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Travel Guide Caribbean Cuba Havana

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Introduction

Havana/Cuba

Havana/Cuba

© All Rights Reserved marlis

Havana is the capital of Cuba, a sprawling city of 3 million. It lies at the very northwest of the island. Most people start their trip in Havana and it has a pleasant old and worn feeling to it. The local mix of cigars, rum and music, combined with the numerous vintage cars still driving the Havana streets, has a huge attraction to people. The old town (Havana Vieja) is on the UNESCO world heritage list and as a consequence has been given extra attention with new bright colours painted on the beautifully restored buildings. A stroll along the different squares and small lanes in between with some brief stops for a cuba libre or mojito is one of the highlights of any visit to Cuba.

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Sights and Activities

  • Havana Vieja (old town)
  • El Capitolio is the Washington Capitol lookalike.
  • Catedral de San Cristobal de la Habana and Plaza de la Catedral
  • Castillo de la Real Fuerza
  • La Bodeguita del Medio is the famous bar where Hemingway had his drinks.
  • Plaza de La Revolucion
  • El Malecon - the water front of Havana

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Events and Festivals

Havana Jazz Festival

There are plenty of jazz events throughout the country at different times of the year, but the most well known is by far the Havana Jazz Festival in February. Taking place in Havana’s concert halls, there are also exciting and impromptu street performances. International names like Dizzy Gillespie and Max Roach have ensured that only the most famous grace its stage.

International Book Fair

Book worms will be pleased to know that the country’s literary scene is thriving and regularly cultivated. Starting in Havana in February, the fair travels around Cuba’s main cities. Bringing together the best in local and international literature, everything from stimulating panel discussions and book launches to poetry readings and concerts can be found.

Havana Carnaval

The Havana Carnaval, used to be held in February, but has since been moved to July. The main event is the parade in which neighborhood troupes perform and dance. Routines and costumes that have been worked on for a full year make their debut in a vibrant display of color and festivities. The wide array of Cuban food is reason in itself to be in Havana when it happens.

National Humor Festival

The National Humor Festival is held every year in early July in the capital city of Havana. It brings together some of the best comedians from around the country in a week filled with the laughs for days. The event also provides a nice reprieve from the sweltering temperatures in the hottest month of the year.

New Latin American International Film Festival

Held in early December, this film festival attracts hundreds of thousands of movie enthusiasts from around the globe every year. Taking place in Havana since 1979, many big names in the business have attended including the likes of Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola and Oliver Stone.

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Weather

Havana, like most of Cuba, has a hot and humid climate but with some significant differences between the summermonths of May to October and the wintermonths of November and April. Generally, the latter period is the best to visit with daytime temperatures averaging around 25 °C and nights dropping to around 17 °C or 18 °C. During summer, temperatures are about 5 °C to 7 °C higher and this is also the wet season, which basically starts in June and ends in October. The heat and high humidity combined can make it feel less comfortable walking around Havana during this time.

JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Avg Max25.8 °C26.1 °C27.6 °C28.6 °C29.8 °C30.5 °C31.3 °C31.6 °C31 °C29.2 °C27.7 °C26.5 °C
Avg Min18.6 °C18.6 °C19.7 °C20.9 °C22.4 °C23.4 °C23.8 °C24.1 °C23.8 °C23 °C21.3 °C19.5 °C
Rainfall64.4 mm68.6 mm46.2 mm53.7 mm98 mm182.3 mm105.6 mm99.6 mm144.4 mm180.5 mm88.3 mm57.6 mm
Rain Days553361079101165

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Getting There

By Plane

Havana's Jose Marti International Airport has a good deal of international flights from destinations throughout Canada, Europe, Central America and the Caribbean. Some of the main destinations include Managua, Moscow, Cancun, Toronto, Madrid, Paris, Miami, Milan, Rome, Frankfurt, Los Angeles, Panama City, Amsterdam, Mexico City, Santiago de Chile, New York City, Lima and London.

Cubana airlines has domestic flights to various destinations in Cuba. The most important routes are between Havana, Santiago de Cuba, Holguin, Santa Clara, Varadero and the islands of Cayo Largo del Sur and Caya Coco. Flights are usually with smaller planes, sometimes propeller types. Other options include Aero Caribbean and charter flights by Aero Gaviota.

Taxis and shuttles (often operated by hotels) are widely available at all terminals. There are several car rentals located in the Arrivals Area, the companies represented include Cubanacar, Fenix, Rent a Car, Rex (limousines and luxury cars), Transtur, and Via Rent-a-Car.

