Travel Cuba. Havana - Travel Guide for First Time Visitors

We all know that fantastic travel experiences are not about how far we travel, it is all about what we discover and learn along the way. I had huge adventures in my own neighbourhood, this time I decided to search for them in Cuba. Cuba is the largest Caribbean island, where you can travel 1,200 kilometres from west to east. Almost two million of the about 12 million live in the capital Havana.

Travel Cuba. Havana guide for first time visitors the touristin

Old Havana was declared World Heritage site in the 1980s. If you walk around town you will see Soviet Ladas next to 1950 classic US cars inclusive the heavy exhaust fumes that come with them; smiling kids playing ball in the street, stately palaces in ruins, mountains of rubbish piling up on the streets, dirty looking water leaks, unidentifiable smells, passionate musicians, dancers and live music in literally every café and restaurant, old and young neighbours chatting, cute and lazy cats, friendly and tired looking dogs, beautiful restored stately palaces and plazas. It is a wild and interesting mix. Just by walking around aimlessly you discover breathtakingly beautiful scenes and architecture. The beauty of Havana is that nothing is set in stone. Every day brings new exciting discoveries. Are you a seeker of everyday magic too?  

It is easy to have fun on vacation in Cuba, when ignoring the overall situation. In large parts, Havana seemingly lies in ruins, so many streets look like there was a war. Before I booked my trip, the only thing I knew is how amazing it is going to be to take all these awesome photos of abandoned houses and places. And yes, that is exciting. The photo opportunities are phenomenal, if it wouldn’t be this tragic. The revolution happened 60 years ago, and still, to this day people live in poverty, they have to find ways to just get by. The fact that every Cuban is well educated, and that the literacy rate is at 99.8% loses its power when I look at the reality. The situation Cubans are put into, is an unfairly one. The more foreign tourists get to Cuba, the better. Right now, there are two separate lifestyles - tourists on the one side and locals who earn USD 20,00 per month on the other, and maybe also a third group of locals, who make money from tourism. This is the first time I visit a country where most locals are forced to live in poverty (by the communist government). It is heart-breaking to see that. Ever since 2011 Cubans are allowed to own a house and a car, and to travel overseas.

I spent only three weeks in Cuba and I’m obviously no Cuba expert. Here is what I took away from it. Cuba is an island country, the capital Havana is just around the corner from Key West in the United States of America, the distance is roughly 145 kilometres. When I speak to people in Europe, I get the impression that in most cases they take it for granted to live in a functioning democracy. Visiting Cuba, one has an excellent example of how life under a communist one-party regime is and why it makes sense to vote and protect the freedom we enjoy in large parts of the world. Cubans can vote, that there is only one party they can vote for, that sounds somehow like a dictatorship to me. When I see a propaganda poster that says, “Socialism or death,” I want to put up a more realistic one that says, “Socialism is death.” In the case of Cuba, it seems it is a very painful and slow death. On my first walk through Havana I wanted to ring for help (not for me, but for the Cubans). Let us hope things are going to change for the better in the future.

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The Cubans I got to talk to are all straightforward charismatic and fun people, and I love that. On the bus ride from Viñales to Trinidad I see billboards with a poster that shows “a fist which beats the US flag” and another oversized one with Hugo Chavez and the words “Amigo.” A taxi driver asks me how I like Cuba. I say that I like the fresh food, the nature, and the Cuban attitude before I add that I oppose communism and that I won’t romanticize socialism just because it sounds good. I see poverty, (child)-prostitution and despair. He says, he agrees and that they right now need all the money from tourists they can get (this is what everyone I speak to in Cuba tells me).

Cuba. There is a lot to talk and think about. Best done, while listening to live music in a rooftop bar, enjoying the sunset over the Caribbean. Do you talk to locals about politics when on vacation? I do it passionately. Travel to Cuba and experience all this for yourself. Cuba and the Cubans are waiting for you. I visited foremost privately-owned restaurants and cafés and stayed at casa particulares (private homestays that most often offer breakfast and dinner too). If you decide to stay at one of the large international hotels, keep in mind that you have to pay international prices and that the members of staff only get paid a ridiculously low wage for their work. Most money you pay will go straight to the communist government.

