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A sunset in Havana

As you step into the capital city of Havana, you will be transported back in time. The canyon-like streets are filled with sleek 1950’s American cars and breathtaking Spanish Colonial architecture, it’s as though you’ve walked into a time capsule. Havana may be impoverished but it stands strong as a culturally rich city. This tourist-packed town is known as the gem of the Caribbean.

What to see and do

Each borough of the city has special attractions that you won’t want to miss. Along with these must-see attractions below, don’t forget to visit the world famous Tropicana Club, a cigar factory, and the Havana Club Rum factory.

La Habana Vieja

Although this borough is the oldest part of the city, there is nothing archaic about its atmosphere. This lively section is the second most populated area of the city and full of Cuban culture. Turn any street corner and you’ll be serenaded by lively, old men singing along to the upbeat melodies that bring the city to life.

Havana Cathedral

The cathedral may be at first glance breath-taking for its grandeur, but once you look closer you will see that the details are what make this Catholic Church so special. Built in the Baroque-style, the outside of the Cathedral is not made of stone, but rather coral from the nearby ocean floor. A closer look at the walls will reveal fossilized marine life as part of the natural decorum. Within the Cathedral you will enjoy many statues and frescoes from artists such as Rubens and Murillo. Both the cathedral and Old Havana are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Malecon

This broad roadway and seawall stretches 8 km along the city and provides a perfect promenade for taking the in the expansive view of the water. Around twilight, you will love taking a romantic stroll along the illuminated path, listening to the waves crash, and the idle chatter of locals. There are many notable buildings and statues to enjoy along the walk as well.

Vedado

As a direct contrast to Habana Vieja, Vedado is the most modern part of the city filled with trendy shopping, hotels, restaurants, and nightlife. However, don’t be fooled by the modern revolution, this area is still known for some of the most historical gifts Havana has to offer.

Hotel Nacional

This famous luxury hotel opened in 1930 and once housed the likes of famous faces such as Ava Gardner, Frank Sinatra, Micky Mantle, John Wayne, Ernest Hemingway, and Winston Churchill. Visiting this historic landmark will also give you uncanny views of the seaside.

Museo de Artes Decorativos

The beautiful building is worth visiting, if only to admire the outside. It was inspired by the French Renaissance and built in a neo-classical style between 1924 and 1927. Inside the museum, you’ll get a guided look into how the wealthy in Havana lived prior to the Revolution.

Miramar

In the 1950’s, this was the most glamorous neighborhood in Havana with upscale mansions, country clubs, the yacht club, and numerous glitzy hotels. Now you can stroll through the district and immerse yourself in the once thriving neighborhood. Other than the beautiful homes, there are numerous attractions to see while in this area.

National Aquarium

What better way to keep the kids engaged and excited than to visit an aquarium? The National Aquarium boasts Dolphin shows that run all day where you get to interact with them. The whole family can get up close with the dolphins and the sea lions, an activity the kids will talk about for months afterward.

Seasonality

Cuba has a tropical climate throughout most of the year, but certain times of the year will be more enjoyable based on your personal preference. November through May is the high season, you will likely encounter more tourist during this time as the weather is more agreeable. February is the coolest month with temperatures lingering between 24 and 26 degrees.

May through October is considered the Hurricane season. You will find that much of Cuba will be hot and humid. For a tourist that will spend their days walking from one borough to the next, most won’t want the humidity and particularly not the rain that accompanies hurricane season. However, the upside to this time of year is that there are fewer tourists. If you are crowd-averse and plan to spend your days inside museum after museum, this will be the best time of year to visit.

Travel tips

Before visiting a foreign country, it is important to know a few basics to prepare for prior to your trip.

Entry and exit

To enter Cuba you must obtain a visa, which can be found through your travel agent or the Cuban Embassy. Proof of Travel Insurance is also required to enter Cuba. To exit Cuba, a departure tax of 25 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) is payable to the airport.

Language

The official language in Cuba is Spanish. If you aren’t confident in your speaking skills, opt to download a translator app or bring along a Spanish-English dictionary.

Travelling on a budget? Skimp on hotel stars but never on personal protection. Try the Essentials plan from Cover-More to save money and keep you covered instead of pinching pennies while visiting Havana.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Jaume Escofet; cropped from original