| || |
* '''Take a tour in an old car''' — For around 20-30CUC an hour for up to four people, be driven around Havana in style. Choose a car you like near the Hotel Inglaterra or outside the Museum of the Revolution.
* '''Take a tour in an old car''' — For around 20-30CUC an hour for up to four people, be driven around Havana in style. Choose a car you like near the Hotel Inglaterra or outside the Museum of the Revolution.
| || |
Revision as of 23:29, 14 July 2009
- For other places with the same name, see Havana (disambiguation).
Havana City (Spanish Ciudad de la Habana) is the capital city of Cuba, and one of the fourteen provinces of the Republic of Cuba.
The Catedral de San Cristobal, Havana Vieja (Old Havana).
Parque Central from Hotel Inglaterra, Havana Vieja (Old Havana).
In the 1950s before the Communist revolution, Havana was one of the vacation hot-spots of the Caribbean, and since Cuba reopened to tourism in the 1990s, it has become a popular destination once again. Albeit with many fewer U.S. citizens, due to an almost total ban on travel maintained by the U.S. federal government. However, there will be lots of tourists at any time of year, so expect huge crowds and long lines in places.
El Habanero  and Tribuna de La Habana  are the local periodicals. The H Magazine + Guide  is an interesting publication about Havana beyond common stereotypes.
Cuba has two currencies, the Cuban Peso (CUP) and the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC). Most tourist will be using the CUC for all purchases, hotels, taxis and activities. The CUC was created to replace all the US$ that was used in the tourist industry until the late 1990s.
For more information check the section on Money in the Cuba article.
Jose Marti International Airport (IATA: HAV) has three separate terminals. Terminal 1 is for internal (domestic) flights, Terminal 2 is mainly for charter flights from the USA and Terminal 3 is used for all other international flights.
Customs officials can be very strict, and will probably snoop out any suspicious electronics or other items. Customs officials and immigration officials also work slowly and baggage reclaim is very slow, so expect a very long wait when entering the country.
The local airline, Cubana de Aviación offers a good service, and if you want to travel from the Caribbean region, you can use CaribbeanJet  or CubaJet  (information and bookings available online).
Most trains in eastern Cuba have been suspended due to poor track conditions. Only the following trains were operating to Havana in September 2007. All services run on alternate days only.
- An overnight local train from Santiago de Cuba, operating on alternate nights when the Tren Frances does not run.
- An overnight train from Moron with stops in Matanzas and Santa Clara.
- An overnight train from Sancti Spiritus with stops in Matanzas and Santa Clara.
- A daytime train from Camagüey with stops in Matanzas and Santa Clara (this is the only daytime service to Havana on the main line).
- A slightly faster evening train to Matanzas and Cienfuegoes, returns to Havana overnight.
- An overnight local train to Pinar del Rio that returns to Havana during the day.
Since these trains run every other day (when they are operating at all), you will need to confirm in advance that they are running on the day you wish to travel.
There is also the Hershey electric train running several times a day between Havana and Matanzas. The Hershey train cars are very dilapidated and will only appeal to the most die-hard train enthusiasts. The trip takes a minimum of four hours regardless of what the schedule says, and you will be standing since most of the seats are broken.
Hiring a car in Cuba will cost you from 33 to 106CUC per day. The car will have a special tourist plate, which means you will be required to give generous tips every time you park your car in a crowded place. Taking into account the all-around unreliability of Cuban transport, hiring a car can be the right choice for those who don't want any hassle whatsoever. Please keep in mind that picking up hitchhikers is almost a moral obligation for the "aware" tourist, especially when travelling between cities. Picking up a hitchhiker can be the best way to arrive to your destination without getting lost. CarrentaCuba.com  is a useful resource, you can select your car, check availability, and book online.
Viazul  operates an inter-city coach service to/from most major destinations including Camagüey, Cienfuegos, Matanzas, Pinar del Rio, Sancti Spiritus, Santa Clara, Santiago de Cuba, Trinidad, Varadero and Viñales. The main Viazul bus terminal is 3km southwest of central Havana. Departing buses also stop at the central (Astro) bus terminal, but arriving buses do not. If you are using the central bus terminal, you buy tickets and wait for the bus in a separate air-conditioned office near the west entrance of the terminal. Schedules are posted on the Viazul website.
