Tourist’s guide to visiting Cuba

As the United States’ relations with Cuba begin to change, many Americans are eager to get to the island country before it is altered. People want to see the world-renowned beaches, the classic American cars and the colorful streets of Havana. Here is your comprehensive travel guide for those who intend to visit Cuba, in order to make fitting everything the country has to offer in one to-do list seem less daunting of a task.

Visit Havana

The capital city of Cuba, located in the northwestern region of the country, is by far the most popular city for tourists to visit. Vedado is the hip part of Havana, where many tourists flock. Locals brag about the shopping and nightlife in Vedado compared to the rest of the city, which explains the influx of foreigners to the area. Vedado tends to be more expensive than the other sections, but also boasts better Wi-Fi signals. It attracts a young crowd and is the area that is least likely to give an American visitor culture shock.

Centro Habana consists mostly of homes that belong to locals and gives visitors a more realistic sense of the typical Cuban lifestyle. Situated in an ideal location, Centro Habana is an easy walk to Vedado, Habana Vieja and El Malecon. It is also home to Casa de la Musica, a famous music club with live performances and salsa dancing.

Habana Vieja is the oldest, most historical district of Havana and is always bustling. It contains sites such as the National Capitol Building, Parque Central, Plaza Vieja, Plaza de la Catedral and some of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite bars. It is the cultural epicenter of Havana, offering artisanal markets and beautiful, colorful streets.

Playas del Este are the beaches closest to Havana. They line the coast and are a short drive from the city’s center. If you are headed to Havana for a few days and want to check out the iconic Cuban beaches but can’t make the trip to Varadero, these beaches are highly recommended. While many Caribbean beaches are full of salespeople offering hair braiding or crafts, Santa Maria beach (one of the Playas del Este) is surprisingly low-key, a pleasant break from Havana.

El Malecon and El Morro is a coastline promenade stretching the length of Havana that makes for a gorgeous afternoon stroll. At the far end, bordering Habana Vieja, the Malecon reaches the historical site of El Morro, an old fortress that was used to protect the city of Havana. Traditionally, the gates to the city of Havana would close at 9 p.m. each night and a cannon would be fired from the fortress to indicate the lockout. To this day, the cannon is still fired, an event that anyone is welcome to observe.

Just outside of Havana is a neighborhood called Fusterlandia, decorated by a local artist. Another short drive out of Havana will bring you to the house of Ernest Hemingway. Other major cities in Cuba include Santa Clara, Holguin and Santiago de Cuba. The most famous beach and tourist destination in Cuba is Varadero, which foreigners describe as an unforgettable sight.

Where to Eat

Most restaurants in Cuba are government-run. Paladares are the privately owned restaurants. Another good option for those who are pinching pennies is to eat at food stands, which tend to be owned by the person operating the booth. Check out the soda; it tastes significantly different than in the U.S. or Europe. Other great spots include Ernest Hemingway’s favorites. The famous writer was known for his love of mojitos at Bodeguita del Medio and daiquiris at El Floridita.


Featured image courtesy Pixabay user gabrielmbulla