Havana, Cuba: First Time Traveler

The Basics

From Medellin to Havana, we took COPA airlines through Panama City. At the time we bought them (Oct 2016), they were about $450 USD round/trip. Check ahead of time for fare deals, and my solid rule is to always book flights mid-week for lower fares. A Colombian recommended the site Wingo for highly discounted flights as well.

Arrival in the airport can be a bit hectic. I would recommend having a pick-up planned in advance, as our casa particular offered. If you can, wait to exchange money at a CADECA in town instead of the airport as the exchange rate and fees are better.

As for lodging, I can only speak to the experience of casa particulares. In Cuba, it is the norm to stay in a local’s house for around $20-30 per night. For this price, you can expect your own bedroom, a bathroom (shared or not), a fridge (usually), and basic amenities like towels, soap, etc. While many of the casas we stayed in were old buildings, we felt they were clean and sufficient for our needs. Book casas ahead of time on Air Bnb or sites like this. It is helpful to note that once you are in Cuba, you cannot book via Air Bnb.

I recommend booking lodging ahead of time if you are traveling during peak seasons. However, we only booked about half of our nights, and were able to find lodging in every city. When you arrive, look for the blue anchor sign, which will let you know that rooms are offered there.

 

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In Havana, we stayed in Centro Habana, a few blocks from Malecon and Habana Vieja. It was just outside of the bright, tourist-lit area and filled with local restaurants that we enjoyed. If you choose to stay in Centro, I recommend picking a spot further north, closer to Malecon. You will have walking access to key sites and easy access to taxis if needed.

Internet is never free in Cuba. You can buy internet cards at Etesca shops or pay twice the price from guys on the corner (sometimes you opt for convenience!). We paid $1.50 for a 1-hour card. Some hotel lobbies will sell them as well, and have reliable wifi connection.

Get Your Adventure On

We stayed in Havana for 6 nights, and I could have spent more! It was my favorite city in Cuba for its variety of activities, local flavor, nightlife, and restaurants.

These activities were the highlights of Havana. Keep in mind that most museums and shops are closed on Sundays and Mondays!

Museo de Bellas Artes: This museum was the most impressive display in all of Cuba.While many museums lack luster, explanation, or basic structure, Bellas had it all. Two full buildings of paintings, sculptures, and modern installations kept us busy for an entire day.

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Malecon: This famous street hugs the coast of the city and attracts visitors of all kinds. We enjoyed the views at sunset, as well as morning runs with the sea splashing up.

Habana Vieja: We took a couple days to stroll through this part of the city. We wandered through plazas, stopped in shops, took photos of classic cars, and said ‘no’ to all the tourism offers (we prefer to discover on our own!). There is much to take in and enjoy here. We loved people-watching, finding live music, and trying local food.

Almacenes San José Artisans’ Market: Although I wasn’t excited for many souvenirs in Cuba, this market had a large collection of local painters and artists to view and purchase. Tip: large artwork requires an official stamp of purchase to take out, make sure your artist includes it.

Eats and Drinks

O’Reiley 304-Our favorite spot in Havana for seriously quality cuisine with fresh ingredients and the largest mojitos in Cuba. If that’s not enough to entice you, hands-down the best ceviche I’ve ever had!

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El Cubanito-Tucked into San Rafael street, we wouldn’t have noticed this spot except for the long line of locals. We grabbed meals here more than once. Tortilla (omelette), ham, salami, and pork burger options all made for a satisfying sandwich. Tip: These prices are in the local currency aka under a dollar!

La Japonesa-About 8 blocks east of the Capitol building, we noticed a small Japanese flag hanging outside this unique restaurant (Asian food in Cuba?? Unique is an understatement). Luckily prices were in the local currency and the fish Dong Katsu was simply delicious.

What Next?

Do you have more time in Cuba? Check out posts for information on:

Playa Larga, Cuba

Cienfuegos, Cuba

Trinidad, Cuba

 

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