Why you HAVE to visit Havana, Cuba
Visiting Havana before Cuba changes has been on my list for years. The city reminds me of Venice; walking around this city is like stepping into a museum (a badly maintained museum). Most of Havana is a crumbling mess of buildings from the early to mid-1900s. The most interesting area for us was Central Havana where people actually live (as opposed to Old Havana which is for the tourists). You see little streets with broken sidewalks, old cars on cement blocks, washing hanging out of balconies,electric wiring strung out in every direction, and buildings that had once been beautiful which have crumbled and faded with time. Old cars are everywhere and if you like cars or other modes of transport (like old trains – we saw a few on display dating from the 1800s) then Havana is a great place for you. I talk about how Havana is a crumbling mess – but with its Caribbean setting there is a lot of beauty in its decrepitness.
Old Havana (photos below) is probably what the authorities want you to see. It is completely different than Central Havana. It has forts, plazas, and cathedrals dating back from the 16th century. Although beautiful, we found that Old Havana had been restored to such a degree that most of it seemed almost artificial.
Overall, we can’t say that we loved every aspect of Havana. The touts are pushy and you can’t walk anywhere without someone wanting to give you a tour or asking for clothes or toiletries. After two days, we couldn’t walk out of the hotel without seeing the “usual suspects” making a beeline for us (usual suspects: Mr. Bicycle Taxi Man, Mr. Old Car Man, Mr. Horse Carriage Man, Mr. “Let me show you the real Cuba” Man, Mr. “Let me take you to the foreign exchange” Man). I overheard a British guy say to his wife that he just wanted to tell everyone to “fuck off” and go back to the room. We also found the city incredibly loud and polluted, diesel fumes are overwhelming.
Nevertheless, Havana has to be seen. In it’s own way, it’s one of the most beautiful cities on earth. It is an amazing city that has no comparison anywhere. It also made us appreciate what the people who live here go through every day. The great thing about travel is that it always reminds you to be thankful for what you have.
Accommodation: We stayed at the Iberostar Parque Central Hotel . It is a beautiful hotel with the most fantastic views from its rooftop. A refuge from the noisy, chaotic streets of Havana. Recommended.
Tours. This day trip of Havana from Varadero. Or, if you’re already in Havana, this 2 hour tour in a classic 1950’s American convertible.
Beware: We were targeted for an exchange rate scam in Havana. Keep your eyes out, don’t let anyone “help” you exchange your foreign currency. I detailed it on Tripadvisor.
You think Havana looks amazing? Trinidad was actually our favorite place in Cuba.
Most international travellers entering Cuba will fly into Havana’s Jose Marti Int’l Airport (airport code: HAV). Another popular entry point is Varadero (Juan Gualberto Gómez International Airport. Airport code: VRA)
Have you been to Havana?
Related: Cuba Travel Guide: Where to Go and What to Do (including the Best Beaches)
Related: Cienfuegos…and Reasons we Love Cuba
Related: The Most Beautiful City in the World? Our candidates…and winner
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Hey! I am planning a trip this fall for my family (2 20somethings and 2 60+) Do you or any other readers have any other hotel recommendations? My sister, father and I are not picky, but my mother would like something a little nicer (pool, balcony and/or lobby). Any other tips you have for travel/logistics would be greatly appreciated, thanks!
Its been a few years since we were in Havana but that Parque Central Hotel that I have above was very nice and as you can see the pool is great (fantastic views). A nice splurge and I recommend everything except the restaurant. Across the street you’ll find a good restaurant at half the price.
The bus system was for us good and the driver and attendant on board helpful. Mostly tourists take it. here’s the site: http://www.viazul.com/
Gorgeous photos of Havana! Very inspiring to visit!
Thank you very much Alex! 🙂
Havana!!! Love it! 😉 Must go to Cuba soon…
Thanks Wolfgang! I love your name 🙂
Ooops! My name? Why??? 😉
My parents were born in Germany, but I was born in Canada. I’ve always thought German names were great – but that Wolfgang is the coolest. Not making fun of your name, just think it’s really cool 🙂 Always hated my own.
I was there this time last year and I still miss, one of my favourite cities in the world!
Finding this guide very useful thanks guys. We are going in a few weeks. Is it ok to go around with a camera round your neck or better to just takeout when needed (looking at these pictues every minute or so!)? We are normally very careful and have been around the madness of Asia.
Hi Chris – Cuba very safe, have never ever felt in danger on any of my trips. I think locals very careful – tourism very important to them and I was told by a hotel owner that consequences for them would be harsh. I don’t think you have to worry at all, very different from most places in the Caribbean.
