Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect visiting Havana, Cuba for the first time. Mostly I imagined lots of shiny 1950s style cars, colorful buildings, and heaping servings of tamales? Accurate? Somewhat…but the description doesn’t quite capture the eclectic culture of Havana. I’m going to go out on a limb, channel my residual mojito buzz, and let you know that Havana is one of the most unique places in all of the Caribbean.
You have a blend of typical Caribbean life with some Spanish flavor, and a dose of African spice thrown in for good measure. In any case, the city is definitely worth a visit; here’s how to make the most of your 3 days in Havana, Cuba! If you’re looking for travel tips, make sure to check out these 15 things to know before visiting Cuba.
Before we begin, remember there are restrictions for Americans traveling to Cuba, so please remember to follow all the rules! Check out the US State Department for the most up to date list of restrictions.
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Day 1 of 3 Days in Havana
Morning: Explore & Drink Mojitos
So our flight left Florida at 7:00AM (read: be at the airport by 5:00AM), but this meant we were happily wheels down in Havana at 8:15AM with a full day in front of us! First up, we checked into our apartment rental, which had these drop dead amazing views of the city. Our first day of our 3 days in Havana started very early, but it was a great day!
Next up, we wandered around for a bit, but our first real stop was La Bodeguita del Medio, aka home of the mojito. This was our first of many Cuban mojitos, and I’d recommend trying them all. If there’s one thing Cuba does right, it’s rum.
Drinking and wandering in 87 degree heat can spark your appetite, so plan in a lunch break next. Cuba has soooo many little places to eat, but for lunch we chose La Makina (recommended to us by our Airbnb host.) The restaurant has a quaint little terrace and the ropa vieja was out of this world—or I was just insanely hungry. In either case, I definitely recommend the food here. The one thing to note: make sure to read your bill carefully. Our bill had CUCs, CUPs, Euros, and US Dollars, so it can get a bit confusing.
Afternoon: Walking Tour & Classic Cars
After lunch, we got down to business with an Afternoon Delight tour through Locally Sourced. The excursion included a walking tour, convertible ride, and a mojito making lesson. They seriously could not have planned a better afternoon for us!
First up is the walking tour—you have to pre-walk off those mojitos for later. Our guide was super knowledgeable, and not only showed us the main tourist sites, but gave some great insight into life in Cuba. He showed us his ration card, explained how the internet does/doesn’t function, and even how you would go about getting meat from the butcher. A huge perk of this tour is getting the kind of insight only a Cuban would know. It was one of my highlights of my 3 days in Havana!
On our walking tour, we visited Plaza de la Catedral.
The church is beautiful, but make sure to sneak around the side and check out this amazing mural too!
Next up we visited Plaza de Armas and Plaza de San Francisco de Asis, both of which had some amazing history. After working up a sweat, we moved on to the convertible portion of the afternoon – my fave!
Raúl picked us up in a sweet red Chevy Buick and chauffeured us through Old Havana, Central Havana, and Vedado to get a taste of life throughout the city. We cruised by Revolution Square with the enormous images of Che Guevara and José Martí.
Evening: Mojito Making
After our convertible excitement, we moved on to mojito making at Casa Alta, this picturesque rooftop terrace overlooking Old Havana. The mojito expert taught us the secrets of making the best mojitos (hint: the secret is in the mint stems), and honestly, I think his mojitos were the best I had in all of Havana. We tried quite a few, so I now consider myself somewhat of an expert.
After his lesson, it was time to make our own! My goals were to not poison myself and hopefully to at least make a drinkable mojito. I guess something in the lessons worked –I am now a master mojito maker and putting my skills to use at home.
If you’re in Havana for less time than 3 days and want to consolidate your activities, try just taking a Havana walking tour –you’ll get the highlights, but miss out on mojito making, which would obviously be sad.
In any case, catch a beautiful sunset over Havana’s colorful buildings, and go on your merry way. Since our morning had started at 4AM, our merry way took us to dinner at a paladar (basically a restaurant in someone’s house) and then to bed.
Day 2 of 3 Days in Havana
Morning: El Morro
Wake up bright and early, because you’re off to El Morro (that fort across the water from Old Havana) for the second of your 3 days in Havana, Cuba. We took a tourist bus from Central Park for 5 CUC for a day’s ride—this also included our trip to the beach, so pretty cheap. Though the busses are cheap, they’re not overly convenient; they only run every 40 minutes, and don’t necessarily stick to a schedule.
