Wondering what makes Havana so captivating and unique? Allow me to quickly over simplify it for you.
Known as the Paris of the Caribbean in the 1930’s, Havana used to be a rich city with extravagant nightlife and popular casinos. It was THE city for aspiring artists and musicians, and was frequented by many iconic figures such as Frank Sinatra, Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Neruda, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
The rise of corruption and inequality however, angered the Cuban people leading to the Cuban revolution with Fidel Castro as its leader in the 1950’s.
Here is a quick overview of what has happened until the present day:
- After a successful revolution, Fidel promised reshaping Cuba, bringing back equality, reducing racism, and improving public health care but his regime stopped the economic and political freedom of the people.
- Fidel remained in power for over 5 decades until his death, and handed over the presidential power to his brother Raul Castro.
- Miguel Diaz-Canel is Cuba’s current president and Cuba still remains communist.
- Today, Havana’s beautiful European infrastructure is only half preserved and inhabited by a humble and friendly population.
This combination of living is what makes Havana so interesting and beautiful. This was my second time there, and I have a few suggestions if you only get twenty four hours in Havana.
1. Walk the Streets of the old town
The first thing I would suggest for Havana is to wander the streets of the city. You will see how the Cuban people live in old European looking mansions.
2. Book an Old Car Tour
Along the way, book an Old Car Tour in Havana Vieja (Old Havana). Just look for an old styled car and negotiate prices. You will ride across Havana for 1 hour and your driver will give you interesting facts along the way.
3. Plaza de la Catedral
Stop by la Plaza de la Catedral, one of Havana Vieja’s main squares. It has one of the main cathedrals and some of the largest mansions in the city.
4. La Bodeguita del Medio Bar
In the evening or after lunch, grab a mojito at La Bodeguita del Medio, a small bar/restaurant that gained its fame for having as regular clients writers Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Pablo Neruda (among others).
Fun Fact: The mojito drink was invented in this bar!
5. El Malecón
I also decided to walk to the pier to catch the sunset. El Malecón is a roadway and seawall stretching on the coast of Havana. It is a popular spot for fisherman and a spot where locals and tourists go hang out during the evening.
Floridita is a famous fish restaurant and cocktail bar. Today it still preserves a 1940’s-1950’s atmosphere. Ernest Hemingway frequented this bar a lot during the 1930’s.
Fun Fact: The frozen Daiquiri drink was invented in this restaurant!
7. Plaza de la Revolución
Finally, I made a stop by the Plaza de la Revolución (the revolution plaza). This is the municipality where most of the political activity occurs and where the government addresses the Cuban people.
Additional Tips & Recommendations
- There are two currencies in Cuba: The convertible peso (CUC) and the peso (CUP). 1 CUC= 1 USD and 25 CUP= 1 USD. Tourists usually stick to CUC, but it is also beneficial to have some CUP if you feel like buying cheap fruits or things at the grocery stores since some locals will not have enough change for CUC.
- Avoid booking through Airbnb or Booking.com. Book a Casa Particular instead, which is the local version of Airbnb ran by locals and helps support the local economy rather than foreign businesses. I stayed at Casa Misiones 51 and the room was lovely. Just google “casa particulares cuba” and you can book from different websites offering casas in all of Cuba.
- Access to internet is restricted and controlled by the government. No home, restaurant, or cellphone has wifi. If you wish to connect to the internet, visit the Parque Central Hotel. Buy a 1 hour internet access card for $5 USD. Don’t worry, you know you need the digital detox anyway!
- Bring toiletries that will last you for your whole trip. It is very hard to come by toiletries in Cuba so you should also bring some as gifts for the locals working at your casa particular. They will be very grateful!
- For another trip blog post you can read my blog post about Mexico.