Popular Travel Cities: Hedonistic Havana

 

Why Havana?
 
Havana_Flags_en
Cuba is the last communist country in the Western hemisphere. Life seems to be arrested in the previous century: with American cars your grandparents drove and propaganda billboards right out of a cold-war movie.

There is much more that makes Cuba interesting and exciting to discover... But do it soon -  before the country changes forever.

Cuba's capital Havana is well equipped to cater to tourists:

  • Choice of accommodation - from Bed & Breakfast (Casa particular) to hotels ranging from budget to 5-star
  • Reasonable selection of eateries - local food sold on street stands and in bakeries; well-priced fast-food (Rapido); private restaurants (paladares); and numerous hotel and tourist restaurants
  • Information offices and tourism venues such as various tours
  • Presence of police officers to ensure tourists' safety

And the best: meet the people!

Sitting in an open-air joint along the seaside Malecon, you can people-watch and spot every character in a Graham Greene or Hemmingway novel. 
Habaneros are curious, friendly, and educated. Many speak English and would like to meet you!
You will get to know plenty of people in Cuba - unique characters for your very own travel story.

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QUESTIONS ABOUT HAVANA? Send a message to our Administrator Travelman.

Information on this page courtesy of our Administrator Travelman.

Photo: "Cuba - one of the last hold-outs of socialism" by Travelman



 

The Vibe
 
Habaneros_enHavana is a city of contrasts: Breath-taking architecture from past centuries towers beside heart-breaking decay. Only in Havana can you admire intricate artwork at a church one moment and watch a building collapse right in front of you the next. Walking along the Malecon, you pass squalor and some of the most beautiful people you have ever seen. The fragrance of the world's best cigars mixes with obnoxious diesel fumes.

The service is widely communist: inefficient, disinterested, and slow, but music is everywhere.
Taste one of the world's best ice-creams at Coppelia and watch Cubans line up for hours. You get served first - you pay in Tourist Pesos CUC and likely get cheated on your change.

The waitress at a state-run restaurant will forget your drink order or bring you Cafe Americano when you asked for Cuban rum. That's Havana. Savvy tourists eat at private restaurants - Paladares - for delicious Cuban home-cooked food that is served with just the right mixture of reference and pride.

No point in trying to figure out this crazy city. Just watch the scenes and marvel at its beauty and richness of life.

 

Photo: "Habaneros" by our Administrator Travelman



 

The Night Vibe
 
NightPicture_enAt sundown, Havana comes to life - as if all the energy oppressed by the midday heat is suddenly released. Cubans know how to throw a great party, and Havana has it down pat. Couples are strolling along the Malecon. Girls are cruising the streets, hoping for piropos - compliments - or the acqaintance of a foreigner. Men are cruising with equal fervor: seeking anything to break the monotony of their daily existence. Cubans - and Habaneras in particular - don't walk; their every move is a dance. The city's underlying tone is unashamed and sexual: from provocative glances to tight Spandex clothes and open invitations.

The feverish search for excitement continues at Havana's night clubs, discos, Salsa joints, and Jazz clubs. Walking the street, you may hear music spilling out of a mouldy apartment or insistent drum beats from a Santeria session - and be invited to that party. Admission is a bottle of rum.

Your most vivid travel memories are likely those of a night in Havana.

 

Photo: "Nightfall in Havana" by our Administrator Travelman


 

Where to hang out and/or book Accommodation
 
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Havana has several city centers with sights within walking distance:

·         Old Havana is the most famous, with Hemmingway's hangouts, the Capitolio, the Prado, and several buildings that have been designated Unesco Heritage sites. Some of the best hotels are in this area. ·         Vedado (a 5 CUC cab ride from Old Havana), with the famous Coppelia Ice cream parlor, La Rampa and the Malecon, Havana's bustling boulevards where anything can happen, and the University of Havana. Has legendary hotels like the Nacional and the Habana Libre (former Hilton). ·         Miramar. The district where rich Habaneros live and most foreign embassies are located. Home of the famous Tropicana nightclub. Has impressive (if expensive) stores and restaurants. Some very good hotels are here.

 

For hotel recommendations, see our Havana Hotels Quicklist

Photo: "Exotic Hotel Sevilla" by our Administrator Travelman


 

Havana in a day or two
 
Havana_Capitolio_enDay visit: - Tour old Havana (Habana Vieja) for its beautifully restored buildings at the Plaza de la Catedral, Havana's Castillo, and the Capitolio. To get a sense of the revolution's history, go to Plaza de Armas. Visit the cigar factory "Partagas". For the Hemmingway angle, have a mojito at the Bodequita del Medio and visit the hotel Ambos Mundos. Walk the streets O'Reilly and Obispo to get a feel of what Havana was like in the 20ies and 30ies of the past century. 2-days visit with overnight: - Throw in a visit to the world-famous Tropicana show, hang out at a Cuban jazz club, or go salsa dancing. On day two: tour Vedado and eat Cuba's best ice cream at the well-known parlor Coppelia, stroll the famous boulevard La Rampa, and see the legendary staircase at the University of Havana.

