As a brief background, we cubicle dwellers decided to make use of our President’s Day holiday weekend to go somewhere new. At the same time, we had a few JetBlue points to use, and they had a deal for Cuba – so that’s why we (Peter, me, and a friend named Anthony) decided to book our plane tickets to Cuba. In this post, we talk more about our trip to Havana, and specifically where to go in Havana, Cuba.
Our trip was from February 18-21, 2017 – the 21st technically doesn’t count because we just used that to travel back to the US, so as a reference, we had been in Havana for 3 days and 3 nights. The prices and some of the destinations may have changed when you read this, given that this post was accurate based on our travel experience at the time. You can read more of our Cuba related posts on the links below:
- Peter’s First Impressions of Cuba.
- A Guide to Havana, Cuba from the USA
- Where to Go in Havana, Cuba (Where We Went and What We Saw)
Where to go in Havana, Cuba (Where we went, what we saw, and the like)
Havana is interesting. As Peter may have mentioned in his post, the first impression is that there is no traffic, the streets were wide and is full of old cars. A lot of these cars don’t even have catalytic converters: whatever that means, to me it’s just that the car’s exhaust is terrible, it’s not helping the environment, and the air is not as fresh as you would like and you feel like you’re back in time.
After we arrived in our casa particular, we dropped our bags and our host graciously walked us to the Prado and pointed out where the Museum of the Revolution is, which was supposed to be our first destination that day. Note that in the next post, we will share our actual itinerary. This post is just meant to give you an idea on what to see and do in the place, as well as approximate times you can spend in the area to help you plan your trip better and how you will pace yourself.
The Museum of the Revolution
Get there early or the line to get in will be all the way out in the street. In the Havana heat, I don’t know how long you guys will last. Outside is a tank that Fidel Castro used during the Bay Of Pigs invasion, and also a section of the Old Havana Wall.
If you are early enough, you get to skip the crowds and go in. Admission per person is 10 CUC (€10 or $12). You start off on the third floor and work your way to the first and finally to the yacht (Granma) that Fidel Castro, Raul Castro, Che Guevara, and the other revolutionary leaders used to get into Cuba. Some of the items on display are a bit gruesome – uniforms that have blood stains on it, other knick knacks and random items were also displayed. In the ground floor though, you’ll see the tone start to change from history into more of what feels like propaganda, but to each their own.
The area with the Granma yacht is the most interesting for me. It has more tanks (some improvised from tractors), and a truck that’s ridden with bullet holes. You can read more of Peter’s review of the museum in his First Impressions of Cuba post. We spent about two hours (maybe more) in the museum. You can be quicker if you just glance around at the exhibits and not read the texts.
The Prado is a long stretch of a street, made to look like European streets. It is very pedestrian friendly as the middle of this wide street is a long plaza where people hang out, meet, and is a great spot to people-watch. It connects the water/fortress into the Capitolio (The Capital), so walking from the city fortresses to the Capital is a breeze. It’s also lined with trees so if you do go in the summer, that will be a welcome respite from the Havana heat. If you do go, expect to spend around 5-10 minutes walking around, unless you decide to walk from end to end.
The National Theater
Named after Alicia Alonso, Cuba’s most successful and beloved ballerina, the theatre is opulent and beautiful. Unlike the Vienna opera or other Western world plays/ballet that cost a lot of money, the performances there cost anywhere between 30 CUC (€30 or $34) up for foreigners or a few pesos for locals. If you want a cheaper way to get inside the theater during the day, you can take a tour (8 CUC, €8, $10). The tour lasts anywhere from 45 minutes to more than an hour, depending on your group size and which language you speak.
Our tour guide knew how to speak French, English, and Spanish, and is a performer (a singer) herself. She guided us throughout the theater and up the beautiful marble stairs, giving us a lot of information on the history and ownership of the theater. The top floor has a great view of the Capital, and there’s a full bar open.
On the second floor, there’s a great view of the road, and in front of it is where the classic cars are parked, waiting for customers. An hour tour on the classic car costs around 30 CUC (€30 or $34).