Travel Cuba. Havana for First Time Visitors


Havana Cuba beginners guide vieja the touristin

What to do in the Havana borough of Vieja

Plaza de la Catedral

Ever since the 18th century, this is one of Havana’s most significant squares. This square is built on marshland. In the 16th century, the groundwater level was lowered, and the square-built, so that people would use this part of town and settle here. Today it is lined by a cathedral and beautiful mansions. The plaza is named after the, built from limestone, Catedral de la Habana which is a stunning example of Cuban baroque.

Casa del Marqués de Aguas Claras

Stop at Casa del Marqués de Aguas Claras, built around 1750, to listen to live music at restaurant El Patio. The beautiful courtyard alone is worth the visit. Information: Palacio de los Marqueses de Aguas Claras, La Habana Vieja, La Habana 10100, Cuba.

Catedral de la Habana

You find the Plaza de la Catedral right in the heart of the old town of Havana, in Habana Vieja. The sacral building, completed in 1777, with its frescoes, is one of several Baroque masterpieces on this magnificent square. Imagine, that between 1796 and 1898, the remains of Christopher Columbus were kept in the cathedral before being brought to Seville in Spain. Information: Plaza de la Catedral, La Habana Vieja, La Habana 10100, Cuba.

Casa Lombillo

Beautiful mid-18th century palace that is home to galleries as well as to the City Historian’s Offices. Information: Calle Empedrado, 15, esquina calle Mercaderes - La Habana Vieja, La Habana 10100, Cuba.

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Catedral de la Habana Cuba Vieja The Touristin Altar

Catedral de la Habana Cuba Vieja The Touristin Entrance

Catedral de la Habana Cuba Vieja The Touristin Side Entrance

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Casa Lombillo vieja havana cuba the touristin

Plaza de Armas

Initially, this square was called Plaza de la Iglesia—after a church that used to be in this plaza, but which was destroyed in 1741. Plaza de Armas has ever since been the main administrative centre of the city. Concerts and grand parades were held here. In the centre of the square is a small park where you can rest in the shade of palm- and ceiba trees.

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Palacio de los Capitanes Generales - Museo de la Ciudad

Here you can learn about Havana's history and about the people who used to live and work here. Lavish furniture, paintings, chandeliers and candlesticks plus uniforms, weaponry and horse-drawn carriages give you a good idea about how life in Havana was over the centuries.  Ever since the two-storey limestone palace was built in 1792, it was the Spanish colonial government headquarters until 1898. The Governor’s Palace were the offices of the U.S. military administration for four years before it was turned into the residence of the Cuban president in 1902. For over fourty years, from 1920 on, it was used as the city hall. From the courtyard with its palm trees and a statue of Christopher Columbus you have a beautiful view of the columned wide veranda on the second floor that surrounds the former private living quarters of the Spanish governors. Information: Palacio de los Capitanes Generales - Museo de la Ciudad, Plaza de Armas. Hours: 10am to 6pm. Tickets: CUC 3 to 5.

Palacio de los Capitanes Generales - courtyard detail Museum de la Ciudad

Palacio de los Capitanes Generales - veranda Museum de la Ciudad

Palacio de los Capitanes Generales - outside Museum de la Ciudad

Palacio de los Capitanes Generales - furniture Museum de la Ciudad

Palacio de los Capitanes Generales - furniture detail Museum de la Ciudad

Palacio de los Capitanes Generales - entrance Museum de la Ciudad

Palacio de los Capitanes Generales - courtyard sunny Museum de la Ciudad

Palacio del Segundo Cabo

What happened ever since 1492? This interactive museum, in which sound, pictures, holograms, touch screens and museum guides create an exciting visit, tells you about it. It is housed in a picture-perfect Cuban-Baroque palace built in 1772. The museum tells you lots about the European influence on Cuba and you can even learn a few dance moves here.