Astro can get you from Havana to almost anywhere in Cuba.
Due to political circumstances, it is difficult to enter Cuba by sea. Visiting mariners need to make arrangements in advance of entering port to avoid difficulties. Also, most ports are closed to unauthorised visitors.
, Coco taxis are cheap transport.
As a tourist, the most convenient way of getting around Havana is by taxi. Some of the taxis are old American Chevys from the 1950's, others are (somewhat) newer Russian Ladas, whilst most tourist taxis are modern Peugeots, Skodas and even Mercedes.
It is illegal for tourists to ride in anything other than the official government taxis. However, its is often easier to wave down one of the old Chevys or Ladas. When riding in an illegal taxi, negotiate the fare ahead of time. The fare in illegal taxis will be no cheaper than the official taxi fare. Around the city, taking illegal taxis should be no problem. However, taking an illegal taxi to or from the airport may attract the attention of the police.
Taxi collectivos are the old, beaten-up yank-tanks with a taxi sign on the roof or in the front window. Tourists are not supposed to take them, but you will rarely run into problems and they are a fun and cheap alternative to the state-run taxis. They have set fares and run set routes, so you may need some assistance when taking them the first few times. Fares vary from 10 CUP for a short (5 km) run during the day to 20 CUP for a longer run or at night. The drivers are generally honest regarding the fares, but it is best not to appear oblivious by asking how much at the end of the trip. Always watch what the other passengers give and if in doubt give 10 CUP, and if he asks for another 10 then hand it over. There can be a long wait trying to get a taxi collectivo as they are very popular with Cubans and often full, but the experience and savings make it worthwhile.
The cheapest taxi company in Havana by far is Panataxi. These are usually yellow or white Ladas with a red sign (recently they have also added yellow Peugeots) and are worth waiting for to save a few dollars. Panataxi will take you to the airport on the meter, if you ask, for around 12 CUC from Central Havana.
Coco Taxis and yellow three wheel motorbikes, are a cheap way of getting around central Havana.
, an unusual local bus in Havana.
In the past Havana had a public transportation service called the El Camello, a split-level bus pulled by a semi-truck, and resembling a 2 humped camel (thus the name). Camellos finished operation in April 2008 and were replaced by modern city buses imported from China.
The cost of riding the new city bus is 1 national peso to anywhere in the city (the driver will not give you change). Expect some overcrowding, there are plenty of buses running though, so if the one you want is full simply wait for the next one. There are few clearly marked bus stops on route, but its clear where they stop usually as you will have other waiting at the side of the road.
Other local buses can also get crowded, but in the suburbs they are a practical means of transport for visitors.
Hiring a car can be an interesting experieince as the road signs are not particularly good. Some travelers suggest picking up hitchhikers and utilizing their local expertise to get you where you want to go.
Cycling can be a great way to get around Cuba. There are a number of international tour companies  that offer guided tours, the most popular is from Havana to Santiago de Cuba. If you are traveling in February and March avoid the west to east approach as the trade winds are tough to cycle against.
Walking around Havana is by far the best way to see and experience the city, get a decent map of the city and discover new sights on foot.
The Capital Building in Havana (Capitolio Nacional)
- Museum of the Revolution and the Capital building.
- Visit a cigar factory which Cuba is renowned for, there is one just behind the Capital Building (cost 10CUC for a half hour guided tour). Please note that there is no photography allowed.
- Havana Club Rum Factory — Go on a guided tour of Havana Club, one of Cuba's most famous rums. Most of the exhibits are subtitled in English and are fairly self explanatory.
- Walk along the Prado street in the evening. Great public space that is illuminated in the night time and humming with street life, cafes and charm.
- Walk along El Malecon — A favorite stroll for tourists and locals, a walk along the El Malecon runs along the main streets of Havana and provides stunning views of the Bay.
- Enjoy the faded glory of La Habana Vieja (The Old Town).
- Plaza de la Revolucion — The huge square dominated by a statue and monument of Jose Marti and the iconic image of Che Guevara adorning the Ministry of the Interior. Arrive either early or late as it is often swamped by tourists and gets very hot during the day.
