Havana Travel Guide

By Admin | Last Updated August 27, 2019

Havana is many things bundled into one. It is the capital of Cuba, a major port, and also the leading commercial centre of the country. It is a rich history. Havana is also the largest city in the Caribbean. Before 1950, Havana used to be a top tourist destination in the Caribbean, and was particularly popular with those coming from the United States. But, between 20,000 and 30,000 Americans continued visiting in spite of the embargo. Tourism has again become popular in the country since the 1990s. More than 4.5 million tourists visited Cuba in 2017, and almost all of them came to Havana.

The island capital has a population of 2,106,146 (2012). The dominant religion in Havana is Christianity, mainly Roman Catholicism. Creole is the most popular language. The cultural variations in Havana are diverse. You will find Whites (64%), Blacks (9.3%) and people of mixed origins or Mulatto (26.6%).

Culture, history, Spanish colonial architecture, food, museums, iconic landmarks, natural beauty… you will find everything in Havana. You will notice distinct Caribbean, African, Spanish, and American influences in the food. Make the city your base to visit the beautiful beach resorts, tropical islands with white sandy beaches, and the old colonial towns of Cuba.

A visit to Havana and Cuba will surely be a fulfilling experience. It is in the Caribbean region, and as beautiful as the other island countries. The rich culture, art, eventful history, and beautiful architecture add another element.

Havana was founded in the 16th century, displacing Santiago de Cuba as the most important city in Cuba. It became a major port for shipping, most importantly the Spanish fleet.

Havana – 12 Quick Facts

  1. Capital of Cuba – Havana is the capital and largest city of Cuba
  2. History – City established in the 16th century
  3. Population – 2,106,146
  4. Area – 281.18 square miles or 728.26 square kilometers
  5. 9th largest city in Latin America
  6. Time Zone – UTC−5 (UTC−05:00), Summer – UTC−4 (UTC−04:00)
  7. Currency – Cuban Convertible Peso or CUC.
  8. Nickname – Ciudad de la Columnas, which means ‘the city of columns’, referring to the Colonial architecture.
  9. UNESCO World Heritage site since 1982. More than 2,000 hectares of Western architectural exhibits.
  10. Safe for tourists – Havana is a safe city. The streets are heavily patrolled by police at all times. The government is strict regarding the rules.
  11. The Havana Suburban Railway is the most preferred passenger railway network, that serves the city of Havana. It is the only railway system in the Caribbean Island. 
  12. Earnest Hemingway lived near Havana for 20 years and at that time he wrote the popular ‘The Old Man and the Sea’. 

Top Reasons to Visit Havana

Culture Cuba is fascinating culturally. It is different than the neighboring Caribbean. It is also not the same as the other Latin American Spanish colonies. The culture has been influenced by socialist rule. American culture has also influenced Havana (1898-1958).
Live Music There is invigorating music on the streets. You will see musicians on the streets of Old Havana. Live performances at many restaurants and bars.
Salsa Join a salsa studio. Classes are held also in many hotels and restaurants.
Architecture Everything here… huge colonial time stone fortresses, old Spanish mansions, city squares, palatial homes, and lavish structures form the 20th century’s first half. You will see Art Deco and Baroque architecture.
Beaches The beaches are amazing. Miles of beautiful sandy beaches and turquoise sea. The Bibijagua Beach has black sand. Havana is just 10 minutes from the start of the strip known as Playas del Este.
Nearby Places Havana is close to Pinar del Rio and Varadero. Visit the Valley of Viñales in Pinar del Rio, one of the most famous tourist attractions. See the caves and karst hills. Also visit Cueva del Indio.
Old Havana Havana’s city center, Havana Vieja, is full of UNESCO World Heritage sites, many quaint restaurants and shops. Visit Plaza Vieja, Catedral de San Cristobal, El Capitolio, and Plaza de San Francisco.
Cigar Cuba is the world capital of cigar production. They are of the best quality too. Visit a tobacco plantation and see how the cigars are made.
Vintage Cars Spot 1950’s classic convertible in the city. There are so many of them. It is like a time warp. You can also drive in one of these cars.

 

Havana is home to the largest ballet school in the world. The Cuba National Ballet School has around 3,000 students.

Airports in Havana

Most tourists arrive in Cuba by flight. The Jose Marti International Airport is 15 kilometers south-west of the city. It is also the main connectivity with the rest of the Caribbean, Asia, Africa, America and Europe.

