Welcome to Havana, the pulsating heart of Cuba where time seems to have paused, allowing its rich history, vibrant culture, and passionate spirit to flourish unabated. When you first set foot in this city, you’ll immediately feel its electric energy, characterized by the sounds of salsa rhythms, the aroma of freshly rolled cigars, and the stunning view of vintage cars rolling past pastel-colored colonial buildings. This travel guide introduction aims to give you a detailed glimpse of what awaits you in this mesmerizing Caribbean capital.
Founded in 1519 by the Spanish, Havana rapidly became a jewel of the Spanish Crown, a vital stopping point for ships laden with treasures heading to Spain. Over the centuries, its strategic position attracted the attention of pirates, other colonial powers, and led to the construction of elaborate fortifications, many of which stand to this day. The city’s tumultuous history is evident everywhere – from the centuries-old forts that guard the harbor to the revolutionary murals that adorn many a building.
Havana’s architecture is a visual feast. The cityscape is a melting pot of styles, spanning from Baroque and Neoclassical to Art Deco. Its older district, Habana Vieja or Old Havana, is a UNESCO World Heritage site, boasting beautifully restored buildings that line its cobblestone streets. Beyond this, the broader city offers a mix of eras, with majestic colonial mansions sitting beside 20th-century gems.
Culture and Music
Music and dance are the lifeblood of Havana. The city is alive with rhythms, from the passionate beats of rumba and the sensuous sways of salsa to the heartfelt melodies of the Cuban son. Venture into any local bar or “casa de la música” and witness firsthand the passionate musical performances that the island is celebrated for. It’s not just professional musicians either – you’ll often find ordinary Cubans dancing and singing on the streets, at the beach, or in their homes.
Cuban cuisine is a fusion of Spanish, African, and Caribbean flavors. In Havana, you can enjoy classic dishes like “ropa vieja” (shredded beef), “tostones” (fried plantains), and “mojitos” made from fresh local mint and Cuban rum. Paladares, or privately owned restaurants, have sprung up all over the city in recent years, offering both traditional Cuban fare and innovative takes on classic dishes.
Arts and Literature
Havana has long been a hub for intellectuals and artists. Its vibrant arts scene is evidence of a rich history interwoven with literature, painting, and cinema. The city was home to the celebrated author Ernest Hemingway for many years, and his favorite haunts can still be visited today. Art aficionados should not miss the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, which houses an impressive collection of Cuban art.
One of Havana’s iconic images is that of its classic cars, colorful Chevys, and Fords from the 1950s, which serve as both a nostalgic reminder of days gone by and a means of transportation for locals and tourists alike. But beyond these, the city offers a range of transportation options, from rickety bicycles and Coco taxis to more modern buses and taxis.
Havana is more than just a city; it’s a feeling, an experience, a dance of the senses. Whether you’re here to delve into its rich history, immerse yourself in its vibrant culture, or simply relax and soak in its unique atmosphere, Havana promises an unforgettable experience. This guide is but a mere introduction to the myriad wonders that await. Dive in, and let the rhythms of Havana move you!
Havana City Guide: A Brief History Of Havana, Cuba For Visitors
To truly understand the allure of Havana, one must delve into its storied past, a complex narrative marked by discovery, conquest, resilience, and revolution. A visit to this Caribbean gem reveals not just a city, but the embodiment of Cuba’s turbulent and rich history.
Indigenous Beginnings: Pre-1519
Before the Spanish conquest, Cuba was inhabited by indigenous groups, including the Taíno and the Ciboney. These communities primarily lived off the land, practicing agriculture, fishing, and hunting.
The Spanish Arrival: 1519-1600
Havana’s story begins with the Spanish, who, led by Diego Velázquez, established a settlement on the southern coast of Cuba in 1514. However, by 1519, this settlement was relocated to Havana’s present location due to its advantageous natural harbor and strategic positioning for Spain’s New World operations.
Fortifying Havana: 1607-1700s
Recognizing Havana’s strategic maritime significance, the Spanish Crown turned its attention to fortifying the city against the looming threats of pirates and European rivals. Structures like Castillo de la Real Fuerza, Castillo del Morro, and Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña were erected. These massive forts, which still dominate Havana’s landscape, protected its citizens and the treasures regularly flowing between the New World and Spain.
The Age of Prosperity: 1800s
The 19th century was a golden era for Havana. With the booming sugar, coffee, and tobacco industries, the city became a buzzing hub of commerce, culture, and architecture in the Caribbean. The riches pouring into the city were evident in its ornate theaters, bustling plazas, and grand residences.
Simultaneously, Cuba’s aspirations for independence from Spanish rule grew. This century witnessed significant uprisings and the emergence of national heroes like José Martí.
American Involvement: Late 1800s – Early 1900s
The desire for independence culminated in the Spanish-American War in 1898. Instigated by events such as the explosion of the USS Maine in Havana’s harbor, the United States intervened, and Spain ultimately surrendered. Though Cuba became independent in 1902, the Platt Amendment ensured U.S. influence remained, both politically and economically.
