Best places to stay in Havana

Where to stay while visiting Havana

Tourists have two options on where to stay in Cuba’s Havana.  The accommodation options include hotels and casas particulares, or private homes.

Private homes are a great place to stay at for visitors who want to get an authentic view of the country and Havana.  Options include private rooms in a family homes, or even entire apartments for rent in the local neighborhoods.

However, travelers who desire a pool or internet may prefer to stay in a hotel.  Here is a list of the best of both options.

The Best Hotels

Hotel Nacional de Cuba: Rooms in this hotel start at $170.  The hotel is huge and historic.  We recommend you visit in December during the Havana Film Festival.

Melia Habana: Rooms start at $100.  This hotel is located on the seaside of Havana in the the upscale Miramar area.  This is a 5 star experience and for a small extra fee you can the “royal service.”

Hotel Santa Isabel: Rooms start at $120.  This hotel overlooks the Plaza de Armas, one of the most visited areas of Havana.  Many famous people have stayed here including Jimmy Carter and Sting.

The Best Casas

Casa Habana: $30 a night.  This beautiful home is located in the heart of the bustling Habana Viega.  The district is filled with beautiful historic buildings, art, antique shops and rooftop terraces for sunset mojitos.

Casa Lilly: $40 a night.  This modern styled apartment is located within a Vedado skyscraper and is run by young and multilingual hostesses.  Each apartment is located on an amazing wraparound balcony.

Casa De Maria Elena: $20 a night.  This is a three bedroom luxury home in a small Havana suburb called Siboney.  Guests often compare it to a 1950’s styled mansion.  It features a pool and plenty of alcoholic beverages.

 

Cheap ways to enjoy Havana – Part 2

Havana can sometimes be a pricey place to visit for tourists.  While the average income for a worker in the City is $20 a month in U.S. dollars, tourists attractions can become expensive.  Many visitors are often fooled into buying expensive local cigars, often knock-offs, or even buying $6 daiquiris at El Floridita – Ernest Hemingway’s favorite bar.

Fortunately, some of the best experiences in Havana can be had for free.  Here are five great ways to explore this great city without paying hefty fees charged by tour companies.

OLD CARS

Havana is practically a living automotive museum due to the abundance of 1950’s cars driving by locals.  Cubans are not allowed to own American cars made after 1959.  While many may see this as harsh it has also produced an abundance of beautiful Fords, Cadillacs and Chevrolets that are rarely seen – and in drivable conditions.

Many of the cars are held together by locals using makeshift parts and creative means to keep the cars running.  Many Cubans affectionately love these cars and take great pride in keeping them on the roads.

For the best chance to see some of these classic cars, check the streets around the Capitol building – where owners like to park their antiques for nostalgic visitors to admire.

ARTISTS’ WORKSHOP

Tourists can watch art be made live at the taller Experimental de Grafica, located in an alley off the Cathedral Square.

Founded in 1962 in an old public bathhouse, the shop hosts dozens of artists who are friendly to onlookers and happy to chat.  Some even speak English and will give first hand demonstrations of how lithographs, etching and woodcarvings are made.  Everything is usually on sale for those who want to bring a piece of Cuba home with them.

BASEBALL

Baseball is the most popular sport in Cuba, and Spanish-speaking fans will not want to miss the Central Park’s “esquina caliente.”

This “hot corner” is named after the Cuban term for third base and is favorite spot for Havana locals to engage in passionate discussion during the season.

Those who want to see a game should buy tickets to see Havana’s most famous baseball team, Indusstriales in their very own El Latino Stadium.  Tickets are cheap and should only cost you a few pennies.

 

Cheap ways to enjoy Havana – Part 1

Havana can sometimes be a pricey place to visit for tourists.  While the average income for a worker in the City is $20 a month in U.S. dollars, tourists attractions can become expensive.  Many visitors are often fooled into buying expensive local cigars, often knock-offs, or even buying $6 daiquiris at El Floridita – Ernest Hemingway’s favorite bar.

Fortunately, some of the best experiences in Havana can be had for free.  Here are five great ways to explore this great city without paying hefty fees charged by tour companies.

 

THE MALECON

This seawall stretches 6 kilometers from old town to the Almendares River in Havana.  The project first began during the U.S. occupation in the early 1900’s and was completed in 1958.

The Malecon is considered to be the city’s center of social activity and is called “the great sofa” affectionately by locals.