- John Lennon Park in Vedado. Features the only statue of a western musician in Havana. Notable for the regularly stolen (and replaced) eyeglasses.
- The US Special Interests building in Vedado, just off the Malecon. In the absence of a United States embassy in Cuba this heavily fortified and guarded building is where Cuban citizens go to apply for US Visas. It is notable for displaying news which is unfiltered and not censored by the Cuban government on electronic billboards situated behind the windows of one of the floors. It is also the focus for regularly staged protests and is famous for the anti-American propaganda billboards displayed opposite.
- Hotel Habana Libre in Vedado. The hotel housed Castro's soldiers for several days after they took Havana. It has an excellent selection of photos in the lobby along with one of the only 24 hour fast food restaurants in the city.
- Enjoy extraordinary 360-degree views of the city using the large Camara Oscura in the old town.
- The Catedral de San Cristobal in old Havana. Said to be the only example of a baroque construction that possesses asymmetrical features, one of the towers is wider than the other.
- Plaza de Armas. Spacious and elegant, the square is surrounded by baroque constructions that give it a authentic colonial milieu. It was laid during the 1600s, replacing an Old Plaza which acted as the center of religious, administrative and military activity. Until the mid 18th century, it was used for military exercises and parades. After its remodeling between the years 1771-1838, it became a favored meeting spot for the city's wealthy. Today it is also known as Céspedes Park, in honor of the Country´s Founding Father, whose monument stands at its center. This square is one of the most outstanding in the city, enlivened by vendors of antiques and classical books on Latin American and world literature. Attractions of remarkable historical value lay around the square such as the capok tree (Ceiba) under which the first mass for the city´s founding was officiated in 1519.
, a great place for a stroll.
- Walk along the Malecón, the sea wall that runs along the Havana coastline. On weekends this is where the locals come to party, so bring a bottle and join in.
- Latin American New Cinema Festival,  is a popular event held every December, screening international films and drawing around 500,000 people.
- Tropicana Show — A cabaret show that costs 90CUC. It is a must see show while you are in Havana.
- Take a tour in an old car — For around 20-30CUC an hour for up to four people, be driven around Havana in style. Choose a car you like near the Hotel Inglaterra or outside the Museum of the Revolution.
- Go to the eastern beaches (Playas del Este) — There's a bus leaving from Hotel Inglaterra every 30 minutes. Price is 5 CUC for a roundtrip. The ride takes about 30 minutes.
Nearly every restaurant and hotel in town has a decent house band playing old favorites.
- Hotel Nacional often hosts big name talent such as Omara Portuondo.
- La Zorra y el Cuervo, La Rampa, (near the Hotel Habana Libre). A tiny little club below street level, they often host funky and amazing jazz musicians. Go there for something a little different.
- La Tropical is a venue designed to hold several thousand people. It only opens for live music. Look around for signs in the streets publicising the next event.
- Casa de la Musica de Centro Habana is the place to be if you like to dance Salsa. Check the program before you buy tickets, there are different top-rated salsa bands playing every night.
- The University of Havana,  — Offers intensive Spanish courses from 1 week/20 hours (100CUC) to 4 weeks/80 hours (360CUC). Contact Professor Judith Portal Jportalm@flex.uh.cu.
- The Instituto Superior de Arte / Escuela Nacional de Arte / CNSEA offer courses of various lengths and levels in music, dance, drama, art and Spanish.
Havana is a surprisingly expensive city to stay in; if you stay in hotels and eat in restaurants it can work out to be nearly as expensive as other popular international destinations. The problem is that Cuba has a dual economy, if you could live on pesos it would be incredibly cheap. Sadly, as a tourist this is virtually impossible. Most peso hotels won't take foreigners or, if they do you have to pay in CUC. If you are on any kind of a budget it is advised to stay in casas particulares; it is much cheaper, often more comfortable and the food (a recurring theme in Cuba) is almost invariably better.
ATMs are not too hard to find in downtown Havana, but bear in mind that American credit- and debit-cards can not be used in Havana. Note that even credit cards issued in countries other than the USA may be issued by a bank whose parent company is a U.S. corporation. In this case, the card will not work as the parent company is bound by U.S. law. Even banks wholly owned by non-American companies may have a policy on blocking Cuban transactions in order not to compromise their US business. Always check with your bank or credit card company before leaving home to see if your card will work in Havana. Also, the ATMs do not accept MasterCard/Maestro but are marked to accept Visa.