Havana, during the early 20th century, transformed into a glamorous getaway for Americans, resulting in a rapid modernization phase and the establishment of iconic hotels, casinos, and entertainment venues.
Pre-Revolutionary Strains: 1930s – 1950s
By the 1930s and 1940s, the allure of the city began to be overshadowed by political instability and corruption, particularly during the reigns of leaders like Fulgencio Batista. Discontent grew, setting the stage for one of the most defining moments in Cuban history.
The Cuban Revolution: Late 1950s – Early 1960s
The late 1950s marked the uprising of revolutionary forces against Batista’s regime. Figures like Fidel Castro and Che Guevara became prominent leaders in this revolution, which concluded with Batista’s ousting in 1959. The following years saw radical transformations as the nation embraced socialist ideologies. Havana, too, experienced significant changes, from nationalized businesses to cultural shifts.
Relations with the U.S. soured, leading to the U.S. embargo and notable events like the Bay of Pigs Invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Havana Today: Late 20th Century – Present
Despite the challenges posed by the U.S. embargo and the collapse of the Soviet Union, Havana persisted. The city maintained its spirit, ensuring its arts, music, and culture remained vibrant.
Today, visitors to Havana are welcomed by a city proud of its history and optimistic about its future. The capital is experiencing a renaissance in art, cuisine, and entrepreneurship, even as it maintains deep respect for its storied past.
Havana isn’t just a city of vibrant colors, vintage cars, and aromatic cigars. It’s a living testament to centuries of ambition, struggle, and reinvention. Visitors who immerse themselves in its history will not only understand the heart of Havana but the very soul of Cuba.
Havana Top Attractions and Best Places to Visit in Havana, Cuba
There are many cities in the Caribbean that exist as little else but a way station for cruise ship passengers, but there are a few (like Havana) that possess legitimate historical and cultural attractions, making an urban stop in this beach heavy region well worth your while.
From the intriguing Museum of the Revolution, to the near-perfect copy of the US Capitol in the form of El Capitolio, carving out three to four solid days out of your Cuban itinerary for Havana will prove to be a decision that you won’t end up regretting.
The first attraction that you should get out of the way when visiting Havana is the Museum of the Revolution. This institution will give you a background on everything that occurred in the run-up to the Communist Revolution of 1959, which deposed the Batista government and installed the socialist regime that exists to this day.
In addition to artifacts relating to the outgoing government and all the achievements of the Castro regime, you will also be able to learn about the history of Cuba in the centuries prior, with special attention paid to the war of independence fought against Spain.
Exhibits to keep an eye out for include the yacht that brought Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and other revolutionaries from Mexico to Cuba in the 1950’s, and the anti-aircraft missile that brought down an American spy plane in the midst of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
If you see a neoclassical structure in the Old Havana that looks strangely reminiscent to the US Capitol, you aren’t imagining things.
El Capitolio, which serves as the home of Cuba’s National Assembly, was modeled on the famous US government building when it was constructed In the 1920’s.
Its ornate hallways are well worth seeing even if the machinations of government aren’t that interesting to you, as the La Estatua de la Republica, which is the world’s third largest indoor statue is an awesome sight to behold.
Finally, be sure to make time in your schedule to see Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana, as it is the finest museum dedicated to the arts in Cuba.
Displaying paintings, sculptures, and drawings dating back from the colonial days of the 16th century leading straight up to the present day, this institution is the place to check out the finest creations that Cuban artist have offered up to the world over the ages.
In addition to being a showcase for the best creative work in this nation, there is also a modest selection of international art and artifacts here as well, with Greek ceramics and Roman mosaics being among the highlights.
Other Cultural Attractions: Trip to Havana, Cuba
Those looking to get in a spot of people watching while in Havana will want to start in Plaza Vieja. With the edges of this square lined with numerous cafes and restaurants, you can lounge comfortably with your favorite drink or with a plate of authentic Cuban cuisine as everyday citizens go about their daily routine.
With a variety of architectural styles in the buildings that make up the square, and a fountain acting as its centerpiece, you would have never guessed that the underside of this attraction used to be home to an ugly parking garage.
Due to a massive renovation project beginning in the 1980’s however, this key part of Old Havana was brought back to its former glory, spurred on by the declaration of this part of the city as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
As the sun sinks lower in the sky on any given day, the lengthy sidewalks of El Malecón gets busy with City residents seeking to socialize with their friends and family.
Serving as another opportunity for those looking to observe the citizenry of Havana, it is also a great place to go for a sundown drink, as many restaurants that have popped up along the waterfront since the Castro government eased restrictions on private businesses in recent years.
Speaking of stiff drinks, Cuba is also rightly popular for the high quality of its rum. those seeking to learn how this alcohol is distilled will be able to learn the process at the Museo del Ron.
Run by the people that have brought you Havana Club rum, you will also get to see how the process was conducted in the years prior to the existence of modern technology.
