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A self-guided walking tour of Havana

Many people who take a holiday in Cuba book a walking tour to ensure that they see the very best that Havana has to offer. But why not do a self-guided walking tour instead? On your own tour, you can take things at your own pace, make detours if you see something of interest, and personalise your experience.

It’s actually easier than you’d think to create your own self-guided walking tour of Havana. Here’s a basic route that takes in many of the city’s main sights and attractions, as well as some of the most breathtaking and notable homes in the Caribbean. Feel free to tailor this route to your liking and preferences.

Begin at the Fraternity Park Houses, which is right in the heart of Havana. This makes it easy to reach from your Havana villa. From here, head north to Colon, where you can turn right towards the Museum of the Revolution. On your way, you’ll walk along the scenic Paseo del Prado and pass by the historic and ornate Gran Teatro theatre, as well as the El Capitolio building and the Teatro Marti.

After visiting the Museum of the Revolution, head south down Avenida Bélgica, past the Bacardi Building, until you reach El Floridita Bar. El Floridita is one of the most important historic landmarks in the city, and was a firm favourite of Ernest Hemingway. Pop in for a refreshing frozen daiquiri before strolling along the pedestrianised Obispo, where you can experience the ‘real’ Havana, complete with street vendors, musicians, artists selling their masterpieces, and all sorts of colourful characters.

Head south on Mercaderes to Sol, stopping for some photographs at the Old Square, and then walk towards the ferry terminal to watch the boats sail across to Casablanca. From here, head north to the Plaza de Armas, which is the city’s oldest square, and home to some of Havana’s best restaurants, and then stop by the 18th century cathedral for some more photo opportunities. Make one last stop at the Castillo de San Salvador at the end of the Malecón before ending at the Castillo de la Real Fuerz fort.

Your feet may be hurting and your legs may be aching by the time you get back to your vacation rental in Havana, but it will have been worth it to see so much of this historic city!


Tips for renting a car in the Caribbean

If you book a holiday in Cuba — or anywhere else in the Caribbean — you may be wondering whether or not you should hire a car. The answer really depends on the sort of Caribbean islands vacation experience you’re looking for, and how confident you are as a driver, navigating foreign roads.

Why Hire a Car in the Caribbean?

If you’re not planning on venturing too far from your Caribbean holiday rental, then you will probably be able to manage just fine on foot, or using local transport. However, if you’d like to visit some of the more out-of-the-way places in the Caribbean, such as Coco Beach in Puerto Rico, Cole Bay in St. Maarten, or Sulphur Springs in St. Lucia, then having your own vehicle really can be much easier and enjoyable.

Legal Requirements

The legal requirements of Caribbean car hire vary between the different islands. Some will rent a car to travellers as young as 18 years of age, like St. Maarten, while others, such as St. Lucia, often impose a strict 25 year minimum age. For all islands, you’ll need to hold a full driving licence from your home country, although you may also be required to obtain an International Driving Licence prior to travel, or purchase a local driving licence at the time of hire, which is usually somewhere between 20 and 30 USD.

What Side of the Road?

It’s very important to check what side of the road they drive on in your chosen destination. If you’re booking a villa in Cuba, if you rent a house in the Dominican Republic, or if you’re visiting St. Maarten or Puerto Rico, then you’ll drive on the right. However, if you’re visiting St. Lucia or St. Kitts & Nevis, you’ll be driving on the left! It can be confusing, so make sure you stay alert on the roads at all times.

Car Hire Tips 

One of the best tips for car hire in the Caribbean is to book early. Just like booking a Caribbean holiday rental, you’ll have a much larger choice if you make arrangements in advance, prior to travelling. If you leave it too late, you may have a car that you’re not entirely comfortable with, or no car at all!


Buying fresh produce in Havana

If you’re staying in a beautiful family villa in Havana, you may not want to dine out every night since you will have a fully equipped kitchen at your disposal. As such, you may wish to try whipping up your own meals using fresh Cuban produce. So where is the best place to shop for fresh food?

