Hackneyed though it may be, the hop on/hop off tourist bus in Havana makes a lot of sense. First off, in a city where transport is pricey for tourists, these CUC$5 are well spent if only as a means of getting around. Secondly, while you won’t be using the bus to explore the crumbling splendour of Havana Vieja’s side streets, you will hit other more distant spots like the Plaza de la Revolucion, with its somewhat scary murals of Che and Camilo Cienfuegos, and the artisan market. But nicest of all, in a city where much of the life (and best photos) happen one floor up on the bustling, colourful balconies, the open-top bus gives you some of the best views in town.
From the Hotel Inglaterra in the Parque Central, and various other points around the city.
Google map: bit.ly/e5glFN
Havana is too big to see on foot. Take a ride in a horse and carriage, the driver is a proper tour guide.
We had a two-hour drive up to Plaza de la Revolution and back, stopping where we wished for photos and finding out lots of local knowledge.The funniest part was the driver chatting up girls walking along the street while we trotted along beside them.
Central Havana, we found Leonardo and Picasso outside the Hotel Inglaterra where there is a bar where you can sit and look out on the busy street.
This hotel is part of the Habaguanex group which a friend recommended to me. You should pre-book in the UK as you will get a better rate than you will otherwise. Located close to the Plaza Vieja it is an art nouveau style building - we had a beautifully furnished room on the top floor which was vast. Breakfast was good too. It was very tranquil in the first week in November but at peak times it might be less so. Good view from the roof terrace.
Just outside Pinar del Rio, set admist pine trees and the curious Mogotes (rock formations), Vinales makes for the perfect weekend trip away from Havana. Cycles are cheap to hire and you can be guaranteed an exceedingly pleasant day exploring the tobacco plantations, the dos hermanos and the cuevo de los Indios around Vinales. There are loads of cheap casa particulares and the one we stayed in offered good home-cooked food. The bar on the main street stays open till late and quite often has live music.
The best way to get to Vinales is by bus from Havana, which takes about three hours. Accomodation is easy to find on arrival.
There is nothing better in Havana than sitting in the Cathedral Square. There's a fabulous cafe with white umbrellas. Drink the mojitos and enjoy watching the world go by. It's one of the best views in the city.
In front of the old cathedral in central Havana
Because of the dual currency system in operation in Cuba, going out to the usual tourist haunts in La Habana Vieja can get really repetitive and they aren't the place to meet locals, simply because they don't earn pesos convertibles and therefore can't generally socialise in these places. Instead I'd recommend the malecon (the seafront promenade in La Habana) to anybody looking for an authentically Cuban experience. Get down there before sunset (which is spectacular in itself) with a bottle of rum and some friends, and watch the place take off on a Saturday night. The atmosphere is electric, there's music everywhere and you're guaranteed to meet some characters!! Not only is it a cheap way to socialise, but you won't be surrounded by tourists.
Along the seafront, La Habana.
Reading reviews of Havana and seeing the repetitious recommendations for the Nacional or the Inglaterra makes me wonder if the reviewers visited anywhere else. OK, so both have a 'history', but then so do several others if you're a Hemingway or Graham Greene buff, but that's no reason to actually stay there. No, in Havana there are two primary considerations: location and functionality.
The Nacional is a characterful hotel which is great to visit and sip a mojito overlooking the Malecon, but it is miles from the centre of things and a taxi ride to everywhere. The Inglaterra is certainly well-located but if you're going to stay on the edge of both the old town and central park there is no better choice than the eponymous Parque Central.
Because of its location you can break your day up and dive back to the hotel between forays; a major benefit when it's hot and humid. It's modern (translation: the architecture is out of step with the fine old buildings around it) and so everything works and after a hard day's sightseeing the rooftop pool is THE place for a cooling dip, with fabulous views towards the Capitolio.
The Parque Central area is the place to stay when visiting Havana. A cheaper alternative to the Parque Central Hotel is the adjoining Hotel Plaza, which was built circa 1905 and has since been renovated, with a marvellous entrance and lobby. Rooms are small and dark, but you only use them for sleeping. No pool but you can use the one down the street at the Hotel Sevilla for a few CUCs (1.08 $ U.S.) One should visit the rooftop dining room at the Sevilla, have a drink at the sidewalk cafe of the Inglaterra, and see what's happening on the Inglaterra roof, Friday or Saturday (all within 1 minute from the hotel). The roof of the Plaza gives the best view of the Bacardi building just to the east. The Sevilla and the Telegrafo are intermediate in quality and price, between the Plaza and the Parque Central. Also, it’s very close to the two art museums (don't miss the modern one of Cuban art, in between the Sevilla and the Museum of the Revolution).
Ingnacio Agramonte 267, Habana Vieja, Havana, in the north east corner of Parque Centrale, adjacent to Hotel Parque Central. Food, drinks, bottled water, bank just across the street
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