Tourism in Havana

Havana Vieja (Old Havana) is polished, nicely cobbled, and touristy. Rather than beggars, you find jaunty old men with giant cigars eager to pose for a dollar. Rather than begging, panhandlers find an excuse to make business. The old center is built around five Colonial Age plazas. The most historic square, Plaza de Armas, celebrates the founding of the city in 1519. These squares are decorated with modern art and ringed by inviting bars with tables spilling out onto the cobbles. Signs and furniture feel like everything just opened up last year (which is often the case). This is the tourist-friendly zone — appealing and fun, but not giving an honest look at the character and economic metabolism of Havana.

Cuban man with cigar Rick Steves and Cuban man with cigars Modern art Plaza de Armas Cuban musician

As is the case in many developing countries, Western tourists gather in the most Western-friendly hotel, where they can get online, arrange tours, enjoy food that feels safe to eat, and interact with well-dressed, English-speaking locals. The Hotel Inglaterra, across the street from the iconic capitol building, is the favorite — constantly filled with tourists struggling to catch a little of the fleeting local Wi-Fi.


Our guide walked us to the obvious tourist attractions, which included colorful Afro-Cuban culture expressed by joyful dancing and religious sects that mix Christianity with African religions that came over with the slaves.

Tourist bus

Tourism is ramping up in Havana, and in a few major stops in Cuba beyond the capital city. This hop-on, hop-off bus tour ($5 for a two-hour loop with a live guide, runs three per hour) is like any you’d find in Europe — but at a fifth the price.


9 Replies to “Tourism in Havana”

  1. I’d be happy to carry my RS backpack and join you. Send me a ticket and visa, I want to get out of 4 feet of snow~~kkk

  2. Great to read your blog Rick. My husband and I did a cruise around Cuba a year ago. This is a great way to see the different parts of the country and the shore excursions were ‘local friendly’ providing employment for the people of Cuba. Personally I think there is the opportunity for the people of Cuba to excell in the area of solar power and organic farming. We visited an organic farm in Houlguin province and I believe with support this is the way to go for them. The city of Santiago is very interesting for those interested in the revolution. Cienfuegos is a beautiful city in terms of architecture, with some very ornate building. The beautiful white beaches on the Caribbean side are lovely and mostly deserted.

  3. Dear Rick. As a save traveller you must have realized that what you saw in the ‘tourist part’ or Havana was what they wanted you to see: Happy people…. I left Cuba 46 years ago and haven’t been back since then, not planning on going now. The Cuba I knew, where I grew up happy, its not there anymore…. That La Habana Vieja you visit is a sad example of what have happened to such a beautiful, cosmopolitan city it was. You might now have noticed, but some of the old 1700 Arquitecture around La Catedral have their facades painted and sometimes upheld to give the idea of being ‘restored’ . I am sure you saw the dilapidated state of dirty the buildings. Patty you were not able to enjoy the beautiful city it was once. And evidently the people you spoke to were either afraid to tell you the reality or sympathizers of the regime. Sorry, do not mean to criticize your visit or anything like that. It just hurts too much to see my beautiful country reduced to what it is now. I prefer to close my eyes and remember what i engraved in my mind just in the days before I left (Freedom Flights).. Thanks for reading my words of sorrow…..

  4. Rick,
    thanks for your article. I am also appasionated with travels, that is the reason why I am a local tourguide in the Basque Country, Spain. Happy to see that you are in Cuba now! I have just come from my 5th travel to Cuba last week. I am travelling there for more than 15 years. For me Cuba is not just cigars, rum, vintage cars and Old Havana. The most beautiful of Cuba is their people, with their values of solidarity, generosity and their way to enjoy every detail of life. I have been lucky enough not to visit just the touristic places, but to live with Cuban families, where you can find different opinions for the same fact. Each Cuban has a different view of his country, but most of them are very proud of their country, including many of the Cubans that I know living outside Cuba.
    Cuba and the Cubans give me feelings that I did not find in any of the other 50 countries that I have visited. That is why I am working to develop a tourism business there. Cuba is a country which has all the key elements to be an excellent touristic destination and it has also a social and cultural richness that provides a special charm to make the touristic experience to become a life experience.
    Enjoy Cuba!

    Aitor Delgado

  5. Hello,good review, but a few points to add:
    The music heard is not Salsa, it is Afro-Cuban. The younger generation often calls their music salsa as a” size fits all” There is too much goings on about the cars, much more should be discussed about the rich heritage, the arts, the museums, the food and much more!!!
    Finally the spirit of the Cuban people is none like any other on this planet, and there are many reasons for this. You, Mr. Rick Steves should discuss this when you can.

  6. Dear Rick, I am one American excited that I will be able to visit Cuba the first week of December. I sent you a tweet when you had the seminars about European travel, which I enjoyed mucho. If you are planning to do tours in Cuba, please let me know as soon as you start promotions. Every year since I was teaching. I have been invited to a film festival in Havana the first week of December, but I could not attend until now. This year, the good Lord willing, I shall visit Havana the first week of December. Happy trails to you.

  7. I’m enjoying your blog posts about Cuba. I’m headed there in 3 weeks to take a cruise around the island much like Marg and her husband did per her on post on 2/5/16. The ship I’ll be on holds only 42 passengers. I don’t usually like touristy spots but prefer to mingle with the locals in their neighborhoods. Do you feel safe in Cuba particularly Havana? Note I’m a 60 year old woman traveling alone.

  8. Dear Rick,
    I’m so sorry that we missed you around Cuba. We just returned from a wonderful trip to Havana and Varadara. The sights and sounds from this very proud and colorful country was amazing. I look forward to your Cuban guide. I will be back to this great country. I just hope that as the embargo is slowly lifted, all the people of Cuba can continue to improve their quality of life. We tipped a cab driver 10 CUC, the man hugged my husband and had tears In his eyes.

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