With the ubiquitous free samples awaiting you at the end, the price that you’ll pay to get in the door will be well worth the expense.
source: BackPacker Steve on YouTube
Top 33 Things To Do in Havana, Cuba For Visitors
- Stroll through Old Havana (Habana Vieja)
- Explore the heart of the city with its colonial buildings, lively plazas, and vibrant street life. Key spots include Plaza de Armas, Plaza Vieja, and the Cathedral Square.
- Visit El Capitolio
- Marvel at this neoclassical architecture reminiscent of the U.S. Capitol but with distinct Cuban touches.
- Ride in a Vintage Car
- Experience Havana in style by taking a ride in one of the city’s iconic 1950s cars, either on a guided tour or just a jaunt along the Malecón.
- Walk the Malecón
- This seaside promenade is perfect for a leisurely stroll, especially during sunset, offering panoramic views of the ocean and cityscape.
- Tour the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes
- Dive into Cuba’s art history, spanning colonial to contemporary works.
- Visit Castillo del Morro
- Explore this historic fortress that once guarded Havana from pirates and other invaders.
- Witness the Canonazo Ceremony
- Held at La Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña, this nightly ritual reenacts a colonial-era tradition of shooting a cannon over the harbor.
- Dance at a Salsa Club
- Experience the city’s pulsating nightlife, with numerous venues offering live salsa bands and dance floors.
- Hemingway’s Havana
- Retrace Ernest Hemingway’s steps by visiting his favorite haunts like La Bodeguita del Medio and El Floridita, and tour Finca Vigía, his former residence.
- Tour a Cigar Factory
- Discover the art of cigar-making in factories like Real Fábrica de Tabacos Partagás.
- Visit Plaza de la Revolución
- A massive square featuring monuments dedicated to national heroes, including José Martí and Che Guevara.
- Relax at Playas del Este
- Venture to Havana’s beaches, a short drive from the city, for sun, sand, and surf.
- Shop at Almacenes San José Artisans’ Market
- Find unique souvenirs, art, and crafts at this bustling market on the harbor.
- Dive into Museo de la Revolución
- Learn about Cuba’s revolutionary history in the former presidential palace.
- Visit the Church and Convent of St. Francis of Assisi
- A historic site now hosting concerts and art exhibitions.
- Explore El Túnel de La Habana
- A fascinating underwater tunnel that connects Old Havana to the east side of the bay.
- Attend a Performance at Gran Teatro de La Habana
- Watch ballet, opera, or theater in this ornate and historic venue.
- Savor Cuban Cuisine at a Paladar
- Dine at privately-owned restaurants, many set in charming colonial homes.
- Visit Fusterlandia
- Wander through this mosaic-tiled artistic neighborhood, the brainchild of artist José Fuster.
- Take a Cooking Class
- Dive deep into Cuban culinary traditions and learn how to make local favorites.
- Discover Colonial Architecture at Plaza de San Francisco
- A UNESCO World Heritage site with notable buildings and a historic fountain.
- Experience Cuban Jazz
- Visit spots like La Zorra y el Cuervo for an authentic Cuban jazz experience.
- Explore Callejón de Hamel
- A kaleidoscope of Afro-Cuban culture, art, and murals.
- Taste Cuban Rum at Museo del Ron
- Understand the history and processes of rum-making and sample some varieties.
- Cycle Havana
- Rent a bike and explore the city’s nooks and crannies.
- Visit Taller Experimental de Gráfica
- An art workshop and gallery showcasing the best of Cuban printmaking.
- Stroll Paseo del Prado
- A tree-lined boulevard filled with art, performers, and local life.
- Enjoy the Magic of Hotel Nacional
- A legendary hotel with gardens that offer stunning views of the Malecón.
- Participate in a Local Festival
- Experience Havana’s cultural calendar, from the Havana Carnival to the International Ballet Festival.
- Go on a Mural Hunt
- Discover political and street art murals peppered throughout the city.
- Explore the House of Africa
- Delve into African influences on Cuban culture, history, and religion.
- Visit Museo Napoleónico
- See one of the Western Hemisphere’s most significant collections of Napoleonic memorabilia.
- Havana’s Chinatown Exploration
- Experience the cultural amalgamation in the Barrio Chino, with its distinct archways and flavors.
While these 33 activities offer a glimpse of Havana’s allure, the city truly unfolds in its intangible essence: the friendliness of its people, the rhythm of its music, and the spirit of resilience and joy that permeates every cobblestone street.
source: He Goes She Goes – Food and Travel on YouTube
What To Eat and Drink in Havana, Cuba
Havana’s culinary landscape is a delightful fusion of Spanish, African, and Caribbean flavors, influenced by its history, geography, and cultural amalgamations. Here’s a detailed dive into what to indulge in when you’re in this vibrant city:
- Ropa Vieja: Often dubbed Cuba’s national dish, this consists of shredded beef stewed in a flavorful tomato sauce with bell peppers, onions, and spices.
- Lechón Asado: A marinated, roast pork dish, typically slow-cooked until tender and juicy, often accompanied by mojo, a garlicky citrus sauce.
- Tostones or Chatinos: Twice-fried green plantain slices, crunchy on the outside and soft within. They’re the perfect side dish or snack.
