Your cruise ship will dock at Terminal de Cruceros Sierra Maestra at Port of Havana. The terminal consists of three separate berths and a terminal building, inaugurated in 1914. The cruise terminal is in a lovely location, less than a mile from the most popular area of Havana – the Old Havana. Walking from your ship to the Old Havana would take about 10 minutes. The cruise Terminal is 23 km, 30 minutes by car away from the International Airport. Transportation is very easy, there are plenty of taxis, waiting outside of the terminal, as well as cocotaxis (local type of 3-wheeled rickshaws), and even horse-drawn carriages, offering tours of Old Havana.
The local currency is represented by two different currencies – Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC), used by tourists and Cuban Pesos (CUP), or Moneda Nacional (MN), used by Habaneros. 1 CUC exchanges for 24 CUP. This system could be confusing, however travellers don’t need to even get CUP, as they will be paying for nearly everything in CUC. The only places to spend Cuban Peso (CUP) would be at local markets, street food vendors, local cafeterias, local buses, cinema tickets, fixed rate taxis. All those places will accept CUC as well. CUC is pegged to the US dollar at 1:1, but exchanging dollars would be a bad idea, as there is additionally 10% tax on top of the exchange rate. The best thing to do would be to exchange British pounds or Euros. You can exchange money at one of the 3 major banks, or at a local exchange bureau, called CADECA. Unfortunately, you can’t get CUC anywhere else, but in Cuba. Cuba is a country where cash is king, so don’t rely on ATMs (there are ones, but may be hard to find), or Credit cards. Credit cards would be accepted at the big hotels, but bare in mind that Credit cards issued by American companies would not work. Do not exchange money on the street, you are very likely to get scammed. Always carefully count your cash at the desk where you are exchanging money, in both foreign and local currency.
Opening hours and bank holidays in Havana, Cuba. Opening hours are normally 10 to 6pm Monday- Saturday and 10-1pm on Sundays. The opening times noted on the door may not always be 100% reliable, so a relaxed approach is advisable.
Tipping in Havana is recommended and considered normal. Some restaurants now would add 10% service charge to your bill, so if that is the case, there is no need for additional tip. 10-15% is the norm. The so called Parquedores – people, who expect a small gratitude to look after your parked car and are, in fact, legal, would expect about 25 CUC cents, more at nightclubs and other popular spots. Toilet attendants also expect about 10-25 CUC cents. Hotel staff would expect about 1 CUC for the bellboy (in total, not per bag), and about 1 CUC per day for the housekeeper. Musicians also appreciate 1-2 CUC per group, the same for street performers or bar/restaurant bands. And lastly, tour guides will also expect 1-5 Cuc per person, depending on the size of the group, length of the tour and the overall experience.
The local time is GMT – 4 hours and International dialling code is + 53 7.
Things To Do
Make sure you visit the Museum of the Revolution. Built in 1920, the building is a former Presidential Palace, where President Fulgencio Batista was the last to reside in it. The Museum presents the events that led up to the Revolution and the times immediately after. The building boasts stunning architecture by Tiffany’s of New York. Especially fascinating is the central staircase, exposing the bullet holes from the unsuccessful assassination attempt of President Fulgencio Batista. Other stunning features are the Salon de los Espejos, a replica of the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles and the Salon Dorado, made of yellow marble with gold embossing on the walls.
Take a tour around a cigar factory. There are a few in Havana, all state owned and all of them produce exactly the same brands of cigars. You will see the entire process from mixing the leaves (the tobacco blend remains a secret) to rolling the cigars and you will even get to smoke one at the end of the tour! Surprisingly there are no shops to buy cigars from at the factories, but don’t be disappointed, there are plenty of opportunities to buy cigars in Havana.
Take a stroll down the Malecon. Dubbed as the “outdoor lounge” of Havana, this 5-miles long seawall was first constructed in 1901, and then extended in 1920s and 1930s. Built between Old Havana and the ocean at first, it was extended with the expansion of Havana from the Havana Harbour, along the north side of Centro Habana, ending in Vedado neighbourhood. Now the sea promenade is a place where locals of all ages gather for an evening stroll, jiniteros sing and dance, philosophers and poets get together, fishermen hope for a catch and tourists admire the waves of the ocean on one side and the classic colourful American cars on the other. For the best photo opportunity, head there early morning or close to sunset.
Do not miss the most impressive museum in Havana – the National Museum of Fine Arts. It’s separated into two buildings – one is the Palace of Fine Arts and hosts exclusively Cuban art. There are 30,000 pieces of art from the 17th century to present days on display, organised in four groups – Art in the Colony, Change of Century, Modern Art and Contemporary Art. Watch out for the works of Guillermo Collazo, Rafael Blanco, Raul Martinez, Wifredo Lam. The other building is the Palace of the Asturian Centre and it showcases Universal Art, consisting of paintings, sculptures, engravings and drawings, organised in five groups. Watch out for works from the Italian and Flemish Renaissance, the Spanish Baroque, the French art from 19th century, the British paintings of the 18th century, the Latin American colonial paintings and North American plastic art from the 18th century.
There are many fascinating old buildings in Havana, that reflect the rich history of the city. Some of the more popular ones are Castillo de la Real Fuerza – considered the oldest fort in the Americas and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site; Basilica Menor de San Francisco de Asis – the most important symbol of the presence of the Franciscan order, used as a place of worship by the British and a marvellous concert hall nowadays; the two castles, protecting Havana Harbour from invasion and built in the 16th century – Castillo De Los Tres Reyes Del Morro on the North-East side and the Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta; the Church of San Francisco de Paula – great sample of Cuban Baroque from 18th century with Spanish architecture features and beautiful stained glass windows and many more.
Other interesting museums to visit in Havana are the Museum of the City, that displays important pieces linked to the colonial period and Cuba’s struggles to gain independence. The Museum of Decorative Arts is an opulent mansion that belonged to one of the richest families in Cuba and is a masterclass in interior design. The Napoleon Museum hosts a collection of object linked to Napoleon’s life and the French Revolution during the Second Empire. The Rum Museum is a distillery museum where you can get familiar with the production of Cuban rum, mainly the top brand of Cuba – Havana club. A typical tour of the museum ends with rum shots at the bar.
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