At the time, the Spanish crown wanted Havana (and this palace) to be their centre for postal communication between Europe and their colonies in Latin America. It later became the seat of the senate of the Republic (until they moved the senate to the National Capitol in 1929), then the Supreme Court of Justice. During the 1960s, it became the headquarters of the Academies of History, Language, Arts and Letters, the National Institute for culture and, finally, the Cuban Book Institute. Today it is the Centre for cultural relations between Cuba and Europe. Information: Palacio del Segundo Cabo, O’Reilly #4, Habana Vieja, Cuba. Hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 9.30am to 5pm. Sundays, 9.30am to 1pm.Tickets: CUC 2.

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Palacio del Segundo Cabo Vieja Cuba havana the touristin cupola

Palacio del Segundo Cabo Vieja Cuba havana the touristin Entrance door

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Palacio del Segundo Cabo Vieja Cuba havana the touristin windows

Museo el Templete

This is where it all began with Havana. Go and look at three paintings by French artist Jean Baptiste Vermay in a former temple-like chapel built in 1827, next to a ceiba tree which is sacred to Afro-Cubans. You find the tree, where Havana was founded in 1519 and the first mass was held at the time, next to the temple with its Doric columns and a statue of Christopher Columbus. According to legend, visitors should walk anticlockwise three times around the tree while touching the trunk, throwing a coin at its roots and making a wish each time. To commemorate the founding date of Havana, the 16th November 1519, passionate locals follow this ritual on the evening of every 16th November. In 2019 Havana will celebrate the 500th anniversary. You might have guessed it already, the original ceiba tree died and a new one has been planted. Information: Museo el Templete, O’Reilly and Calles Baratillo, Habana Vieja, Cuba. Hours: Sunday to Saturday, 12pm to 5pm.

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Plaza de San Francisco de Asis

This cobbled square, restored in 1990 to make it attractive for visitors is named after a Franciscan convent, and right at the harbour and cruise ship terminal of Havana. It is on this plaza, where slaves were unloaded, and galleons refilled with commodities like food and water before heading back out onto the sea. On one side there is the Convento de San Francisco de Asís, and on the opposite side is the impressive Commercial Exchange. At first, an alfresco market and trade fair was held here but, and that are obvious signs of gentrification happening in the 17th and 18th centuries, the wealthy residents and the monks didn't fancy that nonsense and commotion that came with it, and the market had to relocate to a place nearby. And that is how the Plaza Vieja came to be.

Iglesia y Monasterio de San Francisco

In 1591 Franciscan monks erected a simple church in this exact place, which was later damaged by a hurricane. The church was rebuilt in 1716 and completed in 1739. If you are here at the correct date you might catch a concert, the church is known for its great acoustics. You will find information about concert dates at the church. Information: Iglesia y Monasterio de San Francisco, Plaza de San Francisco de Asis, Havana, Cuba. Hours: Monday to Sunday 9am to 6.30pm. Tickets: CUC 2.

Plaza Vieja

When this square was built in 1559 it was called New Square. Over the centuries this square was used as an open-air food market, a gathering place for locals, a park, and even a parking space, and it changed its name almost as often. There is a fountain in the centre of the square and people walk, play with their children or dogs, all around it. Today the plaza is called Plaza Vieja (Old Square) and it is lined by colourfully restored palaces that house museums and bars, or restaurants on all four sides.

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plaza vieja cuba havana facades details the touristin

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Palacio Cueto

Built in 1906 in art nouveau style as a warehouse and a hat factory, where later a pharmacy moved into the ground floor. The facade is ornamented elaborately. Balconies are shaped in waves, probably to pay homage to the nearby ocean. The entrance is framed by two muscly male figures. The property is named after its tenant, José Cueto who converted the place into the Palacio Hotel Viena. It is now undergoing refurbishing whereas it stood abandoned until the nineties of the last century. Money makes the world go round... Information: Palacio Cueto, Calles Inquisidor y Muralla en la Plaza Vieja.

