How long to spend in Havana
If you’re only going to explore Havana, three days is an ideal amount of time. There are a few beautiful cities that you could book day trips to (from Havana) and if you opt for this, maybe add on a few more days to your trip. But if you’re just visiting Havana, three days should be good.
Because it’ll take a bit of time to reach Havana from SA, it really will be worthwhile to add on one or two more destinations to your trip while you are on that side of the world. Havana is in close proximity to a good few Caribbean islands. A great option to consider visiting is Cancun – a 1-hour flight straight out of Havana.
If you do choose this option, I’d really recommend an all-inclusive resort like Club Med where all meals, drinks, entertainment, accommodation and more are covered (which is great in the big touristy areas across Latin America which can become very expensive – so you really should opt for all-inclusive).
South Africans need a visa to visit Cuba. These can be obtained from the Cuban embassy (in Pretoria). The cost when we travelled was around R270, and it took about a week from the time we applied to actually receiving the visa. If you want to fast track the visa application, you have the options to pay extra.
Tourism is a big industry for Havana, so the city is a bit of a pricey destination in general. That said, it’s not impossible to find affordable meals – it’s just a matter of looking around (particularly avoiding the tourist areas where prices are hiked up) and trying to find where the locals eat and shop.
Spanish is the primary language spoken in Cuba, with locals learning basic English in school (so you will be able to get around speaking English).
Five hours behind SA.
CUC (pronounced “COOK”) is the currency and is roughly the same exchange rate to the SA Rand as the US Dollar is (at the moment it’s sitting at around R12 to 1 CUC).
Getting around the city
Taxis are available throughout the city, but they are catering to tourists and so will cost you quite a bit. One way to explore the city/get orientated is by means of the city sightseeing/hop on hop off bus. For me, the absolute best way we saw all of Havana was with Old Car Tours.
We were picked up in the most spectacular vintage red Buick convertible, complete with a driver (Alex) and a local guide (Olivia) who were both born and raised in Havana, so they knew the city backwards and shared so much knowledge and insider tips and advice with us that served us well for the rest of our trip. We saw most (if not all) of the city in a comprehensive five-hour city tour.
The cigar culture in Havana.
I expected most restaurants and bars to offer cigars on the menu (in the same way most restaurants and bars in the middle east offer shisha), but that wasn’t the case in Havana (or at least the places we visited).
When it comes to buying cigars – look for “nationalised”/approved (by the government) dealers. These establishments usually sell rum, cigars and coffee in the same place. There are many, just ensure that you look for the legit places. And don’t buy cigars off of the people selling in the street.
Smoking cigars seemed to be “acceptable” at most establishments and a lot of people were casually smoking in the streets too.
Havana is truly a remarkable destination well worth a visit.