Havana, Cuba’s capital and largest city, has an old-world charm to it. Steeped in history, culture and tradition, Havana is the main port and commercial center of the country. Whether you’re a curious tourist exploring Havana or a history buff exploring Cuba’s socio-economic challenges, you’ll find that there’s more to the city than vintage cars, rum, and cigars.
You might be surprised that Havana is only 228 miles from Miami. However, tourism between the United States and Cuba is limited. Cuban establishments do not accept US dollars or credit cards issued by US banks. However, Canadian visitors are free to travel to Cuba. Cuba’s economy relies heavily on tourism. Sugar (rum) and tobacco (cigars) are other sources of income.
Arrival in Havana
José Martí International Airport is Havana’s main airport. On your way to your hotel, you’ll probably see Cuba’s most recognizable symbols – vintage cars from the 1950s. Modern cars are a rarity even in the capital. Yes, Havana has several luxury hotels. The Cuba National Hotelwhich opened in 1930 is one of them.
Cuisine and drinks
Restaurants in Havana tend to serve tourist food over local food. Still, it’s worth checking out local eateries. Many of them cater specifically to tourists and include familiar dishes. Some popular local dishes include ropa vieja (shredded beef in tomato sauce), black beans and rice, and the Cuban sandwich. When it comes to what the locals drink, it’s a draw between rum and beer.
Top sights to see
Plaza de la Revolucion, also known as Revolution Square, a large public square in Havana, is surrounded by important government buildings, including the Ministry of the Interior and the Jose Marti Monument. The square is a significant historical and cultural landmark in Cuba. It is home to several iconic symbols of the Cuban Revolution, including a huge portrait of revolutionary leader Che Guevara.
Parque Central sits between Havana’s historic neighborhood and the more modern Vedado neighborhood, making it a central meeting point for locals and tourists alike. It’s a great place to people watch and get to know the atmosphere of the city. The park is surrounded by several important monuments, including the iconic Gran Teatro de La Habana, the Museum of Fine Arts and the historic Hotel Inglaterra. Parque Central is also a transportation hub with several bus stops and nearby taxi ranks.
Grand Theater in Havana
Gran Teatro de La Habana was created to promote the talents of young Cuban dancers. Over the years, the Gran Teatro de La Habana has hosted many famous performers and events, including famous ballets, operas and concerts. Today, it is still an active venue for the performing arts and is home to the Cuban National Ballet. Visitors to the theater can take a guided tour to learn more about its rich history and admire its impressive architecture. Even if you’re not a ballet fan, the architecture alone is worth a visit.
Parque Almendares is a lush and green park in the city center where visitors can enjoy a variety of outdoor activities including picnics, hiking and bird watching. The park is a popular spot with locals and tourists alike and is a must-visit for anyone wanting to explore Havana and experience nature.
The Colon Cemetery, established in 1876 in the Vedado neighborhood of Havana, is believed to contain more than 500 mausoleums. It is one of the largest cemeteries in the Americas. The cemetery is famous for its ornate architecture and imposing statues that pay homage to many of Cuba’s most famous historical figures. The cemetery is an important cultural and historical monument in Havana.
The Capitol building is as majestic as it gets and is located in Centro Habana. Today, the Capitol is home to the Cuban Academy of Sciences and the National Library of Science and Technology and a popular tourist destination. Visitors to the Capitol can take a guided tour to learn more about the building’s history and architecture, or simply admire the imposing façade and grandeur. It is modeled after the Capitol building in Washington
Church of Jesus of Miramar
If you like churches, you’ll love the Iglesia de Jesús de Miramar, the second largest church in Cuba. The church has a unique modernist design, with a triangular roof and a prominent belfry. The church is a popular tourist attraction and a significant landmark in Havana.
Havana is a city that reminds you of the struggles of this country. The political climate and the US embargo on trade and travel did not help. As a tourist you feel like you have stepped back in time.
Beyond their smiles, it’s hard to tell how Cubans really feel. I believe that given a choice, they would like progress.