other sights outside of the Old Town, including the beautiful University of Havana. Established in 1728, it is the oldest University in Cuba and one of the first ever established in the Americas.
5. Go Salsa Dancing!
We were recommended the ‘Hotel Florida’ on Obispo and Cuba for some salsa dancing. The vibe was very cool and the dancing even better!
Havana was everything I thought it would be and more! I am so glad we got to see to see it before the western world moves in.
Other pointers for visiting Havana:
1. Internet is hard to access and must be paid for – look for wifi spots near big hotels and places that sell internet cards. 3 CUC will get you 1 hour.
2. There are 2 currencies prevalent in Cuba – Cubuan Convertible Pesos (CUC’s) and Cuban Pesos (CPC) – CUCs are most common and are generally used by tourists and are more readily acceptable. CPCs are a legacy currency that are still slowly being phased out but still around and accepted.
3. Change your money at Havana Airport when you arrive – banks close at 3pm if you are looking at changing currency when you arrive head straight to the exchange at the airport.
4. Have evidence of medical insurance when you arrive at customs – this caught me out when entering.
5. Photos of Locals – make sure you ask – some people will ask for $1 CUC per photo opportunity.
6. Canadian dollars over USD – locals have to pay extra tax on USD so Canadian is a good alternative.