We openly admit that when it comes to researching a destination before we travel, we totally suck at it. But having said that, the little research that we did before we headed to Cuba left us feeling more confused than when we started. With the country in the midst of a tourism boom coupled with little to no internet, finding good intel on what to do, where to stay and what to see was challenging. So for everyone who’s thinking about going, we put together our Ultimate Travel Guide Havana Cuba.
Cuba is amazing, so we hope you’ll feel totally inspired to go after reading this post. If you’re considering going…do it now!
Ultimate Travel Guide Havana Cuba Contents
Looking for something specific? Click on one of the headings below to jump straight to it.
- 1 Ultimate Travel Guide Havana Cuba Contents
- 2 Why you’ll love Havana
- 3 When to visit Havana
- 4 What you need to know before you travel to Havana
- 5 How to get to Havana
- 6 Where in the world is Cuba?
- 7 Where to stay in Havana
- 8 Budget Accommodation Options in Havana Cuba
- 9 Mid- to High-Range Accommodation Options in Havana Cuba
- 10 Best things to do in Havana
- 11 Best things to do around Havana
- 12 Free things to do in Havana
- 13 Best places to eat in Havana
Why you’ll love Havana
Havana had been on our wish list for ages, so when the opportunity came up to spend a few days there we jumped at the chance.
We were spurred on even more by the fact that since Cuba and the US made friends last year there’s been a huge influx of tourists to the country, which in time will inevitably change things dramatically. To make sure we had the experience we were hoping for, we knew we had to get there fast! And we’re so glad we were able to make this trip happen when we did.
Havana is like stepping back in time. From the moment you step off the plane, things feel different here. The first time you see one of the old classic cars driving along the road is special. Taking a ride in one is even better!
The energy in Cuba is buzzing. The music, the colours, the smiles. No matter what kind of traveller you are, Havana has something for everyone.
When to visit Havana
Cuba has two seasons, dry (November to April) and wet (May to October). We visited Havana in April, just after what is considered to be peak tourist season, which runs from mid December to mid March. There were lots of people around when we visited and most accommodation was at full capacity.
Cuba is experiencing a huge tourism boom right now, which could be why there were so many people around while we were there. Weather wise though, it was perfect. A little on the humid side but definitely not unbearable…saying that, we do love a bit of humidity!
Generally speaking, the climate in Cuba is sunny and tropical with an average temperature of around 24 degrees Celsius (75 degrees Fahrenheit). It’s also worth mentioning that the country does experience hurricane season from June to November.
What you need to know before you travel to Havana
We purchased a tourist card at Panama airport. When we checked in for our flight to Cuba we were told we could buy our tourist card at our gate for $20 USD each. Easy!
When it comes to visas though, we always recommend you do your research and find out what requirements there are for your country of residence before you travel. We even did this in advance for Cuba, unusual for us I know!
There are two currencies in Cuba, the Cuban peso (CUP) and the convertible peso (CUC). Tourists are required to use CUC and the best way to get hold of your currency is to change Euros, British Pounds or US dollars at the airport. Note, US dollars sometimes get stung with a 10% charge.
We took Euros and had no problems changing them to CUC. It’s worth noting that Aussie dollars cannot be exchanged in Cuba so make sure you have already sorted an alternative out before you arrive.
ATMs are few and far between so our advice is to take enough cash for your trip to last the whole time you’re there. Very few places take credit or debit cards and if they do it is often only MasterCard that they will accept.
If you need cash when you’re there, there are limited ATMs and banks around. If you do get stuck and need to go to the bank, make sure you’ve eaten and have an empty bladder before you start queuing up as the lines are LONG!
The majority of Cubans only speak Spanish although if you are staying in a hotel its likely that the staff will speak some English. We stayed with a Cuban family who spoke no English at all so if you don’t know any Spanish it’s worth taking a phrase book with you or downloading one of the many apps onto your phone.
We quickly downloaded a couple of apps as we were leaving Panama, but don’t be like us and leave it to the last minute as the apps had limited functionality as they needed an Internet connection to work…which brings me to the next point!
Only 5% of the population in Cuba has access to the Internet. Wowser!!! This means that for most of us who are highly dependent on our smart phones and Google, a trip to Cuba can come as a bit of a shock!