- Yuca con Mojo: Boiled cassava/yuca drenched in mojo sauce. This starchy side dish is both hearty and flavorful.
- Picadillo a la Habanera: Ground beef sautéed with onions, bell peppers, garlic, olives, and raisins, often served with rice or used as a filling for empanadas.
- Arroz con Pollo: A comforting dish of chicken and rice, seasoned with saffron, cumin, and bay leaves, simmered together for a beautiful melding of flavors.
- Tamal: Unlike its Mexican counterpart, the Cuban tamal is made of seasoned cornmeal dough (often with bits of pork) wrapped in corn husks and steamed to perfection.
Street Food & Snacks:
- Cuban Sandwich: A pressed sandwich made of roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard, all sandwiched between Cuban bread.
- Pan con Lechón: Slow-cooked, seasoned pork in soft bread, often drizzled with a garlicky sauce.
- Malanga Fritters: Grated malanga mixed with seasonings and fried to create crispy, delicious fritters.
- Churros: Deep-fried dough pastries, typically sprinkled with sugar and sometimes filled with sweet fillings.
- Flan: A creamy caramel custard dessert, rich and velvety.
- Tres Leches Cake: A soft sponge cake soaked in a mix of three types of milk: condensed, evaporated, and regular, topped with meringue or whipped cream.
- Turrones: Nougats made from honey, sugar, and egg whites, mixed with toasted almonds or other nuts.
- Cuban Ice Cream: Visit “Coppelia,” Havana’s iconic ice cream parlor, for a myriad of flavors in a charming, retro setting.
- Mojito: Perhaps the most famous Cuban drink, this refreshing cocktail blends white rum, sugar, lime juice, soda water, and mint.
- Cuba Libre: A simple, classic mix of rum, cola, and lime.
- Daiquiri: A sweetened cocktail of rum, citrus (usually lime), and other flavorings, often blended with ice.
- Canchánchara: A traditional Cuban drink made from honey, lime, water, and aguardiente (a precursor to rum).
- Cuban Coffee: A strong shot (often referred to as “cafecito”) that’s sweetened during the brewing process.
- Guarapo: Freshly-squeezed sugar cane juice, often served chilled.
- Cerveza Nacional: Try local beers like Cristal and Bucanero for an authentic Cuban beer experience.
- Rum: Cuba is synonymous with rum, and there’s a vast array to sample, from the globally recognized Havana Club to lesser-known local brands.
When in Havana, it’s not just about the individual dishes or drinks but the overall dining experience. From family-run ‘paladares’ (private restaurants) to bustling street food vendors and state-run eateries, Havana provides a culinary journey that’s as rich in flavor as it is in culture. Remember to always pair your meal with the infectious rhythms of Cuban music, friendly banter with locals, and the age-old wisdom of Havana’s streets for a truly immersive gastronomic experience.
source: Israel Plata on YouTube
Top Restaurants In Havana, Cuba
Havana’s culinary scene is an enchanting blend of tradition and innovation. Here’s a deep dive into some of the top restaurants in Havana, ranging from iconic paladares to newer establishments pushing culinary boundaries:
- Overview: Housed in a dilapidated mansion, La Guarida boasts an atmospheric setting. It gained international fame after the Cuban film “Strawberry and Chocolate” was shot here.
- Specialties: Try the rabbit confit or the red snapper with coconut reduction.
- Ambiance: A rustic yet elegant setting with balconies offering breathtaking views of the city.
- Overview: Located next to the famous Fabrica de Arte, this avant-garde spot is set in a former cooking oil factory.
- Specialties: Opt for the tuna tartare or the grilled lobster.
- Ambiance: Industrial chic with a splendid rooftop terrace.
San Cristobal Paladar
- Overview: Gaining spotlight after hosting President Obama and the Kardashians, this place is a charming blend of vintage decor and traditional Cuban dishes.
- Specialties: Ropa vieja and lamb in honey sauce.
- Ambiance: Retro interiors with a vast collection of memorabilia.
- Overview: Nestled in a small alley near the Cathedral Square, this cozy spot offers classic Cuban dishes.
- Specialties: Picadillo a la habanera and malanga fritters.
- Ambiance: Warm and homey, reminiscent of grandma’s kitchen.
5 Esquinas Trattoria
- Overview: A slice of Italy in the heart of Havana, serving pizzas, pastas, and other Italian delights.
- Specialties: Margherita pizza and homemade ravioli.
- Ambiance: A laid-back, convivial setting perfect for casual dining.
Paladar Los Mercaderes
Ivan Chefs Justo
- Overview: Run by two renowned chefs, this place is a culinary delight offering a fusion menu.
- Specialties: Grilled octopus and lamb stew.
- Ambiance: Rustic interiors adorned with quirky art pieces.
- Overview: Known for its inventive gin cocktails and contemporary takes on Cuban dishes.
- Specialties: Tuna tacos and the eggplant caviar.
- Ambiance: Modern, buzzing, and compact, with a lively vibe.
- Overview: Situated in Cojímar, it was once the favorite spot of Ernest Hemingway. It offers seafood with an ocean view.