Where to Buy Fresh Fruit

Although you may be able to walk from your vacation rental in Havana to a local grocery store for fresh Caribbean food, things are a little different in Cuba’s outskirts. In fact, most grocery stores don’t sell fresh produce at all! Instead, you’ll need to visit one of the island’s agropecuarios, or agros.

There are two types of stores: the standard agro, which sells fruits, vegetables, and meats, and which is often state-run with a price cap on goods. You’ll get a great price here, but selection may be limited. Organopónicos often have a better selection, but are privately run with prices dictated by supply/demand.

How it Works

If you’re staying in a casa particular in Havana, you may wish to accompany your host to the local agros to see how the shopping is done. However, if you’re heading off by yourself, don’t worry — it’s actually very simple. Bring your own bags if possible to reduce waste (although there will usually be some Cuban ladies selling plastic bags outside if needed), pick your foods, and take them to the cashier where they’ll be weighed and you’ll pay. You’ll usually need to pay in the local currency, so you may need to exchange some CUCs at the airport upon arrival or at a local bank.

After you’ve paid, head to the Area de Consumidor, or consumer area, where unofficial ‘staff’ re-weigh your items to see if you’ve been overcharged. If you have, simply head back to the seller who will rectify the issue. While the concept is certainly very unethical, it has become a very normal part of life for many Cubans, who are accustomed to checking that they have been charged the correct price.


Four ways to have a romantic Cuban vacation

Although Paris is often considered the romance capital of the world, it would be remiss to overlook Havana as a romantic destination. Simply strolling around the city and taking in its old charm can be quite dreamy, and there are plenty of other ways to bring out the passion and love in this enchanting and magical city. Here are four great ideas for a romantic vacation in Havana.

Enjoy Your Own Private Space

It can be hard to feel like it’s ‘just the two of you’ when you’re amongst the hustle and bustle of the city, so it’s important to have your own private retreat to spend some quality time together. A great idea is to book a villa with private pool in Havana, where you can relax in your own, peaceful surroundings.

Soak up the Atmosphere

Part of what makes Havana such a romantic city is its laidback, informal, and somewhat random atmosphere, and you can experience all of this in Havana’s oldest square, Plaza de Armas. Visit during the warm, balmy evenings for a chance to hear some of Havana’s finest musicians playing street performances.

Take a Classic Car Ride

Classic American cars have become a symbol of Havana, and it’s arguably one of the most romantic ways to get around the city. If you don’t feel comfortable driving on the streets of Havana, arrange for a classic car ride through one of the local companies, who can pick you up at your Havana villa.

Picnic at El Morro

Pack some snacks and cold drinks and take a walk to El Morro Castle, where you can make yourself comfortable on the cliffs and stare out over both the sea and the city. If possible, try to arrange to be at El Morro in time for sunset, which is definitely one of the most magical times of day in Havana.


Visual arts in Havana

From the moment you step off the plane and start making your way to your Havana vacation rental, you’ll notice that visual arts play a very big role in Cuban culture. So what are the best locations in Havana to really explore these arts and learn more about the island through paintings and sculptures?

National Museum of Fine Arts

The National Museum of Fine Arts (Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes) has two locations in the city, but perhaps the most interesting for visitors is the Palace of Fine Arts, located close to the 19th-century Great Theatre of Havana, and many city centre vacation rental homes. This is where Cuba-specific arts are housed, with everything from historic colonial artwork to pieces by more modern Cuban artists, like René Portocarrero.

Museum of the Revolution

In addition to the museum itself, there are many buildings throughout Havana that exhibit the same sort of jaw-dropping façades as this building, including the National Capitol Building. These structures combine all sorts of American and European influences, and the best part is that you don’t even need to go inside to enjoy their beauty; simply stroll past!

Museum of Decorative Arts

If you’re staying in Havana accommodation in the city’s Vedado district, you can enjoy proximity to the Museum of Decorative Arts. Primarily housing works from French artists, there are also exhibits from other places around the world, including China, England, France, and Germany. There are more than 33,000 works, so plan to spend a bit of time here, and leave time to appreciate the Parisian architecture, too!