You can withdraw money from your MasterCard in a couple of exchange offices. There is one in the basement of the Hotel Nacional, but expect quite steep service fees.
Exchanging US dollars in a CADECA (Casa de cambio) will incur a 10% penality.
Whilst Convertible Peso restaurants can be quite expensive at the top end for rather mediocre food some such as the Café de Oriente have splendid ambiance. The average government run restaurants are about US$20 for two.
Peso stalls are all over the city, particulary on Prado Marti.
Some restaurants like Hanoi, in Calle Brasil, offer generous meals for 5CUC.
With Cuban national pesos, you can get ice cream for only 1 peso (US$0.04) in small street booths scattered around the city. You can also get a filling bocadito (small ham sandwiches) or a cajita (small meal in a cardboard box) for less than 20 pesos (US$0.80), or a "pizza" for 7-10 pesos (US$0.40).
Particularly, the Terminal de Omnibus, by the Plaza de la Revolucion, has a very good peso cafe with offerings as fried chicken for only 25 pesos ($1.00 USD).
- Coppelia Ice Cream parlour, opposite the Habana Libre. Practically a Cuban institution with people waiting up to an hour to get a seat. Prices are in Peso's and CUC (obviously the queues being for the peso area!).
Keeping your eyes open you can find complete menus (starter or salad, soup, main dish, dessert and a national beverage) for 6-10CUC. In the Vieja there are such restaurants in the smaller, not very crowded streets.
- El Aljibe. In the Havana suburb of Miramar, El Aljibe is the definitive proof that food in Cuba needn't be bland. Try the house specialty, chicken in sour orange sauce. El Aljibe also has a remarkably well-stocked wine cellar.
There are many good, mid-priced restaurants in Chinatown. "Bavaria" is one of the best, if you can picture a restaurant named after a German province, pronounced like "barbaria," with Chinese decor, serving pizzas and spaghetti!
The restaurants inside 5 star hotels tend to charge excessive amounts of money for mediocre food and service. Other places such as the Floridita do live up to the customer's expectations considering the price.
Probably the most interesting restaurant in the country is La Guarida. It occupies a flat in what was once an elegant private city mansion and what is today a decaying set of communal apartments. To get the restaurant you must walk thru the stunning yet decaying mansion and past people’s flats. The food is probably the best in Havana, the setting is great and surreal. Its worth making the effort as its the only restaurant in the country at a trully international standard. This flat was also the setting for Cuba’s internationally acclaimed movie Fresa y chocolate. About $40 per person. Reservations essential and should be made two to three days in advance. +53 7 866 9047
All the tourist hotels serve breakfast, typically a buffet with a wide variety of good food, although overpriced (15 CUC at the Hotel Nacional!). If you stay in a casa particular ask whether you'll be served breakfast. If not, ask the landlord/lady to take you shopping. Otherwise there's almost no hope of finding a restaurant open for breakfast. One exception is the Chan Li Po Bar-Cafeteria, open at 9AM, in Centro Habana, near Chinatown, at Perseverancia #453 (between Zanja and San Martin).
- La Bodeguita del Medio is the bar in which to sample a Mojito. The former hang-out of Ernest Hemingway, it is best sampled in the evening once the tourist crowds from Varadero have headed back out of the city.
- El Floridita, Obispo St. A nice restaurant-bar, you should try a daiquirí or the ‘Hemingway Special’.
- Los Buccaneros Hanoi, Calle Brasil. With the front of the Capitol building on your right from the main street, walk about two blocks to the left on the road that runs parallel to the Capitol. There are two bars called Hanoi. Go to the first one Los Buccaneros. This bar serves very good mojitos for 1$CUC.
You can have a great time just outside of the Hotel Inglaterra near the Capitólio Building, drinking good daiquiri's and mojito's at an affordable price (2CUC in September 2005).
There are 3 main areas that travelers generally stay in: Old Havana is the liveliest (some would say hectic and dirty), Central Havana is slightly quieter and parts can be a bit seedy, and Vedado is the quietest with more greenery, and is the place to find the large hotels and nicer casas particulares.
