Havana is the capital city of Cuba. Cuba is an island nation, located in the Caribbean. Due to its location, Cuba has beautiful beaches and amazing weather for a resort vacation. Basically all the ingredients for a perfect beach getaway. But Cuba is so much more then that. Especially the capital city of Havana is a unique destination to explore. The world knows about the Communist rule, the economic struggles of Cuba and their history, classic cars and the list “sometimes” just stops here. On our recent trip to Cuba, we uncovered some interesting side of this country, especially Havana. Keep reading to find out the Perfect 3 day Havana Itinerary.
Did we also explore the well-known side of Havana, including classic cars? You will soon find out!
How to Spend 3 Amazing Days in Havana : Havana Cuba Itinerary
Our time in Havana was packed with a lot of sight-seeing adventures and experiences. This post is a shortened version, which is written with the “must-visit” items in mind. If you are planning to visit Havana on a weekend trip (2-3 days) or exploring 3 days in Havana as part of a week long beach vacation (3 days- Havana – 3 days Varadero/Trinidad combo), then you are in the right spot.
You will find that in 3 days you will be able to explore most of the tourist areas in Havana.
Another way to explore Cuba is to take a cruise and choose Havana excursions. Havana has a long coastline and is also an ideal cruise location.
Getting to Havana Cuba
Havana is served by the Jose Marti International Airport, which connects Havana with the rest of the Americas, Caribbean, Europe and one African destination. This airport is also the main hub of Cuba’s national carrier – Cubana de Aviacion.
Havana Airport is small, but does serve the purpose of an aviation/transport center.
Coming in to Havana
- When you are flying in to Havana, you will have to go through the immigration and customs department. On your Havana flight, you will fill out a tourist card, which gets stamped at the airport. They do a thorough checking of the passport document and pictures as taken as well. However on our trip no one requested for medical insurance document which is a travel requirement. Please carry your travel insurance though.
- The line -up at the immigration counter was huge on our arrival. They did have 4-5 counters open, with support staff around. But it took longer as they were not screening in couples or families together. Normally in my experience, couples and families or travelers living in the same address are screened at the same time and had to fill out 1 form only. Well, we did fill 1 form, but we were screened one after the another. They didn’t ask any questions though.
- There are currency exchange centers in the airport terminal. They are located outside the airport, by exit doors (which was little weird), but Cuba is safe 🙂 so I guess its okay to have currency exchange place where the taxis were parked for hire!
- There are taxis and colectivos available for transport to your hotel/resort. If you have not pre-booked a taxi or airport transfer, book the state owned taxis. Their fares are written on their counter and in the arrival terminals, so you know that you are paying the “required” fare.
The airport has decent amenities inside including coffee shops and souvenir stores.
Leaving/Departing from Havana Airport
- Checking is was actually a breeze. We got our boarding passes (remember get paper copies of boarding passes, cell-phone scans are not accepted. Also no wifi to get the copy from your email!)
- After security check-in, you will find some more restaurants and souvenir shops before your departure from Havana.
We planned our trip via Air Canada vacations. It included the return flight from Canada, airport transfers and a hotel stay with free breakfast. You can customize your trip – in terms of hotel preference and days. For travelers flying from Canada, Westjet didn’t have any options for Havana. We saw options via Air Canada only for Havana or other resort stays. If you are planning to book some day tours, Expedia and Air Canada actually has nothing for Havana or Cuba on their website. You can either find some Havana tours from TripAdvisor or Locally Used Havana Tours, I definitely recommend the later. (May 2018)
Accommodation (Havana Hotels and AirBnB)
In terms of accommodation, there are hotels and Airbnb options available. All hotels are owned by the government or co-owned in partnership with another entity. You can find hotels ranging from $79 USD to $300+ hotels in Havana.
- Budget Hotels – Hotel Plaza, Deuville, Hotel Sercotel Paseo, 4 Points Sheraton,
- High-end Hotels – Hotel Nacional, Hotel Iberostar Parque Central, Melia Havana Hotel
Casa Particulars are your AirBnBs. They are some listed on the Airbnb website as well, so you can book them in advance. They are cheaper then most hotels and you do get an opportunity to spend time with a Cuban family and learn about their culture.
We decided to stay in a hotel closer to Old Havana, so that it was easy to access all the sight-seeing locations. We stayed at Hotel Plaza – its a 110 year old hotel with amazing roof top views. The rooms were okay. They were clean, but I don’t think we will book there again. The location is great, but there are other “better” hotels in the same square as Hotel Plaza. The hotel is a 3.5 star hotel by Cuban standards.
3 Day Havana Itinerary
We arrived late night in Havana and utilized the next morning to explore the beautiful UNESCO Hertiage site of Old Havana.
