Destination guide: Havana, Cuba
Havana is the capital of Cuba, an island located between the Atlantic and the Caribbean, near the shores of Mexico and the United States. This tourist destination was declared a World Heritage Site due to the fact that it has preserved, among other things, its beautiful architecture and a culture rich in traditions.
Traveling through Havana, you can visit the Main Square, the National Capital building, the Cigar Museum, the Embankment, the National Aquarium and an endless number of places where you can try exquisite Cuban cuisine.
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Havana - Things to do
Real Fábrica de Tabacos Partagás
One of Havana’s oldest and most famous cigar factories, the landmark neoclassical Real Fábrica de Tabacos Partagás was founded in 1845 by a Spaniard named Jaime Partagás. Today some 400 workers toil for up to 12 hours a day in here rolling such famous cigars as Montecristos and Cohibas. As far as tours go, Partagás is the most popular and reliable factory to visit. Tour groups check out the ground floor first, where the leaves are unbundled and sorted, before proceeding to the upper floors to watch the tobacco get rolled, pressed, adorned with a band and boxed.. Still, if you have even a passing interest in tobacco and/or Cuban work environments, it’s probably worth a peep.
Latitude: 23.1341642187384 / Longitude: -82.3605751991272
Opening Hours: every 15 min 9:30-11am & 12:30-3pm.
Pricing: tours CUC$10.00.
Telephone Number: +53 862 0086
Address: Industria No 520 btwn Barcelona & Dragones.
Fundación Naturaleza y El Hombre
The fascinating museum at the Fundación Naturaleza y El Hombre displays artifacts from the 17,422km canoe trip from the Amazon source to sea led by Cuban intellectual and anthropologist Antonio Nuñez Jiménez in 1987. Other exhibits in the truly astounding museum include one of Cuba’s largest photography collections, books written by the prolific Nuñez Jiménez, the famous Fidel portrait by Guayasamín stalactites, and ‘the glass house’ – glass cases containing all kinds of intriguing ephemera from the founder’s life. The museum is a foundation and one of Havana’s most rewarding.
Latitude: 23.1087072595667 / Longitude: -82.4351191520691
Telephone Number: +53 204 0438
Opening Hours: 10am-4pm Mon-Fri.
Pricing: admission CUC$3.
Address: Av 5B No 6611 btwn Calles 66 & 70, Playa.
The villa’s interior has remained unchanged since the day Hemingway left (there are lots of stuffed trophies), and the wooded estate is now the Museo Hemingway. Hemingway left his house and its contents to the ‘Cuban people, ’ and his house has recently been the stimulus for a rare show of US-Cuban cooperation. In 2002 the Cubans agreed to a US-funded project to digitalize the documents stored in the basement of Finca La Vigía, and in May 2006 Cuba sent 11,000 of Hemingway’s private documents to the JFK Presidential Library in America for digitalization. This literary treasure trove (including a previously unseen epilogue for For Whom the Bell Tolls ) was finally made available online in January 2009.
Telephone Number: +53 891 0809
Opening Hours: 9am-4:30pm, closed Tue.
Pricing: unguided/guided CUC$3/4, camera/video CUC$5/25.
Address: Carretera Central Km 12.5 Extras: San Francisco de Paula.
Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña
An 18th-century colossus, the Fortaleza de San Carlosde la Cabaña was built between 1763 and 1774 on a long, exposed ridge on the east side of Havana harbor to fill a weakness in the city’s defenses. In 1762 the British had taken Havana by gaining control of this strategically important ridge and it was from here that they shelled the city mercilessly into submission. In order to prevent a repeat performance, the Spanish King Carlos III ordered the construction of a massive fort that would repel future invaders. Measuring 700m from end to end and covering a whopping 10 hectares, it is the largest Spanish colonial fortress in the Americas.
Latitude: 23.1471276505435 / Longitude: -82.3499214649200
Telephone Number: +53 862 0617
Opening Hours: 8am-11pm.
Pricing: admission day CUC$5, night CUC$8, guide CUC$1.
Centro Cultural Cinematográfico
To see a different side of Havana, hang out with the arty crowd at the Centro Cultural Cinematográfico in Vedado, a hive of talented creativity and youthful energy. The HQ of the Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematográficos (Icaic), the center hosts film premieres, discussion nights, art expos, live music and is home to Havana’s best DVD movie outlet. The adjacent Café Fresa y Chocolate is a great place to get acquainted with the Icaic’s movers and shakers, especially on Wednesday nights when there’s an excellent live clarinet quartet. The most enlightening shows are the interactive debate nights known as El Último Jueves de Cada Mes (The Last Thursday of Each Month) for when they’re held. Hosted by a small panel of academics, intellectuals and experts from the arts magazine Temas, respectful but enthusiastic public audiences discuss everything from politics to TV soap operas. It’s a fascinating insight into the parameters of public debate in a supposedly totalitarian society. Admission is free and the debates are in Spanish.
