I read that you can spend ten days in Havana, initially I couldn’t see how. I felt a bit claustrophobic from the busy, dusty streets and local hustle but after making our way to the Malecón (promenade) I instantly felt better. The 6 CUC bottle of rum helped with the initiation process too! Havana is Cuba’s capital and most likely the first destination that you will visit in Cuba as many airlines touch base here. As always during our first stop we (Gemma and Craig) like to get to grips with the local culture and what better way to do that than hop aboard Havana tours? Tours are also helpful in the ‘finding bearings’ process of new destinations.
Havana Tour Company – Day Tours
Day two started in a hurry. I forgot to manually change my alarm clock (no internet for Apple to change it automatically for you, mind!) and Craig had consumed one too many Cuba Libres which meant he slept through his alarm. We hastily (well I did) marched to Hotel Inglaterra at Parque Central to meet with Yaniel, our tour guide from Havana Tour Company (also known as Locally Sourced Havana Tours). He was sympathetic to our tardiness (ten minutes late), turns out this is normal in Cuba- ‘Cuba time.’ Looking back, life would have been so much easier now that there is 3G roaming in Havana and beyond. Read about it here.
The full day Havana tour introduced us to Centro Habana, La Habana Vieja (Old Havana) and Vedado, which means ‘prohibited’ as there was a ban on building on this new side of the city to ensure good views of the Malecón. By foot Yaniel guided us through Centro, pointing out Capitolio; the Government building which is being refurbished on Cuba time.
Our attention was then directed towards the statue of national hero José Marti as well as to the Museo de la Revolución , which we added to our itinerary for another day, fascinated by the history Yaniel had provided us with and enticed by the tank in the garden. However, we managed to mess up our money on the day we did go to visit, Craig brought CUP instead of CUC! Avoid this mistake, read our guide on currency.
Life in Havana
The tour also visited all of Havana’s many plazas which house monuments of heroes and vendors selling food, revolution trinkets and also displaying an array of modern art.
My favourite was Roberto Fabelo’s ode to the young Cuban girls who marry retired European men for a better standard of living. The benefit of this intimate ‘two to one’ Havana tour was that we could ask Yaniel lots of questions so not only did we get a history and art tour of Havana but could also tap into what life in Cuba today meant for him. He explained that some young women do marry for money because like most of the people in Havana they can’t survive on the government wage of 15 / £9.81 – 40 CUC / £26.16 (the average is 28 CUC / £18.31) and the food rations that are provided to ensure some form of equality. It’s no wonder that locals hire out their spare rooms as ‘casas particulares‘ when they can make their average wage in one night.
Proud and Positive
Yaniel is however, very proud of his country’s ability to educate everyone (thanks to Fidel Castro’s policies) and free health care for all. Yaniel’s wife is actually in hospital pregnant with twins! Guess how long she has been looked after? Over a month! No issue of bed blocking like in the UK apparently.
Havana is very romantic! The music, the cocktails, the people dress sexy and the vintage cars definitely have that sex appeal! After lunch in Vedado (at Cafe Laurent, a penthouse restaurant none the less!) a chauffeur drove us around in my favourite colour of car (not just any car, a mustang!) Havana tours in old cars is a different way to see the city. You just can’t beat the wind in your hair and feeling like a Hollywood star from the past. We visited Plaza de la Revolución where Che Guevara beams down on you from up high.
We also zoomed through the more affluent area of Havana as well as the forest which Cubans refer to as the ‘lungs of the city’ ‘ the forest of Havana. We were surprised to see people in the river, Yaniel explained that the river has been tainted by the practice of Santeria where believers sacrifice animals, often in the water. The Havana tour really did touch on all bases.
Mojitos, Mafia Style
We concluded with a Mojito at Hotel Nacional (The National Hotel). This grand hotel is where the Mafia infamously held meetings and it provides a tour every day at 3pm of the tunnels underneath (another activity added to the list).
Havana Tour Company
Contact: +53 53414873
Email: [email protected]
Price: $99 (US) / £79.39
Where We Stayed
Our South African friends (whom we met in Colombia) recommended that we stayed in a hostel and not a casa particular (which is typical in Cuba). They felt it was a great way to get tips for future stops and also provided the opportunity to meet people to share a colectivo taxi with to your next stop.
Trusting their suggestion, we booked two nights with Paradise (online), which was then extended a further. Two doors down is another hostel called Rolandos (Rolando actually owns Paradise and his ex-wife owns the hostel in his name). Friends we met travelling said their stay there was fine also.
On our return we stayed in a casa particular ran by Ramon and Rachel on Picota (#18) for 10 CUC /£6.42 each per night. Our advice is to not pay more than this, as you do not need to!
We asked a bico-taxi (tuk tuk) driver if he knew anyone and we went on a wee tour until he found someone in / willing to accept our price. Our room felt like a small apartment with a bed, bathroom, fridge and table where Rachel served our breakfast in the morning for a small charge. It was private, safe and the owners were lovely.
Taxis from Havana airport to Havana cost around $25.
We left Yaniel, the Havana tour and our new friends from the hostel with multiple ideas for the future, recommendations for food and drink, an itinerary for the next three weeks and a list of casas particulares for our next stops.
Now I can see how easily you can spend ten days in Havana!
Still to do
Ambos Mundos Hotel (where Hemingway stayed) – tick
Revolution museum – tick
Camera Obscura – tick
Factoria Micro brewery – tick
The National Hotel tunnels at 3pm – sadly not
The Fort and canon show at night 9pm – tick
Now check out how we get on in our Havana good time, 10 unmissable Havana attractions.
- Duration: 3 nights (with another 3 to finish with)
Next stop: Viñales (mogotes and tobacco) – day trips from Havana to Viñales are possible (and many do it) if you are short on time.
- We Love
Cars, cocktails, art, sunset at The Fort
- We Shove
Hustle (for scams in Cuba see here soon)
Havana hangovers (cheers Londoners)
What are your thoughts on Havana tours and travel?
Havana Tour Company reviews: thank you to Havana Tour Company for two passes to their Full Day Havana Walking Tour. An honest review, as always. Locally Sourced Havana Tours also offer Cuba tours from Havana. My good friend Laura recently returned from a trip around the island with this company and felt it was well organised and the tour guides were knowledgeable. She was the youngest (32) but that’s the luck of the draw with group tours!