top of page

Everything you need to know to visit Cuba - 12 Do's and Dont's for Havana

This is a travel guide for visiting Havana, the capital of Cuba. Cuba is one of the most interesting countries in the world, but travelling there can be a little bit complicated. Here are a few handy travel tips for Cuba and advice on how to make the most out of your trip to Havana!



 


Tourism in Cuba


(Please note this travel advice is not applicable for US Citizens, who have to hop through many more hoops to enjoy Cuba.)


If you're dreaming of visiting my favourite city in the world, Havana, let's start with a little bit on the history of Cuba's tourism...


Before the Cuban Revolution in the late 1950s, Cuba was the most touristic place in the Caribbean, and it's not hard to see why. Americans would come in flocks to exchange the cold weather and grizzly prohibition for tropical temperatures, beautiful beaches, fantastic healthcare, the famous local 'produce' like rum and cigars, and of course the buzzing city of arts and music itself; Havana.


After Fidel and Che did their thing, Cuba closed off to the outside world. Their economy was supported by the USSR for several decades until that broke up in 1990, and with the help of the USA choking them from every side, Cuba became internationally isolated and the people became very poor.


Over the last twenty years, things have started changing, the economy has grown and tourists have started trickling back to Cuba, helped massively by international bank cards being 'unblocked' for use in Cuba since 2015.


Now is the time to visit. Not only because the infrastructure is there to support tourism, but by spending your money there you will be helping their economy spring back from the setbacks of Covid - and you will be welcomed with open arms by the warm people of Cuba.


But before you go, here's my guide on 12 Do's and Dont's for visiting Havana, put together from my learning the hard way!



classic chevy convertible in Cuba
Classic cars and sunny streets in Havana!

 


My 12 Do's and Dont's for Visiting Havana

(Everything you need to know to visit Cuba right now!)


This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may get a commission if you make a purchase through this website, at no cost to you. I only link to products I use and love.


1. DO

Stay in a 'Casa Particular'


This literally translates to 'private home', or what we may call a homestay. There are plenty of luxury hotels in Havana, but I think that staying with a local family is a better option.


You'll get heaps of good local advice and a real personal touch, and you'll be helping people earn a little extra income in an otherwise mostly state-controlled economy.


I booked my Casa Particular through Airbnb and I had such a wonderful experience. I was offered a ride from the airport for an extra $20 and the father of my host family picked me up in an old Beetle, and later on in the trip my kind host Sacha really came through for me when my bank card got blocked.


I chose to stay in the neighbourhood of Vedado, about a 45-minute walk away from the centre, as I wanted a quieter neighbourhood with a local feel. I love walking, so my days were spent taking different routes around Havana, exploring the jigsaw puzzle of pretty streets.



A colourful street in Havana
The colourful Vedado neighbourhood in Havana

 

2. DON'T

Forget to notify your bank


So I don't know about you, but my bank says explicitly it is no longer necessary to notify them when you go on holiday. If you're planning a trip to Cuba DO THIS ANYWAY.


Regular Cubans have been allowed to buy mobile phones since 2008 (I know, it's that recent!) but it's not always possible to make international calls out of Cuba.


So when my bank card got blocked, even with a Cuban SIM I was using, I was not able to make an international call to my bank to fix the issue. In the end, I had to get connected to my bank through the British Embassy in Cuba - who were extremely helpful by the way, and kept calling me back when the phones were cutting out.

It's worth noting that since 2015 most types of credit and debit cards work in Cuban ATMS. So yeah, don't forget to double-check this notify your bank of your travels, or take loads of extra cash just in case (GBP or Euros). Whatever works!


If you ever get stuck here are the contact details for the British Embassy in Havana.



 

3. DO

Learn a little Spanish before you go


So when planning a visit to Havana this is a really important step.


I didn't research anything before my last-minute trip to Cuba and I didn't have a lick of Spanish, which made things tricky! Yeah, you may survive, pointing at the bottle of water you want, or saying T O I L E T very slowly and hoping for the best, but it would be much simpler to have a few phrases, especially when negotiating prices.



Crumbly buildings on a Havana street
Havana streets are full of life

 

4. DON'T

Put too much emphasis on food


I LOVE FOOD. So when writing this guide on everything you need to know to visit Havana, this is an important point (for me, anyway.)


I have heard that there is some great food in Cuba, but I just didn't see it! We all love a cheese and ham sandwich, but not for every meal, every day...


I was visiting Havana on a budget, so I was always looking for cheaper options, but I couldn't seem to find anything other than a combination of cheese, pork and bread.


It became quite funny because the restaurants would have long idealistic menus, but in reality, only a few items were ever available, and it wasn't always what it claimed to be.


I have seen Anthony Bourdain's episode on Cuba, so I know the island has some great food. Maybe you'll have better luck finding it!

On the other hand, the drinks were fabulous! Dreamy pina coladas, fresh guava juice, and giant mojitos with half a bottle of rum inside.



EXHIBIT A


On my last day in Cuba, I ordered a croissant with butter and jam, in a cute little BnB by the beach which seemed quite upmarket.


A bread roll pretending to be a croissant in Cuba with some shaved carrot

1. That is not a croissant

2. That's not butter, it's mayonnaise

3. The jam is actually made from guava which was pretty good



 

Not sure what to pack for your trip to Cuba? Check out the I Dream of Mangoes article:



 

5. DO

Pound the pavements


While times are changing and businesses are starting to have more of an online presence, it's still worthwhile exploring the streets of Havana for hidden gems that are not mentioned online.


I stayed in the neighbourhood of Vedado, and every day I loved finding a new route into the city centre: 'Old Havana'. I never got lost for long, I was always greeted by smiling faces, and one of my favourite things was just listening to the life and soul on the streets.


