I miss Cuba! It’s a fascinating country, beautiful and unique – with lots to explore. I asked Daniel from Layer Culture to share his thoughts on Cuba’s captivating capital city, Havana. He shares his top tips for visiting Cuba in his Havana travel guide, so check it out!
Welcome to this Havana travel guide. Conjuring up images of a bustling city with almost never-ending energy, Havana is a magical place to be. With its lively nightlife scene and some of the best salsa clubs in the world, to the classic cars that race around the city, there’s so much to see and do.
Havana, Cuba: Travel Guide
In this Havana travel guide, we’ll explore the Cuban capital, including why you should travel there, the safety situation, hot destinations as well as my recommendations to get the most out of a trip here!
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Why Travel to Havana?
Havana. The Caribbean city unlike no other. Not only is it home to some spectacular beaches and nightlife, but also an abundance of culture found nowhere else on earth.
One of the last communist countries in our time, Cuba as a whole has a lot of differences to the rest of the world, and Havana is no exception. Simply walk around the plazas and in the old town and you feel lost in time.
There are many festivals in Havana, and celebrations are a key part of Cuban life. Even if you do not visit during major events, such as the Festival del Habano, expect there to be street parties and festivities that continue well into the early hours of the morning.
There are many important buildings and sites in this city, which we’ll explore later in this guide.
Is Havana Safe?
As it happens Cuba is one of the safest islands in the entire Caribbean. Violence towards tourists is very, very rare, and the only kinds of problems will be theft.
Of course, this can be almost entirely avoided by knowing where you are going, avoiding certain areas late at night and not dressing too flashy (okay I get it is Havana and everything…). Be sure to carry a Pacsafe backpack or equivalent to deter petty theft.
Having spoken to many female solo travellers, they told me that they felt Cuba was one of the safer countries in Latin America. The only kind of annoyance was guys catcalling them, but nothing too aggressive and generally just playful and light-hearted.
One for the guys reading this that are thinking of going to parties during the evening to meet the opposite sex. Just a heads up here. For some reason Cuba has weird rules meaning that Cuban women are not allowed to enter any guesthouses or hostels (something to do with the government thinking that they’re trying to escape the country, which I guess does apply in some circumstances). Just be careful, as whilst you might not get into trouble, they could end up fined and in prison!
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When is the Best Time to Visit Havana?
Cuba has two main weather seasons. The dry season runs from December to May and generally sees more sunny clear days and average temperatures between 83-86°F.
The wet season, starting in June and ending around November, is characterized by hotter temperatures (92°F +) and a lot more humidity.
This season also has an increased risk of storms and hurricanes, where they’re more frequent in August and September. Regardless of when you decide to come, you will have a fantastic time.
Even if you are travelling during the wet season, the rain showers will typically last half an hour, coming down hard and fast. To be honest, given the temperatures and Caribbean humidity, the showers bring a breath of fresh air so are much welcomed by the locals.
Top Travel Tips for Havana
As with any other major city, you’ll need at least 4 days to really get into the swing of things, and be able to visit most of the major sights and some lesser-known gems. I recommend booking yourself into accommodation in Old Havana.
The area is very visceral and real, and as soon as you walk out you’ll be surrounded by real Cuban life. Locals playing baseball in the streets, vendors singing up to buildings about different fruits… it’s a completely different world, and one you absolutely have to experience.
Visit popular sites like El Capitol and the Revolution Museum. Regardless if you are a history buff, the buildings are quite striking and are great for photo ops.
Last but not least, plan to spend some time in Santa Maria del Mar. It’s not that far out the way, and the beach is simply stunning.
Where to Go in Havana
In this part, we’ll explore the best things to and see in the city. I’ve also included some cool places that can be reached as part of a day trip from Havana.
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One of the best things to do in Havana is to head to the old historic town. Whilst in the area, you should visit El Capitol, a grand building which has been at the heart of Havana for years.
Also head to the Revolution Museum, which is housed in what used to be the Presidential Palace for the former Cuban presidents. It contains many important artefacts and historical accounts of the infamous revolution that took place between 1953-1959.
Plaza de la Catedral
One of the many squares and plazas in Havana, this one is arguably the most popular. Surrounded by colourful buildings, the cathedral itself and lots of restaurants, it is a great place to spend some time chilling out in.
This area is also one of the areas where you can get WIFI. You’ll need to buy a card first which gives you a certain amount of hours, which can be used in designated public areas.
There are many small spots that nobody knows about. Head to Almacenes San José Artisans’ Market which is one of the best markets in Havana, and home to lots of cool souvenirs and artwork. Cuban food is also something you should try out.
A great place I found to eat is Cafeteria Dona Alicia in Old Havana, which is really cheap and has tonnes of variety (and normally a queue heading out past the door!).
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First up we have to mention La Bodeguita del Medio, which is one of the most well-known venues in Cuba! It is widely considered to be the birthplace of the Mojito, so definitely get down there and try one out.
If you’re heading out for the night, then you will want to head to either Vedado, Miramar or the Old town.
Vedado is home to the lively Avenida 23, where there are tonnes of restaurants, bars and nightclubs open pretty much all week. Miramar is home to some great venues, with the most notorious being La Casa de la Música.
A Day Trip from Havana: Santa María del Mar
This beachside town is located some 30 minutes from Havana, and can easily be reached by taxi or public bus. The beach here has a much more wild and undeveloped feel to it compared to those in Havana.
It’s a very long beach and tends not to be so busy. You’ll find locals selling coconuts and fresh drinks, and you could easily spend the whole day here relaxing by the sea.
Events in Havana Cuba
Another thing to note is the various annual events and festivals that take place in Havana:
Festival del Habano
Taking place every February, this festival celebrates all things Cigar and Tobacco. Notorious for some of the best tobacco in the world, this festival has a mix of events, tobacco plantation tours and also the highlight itself – cigar tasting sessions!
This music festival celebrates Cuban heritage with a range of different genres, varying from Trova to contemporary electronics. It takes place every May, and you can find live shows all over the city.
Havana, Cuba: Travel Guide
And that’s all for this guide to Havana! I hope you enjoyed the read, and hopefully, you now have a better understanding of what makes this city such a truly great one to visit. Cuba is a special place, and Havana is the beating heart that really gets under your skin.
About the Author
Daniel James from Layer Culture is a cultural traveler based in Colombia who dedicates his time to learning Spanish whilst exploring life in both Central and South America. You can also find him on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.
If you’re looking for travel insurance for your trip to Cuba, get a quote now from World Nomads.
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Just to let you know, this post may contain paid or affiliate links, which help to maintain Tales of a Backpacker and give me the chance to keep travelling, and to keep creating awesome content for you! I only recommend goods and services I believe are useful and reliable.Last updated: July 10, 2020