- Specialties: Lobster enchilado and the seafood paella.
- Ambiance: Simple, with a panoramic view of the Cojímar bay, steeped in history.
- Overview: A penthouse paladar offering Spanish-Cuban cuisine with a twist.
- Specialties: Codfish croquettes and duck confit.
- Ambiance: 1950s apartment vibe with a terrace that provides spectacular views of the city.
- Overview: Set in a colonial mansion, it offers a fusion of French and Cuban cuisines.
- Specialties: Pork in orange sauce and seafood risotto.
- Ambiance: Artistic interiors with rotating exhibitions from local artists.
- Overview: A newer addition to Havana’s dining scene, it boasts a fusion menu in a chic setting.
- Specialties: Tuna steak in sesame seeds and grilled vegetables.
- Ambiance: Modern, stylish with an emphasis on blue hues, evoking the sea and sky.
In Havana, dining is not just about food; it’s a holistic experience. While each restaurant has its specialties, the city’s warmth, music, and character infuse every meal. Whether you’re seeking traditional Cuban flavors, international fusion, or avant-garde innovations, Havana’s restaurants are culinary landmarks in their own right, each telling a unique story.
source: Expedia on YouTube
Tours For Visitors To Havana, Cuba
Havana, with its rich tapestry of history, culture, and architecture, offers a plethora of immersive tours to help visitors get a real feel for the city. Here’s a deep dive into some of the best tours you can embark on:
Classic Car Tours:
- Overview: What’s more iconic than cruising through Havana’s streets in a vintage American car? These convertible rides offer a nostalgic trip through time.
- Highlights: Drive along the Malecón, visit Revolution Square, and explore upscale neighborhoods like Miramar. Opt for themed tours focusing on Hemingway’s Havana, mafia history, or cinematic Havana.
Walking Tours of Old Havana:
- Overview: Delve into the heart of Havana’s historical core on foot.
- Highlights: Wander through four main plazas, marvel at colonial architecture, visit the Cathedral of Havana, and explore myriad alleyways and cobblestone streets.
- Overview: Ernest Hemingway lived in Havana for over two decades. This tour traces his life and inspirations in the city.
- Highlights: Visit La Terraza in Cojímar, Hemingway’s residence at Finca Vigía, and his favorite bars like La Bodeguita del Medio and El Floridita.
Cigar and Rum Tours:
- Overview: Understand Cuba’s celebrated cigar and rum culture.
- Highlights: Tour the Partagás Cigar Factory, learn about the process of making cigars, visit Havana Club Rum Museum, and indulge in tastings.
Afro-Cuban Heritage Tour:
- Overview: Explore the African influence on Cuban culture and history.
- Highlights: Visit Callejón de Hammel to experience rumba, learn about Santería traditions, and discover African-inspired art.
Havana Art and Murals Tour:
- Overview: For art enthusiasts, this tour offers insights into Havana’s vibrant art scene.
- Highlights: Visit Fábrica de Arte Cubano, a hub for contemporary art, and stroll through streets adorned with murals, graffiti, and installations.
Nightlife and Music Tours:
- Overview: Experience Havana’s pulsating nightlife and rich musical heritage.
- Highlights: Enjoy live music at La Zorra y El Cuervo, dance the night away at Casa de la Música, and watch traditional performances at Gran Teatro de La Habana.
- Overview: Explore Havana’s diverse architectural styles, from Baroque to Art Deco.
- Highlights: Visit landmarks like the Capitol Building, Bacardí Building, and the iconic Hotel Nacional.
Coastal Havana by Bike:
- Overview: Cycle along Havana’s coastline for a refreshing view of the city.
- Highlights: Start at the Malecón, cycle to Playa del Este, and enjoy the scenic views of the Atlantic.
Food and Culinary Tours:
- Overview: Embark on a gastronomic journey through Havana.
- Highlights: Sample street food like Cuban sandwiches, visit local markets, learn about Cuban coffee culture, and partake in cooking classes.
- Overview: Whether you’re a professional photographer or an enthusiast, this tour offers a unique lens to view Havana.
- Highlights: Capture the daily life in bustling markets, the vibrant street art, and the timeless charm of Old Havana.
Historical and Revolutionary Tour:
- Overview: Understand Cuba’s revolutionary history and its impact on the nation.
- Highlights: Visit the Museum of the Revolution, Che Guevara’s office, and Revolution Square.
When choosing a tour in Havana, it’s essential to align with your interests and the depth of exploration you desire. Each tour provides a different facet of Havana’s multifaceted charm, and with the right guide, you can unearth stories and experiences that offer a profound connection to this captivating city.
Havana Accommodations Guide: Hotels, Guesthouses and Hostels
Havana, the soulful capital of Cuba, boasts an array of accommodation options that cater to different tastes, preferences, and budgets. From opulent hotels that hark back to the glamor of the 1950s to intimate ‘casa particulares’ (private homes) that offer a genuine Cuban experience, here’s an in-depth look into Havana’s lodging landscape:
- Hotel Nacional de Cuba:
- Overview: An iconic establishment, this hotel has hosted numerous celebrities and offers stunning views of the Malecón.