Have a good time,
I cannot wait to go to Cuba in the near future. Every time I see photos of it I long for it more and more. I am so surprised at the scammers and touts though – that is something I haven’t read before, so I will make sure that I am on the lookout 😀
The people make Cuba great, even with the touts and scammers you’ll have a great time 🙂
We went to Havana in July this year and I must admit, I really liked it although I totally empathise with being harrassed constantly to be sold stuff/tours/taxis etc – we got a bit more blase about it as time went on but I found the contrasts in the city fascinating – you’ve captured it with some beautiful photographs here!
Thank you Shikha. You’re right, just have to get used to it. At least they’re not physically aggressive like some other places…
Havana looks SO beautiful. We were going to go to Cuba at the end of July but plans fell through, I was so bummed. I can’t wait to go one day! Great pictures! Makes me want to go even more!
Thanks Samantha – you guys pretty close being in Costa Rica. I think its one of the unique places that has to be seen. Thanks for the comment!
Fantastic photos they really capture the true Havana. Some of your photos of the old cars look like they come straight out of a post card shop. very interesting.
Thank you very much Michael!
Valen-This Way Paradise
Yes, I went to Havana a few years ago. I loved it and the beaches nearby were beautiful. My favorite area was the area of Vinales!! You got some great shots!!
I’ve heard the Vinales are was beautiful and the ‘authentic’ Cuba. We’ll go there if we ever go back to Cuba. Thanks for the comment Val!
A good job, Frank. Cuba is a free lesson of communism and its consequences. Very interesting lesson.
Great photos. Shame about the scammers and weirdos. Still, I suppose you get them everywhere and most are good people trying to make an honest buck (we hope!) – Havana is on the list so if I ever make it there I’ll look out for your new ‘friends’ haha 🙂
Thanks for the comment Hayley! We generally really like Cubans, nice people – the few bad apples will just try to fool you or work on your sympathies. I’ve never felt anything but safe in Cuba. Hope you get there, it’s a special place!
Lovely essay! Looks a lot like the photos I got from a friend who was there recently!
I love the names for each scam artist and street vendour-type you had 😉 Can’t say you sold Havana to me, but from my own experiences I definitely understand the hassle you went through. The pictures sell it more though, great architecture!
Thanks for sharing your adventures 😉
I was actually going to hit up Havana last week for a last minute visa run as my initial plans for hoping the MX border into Belize fell through. Sadly it was so last minute that the owners of the Casas Particulares didn’t respond in time and I had to settle for Miami.
I’ll be bookmarking this one for future reference when I can take an actual trip there sometime next year.
Hi Devlin – that’s a shame. There’s TONS of casas though for the next time you’re looking for something – check out the links on my Cuba Guide page: https://bbqboy.net/cuba-guide-and-travel-tips/. The problem with Cuba though is communications; slow at the best of times, often non-functional. If I was stuck last minute I would probably chose a place centrally located and just show up. They may not have a room (but probably do!) but if they don’t they’ll call a neighboring Casa and line you up with something.
Such an intriguing place. Cuba is home to so much that bridges the old to the new. Nicely done!
Thank you Maria – we love Cuba, but it is above all because of the people.
Awesome photos! As an American, I’m dying to go to Cuba.. Thanks for sharing your experience. Maybe I’ll go through Mexico or something.
Thanks Brad. We think it’s a really special place. Love Cuba!
Jill at Road Warrior
Wow, your photos put ours to shame!!! This post is surreal!
We loved our time in Havana and looks like we will have so much more to do (after reading your post!) when we visit again!!!
Thanks for the link and Happy Travels! Jill at Road Warrior 🙂
Great photos Frank, they really capture real life in Havana. It’s interesting to read about your experiences with the touts – we didn’t experience anything like that, at all! In fact I can’t remember a single tout or a single person asking us for anything. Maybe that’s the difference in travelling with children to Cuba? I notice with envy that you stayed at the Parque Central Hotel, we wanted to get in there but it was fully booked so we ended up at the Ingleterra which was certainly full of character!
I think they especially target Parque Central because of 1) it’s location right in the middle of the city and 2) it’s a pricy hotel, they know people have a bit of money. But I’m sure having kids with you doesn’t hurt either!
Marina K. Villatoro
We were in Havana October 2011! Great place. The people alone make it come alive.
My dad went many, many years ago in the 70s. Ever since I came across those pictures in a box in the attic, I have wanted to see it for myself!
Hi Jennifer – yeah, it probably hasn’t changed much from the 70’s! It’s an interesting place.
I absolutely love the architecture on these old buildings. I would love to visit one day.
Cuba’s great, despite what the politicians tell you! You should also check out my post on Trinidad, that was actually our highlight in Cuba. Thanks for the comment Ellen!