Havana

For other places with the same name, see Havana (disambiguation).

Havana (Spanish: La Habana) is the capital city of Cuba, and one of the fourteen provinces of the Republic of Cuba.

The Catedral de San Cristobal, La Habana Vieja (Old Havana).

Understand

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.

Currency

Cuba has two currencies, the Cuban Peso (CUP) and the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC). Most tourists 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.

Get in

 Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
 
Daily highs (°C) 25.8 26.1 27.6 28.6 29.8 30.5 31.3 31.6 31.0 29.2 27.7 26.5
Nightly lows (°C) 18.6 18.6 19.7 20.9 22.4 23.4 23.8 24.1 23.8 23.0 21.3 19.5
Precipitation (mm) 64.4 68.6 46.2 53.7 90.0 182.3 105.6 99.6 144.4 180.5 88.3 57.6

Source:w:Havana#Climate

By plane

Jose Marti International Airport (IATA: HAV). The airport 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 (about 1½ hours) when entering the country.

There’s an ATM and currency exchange located in the departure hall (1st floor), however don’t count on either being functional/opened since these service are not very reliable in Cuba.

An official taxi to Havana center costs 20-25 CUC but you can find slightly cheaper (illegal) ones. The cost is roughly 1 CUC per kilometer.

There is a bus service from the Terminal One (domestic flights) to La Habana Centro (Metro Bus 12 & 16) that runs until about 8pm and costs 0.40 CUP per person. Beware though that buses in Havana are almost always overcrowded, so this will likely be an unpleasant ride.

To get to Terminal 1 you can take a cab or use the shuttle service between terminals (Connexions).

To get to the airport from the city take bus to Santiago de Las Vegas (P-12 or P-16), which run from Parque Fraternidad next to the Capitolio and anywhere along Avendida de la Indepencia, which stop at Terminal 1. People will be helpful when asking for advice about this whilst on the bus, even without Spanish skills. You can also hail a maquina on Avenida Reina to Boyeros for 20 CUP and either walk or take a taxi the rest of the way.

There are also regular holiday charter flights to resorts such as Varadero, and these can sometimes be less expensive than those going to Havana.

By train

NOTE: An extensive, three-year renovation project is currently underway on La Habana Central, the central railway station. All trains now arrive and depart from the former bus station, located on the adjoining Coubre rail yard. Expect less-then-optimal conditions and queues. The renovation is expected to finish in 2018.

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.

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 (Casa Blanca station) and Matanzas ('downtown' - not the main Matanzas station). The Hershey train cars are very dilapidated and will appeal certainly to die-hard train enthusiasts - but will be a good adventure for many others. The trip takes a minimum of four hours regardless of what the schedule says. Most of the seats are at least partially broken - but you should be able to find someplace to sit down. At any point of time there are two trains running on this single-track railway: one Matanzas-bound and one Casablanca-bound, provided that both trains are operational. Theoretically you can get off at Hershey and catch the train way back by walking across the platform - either train will wait for another's arrival because technically a train cannot leave Hershey station (which serves as the midway dual-track meetup point) while another is still occupying the only track of its onward leg.

By car

Hiring a car in Cuba will cost you from 33 to 106CUC per day. When hiring it, beware of the price of the insurance policy, as it may be subject to a scam.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.

By bus

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 3 km 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.

There are Cubanacan offices in many hotels, such as El Torre Hotel at Parque Central, that sell bus tickets for their own busses for the same rate as Viazul except that they pick up their passengers from major Havana hotels. So if staying in this neighborhood you can get picked up at one of these hotels and avoid the costs to get to the Viazul bus station.

Some have reported using Astro, which run from the main bus terminal near the Plaza de la Revolucion, but others report these are restricted to Cuban nationals.

By boat

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.

Get around

Tourists in a 1951 Chevrolet convertible.
Coco Taxi. Coco taxis are cheap transport.

