Your Ultimate Havana Travel Guide 2024
Havana is an exciting and vibrant city with plenty to explore. From its beautiful colonial architecture to its lively nightlife, Havana has something to offer every kind of traveler. With this insider’s guide to Havana, you’ll be able to uncover the city’s hidden gems and get the most out of your trip. You’ll learn about the best restaurants, markets, and attractions in the city, as well as tips and advice on how to navigate Havana like a local. Get ready to dive into the culture and history of one of the most captivating cities in the Caribbean. You may also want to check out our Montego Bay travel guide!
Top 5 Things To See And Do In Havana
- Old Havana: This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a must-visit for any traveler to Havana. Wander through its cobbled streets, take in the colonial architecture and marvel at the historic plazas, including the famous Plaza Vieja. Don’t miss the chance to visit some of the many museums, churches and other cultural sites in this part of the city.
- El Malecon: This 5-mile long seawall stretches along the Havana coastline, and is a popular spot for locals and tourists alike. Take a stroll or catch a sunset while watching the waves crash against the wall. It’s also a great place to experience Havana’s vibrant street life.
- Museo Nacional De Bellas Artes: Havana is home to several museums, but this one stands out as a showcase of the best of Cuban art. Its extensive collection includes works from pre-Columbian times to contemporary pieces, and the building itself is an architectural gem.
- The Capitol Building: Modeled after the US Capitol in Washington, D.C., this impressive building was the seat of government until the Revolution in 1959. It has since been restored to its former grandeur and now serves as the home of the Cuban Academy of Sciences.
- Cigar Factory Tour: Cuba is known for its high-quality cigars, and a tour of one of Havana’s many cigar factories is a fascinating glimpse into this industry. You’ll learn about the different types of tobacco and how the cigars are made, and maybe even have the chance to sample some of the finished product. Just be sure to check ahead for availability and any required reservations.
Where To Stay In Havana
- Habana Vieja: Habana Vieja, also known as Old Havana, is the historical center of Havana and is known for its charming, colonial architecture. If you want to be in the heart of the city and experience the culture and history of Havana, this is the place to stay. It’s home to numerous attractions like the Museum of the Revolution and the Capitol Building.
- Centro Habana: Centro Habana is a lively, vibrant neighborhood with a mix of residential and commercial areas. It’s located between Old Havana and Vedado, making it an ideal base to explore both areas. The neighborhood has an authentic Cuban feel and is an excellent place to experience local life.
- Vedado: Vedado is an upscale neighborhood located in the center of Havana. It’s known for its modern architecture, lush greenery, and bustling nightlife. If you’re looking for a more contemporary atmosphere and luxurious accommodations, this is the perfect neighborhood for you.
- Miramar: Miramar is a peaceful, upscale neighborhood located west of Havana. It’s known for its grand mansions and affluent residents. The area offers a quieter, more relaxed atmosphere and is an excellent option for families or those looking for a more upscale stay.
- Playa: Playa is a beachfront neighborhood located west of Havana. It’s known for its stunning beaches and beachfront properties, making it an excellent choice for a relaxing vacation. It’s a quieter area, but still offers plenty of restaurants and nightlife options.
Top Havana Hotels
- Hotel Nacional De Cuba: Built in 1930, this landmark hotel is situated on a hill overlooking the Malecon, Havana’s famous seafront promenade. It has played host to numerous celebrities over the years, including Frank Sinatra, Winston Churchill, and Ava Gardner. The hotel boasts spacious rooms with elegant furnishings, and its lush gardens and swimming pool provide a tranquil escape from the bustling city.
- Hotel Saratoga: Located in the heart of Old Havana, Hotel Saratoga is a boutique hotel with a rooftop swimming pool and bar that offers stunning views of the city. The rooms are spacious and elegantly decorated, with marble bathrooms and plush bedding. The hotel is also home to a spa and fitness center, making it a great choice for those looking to unwind.
- Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski La Habana: This newly opened hotel is located in a historic building in the heart of Old Havana, just steps from the famous Cathedral Square. The rooms are spacious and modern, with marble bathrooms and high-end amenities. The hotel also has a rooftop terrace with a pool and bar, as well as several restaurants and a spa.