- Amenities: Multiple dining options, a cabaret show, pool, garden with peacocks, and a historical gallery.
- Location: Located in the Vedado neighborhood, overlooking the Havana Harbor.
- Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski La Habana:
- Overview: This five-star hotel, housed in a historic building, offers European luxury with Cuban flair.
- Amenities: Rooftop pool, spa, gym, several high-end restaurants, and bars.
- Location: Positioned in the heart of Old Havana, providing easy access to major attractions.
- Iberostar Parque Central:
- Overview: A colonial-style hotel renowned for its central location and elegance.
- Amenities: Rooftop pool, multiple dining options, and panoramic city views.
- Location: Centrally located in Old Havana, adjacent to Central Park.
- Hotel Florida:
- Overview: A restored colonial mansion offering a blend of history and modern comforts.
- Amenities: Central courtyard, bar, and proximity to lively streets.
- Location: Nestled in the heart of Old Havana, steps away from Obispo Street.
- Hotel Terral:
- Overview: A boutique hotel with a contemporary design.
- Amenities: Rooms with sea views, on-site restaurant, and a modern ambiance.
- Location: Situated on the Malecón, offering spectacular sunset views.
- Hotel Ambos Mundos:
- Overview: Famous for being a favorite haunt of Ernest Hemingway.
- Amenities: Rooftop bar, historical charm, and a restaurant.
- Location: Located in Old Havana, close to Plaza de Armas and the Cathedral.
Casa Particulares (Guesthouses):
- Casa Vitrales:
- Overview: A charming guesthouse known for its hospitality and beautiful decor.
- Amenities: Rooftop terrace, cozy rooms, and traditional Cuban breakfasts.
- Location: A quiet spot in Old Havana, yet close to major attractions.
- Casa de Miriam y Sinai:
- Overview: Offers a homely atmosphere with local insights.
- Amenities: Home-cooked meals, personalized tours, and a family-friendly environment.
- Location: Situated in Central Havana, providing an authentic neighborhood feel.
- La Rosa de Ortega:
- Overview: A beautiful B&B with vintage charm and modern facilities.
- Amenities: Pool, spacious rooms, and a garden.
- Location: Located in a quieter part of Havana, a short drive from the city center.
- Hostal Peregrino:
- Overview: Popular among backpackers, offering a social atmosphere.
- Amenities: Communal kitchen, organized tours, and shared lounges.
- Location: Situated in Old Havana, close to vibrant streets and eateries.
- Casa Caribe Havana Hostel:
- Overview: A lively hostel with a mix of dormitories and private rooms.
- Amenities: Rooftop terrace, bar, and salsa lessons.
- Location: Located in the heart of Havana, near the Malecón.
- Rolling Backpackers Hostel:
- Overview: Known for its friendly vibe and clean facilities.
- Amenities: Free breakfast, organized outings, and a communal kitchen.
- Location: Nestled in Vedado, a short walk from major attractions.
When choosing accommodations in Havana, it’s essential to consider the kind of experience you desire. Luxury hotels offer a taste of Havana’s bygone glamor, mid-range hotels provide modern conveniences in historical settings, casa particulares give a glimpse into Cuban life, and hostels are perfect for those seeking a communal, budget-friendly stay. Whatever your preference, Havana promises a memorable stay amidst its vibrant culture and timeless charm.
source: Laura Reid on YouTube
Havana 3-4 Days Travel Itinerary
Havana, with its rich history, eclectic architecture, and vibrant culture, is a city that requires immersive exploration. If you have 3 to 4 days in this colorful capital, here’s a detailed itinerary that ensures you make the most of your visit:
Day 1: Dive Deep into Old Havana
- Plaza de Armas: Start your day with a leisurely walk in this square, known for its historical significance and lively book market.
- Cathedral de San Cristóbal: Marvel at the beauty of this Baroque church, a testament to Havana’s colonial past.
Lunch: Dine at El Patio, a popular restaurant overlooking Plaza de Armas, known for its traditional Cuban dishes.
- Plaza Vieja: Explore this vibrant square, filled with art galleries, cafes, and colorful buildings.
- Calle Obispo: Stroll along this bustling pedestrian street filled with music, shops, and local life.
- Museum of the City (Museo de la Ciudad): Gain insights into Havana’s history, culture, and art.
- Plaza de San Francisco: A tranquil square, perfect for a quiet evening walk.
- Dinner at Paladar Los Mercaderes: This restaurant offers a mix of Cuban and international dishes in a colonial setting. Don’t miss their seafood options!
- Tropicana Cabaret Show: Witness a dazzling show filled with music, dance, and flamboyant costumes.
Day 2: Vedado and Modern Havana
- Hotel Nacional de Cuba: Visit this iconic hotel, steeped in history. Their garden terrace is ideal for a morning coffee.
- University of Havana: Explore this neoclassical campus, a hub of academic and revolutionary history.