By taxi

As a tourist, the most convenient way of getting around Havana is by taxi. Some of the taxis are old American Chevys from the 1950s, 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, it 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: if in doubt, give only 10 CUP unless the driver asks for another 10. 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 the savings make it worthwhile.

Coco Taxis and yellow three wheel motorbikes are a cheap way of getting around central Havana.

By bus

Map of Havana MetroBus routes

Havana used to have 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 Havanna in April 2008 (but still can be seen elsewhere in the country) and were replaced by modern YuTong Chinese city buses.

The cost of riding the new city bus is 0.40 CUP to anywhere in the city. That is one national peso rides two people (the driver will not give you change). Almost all buses are overcrowded, there are plenty of buses running though, so if the one you want is full simply wait for the next one (don't expect to sit though). There are few clearly marked bus stops on route, but it's 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.

By car

Whilst useful for reaching some of the less central locations in Havana, the price of car hire will rarely be less than using taxis. Traffic is moderate, especially outside the rush hour. Do however expect to share the road space with a multitude of cyclists, pedestrians and poorly parked vehicles. Parking regulations are enforced in central Havana. There are many attended, on-street car parks, use them. Expect to pay 1CUC for parking.

By cycle

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.

By foot

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.

See

The impressive El Capitolio, an iconic government building soon to once again house the Cuban National Assembly.
Even if Fidel himself have given up smoking, production of top quality cigars at the Fábrica de Tabaco Partagas are still ongoing. A must-visit for any tobacco connoisseur.
Cannon of Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña in Havana

The Old Town of Havana, La Habana Vieja is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and strolling along its streets and enjoying the beautiful buildings is a must for any visitor. Some parts of the Old Town are quite dilapidated with crumbling buildings but many others have been restored to their former glory.

An evening walk along the Prado is a great way to sip in the street life and enjoying the hums of numerous cafes and restaurants. The street is however not illuminated at night. Another favorite stroll for tourists and locals alike is along El Malecón, Havanas waterfront with stunning views of the city.

Do

The Malecón, a great place for a stroll.

Live Music

Nearly every restaurant and hotel in town has a decent house band playing old favorites.

Learn

Buy

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% penalty. Sterling, Euros and Canadian dollars can easily be exchanged at Cadecas and do not incur the same fee.

Eat

Parque Central from Hotel Inglaterra, Havana Vieja (Old Havana).

Whilst Convertible Peso restaurants can be quite expensive at the top end for rather mediocre food, some such as the Café de Oriente have a splendid ambiance. The average government-run restaurants are about US$20 for two.

Budget

Peso stalls are all over the city, particularly 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).

Mid-range

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.

Beware that at least one paladar charges an hefty per-person service charge on top of your bill (10 CUC per couple at Paladar Amistad de Lanzarote in Central Havana) - deceivingly printed in Spanish only in a bilingual English/Spanish menu. Also no matter what the owner insists, there is never a tax levied for eating at paladares. Always ask before ordering.

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.

Splurge

The restaurants inside five-star hotels tend to charge excessive amounts of money for mediocre food and service.

Breakfast

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).

Drink

A local bar in Havana.

There are two types of establishments you can go to drink in Havana: Western-style CUC bars with near-Western prices, good selection of quality drinks (and sometimes food), nice decorations, semi-motivated staff and often live music, typically found around tourist hot-spots such as Old Havana and tourist hotels. Here you will mostly meet other tourists, expats and a few Cubans with access to hard currency, but don't expect a 'local' experience.

The alternative is to seek out local neighborhood bars where you can choose from a quality, but limited, selection of drinks (mainly locally produced rum by the bottle, beer and soft drinks, very rarely will you be able to get cocktails such as mojitos), cigars of dubious and cigarettes of only slightly better quality, and sometimes snacks. Local bars accept CUPs and are dirt-cheap, although bar keepers will often ask you for CUCs instead - it's up to you to negotiate an acceptable price. These bars are also a good way to meet locals who may even open up a bit and talk about their lives after a couple of drinks.

