Tomas Zagoda

In Cuba, people watching has become a national past time. Pass any restaurant with outdoor seating and you will see locals packed to the walls, puffing away on cigars, drinking rum and chatting with anyone who will listen to them as they see who’s out and about. So pull up a chair in your venue of choice, and watch a steady stream of interesting faces, beautiful antique cars and sunburnt tourists stroll past. You might even have a few locals greet you with the most popular slang in Cuba, “Que bola”, meaning, “What’s up?”

cars in havana

Initially built between a large harbor and surrounded by heavily fortified walls to protect the city from pirates, buccaneers and the French, Old Havana is a lively reminder of times gone by. This is no museum though. Between the crumbling city walls and chaotic streets is a city-within-a-city full of families going about their lives, old ladies out shopping, homemade bucket and rope pulley systems to deliver items to third floor apartments and musicians performing for passing crowds. Wherever you go, there’s something worth looking at.

havana streets

Old Havana's narrow alleyways are not hard to navigate. You will want to take your time exploring the many tiny shops, cafes and bars wedged beneath people’s homes. When the heat gets a little too much to bear, head into the famous Museo del Ron Havana Club for a guided tour on how Cuba’s most popular rum is created. Opportunities to try the spicy drink are plentiful, as are the signature cocktails on offer in their bar.

havana cuba

Public parks are where all the locals hang out, especially the grand Parque Central next to The Great Theatre and The Capitol building. If you manage to find a spot under a tree, it’s easy to pass a few hours relaxing in the shade. From here, it’s a piece of cake to hire a stunning convertible antique car for an open top cruise along the scenic Malecón and Paseo del Prado. Make sure you end your ride by visiting the Museum of the Revolution. It’s a fascinating experience hearing about Cuba’s revolution and the many stories that surround it. If you would rather look at paintings than blood soaked shirts, then visit the Museo de las Bellas Artes for Cuban and international art.

museum of the revolution

Later in the night, a highlight for many travellers is the eccentric Cuban Art Factory. Around 20 minutes taxi from Old Havana, this converted warehouse complex has been transformed into a live music venue, multi-level art gallery and club, cinema and popup designer market. After visiting one of the many bars for an ice-cold Cuban drink (mojito, daiquiri, Cuba Libre or fresh piña colada), spend some time exploring the tiny design shops and fashion stores selling independent Cuban artwork and clothing. This very special place is only open from Thursday to Sunday from 8PM until late, so be careful not to miss out.

car and palm trees in havana

Havana is a city ready to burst with unexpected surprises, optimism, creativity, delicious drinks and friendly locals. So put a smile on your face, a cocktail in your hand and get ready to explore one of the most unique cities on Earth.

Tips for making your time here easier:

  • Do your research before you arrive. There is very limited Wi-Fi (if you can find any at all) once you arrive. It’s best to have your accommodation sorted and know what you want to see and do each day. Don’t rely on needing any Internet connection because there’s a very good chance you won’t have any.
  • Wi-Fi is sometimes available in large hotels (at a high price) or in some major public parks. You will need to find a local with a Wi-Fi access card, which they can sell to you for 3-8 pesos depending on your negotiating skills. Don’t rely on being able to find a good connection or a person to sell you one of these cards.
  • There’s a good chance your card will not be accepted at ATM’s or banks. Instead work out your budget and bring enough cash (and emergency funds) for your entire time here.
  • Bring Euros or Mexican Peso, as USD will be converted at a very high rate (and you will be slogged with a 10% fee on top of this).
  • There are two currencies, Cuban Pesos (CUP) and Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC). Tourists almost always use CUC, though both currencies will be accepted.
  • Cuba is relatively safe, but remember to keep an eye on your valuables, as pickpocketing is common, and to take the usual safety measures when walking around at night.

havana cuba

Tomas Zagoda is an Australian based media producer, filmmaker, writer, coffee addict and tall person who does not play basketball. Follow him on Instagram @TomasZagoda to keep up with his latest adventures.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More Insurance. You should always read the Policy Documents available from your travel insurance provider to understand the limits, exclusions and conditions of your policy and to ensure any activities you undertake are covered by your policy.