By Train

Trains travel between Havana and Santiago de Cuba and stop at several places in between. Although cheap and relatively comfortable, some trips are delayed or cancelled and can take ages. Check Seat61 Cuba for more information.

By Car

Although many people hire a car in Cuba, starting or ending in Havana, the city itself is not really one you want yourself driving in.
Hiring a car in Cuba will cost you from 33 to 106CUC per day. The car will have a special tourist plate, which means you will be required to give generous tips every time you park your car in a crowded place.

By Bus

Viazul is the national bus company and their are numerous connections from Havana to all major towns in Cuba, like Santa Clara, Vinales, Trinidad, Camaguey and Santiago de Cuba.

By Boat

Due to political circumstances, it is difficult to enter Cuba by sea. Visiting mariners need to make arrangements in advance of entering port to avoid difficulties. Also, most ports are closed to unauthorised visitors.

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Getting Around

By Car

Whilst useful for reaching some of the less central locations in Havana, the price of car hire will rarely be less than using taxis. Traffic is moderate, especially outside the rush hour. Do however expect to share the road space with a multitude of cyclists, pedestrians and poorly parked vehicles. Parking regulations are enforced in central Havana. There are many attended, on-street car parks, use them. Expect to pay 1CUC for parking.

By Taxi

As a tourist, the most convenient way of getting around Havana is by taxi. Some of the taxis are old American Chevys from the 1950s, others are (somewhat) newer Russian Ladas, whilst most tourist taxis are modern Peugeots, Skodas and even Mercedes.

It is illegal for tourists to ride in anything other than the official government taxis. However, it is often easier to wave down one of the old Chevys or Ladas. When riding in an illegal taxi, negotiate the fare ahead of time. The fare in illegal taxis will be no cheaper than the official taxi fare. Around the city, taking illegal taxis should be no problem. However, taking an illegal taxi to or from the airport may attract the attention of the police.

Taxi collectivos are the old, beaten-up yank-tanks with a taxi sign on the roof or in the front window. Tourists are not supposed to take them, but you will rarely run into problems and they are a fun and cheap alternative to the state-run taxis. They have set fares and run set routes, so you may need some assistance when taking them the first few times.

Fares vary from 10 CUP for a short (5 kilometres) run during the day to 20 CUP for a longer run or at night. The drivers are generally honest regarding the fares, but it is best not to appear oblivious by asking how much at the end of the trip. Always watch what the other passengers give: if in doubt, give only 10 CUP unless the driver asks for another 10. There can be a long wait trying to get a taxi collectivo as they are very popular with Cubans and often full, but the experience and the savings make it worthwhile.

Coco Taxis and yellow three wheel motorbikes are a cheap way of getting around central Havana.

By Public Transport

The cost of riding the city bus is 0.40 CUP to anywhere in the city. That is one national peso rides two people (the driver will not give you change). Almost all buses are overcrowded, there are plenty of buses running though, so if the one you want is full simply wait for the next one (don't expect to sit though). There are few clearly marked bus stops on route, but it's clear where they stop usually as you will have other waiting at the side of the road. Other local buses can also get crowded, but in the suburbs, they are a practical means of transport for visitors.

By Foot

Walking around Havana is by far the best way to see and experience the city: get a decent map of the city and discover new sights on foot.

By Bike

Cycling can be a great way to get around Cuba. There are a number of international tour companies that offer guided tours, the most popular is from Havana to Santiago de Cuba. If you are traveling in February and March avoid the west to east approach as the trade winds are tough to cycle against.

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Eat

Whilst Convertible Peso restaurants can be quite expensive at the top end for rather mediocre food, some such as the Café de Oriente have a splendid ambiance. The average government-run restaurants are about US$20 for two.

Peso stalls are all over the city, particularly on Prado Marti. Some restaurants like Hanoi, in Calle Brasil, offer generous meals for 5CUC.

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Drink

There are two types of establishments you can go to drink in Havana: Western-style CUC bars with near-Western prices, good selection of quality drinks (and sometimes food), nice decorations, semi-motivated staff and often live music, typically found around tourist hot-spots such as Old Havana and tourist hotels. Here you will mostly meet other tourists, expats and a few Cubans with access to hard currency, but don't expect a 'local' experience.

The alternative is to seek out local neighbourhood bars where you can choose from a quality, but limited, selection of drinks (mainly locally produced rum by the bottle, beer and soft drinks, very rarely will you be able to get cocktails such as mojitos), cigars of dubious and cigarettes of only slightly better quality, and sometimes snacks. Local bars accept CUPs and are dirt-cheap, although bar keepers will often ask you for CUCs instead - it's up to you to negotiate an acceptable price. These bars are also a good way to meet locals who may even open up a bit and talk about their lives after a couple of drinks.