Terminals – There are 3 terminals.

  • Terminal 1 is mainly used for domestic flights.
  • Terminal 2, opened later, serves charter flights.
  • Terminal 3 is for international flights. It has the best modern facilities.

Getting Around

Plenty of options for you – buses, taxis, horse carriages, bikes, and yellow taxis.

  • Bus – Modern buses from China. The cost is 1 peso to anywhere in Havana. Sometimes it is even less. But the buses can be crowded. There are both government and private buses.
  • Taxis – The most convenient way of travel. Many are old American 1950 Chevys. Others are modern Mercedes, Skodas, and Peugeots. Remember, legally, tourists can only take an official government taxi. But many wave down old Ladas and Chevys. Negotiate the fare before you take an illegal taxi. Fares in both government and illegal taxis are the same.
  • Cars – You can easily rent a car, but it is best done through your hotel. You can also rent a vintage car at 35 CUC an hour. There are many one-ways in Havana. See the blue arrow signs.
  • Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus – There is one that takes you on a tour of Havana in a few hours. There are 3 routes with more than 60 stops. 10 CUC per person.

You can also ride on a horse-drawn carriage, rent a bike, cycle around town, or walk. Havana is a good city for walking.

Top 10 Places to Visit in Havana

  1. Revolution Square – It is the 31st largest city square in the world. Political rallies have been held here since the days of Fidel Castro. See the Jose Marti Memorial, the National Library, and the Palace of Revolution.
  2. Plaza De San Francisco – In the Old Havana area, this is one of the major public meeting places in the city. Visit the park and see the colonial buildings. A good place to understand the local culture.
  3. Paseo del Prado – Tree-lined Old Havana street, good for a stroll. The street is covered in terrazzo. You will see many marble benches, bronze lions, and iron lamp posts. Paseo del Prado takes you back to the old times. Visit the el Sevilla and the famous chapel – Palacio de los Matrimonios.
  4. Old Square – An Old Havana plaza. Many executions, bull fights, and fiestas have been held here. 
  5. Catedral of Havana – One of the 11 Catholic cathedrals in Havana. It was designed by Italian architect Francesco Borromini.
  6. Museum of Fine Arts – Built on the site of the former Mercado del Polvorin, the museum exhibits Cuban art collections. There is a hall dedicated to Cuban paintings.
  7. Museum of the Revolution – In Old Havana’s presidential palace.
  8. El Templete – First mass and town council, built in 1827. The décor and structure emulates the small Greco-Roman temples. See the oil paintings here.
  9. Havana’s Fortifications – Old Havana is the city-centre and one of the 15 municipalities in Havana. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. See the many forts built after Spanish invasion.
  10. Castle of the Royal Force – Impressive structure in Old Havana built to defend Havana against foreign invasions. It is the oldest stone fort in America.

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit Havana is from January to February. August is also a good time, because of the Carnival.

The island offers warm temperatures throughout the year, owing to its location. There are only two seasons in Havana, wet and dry. The dry season runs through winter in Havana and the wet season coincides with the hurricane season.

Havana Weather

Month High/Low (°C) Rain
January 26 / 16 6
February 27 / 17 5
March 28 / 18 5
April 30 / 19 6
May 31 / 21 8
June 32 / 22 14
July 32 / 22 12
August 32 / 22 13
September 31 / 22 13
October 30 / 20 10
November 28 / 19 7
December 27 / 18 6

 

Travel Tips for Havana

If you are travelling to Havana for the first time, then do keep the following in mind.

  • Get the visa. You will get the Cuba visa at any of the embassies, travel agencies or airline counters. The visa allows you to stay in the country for 30 days.
  • Brush up on your Spanish vocabulary.
  • Get everything in hard copy, as internet is hard to access in Cuba. And that includes GPS. You must have offline maps to help you navigate in the city.
  • Hotels are cheaper than many other cities in the western world. Hostels are rare.
  • Convert your cash into CUC, the local currency for tourists.
  • Save money by eating from local eateries. The night clubs are also cheaper, but some clubs will charge an entrance fee. Try to get a locally produced drink.
  • Plan a day trip to nearby places. Pinar del Rio and Varadero are both very good. You can also visit Trinidad and Vinales.
  • Always, take down the address of your Casa (the place where you are staying), to avoid getting lost in the city, especially if you don’t have at least a working knowledge of Spanish.