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Palacio Cueto vieja havana cuba facade detail  the touristin

Palacio Cueto vieja havana cuba facade the touristin

Fototeca de Cuba

Beautiful old palace with changing exhibitions in two galleries, named after Cuban historians and photographers María Eugenia Haya and Joaquín Blez. What started with the collecting of photos by María Eugenia Haya turned into a vast photo collection and restoration project, and The Fototeca de Cuba. The institution, gallery as well as a cultural centre, aims to show Cuban photography and the role it plays in the world and to bring international photography closer to the Cuban public. The Fototeca de Cuba works together with the National Council of Plastic Arts, as a part of the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Cuba. Relax in the courtyard garden and go upstairs to enjoy a great view over Plaza Vieja from the veranda. Information: Fototeca de Cuba, Mercaderes # 307 e/ Muralla y Tte. Rey. La Plaza Vieja - La Habana – Cuba 10100. Hours: Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 5pm. Tickets: Free.

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Calle Mercaderes

Mercaderes Street connects Plaza de la Catedral with Plaza Vieja. The cobbled so-called Merchants Street used to be full of artisan workshops and stores when for example Spanish hand-held fans were still handmade.

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Hotel Raquel

In 1905 this palace in Baroque style was built as a fabric warehouse plus headquarter. During all these decades it was a bank, the Chamber of Commerce of Cuba, a tobacco warehouse, and several different companies moved in and out. Like so many other properties in Havana, it was neglected until it was refurbished and turned into a hotel around 2000. Info: Hotel Raquel, #263 Mercaderes, Cuba, Havana.

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Casa de la Obra Pía

Palace built in 1665 by a Cuban who apparently supported five orphans year after year after year. The street he lived on (and his palace) were named after the pious acts he did in his town. Obra Pía = kind-hearted act (religious). Information: Casa de la Obra Pía, Obra Pía #158.

Casa De La Obrapia vieja havana cuba the touristin

Casa del Arabe

Havana has only one mosque, and you find it in a picture-perfect 18th-century palacio. Casa del Arabe is as much a cultural centre as well as a museum, where visitors can admire carpets, textiles, and ceramics. Information: Casa del Arabe. Oficios #16, e/ Obispo y Obrapía, Habana Vieja. Hours: Monday to Sunday, 9am to 4.30pm. Tickets: Free.

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Calle Obispo

This is one of Havana’s busiest streets. Soon after the founding of Havana, this street was created in 1519. It is here where you find cafes, restaurants, pharmacies, book shops, and bakeries. Pretty to look at is the Banco Nacional de Cuba (Obispo #211), which is today the Ministry of Finance.

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Museo Farmacia Taquechel

This place became a pharmacy in 1898; and after it was restored and reopened in 1996, it still looks as if it were 1898. The white porcelain jars neatly stored in the dark floor-to-ceiling wooden shelves create a simply elegant atmosphere and are beautiful to look at. Compare this with a modern-day pharmacy. Information: Museo Farmacia Taquechel, #155 Calle Obispo, Esquina Mercaderes y San Ignacio - La Habana Vieja, La Habana 10100, Cuba. Tickets: Free; a gold coin donation is expected.

Museo Farmacia Taquechel vieja havana cuba the touristin details

Museo Farmacia Taquechel vieja havana cuba the touristin

Hotel Ambos Mundos

Ernest Hemingway used to stay in a room on the fifth floor. You can walk up to room 511, where you find a photograph of Hemingway next to the entrance. The rooftop bar is a good option if you would like to have a good view over large parts of town.

He wrote parts of 'For Whom The Bell Tolls' in Cuba. The story is set in the Spanish Civil War, and surprisingly for a book about war, the book holds one of my darling love/sex scenes. Since it is Valentine’s, it is an excellent day to share it with you. Hemingway describes how two characters are having sex, Maria and Robert. He describes it perfectly. Towards the end of that paragraph he writes “… and time absolutely still and they were both there, time having stopped, and he felt the earth move out and away from under them.” What follows is some conversation between the two, and the next scene follows. “Then they were walking along the stream together and he said, ‘Maria, I love thee and thou art so lovely and so wonderful and so beautiful and it does such things to me to be with thee that I feel as though I wanted to die when I am loving thee.’ ‘Oh,’ she said. ‘I die each time. Do you not die?’ ‘No, almost. But did thee feel the earth move?’"