We tend to research on the go but no can do in Cuba. A few places do have Wi-Fi but it’s expensive and to be honest, when you’re in a place like Havana, being fully present without checking social media every few minutes is worth it. We took a technology detox while we were in Havana and only used the Internet once to do a bit of emergency research!
If you need to do emergency research too, hit up the Hotel Nacional. You can either purchase 1hr or 24 hours at the business centre on level one. One hour will cost you $7 CUC.
How to get to Havana
We added on a trip to Cuba to the end of our time in Colombia. We flew to Havana from Panama City. The most popular routes to Cuba are via Mexico and the Caribbean.
Our recommendation is to hop on to Skyscanner.com and search for the best route to Cuba from your location. We flew with Copa Airlines to Havana from Panama City; our flights were $700 AUD return each.
Countries that offer direct flights to Cuba are currently limited, however in the next couple there will be direct routes to Cuba from the USA.
Yes, it’s true. The first Carnival Cruise ship full of U.S passengers has recently docked in Havana so if you are a cruise enthusiast living in America this news will be music to your ears.
There are a bunch of cruise companies that have been stopping in Cuba as part of their Caribbean cruise itineraries for a while now, so if taking to the high seas is your thing, then do your research and pick an itinerary that will allow you a couple of days in Havana.
Where in the world is Cuba?
Like the look of this place but have no idea where in the world it actually is!? Well never fear. The handy Google machine has got your back. Check out the map below.
Where to stay in Havana
When we first decided to visit Havana we did what we always do when it comes to looking for the best accommodation…we asked our Facebook friends of course! (who are also our real-life friends, lol)
There seemed to be two main camps when it came to their recommendations. Hotel vs. Casa Particulars.
What nobody told us was that it would have been sensible to book something in advance for Havana as some places are currently booked up to nine months in advance! Whoa.
Here are your options when looking for accommodation in Cuba…
Budget Accommodation Options in Havana Cuba
We ended up staying with a Cuban family in a Casa Particulares in Centro Habana. Casas are varied and will often feel like you’re staying at someone’s house. Some are very boutique and can cost up to between $60-$100 CUC per night.
The pros though are that they can be very affordable (dare we say it, cheap!) if you do your research. We paid $25 CUC per night for a double room with private bathroom in a great location. Breakfast was an additional $5 CUC for some fresh fruit, bread, eggs, juice, coffee and tea.
Our advice when it comes to booking a Casa is do your research and book in advance. The majority of them only take bookings over email (if they have access to it) or over the phone. Casas are getting booked up fast! The wonderful Luis from Casa 1932 helped us find a place (as we booked waaayyyy too late!) and he told us that he currently gets over 200 email enquiries per day!
To help you out, here are our top picks for the best Casa Particulares in Havana. (the place we stayed isn’t on here as it was brand new…we were one of the first people to stay there!)
HOT TIP: BE ORGANISED!
Write down the full address of your Casa so you can show your taxi driver at the airport. We stupidly only wrote down the name of ours (no address) so our cabbie had to do some extensive asking around and a few stops off along the way before we found it. He was a trooper! And still only charged us the going rate of $25 CUC from the airport to our accommodation.
Mid- to High-Range Accommodation Options in Havana Cuba
Hotels in Havana can be pretty pricey but some are worth the splurge. Here are our top picks for hotels in Havana.
Hotel Nacional de Cuba, Vedado, Havana, Cuba
This majestic hotel sits perched overlooking the ocean in Vedado. This place is no stranger to a famous guest or two having hosted a plethora of celebrities, athletes, politicians and royalty.
Although we didn’t stay here, we know lots of people who have and we did enjoy a few sunset drinks in the beautiful garden overlooking the ocean here, the perfect spot to watch the sun go down.
HOT TIP: NEED INTERNET?
This place has some of the best Wi-Fi around if you need to hop online for an hour or so.
Iberostar Parque Central, Old Havana, Havana, Cuba
This hotel also came high on the recommended list for us and from what we can tell it’s a good pick for those who want to stay in hotel accommodation in Havana.
Location is a big plus with the hotel being located in the middle of Old Havana where most things are happening.
Hotel Santa Isabel Havana, Old Havana, Havana, Cuba
Location, location, location. Hotel Santa Isabel is in the perfect spot for exploring Old Havana. Originally a palace, Hotel Santa Isabel used to host aristocratic guests back in the 18th century.
