Known for its colorful buildings, and music and dance that fills the streets no matter the hour of the day, Havana, Cuba is full of unique history and beautiful architecture.
1. Tour The Capital Building
The port of Havana is less than a twenty-minute walk to the capital building of Havana. (El Capitolio)
El Capitolio is quite a beautiful site. Tours inside the building are offered during select hours with a ticket purchase.
The square surrounding acts as a major hub for many buses, cars, and taxis. However, don’t run off too quickly as nearby the square you will find lots to do, eat, and listen to. Stop by the famous Floriditas for a daiquiri or a piña colada. Or check out the Bacardi headquarters building a couple of squares over.
The streets leading up to this city center are filled with their own little life and stories as well. You’ll find unique restaurants, bars, craft shops, and plenty of places to nab yourself those souvenirs for your soon to be very jealous friends and families back home.
Most street corners and many local restaurants have live music and dancing that you’ll definitely want to stop to take in!
2. Take A Vintage American Car Tour
Once you’re ready to go a little further than your own two feet can take you, the plaza near the capital building (and the streets surrounding the port as well) are swarmed with vintage American cars that double as taxis.
The iconic cars can be found almost anywhere in the city.
If you are a barterer, this is your chance to show your skills. Even if you don’t know where you want to go or see, the taxi drivers will take you to the “hot” spots and all the best stops while filling you in on Cuban history as you cruise.
Don’t forget your hat, as the sun is sometimes so hot you’ll burn right through your hair on the top of your head.
3. Drink A Cuba Libre
A local favorite alcoholic beverage composed of Havana Club Rum (Native to only Havana) and coke.
If you're not a drinker the coke you order will likewise be nothing like you find back home. Scout out a breezy rooftop bar-they'll be located all over the city. Some of the prettiest rooftop restaurants and bars are next door to the capital on top of hotels.
Pro Travel Tip: You do not need to be staying in the hotels to go up to the bars when they’re open. They offer incredible views of the city and in the nicer hotels maybe even some form of air conditioning. A chilled room is a rarity across the country. Look out over the city and enjoy watching all the vintage cars litter the streets with color.
4. Forget About Wi-Fi
Wi-Fi has only been available to the Cubans themselves for a short period of time. Although Wi-Fi squares are available in some places, it typically was poor and sketchy service at best upon purchase.
If you do end up needed service it isn't hard to find. Keep an eye out for clustered groups of people on their phones in certain squares. You can then open your phones settings to see what is available for purchase.
Bars and restaurants that offer wifi with purchase are very few and far between. Let your family or friends know that they may not hear from you while you're in Havana. As always stay alert and safe while you're traveling in new places to avoid any possible risks.
5. Nibble On Street Churros
As a general rule of thumb, if there are ever locals lining up for something, it’s probably a good sign. The occasional churro truck at a street corner will ALWAYS have a line. For a quarter of a CUC (one of the current major currencies equal to slightly more than a dollar), you can buy yourself freshly made churros and even add powder sugar or chocolate on top. They’ll pull them straight out of the oil for you and are deliciously sweet and always hot!
Don't forget to check out All the Best Caribbean Foods too before you begin your island adventure!
6. Smoke A Cuban Cigar
Just because you’re in Cuba, does not mean the cigars are any cheaper. If you go to a store to buy a box you will pay a lot. Definitely make sure to weigh out your many options and don't buy from the first place you stop in.
If you’re not a big smoker, find someone that knows something about cigars to make sure that you don’t get sold a fake. Figure out before you talk to a merchant how much you want to spend and what you want to buy. If a showcase box isn’t important to you, you can buy singles from the many street vendors. Bartering is 100% the name of the cigar game.
Don't forget different countries have different laws on how many alcohol and tabacco products you can bring back into the borders so make sure to familiarize yourself with the protocol as to not lose your souvenirs to security on the way back in.
7. Soak In The Sun At Cayo Santa María
If you’re itching to get some beach time in, the closest one to the port of Havana is Santa María. It's sparkling white beaches are peaceful and far less occupied than many other Caribbean beaches. Consider packing a lunch or some beers. Restaurants and bars will be scarce.
You can always get a taxi that works well if you have a bigger group. The taxi will get you there in around 20 minutes from the port. You can also buy a local bus ticket for 5 CUC, which will allow you to go back and forth all day. This is a good option if you plan on making several stops throughout the day. The bus time to the sunny spot is closer to 45 minutes.
8. Spend A Day In Varadero
If you have a little more time in Cuba take a bus out to the famous beaches of Varadero. This peninsula in Cuba is known for some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. The coast is lined with resorts and hotels where you can buy day passes to enjoy the same amenities as guests who are staying for a bit longer. Snorkeling, parasailing, swimming, beach activities, and even the buffets and bars are often included in day passes.
Cuba is the biggest island in the Caribbean and Varadero is not close to Havana. A two-hour bus ride, each way will eat up a lot of your time in Cuba. You will be able to see beautiful jungles from your bus window, but visiting is only a good idea if you plan on staying in Cuba for more than a day.
9. See How The City Changes In The Dark
Some cruise ports get eerily quiet after normal port hours. Most of a port’s liveliness comes strictly from the tourists dumping into their beaches and shops from the ships. Havana is an entirely different story as it turns into a different world at night.
Whether you prefer shows, like to dance yourself or just want to hear traditional Cuban music as you sip on your tropical drinks, you’ll find something just right for you when the sun goes down. As long as you observe basic safety rules (stay with a buddy, don’t wander too far by yourself, etc.) you will be perfectly okay in Havana at night.
10. See The Word's Biggest Cabaret
You will not regret buying a ticket to Tropicana. Upon entrance, the ladies will be handed a rose and the gentlemen a cigar. There is no shortage of rum as you watch the stages that surround you explode in color, culture, and feathers. The dancers and singers perform many different Cuban originated dances such as salsa, and cha-cha.
After multiple hours of costume changes, different styles of song, and never-ending music, Tropicana will finally die down. You will leave understanding more about traditional Cuban music and dance than you could ever imagine.
No matter what makes your list of things to do or see while you visit Cuba, you will get a vibe and energy different than any other Caribbean island. Cuba has been closed off from the world for quite some time allowing Cuban culture to thrive and remain strong in Havana.
Cuba not your only stop? Make sure to check out The Ultimate List Of Foods To Eat In The Caribbean.
Have you visited Havana, Cuba yet? What were your favorite local stops? Let me know below!
Sending love from Havana,