Lunch: Relish Cuban flavors at El Cocinero, a trendy spot paired with Fábrica de Arte Cubano.
- Revolution Square (Plaza de la Revolución): See the vast square marked by historical monuments and murals.
- John Lennon Park: A quirky little spot with a statue of the famous Beatle.
- Malecón: A long seaside esplanade. Perfect for an evening stroll as you watch the sunset over the ocean.
- Dinner at La Guarida: A renowned paladar set in a dilapidated mansion, known for its innovative Cuban dishes.
- Fábrica de Arte Cubano: A nightlife hub combining art galleries, music, and dance clubs. Perfect for mingling with locals and fellow travelers.
Day 3: Cuban Culture and Coastal Vistas
- Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes: Dive deep into Cuban art from colonial times to contemporary works.
Lunch: Visit Café Laurent for a fusion of Cuban and Mediterranean cuisine and panoramic city views.
- Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña: A historic fortress offering sweeping views of Havana. Be there by sunset for the daily cannon firing ceremony.
- El Morro Castle: A UNESCO World Heritage site, this fort is significant for its maritime history.
- Dinner at San Cristobal Paladar: Located in a century-old mansion, enjoy their delectable seafood and meat offerings.
- Casa de la Música: Get your salsa shoes on and dance the night away with live music.
Day 4: A Day of Leisure and Last-minute Discoveries
- El Capitolio: Visit Havana’s Capitol building, inspired by its Washington D.C. counterpart.
Lunch: O’Reilly 304: This hip spot offers a fresh take on Cuban classics and is known for its gin cocktails.
- Havana Forest: Take a relaxed walk in this lush urban forest, a stark contrast to the city’s bustling streets.
- Mercado de Artesanía: For last-minute souvenirs, this craft market offers handmade items, artworks, and trinkets.
- Final dinner at Doña Eutimia: Nestled in a small alley near the cathedral, this spot offers hearty Cuban dishes in a cozy setting.
- El Floridita: End your trip sipping daiquiris at one of Hemingway’s favorite haunts.
Note: Remember to intersperse your itinerary with spontaneous stops at local coffee shops, street music performances, and impromptu salsa dances. The magic of Havana often lies in the unplanned moments!
source: Expedia on YouTube
Where To Visit After Your Trip To Havana?
After soaking in the charms of Havana, the urge to further explore Cuba or nearby Caribbean destinations can be compelling. Here are several outstanding places to consider for the next leg of your journey:
- Overview: A picturesque town located in the Pinar del Río province, Viñales is famed for its stunning valleys, tobacco farms, and limestone mountains (mogotes).
- Activities: Visit a tobacco farm to learn about cigar-making, explore the Cueva del Indio cave system, and hike or horseback ride through Viñales Valley.
- Travel: Approximately 2.5 hours by car or bus from Havana.
- Overview: A UNESCO World Heritage site, Trinidad is a beautifully preserved colonial town with cobbled streets and pastel-colored houses.
- Activities: Wander around Plaza Mayor, visit the Palacio Cantero museum, explore the nearby Valle de los Ingenios, and dance the night away at Casa de la Musica.
- Travel: About 4 hours by car or bus from Havana.
- Overview: Dubbed “The Pearl of the South,” this coastal city boasts French colonial architecture and a tranquil bay.
- Activities: Walk along the Paseo del Prado, visit the Palacio de Valle, and take a boat trip in the Bay of Cienfuegos.
- Travel: Approximately 3 hours by car or bus from Havana.
- Overview: Known for its all-inclusive resorts and pristine beaches, Varadero is a haven for those looking for sun, sand, and sea.
- Activities: Lounge on the beach, indulge in water sports, and explore the Bellamar Caves.
- Travel: About 2 hours by car or bus from Havana.
- Overview: Situated on the eastern tip of Cuba, Baracoa is the island’s oldest Spanish settlement and is renowned for its lush landscapes and Afro-Cuban heritage.
- Activities: Hike the El Yunque mountain, savor local cuisine like the coconut-infused “cucurucho,” and explore the archaeological site of Cueva Del Paraiso.
- Travel: Baracoa is best reached by a flight from Havana to the nearby Gustavo Rizo Airport.
- Santiago de Cuba:
- Overview: Cuba’s second-largest city and the heart of its musical rhythm, Santiago boasts a profound historical legacy and Afro-Caribbean essence.
- Activities: Visit the Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca, a UNESCO World Heritage fortress. Explore Parque Céspedes, the city’s central square, and immerse yourself in Cuban music at Casa de la Trova.
- Travel: About 1.5 hours by flight from Havana.
Nearby Caribbean Destinations:
- Cayman Islands:
- Overview: Located south of Cuba, these islands are a paradise for divers and beach lovers.
- Activities: Dive in the world-famous Stingray City, explore the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, and relax on Seven Mile Beach.
- Travel: Short flights available from Havana to Grand Cayman.
- Overview: Known for its reggae music, vibrant culture, and stunning landscapes, Jamaica is an immersive Caribbean experience.
- Activities: Visit the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston, take a dip in the Blue Lagoon, and enjoy the nightlife in Montego Bay.
