I had always dreamed of visiting, tropical Cuba! Much is said about this country that has been ‘frozen in time’, and also where salsa and daiquiris were born. Here are 10 things I recommend doing in Havana, Cuba and a few helpful tips when traveling to the country so that you make the most out of your trip!
1. Go cruising in a classic car down the Malecon. Take a ride down the infamous Malecon and watch the waves crash against the seawall. Most of the Taxi drivers there have classic cars and you can find many of them lined up in Parque Central. Find a colourful convertible that took guests to the Chanel resort presentation last year, they are proud to have the logo on their window!
(Photos from my taxi drive, the Malecon coast and cars in Parque Central)
2. Visit a Museum. I had a chance to visit a few, my favorite was the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes – Arte Cubano, which is spread over two campuses, the Bellas Artes is arguably the finest art gallery in the Caribbean, and displays purely Cuban contemporary art.
3. Eat dinner at La Guarida. Cuba’s most charming and famous restaurant and the set of the Academy Award-nominated film Strawberries and Chocolate. Go during sunset and enjoy the spectacular views of the city.
(Photos from La Guarida Restaurant)
4. Smoke a Cigar – It’s something that has to be done! Although don’t smoke or inhale, you should ‘puff’ on a cigar. The reason is because Cuban Tobacco is very strong and can cause you to have a headache if inhaled. Also don’t buy Cigars from street vendors, most are known to be counterfeit or fake.
(Photo of Cuban street woman smoking a cigar)
5. Drink a Mojito – And make sure they contain the authentic Havana Club Rum for a true experience. Top places to enjoy a Mojito include the Hotel Nacional de Cuba – where the likes of Churchill, Al Capone, Sinatra, Ava Gardner and Nat King Cole supped the good stuff with a beautiful view of the harbour, the sea wall and the city. 304 O’Reilly, and La Fontana are other great places to enjoy a Mojito or two.
(Photo of Hotel Nacional de Cuba)
6. Go to a show. A latin burlesque kind of show full of song, salsa and colour. The Parisian, Tropicana or Buena Vista are the most famous. As time was limited, we went to Tropicana, it was lovely and something you have to see when in Havana, another tip, don’t be shy and ask to switch seats if you don’t like where they put you!
8. Have a beach day. If you are in Havana, you have to go to the beach for at least 1 day. There are not too many beaches in the town, most are a bit further away, but I was able to find one that was about 25 minutes from Havana called Cayo Santa Maria. Taxis go there for around 8 Cuc or less. You can also catch a bus there from Parque Central for 5 Cuc. It’s a beautiful beach with restaurants, so you can really enjoy yourself.
(Photo of Cayo Santa Maria)
9. Walk around Havana Vieja. Havana Vieja translates to “old Havana”, even though it’s one of the most newly renovated areas. It’s what I would call the “touristy area” because it has a lot of new hotels, restaurants, landmarks, etc. You can see the famous capitol building, that looks almost identical to the U.S. capitol, walk around the cobblestone streets, and check out one of the many restaurants or little souvenir shops that are on every block.
(Photos of Havana Vieja)
Shop my look, the Tala Dress
10. Explore the rest of the country. Cuba is more than La Habana and there are plenty of stunning places to visit such as Vinales, Trinidad, Cienfuegos, Buenavista, Varadero and Santiago de Cuba which I’ve heard are all beautiful. I ended up taking a bus tour to Vinales for 67 CUC which I highly recommend. They took us to a rum factory, cigar farm and a boat ride through a cave. Although it’s a very touristy thing to do, I think it’s worth going if it’s your first time visiting. You can set up bus tours at any hotel in the Parque Central, or you can take a Taxi.
(Photos of my visit to the Rum factory, boat ride through the cave, and Vinales view point)
Some helpful tips before you go:
- Manage your expectations. I had heard a lot about Cuba, but being there and experiencing it is a different story. However, there are several commodities modern-life has that look like they should be there but their existence is a mere illusion!
- Take cash (not $ though!). Loads. Even to pay your hotel bill as many hotels simply won’t accept credit cards. Don’t bother taking dollars as you will be taxed 13% on the exchange, they gladly take euros. To avoid the tax, I exchanged my US dollars to Canadian currency and exchanged to CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso) when I entered the country. You can exchange to CUC at any hotel but keep in mind they charge a commission, so to get a better rate try to find a Cuban bank in your area.
- Cuba is overall very safe. What many people do is “friend you” and try to either sell you something or take you somewhere where they can receive a commission for your purchase. Cubans are wonderful, honest people. However, those who approach you out-of-the-blue are looking to hustle you! Don’t be afraid to say no to them.
- What to wear. Fashion is very casual, wear things that are comfortable and not too revealing. People are catholic and although you can walk about wearing shorts and a tank, make sure they’re not ‘too much’. Depending on when you go, think about the tropical weather, pack lightweight loose clothing, comfortable shoes and don’t forget your umbrella!
- Negotiate before hand. Overall, Cuba can be quite cheap, but tourism being the primary source of wealth for many makes you the target for over zealous street vendors. However, be kind, understand this is how they make their living and in a way you’re almost doing some charity by helping them out. They are in a difficult situation and just trying to make the best of it in difficult times.
- Wifi/Internet. WiFi hotspots can be found in every town at the squares/parks. In addition there are also WiFi hotspots in the bigger hotels. You can easily see if a square/park has WiFi or not – everywhere people will be starring into their phones. These networks are provided by the government communication provider ETECSA. A internet prepaid card for 2 CUC will give you 1 hour internet access. Don’t forget to logout once you you’re done using it, or your credit runs out. Don’t expect the internet to be stable, really fast or the login to work smoothly. Its Cuba!
Shop a few of my other favorite looks for Cuba on velvetheart.com