- Iberostar Parque Central: This luxury hotel is situated in the heart of Havana’s Central Park, within walking distance of many of the city’s top attractions. The rooms are modern and spacious, with marble bathrooms and high-end amenities. The hotel also boasts a rooftop pool and bar, as well as several restaurants and a fitness center.
- Hotel Raquel: This beautiful hotel is located in the heart of Havana’s Jewish Quarter, within walking distance of many of the city’s top attractions. The rooms are elegantly decorated with antique furnishings and art, and the hotel has a rooftop terrace with stunning views of the city. The hotel also boasts a bar and restaurant serving traditional Cuban cuisine.
Where To Eat In Havana
Havana is a city that has plenty to offer when it comes to dining options. From street food to high-end restaurants, you can find it all here. Here are the top five places to eat in Havana:
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- La Guarida: This restaurant, located in a dilapidated mansion in Central Havana, is famous for being the location where the film “Strawberry and Chocolate” was filmed. The décor is eclectic and the menu is upscale, with dishes like smoked marlin and duck breast.
- Paladar Los Mercaderes: This charming restaurant is located in the heart of Old Havana. The décor is classic and cozy, and the menu features a mix of traditional Cuban dishes and international cuisine. Try the ropa vieja (shredded beef in a tomato sauce) or the lobster tail.
- Doña Eutimia: This family-owned restaurant in Old Havana serves traditional Cuban cuisine at affordable prices. The menu is extensive, but make sure to try the ropa vieja and the flan for dessert.
- El Cocinero: Located in the trendy Vedado neighborhood, El Cocinero is housed in a converted oil factory. The décor is industrial-chic and the menu features creative dishes like octopus with potato puree and chive oil.
- Café Laurent: This rooftop restaurant in Vedado boasts stunning views of the city and an innovative menu. Try the duck with honey and balsamic reduction or the grilled octopus with avocado and tomato salad.
No matter where you choose to eat in Havana, you’re sure to have a memorable dining experience.
How To Get Around Havana
Havana is a sprawling city with a wide variety of transportation options available to visitors. From classic cars to bicycles, here are some of the best ways to get around the city:
- Classic Cars: One of the most iconic ways to explore Havana is in a classic car. These colorful vintage cars are available for hire throughout the city, and offer a unique and unforgettable way to explore the city. Prices can vary depending on the model of the car and the duration of your ride.
- Taxis: Taxis are plentiful in Havana and are a quick and convenient way to get around. They can be hailed on the street or called by phone, and prices are negotiable, so it’s a good idea to confirm the fare before getting in the taxi.
- Bus: Havana has an extensive network of buses that run throughout the city. While they can be crowded and sometimes slow, they are an affordable way to get around. Bus fares are paid in Cuban pesos, and it’s important to note that the buses are often very crowded.
- Bicitaxis: Bicitaxis are bicycle taxis that are a popular and eco-friendly way to explore the city. They can be found throughout Havana, and fares are negotiable. Bicitaxis can be a great option for shorter distances or for exploring narrow streets that cars can’t access.
- Renting A Bike: If you prefer to explore on your own, renting a bike can be a great option. There are several rental shops in Havana, and prices are affordable. It’s important to note that Havana’s streets can be chaotic and crowded, so biking in the city requires some caution and attention.
Overall, there are plenty of transportation options available in Havana to suit every preference and budget. Whether you’re looking for an iconic ride in a classic car or prefer to explore on your own two wheels, Havana is a city that is easy and fun to get around.
Havana has a tropical climate, which means that the city experiences warm and humid weather all year round. However, the weather can vary slightly from season to season.
- Spring (March to May): During spring, the temperature in Havana ranges from 20°C to 28°C (68°F to 82°F). This is one of the best times to visit Havana, as the weather is warm and sunny with minimal rainfall. The sea temperature is also warm, making it ideal for swimming and water activities.
