Top 10 Things to Do in Havana, Cuba
A visit to Havana, Cuba is a must. The rich history and vibrant culture shine at every turn. Now that Americans are able to travel there, tourism has picked up, but the city and nearby areas still retain their charm. It helps to plan ahead, since internet access is still limited on the island. Here are ten top things to do in Havana, Cuba. I am sure you will discover your own favorite things to do in Havana, but at least this will give you a starting point for your Cuban adventure! Buen viaje!
- Take a Dance Class
No visit to Cuba is complete without a little dancing, so why not prepare yourself by learning some moves from an experienced teacher? The classes at Marisuri Escuela de Bailes Cubanos dance school accommodate all styles and level-from salsa, to rueda de casino to rumba and women’s styling. The only question after dance class is, with so many nightclubs to choose from, where will you go to show off your moves? The studio owner and instructors are professional, fun, friendly, and extremely trustworthy. PRO TIP: Be sure to request lunch at Marisuri! For 15 CUC you will get an incredible lunch featuring a rich diversity of Cuban food.
2. Go to the Beach
Just an hour or so outside of Havana, beautiful beaches await–the extensive coastline offers more than 12 miles of high quality beaches, in fact. The closest area to Havana is called Playas de Este, which includes Megano, Marazul and Guanabo. A popular beach is Tarara and the marina, but you can’t go wrong with over 300 days of sunshine and warm aqua waters. You can get the T3 public tourist bus at Parque Central in Havana for 5 CUC (check daily schedule) or taxi from Old Havana for 20 CUC . You can rent a chair and umbrella for the day. PRO TIP: Enjoy fresh coconut water with a splash of rum from the coconut vendor for 4 CUC or an ice cold beer for just 2 CUC. An ocean view lunch brought to your beach chair will cost just 10 CUC.
3. Walk on the Malecón
In the late afternoon people begin to gather along theMalecón, a cement sea wall that borders a stretch of the coastline in Havana. Couples sit on the wall leaning into each other, joggers run by, and friends linger, talking and laughing. Vendors stroll by, offering flowers for sale, a song or a snack. People play music and watch the sun sink into the horizon. This is such a prominent place to gather and hang out it is a must for people watching.
4. Dinner at Hecho en Casa
The food in Cuba is delicious, varied and exquisite. And Hecho en Casa is one of the restaurants that showcases this best using only local and organic ingredients. The intimate dining area feels literally like being at the chef’s house for dinner. A few small tables are nestled in the courtyard, bouganvilla spilling over the archways. What Chef Alina does with traditional Cuban food is simply stunning. The menu changes based on seasonal availability, but it may include Squash bisque, pork and plantain, goat cheese fundido, habanero pesto with serrano, and rum ice cream for dessert. A visit from the Chef herself makes the experience even more intimate. Don’t forget to order a mojito! They’ll even teach you how to make it. PRO TIP: Advanced reservations are suggested. You can reach them by email here OR have a local travel service company help make your reservation, such as AcubamosTours.
5. Lunch at La Guarida
This historic restaurant in Old Havana serves an incredible array of elegant fare in a stunning location. One of a handful of restaurants to have survived the Special Period (when private businesses were outlawed, but operated underground) it now is one of Havana’s most famous eateries. Situated on the 3rd floor, with a city skyline view, the restaurant serves “New” Cuban cuisine, with an emphasis on seasonal fare. The fresh fish of the day, grilled with crisp plantain was a favorite, as well as the watermelon gazpacho, a perfect blend of savory and sweet soup, garnished with a shrimp. The oxtail risotto was creamy and rich in a delectable broth. The daiquiris as well are a must – try the guava for a fresh twist.
6. Drinks at Hotel Nacional de Cuba
Up on a hill above the Malecón, the Hotel Nacional is an impressive landmark. The historic hotel was operated in its early years by the Chicago mob, and later was nationalized by Fidel Castro. Walk through the majestic lobby to the back garden area. After your delicious mojito or pina colada stroll around to see the remnants of the battery built during the Cuban missile crisis and the entrance to the cave that sheltered Castro and his men. But the real treasure is the famous Hall of Fame bar where paintings of the famous personalities politicians, musicians, presidents, writers, directors of movies and others who stayed there adorn the ceiling.
PRO TIP: Visit in the evening to enjoy the nightly Parisienne cabaret show, an outstanding 4-hour performance.
7. Walk and shop through Havana Vieja
Strolling through Old Havana is a must! The historic buildings are awe-inspiring. Grab a coffee at a sidewalk cafe and people watch, grab a drink at the historic La Bodeguita del Medio, one of Hemingway’s favorite bars, and said to be the birthplace of the mojito. Rather keep walking? Enjoy sweet churros from a street vendor for a snack. Head into the shops or the municipal market to buy souvenirs before enjoying lunch at a restaurant – most likely accompanied by live music. Though there are many tourists in this area, it never feels crowded. You’ll discover hidden plazas and the unique history of a 500 year-old city.
8. Nightlife at Club 1830
Even if you don’t dance, or think you can’t, an evening at Club 1830 on the Malecon is a must. Set along the water, next to a large castle-like building, you can enjoy watching couples dance the night away while sipping a beer or Cuba Libre. The warm breeze heightens the romantic feeling. Take a walk down the pier for a more secluded moment, grab a bite to eat from the restaurant, or get close to the stage and join in the dancing. There is often a mix of DJ and live bands and performances. Open Wed-Sunday, shows start about 10 pm, but head there about 8:30 or 9 to get a table. $5 CUC entrance fee. Food available.
9. Cristo de la Habana – Christ Hill
The best view of Havana comes from Casablanca Hill, and the Jesus of Nazareth statue has the best view of all. Standing an impressive 66 feet tall and sculpted by Cuban artist Jilma Madera in Italy, the statue can be seen from many parts of Havana. She traveled to Italy in 1958 to oversee the construction of her statue herself; the work was completed in just under a year before the 300+ ton statue was brought to Cuba piece by piece. The Christ statue is worth a visit. Gaze up at the impressive work of art, and soak in the breathtaking panoramic view of Havana that lays out before you.
PRO TIP: this is a great stop on your way to Playas de Este.
10. Take a Food Tour!
Can’t decide where to eat? Want to enjoy Cuba like a Cuban? Let the local experts help. AcubamosTours can help to organize a custom food tour or food experience for you including all of your travel and transportation needs. Visit the finest restaurants, hidden gems or take a cooking class with a local chef. Or go for a 7-day culinary adventure and explore the organic agriculture and art of the area, including a trip to Viñales with Madison Eats Food Tours (dates for small group culinary vacation to Cuba in the spring of 2020 coming soon).