Steeped in history with a regal feel about it, if you’re looking for a unique accommodation experience, stay here. Stay in the Santovenia Suite for a seriously opulent treat.
Hotel Ambos Mundos, Old Havana, Havana, Cuba
Made famous by Ernest Hemingway who pitched up at this hotel in 1932, Hotel Ambos Mundos has possibly the best rooftop bar in the whole of Old Havana. The views over the city are stunning and there is no better place to enjoy Hemingway’s favorite tipple, a mojito.
The hotel is in a great location so if you want to walk in Hemingway’s footsteps, book a couple of nights here!
Best things to do in Havana
Take a walking tour
Completely by accident, we ended up doing two walking tours in Havana. This is not something we would normally do, as we prefer to get out there and explore ourselves but it turned out to be a really good way to get our bearings and see some cool things we wouldn’t have seen without our tour guide.
We went with Urban Adventures who we’d highly recommend, our walking guide Janet was super knowledgeable and spoke great English.
The other tour we did was sold to us as a classic car tour but in fact was another walking tour…lol. We did get to ride in a cool old car for about 5 minutes on the way to town, where we walked around for 3 hours. READ: Check what your tours include and what the itinerary is before you book anything!!! Luckily, there are loads of opportunities to see classic cars if you are a real fan of them, we even saw a 1967 chevrolet corvette convertible which was a real treat.
Take a classic car taxi
If you don’t want to pay a fortune for a driving tour (which might really be a walking tour!) then simply hail one of the hundreds of classic car taxis. We hopped in the coolest old convertible, which cost us $5 CUC, and took us to the Hotel Nacional. This was about a 10-minute drive and so much fun!
You can also negotiate for taxis like this to take you to the airport or the beach. Our taxi to the airport in a classic car cost $25 CUC and to the beach would have cost around $35 CUC. We ended up getting a regular taxi to the beach for $25 CUC.
Sunset at Hotel Ambos Mundos
Walk in Ernest Hemingway’s footsteps and head up to the rooftop of Hotel Ambos Mundos in Old Havana to watch the sunset. We also had lunch up here one day and took some snaps as it has one of the best views of Havana. You can also visit Hemingway’s old room (511) which is a museum dedicated to him.
La Bodeguita del Medio
Another Hemingway haunt famous for his fave tipple, the mojito, this place is a must see. It’s usually packed with people but there’s good reason for that. This place has live music, serves good food and is known for being a stop off for travellers who sign their names on the walls.
There’s been some famous visitors to this place too so stop off here for a drink and see who you can spot on the walls!
Sunset cocktails at Hotel Nacional
Right on the waterfront, the Hotel Nacional is a pretty spectacular building that you can spot from a fair distance away. Hotel Nacional is in Vedado, which was a taxi ride away for us from Centro Habana where we were staying although you can walk there along the Malecon (more about that later).
The best thing to do here is to grab one of the tables in their gardens and enjoy a few sundowners and a Cuban sandwich, or in our case, a grilled cheese sandwich (the only vegetarian option on the menu!).
Museum of the Revolution (Museo de la Revolucion)
If you want to learn a little about the history of Cuba (from a Cuban perspective) then the Museum of the Revolution is an interesting must do. Very anti-American of course as you would expect, this museum will give you a good overview of the history of Cuba. A visit is quite fitting given the changes that are going on here now.
Havana Bus Tour
A great way to see the city and the surrounding areas of Havana is the hop-on-hop-off open top bus. There are a couple of different routes, T1 which is a city circuit ($5 CUC) and T3 which will take you to the different beaches to the east of Havana ($3 CUC).
- T1 does a 23km circuit of the city every 30 mins and picks up between Hotel El Colina and Hotel Habana Libre.
- T3 leaves from Parque Central and stops at the different beaches and resorts to the east of Havana. It’s a 65km round trip and departs from Parque Central every 30 minutes.
Go to a Jazz Club
There are heaps of jazz clubs in Havana and there’s good reason for that. There are so many amazing musicians who live here and if you’re in to jazz, you will be spoilt for choice. Even if you’re not, this is worth doing!
We went to the underground club La Zorra y el Cuervo (The Fox & Crow) which has a cool secret entrance that looks like a telephone box. The cover charge is $10 CUC and includes 2 drinks. Get there early for a good seat!