If you’ve been to Washington DC, it looks like our own Capitol has been copied and moved to Cuba. Cuba’s capital building did get its inspiration from the United States. You can tour the Capitolio if it is open, but it was undergoing repairs and restoration when we were there. You can walk around the area for free though, as there is a small plaza that surrounds the Capitolio, where you can just people watch. Walking around should take no more than 10 minutes.
If you want real Cuban cigars, this is the place to go. This is actually where they make Cohibas, apparently really good cigars. They offer tours of their facility but it is quite pricey. 15 CUC (€15 or $17) will get you a 15 minute tour (could be more, but we can’t say, as we didn’t take the tour ourselves). That’s €1 a minute, so it’s not for us budget travellers and therefore we skipped it. It was, however, quite nice seeing all those cigars and the boxes. I was mostly drawn to the boxes, couldn’t care less about cigars as we don’t smoke. They allow smoking inside the premises, which I guess makes sense since they sell cigars but bad for the air conditioning system inside.
Literally translated as Central Park, it is in front of the bigger (more expensive) hotels like Iberostar and Hotel Inglaterra, and has a statue of Jose Marti. This was actually the area where you can take a tourist bus (5 CUC) to go to Playas Del Este, which is a beach located in the Havana area. It is a bit of a ride, and if you just want to see the beach or actually want to lay on it and chill then the bus price takes you there and back to the park with no time limit. The buses from Central Park don’t really have a set time on when they come and go, but there is a dispatcher available in the area that you can ask. Note the last bus going back to Central Havana if you do go though, you don’t want to spend on a taxi in an area that far.
This was also the area where we took the Hop On Hop Off tourist buses around the Havana too. You pay the conductor inside the bus if you don’t have a ticket (10 CUC per person), for unlimited hop on hop off rides along the tourist sites. We think it is a convenient and cheaper way to travel around the city, even if you decide to hop off or stay inside the bus for the whole duration of the trip. Note that if you do decide to just stay on the bus, it will probably be more than an hour drive to see everything and you can take photos from the window of the bus if you can’t be bothered to go down.
Other points of interest
These spots are what we mostly saw from the tour bus as we chugged along Havana. It does not mean that we stopped there and took photos (if there are photos, we mostly took them from inside the bus) as it was such a hot day when we were traveling and we didn’t have the patience to actually explore in the heat.
A scenic drive that connects new Havana to Old Havana. It’s scenic because the road has a great view of the water, and is advisable to do so on a vintage convertible tour. You can also opt to walk a bit of it, but maybe during dusk, as the sun sets, and when the locals all go out to date or just hang out. The end of the Malecon connects to the Prado, so if you are up for it, you can walk it.
We originally planned to visit this cemetery when we were trip planning, but we skipped it at the very last second. It is such a huge cemetery that it’s easy to get lost in. I was also a bit freaked out by the fact that we could get lost inside the cemetery and there were no food options around the area that well, we just enjoyed seeing it from outside. We do like the intricate tombstones inside the cemetery, and there were plenty of ‘famous’ people interred inside it.
Oh, even though we think the space is big, apparently they remove bodies after three years from the cemetery because of space constraints!
Plaza de la Revolucion
If you’re on a taxi from the airport on your first day in Havana, this is probably one of the first things that you’ll see from the window. It’s such a huge square, topped with a memorial of Jose Marti, who is a national hero in Cuba. It is from this plaza that Pope Francis visited in 2015, and also where Fidel Castro had a lot of his rallies. Seriously, the place is so huge, it’s just like a concrete jungle. In the buildings surrounding the plaza, you could see structures shaped like Fidel Castro, Che Guevarra and Camilo Cienfuegos.
The bus stops here to pick up and drop off passengers – so you can walk around if you wish, but note that there is not much shade in the square. There are also plenty of taxis waiting to pick you up if you get confused where to board the tour bus after.
Plenty more to see and do
We still have a few more posts about Havana: one will be centered on what to see and do in the Havana Vieja area, and the last one will be tips, FAQs and how much we spent for our Cuba trip (travel hacking using points vs the cash equivalent). As always, thank you for sticking with us and hopefully this article helped you in planning your journey to Cuba. It actually is helping us remember what we experienced during the trip, so this is a win-win for both of us. Until the next post!