Havana, Cuba – City Guide for Nomads and Expats

Updated in 2022.

Havana is absolutely mesmerizing. There is Havana, and there is the rest of Cuba.

The people, architecture, landscape and culture all come together in a magnetic way that make it different from any place on earth. After only an hour in Havana you will feel notably different but you won’t know why. The women are indeed pretty here, but you’ll need to keep a watchful eye out for scammers and swindlers! You’ll need a visa to visit Cuba, so reminder to get a Green or Pink Tourist Card before you go. 

POPULATION: 2,000,000


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CULTURE IN HAVANA

A visit to Havana feels like taking a time machine to the 1950s – vintage cars everywhere, colonial buildings, and no access to American software. People genuinely enjoy their time with each other, dancing in the street and living life. But make no mistake, Havana is basically a different country compared to the rest of Cuba.

 

RENT AN APARTMENT IN HAVANA

$500.00-$600.00 for a month in a casa particular or Airbnb. You may be able to find cheaper but the accommodation may not be legal.

 

THINGS TO DO IN HAVANA

Smoke cuban cigars and drink lot of rum and mojitos.

Visit a tobacco plantation. Some tours offer horse riding to tobacco fields.

Visit the Universidad de Havana

Check out the city beaches in Havana del Este.

Many tourists visit the centro historico of Havana, a resort on the beach, and not much else. One way to enrich your experience in Cuba is by visiting come of the other, more authentic cities on the island. Camaguey, Santa Clara, and Santiago de Cuba are all a great time. Some people swear by skipping Havana and spending all your time in small town Cuba. Only one way to find out.

 

WHERE TO STAY IN HAVANA

For a first time visitor, the best area to stay in Havana is Vedado or Havana Vieja. If you’re looking for a more local experience, DO NOT get a hotel… . Get an Airbnb-style apartment known as a Casa Particular. It’s kind of like shared housing an d is often run my a family. Ask the host if there is a doorman present. If they say yes, look for another. Trust me.

Vedado is great because it’s outside the tourist area and the casas here are much more discreet and in quiet residential areas. If youre in Vedado, The only downside of staying in Vedado is you’ll need to take a taxi to main touristic parts of Havana, but for a longer term stay Vedado is definitely the way to go. Remember that once you are in Cuba, using Cuban internet, you won’t be able to use Airbnb, Expedia, or Booking.com. Be sure to download a few good VPNs before you go.

 

COST OF LIVING IN HAVANA

Once you get out of tourist areas, Havana is super cheap. Think $15-$25 bottles of Jameson at a night club. Cheaper rums for $10 a bottle. Taxis are cheap as well. That being said, Havana is not a budget destination. Yes, you can live cheaply by living like a local, but most activities are pretty expensive. Things are generally more expensive than Colombia or other Latin American destinations due to the embargoes, sanctions, and trade restrictions. It has been noted that Mastercard does not work, only Visa. Bring a lot of cash with you. Some say that Canadian dollars are more widely accepted than USD. There have been policy changes in recent years regarding acceptance of US dollars. Supposedly, there is a black market (USD is best) which will give about 50% better rate than the government-run exchange offices or when using an ATM. Having good Cuban contacts can help get better exchange rates.

 

NIGHTLIFE IN HAVANA

7.75/10 

Nightlife in Havana is almost as fascinating as it is frustrating. Fascinating because of the endless choice, frustrating because as a tourist you won’t have access to the best spots without some serious intel from trustworthy Cuban friends. As a tourist, you’ll have several options for dazzling spots with cheap drinks and excellent music. Unfortunately, you’ll be surrounded by fellow tourists with not a Cuban in sight who’s not part of the waitstaff. The best shot you have at an authentic Cuban experience is on the malecon on Friday night. Take a bottle of rum and a lighter or two and you’ll make fast friends.

My Latin Life recommends:

El Chanchullero: Great value, delicious food and the perfect place to meet Mexican, Brazilian and European tourists.

Legendarios del Guajirito Buena Vista Social Club: Awesome salsa bar.

La Bodeguita Del Medio: A must. Famous bar visited by celebrities.

El Floridita Bar: Famous restaurant/bar frequented by Hemingway.

La Guarida: Well known, authentic bar with a more local crowd.

Fábrica de Arte Cubano: Really cool event space and good place to meet people. Check their website to know the schedule.

 

IS HAVANA SAFE?

For the most part, Havana is entirely safe. Robberies can occur in parts of Old Havana, Central Havana and at night on the malecon, but these incidents are typically opportunistic. Cubas will be watching you, but if you use common sense you’ll be fine. It’s much safer than Santo Domingo, the capital city of neighboring Dominican Republic. Outside of the tourist area, Havana is for the advanced traveler. You need to be street smart dealing with situations by conveying your message in Spanish only. Don’t expect much English.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

A sensory overload. Irritating and magnificent, depressing and uplifting, terrible and perfect. Havana is too many things that are impossible to sum up in a couple cute sentences. Just when you think you’ve figured it out, something will subvert everything you thought you knew and you will understand even less. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you need to visit Havana!

Still need your Cuban visa? MyLatinLife recommends EasyTouristCard.com for getting your Green or Pink Tourist Card. 


OVERALL RATING: 9/10


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