Best things to do around Havana
A day at the beach
When you’re ready for a break from wandering the streets of Havana, the beach is only a 30-minute drive away. When we asked around, locals recommended we went to Santa Maria Del Mar. We got a taxi there for $25 but you can also get the bus mentioned above (T3).
The water was a little choppy but bright turquoise blue and stunning. You can hire a sun lounger and umbrella on the sand for a few CUC and there are little stalls selling water, beer and snacks so grab a good book and head to the beach for a day chilling out!
We had a heap of people recommend Varadero to us but didn’t make it there ourselves. Having said that, we met some other Aussies on our walking tour who were heading there for a couple of days for some down time, so if you want a more all-inclusive experience then work this into your itinerary.
As you will see from photographs of Varadero if you look it up on the google machine, you can expect pristine beaches and crystal blue water. More of a beach resort feel which isn’t really our thing but if that’s what you’re looking for, hit this place up!
Take the Hershey Train
This electric railway runs 130km from Havana to Hershey, Jibacoa, Canasi and Matanzas. If you’re looking for a fun way to see the Cuban countryside and experience Cuba the way locals do. You can take a short trip somewhere or the full 3 hours to the other end.
Free things to do in Havana
Stroll the Malecon
This was one of our favorite things to do in Havana and the best thing was, it’s completely free! The Malecon is a long esplanade that stretches 8km from Old Havana to Vedado. In the evening you’ll find heaps of people chilling out on the wall along the waters edge, some people fishing, playing music and enjoying the sunset.
Get lost in Old Havana
While the walking tours are great, there’s nothing better than simply walking around Old Havana getting lost in the narrow streets. The city is bustling with life and there’s always something going on so our advice is to get your comfy shoes on and spend a few hours on foot taking in the sights and sounds of a city frozen in time.
Don’t forget to bring your camera, as there’s plenty of old buildings, cars, and random things to take pics of. #instagramheaven
Peruse the book market at Plaza De Armas
The book market at Plaza De Armas in Old Havana is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen while travelling. The tiny bookstalls sell newspapers, jewelry, old cameras, watches, magazines, books and posters from back in the day…there is nothing modern for sale here (apart from a book about Michael Jackson it seems!).
Che Guevara graces every other book cover and most are in Spanish but this is definitely somewhere you can grab a unique Havana souvenir. If nothing else, it’s a great place to take some photos!
Visit John Lennon Park
The bronze statue of John Lennon sitting on a park bench in Parque John Lennon is a pretty cool spot to visit. John’s iconic glasses have been pinched so many times that there’s now a guy who is always nearby holding them, ready to place them on his face for your photos.
Fidel Castro was a big John Lennon fan, which is why this park honors the famous Beatle. Castro considered he and Lennon to be fellow dreamers with similar ideas and ideologies. If you’re in Havana, check this place out! The houses in this area are also beautiful to photograph!
Best places to eat in Havana
We found finding good food in Havana pretty hard as we’re vegetarians and there isn’t much in the way of good veggie options here. In restaurants the options are often grilled cheese sandwiches or rice and beans (usually with some surprise meat thrown in for good measure!).
That said, we did find a couple of good options that are super cheap…street food in Old Havana! The little street hawkers are your best bet for something quick and delicious. Our faves where the fresh churros (50c), corn on the cob (1 CUC), coconut ice cream in a coconut shell (75c) and peanuts (less than 50c).
Cuba is all about fresh seafood (not ideal if you’re vegetarian) but if you’re a meat eater our mates gave these recommendations, which are the best places to hit up for food in Havana…
Seafood and Cuban food, great atmosphere!Calle Habana No. 61 | entre las calles Cuarteles y Peña Pobre, Havana 10100, Cuba
Right by the Cathedral in Old Havana, this place was recommended by both of our walking tour guides.
Dona Eutimia | Plaza de la Catedral, Habana Vieja, Havana 30600, Cuba
Another Hemingway favourite, the Daiquiris are famous here and the food isn’t bad either.
Restaurante Floridita | Obispo 557 esq a Monserrate Habana Vieja, Havana 10100, Cuba
So that’s a wrap on our Ultimate Travel Guide Havana Cuba. We hope you love this place as much as we do! I mean how could you not?!
If you’ve visited Havana before and we missed one of your top recommendations, please comment below and let us know about it!
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