The 20 Best Things To Do In and Around Havana
Havana's an awesome city just to walk around and get lost in. There are so many beautiful buildings and cars, it runs along the water, and it's bustling ALL of the time. Every sense is experiencing something all of the time, and it's really up to you whether that makes you feel excited or overwhelmed (I often feel both simultaneously when visiting!). In my opinion a ton of time can be happily used up simply wandering around and taking it all in. Of course that's not to say there aren't a few things you absolutely should do if you can.
the 20 best things to do in (and around) Havana
Even better? Most of them are inexpensive or even free :)
Head to the beach!
There's a whole stretch of great beach just outside of Havana and a bus that makes the route every 40 minutes, every day. White sand beach and crystal clear Caribbean waters await you.
To get there, head to Central Park directly in front of the Hotel Sarratoga (the blue one). You'll see a bus sign for the Hop On, Hop Off bus. Wait there.
You'll want the big coach bus that says T3 in the window. Cost is between $5-10 depending on the season, but they'll give you a ticket for your ride back so you don't have to pay again. The first bus comes at 9am. Less than 30 minutes later you'll have the choice of three stops. I hear the first one is nice but I really enjoyed the beach at the third stop (Las Terrazas).
Smoke a Cuban cigar
Would it even be a trip to Cuba if you didn't?? ;-)
Drink Havana Club rum
Obviously. Mojitos are an excellent choice, but I tell you, the dark rum is so freaking smooth you can really just enjoy it on its' own. Yummy.
Visit the Cristo (and take the ferry!)
The Cristo is the large Christ at the top of the hill and basically a staple in most Latin American capital cities (and even some non-capital cities). This one is not the most impressive, or the highest, but it's still a unique part of the culture and a fun excuse to get outside of the city center. Plus, if you've never seen a Cristo, then you need to at least once!
If you have a bit of Spanish (or just a sense of adventure) you can take the ferry across - a fun, cheap and quick ride with locals! Or you can hire a car for an hour or two (about $50-75) and do a lot less walking.
Head to one of the forts across the water
Just beyond the giant Cristo, across the bay from Havana, you'll notice that the land jutties out into the sea. This, of course, made it the perfect place for a fort - or two! You can walk or catch a taxi (from the mainland or over near the Cristo) and have them take you. Fair warning: it's a bit of a walk and there aren't always sidewalks.
Check out a baseball game
It's the national sport and the stadium Latino Americano is big and beautiful. Foreigners must pay at a separate ticket booth and the cost is $3. You will also be expected to sit in a designated tourist area (apparently for protection of your things), but fortunately this area is directly behind the pitcher's mound so you know, pretty good seats.
Don't even attempt to get here using the public transport system unless you speak Spanish. Just suck it up and pay a taxi to get you here. It's about a ten minute drive from Central Park.
Stroll the Prado on the weekend
It's a boardwalk running down from Central Park and towards the water. On the weekends artists set up stalls on both sides and you'll get a lot of different mediums, too. Some of the artists even work right there on the boardwalk. Remember to haggle if something catches your eye.
Visit the Casa de la Musica
It's a bit pricey, by Cuban standards, but well worth it. You'll feel like you're in an old movie watching everyone dance with rum in hand, dressed up and turned out for a night of live music. Truly enjoyable. Bottle service is $40 and you'll pay $20 per person to get in.
Check out the the large artisanal market
It's aimed at tourists but the prices are actually not any higher than elsewhere (sometimes cheaper, even) and you'll get a bigger variety. It's in a huge building and you could easily lose half a day here. There are a few little cantinas to grab a drink and a seat.
Expect tons of jewelry, art, clothing, hats, cigars, and more. I don't have a photo of the market, but if you walk along the malecon (along the water) as pictured below, you'll get there! Or just ask someone to point you in the right direction.
Swim in an actual cave
This will unfortunately cost a bit more money and take a bit more work, but it was a pretty cool experience so I recommend it anyways. You wander down into the cave and then can jump right in to some of the clearest water I have ever seen. You could see each nook and cranny below you, with some parts seemingly giving way to the depths of the Earth. Pretty incredible, really.
The caves are situated just outside of Varadero, actually, near the airport there. If you're going from Havana you can catch a taxi, or do like we did, and make a day of it. Remember to haggle on taxi prices!
Because we speak Spanish we found someone who took us for $90 CUC round trip. We went to Varadero, had about four hours there on the beach and ate lunch, then he took us to the caves and waited for us there for about an hour, then drove us back to Havana.
Most taxi drivers were asking around $200. Through haggling we got the price down by more than half. But you'll have a lot less luck with that if you don't speak Spanish. Even so, split between four people, it's not over-the-top expensive and it was a pretty great little day trip.
Have a drink at the Hotel Nacional
So many famous people from history have sat there and had a drink and a cigar, that you can't help but feel part of something kind of great while sitting with a drink and enjoying the view.
And it is a really great view, looking back toward downtown Havana and the wide open sea. To get there, take a taxi OR refer to the next item...
Take the Hop On, Hop Off bus tour
I know, this is a super touristy suggestion and not normally my style. However, it only costs $10 and it takes you all around the city to see the sights, including some of the farther flung places that you might not otherwise make it to see. Whether you choose to get off and back on is totally up to you.
You can easily stay on the bus the whole time and just enjoy the views, the fresh breeze, and even snap some photos from the top of the bus as it stops or slows to turn corners. But I do recommend taking the chance to get off at the Hotel Nacional, take a wander through Vedado (look for the '50s deco theatre on the corner!) and even head as far as the University, where you can find another stop to pick the bus back up.
Drink a coconut in the street
Mostly because I love saying "coco bien frio" over and over.
Oh and also because they'll help rehydrate you in the heat, they're delicious, and if I do say so myself, you look pretty rad walking around sipping one ;-) Throw a bit of rum in that coconut to get the afternoon party started.
Buy a hat
With the exception of Panama, Cuba is the place most famous for hats! They will try to charge you up to $15. I GUARANTEE you can get any of them for $5 if you ask.
Take one of the local taxis
They're the old, cobbled together vintage cars that are still incredible and beautiful and they cost next to nothing. It doesn't matter where you go. Just have the experience of getting in one of those enormous seats, checking out the very old levers and clutch and door handles, and just having fun. It's such a Cuban experience!
AND rent one of the beautifully restored vintage cars
Because it's a different experience than the taxis, but an equally worthwhile one! Prices aren't bad at around $50 CUC an hour (to tour you around the city and stop for photos).
Visit El Capitolio
This is Havana's Parliament building and it is something else. They've only recently begun to open it back up to the public for some viewings (limited days, limited people per day) but it's worth the effort. Everything is gilded, there's an enormous bronze statue in the middle, and there's a ton of history to be learned about the leaders of Cuba well before the country became synonymous with Fidel's rule.
Check out Callejon de Hamel
This is an artsy area outside of Old Havana that sort of evolved over time, with an alleyway that weaves into a courtyard of sorts. There's art of every time in every way, and sometimes on the weekends there's live music and some shopping to be had. The day we were there it was a full reggae party happening! More info here.
Go to the theatre
You can go to the recently renovated and gorgeousB one just off of Central Park, pictured below, of course. But there are other little theatres everywhere offering plays, musicals, symphonies and more. It's a great chance to brush up on a little Spanish, dress up, and enjoy some local culture.
And most of all, just enjoy! There are so many things to do in Havana that I could easily spend another few weeks there just drinking it all in. Curious to know what Cuba will cost you? I've broken it all down here.
Would you add anything else, friends who have been? Let me know in the comments!