 

Photo: "Havana's Capitolio" by our Administrator Travelman


 

Havana for longer stays
 
HavanaScaffold_enSeveral days to a week: - All of the above, plus additional sights such as Miramar, the Marina Hemmingway, and the unique cemetery El Colon. Walk La Rampa and the Malecon at night. You may even catch a movie in English (with Spanish subtitles), an opera, or a ballet performance. Another option is to spend a day at one of Havana's beaches such as Playa del Este (10CUC one way by cab from city center). Long stays (2 weeks and more) - Havana offers excellent courses in several subjects: learn Spanish at the University of Havana or Salsa in one of the dance schools. - If you area history or movie buff, there are groups offering themed tours such as "On the Hemmingway trail" or "Latin stars of the Thirties". - Staying with a Cuban family in licensed bed and breakfast can offer you total immersion and first-hand study of life in Cuba: shopping at the market, traveling on local buses (the famous Camello .. alas the Camello is no more), drinking local rum, or having peso cigars rolled for you. 

 

Photo: "Curious discovery" by our Administrator Travelman


 

Recommended travel guides
 

Moon travel Cuba Handbook, by Christopher Baker


 

The Underbelly
 
Havana_LeaningOnEachother_enCuba is a poor country with challenging social and economic conditions.
Violent crime involving tourists is rare, but a dangling purse may get snatched, and any item let out of your eyesight even for a second is likely to disappear with magical speed. Havana has its fair share of beggars (not aggressive but annoying), scam artists, and prostitutes. One of the challenges facing tourists in Cuba is to ward off new "friends". Anyone who approaches you on the street should be viewed with caution. A considerable number of foreign visitors in Cuba had their hearts broken (and their wallets drained in the process).
When evaluating a new romantic relationship, consider the fact that your elevated social and/or economic status works an extremely effective beauty-enhancer in the eyes of desperate Cubans. You are the potential purveyor of anything from a free meal to marriage and a ticket off the island. 
Cubans can be extremely charming in their pursuit to your heart and wallet (usually, it's the other way around).

Many Cubans view promiscuity as an interesting lifestyle. True to the justification that "sex is the only thing the government can't ration", they take full advantage of this free pleasure. 
Nothing wrong with it - except that a foreigner who falls in love with a Cuban should remember that the Spanish word for love - Amor - is tossed around so freely that it often means anything but.


Photo: "Leaning on each other" by our Administrator Travelman


 

Tips from Insiders
 
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- Havana can get quite chilly in the winter (December, January and February) - bring warm clothes when travelling during those months.

- For meals, ask the locals for a Paladar (private restaurant): the food is better than in state-run restaurants, the service more pleasant, and the price more adequate.

- For longer stays: even if staying at a hotel, try to spend at least one night in a Bed & Breakfast (Casa Particular) - for the Cuban experience.

Tourist Hangouts to avoid if you don't want to get hassled:
- The entire Malecon (seaside Boulevard)
- La Rampa, Coppelia, and the area around the Habana Libre Hotel
- Old Havana (where the main sights are located)
- The Prado

Usually a firm "No Thank You" will satisfy them but there can be many requests, so it can require repeating a few times.
 

Photo: "Decaying Beauty" by our Administrator Travelman



 

Special Feature: New in Havana
 

Marques de Prado Ameno Hotel

This is a new place that is joined to the Florida at the back. It has its own entrance but you can go through the Florida to get there.
The rooms are nicer and the food is better, but it is a bit smaller. Right now if the Florida has no room ( they are renovating) then they send you to the back.



 

Special Feature: In their own words
 
Havava_School children2 _en

 

Havana's fascination is not easy to explain with bare facts.


Read the following interesting Travel Stories and Short Stories about Havana:
(Find all Cuba Stories here.)

 

 

Photo: "School children playing with the stilt walkers" by our Administrator Travelman



 

Havana hotels - Quicklist
 
TravelAdmin's note about Hotel Quicklists:
At present, only a small selection of hotels is featured here - we are working on a system where hotels will be listed in columns you can sort by name, star rating, and location. Coming later this year!


Old Havana (Habana Vieja) & Centro

Ambos Mundos
Small hotel made famous by Ernest Hemmingway, with one of the rooms turned into a museum.
Pros/Cons:
medium-price range. Rooms seem to have retained their standard of Hemmingway's times. Great piano bar on the main floor.