- Summer (June to August): Summer in Havana is hot and humid, with temperatures ranging from 24°C to 32°C (75°F to 90°F). This is also the rainy season in Havana, with frequent afternoon showers and thunderstorms. Despite the heat and humidity, many tourists still choose to visit Havana during this time, as the beaches and outdoor activities are in full swing.
- Fall (September to November): Fall is still warm in Havana, with temperatures ranging from 23°C to 30°C (73°F to 86°F). However, this season is also prone to hurricanes and tropical storms, which can bring heavy rainfall and strong winds. It’s important to keep an eye on weather updates and take necessary precautions if visiting during this season.
- Winter (December to February): Winter in Havana is mild, with temperatures ranging from 19°C to 26°C (66°F to 79°F). This is the driest season in Havana, with low humidity and comfortable temperatures for outdoor activities. The sea temperature is also cooler, but still pleasant for swimming.
Overall, Havana’s weather is generally warm and humid, with occasional rain showers and storms. It’s important to check the weather forecast before traveling and pack accordingly. Regardless of the season, there is always something to see and do in Havana.
Best Time To Visit Havana
Havana is a year-round destination, but the best time to visit is between November and April, during the dry season. The weather is comfortable during this time, with temperatures ranging from 70 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. It is important to note that December to February is peak season, so expect higher prices and larger crowds.
The rainy season is from May to October, with June to August being the wettest months. However, the rain usually only lasts a few hours in the afternoon and does not typically affect plans too much. The temperatures during this time are hotter, with highs in the mid to high 80s and lows in the mid to high 70s. The humidity can also be quite high, so make sure to pack accordingly.
Overall, the best time to visit Havana depends on what you are looking for. If you want to avoid the crowds and get better prices, visiting during the off-season may be best. If you want to experience the vibrant atmosphere and events such as the Havana Jazz Festival, visiting during peak season may be the better option. Regardless of when you go, Havana is sure to be a fascinating and unique destination.
How To Stay Safe In Havana
While Havana is generally a safe city, it’s still important to take some precautions to ensure a safe and enjoyable trip. Here are some tips for staying safe in Havana:
- Be Aware Of Your Surroundings: Always be aware of your surroundings, especially when walking around at night. Stick to well-lit areas and avoid walking alone in quiet areas.
- Keep Your Valuables Safe: Avoid carrying large amounts of cash or expensive jewelry with you. Keep your wallet and other valuables in a secure place such as a hotel safe.
- Be Cautious With Taxis: Use only official taxis and negotiate the fare before getting in. Avoid getting into unmarked taxis or accepting rides from strangers.
- Be Mindful Of Scams: Be wary of people who approach you on the street offering to sell you something or asking for money. These are common scams, and it’s best to avoid them.
- Follow Local Customs: Respect local customs and dress modestly when visiting religious sites. Also, be aware that public displays of affection are frowned upon in Cuba.
- Avoid Political Demonstrations: Political demonstrations can occur in Havana, and it’s best to avoid them as they can quickly turn violent.
By following these tips, you can help ensure a safe and enjoyable trip to Havana. Remember, while the city is generally safe, it’s always better to err on the side of caution.
Havana Customs and Etiquette
When traveling to Havana, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the local customs and etiquette. The people of Havana are known for their friendly and welcoming nature, but it’s important to show respect for their culture and traditions. Here are some key customs and etiquette tips to keep in mind during your visit:
- Greetings: When greeting someone in Havana, it’s customary to give a handshake or a hug depending on how well you know the person. It’s also common to greet someone with a kiss on the cheek, especially between women.
- Dress Code: Havana has a fairly casual dress code, but it’s important to dress appropriately when visiting religious sites or formal events. Women should avoid wearing short skirts or revealing clothing, while men should wear long pants and a shirt with a collar.
- Tipping: Tipping is common in Havana, but it’s important to keep in mind that the average wage in Cuba is relatively low. As a general rule, you can tip around 10% in restaurants and cafes, and a small tip for hotel staff.
- Language: While Spanish is the official language in Havana, many people speak English as well. It’s always appreciated if you try to speak some basic Spanish phrases, such as “por favor” (please) and “gracias” (thank you).
