Havana, the jewel of Cuba
Stay in a Local Havana Casa Particular
First of all, Havana has the best quality and variety of accommodation throughout Cuba. The hotels are nice albeit costly, but the real Cuban experience is staying in a casa particular. Think of it as living with a Cuban friend you don’t yet know. There is not one place I have stayed in, that I didn’t love the host and you will experience a level of hospitality that hotels cannot rival.
If the idea of staying in someone else’s home is not for you, you can rent an entire house, apartment or villa owned by a Cuban national. You can still get someone to clean each day, cook or do your laundry much like a hotel but at a fraction of the price.
A casa particular is a licensed property where the owners have an agreement with the government to rent out rooms in their home. This could range from a small 2-bedroom apartment where you could have a Cuban grandma cooking you the best Cuban food you will have ever tasted to staying in luxury mansions with a 24hr concierge.
Its big business for Cubans to rent out their home as the average monthly wage is low and this is the ultimate way to top up income.
The price of staying in a casa particular will be considerably cheaper than a hotel but don’t worry they won’t be lacking in service or quality. The only thing that may be missing is a pool but if you really need a little R&R around the pool one day, most major hotels will offer day access for 10-15 CUC.
I have had so many great experiences staying in a casa particular and met so many incredible people that have made my trips truly special.
Try some Havana street food & drinks
You will see street stalls and carts everywhere selling food and drink. Here are a few examples of my favourites although there is plenty more on offer. Street food as you would expect is super cheaper.
- Fritura de Malanga
- Chicharitas de platano
- Pie de coco
- Sugar cane juice (Guarapo)
- Guava Juice
- Shaved ice (Granizado)
- ham sandwich
- The best coffee in the world
Be aware of the pizza, pork burgers and certain sandwiches as they can be low in quality. You may also see local beer which is incredibly cheap but unless you want an upset stomach or a really bad hangover steer clear.
Dine in a Paladar
A Paladar is normally a small, family-run restaurant, set up in a private home. Some have the look and feel of a proper restaurant, some feel like you have just sat down in a random dining room.
This is your chance to experience real Cuban food at its finest. Although you will be able to get a great meal staying in a casa particular a paladar will hold a different experience. They are really affordable and give you a taste of authentic Cuba.
I have eaten the freshest Ceviche I have ever had in my life, bbq lobster at less than 5 CUC, whole roasted pigs, pizza that would rival most stores back home and a seafood risotto that I couldn’t help but eat 3 plates off. That’s just a few experiences and knowing the good places to go. It can be a bit of a minefield finding the best spots to eat.
The staple of Cuban food will be pork, rice and black beans with a side salad maybe fried plantain and tamales, you have to try this once and if you are going to make sure it’s the best you can find.
Get drinks with a view
Here are 12 rooftop bars you could try in Havana to sip cocktails or an ice-cold beer with a view of the city, possible while watching the sunset.
- Ambos Mundos Rooftop Bar
- Iberostar Parque Central Rooftop Bar
- Hotel Inglaterra Rooftop Bar
- El Surtidor Pool Terrace and Bar
- Malecón 663, Raquel Hotel Rooftop Bar
- Bar Saratoga, Bar Encuentro
- El Cocinero
- La Guarida Rooftop Bar
- La Flauta Magica
- La Divina Pastora
- Hotel Sevilla Rooftop Bar
- Versus 1900 Rooftop
Do a little Havana sightseeing
The city is brimming with sights to see. There are organised tours you can take as groups, walking tours of the old town, classic car tours, tours on bicitaxis, bicycle tours, scooter tours, coco taxi tours and more. Whatever floats your boat there is an option in Havana to suit everyone.
You can head out on your own and explore to your heart’s content or get a guide with one of the listed forms of transport above.
20 sights to check out in Havana.