Information: Hotel Ambos Mundos, #153 Obispo, La Habana, Cuba. Keep in mind, that there are paying guests staying at this hotel, so it is probably a good idea to first ask at reception whether you can walk to the room, to have a look. No guided tour needed.

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the touristin vieja cuba havana bar Hotel Ambos Mundos

Plaza del Cristo

The church del Santo Cristo del Buen Viaje gives this 17-century square its name. Back in the days, people gathered on this plaza to do the washing. There is a little park, which is a good spot for a break and to people watch. Being only a short walk away from Plaza Vieja it feels as if it is light-years away.

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Santo Cristo del Buen Viaje  vieja havana cuba the touristin

Plazuela de Santo Ángel Custodio & Iglesia del Santo Àngel Custodio

This tiny square built around 1850 and lined by light blue, deep green, and yellow-painted townhouses sits on the so-called Angel Hill and in the shadow of a pastel-coloured church. The area has got a friendly neighbourhood feel. The church Iglesia del Santo Àngel Custodio was built in the 17th century and after it was heavily damaged in a hurricane, it was rebuilt in the 19th century in neo-Gothic style. José Martí the Cuban revolutionary, writer, journalist, and national superstar was christened here. Information: Loma del Angel, Havana, Cuba. Hours: Tuesday to Sunday 9am to 6pm. Open: 9am-6pm Tues-Sun. Tickets: Free.

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Plazuela de Santo Ángel Custodio vieja havana cuba touristin

Paseo de Martí

This is a grand boulevard where locals and tourists just wander aimlessly in the shadow of trees to chat. El Prado, as it is referred locally, was built around 1770 and ever since its first days it grew more popular with everyone. The pedestrianized zone in the middle section has marble benches, pretty lamp posts, and bronze lions and is lined by marvellous palacios on both sides.

The Palacio de Matrimonio was built in 1914 in neo-Renaissance style, as a Spanish social club. This is where locals love to tie the knot. The Cuban government won't include that "marriage is between two people with equal rights" in the constitution after protests by the general public. Many Cubans still oppose same-sex marriages and support marriages only between men and women. If you keep on walking, you eventually reach the Capitolio Nacional.

Palacio de Matrimonio vieja havana cuba the touristin

Capitolio Nacional Havana

If you think of Havana, you probably think of abandoned palacios and this monumental structure. The iconic Capitolio Nacional funded with money made from sugar, built in 1929 to house Cuba’s congress. The cupola is one metre higher than that of the capitol in Washington. It housed the senate, the Cuban Academy of Science and now the legislative parliament. As it happens in Cuba, the structure was neglected. Renovations took place for nearly a decade whereas it was a challenge to get all required building materials. Go for a walk in the streets directly behind the Capitolio and experience the blatant contrast between freshly renovated grandeur and decades of neglect. It is marbled floors, gilded lamps, manicured gardens against crumbling tenements and streets with large potholes. 
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Capitolio national vieja havana cuba the touristin

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Rooftop Terrace Hotel Iberostar Parque Central

Directly opposite the Parque Central, you have a magnificent view from the rooftop of either over the city towards the Capitolio and into the other direction over El Prado, more rooftops and of the sea. Sit by the pool and enjoy live music and drinks. Information: IBEROSTAR Parque Central, Neptuno, esquina Prado y Zulueta | Habana Vieja, Havana 10100, Cuba.

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Rooftop Terrace and Mezzanine Bar Hotel Saratoga

Built on parts of the old city wall soon before the turn of the 19th century as a much smaller structure than what it is today. At the beginning of the new century, it was a popular place to be and be seen. It later lost its fame, became a tenement block and no one looked properly after it anymore. The happy ending, and what we can experience today is that it was refurbished and reopened in 2005. Have a sandwich for lunch at the mezzanine bar and make your way to the rooftop bar for the best view of the Capitolio. Information: Hotel Saratoga, Prado 603, Esquina A Dragones, La Habana, Cuba.

