The Cuban capital is a magnet for travellers seeking a Caribbean escape with a twist; and there are plenty of attractions and things to do off the beaten track. However, if it’s your first time in Havana, there are five essential Havana tourist activities you need to build into your itinerary.
Top 5 Havana Tourist Activities
Ride in a classic American automobile
The streets of Havana are filled with classic cars, with the majority manufactured in the USA in the 1950s and 1960s. Having a ride in one of them is one of the most quintessential Havana tourist activities. There’s no need to arrange one before you arrive. The easiest place to hook yourself up with a driver is on the edge of the Parque Central on the wide boulevard bisecting Habana Vieja with Centro. In the shadow of the Capitolio building, you can arrange a tour for as little as 30 CUCs for an hour (US$30). The drivers have laminated cards and you can customise your route. However, if a tour is outside your budget; there’s no practical reason why you can’t flag one down as a taxi. A ride from Habana Vieja to Vedado can cost as little as 10 CUCs.
Visit a cigar factory
The historic Real Partagas cigar factory closed down a couple of years ago for extensive refurbishment and there’s no word yet as to when (or if) it will reopen. For now, the shop is open, but to take a factory tour you’ll need to make your way further into Centro between 9am and 1pm to have a guide fill you in on the processes of sorting the tobacco leaves and rolling the cigars. There’s much to learn, though you will find it humid inside the factory as they hold off on the air con to ensure the leaves don’t dry out. Buy your tickets in advance at the more conveniently located Hotel Saratoga.
Take a photo of someone in elaborate costume
Throughout Habana Vieja you’ll pass people in colourful and fancy costumes who’ll sit for a picture in exchange for a small fee. Go with it – most strike an extravagant pose with cigar in hand which makes for a great souvenir. You’ll find all manner of costumes and even pets dressed up to catch the eye. Whatever you do, don’t try to sneak a photograph without paying – it’s their livelihood.
Drink a cocktail in one of Havana’s legendary bars
Begin with the tourist meccas of the Hemingway era: drink a mojito in the Bodeguita del Medio and then head for the Floridita for a daiquiri. Those out the way, now it’s time to try something a little less touristy, a whole lot cheaper but no less delicious. You can do worse than head for the Plaza del Cristo, where El Dandy, Chanchullero and El Patchanka face-off within staggering distance of each other. Whether you choose a Cuba Libre or the sweet, honey-based Canchanchara from Trinidad; you’re sure to enjoy the atmosphere of these bars. Get there early or be prepared to queue in the street for a drink. Live music means you’ll be happy to stay all night.
Eat at a paladar
The food has improved immensely in Havana since I first visited 15 years ago. There has been an explosion of good private restaurants throughout the country, with Havana leading the way as you’d expect. In Habana Vieja, you can’t go wrong experiencing the best food in Havana in the rustic setting of O’Reilly 304. It might have lacked imagination when coming up with a name, but the what’s on the plate is a whole other story. Save La Guarida in Centro for a last night blowout. It’s pricey, but the food’s incredible and the setting, on the top floor of an old mansion, a delight. Book well ahead to secure a reservation for dinner. You’ll have to settle for lunch if you’ve left it too late to get a table.