On a recent flight from Havana to Toronto, I sat beside Dennis, a retired commercial pilot who was visiting Cuba for the first time. He had chosen Havana to experience Cuban culture and to see the sights in one of the biggest cities in the Caribbean.
While all inclusive packages are still, by far, the most popular type of vacation for Canadians, they can't give you the whole picture. I applaud Dennis for traveling off the beaten path - while he had a good experience overall, he did have some difficulties with the language and with getting around.
Whether you decide to book a week in a Havana hotel or merely want to come 'In for a day or two from Varadero or Cienfuegos, here is some advice for Canadians traveling on their own.
What to do in Havana
There are many wonderful parts of Havana to explore - the city's 8 km ocean walk called the Malec6n and up 23rd street in Vedado with the sloping part near the water known as La Rampa. Centro Habana has the Cal/ej6n de Hamel, an alleyway full of art, music, and dance which is featured in this magazine. Old Havana should be explored along the harbour road where you will find the Dos Hermanos Bar and the nearby Museum of Rum. Crossing through the heart of Old Havana is the pedestrians only Obispo Street with its many fascinating shops and cafes. Prado Street branches up from the Malec6n, past Cuba's Central Park and the Capitolio building, and has several hotels with sidewalk terraces, ideal for having lunch and watching the passing parade of old cars and interesting people.
There are numerous cafes, restaurants , bars, nightclubs, piano bars and dance clubs throughout Havana - too many to list in this article. We suggest that you visit www.cubaplus.ca and click on "What's On in Havana" to get updated listings of many of the city's best venues. There is something for everyone - whether you want to sit at a table and listen to great Latin jazz, or in a theatre box to catch world class ballet, or at a bar to listen to a talented Cuban trio or quartet, or a full on club to dance to Salsa or Reggaeton.
The best beach close to Havana is at Playa del Este or the East Beaches, a 20 minute drive under the tunnel and about $15 CUC by taxi. Each part of this long stretch has its own name and personality. For a quiet time with a family, you may want to go to Tarara or Megano. For a younger scene and bigger crowds, head for Santa Maria.
What to Bring to Cuba
Pack everything you might need - don't count on finding it locally. Definitely bring a sun hat and sun block. Bring an umbrella in case it rains and insect repellent in case there are mosquitoes. Bring at least one sweater or a jacket during the winter as the evenings can be quite cool.