More Options 

No matter where your Havana villa is located, you’re sure to be within easy reach of one of the city’s many visual arts museums. As well as those mentioned above, why not consider checking out Asian-inspired works at the House of Arabs or House of Asia, colonial furniture at the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales, or amazing early 20th-century Cadillacs at the Museo del Automobil? There’s never a dull day in Havana!


Mouthwatering dishes to try in Cuba

When you’re on holiday in Cuba, why not immerse yourself in the local culture and eat like the locals eat? Cuban cuisine largely consists of meats, vegetables, and rice that are prepared, cooked, and served in many ways.

Here are three very popular Cuban dishes that are not to be missed during your trip:

  • Moros y Cristianos

This simple yet delicious rice and bean dish is served practically everywhere in Cuba. You’ll find this on the menu in many Cuban restaurants, and if you’re lucky you may even be able to sample a plate at your casa particular in Havana. There’s a similar dish in Puerto Rico, and it’s a meal that’s served up in many homes in the Caribbean, but some say that the Cuban version really is best!

This national dish is yet another that is served up across the country. It consists of shredded beef cooked with tomatoes and vegetables, and is often served with white rice and sometimes fried plantains. If you decide to whip this dish up yourself in the kitchen of your vacation villa in the Caribbean, be sure to make up a double batch; Ropa Vieja tastes amazing the next day when the flavours have developed!

  • Ajiaco

Three countries count themselves as the creators of this soup-like dish, but much of the evidence points toward an origin in Cuba. Ajiaco is popular in Cuba, Peru, and Colombia where it is the national dish, but each country prepares the dish differently. In Colombia, it is very similar to a soup, while in Peru it’s made with more intense flavours. Cuba’s version is very stew-like thanks to the use of starchy vegetables.


Ethical travel to Cuba

Whether you’re taking a holiday in Cuba, a trip to Europe, a Caribbean islands vacation, or seeing the sights Down Under, all travellers should travel ethically to help protect these beautiful holiday destinations. This is all the more important in Havana, where there’s a vulnerable community and environment that is currently relying heavily upon income from tourism in order to thrive.

So what can we do to ensure we behave responsibly during a holiday in Cuba?

Support Local Businesses

Rather than staying in a chain hotel or resort, why not consider staying in a casa particular in Havana? Or how about eating at paladares? These small, privately-run businesses are operated by local Cubans, and are an essential part of the growing tourism economy in Cuba.

Use Water Responsibly

Cuba is facing a severe drought, which has significantly affected fresh produce supply to the island, as well as affecting exports. There are also a number of homes in the Caribbean that do not have running water. Always take care to turn the tap off at your vacation rental in Cuba when you are not using the sink.

Say No to Bottles

In this small island nation, more plastics are disposed of than can reasonably be recycled, leading to a growing landfill. Try not to buy water in plastic bottles unless necessary. If you’re staying in a casa particular in Havana, it’s very easy to boil water for drinking, or treat tap water with a sterilisation tablet.

Adapt

Like most homes in the Caribbean, a casa particular in Havana can get hot, especially in the middle of summer. Instead of leaving the air conditioning running all day because you’re accustomed to doing so, try to adapt to the local climate and environment, and turn the AC unit off when you’re not in the room.


Visiting Havana with children

When thoughts of Cuba arise, a wandering mind can picture many things: a place with great villas in Havana, a place with a gorgeous coastline, and a place with amazing weather. It’s not often thought of as being a top family holiday destination, but Havana actually has lots to offer families, especially those with young children!

Where to Stay

In searching for accommodation, consider a casa particular in Havana that’s child-friendly. More like a B&B than a hotel, a casa particular in Havana is your home away from home, with all the amenities you’d expect to find in a house. This can make your vacation seem a little easier if you’re travelling with very young children. Some hosts even prepare home-cooked meals for an additional fee, so you don’t have to worry about finding a place to eat.

What to Do

One of the best ways for families to spend a day in Havana is to visit the National Aquarium of Cuba, which is an education and research facility with turtles, dolphins, and lots of other sea life. Alternatively, visit Old Havana/Havana Vieja on a weekend when there are salsa dancers performing in streets. If your kids love chocolate, stop in at the Chocolate Museum to see how the candy is made (and you can even enjoy a big glass of liquid chocolate in the cafe!). Wherever you go, be sure to get there using a ‘cocotaxi’, a coconut-shaped, rickshaw-style taxi that the kids will love — and it’s cheaper than a real taxi!

