Havana is a beautiful blend of old and new. It's a place where vintage cars casually meander past you and as the sun sets behind the Malecon a booming nightlife takes over the streets. Havana is the capital of Cuba with many nooks to explore. There are plenty of fun things to do in Havana and you'll leave ready to plan a trip back immediately.
You may be wondering: "Is Cuba safe to visit?"
I can't emphasize enough how completely and totally safe I felt while traveling through Cuba. I walked around the city and made friends with locals in bars and restaurants. Here are 17 things you can't miss while visiting Havana Cuba.
Get lost in Habana Vieja
Wander La Habana Vieja, also known as Old Havana. Equal parts crumbling and colorful, the old Havana streets are filled with vintage cars, sixteen century fortresses and lively locals.
Enjoy a show at the Tropicana
The Tropicana is one of the best shows to see while in Havana and is also the longest running. It was by far the most impressive show I saw while in Cuba. (I also went to Buena Vista Social Club and the ballet!). A Tropicana show is full of dancing, singing and elaborate costumes. I'm quite sure it is impossible to leave without a smile on your face.
Listen to music at Buena Vista Social Club
Like I said above, I saw a variety of shows while in Cuba. While the Tropicana was the most impressive, Buena Vista Social Club was such a unique and intimate experience. If you are a lover of music (and particularly Afro-Cuban) you will have a great time, even if you don’t know a lick of Spanish. Don’t miss it.
Stay in a Casa Particulars over a Hotel
The hotels in Havana are overpriced and we heard from multiple people the rooms were not what they expected. I highly suggest staying in Casa Particulars instead.
See the nacional Ballet perform
The Cuba national Ballet is thriving - a crazy occurrence considering almost every other countries Ballet programs are struggling. In part, that is because the government heavily subsidizes it. Regardless, the result is fantastic. As a dancer myself I can confidently say they are the BEST ballerinas I have seen in my entire life. Plus the tickets are cheap – 30 CUC ($30) for the best seats and 10 CUC for the top balcony.
Ride in Vintage american Cars
One of the best things to do in Havana is take a ride in the vintage cars! You can ride, or just admire, the vintage cars - your choice. If you do ride in one make sure to negotiate fares before you leave. Good news is they are everywhere and quite easy to find. You can also take a tour of the main sites in a vintage American car. Tours leave from Parque Central – it is 50 CUC for an hour.
Live Off the grid
Internet is hard to come by in Cuba. You have to buy a card from very specific places, and then go to an area with Wi-Fi access. I suggest letting everyone know ahead of time you will be off the internet for your trip there. Enjoy it! When is the last time you went a couple of days without social media? I was surprised at how nice it was to forget about Snapchat, Instastories, and Twitter for a couple days. Or if you have a demanding job that doesn't really see vacations as time off (like my husband who is a lawyer) enjoy the fact the the office will literally not be able to reach you.
Sunset over the Malecon is a spectacular sight. Along with beautiful rays you'll find locals fishing, couples strolling, and people from all walks of life enjoying the evening air.
Staying at this hotel is like taking a step back in time - but its also very expensive. Even if you're not staying there though you can visit! A beautiful garden overlooks the water and the Malecon. Definitely worth the price of their Mojito! The inside of the hotel is immaculately preserved and deserves a look.
walk in Hemingway's footsteps
Follow in Hemingways footsteps with a visit to La Floridita, his favorite bar, and Finca Vigia, his home, for 20 years. Decide for yourself if either is a tourist trap or not.
visit Partagas Cigar Factory
You can take a guided tour of the best known cigar factory and see the tradition of Cuban cigar rolling. If you manage a trip out to Vinales, which I highly recommend, visit an organic tobacco farm to see the difference in execution.
Drink all the rum
Cubans love a good party and seem to be able to go nonstop. They wake up early and party late – thank god for Cuban coffee, right? Rum is the liquor of choice and Havana Club is the most popular brand.
Dance the night away or take a lesson
You could just go to any local restaurant, or street corner, and dance the night away but I suggest taking a salsa lesson while in Havana. I went to Salsador a Cuba while in Cuba and had a lovely time! They charge $14 per person per hour and the lesson is one on one. They start with the basics and work all the way up to advanced combinations. It is not unusual to plan 3 or 4 days of lessons - actually it's what most people do! Start with one lesson and you will get hooked!
Get off the main street
Don’t be afraid to get off the beaten path. Havana is very safe and walking around REAL Cuban neighborhood is both an eye-opening and enlightening experience. You will see kids playing in the streets, groups of men working on vintage cars, local bakeries on every corner, and street vendors selling fresh fruit. Americans are fed this view that Cubans are miserable and living in squalor. While some places are quite run-down the Cuban people are generally happy and just like us.
Eat as much as you can
Of course what vacation is complete without massive amounts of great food? Don’t worry, Havana has tons. Between low-cost street food, trendy tapas and cervezas places, and locally run paladars you won’t go hungry.
Day trip to Vinales
Technically not in Havana - but a day trip to Vinales is a must do while visiting Cuba. Shared taxis, or colectivos, are a cheap way to get there and back and the countryside is straight out of a movie. While there you can horseback ride, hike, tour organic farms, or just walk the pretty city.
Vedado is a neighborhood on the outskirts of Havana. You can walk around the crumbling mansions and take in the local life. Don’t be afraid to watch a game or two of dominoes, the old abuelos will probably want to teach you a thing or two!
FINAL THOUGHTS ON CUBA
There are few reasons you should not go to Cuba, maybe you don't agree with the politics or you want to try out other places in the Caribbean, but if you aren't going because you think it's hard to get there... or you think there is nothing to do there... you're just wrong. Check out Cuba asap - travel to Cuba in 2018 even! I promise you won't regret it.
One more thing... even though researching ahead of time is great, I definitely recommend bringing a guidebook along with you. Here are some books I recommend...
A super common question I get is what camera do I use for my travels. The body is a Nikon D3300 and I mostly use this wide angle lens made by Sigma. It's awesome for travel photography - I am seriously obsessed with it.