In any case, it was 3 CUP to enter the fort (basically 12 cents), and it was definitely not what we were expecting…instead of cool history inside, it had been turned into a flea market? We were not sure about this, so departed pretty quickly to explore the outside area of the fort. The outside section we were at was pretty cool, with ancient walls and cannons, but we didn’t explore too far since there seemed to be a giant fair happening at the other end.
Overall, this might be a very different stop when an enormous fair isn’t taking place, but with the circumstances, there were WAYYYY too many people. Plus, waiting 30 more minutes for our bus in the heat was not my favorite.
Afternoon: Playas del Este
Fortunately, the bus came and we were off to Playas del Este. I don’t know anyone at the Cuban tourism board, but 12/10 this is the ocean they use on all their posters. No joke, I kept taking my sunglasses off just to double check that the water was in fact that blue. (It is–I promise!!)
After you get off the bus, all you have to do is hop across the street and you’re at the beach. As a forewarning, the beach looks super busy and packed with umbrellas when you first arrive.
I’d recommend simply strolling past this to a nice empty section…literally 2 minutes walking and a million times better. Just relax, frolic in the water, and chill for the afternoon before catching the bus back. However, remember that the last bus departs around 6PM, so you better be on it, unless you’d like to buy a taxi back.
Evening: El Malecón
El Malecón is quintessential Cuba—picture a walkway along the water with 1950s cars zipping past, and there you have it. El Malecón is a social event in the evening, not to mention a beautiful sunset spot, so you 100% need to do this at least one of your nights in Havana.
After sunset, try a paladar along the water or if possible, save some time to participate in an authentic Cuban Cooking Experience…you can visit local markets and learn to prepare some of Cuba’s most famous dishes. (Hello ropa vieja!) If you’re feeling a little lazier, you can always just find ropa vieja at your neighborhood paladar too!
Day 3 of 3 Days in Havana
Morning: Old Havana
For the last day of our 3 days in Havana Cuba, we spent our time exploring some areas we hadn’t seen yet. If you haven’t visited it yet, walk down Paseo Prado – a pedestrian friendly walk through Havana. You get some beautiful buildings on each side of you. Plus, day or night, Paseo Prado always seemed to have something happening from art markets to dance-offs.
Head up toward El Capitolio to get up close and personal. Unfortunately, there was scaffolding on it while we were there, but you have to make the most of it!
Some days the Capitol is open, but it didn’t seem to be when we were there. There’s also not a set schedule, so just keep your eye out in case you can actually go in!
In the same area is the cutest restaurant called El Asturianito. For me, the area looked exactly like a Cuban postcard, so couldn’t help but go a little crazy with photos here. Conveniently, there’s a median in the street for silly tourists like myself to stand on out of the way of traffic.
Those were just a few of the areas we hit up, but go crazy on your last day and make the most of Havana!
Afternoon: El Floridita
We saved the best (daiquiris) for last…El Floridita. The bar is said to be one of Ernest Hemingway’s frequent haunts, and their daiquiris are pretty good too. One of its main draws for us…the air conditioning. Sometimes after a few days of sightseeing, all I want is a coconut daiquiri and air conditioning.
With More Time in Havana
Don’t we always wish we had more time? I know I certainly wish I had more than 3 days in Havana, Cuba. With some additional time, consider checking out the following:
- Viñales day trip – Oh, Viñales was calling my name, but I had to ignore it (for this trip at least!) On a day trip from Havana, you can see coffee and tobacco plantations, ride horses, and see how Cuban cigars are made. This is definitely on my list for our next Cuba trip!
- Cabaret Tropicana – Visit this historic cabaret that highlights Cuban culture. Dating back to 1939, the venue is known for being a paradise under the stars.
- Hemingway Tour – You can follow in the footsteps of this historic author through his old haunts (aside from just El Floridita.)
Where to Stay in Havana, Cuba
Well, the list for places Americans CAN’T stay is exceptionally long, so we played it safe and went with a casa particular. This setup basically lets you stay with local Cubans, and there are some amazing options in the heart of Old Havana. You can book through Airbnb. This is a picture of our street below.
After landing at the Havana airport, you can either hop in a cab to your Airbnb or book in advance. It’s about 25 CUC – 30 CUC at the airport, but this airport transfer to Havana will save you some $$$ if you book in advance!