Address: Calle 23 btwn Calles 10 & 12.
Paladar EI Hurón Azul
This place is often touted as one of Havana’s best private restaurants and, although the food might be tasty, the windowless interior combined with the preponderance of after-dinner smokers can leave your meal tasting more like nicotine than comida criolla. Nonetheless, the Hurón Azul (Blue Ferret) boasts plenty of original food and is locally famous for its adventurous smoked pork served with a pineapple salsa. That said, it’s not cheap, averaging CUC$15 a pop plus a 10% service charge added to every bill. Reserve ahead.
Latitude: 23.1408532693033 / Longitude: -82.3791360855102
Telephone Number:+53 879 1691
Opening Hours: noon-midnight Tue-Sun.
Price Range: High.
Pricing: meals CUC$15-20.
Address: Humboldt No 153.
Café EI Escorial
Opening out onto Plaza Vieja and encased in a finely restored colonial mansion, there’s something definitively European about El Escorial. Among some of the best caffeine infusions in the city served here are café cubano, café con leche, frappé, coffee liquor and even daiquirí de café. There’s also a sweet selection of delicate pastries.
Latitude: 25.6294846800000/ Longitude: -80.3401606900000
Telephone Number:+53 868 3545
Opening Hours: 9am-9pm.
Price Range: Low.
Address: Mercaderes No 317 cnr Muralla, Habana Vieja.
Directly opposite the Capitolio but easy to miss, Los Nardos is one of a handful of semi-private Havana restaurants operated by the Spanish Asturianas society. Touted in some quarters as one of the best eateries in the city, this unprepossessing place is decked out in mahogany and leather and serves up such astoundingly delicious dishes as lobster in a Catalan sauce, garlic prawns with sautéed vegetables and an authentic Spanish paella. Portions are huge and the prices, which start at around CUC$4 for chicken and pork dishes, are unbelievably cheap.
Latitude: 23.1278398980132 / Longitude: -82.3335385322571
Telephone Number: +53 863 2985
Opening Hours: noon-midnight.
Price Range: Low.
Address: Paseo de Martí No 563, Centro Habana.
Promoting itself as the ‘cradle of the daiquirí,’ El Floridita was a favorite of expat Americans long before Ernest Hemingway dropped by in the 1930s (hence the name, which means ‘little Florida’). A bartender named Constante Ribalaigua invented the daiquirí soon after WWI, but it was Hemingway who popularized it and ultimately the bar christened a drink in his honor: the Papa Hemingway Special (basically, a daiquirí made with grapefruit juice). His record – legends has it – was 13 doubles in one sitting. Any attempt to equal it at the current prices (CUC$6 a single shot) will cost you a small fortune – and a huge hangover.
Latitude: 23.1370056261176 / Longitude: -82.3571634292603
Telephone Number: Number: +53 867 1300
Opening Hours: 11am-midnight.
Address: Obispo No 557.
Patio de María
Rather unique in Cuba for a number of reasons, the Patio de María, near the Teatro Nacional de Cuba, is a nexus point for Havana’s burgeoning counterculture hosting everything from rock music to poetry readings. Run by María Gattorno, the venue has received heavy media coverage in Cuba and abroad, partly due to Gattorno’s AIDS and drug-prevention educational work. You can catch all kinds of entertainment here from videos and debates to workshops and theater, but the real deal are the rock nights (to canned music) that take off most weekends. Check the cartelera posted at the door or head to Parque de los Rockeros (Calles 23 and G) to find out what’s happening.
Latitude: 23.1255607015401 / Longitude: -82.3899507522583
Telephone Number:+53 7 81 07 22
Pricing: admission 5 pesos.
Address: Calle 37 No 262 btwn Paseo & Calle 2, Vedado.
Callejón de Hamel
Aside from its funky street murals and psychedelic art shops, the main reason to come to Havana’s high temple of Afro-Cuban culture is for the frenetic rumba music that kicks off every Sunday at around noon. For aficionados, this is about as raw and hypnotic as it gets, with interlocking drum patterns and lengthy rhythmic chants powerful enough to summon up the spirit of the orishas (Santería deities). Due to a liberal sprinkling of tourists these days, some argue that the Callejón has lost much of its basic charm. Don’t believe them. This place can still deliver.