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Sleep

Upscale

View our map of accommodation in Havana or use the form below to search for availability (Travellerspoint receives a commission for bookings made through the form)

Booking.com

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Learn

  • University of Havana - Offers intensive Spanish courses from 1 week/20 hours (100CUC) to 4 weeks/80 hours (360CUC). Contact Professor Judith Portal Jportalm@flex.uh.cu.
  • The Instituto Superior de Arte / Escuela Nacional de Arte / CNSEA offer courses of various lengths and levels in music, dance, drama, art and Spanish.
  • Babylon Idiomas offers a wide range of affordable and high quality Spanish courses for all levels with experienced native teachers. Cultural and social activities are included in the programme. The school is located in the heart of the city, in the district Vedado. New students can start on any Monday of the year. Contact: spanish@babylon-idiomas.com
  • Dance classes of Caribbean rhythms (salsa, reggaeton, cha cha cha, merengue, bachata) with professor Raul Pedroso for 7CUC per hour. Contact: raul.salsa.cuba@gmail.com. Mobile: (53) 05 352463450.

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Keep Connected

Internet

In many cities the only way for tourists to access the internet is through the government's communications centers. Look for buildings bearing the name "ETECSA", which stands for Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba S.A. ETECSA also has internet stations in some of the larger government hotels and resorts. The connection speed is comparable to analog dial-up speed in Havana or slower in smaller locations, at a cost of 6 CUC/hour. This is payable by purchasing a prepaid scratch card with a PIN code granting you access for one hour. The same card can be used throughout the country at any ETECSA terminal, allowing you to disconnect after your session and use the remaining time on the card further at the next hotel/city you go to.

WI-FI in hotels and restaurants is certainly uncommon if not non-existent and tourists should not rely on this being available when planning their means of communication.

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

The country calling code to Cuba is 53. To make an international call from Cuba, the code is 119. The emergency number is 116 and information number 113.

GSM cell phones will work in Cuba (900 MHz). Cuba is one of the most expensive countries in which to communicate. When bringing your own cellphone, incoming phonecalls to Cuba cost about $1/minute. Outgoing calls from Cuba are similarly expensive, and can be as high as $5 per minute for making international when roaming with your cellphone from overseas.

A better way is to rent cellphones, which is possible at several stores in Havana, including one in the airport. The rates are 9 CUC per day (6 CUC for the phone and 3 CUC for the SIM card), plus about 36 cents a minute for prepaid cards. If you bring an unlocked GSM phone operating at 900 MHz (or quad-band world phone) you can buy a SIM card for 111 CUC, plus your prepaid minutes. If you're staying two weeks or more it makes sense to bring a cheap phone, buy a SIM card and prepaid minutes, then give the phone to a Cuban friend when you leave. Cellphones are among the most desired items for Cubans (bring a case for the phone too, Cubans are very fussy about keeping their phones scratch-free). You will have to go to a cellphone store with your friend and sign a paper to give the phone to your friend.

Post

Correos de Cuba operates the Cuban postal service. They are generally quite slow, and delivery is never guaranteed. Mail is read by Cuba’s censors; avoid politically sensitive comments. Also, never send cash! Post offices (correos) usually are open weekdays 8:00am to 6:00pm and on Saturday 8:00am to 3:00pm, but hours can vary widely. Most tourist hotels accept mail for delivery as well, which might be a better option. International airmail (correo aereo) averages from at least 2 weeks to over one month, and even domestic posts might take 1-2 weeks. When mailing from Cuba, write at least the country destination in Spanish (as well). International postcards, cost CUC 0.50 to all destinations; letters cost CUC 0.80. Within Cuba, letters cost from 15 centavos (20 grams or less) to 2.05 pesos (up to 500 grams); postcards cost 10 centavos. Stamps are available in US dollars as well (if buying at hotels, this is actually your only option) and can be bought at hotels and blue and white kiosks labelled Correos de Cuba. Parcels from Cuba must be unwrapped for inspection. It is far better to send packages through an express courier service, like DHL or the Cuban local one (called EMS), although the same regulation applies.

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Quick Facts

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Coordinates
  • Latitude: 23.133333
  • Longitude: -82.366667

Accommodation in Havana

We have a comprehensive list of accommodation in Havana searchable right here on Travellerspoint. You can use our map to quickly compare budget, mid-range or top of the range accommodation in Havana and areas nearby.

Contributors

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Havana Travel Helpers

  • sergiocuba

    I was born in Havana City and lived there for 25 years before moving to Buenos Aires. I go back every 2 years to visit my family and friends.

    Ask sergiocuba a question about Havana

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