Where to Eat

Food in Havana is remarkably child-friendly. In fact, there are quite a number of Italian restaurants in the area, so there is always a good supply of pizzas and pastas for the little ones. Otherwise, roast meats tend to dominate the menus, and you can’t miss out on an authentic Cuban sandwich with ham and cheese. If your kids are particularly fussy, speak to the host of your casa particular in Havana who may be happy to whip up some kid-friendly cuisine to satisfy your little ones’ tummies.


World Heritage Sites in Cuba

Cuba is home to a whopping nine cultural and natural UNESCO World Heritage Sites, many of which are easily accessible from your Havana holiday rental! See below for a list of sites that are within a short walk or drive from central Havana.

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In and Around Havana

If you’re staying in a villa in Havana, you’ll find a few World Heritage Sites right outside your door! The most famous is the Old Havana district of the city, or Havana Vieja, which was given World Heritage status in 2004 due to its historic blend of baroque architecture and neoclassical monuments.

Another excellent UNESCO site that you can easily visit from your Havana accommodation is the Viñales valley which is famous for its tobacco farms and some of the most stunning homes in the Caribbean.

Central Cuba

Although Havana is arguably the hottest destination in Cuba, there is a lot more to be explored on the island. At the centre of the island is where you can find three more UNESCO sites: Trinidad, Cienfuegos, and Camagüey. Trinidad boasts a number of stunning 18th- and 19th-century buildings stemming from the region’s days as a leading sugar exporter, while Cienfuegos and Camagüey are known for their neoclassical designs.

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Further Afield 

Thinking of taking a holiday in Cuba to explore the more southerly parts of the island? There are four UNESCO World Heritage Sites located in the south: San Pedro de la Roca Castle in Santiago de Cuba, the coffee plantations near the Sierra Maestra mountains, and the Alejandro de Humboldt and Desembarco del Granma national parks.

A Different Side to Cuba

Cuba is famous for its cigars, its rather unusual government, and its lively cities; so much so that we often tend to overlook the more natural, beautiful side to the country. During your stay, be sure to visit at least one UNESCO site and discover what makes Cuba truly magical.


Cuba’s vibrant mix of cultures

We’ve already taken a quick look at Havana influences outside of Cuba; the famous ‘Little Havana’ neighbourhood of Miami, for example, and the mouthwatering Cuban sandwich, but how have other countries, and other cultures, influenced Cuba? What sort of influences will you see when you rent a villa in Cuba? For a nation that was essentially closed off for many years, it’s more diverse than you’d think!
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Opt for a Dominican Republic vacation rental and you’ll see very definite Spanish influences, from the language to the unit of currency: the Peso. Visit Tortola, and you’ll find rows and rows of British-style fish and chip shops. The Residents of St Thomas celebrate American Thanksgiving, while Dutch croquettes are on the menu in Curaçao. Things aren’t quite as straightforward with Cuba.

Although colonised by the Spanish in the 15th century, Cuba retained a heavily indigenous population, and was famous for its rather unusual foreign policy under Castro, which saw strong bonds form between Cuba and many African and South American countries. This history has helped Cuba become what it is today: a very diverse and colourful island that’s a true blend of customs, convention, and folklore.

There is a lot of multicultural influences in everything from the Cuban food (see if you can spot a few Chinese aspects!) to the music, but some influences are much more obvious than others. No holiday in Cuba would be complete without a photograph of the classic, brightly coloured American cars lining the roadsides, for example, while the Havana Cathedral is a prime example of Tuscan Baroque architecture.

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Once upon a time, the Spanish-styled Danzón would have been declared the national musical genre, but today many younger people would claim it’s the Caribbean Reggaeton. Similarly, the national sport is officially American baseball, and yet European soccer really seems to be taking over. There really is nowhere else in the world with such a unique blend, and you can enjoy it all from your Cuba villa.