- Respect For The Revolution: Cuba is a communist country with a rich revolutionary history, so it’s important to show respect for their traditions and heroes. Avoid making any negative comments about Fidel Castro or Che Guevara, as this can be considered disrespectful.
By following these customs and etiquette tips, you can ensure that you have a pleasant and respectful visit to Havana. Remember to always show kindness and respect to the locals, and you’ll be sure to have an unforgettable experience in this vibrant and exciting city.
Other Things To Know About Havana
If you’re planning to visit Havana, it’s important to have some basic knowledge about the country, currency, language, and time zone. Cuba is located in the Caribbean, south of the United States, east of Mexico and west of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The country is known for its rich history, colorful architecture, vintage cars, and stunning beaches.
The official currency of Cuba is the Cuban Peso (CUP) and the Convertible Peso (CUC). As a traveler, you will most likely be using the CUC, which is pegged to the US dollar. However, it’s important to note that the local currency is required for certain purchases, such as street food and small souvenirs.
The official language of Cuba is Spanish, and it’s always a good idea to learn a few basic phrases to make your travels easier. English is also widely spoken in tourist areas, but outside of these areas, you may encounter communication barriers.
Havana is in the Eastern Standard Time (EST) time zone, which is 5 hours behind Coordinated Universal Time (UTC-5). This means that if it’s 12 pm in Havana, it’s 5 pm in London and 12 am in New York. By understanding these basic facts about Cuba and Havana, you’ll be better prepared for your travels and able to fully immerse yourself in the vibrant culture of this fascinating country.
Havana Travel Costs
Traveling to Havana can be affordable, but costs can quickly add up depending on where you stay, what you do, and how you get around. Here’s a breakdown of some typical expenses you can expect during your visit:
- Accommodation: Accommodation in Havana varies greatly, but generally, you can find budget options starting at around $20 per night for a casa particular (a private homestay). Mid-range hotels can cost anywhere from $50-$100 per night, and luxury hotels can cost upwards of $200 per night.
- Food and Drink: Cuban cuisine is delicious, and there are plenty of affordable options for dining in Havana. Street food and small cafes offer meals for around $5-$10, while sit-down restaurants can cost $20-$30 per meal. Local beer and rum are also reasonably priced at around $2-$3 per drink.
Activities: There are many things to do and see in Havana, from visiting historic landmarks to taking salsa lessons. Most attractions have entry fees ranging from $2-$10. Taxis are the most convenient way to get around, but they can be expensive. A ride within Havana typically costs around $5-$10.
Overall, traveling in Havana can be done on a budget, but it’s essential to plan your expenses carefully and set a budget before you arrive. Be aware that Cuban currency is a bit confusing for visitors, as there are two currencies in circulation: CUP and CUC. The CUC is the currency typically used by tourists and has a fixed exchange rate of $1 USD = 1 CUC. With a little bit of planning and savvy budgeting, you can enjoy all the amazing things that Havana has to offer without breaking the bank.
Finding Affordable Flights To Havana
If you’re on a tight budget, finding affordable flights to Havana is a must. The key to getting the best deals on flights to Havana is to be flexible with your travel dates. Generally, the cheapest time to fly to Havana is during the low season, which runs from May to October.
Another tip to finding affordable flights to Havana is to book your flights in advance. You can save a lot of money by booking your flights several months before your trip. Also, consider flying with budget airlines like JetBlue, Southwest, and Spirit as they often offer competitive rates.
To make sure you get the best deals on flights to Havana, you should sign up for alerts from travel websites. These alerts will notify you when there are discounted flights to Havana.
Finally, be open to flying from alternative airports. Flying from smaller airports can often be cheaper than flying from larger airports. For example, instead of flying out of Miami International Airport, consider flying out of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, which is just a short drive from Miami. Also, for example, you can fly from Cancun to Havana in around an around for a very affordable rate. Overall, finding affordable flights to Havana is all about being flexible and taking advantage of travel deals. With a little bit of planning, you can easily save money on your trip to Havana and have more cash to spend on exciting activities and experiences.