Passerby can watch hundreds of fisherman dip their lines into the serene gentle waves in the early morning.

In the afternoon children can be seen splashing and keeping cool while their parents catch a tan.

But the evening is when the Malecon truly comes alive.  Thousands gather to laugh, dance and sip rum underneath crimson sunset.

OLD HAVANA

No tourist should miss taking a slow walk through this beautiful Spanish colonial quarter.  Every year this area only gets nicer thanks to restoration efforts by the Havana City Historian’s office.

Take a tour of the four public squares to hit the highlights of the area.  Important locations to see include Cathedral Square, the largest Roman Catholic temple in Havana; the leafy Plaza de Armas, where locals sell merchandise including Che memorabilia; the Plaza Viega and Plaza San Francisco also offer some beautiful buildings and attractions.

Be on the lookout for colorfully dressed women, known as “greeters,” who attach themselves to the arms of male travelers and leave kiss marks on their cheeks.

Things to do in Havana

Things to do in Havana

  1. Visit Old Havana

Old Havana’s heritage can be traced back more than five centuries, and today stands as an architectural time machine of styles and techniques.  There are many huge tourist attractions here such as the Plaza de Armas, the oldest square in Havana and the city’s foundation, and El Templete, the oldest neo-classical building in Havana.  There are a ton of great tourist attractions and street life to witness in Old Havana – vacationers should be sure not to skip it.

  1. Stay with a Local Resident

For those who really want to experience Cuban life, try staying at a private home or business.  A quick Google search shows a number of places for vacationers to stay.  Such places include as local antique collectors, art shops, and restored homes and mansions.  You may even be allowed to live with a family – share meals and see how locals live daily.

  1. Check out the Local Music

There is a lot of great music that originates from Havana such as the rumba, a raw call and response styled song and dance.  This Cuban music takes it roots from African rhythms and Hispanic influences and resembles jazz in its allowance for improv and impromptu sonic changes.  Look for some of the local rumba spots around town and remember these events are usually formal.  We recommend trying Callejon de Hammel on a Sunday – lots of great acts and bright atmosphere.

  1. Learn about Santeria

Santeria is the most practiced religion in Cuba and Havana.  Santeria is a Yoruba religion that worships orishas, or gods, from western Nigeria.  This religion is very musical, and every orisha is worshiped with a specific drum rhythm and dance.  Participants become possessed by these rituals and show off certain characteristics of the god’s personality.  The religion is very colorful, and more extreme sects even practice animal sacrifice.

How to Spot a Fake Cuban Cigar

How to Spot a Fake Cuban Cigar

Cuban cigars are known as some of the best cigars in the world.  Their taste and smoke-ability are second to none, and they are usually not cheap to come by.  Due to the high demand there are many fake Cuban cigars on the market that mock the originals so well even some of the most experienced smokers are fooled.  Here are a few ways to spot a fake Cuban:

First, flip the box over and looked for a heat-stamped “Habanos s.a HENCHO EN CUBA Totalmente a mano” across the bottom of the box.  Many counterfeit boxes simply stamp this label on the box in ink.  If this label is not on the box at all, you can be sure they are fake Cubans.

Next check the seal on the box.  This seal should be green and the color can vary from a dark forest to lime green.  The medallion on the left-hand side should be creased by the edge of the lid cover running through the middle.  The real medallion should show a hat with a shield below it, on the lower corner of the box.

When you first open the box, inhale deeply and take in the aroma of the cigars.  Real Cuban cigars have a rich and pleasant smell.  This may be hard for novice cigar smokers to differentiate, but the cigars should have some sort of odor.

Real Cuban cigars will also have a thing strip of wax paper running across the cigar bands, along with a Habanos warranty printed on parchment.  A genuine cigar rolled by an expert will also not have any hard or soft spots.  Feel along a real Cuban, and it should feel consistently firm.

The wrappers of the cigar should also be uniform in color – a rich, dark brown at the ends.  The tobacco inside the cigar should resemble twig-like stems and not the more common green tobacco.

The divider inside the box should be a thin and made of cedar – with no cracks or splits – and cut perfectly to match the box.  The divider should also be cut in a half moon shape in the upper right hand corner.

Finally check the bottom layer of the cigars to make sure they are consistent with the top layers.  Any cigars that stick to the lining paper are surely fakes.  Look for little mistakes in the box as counterfeiters are often hurry production and will make mistakes.

Good luck finding a genuine Cuban cigar – everyone should experience them once.