Forget the large overpriced hotels, these are often run by the government and are soulless in comparison to the smaller casa particulares. These family run places are full of Cuban love and the owners have all the best and up to date information on where to eat and what events or gigs are on nearby. Casas are usually similar to European bed and breakfasts, but can be anything from private apartments used as holiday rentals or a room in a family house.
I would recommend booking at least your first night in Cuba in advance, and Airbnb now has a huge range of casa’s to choose from. Otherwise find an area you would like to stay in and wander around when you get there. Blue and white signs on the outside of a building signify it is a casa and often if they do not have space they will be able to recommend somewhere nearby.
There are three main areas of Havana to consider;
Habana Vieja is the old town, and is where most of the nightlife and attractions are. Whilst there is an increasing focus on tourism in this area, it still presents the iconic image of crumbling colonial style buildings, old American cars and a traditional Cuban community feel. This is a great place to stay if you want to be close to the action and only a short stagger home after dancing the night away to traditional Cuban live bands playing in any of the hundreds of local bars.
Why stay here:
Right in the centre of Habana Vieja
Next to many of the museums and places of interest
Helpful hosts that will provide recommendations of where to go/what events are on
Vedado was once the home of the Mafia, and their wealth is shown in the grandness of the buildings. The area was deserted during the revolution and, like many of Cuba’s famous colonial style buildings, it fell into disarray. Only recently efforts are being made to preserve these crumbling buildings and restore them to their former grandeur. Vedado is the only part of Havana where modern architecture is starting to make an appearance, and there are some cool modernist buildings starting to pop up. This area is close to the famous Plaza de la Revolution and the Hotel Nacional, where Fidel Castro was once held as part of a failed murder plot by the American government and his former lover. This area has a few points of interest but be prepared that if you stay here you will probably spend a fair bit on taxi’s back from Habana Vieja each night.
Recommendations in Vedado:
Why stay here:
Clean, modern style facilities
Next to the Hotel Nacional and famous Cuban jazz clubs
Helpful American owner that will help you plan your stay in advance
Havana Central is the compromise, the best of both worlds. It is the area between Habana Vieja and Vedado and easily the least touristy part of Havana. These backstreets are full of greengrocers, butchers, old couples wheeling around bread carts, and if you keep your eyes open you might just spot a micro rum distillery. It is an easy walk from most of Habana Vieja but not too far to Vedado either. Perhaps best of all, the Malecon (the most beautiful road running the length of Havana’s shoreline) is easy to access for those romantic sunsets sat out drinking rum and listening to guitar players sitting on the sea wall. Havana Central is not the most glamorous area, but you will experience how the locals live here.
Recommendations in Havana Central:
Why stay here:
Views over the Malecon
Walking distance to Habana Vieja (10-15 minutes)
Beautiful colonial style building
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