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Havana Travel Guide

Situated on the north coast of the island, and built around a natural harbour, Havana (La Habana) is one of the most lively and colourful cities in the Caribbean. Much of the city's charm can be found among the narrow, derelict streets packed with crumbling buildings and fascinating people. Every open door and overhanging balcony allows glimpses of rocking chairs and colourful washing, accompanied by strains of music. On the streets Chinese-made bicycles, yellow, egg-shaped coco-taxis and two-humped camello (camel) buses weave among the melee of 1950s Chevy's and Russian Ladas.

The historic old town, Habana Vieja or Colonial Havana, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and fast becoming a major tourist destination. The Spanish left behind some superb colonial architecture, and many of the great buildings and grand plazas are being restored to their former glory. Central Havana (Centro Habana) boasts some of the most important museums and architectural highlights, including the Revolution Museum, and the National Capitol, resembling the US Capitol Building in Washington DC. The trendy suburb of Vedado boasts high-rise buildings and modern hotels, and draws locals and visitors alike with its theatres, art galleries, restaurants, cafes, and cabaret shows; however most of the city's sights are in Habana Vieja and Centro Habana. The five-mile (8km) seawall, or malecón, stretches from Vedado to Habana Vieja, and is lined with architectural gems in various states of dilapidation or restoration.

Havana's nightlife will exhaust even the most seasoned partygoer. After dark, nightclubs and bars come alive and the famous rum cocktails flow freely. The city has plenty of cultural entertainment too, and its fair share of monuments, museums and statues. For those travellers needing rest from all this activity, the stunning beaches are only twenty minutes east of the city.

Getting Around

Cubans rely heavily on an unreliable bus system that is cheap but overcrowded and slow with long queues and inconsistent routes and schedules. Large buses called 'camellos' (camels, for their two humps) are pulled by truck engines and are particularly crowded, but very cheap (20 centavos). Most visitors to Havana avoid the buses and rely instead on numerous, inexpensive taxis to get around the greater part of the city. Renting a car is not the best option as car hire is expensive, roads are not well sign-posted, and numerous one-way streets make driving a real challenge. Different types of taxis cruise the streets, including tourist taxis, two-seater bici-taxis, colectivos (classic vintage cars) and the yellow scooter coco-taxis. Most tourist taxis are air conditioned, metered and well maintained and charge in Convertible Pesos, but there are also vintage car owners who operate as unofficial taxis, although a rate should be negotiated beforehand as passengers are likely to be overcharged. Bici-taxis, coco-taxis and colectivos are officially not supposed to take tourists. A couple of vintage cars can be hired by tourists for tours around the city and can be found outside main tourist attractions like the Revolution Museum or the Capitolio. It is not generally difficult or expensive to get around in Havana, and it is a wonderful walking city when it comes to shorter distances.

Customs

Visitors should address Cuban men as 'señor' and women as 'señora'. While many Cubans will engage in political discussion and debate, it is not advised to criticise the government too vocally, and one should be respectful of revolutionary figures such as Fidel Castro and Ernesto 'Che' Guevara.

Passport/Visa

In lieu of a visa, a Tourist Card ("Tarjeta del Turista"), costing US$25 or equivalent, may be issued by tour operators, travel agents or airlines for a single-entry holiday trip of up to 30 days, provided land arrangements are pre-booked and paid. A return ticket or proof of onward travel is required, as well as sufficient funds to cover the period of intended stay in Cuba (US$50 or equivalent per day). All those entering Cuba must hold travel insurance to cover medical expenses, with coverage in Cuba, for the period of stay. NOTE: It is highly recommended that your passport has at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.

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