Hotels vary. Don't be surprised if you have no hot water and bad TV-reception in a hotel that still goes to the effort of having an in-hotel doctor and hosting extravagant shows of synchronized swimming in the hotel pool.
List of Casas particulares Legal
- Jorge Leon de la Hoz, Neptuno No. 1218 (altos), e/ Mazon y Basarrante, Vedado Plaza (Close to the University end of Neptuno street), ☎ +53 7 870 7723. A very friendly family home, close to the Universidad de la Habana. Room rates are negotiable depending upon the length of stay. 
- Señores Elsa y Julio Roque, Consulado No. 162, apto. 2 (between Colon and Trocadero), +53 7 860 1257. A very friendly couple rent rooms in their centrally located house and help find other houses in case they're full. Both speak good English and offer helpful information. Reservations can be made by e-mail either in English or in Spanish 
- Casa Lopez, situated in a very central place of the Havana City, just a few block from the Capitolio and from the Old Havana ,.
- Havana Room Rental  provides a service to find homes that are offering rooms for rent.
- Señora Ivette Flores rents out three private rooms with air conditionning and independent entrances in Centro Habana, near the Casa de la Música. 213 San Nicolas / Concordia y Virtudes / Centro Habana. ppn: 25 CUC including abundant breakfast. 
- Casa Mireya, 47 Ave. #5211 (between 52 and 54), Playa, +53 7 209 13 54.
- Casa Ines, Calle Segunda #559, (between Ayesteran and Ayuntamiento), Plaza de la Revolucion, +53 7 870 0237, , .
- Casa de Jesus y Saida Valdez, Calle 24 #262, Apt #5 (between 17 and 19), Vedado, +53 7 830 7279.
- Casa Cary, Virtudes #511 (top floor, between Lealtad and Preseverancia), +53 7 863 1802, , Video .
- Casa de Lydia y Felix Pedro, 15 St #456, (between E and F), Vedado, +53 7 832 6223.
- Casa Particular Havana, 28 St #270, Apt F (between 23 and 21), Vedado, +53 7 830 8007, , .
- La Casa de Ana, havana, 17 St #1422, Apt 1 (between 26 st and 28 st), Vedado, +53 7 833 5128, , .
- Alicia Beaton, Havana ($20CUC - £25CUC per night), CRESPO No. 10, e/ San Lazaro y Malecon, Vedado, +53 7 863 9616 - This is very convenient hostal located close to the Malecon and near to Park Central area. The pristine house and bedrooms are located on the third floor of the building. Please ask the owners to turn off the air conditioning if you are too cold.
- Casa Nora, Havana, ($35CUC) Calle 64 No. 4105 e/ 41 y 43, Playa, . Living room, bedroom and compact kitchen. George speaks wonderful English and has a wealth of information.
- Casa de Sergio and Miriam, Luz 109 (in the center of Old Havana), +53 7 860 8192, .
- Hotel Inglaterra, Paseo del Prado, Old Havana, . A popular hotel with a restaurant for those wanting to stay closer to the action yet still in the comforts of a hotel. Rooms from US$80.
- Hotel Telegrafo, Prado and Neptuno, Old Havana. A popular hotel just around the corner from Parque Central, right next to Inglaterra. Renovated in 2004, and now really nice inside, a welcome haven of peace away from Vieja. Rooms US$80-120, cheaper if you book ahead with Opodo.
- Tryp Habana Libre Hotel, La Rampa (just off the Malecón in Vedado), . A Havana landmark in a good location, it's popular with tourists and journalists, has a good 24 hour cafe on site, and a business center with decent internet connections.
- Hotel Habana Riviera, Paseo and Malecón, Vedado, . Located along the Malecon, Havana's waterfront boulevard, this elegant hotel is considered a classic among Cubans. Its proximity to the historical-cultural center of Havana, makes this hotel the perfect place from which to explore the city. In the night time the Riviera offers excellent entertainment featuring both the exclusive Copa Room Cabaret and one of Havana's top restaurants.
