Here are some things you need to know before going to Havana, Cuba

Where is the Republic of Cuba?


The island of Cuba is nestled between the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean (basically where the two meet).  This Caribbean island is close to the Bahamas, Jamaica, the Cayman Islands, and Florida.  Which makes it an interesting stop for travelers?



What is Havana famous for?


Havana is the capital of Cuba and it is famous for its Cuban rum, the ever-popular daiquiri cocktail and yes the song “Havana” by Camila Cabello.  (OK yes and Cuban cigars – naturally when you’re in Cuba.)  Cuba is also the place where you’ll find the best ever mojitos.

But it is also very famous for its vintage cars;  a famous sight throughout the city.

Visit Cuba Travel to Havana
Visit Havana in Cuba Beautiful Instagram Spots

Popular Instagram spot

This city with its 16th century Spanish Colonial architecture also sees the normal daily appearance of thousands of vintage cars.  Therefore it is a popular Instagram spot for the perfect “Cuba-photo” or “Havana-nights photo”.

Many of the buildings in Old Havana are sort of “crumbling” and in dire need of restoration (or so you would think).  However, some of these buildings are exactly the ones that make for beautiful photo backdrops.  There are also quite a few colorful buildings that contrast against its ‘bare’ neighbor, which makes for awesome photos.

The towering Capitol Building is a favorite photo opportunity that lays waiting, if you can get the right angle down an alley, you’ll have a fantastic photo.

Travel to Cuba and visit Havana

First impressions

My first impression of the city was that it is a very old and ‘tired’ city. To me, the people in the street-art-filled alleys looked tired. However never judge a book by its cover:  it all depends on exactly where in Cuba you travel as the majority of the people in Havana are very happy and friendly.  There is also the beautiful side of Cuba with its colorfully painted buildings, the views of the ocean, the street cafes; it is all here.

The first thing you will immediately notice is the vast amount of ‘vintage’ cars everywhere.  It’s like a trademark of Havana, Cuba.  You can take a taxi in one of these old cars or go on a city tour in one.  (Do however make sure you book with a trusted guide, as per our links below, to be safe.  If you book tours with a trusted guide, you will not have to stress about transport in a city like Havana.)

Then, people playing games in the street like dominoes and checkers was actually wonderful to see.  People are more likely to showcase the “most run-down looking” areas on photos of Cuba, but there is a beautiful side ready for you to explore.  Just take your pick.

Traveling to Cuba Things to do Where to stay Places to see

From Plaza to Plaza

These are very much the places to hang out.

The Plaza Vieja (lit. ‘Old Square’) is located in Old Havana. Stop here for a quick coffee and to view some interesting architecture.  You will often also find some form of live entertainment on the squares.  The city’s oldest plaza (Plaza de Armas) is beautiful.  This lovely plaza, surrounded by restaurants and numerous second-hand book stands is also the place where the city was founded.  It is a book lover’s heaven.  Many years ago it was the place where the military would have parades, and hence the name Plaza de Armas (Arms Square).

Do stop at the Palacio de Los Capitanes Generales, an 18th-century baroque Palacio, and the former governor’s palace.  It houses the Museo de la Ciudad, dedicated to the city’s history.  This is quite an impressive place to stop.

Nearby Plaza la Catedral is where you will find the beautiful Cathedral of Havana (St Christopher). The Catedral de San Cristobal is where Christopher Columbus’ remains were kept between 1796 and 1898 before they moved it to Seville Cathedral.

Lastly, visit Plaza de San Francisco de Asís which was named after a nearby convent.

Local markets

Looking for fresh fruit and veg, go to the market on 19 y B in Vedado (Agromercado de 19yB).  The market stocked with fresh organic products is known to be one of the best open-air fruit and veg markets in the city.

Almacenes San José is the place to visit for Cuban art, ceramics, handmade jewelry, and more)  

Things to do and places to see

  • An architectural gem like the Great Theatre of Havana and the National Museum of Fine Arts with exhibits of Cuban art is a must.
  • Giraldilla:  Havana’s symbol of endless love, looking out over the sea is waiting for her loved one to return.  According to Havana Reporter-News: “The figure represents Isabel de Bobadilla, the wife of Spanish Conquistador Hernando de Soto.  It is said that having watched her husband set sail one day, his wife spent hours at the watchtower of the Castle of the Royal Force anxiously awaiting his return.  Cast in bronze, the statue remains dead still, watching the ships as they enter the bay of Havana, the same bay that one day had the happy couple set apart forever.”  Sadly he never returned.
  • The famous Malecón (esplanade, roadway, and seawall) stretches for 8 kilometers along the coast in Havana.  Take a drive and follow the road from the harbor in Old Havana, along the Centro Habana neighborhood and the Vedado neighborhood, to where it ends at the mouth of the Almendares River.  It does offer some spectacular vistas.
  • If you love mosaic and murals, you must visit Fusterlandia, which displays local artist José Fuster’s colorful and whimsical mosaics.
  • A visit to Old Havana should also include the Castillo de la Real Fuerza, a fort and maritime museum.
  • If it is a beach-life you’re after, look no further than Varadero for a place to stay. (See the link below for all accommodation options.) Varadero offers beautiful resorts and nature together with beautiful sandy beaches.  Also visit the nearby Cueva de Saturno, (Saturn Cave) – a very cool cave where you can swim and scuba dive.

The life of Ernest Hemmingway

  • Discover Ernest Hemmingway’s former residence, which is now a museum.  (Address: Finca Vigía Km. 12 ½, La Habana, Cuba)  Or book and Ernest Hemmingway tour to learn more about the life of this American novelist, short-story writer, and journalist who also won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1954. (You can book various tours online from the Viator link below and save up to 50% on unforgettable experiences.)

Nighttime in Havana

  • At night Havana brightens up as the building lights come on and the beat of the Salsa fills the streets.  Stop at the Ernest Hemmingway bar or the famous Floridita bar for a daiquiri.
Havana Cuba Bar

Travel Trivia

The Daiquiri

Did you know that the Daiquiri was named after the district Daiquiri in Cuba where rum is produced? 

This famous cocktail made with rum, crushed ice and lemon juice is one of the most traditional drinks you can have in Havana.

Second, to order is their famous mojito what else…

  • Floridita or El Floridita bar in Havana (La Habana Vieja), Cuba is famous for its daiquiris and for having been one of the favorite hangouts of Ernest Hemingway. That is why they have a life-size bronze statue of him positioned in his favorite spot at the end of the bar.
Travel Tip(s)
  • This brings me to an important point.  If at all possible avoid drinking tap water in Cuba and rather drink only bottled water.
  • When in Cuba you would probably want to buy some Cuban Rum to take home.  Keep in mind that regulations might only allow you to take 2 bottles, which you can buy at the duty-free shop, on your plane home.  (Always check the updated / latest regulations before you buy and are not allowed to take it with you.)

Taking Havana Home

If you “lost your heart in Havana”, as the song says, you might still be able to get a bit of Havana @ home.

  • Budapest, Hungary: Havana Salsa Bar & Restaurant is the place to visit.  (Address:  Budapest, Dob u. 57, 1074 Hungary)
  • Cape Town, South Africa: Cape to Cuba is the place to dine. (Address:  165 Main Rd, Kalk Bay, Cape Town, 7990)

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