Havana is today one of the most popular tourist spots in the Caribbean since it reopened its doors to tourism in the 1990s. Cuba's capital is home to 2.1 million inhabitants and has an incredibly rich history.
African and Caribbean influences can be felt throughout. The traditional Spanish architecture, classic American cars, and tropical climate all contribute to the charm of this city, which is sometimes referred to as the Rome of the Caribbean.
Visit Havana for the culture, music, food, festivals, and gorgeous sights. Simply strolling through the streets of the Cuban capital is a magical experience.
There is a lot to do in Havana if you appreciate the arts: head to the Great Theater of Havana, the International Ballet Festival, and the Havana International Jazz Festival. If you enjoy the fine arts, visit the Museum of Decorative Arts and the National Museum of Fine Arts.
Learn about Cuban history at the Museum of the Revolution and discover the island's colonial past by visiting the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Habana Vieja.
Meander through streets framed with baroque facades and colorful houses; Havana is a unique city where Art Nouveau and Art Deco influences from the early 20th century meet older Spanish and Moorish influences from the colonial period.
You will enjoy warm weather all year round. The Playa del Chivo and Playas del Este are the perfect places to splash in the Caribbean Sea.
Your trip to Havana will be an unforgettable cultural experience. The island is known for producing cigars, but you will also find that the local cuisine alone is worth the trip. Traditional music is still immensely popular and you will hear styles like habanera or the mambo and discover modern Cuban hip-hop.
The city center and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Habana Vieja remains the essential way to experience history in Cuba's capital. The architecture brings the past to life at notable stops like Catedral de San Cristobal and Castillo de la Real Fuerza, while the cultural hubs of Plaza de Armas and Plaza Vieja provide for stark contrast as they exude the pulsating social life of contemporary Cuba.
Though a stay in Havana will probably bring you back to this famous boulevard again and again, walking along the ocean remains an unforgettable experience, taking an evening stroll as the sun sets across the bay. Step inside the Hotel Nacional and enjoy the old-timey show of the Cabaret Parisien.
Looking down on Habana Vieja from across the water are the imposing fortresses of Morro y Cabaña. Still boasting barracks and artillery cannons of centuries past, El Morro was once the first line of defense against pirate attacks. Just half a mile further, the military history continues at La Cabaña, another fortress built in response to the British invasion.
Paseo del Prado was the first paved road in the city of Havana, and it retained its grand reputation throughout the centuries. The 1900s brought rich, European-style architecture to this promenade. Passers-by love to gawk at the rows of ornamented mansions and hotels, making a stop at the Gran Teatro opera or the post-revolutionary National Capitol.
The seaside neighborhood of Jaimanitas is a living, open art museum, affectionately known as Fusterlandia. Tourists come from far and wide looking for inspiration in these streets, and it is a treat to let the mind wander on a lackadaisical trip through the colorful area packed with sculptures, mosaics and murals -- all thanks to the restlessly creative mind of Cuban artist José Fuster.
Be prepared to deal with crowds if you travel to Havana between the high season, which lasts from November to May. You can avoid crowds by planning your trip in the summertime but the heat can be a bit much. Visit Havana in August if you want to enjoy the city's carnival or in February if you are interested in the Cigar Festival.
International flights land at the Jose Martí International Airport (HAV), which is located nine miles southwest of Havana. Your hotel should have a shuttle available at the airport, but there are other ways to get to Havana. You can take a taxi for CUC$20 and reach Havana within 20 to 30 minutes or head to Terminal 1 to take a bus. Note that you will have to pay in Cuban National Pesos for the bus fare. You can also rent a car at the airport for CUC$50-125 a day (and an additional CUC$15 a day for insurance).
You can easily drive to Havana from any other city on the island. Take Autopista A4 to Havana if you are leaving from San Cristobal, Pinar Del Río, or another location in the western portion of the island. If you are leaving from Santa Clara or another city in the eastern portion of the island, follow the Autopista Nacional to Havana.