- Travel: Direct flights are available from Havana to Kingston or Montego Bay.
- Dominican Republic:
- Overview: Sharing the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, the Dominican Republic boasts diverse landscapes, from beaches to mountains.
- Activities: Wander around the historic Zona Colonial in Santo Domingo, relax on the beaches of Punta Cana, and hike in El Yunque rainforest.
- Travel: Direct flights from Havana to Santo Domingo or Punta Cana.
- Mexico – Cancún and Tulum:
- Overview: The Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico offers a blend of Mayan history, turquoise waters, and vibrant city life.
- Activities: Explore the ancient ruins of Chichén Itzá, swim in cenotes, and enjoy the beachfront archaeological sites in Tulum.
- Travel: Direct flights from Havana to Cancún.
- Overview: A blend of Central American jungles and Caribbean shores, Belize offers a distinct cultural and ecological experience.
- Activities: Dive the Great Blue Hole, visit ancient Mayan ruins like Xunantunich, and trek through the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary.
- Travel: Direct flights from Havana to Belize City.
- Puerto Rico:
- Overview: This U.S. territory has a rich fusion of Taíno, African, and Spanish cultures, evident in its traditions, music, and cuisine.
- Activities: Roam the cobbled streets of Old San Juan, experience the bioluminescence of Mosquito Bay in Vieques, and indulge in local delicacies like mofongo.
- Travel: Direct flights from Havana to San Juan.
- The Bahamas:
- Overview: Comprising over 700 islands and cays, The Bahamas is renowned for its clear waters, vibrant reefs, and colonial history.
- Activities: Dive into the Dean’s Blue Hole, lounge on the pink sands of Harbour Island, and dive or snorkel in the Thunderball Grotto.
- Travel: Direct flights from Havana to Nassau.
- Overview: With its colonial cities, vast lakes, and volcanic landscapes, Nicaragua is Central America’s gem.
- Activities: Stroll around the city of Granada, surf in San Juan del Sur, and hike the Masaya Volcano.
- Travel: Direct flights from Havana to Managua.
After experiencing the rhythms and hues of Havana, these destinations ensure that your Caribbean journey continues to be filled with culture, history, and breathtaking natural beauty. Each location, whether within Cuba or in the broader Caribbean region, offers a unique adventure waiting to be discovered.
Havana Travel Guide: Final Thoughts
Steeped in history, alive with color, and pulsating to the beats of salsa, rumba, and son, Havana stands as a testament to time’s enduring dance. Its decaying colonial buildings, animated streets, and the resilience of its people capture the imagination of every traveler. But what is it about Havana that continues to allure visitors from all over the world? Here are our final reflections on this incredible city:
A City Caught Between Time Periods:
In many ways, Havana is a city that has been frozen in time. Classic American cars from the 1950s navigate the streets beside modern vehicles. Colonial-era mansions and plazas remind visitors of a bygone era, even as new businesses and contemporary art spaces pop up. This temporal blend gives Havana its unique character and charm, making every street corner a juxtaposition of the old and the new.
Vibrant Cultural Scene:
Havana’s cultural richness is unparalleled. Whether it’s the soulful melodies of a street musician, the passionate steps of salsa dancers, or the profound works at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, the city is a melting pot of artistic expressions. Fábrica de Arte Cubano, a combined art gallery, nightclub, and cultural space, embodies Havana’s evolving and dynamic arts scene.
The Spirit of Resilience:
Beyond the music and architecture, it’s the spirit of the Habaneros – the residents of Havana – that leaves the most lasting impression. Despite economic hardships and political challenges, the Cuban spirit of resilience, community, and joy is evident in the everyday interactions, shared laughter, and stories of the city’s inhabitants.
Incredible Culinary Evolution:
While Cuba wasn’t traditionally known for its culinary prowess, over the past decade, Havana has witnessed a gastronomic revolution. Paladares (privately owned restaurants) have sprung up throughout the city, offering everything from traditional Cuban dishes to international fusion cuisine. The culinary scene in Havana now rivals some of the best in the Caribbean.
Not to be overshadowed by its urban charm, Havana’s natural beauty, from its sun-kissed beaches to the Malecón – its famous oceanfront promenade – is a refreshing retreat. The coastal sunsets, with their radiant hues reflecting on the dilapidated charm of the cityscape, are sights to behold.
Traveling to Havana is more than just a trip; it’s a profound journey into the heart of a nation that has faced many challenges and yet stands proud and vibrant. The city invites you to look beyond the superficial, to engage in meaningful conversations, to dance without inhibition, and to immerse yourself in its soul.
While many cities are defined by their skylines, landmarks, or economic prowess, Havana’s essence lies in the heartbeat of its streets, the stories of its elders, and the aspirations of its youth. As you bid farewell to this mesmerizing city, you carry with you not just photographs or souvenirs but a piece of Havana’s indomitable spirit.
So, as the Cubans say, “Hasta la victoria siempre!” – Until victory, always! Let Havana’s spirit of resilience, joy, and hope inspire you long after your journey ends.