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Malecon - Avenida de Golfo

The esplanade, Malecon, offers, as the previous name Avenida de Golfo suggests, a great view of the ocean. Start the eight-kilometre-long walk along the Golf of Florida in the old town and make your way towards Vedado, where you can experience a different part of Havana. Look up, there are pelicans in the sky. On windy days, with a high swell, you’d need to be careful to not get sea sprayed. One can get soaked easily. At night people come here to watch the sunset, chat, have drinks, and listen to street buskers. Again, this is Havana. Funding is, given the political situation, obviously an issue. The pavement is in parts heavily broken, there are large potholes, and building material has been eaten away by the salty sea. Do not expect a picture-perfect boulevard with pretty seating nooks and lavish colourful exotic plants. The Malecon is all but that... and more.

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What to do in the Havana borough of Vedado

Guide to Vedado Havana The Touristin


Necrópolis Cristóbal Colón – Colon Cemetery Havana

This is one of the largest cemeteries on the American continent, with about two million graves it took fifteen years to build it. This city of the dead is heritage listed and named after Christoph Columbus. The dead are remembered with marble sculptures, bronzed angels and granite that has a satiny feel to it, there even is a pyramid. You find cupolas, colourful glass windows, arches and monumental tombs. The dead, all depending on their importance and wealth at the time, live on either intimate lanes, as well as on grand avenues. The Necrópolis Cristóbal Colóna is a place full of love and a feast for the eye. Go and have a look at the monument for the firemen’s who died in a fire in 1890 and visit the tomb of the one and only Ibrahim Ferrer of the original Buena Vista Social Club. Information: Necrópolis Cristóbal Colóna, Calle Zapata y Calle 12, Havana La Habana, Cuba. Hours: Monday to Friday 8am to 5pm, closed Saturday and Sunday. Tickets: CUC 5, includes a map of the cemetery. 

Necrópolis Cristóbal Colón Havana Vedado The Touristin


Visit a farmer’s market

The fruits and vegetables on offer at a market give you an idea of what sort of food a Cuban diet persists of and what you can expect to eat at restaurants. It is saddening to see that there isn’t a big choice or a large quantity to buy, it is all rather modest. Aubergine, carrots, coconut, papaya, capsicum, watermelon, pumpkin, plantain, pineapple, sweet potatoes, avocado, mango, yucca (cassavas). Pay attention to the prices, I have no idea of how Cubans afford to buy wares, while on an average on a monthly salary of CUC 20. Information: Farmers Market, Calle 19 and B, Havana, La Habana, Cuba. Hours: Tuesday to Sunday 7am to 5pm. Tickets: free.

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Hotel Nacional

To escape the prohibition in the 20s, US tourists flocked to Cuba. They wanted to party, to gamble and to drink. The crowds wanted to be accommodated, hotels and casinos were needed, and the Hotel Nacional was all that. It seems everyone, as in the mob, gangsters and their friends, plus dictator Fulgencio Batista, had the best time, until the revolution when Fidel Castro nationalized the place and shut down casinos in 1960 for good. After that not much happened here, and the hotel somehow turned into a dreary place. Cuba was probably one of the few countries who was sad that the USSR ceased to exist. The financial support they had received dried up and Cuba ran out of money. That, on the other hand, was a positive for the Hotel Nacional. Cuba needed another reliable source of income, Castro opened the island state to tourists, to get just that. The Hotel Nacional was back in the game. You can join a guided tour of the hotel. Go for a walk in the hotel garden and have sunset drinks with a view of the ocean. Book a show at one of the theatres (it is fine if you bring your imagination to see what it once was, it is a tour bus tourists affair). At night there is live music on the terrace. Ask for more information at the reception. Information: Hotel Nacional. y O, Vedado, Postal Code: 10400, Cuba, Calle 21, La Habana, Cuba.

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hotel nacional havana vedado cuba the touristin

Hotel Habana Libre

The Hotel Habana Libre, at the time built by the Hilton’s, President Fulgencio Batista was involved somehow too, opened its doors in March 1958. Soon after, Fidel Castro took over Cuba and moved his offices into parts of the hotel; he later nationalized the whole establishment and renamed it into Hotel Habana Libre. The story of the revolution, and of how Castro gave interviews and held press conferences in a suite on the premises, and of how revolutionary soldiers hang out in the lobby gets told with photos in the foyer on the first level. It is interesting if one ignores that the whole Fidel Castro image and communism are painted as rather rosy. Imagine your president, chancellor, or prime minister would run the country from a hotel suite. Right, stranger things happen these days. When you arrive, the first thing you see is a blue mural by Cuban painter Amelia Peláez. Information: Hotel Habana Libre, Calle M and 25, La Habana, Cuba.