Latitude: 23.1382092596999 / Longitude: -82.3754453659057
Sub-Type: Live Music.
Opening Hours: from noon Sun.
Address: Callejón De Hamel, Vedado.
Palacio de la Artesanía
A former 18th-century colonial palace turned into a shopping mall – the Americans could learn from this! Gathered around a shaded central patio is one-stop shopping for souvenirs, cigars, crafts, musical instruments, CDs, clothing and jewelry at fixed prices. Join the gaggles of tour-bus escapees and fill your bag.
Latitude: 23.1429644932603 / Longitude: -82.3541378974914
Sub-Type: Shopping Centre
Telephone Number: +1 305 532 3222
Opening Hours: 9am-7pm.
Address: Cuba No 64.
This gallery is effectively a small craft outlet, with dolls, masks and other handmade souvenirs supplied by local people. Many of the objects are inspired by the city’s vibrant Afro-Cuban community.
Latitude: 23.1378146269290 / Longitude: -82.3545670509339
Opening Hours: 10am-6pm Mon-Fri, 10am-5pm Sat.
Address: Obispo No 411. Extras: btwn Aguacate & Compostela.
A specialist shop that sells perfume made from tropical flowers, Havana 1791 retains the air of a working museum. Floral fragrances are mixed by hand and you can see the petals drying in a laboratory out the back.
Latitude: 23.1382289913080 / Longitude: -82.3502111434937
Telephone Number: +53 861 3525
Opening Hours: 9:30am-6pm.
Address: Mercaderes No 156 btwn Obrapía & Lamparilla.
Through hell and high water, Havana has always clung proudly to its annual calendar of festivals and events, many of which are internationally renowned cultural extravaganzas that draw in movers and shakers from around the globe.
Feria Internacional del Libro de La Habana
Hosted at the Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña, ExpoCuba and various bookstores around the capital, the Havana Book Festival includes book presentations, special readings and the prestigious Premio Casa de las Américas, an award for outstanding writers of Latin American origin.
Festival Internacional de Coros
Headquartered in the Teatro Amadeo Roldán and held in even-numbered years, the International Choir Festival brings together different choirs from around the world in a series of workshops and performances.
An annual get-together of foreign and Cuban record producers and companies, Cubadisco hosts music concerts, a trade fair at the Pabexpo conference center and a Grammy-style awards ceremony that encompasses every musical genre from chamber music to pop.
Festival Internacional de Poesía de La Habana
An opportunity for poets from around the world to convene in Cuba as part of an international cultural exchange, this festival is organized by Uneac (Unión de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba) and bivouacked in the Convento de San Francisco de Asís.
Festival Internacional ‘Boleros de Oro’
Organized by Uneac, the Boleros de Oro was created by Cuban composer and musicologist José Loyola Fernández in 1986 as a global celebration of this distinctive Cuban musical genre.
Carnaval de La Havana
Parades, dancing, music, colorful costumes and striking effigies; Havana’s annual summer shindig might not be as famous as its more rootsy Santiago de Cuba counterpart, but the celebrations and processions along the Malecón leave plenty of other city carnivals in the shade.
Festival Internacional ‘Habana Hip-Hop’
Organized by the Asociación Hermanos Saíz (a youth arm of Uneac), the annual Havana Hip-Hop Festival – headquartered in the rough Havana suburb of Alamar – is a chance for the island’s young musical creators to improvise and swap ideas.
Festival Internacional de Ballet de La Habana
Presided over by long-standing dance diva Alicia Alonso, the International Ballet Festival brings together dance companies, ballerinas and a mixed audience of foreigners and Cubans for a week of expositions, galas and classical and contemporary ballet.
Intrinsically linked to Cuban jazz maestro Chucho Valdés, the International Jazz Festival has been around for nearly a quarter of a century. Staged in the Casa de las Américas, along with the Karl Marx, Mella and Amadeo Roldán theaters, the event draws in top figures from around the world for some truly memorable concerts.
Festival Internacional del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano
An internationally renowned film festival held in cinemas across Havana that illustrates Cuba’s growing influence in Latin American cinema worldwide. For more information, see www.habanafilmfestival.com.
Havana, with its spectacular Malecón sea drive, boasts one of the world’s most scenic municipal jogging routes. The sidewalk from the Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta to the outer borders of Miramar measures 8km, though you can add on a few extra meters for holes in the pavement, splashing waves, veering jineteros and old men with fishing lines.
The recent upsurge in fume-belching traffic has meant that the air along the Malecón has become increasingly polluted. If you can handle it, run first thing in the morning.