Why go to Havana?
Classic cars, picturesque architecture, local music, Hemingway history -- Havana IS Cuba
U.S. currency exchange carries a premium
Cuba's capital is a must-see for visual splendor and cultural catharsis; allow several days
Havana Cruise Port Facilities?
Cruise ships dock at Terminal Sierra Maestra, and it's surprisingly modern inside. Since the cruise terminal is so centrally located (opposite Plaza de San Francisco in the old town), there's no reason to hang around the facility. The small souvenir shop on the first floor -- once selling only Cuban music CDs and postcards -- has upgraded to cigars and rum, if you need to grab something before your ship leaves. The terminal is also the best place to exchange your currency over to the CUC; just be sure to change any unwanted pesos back to dollars before the counter closes -- typically around 8 p.m.
Good to Know?
Havana is a peaceful and safe city. That being said, take precautions against pickpockets and petty crimes: Do not wear lots of jewelry; avoid handling cash in plain view; keep valuables safe or, better yet, on the ship.
There are no beggars as such, but you might encounter hassles from so-called jiniteros, who are young men who will follow tourists and offer them anything from taxis to girls to a ubiquitous "cigar sale" (depending on your inclination). The best advice is a firm no, and they will move away to hassle someone else.
In many plaza and tourist areas, men and women dress in local costumes and ask for change in exchange for having their photos taken. In addition, be careful of those trying to sell cigars and rum on the streets. Often, the products are fake or of an inferior quality.
In addition, because of restrictions on locals changing currency, be wary of those asking to exchange money. The currency they try to exchange with you may be counterfeit.
Prostitution is rampant in Havana and completely in your face, but it is illegal. And, be warned that the government is not tolerant of any guns or drugs, so buying even a tiny bit of marijuana can lead to significant trouble with the law.
On Foot: Traffic has picked up in Havana in recent years, but there are several pedestrian zones: La Plaza Vieja, La Calle Obispo and La Plaza de Armas, among others. In addition, the 4-mile seafront malecon and the central marble promenade of Calle de Prado will entice and delight walkers. (Note that many of the streets in Havana are cobblestoned and/or lack conveniences for wheelchairs and scooters.)
By Taxi: Official taxis are metered and widely available at a number of taxi stands throughout the city. Official taxi services feature newer vehicles with official taxi logos on the side, uniformed drivers and, usually, air-conditioning. An hourly price of about 10 to 15 CUC can be negotiated with drivers. Numerous unofficial taxis are not metered or insured. Be sure to negotiate a price in advance. Also note that similar to Uber Pool in the States, some of these older taxis can fit a surprising amount of people inside; it reduces the rate and might spark a new friendship, but is maybe not the most comfortable way to travel.
By Classic Car: In addition to taxis (and a lot more fun), you can hail one of the vintage cars, which in recent years have become official taxis. The rate is the same, and if you can put up with the split leather seats and heat (many are open-air), they are a much more interesting way to see the city. This is a must-do while in Havana -- the range of these classic American vehicles is staggering, and owners treat the cars -- passed down from generation to generation -- as a family member. After all, this is a primary source of income for many in the city.
By CocoTaxi: These bright yellow, three-wheeled, open-air vehicles carry two passengers and the driver. They are a fun alternative for short trips, but they aren't metered, so be sure to establish a price in advance. You'll also find more standard pedi-cabs if you're not interested in riding inside what appears to be a lemon.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money?
Two currencies circulate in Cuba.
The peso nacional, or peso Cubano (CUP), is used by locals and is virtually worthless to tourists (except for use in public phones, local buses and some cinemas).
The peso convertible (CUC) is currency used by tourists, and you can buy just about everything with it. It is pegged to the U.S. dollar, but note when you exchange it at the official exchange bureau, they will take a 10 percent commission. U.S. dollars are the only currency subject to the commission, and so you are better off bringing euros, British pounds or Canadian dollars. Also important to note that you can't buy Cuban currency before you leave the States, and it can't be exchanged back once you return.
Credit and debit cards and traveler's checks issued by U.S. banks are not accepted in Cuba, and other credit cards incur transaction fees of between 7 and 11 percent. Some establishments will accept Canadian dollars or euros.
Money can be exchanged at official Casa de Cambio (CADECA) locations throughout the city and at the airport. Check online before your visit for current exchange rates.