Backpacking Havana Suggested Budgets
Backpacking is an excellent way to experience the culture and history of Havana, and it can also be a budget-friendly way to explore the city. The cost of living in Havana is relatively affordable, but expenses can add up quickly if you’re not careful. Here are some suggested budgets for backpacking in Havana:
Low Budget: $25-40/day
If you’re on a tight budget, you can still enjoy Havana’s many offerings. Dorm rooms in hostels can be found for as little as $8 per night. A simple breakfast of coffee and a sandwich can be had for less than $2 at local cafes. A plate of rice and beans with chicken or pork will set you back around $4-5, while a beer costs approximately $2.
Mid-Range Budget: $40-60/day
For those looking to splurge a bit more, private rooms in budget guesthouses can be booked for around $20-30 per night. Expect to spend between $6-10 for a filling breakfast and a coffee. Lunch and dinner at mid-range restaurants or cafes cost around $8-10 per meal. A beer or mojito costs about $3.
Luxury Budget: $60-100+/day
If you have a larger budget, Havana has a range of luxurious accommodation options, including boutique hotels and villas. These can cost between $50-80 per night or more. Enjoy fine dining with a full three-course meal for $20-30, or try the famous Cuban cocktails at upscale bars and lounges for around $5-10 per drink.
Overall, the cost of backpacking in Havana can vary widely depending on your travel style, but there are plenty of ways to keep costs low while still experiencing all that this vibrant city has to offer. With a little bit of planning and budgeting, you can have an incredible time in Havana without breaking the bank.
Havana Money Saving Tips
Traveling to Havana can be a wonderful experience, but it can also be expensive. If you are traveling on a budget, you’ll be pleased to know that there are several money-saving tips that you can follow to make your trip more affordable.
- Take Public Transportation: Instead of taking taxis everywhere, save money by using public transportation like buses or shared taxis (known as “almendrones”).
- Eat Like A Local: Avoid touristy restaurants and try the local street food or paladares (small family-owned restaurants) to save money while experiencing authentic Cuban cuisine.
- Stay In A Casa Particular: These are private homes where the owners rent out rooms to travelers. It’s a great way to experience local life and save money on accommodations.
- Shop At Local Markets: Skip the high-end souvenir shops and head to local markets for unique and affordable souvenirs.
- Drink Local Rum And Beer: Imported alcohol can be pricey in Havana, so try the local brands like Havana Club rum and Cristal or Bucanero beer to save some money.
- Visit Free Attractions: Havana has plenty of free attractions like the Malecon seawall, Revolution Square, and street art tours. Take advantage of these to save money on entrance fees.
- Bargain With Vendors: If you’re shopping at a market or souvenir shop, don’t be afraid to negotiate prices. Many vendors expect it and it can save you some money.
- Avoid Peak Tourist Season: Prices for accommodations and tours can be much higher during peak tourist season (December-April). Consider traveling in the shoulder season to save money.
- Bring Your Own Toiletries: Basic toiletries like soap, shampoo, and toothpaste can be expensive in Havana, so bring your own to save some money.
- Exchange Money Wisely: Make sure to shop around for the best exchange rate and avoid exchanging money at hotels or airports where the rates are often inflated. Also, keep in mind that there is a 10% penalty fee for exchanging USD in Cuba, so consider bringing a different currency like euros or Canadian dollars instead.
What To Pack For Havana
Havana has a tropical climate, which means you’ll want to pack light and breathable clothing that is comfortable in warm weather. But keep in mind that it can get chilly in the evenings, so it’s a good idea to bring a light jacket or sweater. Here are some other things you’ll want to pack for your trip to Havana:
- Sunscreen: With the intense sun in Havana, it’s important to protect your skin. Pack sunscreen with at least SPF 30.
- Insect Repellent: Cuba has mosquitoes, especially during the rainy season. Bring a good insect repellent to keep them away.
- Comfortable Shoes: Havana’s streets are cobbled and uneven, so make sure you have comfortable walking shoes. You’ll be doing a lot of walking.
