At the time I was writing this all cruise ship travel from the United States has been canceled, and the only way to legally visit Cuba from the U.S. is via airplane. For the rest of the world all methods of travel are still available.
So let us set the stage, you have 24 hours to spend in Havana, but before you arrive, it is best to be prepared for a few things.
Money, Money, MoneyIf you are a U.S. citizen, you will not be able to use credit or debit cards from U.S. banks. Due to this makes sure you have cash for your time in Havana. Once you land or if you score a Canadian Cruise to Cuba Dock, it is easy enough to exchange money at the airport, cruise port, and some hotels.
Just remember Cuba has two currencies, the CUP, which is the Cuban peso, which their citizens earn, and use. Then there is the CUC, this is what visitors will exchange money for during their stay, and many places you might visit the only coin accepted.
For U.S. citizens there is an automatic 10% fee on each exchange and the exchange rate between the U.S. dollar and CUC does fluctuate, so may change during your visit. If you are using Canadian dollars or Euros, there are no fees, just the normal exchange rates that are easy to chart out in advance.
Vintage Cars and Taxis EverywhereNo matter where your journey begins, once you step out into the streets of Havana you have to have a plan or you are going to be overwhelmed by the sights and sounds of the beautiful city. So plan ahead and plot your course. You only have 24 hours so it is time to get moving.
Some cities you can jump in a taxi, tell the driver your destination, and go. Havana is not that city. Ask the driver “how much to go to Hotel XYZ” and if the number sounds too high, negotiate or ask another driver. Taxis are not metered and if you hop on one without knowing the price - there goes a whole bunch of those CUC’s you just exchanged. Sorry, not sorry, you have been warned.
If you are staying at a hotel or Air BNB, (yes, they have them in Havana too), drop your bags and get a move on the clock is ticking.
Havana by DayFor people who love spirited destinations that are loaded with history, Havana is a wonderful city, but before those historic bars open up for the day, you have some interesting options. If you book with a tour company, pack your patience and go with the flow. Things move at their own pace in Havana and it simply helps to be flexible.
Type “A” folks who complain about every inconvenience are not going to have a good time and might just want to stay home, because Havana has a lot of challenges and they are not going to change cause their pampered butts happens to be in town.
As far as tours, I recommend a city tour early in the day; it helps you learn the layout of the city and the stunning architecture. Seriously, we are talking building from the colonial period to modern day and this information will come in handy later if you decide to visit bars in the evening. The average city tour is two to three hours and trust me it will be worth your time.
For your midday meal, they are a good selection of locations to grab a meal and relax. If you are into Tiki, then you must make a pilgrimage to The Polinesio restaurant at the Hotel Tryp Habana Libre.
Before Castro took over, this was the Havana Hilton and home to Trader Vic’s. The restaurant is an incredibly well preserved location, with an excellent cocktail program led by Osvaldo Sainz Garcia and the only location you will find food cooked in Chinese ovens in the city.
Wait, Havana has a Rum museum?After lunch, the next location is my go to spot to explore Cuban Rums particularly Havana Club Rum. The Museo del Ron Havana Club is located on the Av. Del Puerto close to the Plaza and Convento de San Francisco de Asis and Port of Habana.
The museum has gone through a transformation over the past two years and offers tours for different languages roughly every 30 minutes. This provides an opportunity to grab a beverage and cool off in the courtyard or bar before exploring the exhibits. This location does involve narrow winding stairways so is not for the mobility challenged.
After your tour, make sure to visit the gift shop. In my experience, this was the absolute best place to purchase Havana Club Rums. Prices are fixed in Cuba so you do not have to worry about losing money, but the Rum selection at the Museo gift shop is by far the best I found anywhere in the city.
Havana by NightAt this point, you may want to drop your purchases off at wherever you are staying, and take a moment to rest, and hydrate. Because, as the evening settles in, the neon comes on, and Havana’s bar scene comes to life and you have a lot of options open up for your drinking and entertainment pleasure. A favored option for cocktail enthusiasts is the Prohibition Era/Hemingway bar crawl.
When pondering the bar crawl; do you like Prohibition era cocktails? Like Ernest Hemingway? Hate Ernest Hemingway, but love his drinking habits? Both? All of the above? Well, this is the ticket for you.
A quick note about cocktail prices. A common question is are they comparable to the cocktail prices in the United States? The answer is yes, however like in the United States you will find prices vary depending on the establishment. Expect to see Havana Club Rum flowing at each location.
El Floridita BarFirst stop El Floridita Bar, home of the Daiquiri and frequent drinking spot of Hemingway and you can have your picture taken with a bronze statue of him sitting at the bar. This place is a favorite tourist attraction and gets full fast. Get in, have a Daiquiri, snap some pictures, and get moving while the night is young.
La Bodguita Del MedioNext up, grab a quick taxi or walk down to La Bodguita Del Medio. This popular locale is known for its Mojitos and is loaded with character. Between the food, the drinks, and live music this location is popular with both locals and tourists.
Sloppy Joe'sYou next to last destination after La Bodguita, is Sloppy Joe's. A popular destination during Prohibition this historic bar was known for having offered over 80 cocktails on its menu. After the Cuban revolution and a fire, the business was closed for 48 years, but reopened in 2013 as the area around the restaurant was revitalized to meet tourism demands. Most bars close at midnight, but Sloppy Joes closes at 3 am making it a great spot to wrap the night up.
TropicanaHowever, if you want to end your night at a location that celebrates the history and vitality of the city, grab a taxi and travel over to the Tropicana nightclub. This Prohibition era nightclub still features nightly Cabaret productions that celebrates Cuba’s history, music, and dance along with a good selection of food and cocktails for patrons.
At some point, the bars close and you get a little rest in your room or just enjoy the sunrise over Havana harbor. Eventually it is time to pack your souvenirs and head on to your next destination.
This guide barely scratches the surface of what the city has to offer. Do your research and tailor each visit to your interests.
When traveling in Cuba I always remember three things, first, do your research about appropriate clothing and behavior, second there is no guarantee there will be toilet paper; pack a little to carry with you, and finally and most important always tip your tour guide. Cheers!