Havana, Cuba is filled with stunning architecture, amazing people and a culture like no other. Visiting Havana gives you a chance to step back in time and enjoy the simple things in life. Any visit to this island nation will leave you wowed. However, when visiting Havana there is so much on offer it can get a little overwhelming. Here is my top things to do in Havana with a little info to get you started.
Top 7 Things to do in Havana
Take a Ride in a Vintage Car
Cuba is famous for having many vintage cars and it gives the impression of stepping back in time. After the embargo set by the United States, Cuba could no longer import foreign vehicles. This meant that any cars present before the ban had to be used indefinitely. Even to this day Cuba is full of old classic cars and it’s great way to see the city! The drivers offer all sorts of tours and prices. We opted for a trip to the beach to check out the coastline. We cruised down the highway in and old Ford with the top down and the wind in our hair. And for just a little while, imagined myself back in the sixties! This is one of the most popular of the things to do in Havana among tourists.
Prices and Tips – Prices start at $50 usd per hour, however, I would not pay this. With a little bit of haggling you can easily get a car for $25 usd. However, this can be dependent on the time of day (and if there is a cruise ship in town which increase prices.) The best time to take a tour is in the afternoon. At this time, the temperatures are cooler and the drivers are less busy. One day at 5pm I was offered 1.5 hours for $20 usd in a really nice convertible.
Wander the Streets in Central Havana
This was one of my favorite things to do in Havana. The streets around the city are beautiful and with so many interesting characters around you won’t get bored. Unfortunately for most visitors they only visit Old Havana and miss out on the chance to see the “real Havana”. So if you want to see how the locals live you must leave the tourist area and head towards Central Havana. This area, although run down, is really safe especially during the day. The streets are filled with kids playing in the streets, cheap local restaurants and friendly locals. Walking this area gave me a true insight into the lives of Cubans and their laid back no-fuss attitude made me smile at every corner.
Other info/Tips – To get to this area of town simply walk East from the main plaza down San Rafeal street for about 1km. You will notice San Rafeal street turn from a walking street to a road. Then simply explore the surrounding area and take some awesome shots as you experience real Havana.
Smoke a Cuban Cigar
Famous for having some of the best Cigars in the world and with an embargo that made them rare and also illegal to the rest of the world, this is one of the things to do in Havana you can’t miss (even if you don’t smoke.) I hate smoking and the thought of cigarettes make me sick but with the right cigars they can be quite enjoyable. Using some of Cuba’s famous organic honey to cover the end you smoke from provides great flavor and also filters the cigar. This technique is perfect for first timers.
Tips – When buying cigars you need to be careful what you buy, Cuba is filled with great quality cigars. However, in Havana there is also lots of low quality cigars that are used to catch tourists paying way too much. If you are not a cigar expert then using the authorized government sellers is the best option. One tip I learned while there is that if you can pull small chunks of tobacco out of the end (like a cigarette) then you got sold a cigar not worth more than $0.25. Real cigars are made from whole tobacco leaves (not little chunks) so if you’re a little suspicious ask the seller to prove it!
Although you can get good Cigars in Havana, a trip to Vinales (the cigar region of Cuba) is well worth it. Here a local grower can show you what to look out for and the best way to smoke a cigar.
Another small tip is never believe a street guy who tells you it’s the salsa festival. He will go on to explain that locals get cigars cheap that day so he can buy them for you. This is a scam! And the only thing you will end up with is some overpriced fake cigars. And after you have spent a few days in Havana (I spent 8 days) you will come to realize that it is in fact the Salsa Festival every day of the year. One guy even went on to explain that all the shops would be closed for a month and this was our only chance to buy cigars. This of course, would never be true, you will always find cigars easily in Cuba.
Take a Free Walking Tour
Like in most cities around the world, Havana has a few free walking tours that can help you see the city for only a small tip (one of the cheapest things to do in Havana.) I went with “Free Tour Havana” but there are many other companies that offer tours. They offer two different tours with Free Tour Havana. One takes you all around through the city then to the outer skirts where you can visit Che Guevara’s house and the Christ statue that looks over Havana. This tour provides lots of info on the history as well as great restaurants and bars. It also gives you some amazing views of Havana. The other tour is more focused on the old town of Havana and takes you around the old buildings giving you more information about the city.
Other info/tips – The first tour starts at 10am and the second at 2pm, both leave from the main plaza in Old Havana, just look out for a red umbrella. Havana is hot so be prepared for the weather. Most of the day is spent in the sun and the first tour involves a lot of walking. Both tours run for about 3 hours so take plenty of water and don’t forget your camera.
Take in Views of Havana from the Central Park Hotel
The Central Park Hotel in the main plaza of old Havana offers the breathtaking views. We noticed that the rooftop bar and pool faced the perfect direction and was blocked by no other buildings. So, one night we just walked into the hotel, went straight to the elevator and went to the top floor. No one even questioned us and wow, it was worth it. The place is fancy and we prepared ourselves by wearing some somewhat nice clothes (trying to blend in.) I also took my tripod and camera for some great slow shutter shots of the city. The photo below speaks for itself and for one of the cheapest things to do in Havana it’s one not to miss!
Other Info/Tips – When you enter the Hotel simply turn left, this is where the elevators are. If you hit the restaurant you have gone too far). From there floor 8 goes to the pool and bar, although very expensive you can get a local beer for $3 usd.
Take a Ride in the Open Air Bus
Havana has two open air bus routes that take you around the city with a hop on hop off pass. Route A takes you through old Havana and new Havana with some great stops like the Monument de Revolution. Route B takes you to the beach and has a lot fewer stops. I highly recommend route A, it really helped me see the city on a budget and the views from the bus where amazing. The journey on route A takes about an hour to complete without stopping but with some amazing things to see along the way this activity can take most of the day. Once on the bus it is easy to realize that there are many places and things to do in Havana.
Other Info/Tips – Both buses leave from the main plaza, here you will find 2 bus stops. If you can’t find them just ask one of the local guys. On the front of each bus is its particular route (either A or B.) Tickets are bought from the bus driver directly and don’t need to be purchased in advance. Route A is $10 usd and route B is $5 usd. Both start at 9:50am and finish at 6pm, although I have heard that in high season they can start earlier and finish later. If you need more info head to The Plaza Hotel. There is a tourist information desk in the lobby and they have tons of information. The Plaza Hotle location is availabe on Maps.Me.
Visit the Chocolate Museum
Although not really a Museum and more of a coffee shop, the Museo de Chocolate was a great place to try some organic locally made chocolate. The chocolate is made of the premises and the beans are grown in Cuba. The price for a hot chocolate at $0.60 cents so it is a great place to relax. I highly recommend getting the Iced chocolate, it was simply amazing and only cost $1 usd. You can also buy blocks of chocolate in all sorts of shapes and sizes including old car shaped ones!
Other Info/Tips – The Museo de Chocolate is located in Old Havana and is easy to find with Maps.Me. This Chocolate Museum is the cheapest I have found in the entire Latin Americas! Havana offers many other great Museums including the Havana Club Rum Museum and the Museo de la Revolution so check them out to!
These are only my 7 favorite out of all of the amazing things to do in Havana and made my stay unforgettable! If you are after some more travel tips check out our “know before you go backpacking in Cuba” post which will be live soon!