HAVANA CITY GUIDE
It's happened to all of us. A place you've long dreamed of visiting, you've looked at the pictures and read all the blogs only to arrive at something that doesn't live up to the expectations. Thankfully, Havana was everything we wanted it to be and so much more. It was like stepping back in time. The cars, the buildings, the whole city is just full of character and energy. It's safe to say that Havana is a city unlike any other.
How to get there?
WHAT TO DO IN HAVANA
Enjoy a daiquiri at El Floridita
El Floridita is Cuba's coolest cocktail bar. A restaurant catapulted to fame by Ernest Hemingway who was smitten with their fabulous seafood and daiquiris. El Floridita first opened its doors in 1817 and, to date, not a lot has changed. The sophisticated decor remains largely unchanged, bands play live music all throughout the day and night and people still line up out of the door just to try a Daiquiri. Although it is more of a tourist attraction these days, it's still definitely worth a visit.
The reputation of this magnificent hotel doesn't do it justice. Located in the central plaza Hotel Inglaterra is the oldest hotel in Havana. Once frequented by the world's elite, it now serves as a memory of times passed. There are a number of seating areas in and around the hotel where you can grab a drink and enjoy the live bands. Be sure to check it out, even if you only pop in for a quick walk around.
Take a free walking tour
Havana has a lot of sights to take in and the city is stunning. Of course, you can just go and get lost in the streets yourself, which is a lot fun, but, there is so much history to learn about that its worth joining one of these tours. Remember that the guides will most likely work only for tips.
Trip to Varadero
Varadero is a small beach town with 20, yes 20, kilometres of golden Caribbean coastline. Varadero has one of the most gorgeous beaches we've ever seen and the water is soooo warm. It is possible to come only for the day, but it would be a shame to not have at least two days on this beach. You can take the Viazul bus here from Havana. It takes 3 hours and costs 10 CUC (£7.70).
Explore Havana Vieja
Old Havana is one of the more enchanting parts of the city and is usually the first stop for most visitors. Cuba, having been largely isolated from the rest of the world, is stuck in the 1950s, and nowhere is that more evident that Havana Vieja. It's like being on an old movie set. You can spend hours walking around the cobbled streets taking it all in.
Try the food
Cuban food isn't much to sing and dance about. Having spent so long relying on government rations, you'll do well to find any food with much flavour or spice. The most famous Cuban food you'll probably know is the Cubano. It's a grilled sandwich with cheese, ham and sometimes mustard. Simple but pretty tasty and, providing you're buying from the street vendors, shouldn't cost more than 1.5 CUC (£1.15). If you come across somebody selling ice cream, usually out of a small window, be sure to give it ago. A small ice cream cost around 5 MN (Monada Nacional) which is only £0.15.
Walk through the missile crisis tunnels
At the rear of Hotel Nacional de Cuba is the small museum dedicated to the 1962 nuclear missile crisis. There is a network of underground tunnels which were used by the military to monitor to comings and goings in the waters between Cuba and Miami. You can visit for free, walk through the tunnels and learn about this chapter of Cuban history.
Havana's main cemetery is a national monument and one of the largest in the Americas. It covers 140 acres and is the resting place for over 800,000 souls. Many graves are marked with elaborately sculpted memorials. A cemetery might not be something you'd expect to visit but the sheer magnitude and beauty of the site makes it a popular place to visit in Havana.
Mansion spotting in El Vedado
The 'modern' neighbourhood of El Vedado is Havana's business district and is considered one of the more affluent parts of the city. The streets are dotted with sprawling mansions and gives you a taste of how the middle-class used to live. In comparison to Havana Vieja this neighbourhood couldn't be much more different.
Plaza De La Revolucion
No trip to Havana would be complete going to the Plaza de la Revolucion. The 31st largest plaza in the world has seen many political rallies over the years and is where Fidel Castro would address the people of Cuba. The square is shadowed by the memorial to Cuba's national hero, Jose Marti. This impressive monument stands over 350 ft tall and sits in the middle of a bright green garden.
Hop on Hop off
We think the best way to get to know a city is to pound the pavement, there is not getting away from the fact that Havana is pretty big. There are a few hop-on hop-off tour bus companies where you can buy a day ticket to go around all the main sights. The ticket costs around 10 CUC (£7.70) for the day and you can use it as many times as you like. At the end of the day, hop on the bus and enjoy a nice long ride as the sun sets over the city.
Where to go next
Trinidad - The bus with Viazul takes less than 7 hours and costs 25 CUC (£19.25)