With its friendly locals, captivating architecture, and a vibe that screams 'old school adventure,' Havana is still considered one of the greatest travel frontiers by many. Despite the easing of the US embargo on Cuba a few years back, the two countries are still very much holding one another at a (long) arm's length. This means mass tourism is still a long way off for Havana and all of Cuba, yet there's no denying the country is changing – probably not as slowly as you might imagine.
Be that as it may, Havana is still as intoxicating as it's always been portrayed. This old colonial dame is a thriving place to explore. Once upon a time, this was the single most fortified city in the Americas, and it was, make no mistake about it, insanely affluent and grandiose. The exuberant abundance of the good old days is still visible in Havana's Old Town centre, despite the shabbiness of its crumbling façade. Today, you'll find a fascinating city where old meets new; where colonial mansions rub shoulders with modern high-rises.
UNESCO-listed and fervently protected – if not preserved – Old Town Havana is an unending feast for all the senses.
Grab a seat (if you can manage it!) at La Bodeguita del Medio in Havana Vieja and channel your inner Hemmingway. Sip a Mojito in one of the country's most historic restaurants and soak up the atmosphere of a world that no longer exists elsewhere but here.
Here are a few things you should know to help you plan a most unforgettable adventure in Havana.
Bring cash. Yes, all of it.
In a recent article about top travel mistakes to avoid, we mentioned that cash was no longer king. Well, we meant with one colossal exception: Cuba! ATMs are few and far between, and credit cards are seldom accepted. Yes, we're talking about Havana – so imagine what it's like everywhere else in the country. Cuba is still very much a cash economy.
Since you cannot buy Cuban currency from abroad, we advise you to bring Euros – not USDs (due to the embargo, US dollars are exchanged at a much higher rate than Euros). Australian dollars don't fare well here. Although some exchange offices can exchange them, most do not. Save yourself any hassle and buy Euros before you take off.
Wifi (and internet in general) is a luxurious commodity
Cuba is not the place you visit if you need to be connected at all times. Internet cafes are as elusive as ATMs, and the connection is as slow as in 1998. You'll find easy connections in upscale hotels and resorts, but service is dodgy and exorbitantly priced outside those parameters. Find out more about the Cuban internet connection problem. What to do? Prepare for a healthy digital detox, postpone those enviable social posts until after you leave Havana, and have the time of your life!
Travel health insurance is a must
Travelling without health insurance is never a good idea and, when visiting Havana, is not allowed. Suppose you can't manage to find an insurance policy for visiting Cuba before leaving home. In that case, you will be forced to buy a local one upon arrival to Havana (which is more expensive and not nearly as comprehensive).
Once the logistics are done and dusted, you'll be free to dive into your Havana adventure. This city blows the mind of even the world's most seasoned travellers. Enjoy a stay in a casa particular and feast on the hearty local cuisine, and get swept away by the scent of cigars and sounds of Son Cubano and reggaeton.
Are you planning a much-awaited trip to Havana? What is the one iconic experience you're looking forward to the most?? Tell us in the comments!