Sitting on the pavements socialising or playing a ball game in the street are still the main forms of entertainment where TV shows and the internet are not quite as ever-present as in the West, and it is so refreshing to be around. The streets in Havana feel full of life.


One such day of walking, I stumbled across Almacenes San José Artisans’ Market - a true testament to the creativity of the Cuban people in times when importing goods was so difficult. I bought a beautiful pair of earrings made out of old forks!


Happy people dancing on the streets in Havana
It is not unusual to come across a street party in Havana

 

6. DON'T

Expect anything to be straightforward


Privately owned businesses are a brand new concept, only legalised in 2021. A lot of shops are still state-run, and I found out the hard way that provisions are all sold in separate places.


Without any Spanish, it's quite tricky to get your head around. Bottled water is sold in a different store than cartons of milk, and there are no such things as 'one size fits all' supermarkets. During my visit, I would often see long queues outside shops, which led me to believe there was also some kind of rationing system.


The beauty of staying in a Casa Particular is that your host can help you understand all of these little nuances that are so different from our own society.


Something that I found a little bit odd was the multi-currency; Cuban Pesos and Cuban Convertible Pesos. Some places took CUC, some CUP and some both. Luckily for you, since 2021 the CUP is the only currency in circulation - so hopefully, transactions will be a bit simpler for you than they were for me!



 

7. DO

Take in the history


Cuba has such a fascinating history, something they 'appear' to be very proud of in Havana. There are heaps of museums such as the Museo de la Revolucion, which costs 200 CUP (£7) to enter. Some say propaganda, but this is all about perspective.


I loved visiting the Plaza de la Revolución and imagining what had taken place all around me in years gone by.


The Guardian have a great reading list if you'd like to know more about Cuba's history, from unbiased perspectives.


Another option is to join a free walking tour - to learn about the city from a local. (Please tip your tour guide.)



Che Guevara in revolution square in Havana
Love him or hate him, Che is everywhere you look in Havana

 

8. DON'T

Be fooled by what you read online


Anywhere that is not a friend of the UK or the USA gets a seriously bad reputation, and the more I travel the more I learn: Things are not as they seem. (Check out my guide on Iraq - for example!)


Since the revolution, Cuba has been barraged with embargoes from the USA and was never given a chance to flourish under a Communist regime. Who knows what would have happened with more support internationally? I certainly saw there were no 'haves' and 'have nots' in Havana, there was no disparity between rich and poor.


I'm not saying it is a utopia, I don't know enough about it to comment too deeply. There is a lot of poverty in Cuba, but who's to blame for that is heavily debated.



 

9. DO

Visit the Fabrica De Arte


This was incredible!


The Fabrica De Arte is a multi-level art gallery/nightclub/warehouse. This place is a labyrinth of curiosities, unrivalled in originality.


You'll find the 'Cuban Art Factory' in the Vedado neighbourhood, with only a $2 door fee, it is open from 8pm until 2am, Thursday - Sunday.


It was the highlight of my trip to Havana. I was given a little card to use when ordering any drinks and food, with the bill being settled upon exit.


I nursed the world's biggest Mojito whilst exploring room after room of art installations and dance floors. Mind-blowing!



 

10. DON'T

Miss out on the music scene


There is so much live music in Havana with something for everyone. Ranging from Salsa and Timba, to Jazz Clubs, electronic music DJs and classical orchestras.


Most places open their doors LATE (10pm, 11pm) from Tuesday - Sunday, so make sure you sneak in that siesta!


A couple of favourites:


  • La Zorra Y el Cuervo - accessed by going through a red London-style phone box.

  • Casa de la Musica Miramar



 

11. DO

Triple-check your Tourist Card & visa situation


I travelled with Virgin Atlantic directly from London Heathrow. The airline provided a tourist card, the equivalent of a tourist visa, which I filled out on the plane.


Check whether your airline is providing the tourist cards, otherwise, you can order them online for up to 6 months before you travel. They are £25 and last 30 or 90 days depending. Be aware that there are funny rules regarding transiting through the USA to reach Cuba, please check these before you make your travel arrangements.


As of 2022 - if you travel to Cuba you will no longer be eligible for an ESTA. This means you can't even transit through the United States. You are not barred from America, you will just need to interview in person to get a visa. Once again the US government never taking a day off from being massive dickheads.



 

12. DON'T

Forget to take out travel insurance

Travel insurance with medical coverage is a legal requirement if you're visiting Cuba.


Healthcare in Cuba is exceptional, but travel insurance is mandatory.


I recommend NOT choosing the cheapest option, speaking from personal experience!



 


Orange classic car on a colourful street in Havana


The Rest of Cuba


While there is enough to see and experience in Havana to last an entire week, if you have time, I would recommend venturing out to see what the rest of the island has to offer.


You have the beautiful mountain town of Viñales, the gorgeous beaches of Varadero, and UNESCO World Heritage town of Trinidad.


If you're feeling even more adventurous go further East, to the part of the island that is far less travelled, and your experience will be all your own.



 


Thank you for reading my travel guide: Everything you need to know to plan a visit to Cuba, with my 12 Do's and Dont's for Havana.


If you enjoyed the read, please consider subscribing to my blog where I post articles once every 1-2 weeks about my current travels.


For more inspiration for travelling the Americas, check out my article: San Diego to San Fransisco on a Shoestring.


Happy Travels

xx



START PLANNING YOUR NEXT TRIP




 


Disclosure:
I Dream of Mangoes is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. That being said, I only link to products I use and love.

Kommentare


bottom of page