Day 01 – Old Havana – 4 Squares and Cathedral – Central Havana – El Floridita Restaurant
Old Havana -We were staying at the sweet spot, where we can access Old Havana and Central Havana with ease. Old Havana is accessible on foot or by taking a pissi-taxi. We do recommend walking through Old Havana, admiring the buildings, colors and people. The lanes are small and not smooth, so wear comfortable shoes on your exploration.
Don’t forget your camera and sunglasses. One can spend almost an entire day, photographing and wandering through Old Havana. Certain sections of Old Havana are commercialized, where one will find hip restaurants, stores, banks, etc. But as you wander through smaller lanes and go deeper, you will only find blocks and blocks of old dilapidated, but beautiful buildings.
Habana Vieja or Old Havana is the originating point of the city of Havana.
Did you know Havana was founded in the 16th century by the Spanish rulers?
There are 4 squares in Havana. On your 1st day, you can definitely walk and cover Old Havana Square and the Catedral de San Cristobal.
Plaza Vieja or Old Havana Square is lined with beautiful, colorful buildings that are now houses cafes and restaurants. This square was the site of bull-flights, processions and excursions in the past. Plaza Vieja was built in the 16th century, and was popular with the wealthy citizens who witnessed these events.
Catedral de San Cristobal Square – The square gets its name from the beautiful cathedral that stands tall on one side of the square. This beautiful and massive baroque cathedral was built in the 18th century. It is also called the Havana Cathedral. The remains of Christopher Columbus was housed here, but later taken away to the Seville Cathedral in Spain in the 19th century.
The cathedral can be categorized as an early Cuban Baroque facade because of its many curves and double curves and structures that are ornamental rather than structural. The interior of the cathedral is ornate with white and black marble floors, with massive stone pillars and side chapels. It is built in neoclassical style.
The towers at the entrance are uneven. The one on the right is a bell tower and is wider then the tower on the left. You can actually climb to the wider tower and get amazing views of the city of Havana. The ticket costs 1 CUC
This is a living cathedral and weddings are conducted here as well. There are other buildings in this square as well and the beauty of these buildings is that they are painted in lovely bight colors – blue and yellow.
There are cute cafes around the square. We stopped for cappuccinos and a quick bite at the Bianchini restaurant. This tiny cafe is squeezed into a ‘culinary alley’ near the cathedral. Their cappuccino was delicious!
You can spend a few more hours here and wander through beautiful lanes with Spanish remnants of the city of Havana.
From Old Havana, you can make your way to Central Havana (before evening), to see the hustle bustle of the capital city. There is nothing much to see in terms of sight-seeing spots. But just like the lanes of Old Havana, you can wander into Centro Havana – capture some amazing pictures of these buildings, lanes and everyday life.
You can cover all of these areas by walking.
On your first day, you can also check out the famous restaurant that Ernst Hemingway frequented when he lived in Cuba for 20 years. The restaurant called – El Floridita – was located right across the street from our hotel. And we went there for a couple of drinks. Hemmingway loved his daiquiris. There is a big statue of Hemmingway inside as well.
Keep in mind this place is super crowded and they serve Daiquiris (made in batch at the bar) and also mojitos and pina coladas. There is a restaurant as well along with the bar, but make sure you reserve your place. The drinks were a little expensive then other restaurants. A mojito/Daiquiri will cost 6 CUC.
There is a restaurant in the same block as El Floridita, actually next to it – which serves amazing Roopa Vieja (shredded beef) with a beer and a desert – all for 6.50 CUC. That’s where we went for dinner! The restaurant is called La Pina Del Plata.
Day 2 – Museum of the Revolution – Granma Memorial – Classic Car Ride – Plaza de la Revolution – National Hotel
On Day 2 of Havana Travel Itinerery, the theme of the day was the revolution period. We went to the Museum of the Revolution, also called Museo de la Revolucion. This museum was located just 5 minutes from our hotel.
As the name suggests, Museo de la Revolucion is museum dedicated to the history of pre and post Cuban revolution. To give a sense of history, the Cuban revolution started under Fidel Castro’s leadership to overthrow the tyrant Batista regime. This period was marked by immense nationalism within the country and had international repercussions especially with United States. The revolution saw the overthrow of Batista rule and under Fidel Castro – a new government was formed. The museum speaks volume on the activities of the CIA and US and how it led to the nationalization of banks, school and education, health systems, etc.