You will find Viazul bus stations in all the major cities on the island and can ride a bus to the Viazul main station on Avenida 26 in Havana. Taking a Viazul bus from Trinidad to Havana will cost CUC$25 and a bus ticket from Santa Clara to Havana will cost CUC$18. You can also take an Astro bus from any major city to Havana if you want to get a slightly lower price, but keep in mind that these buses are not as comfortable.
Staying in the Habana Vieja area is ideal if you want to be close to all the main landmarks. You can stay at the Hotel Ambos Mundos, Hotel Florida, Hotel El Comendador, or at the Hotel Santa Isabel if you want a more upscale experience. The Hotel Plaza and Hotel Saratoga are good options if you would rather stay in the Centro area. If you want to stay in the Vedado neighborhood, choose the Hotel Nacional or the Hotel ROC Presidente.
Old Havana - Old Havana, or Habana Vieja, is the original city of Havana and is densely populated. This is where you will find the Plaza de Armas, the Plaza Vieja, and the fortifications built by the Spanish during the 16th century. This area is currently undergoing restoration efforts and is easily recognizable with its narrow streets and old buildings.
Vedado - this is where you will find John Lennon Park and the tallest building on the island (the FOCSA Building). Make sure you see La Rampa (Calle 23), one of the busiest streets in Havana and the Malecón area near the waterfront, a popular boardwalk where you will find many restaurants.
Centro - an older area that has yet to be restored. This is where you will find the cigar factory Real Fabricas de Tabacos Partagás and some art galleries such as Callejon de Hamel.
Riding the bus around Havana is a very affordable way to get around. You should only pay CUC$1 for a bus fare. The downside of using public transportation is that routes and schedules are not always easy to understand.
You must take a taxi at least once during your trip to Havana. You will find that most taxi services for tourists use modern cars and that you will have to look for a carro or community taxi to ride in an old American car. Community taxis are cheaper but you will have to share your taxi. You will easily find taxis waiting in front of hotels but you can also hail one on the street or simply call a taxi service. Always agree on the price before getting in since not all taxis have meters. You will typically pay a base price of CUC$1 and another CUC$.50 per mile. The ride between Old Havana, Vedado, and Centro should be between CUC$3-5. If you want a more affordable and authentic experience, take one of the scooter taxis known as coco taxis.
There are several car rental agencies at the airport, such as Havanautos and Cuba Car. Renting a car will cost you between CUC$50-125 a day and an additional CUC$15 a day for insurance. You will also have to pay for parking. You can rent a car with a driver for the same price as renting a car.
If you would like to shop for cigars, rum, and other local items, look for official La Casa Del Habano stores or go to an outlet like the Partagás cigar factory. A box of cigars will typically cost between CUC$30 and several hundreds of pesos. If you want to shop for clothes, souvenirs, and crafts, head to the outdoor market at Ferria 23 and M near the Hotel Nacional. You will find another similar market with books and memorabilia from the revolution at the Plaza de Armas. If you want to find brand stores, stop by the Galería Comercial Comodoro on the beachfront.
There are Palco stores in the Miramar area and on Avenida Tercera and Calle 70 where you can shop for groceries. Go to one of the Agromercados in Vedado or in the Centro area for fresh produce. Expect to pay CUC$0.25 for a loaf of bread and CUC$1.60 for a liter of milk.
You must try some popular Cuban dishes during your trip, including barbecued meats and rice and beans. If you want to enjoy traditional Caribbean fare, Restaurante Café del Oriente, La Guarida, and Bella Habana are great options. You can try the mixture of Chinese and Caribbean influences at Flor de Loto or Tien Tan, or, if it's seafood you're after, try El Litoral, Mediterraneo Havana, or Paladar Vistamar. Make sure you try a few cafes for their traditional sandwiches, such as Bar Bilbao or Bar La Dichosa. Head to Bishop Street or walk a few blocks away from any popular area to find street food vendors that serve pork burgers and coconut pies. Street food typically costs between CUC$5-8, a meal in a sit-down cafe will cost you CUC$20, and expect to spend CUC$40 or more for a meal at a more upscale place.