Difference between revisions of "Havana"
Revision as of 22:49, 5 May 2006
Havana City (Spanish Ciudad de la Habana) is the capital city of Cuba, and one of the fourteen provinces of the Republic of Cuba.
Havana is a popular vacation destination. Many tourists will be their year round so expect huge crowds and long lines in places.
The international airport for Havana, and in fact the main airport for Cuba is Jose Marti Internacional. It has several separate terminals. Terminal 1 is for internal (domestic) flights. Terminal 2 is mainly for charter flights from the US. Terminal 3 is the main terminal for international flights.
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.
As a tourist the most convenient way of getting around Havana is by taxi. Some of the taxis are old American Chevys and the like 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 Chevs 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 offical 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.
For the real Havana experience try El Camello. For just a few pesos you can take part in the experiment, how many Cubans fit in a Camello. The answer is somewhere around 300l. A common joke is that the camellos are like the Saturday night movie - full of violence, sex and bad language. Remember to bring Peso change as the conductor probably wont be prepared to break a note and hold on to your wallet.
Other local busses can also get crowded, but in the suburbs are a practical means of transport for visitors.
Havana is a surprisingly expensive city to stay in; if you stay in hotels and eat in restaurants it can work out every bit as expensive as London or Paris. 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 wont take foreigners or, if they do you have to pay in dollars. 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.
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 $20 for two and hence cannot be compared in any way to London or Paris.
Peso stalls are all over the city, particulary on Prado Marti.
With Cuban national pesos, you can get ice cream for only 1 peso ($0.04 USD). You can also get a filling bocadito (small ham sandwiches) for only 20 pesos ($0.80 USD).
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).
Keeping your eyes open you can find complete menus (starter or salad, soup, main dish, dessert and a national beverage) for 6-10 CUC. In the Vieja there are such restaurants in the smaller, not very crowded streets.
Some recommend that accommodation in Havana be sought in Vedado rather than Central Havana or Havana Viejo (Old Havana) which are significantly more run down and less pleasant places to stay. Others however, prefer the livliness of the older parts.
The city code for Havana is 7. Prefix with 0 or 01 when calling within Cuba. Internet cafes can be found at ETESCA (the state telephone company) offices and at the Capitolio.
Popular tourist places (Habana Vieja, El Malecón etc.) are watched by policemen, so you don't have to be afraid of being attacked. Be wary of hustlers (jinteros/as) offering to show you a place to eat, or offering a tour of the city. The price will be jacked up to pay a commission to the hustler.