Havana is the largest city in the Caribbean and arguably the one with the most diverse attractions and sights. Nearly half a century of Socialist regime has made its mark on Cuba’s capital. Travellers booking flights to Havana may have a typical image of the city: its famous 1950s American cars with huge fins cruising past colonial-style buildings that have seen better days, against a backdrop of socialist posters.
But the past decade has seen huge change – major regeneration projects have cleaned up the old buildings and historic squares, new grand hotels are opening, tourists disembarking flights to Havana are more welcome than ever before in casa particulares (private homes) and a dual economy has arisen around the tourist dollars and the Cuban pesos. It is a city on the cusp of change; making it all the more fascinating to visit.
Tourist “must-sees” include stunning architecture (all of Habana Vieja (the old town), Catedral de San Cristobal, the Museo de la Ciudad); a buzzing nightlife and some spectacular beaches. And after a long day sightseeing, don’t miss the chance to sample some of the local drinks. Havana is the home of the mojito.
Search and compare: cheap flights to Havana
The wet season in Cuba is July to September, with hurricane season June to November. The dry season is December through to April or May. However, the temperature is high throughout the year, averaging around 27 degrees Celsius and falling only to an average of 22 from November to January.
When to fly to Havana
The most popular time to visit is December to January, though if you visit then be prepared for cooler evenings. The months of July and August are also very popular with holidaymakers. Time around national holidays – Christmas, Easter, New Year and 26 July (the anniversary of the revolution) – are also very popular with tourists hoping to join in the festivities. In the towns such as Havana and Santiago de Cuba, peak season runs for most of the year.
Unsurprisingly, off season is October and November when hurricanes are most likely. This is the time when the best deals on cheap flights to Havana and accommodation are most likely to be found.
Search and compare: cheap flights to Havana
Getting around Havana
Havana’s bus system is unreliable, so take one of the shuttle or tour buses that cater to travellers. You may want to try a camel, which in this case is a tractor-pulled passenger car. These take people all around the city, but are for the more adventurous traveller. You can find tourist taxis easily at hotels and major sightseeing spots. Havana taxis charge rates in US dollars and can be very affordable. Freelance taxis are illegal, and while the passengers aren’t punished, the drivers might refuse to drop you in front of your hotel. It’s always a good idea to settle on a price before you get in the car. Walking around is a great way to soak up the city, especially in La Habana Veija, but you can also take horse-drawn carriages, two-seater Coco Taxis and antique cars to get you to your next stop.
Havana insider information
- Havana Viejo, the old town of Havana, is the perfect place for a long walk. The colonial buildings are being restored at the moment, but many are still dilapidated and crumbling, which many see as the true architecture of Havana.
- If you want to get an insider view of one of Cuba’s most popular exports, a visit to a cigar factory is a must. There are many throughout the country, but one of the most popular to visit is Partagas – one of the oldest and largest, and situated right in the centre of Havana next to El Capitolio. Tours are available daily, and there is a shop where you can buy some “souvenirs”.
- The Hotel Nacional is one of the most impressive in Havana. It was a favourite of Winston Churchill’s. However, it is also one of the most expensive places to stay. If it’s outside your budget, don’t be put off from just going for a wander round the lobby to take a look.
- One of the cheapest ways to stay in the city is in a “casa particular” – a private room rented out to tourists. Rules are strict for Cubans wanting to rent out accommodation – they need a licence in order to do so and are only allowed to have a maximum of two rooms with two adults in each at any one time. Standards vary widely, so make sure you ask to check the room before accepting it. With a bit of scouting, however, this can be a cost-effective way of staying, and will introduce you to some inhabitants of the city, who will know more about it than any tourist you meet in a hotel.
- To find out about Cuban history, visit the Museo de la Revolucion, where you can find exhaustive information on everything you could want to know about the revolution. English speaking guides are available.