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Avenida de los Presidentes

Stroll along the tree-lined Avenue of the Presidents, it is where locals go for strolls and meet in the evenings, to chat, have fun, and make music. The avenue is referred to as G Street (Calle G in Spanish).

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US Embassy in Havana

The former US President, Barack Obama, made it official in 2015 that the United States will reopen its embassy in Havana, Cuba to restore diplomatic relations with the communist-led nation for the first time in 54 years. The embassy sits right at the Malecon, and oh the drama, they already suspected an attack which later apparently appeared to be the noise of crickets. Check out the flag posts next door, they were put up to block the view from the building, it seems that the US and Cuba rather enjoy irritating each other, an end is not in sight. The US, after all, persists on the lease treaty of Guantánamo Bay, and for Cuba, the socialist dream is still going strong.

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What you need to know to travel to Cuba

How to get to Cuba

You can hop on a non-stop flight form most major capital cities to José Martí International Airport. Visit the website of the airport in Havana, to see which airlines fly to Havana.

Visa for Cuba

Cuba is relatively easy to travel to, obviously not if you are from the US, please check what your current government wants you to do before you are allowed to travel to Cuba. There are travel regulations in place for US citizens who would like to travel independently to Cuba. It is best to check directly with the Cuban embassy. For everyone else, not much preparation is needed, as long as you bring along a valid Cuban travel card (Visa) on arrival in Cuba. You can buy the travel card online and fill it out before arrival in Cuba. Ask the airline when you buy the flight ticket.

How to get to town from Havana airport

Jump into a taxi just in front of the airport terminal. The single fare is plus/minus CUC 25 for the 20 to 30-minute ride. To be on the safe side, agree on a fixed price before you start the journey towards town.

Wi-Fi in Cuba

You can get Wi-Fi in Cuba, for that one needs a password, and to buy that, one would need to queue for up to an hour at a shop of a tele-electro shop. Life is too short for that, right? I often got offered Wi-Fi cards by street vendors, they thought I’m crazy when I answered: No, thank you amigo, I'm on a digital detox. Best to take a digital detox too. If you really need to have Wi-Fi, fear not, you will have reception at most larger hotels (you need to buy the data first). As of December 2018 Cubans are allowed to use the internet, whereas it is probably too expensive for the majority, in theory, they can read foreign newspapers.

How to change money in Cuba

Cash rules in Cuba. Get cash on arrival at the airport. There is an ATM on level two at Havana airport. I saw long queues of people at the money exchange booth on the ground floor and went there to stay in line too. A local approached me and told me there is an ATM upstairs, and I went there. So, I recommend when you arrive at the airport in Havana, go straight to the first level, there is an ATM and get some cash. You will mostly need cash. Wherever I went to I had to pay in cash. Some restaurants accepted my credit card, but better not count on that. Also, be aware that Cuba is a relatively expensive country. The quality is low for what you get, it is all part of the game.

Where to stay in Havana

Stay with locals who rent out rooms in their homes (casa particular). Simply arrive and see how it goes, the offers are endless. I travelled in high season and there were available offers galore. Just look at houses with a blue anchor next to the front door, which signals that they are available to rent from tourists. Houses that promote a red anchor are reserved for Cuban tourists.

Havana Vieja is the old town, with lots of museums, cafés and restaurants. Havana Vedado is roughly a one hour walk (plus/minus) form the old town, with lots of residential houses, restaurants and bars, and nightlife. You decide what would be the best area for you to stay in Havana.

Best time to travel to Cuba

Expect sunny days from December to May, when temperatures are warm and moderate and not too hot. The wet season runs from June to October, whereas the hurricane season is between August and October. 

If you are looking for great restaurants, please read Where to Eat Vegetarian in Style in Havana on The Touristin.

From Berlin with love