My personal opinion – from what I saw in that museum actually showed me a different side of Communism. As a student of history, I like Marxism as a concept. It is hard to implement though and get results in terms of economic prosperity, which is also a fact. But in Cuba, post revolution, the work that the leaders did – in terms of opening medical schools, arts institutes, hospitals, etc is commendable. Education and health is still free, including prescription drugs. Cubans own their property and houses, this is in contrast to the erstwhile Communist Czechoslovakia where houses were state owned at that time (prior to 1990). Women’s emancipation is huge and is incredibly amazing. And not to forget safety of tourists and everybody. Cuba is struggling economically, due to trade embargoes and tourism does help the country and is a great source of income. Jobs in tourism are better paid then others.
The entry fee to the museum is 8 CUC per person. You are allowed to photograph inside and outside of the museum. You can easily spend 2 hours here (we did :))
A few steps away from the museum is the Granma Memorial – the Granma memorial has the yacht (real, not a replica) that was used to transport 82 fighters of the Cuban Revolution from Mexico to Cuba to overthrow the regime of Batista. In the memorial site, there are other vehicles and aircraft remains from previous struggles and movements.
Read this article from Reuters about the Man who helped Castro with the Granma Yacht
Keeping the Revolution period theme in mind, we head to the Plaza de la Revolution next.
Plaza de la Revolution is an important square in Havana. The square was built in the 20th century and has been used for all political rallies since Fidel came to power. The square can house more then 1 million attendees. Pope John Paul II, during his 1998 first visit by a Pope, and Pope Francis in 2015, held large Masses there during papal visits to Cuba.
The square has a big statue of Jose Marti – he is idolized in Cuba and in most historic places you will see references to Jose Marti. The famous image of Che Guevara from one of the government buildings is located right across the square. There is nothing much to see here, other then the statue and the images of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro from across the square. The square is not crowded so you can take great pictures, minus the tourists.
Nacional Hotel is another historical site, which is worth covering in your Havana trip. This hotel is located very close to the city center and has been frequented by political leaders and celebrities for years. The hotel has a historical tour that runs from 10:00- 06:00 everyday except for Sundays.
The hotel has its links to the infamous Havana conference of 1940s, were a historic meeting of United States Mafia and Cosa Nostra leaders occurred in Havana, Cuba. The hotel also has bullet marks from the pre-revolution period.
If not for the history, visit the Hotel Nacional to get some amazing views of the waterfront in the evening. The garden area is open to all visitors and you can sit, relax and sip some refreshing mojitos whilst enjoying the views of the Malecon. (Drinks cost 6 CUC). You can opt for dinner here as well.
Day 3 – Port of Havana, El Morro, Fort Cabana, Malecon – Harbour-front, Classic Car ride – Goodbye drinks
Day 3 of Havana Itinerary is dedicated to Cuba’s harbour-front, starting with the Port of Havana. Although now defunct, the old port terminal of Havana still stands since “time memorial”. Havana’s port led to its colonization under the Spanish rule. Natives were deported or used as slaves.
Fast forward a few centuries when most of the Americas revolted against the Spanish rule, Cuba stayed loyal for a very long time. But the Cubans were exploited in turn. You can take a walk along the water-front. I recommend doing this either in the morning or evening, when the temperatures are mild.
Along the coastal area, there are many forts that were created by the Spaniards to protect their land. One of them is the El Morro or the Morro Castle. Morro means “rock” and the rock structures in El Morro, including their 10 m high (now 30 m) lighthouse is visible from the sea. It was meant to be defensive fort. In the fort, you can see canons being placed all around it for security.
A visit to the interiors of the fort cost 8 CUC and I think it’s worth it as it includes entry to the museum and exhibitions inside the fort. It also allows you to wander through the fort towers to get amazing views. You can spend 1-2 hours in this area. There are no restaurants located here, just souvenir stalls.
The fortress of La Cabana is visible from El Morro. The fortress was built in the 18th century and it served the colonial powers (Spanish and then the British) and later it played an important role in the revolution period, when Che Guevara used it as a military base and prison headquarters. This fort is just a short walk from El Morro.
The complex is part of a historical park, along with the El Morro fortress. Every night a cannon is fired at 9 pm from here, the “El Cañonazo de las 9”, a custom kept from colonial times signaling the closure of the gates in the city wall.
The Malecón refers to the water-front – broadly covering roadway and seawall along the coast of Havana. It includes Havana Harbor, along the north side of the Centro Habana neighborhood and ends in the Vedado neighborhood.
Take a ride along the Malecon, by riding in one the vintage American cars. You can rent a car from you hotel (near old Havana) to Malecon. The return trip will cost 10 CUC or 15 CUC, if its an open car.
After a fun-filled ride, bid adieu to the beautiful city of Havana from a roof top bar. There are many options to choose from. Almost all hotels have a rooftop bar in Havana. My recommendation would be a hotel located close to Old Havana to get amazing views of the old city and its charming lanes. Top your evening with some Mojitos and watch the sun go down, enjoying the golden skies.