A Cuban interlude. How to make the most of your time in its capital city
Only three days to spend in Havana? Make the most of them by engaging with its history, its culture and its people.
Take a stroll
Do get a feel for the real Havana and its people by walking its streets as much as possible. A must on anyone's itinerary should be a stroll through Old Havana to see the Colonial architecture, especially in and around the Catedral, Armas and Vieja plazas. It will be obvious why Havana was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982.
Don't be afraid to engage. Cuba has one of the world's most culturally diverse populations. People here are friendly and eager to meet folks from other countries. While making new friends, remember that manners matter; avoid such subjects as politics and religion just as you would back home at the Thanksgiving dinner table. Be nice. The words "please" and "thank you" go a long way, whether spoken in English or Spanish.
Make memories to take back home
Do bring a decent camera. Havana is a colorful city with colorful characters, beautiful murals and many examples of historic architecture. Also, photographs are great aids to memory, a means of keeping Havana present long after the visit has ended. However, don't take pictures of police or soldiers; it's actually against the law to do so, although the law is erratically enforced.
Use common sense
Do take common-sense precautions. Havana is a safe city as cities go, but it’s best not to take unnecessary chances. Leave the fancy trinkets at home. Cuba is not a rich country, and conspicuous consumption tempts fate. When in crowded touristy areas, be aware that these are the very places where pickpockets flock.
Where cash is still king
Don't run out of cash. What may seem like enough at the beginning usually isn't. And in Cuba, cash is king. Exchange dollars for CUCs ("tourist money") at the Havana Airport, then exchange some of the CUCs for CUPs ("local money") at any CADECA (exchange bureau) in the city. CUPs can be used as small change and at most places where the local population outnumbers tourists. Carefully inspect both forms of currency, as they look very similar. The last thing you want to do is get the wrong form of currency (and the wrong amount of money) back because you weren't paying attention to the price.
Eat and drink in the shadow of the revolution
Do enjoy a good Cuban meal. Havana does not have a reputation for great restaurants (after all, there are sporadic agricultural crises on the island), but that Cuban creative flair has been known to work wonders. Try the Ivan Chef Justo, just across the street from the Museo de la Revolucion (which should be a stop on the itinerary, anyway).
Dance the night away
Do get up and dance to the music. Havana incorporates an astonishing array of diverse cultures in its literature, its art, its cuisine and perhaps most of all its music. From jazz to rock & roll to salsa to cabaret to (of course) rumba, Havana has put its magic touch on them all. La Casa de Musica de Centro Habana hosts live music daily and is a must for jazz and salsa fans. Want to rumba? Every Sunday at noon, a crowd of mostly women gather for La rumba de Cayo Hueso at Callejón de Hamel; try to fit that into the itinerary as well.
Last but not least, a note for the cigar aficionado
Don't forget to bring back genuine Cuban cigars – just make sure they're the real thing and not "street" cigars.
Finally, after a taste of what Havana has to offer, do make plans for another, longer, visit soon!