Havana, a city, a legend. The charm of the past can still be discovered, even if it is crumbling, just like the facades.
Why Havana only made it for me on the second try? Havana is different. Loud, chaotic, sometimes dirty and pushy. Attributes shared by many large cities. Right after our arrival, still struggling with jetlag and everyday stress, we were simply overwhelmed by Havana. We first had to get used to Cuba.
At our second stop in Havana, we knew how to take Havana. Were prepared for the sometimes disastrous conditions of the houses people live in here (though it still moves you and sometimes even scares you). Prepared to look for water a little longer. And be prepared to be spoken to more often. But hey, who can blame the Cubans?? Every day they are surrounded by tourists with their huge cameras in their houses and faces, obviously making more than enough money and having the freedom to travel. And yourself? Earn and survive on currency that is worth 1/25 of the tourist currency. And from traveling? There they must not dream at all.
That one or the other wants a piece of the pie, I can not blame them with the best will in the world. In Cuba you are always addressed in a very friendly way. We never experienced any aggressiveness during our stay. In the end, it was probably a mixture of the tireless joie de vivre of the Cubans, the energy of the city itself and the still visible and tangible splendor of days gone by that sparked my love for Havana.
My Havana Must Do's& Don'ts
Thu: Stroll through the alleys of the old town of Habana Vieja and just drift along.
Don't: Don't spend your money on a sightseeing tour by vintage car. Take a cab collectivo instead of the Viazul bus to get from place to place in Cuba. Many of these cabs are real oldtimers. And they will pick you up at your doorstep and drop you off at your desired address in the next town. How to get to such a Taxi Collectivo and what it costs you can read here.
Do: Take a bike tour with final destination Malecón, in my opinion the best way to get to know Havana. If you don't want to go alone, I can recommend joining a Couchsurfing bike tour. How this works exactly you can read here.
Don't: Try to get from one part of Havana to another on foot – the distances are considerable. We almost walked our feet off trying to do this. Extra tip: Closed shoes. On the streets of Havana pretty much everything swims around.
Do: My food tip: El Chanchullero – delicious, affordable and ironic. “Aqui jamás estuvo Hemingway” (Hemingway was never here) you can read on the wall. We like it anyway. Or just because of that. Food around 4-5 CUC, cocktails 2 CUC. Address: Brasil, between Bernaza& Christo. Opening hours 13:00 – 24:00
Don't: Leave too much money at the overpriced tourist cafes at Plaza Vieja in Habana Vieja. Nevertheless, I can recommend an Aguacates Relleno (stuffed avocado with seafood) at La Vitrola at Plaza Vieja as a snack. Refreshing: Lemonade.
Do: Stay in a casa particular. In my opinion the only true way to stay overnight in Cuba.
Extra tip when arriving in Havana for the first time: book casa particular in advance. After the long flight you don't feel like going to different casas. In addition, you can make sure that the selected casa is good by checking the ratings.
Don't: Go along with one of the people who are waiting for you. If you haven't booked, go to one of the casa addresses in the guidebook, even if there is no room, the casa owners will be happy to help you. The casas particulares are well connected among themselves. Therefore, after the first casa, it is best to simply recommend it to others.
Do: Take a bus to Playa Del Este. At the Capitol the bus T3 of Transtur goes for 5 CUC to the beach (between 09:00 and 19:00 o'clock).
Don't: Don't let the pushy cab drivers at the Capitol talk you into anything. The bus is definitely the best and cheapest way to get to the beach.
Do: Take the ferry to the statue of Christ in Casa Blanca. Great view of Havana and a break from the tour hustle and bustle. The ferry terminal is across the street from the Russian Orthodox church in Habana Vieja.
Extra tip: After visiting the statue of Christ, turn left and walk to the Castillo de los Tres Reyes del Morro. You can visit a part of the fortress without paying the entrance fee.
Don't: Don't go in the wrong direction (like we did at first). Ferries leave from the ferry terminal in 2 directions, to Casablanca and to Regla. Ask again before boarding the ferry itself if it also goes to Casablanca. A ride costs 1 CUC per person (for tourists, locals pay much less). Here is also ripped off with pleasure, money is best to take along suitably.
Do: Enjoy the view over the city for example from the roof terrace of the Iberostar Parque Central (Paseo del Prado). Just ask down in the lobby how to get to the roof terrace, there is also a bar there.
Don't: Pay for views in Havana, there are plenty of free spots.
Do: Have a cocktail at the legendary bar Sloppy Joe's (Agramonte, Eche Animas).
Don't: Don't do much more than that. A much more authentic way to start the evening is at the Malecón.
If you end up in Havana:
Thu: Take Euros with you. In the Casa de Cambio (exchange office) you can exchange it into the tourist currency CUC. It is also worth to exchange a few euros in Moneda Nacional. Use it to buy small things like fruit, small pizzas or juices at markets and street stalls. And many times cheaper than in tourist cafes
Don't: Change a large amount of money at the airport – poor exchange rate
Organize Cuba trip yourself or have it organized?
In a country like Cuba, which is so different from home, you don't want to go off unprepared. So each of my trips is preceded by a lengthy preparation period of research and bookings. For those who don't have that much time but still want to be sure to have an unforgettable time really getting to know the country and its people, I can recommend Fairaway.
True to their motto “Individual. Authentic. Fair.” you can arrange your trip individually, according to your wishes and with the help of local travel experts through this German tour operator. Fairaway has a special focus on off-the-beaten-path places and authentic encounters with local people . In addition, Fairaway is committed to fair working conditions and wages locally and offsets all CO2 emissions. My recommendation!
I hope to help you prepare for your trip with my Havana Must Do's& Don'ts could support. As always, comments are welcome!