- Plaza de la Revolucion
- El Bosque Park
- El Capitolio
- Plaza Vieja
- Plaza de San Francisco
- Palacio de los Capitanes Generales
- Gran Teatro de la Habana
- Callejon de Hamel
- Jose Marti Memorial
- El Cristo de la Habana
- Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta
- Castillo de los Tres Reyes del Morro
- Plaza del Armas
- Hemingway’s Villa (Finca Vigia)
- Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de la Habana
- Colon Cemetary
- Museo de la Revolucion
- Museo de Artes Decorativas
Take a ride in a vintage car
No holiday to Cuba is complete without a trip in a vintage car. Havana has some of the finest in the world. It does feel quite a touristy thing to do but forget that, you’re on holiday. We recommend a convertible classic and a trip over to El Morro castle. Read our post for more ideas on the Best transport in Havana, Cuba 2019.
Visit one of Havana’s beaches
Not too far away from the centre of the city are quite a few beaches to visit if you fancy a little rest and relaxation. There is a mix of beaches and the most popular are Playa Santa Maria and Playa del Este. They are both accessible by taxi or jump on the hop on hop off tourist bus for 5 CUC straight to the beach from the centre of Havana.
There are more beaches along the coast and an hour away is Jibacoa. It has a variety of beaches and is highly recommended for snorkelling.
Try a salsa lesson
If you have never tried salsa before, don’t be nervous, music and dance are the heartbeat of Cuba. Wherever you travel in Cuba salsa will be prevalent and in Havana even more so. Havana has many dance schools catering for tourists who visit Cuba only to salsa to individuals just looking to learn a few basic steps for a fun night out and that’s what it is fun.
You can have group lessons or private lessons and you won’t even need to go to a dance school. On every corner, you will be able to find someone to give you a lesson, even in your accommodation if you require. All we ask is you try it, there is no such thing as I can’t dance or two left feet. It’s about getting into the Cuban spirit and letting go.
Watch a live music performance
It’s a given you will experience live music in Cuba and especially Havana. Music is everywhere and runs deep in the veins of Cubans. Cuba is home to some of the best musicians in the world. You will see bands performing on the streets, guitar players serenading you on the Malecon, there are various venues to visit for differing tastes from
live jazz, reggaeton, hip hop, classical, opera, salsa, son and rumba to name a few.
Experience the Nightlife
I have been lucky enough to have travelled to many countries in the world and Cuba remains my favourite for nightlife. It is the people’s passion for life that makes it so special.
As with any capital city, Havana has more than its fair share of night clubs. Reserving a table with bottle service would normally be a very expensive night out anywhere else in the world but surprisingly, clubbing in Havana is affordable.
Experience the Arts
Whether you are a regular purveyor of the arts back home or a first timer, Cuba is a must experience. My favourite is watching the ballet and Havana is home to the world-famous ballet dancer Carlos Acosta. Check out his performances at the stunning Gran Teatro de la Habana.
There is an array of art in Cuba ranging from galleries, street art, sculptures, potters, musicians, poets, dancers to name a few. Head down to Fabrica de Arte Cubano to experience Havana’s trendiest art scene. You can have dinner and drinks there too.
Try the local rum and smoke a cigar
The quality of cigars in Cuba are undoubtedly the best in the world and some of the most famous brands are from Cuba.
I understand smoking cigars it’s not everyone’s cup of tea but just try it once. It’s part of the Cuban heritage and you will be able to try cigars that would normally cost £30-£40 per cigar back home for £1.00 in Cuba. If you are ever going to do it, now’s the time.
I am always surprised at the number of non-smokers and I mean people who hate smoking of any type with a passion, try a cigar and in Cuba and are converted. You don’t inhale the cigar so it’s not going to make you cough and splutter its more for the appreciation of the taste.
Next, we come to rum. Cuba is famous for its rum and with good reason, it’s pretty damn good. At home, you may have seen Havana club in almost every bar but in Cuba try Santiago de Cuba Ron, preferably a 25-year-old, straight up with no mixers.
If that sounds a little too hard-core, a Cuba Libre or mojito but with a 7-year-old rum is all that’s needed for a cocktail.