- Hotel Nacional, Calle 21 and O, Vedado, +53 7 836 3564, . Overlooking the ocean on the Malecón, this place is legendary. Some stay here and rarely leave the hotel, enjoying the nice restaurant, frequent live performances by renowned Cuban musicians, and enjoying the views while sipping Mojitos. But did you come to see Havana, or hang out in a hotel? Maybe some of both is called for. The Hotel also has an excellent, albeit expensive business centre featuring CNN, internet access and a bar. Rooms from US$120.
- Hotel Saratoga, corner of Prado and Dragones, Old Havana, +53 7 868 1000, . Opened in November 2005, it is regarded by many as the highest quality hotel in Cuba.
- Hotel NH Parque Central, on Neptuno (between Agramonte and Paseo di Marti), +53 7 867 1037, . The NH is similar to the Saratoga in quality and has a beautiful ground floor lobby as well as a rooftop swimming pool.
- Hotel Conde de Villanueva, Calle Mercaderes esq. Amagura, Old Havana. A beautifully restored colonial home, this hotel is the ultimate destination for a connoisseur of Cuban cigars; each room is named after a tobacco plantation, and, of course, all rooms permit smoking. Boasts an impressive cigar shop in the hotel, in addition to a (reasonably average) restaurant. Be warned, though: if you like to sleep late, there is a peacock that wanders around the courtyard that begins to make noise as soon as the sun comes up.
- Hotel Ambos Mundos. Obispo esquina a Mercaderes . Writer Ernest Hemingway stayed and wrote most of For Whom the Bells Toll here, a fact which adds historical charm to this well-located hotel in Old Havana. The Plaza de Armas is a few steps away, and the establishment has an elegant and lively lobby where piano and jazz musicians perform.
- Hotel Park View. Colón 101 . A popular hotel in the 1920s, the Park View (reopened in 2002) is a discrete little establishment just off Prado, close to the colonial centre of Old Havana and the seawall. It does not share in the historical or decorative charm of other Old Havana properties, but it is certainly a practical option for anyone interested in exploring Old Havana and traveling on a tighter budget.
- Hotel Plaza. Ignacio Agramonte No. 267 . The Plaza is one of Havana’s oldest hotels. In addition to a beautifully restored interior and a great location near many places of interest in Old Havana, the hotel also has some interesting anecdotes. Albert Einstein once dined here, and Babe Ruth stayed at one of the suites, today a museum (where his bat has been preserved).
- Hotel Santa Isabel. Baratillo 9 . Considered Old Havana’s flagship hotel, this establishment is one of the classier – and more expensive – colonial-era options in this part of town. The long terrace overlooking the Plaza de Armas, shared by 10 west-facing rooms, is one of the hotel’s most evident charms, as are its colonial appeal and a magnificent location.
The city code for Havana is 7. Prefix with 0 or 01 when calling from within Cuba.
Internet cafes can be found at ETESCA (the state telephone company) offices, in Hotel Habana Libre, Hotel Inglatera (cheapest but slowest), Hotel Nacional and at the Capitolio.
The emergency number is 116. The information number is 113.
Havana is quite safe for a large city. Being a totalitarian police state, the first thing you will notice is that there are police on (almost literally) every corner. Popular tourist places (Habana Vieja, El Malecón etc.) are watched even more closely by policemen, so you don't have to be afraid of being attacked in the daytime. At night, however, there have been muggings in the dark streets of Centro Habana. While Centro Habana is perfectly safe to explore in the daytime and can safely be crossed while going to Habana Vieja or Vedado, its best not to cut through there at night. If you are going to walk, do so along the malecon where there is lighting and a lot more people. Be wary of hustlers (jinteros/as) offering to show you a place to eat or offering a tour of the city as you'll be stuck paying hefty prices to cover their commission. For the first timer in Cuba they are a real pain. Just keep walking away and soon enough they will leave you alone. Ask for menus or prices before ordering anything. There can be special 'tourist price menus' that get pulled out after you have consumed food or drink.
Embassies and High Commissions
- British Embassy, +53 (0) 7 204 1771.
- Canadian Embassy, +53 (0) 7 204 2516.
- South African Embassy, +53 (0) 7 204 9671.
- U.S. Interests Section, +53 (0) 7 33 3551.
|This is a usable article. It has information for getting in as well as some complete entries for restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!