Destination of the Month – Havana

Now is just the right time to visit Cuba; It’s warm (an essential if you plan to spend any time sunning yourself on the Caribbean beaches), it’s outside of the peak summer months (July and August can get horribly crowded, and so prices go up), and most importantly it’s outside of hurricane season – minimising the chance of your tropical holiday being destroyed by a big, bad tropical storm.

And if you want to visit this very unique Caribbean island then where better to start that in its vibrant capital Havana! Here’s what you just can’t miss while you’re there:

Wandering In UNESCO World Heritage streets

Havana’s architecture is an odd mix; Soviet inspired tower blocks and old colonial buildings crumble away side by side in desperate need of renovation, but still hide the odd grandiose gem.

Recently funds have been spent on renovating the Cidade Veja (Old Town) and a stroll around here is an undeniable treat. Pastel coloured houses have been repainted, the streets are cobbled, and lead between various grand squares.

Plaza Veja – Photo by Romtomtom

History and Culture
You wouldn’t be able to come to Cuba and not spend some time contemplating its unique situation. Regardless of the problems Cubans are proud of their country and independence – you’ll notice the ‘Viva la Revolución’ signs as you walk about town. Read the Cuban’s version of their history at the Museo de la Revolución and visit Plaza de la Revolución, one of the world’s largest city squares to see some of the monuments to the independence; the famous Che Guevara image that adorns the Ministry of the Interior building, and the José Martí memorial.

Photo by jadis1958

Another cultural highlight is the National Museum of Fine Arts, which includes an impressive and extensive collection of works from Cuban artists, as well as some international pieces.

You won’t be able to miss the music pulsating out of Havana – you’ll hear the strains of the Buena Vista Social Club floating out of almost every restaurant you pass and the heavy Reggeton beats from passing cars.

Photo from easyrab

Cuba is synonymous with salsa, head to any salsa club and you’re bound to find plenty of locals who are happy to show you a few steps. Note that drinks are extremely pricey on the average Cuban wage, so they will expect you to buy them a few beers in return.

Head just 18 kilometres out of Central Havana to reach the Playas del Este. This 10 kilometre long stretch of comprises the city’s playground. The beaches begin at Bacuranao, but the majority of beachlife is to be found around Santa Maria del Mar which is also where you’ll find the highest concentration of hotels and of tourists too.

Santa Maria del Mar – Photo by neiljs

As you head on to Guanabo the beaches get emptier and less well cared for. Because of this it’s best to stick to the beaches closest to Santa Maria del Mar – the soft white sand and clear blue sea might be more crowded, but there are also more facilities and a lot more atmosphere here.

Beach at Guanabo

Don’t Miss…. ice cream!
My personal highlight of Havana is Coppelia, which can only be described as a massive ice cream complex located in …… The ice cream is marvellous and incredibly cheap. You’ll spot it by the futuristic spaceship that seems to have landed on top of the park, and by the huge queues all around it’s perimeter. You could head to the foreigner’s area in the centre of the park, but prices are then in the more expensive CUC and devoid of atmosphere. Instead pick an area to queue for. Supposedly the signs around the edge tell you what ice creams are available in each area – however this is Cuba; menus are nothing more than a guideline!

Image via

After queueing for an age (bring sunscreen) you’re led to a table area where a waitress recites the menu at you. Don’t be afraid to be greedy, the Cubans certainly aren’t. You’ll witness waifer thin Cuban girls wolf down six (or more) bowls (and a bowl is three scoops) of ice cream, and families pressing scoops of ice cream into the tubs they brought with them to save for later. Price wise – we paid 50p for six scoops of ice cream and a slice of cake. What’s not to love?

Getting there

Only two airlines fly direct to Cuba from the UK. <a href="http://Virgin Atlantic operates two departures per week from London Gatwick from about £550 return. Alternatively you can opt for Cuba's national airline, Cubana, also flying from London Gatwick.

If you're on a budget try looking at routes via Europe, especially Spain. Air Europa often work out good value, but make sure you leave ample time for connections.

Photo by Romtomtom

Need to know:
Cuba has two currencies. The one you will be using is the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) – which is used for all luxury items and everything in resorts. You are allowed to exchange your CUC in Cuba for Cuban Peso (CUP), which will mean that you can buy bread from Cuban bakeries for a bargain price. In reality however everything you will want as a tourist will be priced in CUC. Do not take US Dollars to Cuba, since 2004 they are no longer accepted and you will pay a 10% commission to exchange them.

UK visitors must apply for a Tourist Card to enter Cuba, and this will be stamped on arrival and exit from Cuba (as opposed to a stamp in your passport). They should cost £15 and are available via the Cuban consulate or your tour operator. You will also need to pay a departure tax of 25 CUC on leaving the country, so make sure you save some.

Top image by Eduardo Deboni