- Cash: Bring enough cash with you, as credit cards are not widely accepted in Cuba. Exchange your currency into Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) once you arrive in Havana.
- Medications: Pack any prescription medications you need, as they may not be readily available in Cuba. Bring over-the-counter remedies such as painkillers, anti-diarrheals, and cold medicines.
- Electrical Adapter: Cuban power outlets use the North American plug type, so you may need an adapter if you’re traveling from a country that uses a different plug.
- Water Bottle: Carry a reusable water bottle to stay hydrated during the day. While tap water in Havana is safe to drink, it may have a different taste than what you’re used to.
Remember to pack light and avoid bringing too many valuables. You don’t want to be weighed down with heavy bags while you’re exploring Havana. And if you forget anything, don’t worry. You’ll find many stores selling essentials throughout the city.
Can You Drink Tap Water In Havana?
When it comes to drinking water in Havana, it is recommended to avoid tap water. This is because the tap water in Havana is not treated to the same standards as in other countries, and can contain harmful bacteria that can cause illnesses like diarrhea, stomach upset, and other water-borne diseases. To stay safe, it is best to stick to bottled water, which is readily available at most stores, supermarkets, and restaurants in Havana. You can also opt for water filtration devices such as a water purifier or a SteriPEN, which can be handy for travelers who plan on camping or trekking.
While you are exploring Havana, be mindful of water usage and waste, as water scarcity is a major concern in Cuba. This means you should avoid leaving taps running, taking excessively long showers, and avoid using more water than you need. Not only does this help conserve water resources, but it is also respectful towards the local environment. In summary, while tap water in Havana may be safe for washing and showering, it is not recommended for drinking. Stick to bottled water, and be mindful of your water usage to help conserve resources.
Other Things To See And Do In Havana
If you have extra time in Havana, there are plenty of other things to see and do beyond the top 5 mentioned earlier. Here are some additional suggestions to make the most out of your trip:
- Visit The Museum Of The Revolution: This museum, located in the former Presidential Palace, tells the story of Cuba’s revolution from the late 19th century to the present day.
- Take A Tour Of A Cigar Factory: Cuba is famous for its cigars, and you can learn more about the production process by taking a guided tour of a factory in Havana.
Walk Along The Malecon: This 8 km long seawall is a popular spot for locals to gather and watch the sunset. Take a leisurely stroll along the water and enjoy the lively atmosphere.
- Check Out The Street Art In Callejon De Hamel: This narrow alleyway is covered in colorful murals and sculptures, created by local artists as a celebration of Afro-Cuban culture.
- Take A Day Trip To Vinales: This picturesque town, located about 2.5 hours west of Havana, is surrounded by lush green hills and is known for its tobacco farms and stunning natural scenery.
- Explore The Historic Center Of Havana: Take a self-guided walking tour of Old Havana and marvel at the beautiful colonial architecture, cobblestone streets, and charming plazas.
- See A Show At The Tropicana Cabaret: This legendary nightclub has been entertaining guests since 1939 with its extravagant musical performances and vibrant costumes.
There is no shortage of things to see and do in Havana, and these additional suggestions will help you create an unforgettable itinerary. So pack your bags and get ready to discover all the wonders that Havana has to offer!
The Bottom Line
Exploring Havana, Cuba is a unique and exciting experience that shouldn’t be missed. With a vibrant culture, beautiful architecture, and friendly locals, there’s so much to see and do in this fascinating city. From wandering the streets of Old Havana to sipping mojitos in the colorful local bars, there’s something for everyone here.
To make the most of your trip to Havana, it’s important to plan ahead and do your research. Whether you’re looking for the best places to eat, stay, or visit, there are plenty of resources available online to help you make the most of your trip. By taking the time to prepare in advance, you can ensure that you have a safe, fun, and unforgettable experience in Havana. You may also want to check out our Tamarindo, Costa Rica travel guide.
So what are you waiting for? Pack your bags, book your flight, and get ready to explore the beauty and charm of Havana, Cuba. With so much to see and do in this incredible city, you’re sure to have an amazing time and make memories that will last a lifetime. Don’t hesitate – start planning your trip today!