With pristine American 1950s cars against the backdrop of shabby Spanish colonial architecture, visiting Havana makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. Salsa bursts from the streets, Cuban flags are draped from the overhanging balconies and the smell of cigars fills the air – Havana really is as you’d imagine it to be - and it’s a treat for all the senses.
Cuba has been a communist country for over 50 years and survived the collapse of its one-time supporter, the Soviet Union. The Cuban revolution in the 1950s is still very apparent, with images of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro spattered all around. What makes this even more prominent is the lack of other visual imagery and advertising we’re so used to being totally immersed in. And it’s quite refreshing.
Before visiting Cuba it’s worth doing your homework and downloading maps to use offline, as Wifi is extremely limited and only accessible in certain hotspots. You’ll know where the hotspots are as these are the only parts of the city you’ll see people using their phones!
Cuba has two currencies, CUP (Cuban Peso) used by state workers, and CUC (Cuban convertible peso) which is the currency used by tourists. Try not to forget anything, as the majority of shops are state-run and aren’t designed for tourists, so it can be quite difficult to buy essentials. You also won’t find many familiar brands, so be prepared to get used to eating and drinking local produce - Cristal beer was a firm favourite of ours!
The only real way to explore the city is in style - by a convertible vintage car. We recommend hiring a half day trip with a driver and local tour guide. This way you can hear all about the history first-hand and visit some of the sights that are less accessible by foot, such as Plaza de la Revolucion, or revolution square – where Fidel Castro hosted many political rallies.
Some of our favourite spots in the city were Café el Dandy, a relaxed authentic café/bar serving up delicious food and El del Frente, a trendy retro restaurant/bar with an amazing rooftop terrace with a lively atmosphere. El del Frente serves up some of the best rum cocktails we’ve had – we recommend trying the cubanitos and mojitos.
The climate is tropical, with average temperatures of 22 degrees in January and a hotter 28 degrees in August.
The official language of Cuba is Spanish and the majority of Cuban’s can only speak this language. Though you can get by in Havana using English, VOYA recommends learning a few Spanish phrases before you go.
VOYA FAVOURITE PLACES TO VISIT INCLUDE
You can’t visit Havana without taking a walk along the Malecón, the 8km seawall. In the day you’ll find it busy with fishermen and in the evening it comes to life and is the perfect spot to get a real glimpse of how the locals live.
VOYA FAVOURITE PLACES TO STAY INCLUDE
For a luxurious stay, the Hotel Nacional de Cuba is the place to go. It’s a beautiful historic hotel located on the Malecón. Many famous people have stayed here over the years, such as Winston Churchill and Frank Sinatra.Alternatively, stay in a ‘casa particular’ and experience Havana in a real Cuban home. There are lots in old Havana, which is a UNESCO world heritage site. The balconies are great places to sit and watch the locals going about their lives, delivering produce to restaurants and families.
VOYA FAVOURITE DISHES TO TRY
We recommend visiting ‘La Bien Paga’, a causal sandwich shop frequented by locals. You can’t go wrong with a classic Cuban toasted sandwich which contains ham, cheese, pork and pickles - all for under £2!