Local bars are not that hard to find despite typically having no prominent signs displayed outside. Just ask or walk around a local neighborhood and look out for a bare-walled, neon-lit run-down room without any decorations or furniture, save for a bar and a few rickety chairs and tables, sullen staff and depressed/bored/drunk-looking customers, almost always men. Contrary to Cuba's reputation as a music and fun loving nation, these places are not boisterous affairs - they are quiet, almost subdued, music is rarely played, and have the charm of third-world railway station waiting rooms.

Nonetheless, they make for a fascinating experience (especially if you make the effort to speak to some locals - offering to buy a drink will get a conversation going, no surprise there), and they provide a good insight into what life must be like for ordinary Cubans without hard currency. As a foreign visitor, you will be generally welcomed. Discussing politics over a drink is a tricky, and typically lose-lose proposition: speak negatively about the Cuban political system and you may put your Cuban drinking companions into a very difficult position as they may very well be informed on (for hanging out with subversive foreigners); enthuse about the Revolution, Che, Fidel, Cuba's health care system, sticking it to the Gringos, etc., and people will assume that you are at best naïve or at worst not in full possession of your mental faculties.

You can have a great time just outside of the Hotel Inglaterra near the Capitólio Building, drinking good daiquiris and mojitos at an affordable price (2CUC in September 2005).

Sleep

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

Mid-range

Hotels

Connect

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.

Wireless Internet access - some high-end hotels such as Hotel Parque Central sells wi-fi scratch cards at the rate of 8 CUC per hour, which can be used inside the hotel and works well with iPhone/iPod Touch.

The emergency number is 116. The information number is 113.

Stay safe

Havana is quite safe for a large city. Heavily dependent on tourism, Cuban police are everywhere and pay especial attention to spots where travelers congregate (Habana Vieja, El Malecón. etc.), so you don't have to be afraid of being accosted in the daytime. Prison sentences for crimes involving tourists are extremely harsh, a fact which residents are well aware of, which adds an extra layer of deterrence. At night, however, there have been muggings in the dark streets of Centro Habana. While this part of town is perfectly safe to explore in the daytime, and can be crossed safely while going to Habana Vieja or Vedado, it's best not go there at night. If you are going to walk, do so along El Malecón, where there are lights and a lot more people.

Be wary of hustlers (jinteros/as) offering to show you a nice bar or restaurant, or offering a tour of the city, as you'll be stuck paying hefty prices to cover their commission. Just walk away and continue walking—soon enough they will leave you alone. There are a few well established scamsyou should learn about in order to be prepared.

In local restaurants, 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.

When paying, it is recommended to give the exact amount of cash. If you don't have it, it is wise to state clearly how much money you are giving and how much you should get back. Otherwise, they might try not to give you your change back.

If you're male, expect to be accosted regularly by prostitutes and/or their pimps, especially in Habana Vieja. While technically illegal, erstwhile mandatory jail time for prostitution filled prisons so quickly that the regime had little choice but to start looking the other way. The result is a steady, depressing stream of solicitations that can wear down even the most cynical traveler unless he's prepared for it. Particularly disheartening are the offers from young girls, some no more than 11 or 12. Accept this situation as a fact of life in modern-day Cuba—and don't contribute to it.

People on the streets try to sell you cigars. Often they say (after asking when you arrived in Havana) that the "Cigar Festival" is on today, where people sell cigars in their homes for half the price. These are usually fake cigars and they are trying to push you a whole box of cigars even if you just want to buy a few.

In general, it is wise to not let people "help" you in any way. Even when offering to take a picture of you in front of a landmark with your camera/phone, they then ask for money afterwards for their "service".

The air in Havana is very polluted because of old cars and factories. This will cause respiratory conditions to some visitors.

Cope

Embassies and High Commissions

Go next

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