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Deauville (in Centro Havana)
Budget hotel right at the Malecon.
Pros/Cons:
Cheap, but not bad for that low price. Just completed renovations. The breakfast is nothing to write home about although it does the job.

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Inglaterra
Historic hotel popular with independent travelers. Its rooftop bar is a popular meeting spot.
Pros/Cons:
Medium-price range, but service can be inconsistent. Has no pool. Renovations done in 2009.

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Park View
Older hotel popular in central location and reasonable prices.
Pros/Cons:
Low Medium-price range, Small rooms, renovations done in 2007.  Service can leave something to be desired.

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Parque Central ----- Recommended by Travelman (click here)
Luxury city hotel with modern rooms and facilities. Great pool and resturant on the roof. Probably best hotel in Havana.
Pros/Cons:
Pricey and can be impersonal. Lacks local flair. However, it is an excellent choice especially for first-time visitors to Cuba.

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Telegrafo ----- Recommended by Travelman (click here)
Small hotel in an excellent location, Renovated building, with personal service once you get to know the staff.
Pros/Cons:
Medium price range. Nice bright rooms. Can be noisy if you have a room facing on the inside.

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Saratoga
New, and one of Havana's most expensive hotels in an excellent location.
Pros/Cons:
Pros are the views and the rooftop swimming pool - but service and food are way overpriced.

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Sevilla
Historic Spanish style hotel mentioned in Graham Greene's novel "Our Man in Havana". Elegant mid-sized hotel.
Pros/Cons:
Service and food can be inconsistent, but the rooftop restaurant is highly recommended for its breath-taking views, even if your are not staying at the hotel. Nice large pool.

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Santa Isabel
Mid-sized hotel in a restored building.
Pros/Cons:
Medium-high price range. Pros are the excellent location on the Plaza de Arms. Good restaurant, comfortable rooms with a nice view.


Vedado/Nuevo Vedado

Tryp Habana Libre
High-rise that was famous as the Havana Hilton in pre-revolutionary days. Has good facilities including bank, business center and a nightclub on the 27th floor. Location is excellent.
Pros/Cons:
Expensive, and rooms vary greatly in quality - but if you get a sea-facing room on a higher floor, views are great. Service is spotty, but breakfast is okay here.

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Hotel Vedado
Budget hotel in the middle of Vedado, with quiet rooms and reasonable amenities including swimming pool.
Pros/Cons:
Food leaves something to be desired, but price and service are reasonable. Excellent location, and a good choice for longer stays such as university studies.

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Melia Cohiba (in Nuevo Vedado)
Luxury hotel right at the Malecon. Offers a wide array of services including business services.
Pros/Cons:
Very expensive and somewhat isolated (not much in the vicinity worth walking to). Elegant lobby bar with excellent entertainment at night and very good food.

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Nacional
Havana's grand old dame and a famous historical site. Has adequate amenities including a beautiful swimming pool and sundeck. Is worth a visit even if you are not staying here.
Pros/Cons:
Expensive. Food is okay, but the service can be inconsistent. Rooms are outdated and on the small side.

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St. John
Active high-rise budget hotel in the middle of Vedado with a rooftop swimming pool. Popular with budget travelers.
Pros/Cons:
Relatively cheap, but hallways and lobby can be noisy. Quality of rooms varies, and services are inconsistent.

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Victoria
Small boutique hotel with a family-feel. Popular with business travlers seeking privacy.
Pros/Cons:
Limited facilities, but with good service due to the small size. Expensive for what it offers.


Miramar

Comodoro
Middle-class hotel with both hotel and bungalow accommodation at the Malecon.
Pros/Cons:
Located near a shopping complex. Service can be spotty, and what is advertised as a beach is barely a sandy patch by the sea.

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Melia Habana
Luxury hotel with a beautiful pool area. Popular with tourists visiting the famous Tropicana Nightclub for overnight stays.
Pros/Cons:
Expensive, but due to its international standards a good choice when staying in Miramar.

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Oasis Panorama
Good hotel especially for longer stays.
Pros/Cons:
Expensive, but good standards.


Playa del Este (Beach area 30mins from City Center)

Atlantico
Budget hotel on Playa del Este with shuttle service to city center.
Pros/Cons:
Acceptable accommodation if offered at a low price.

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Tropicoco
Budget hotel across the street from Playa del Este, one of Havana's best beaches.
Pros/Cons:
Has adequate basic amenities, but should be booked with caution. Food is not the best, and the service is inconsistent. Has a reputation as a prostitution hotel.