Updated: Sep 22, 2022
Plaza de Armas. Havana’s oldest plaza is surrounded by restaurants and numerous secondhand book stands. Photo by Greg Shapiro.
Greg Shapiro is a guest blogger for Travel Like an Architect. Rob and Lynn met Greg in May of 2016 on the fathom Adonia. We were lucky enough to be the second cruise ship (Greg was on the first also) in over 50 years to sail to Cuba.
Greg is a millennial travel hacker, an expert at packing lots of fun into short periods of time. From backpacking South America to sailing around the world, he’s visited over 35 countries and counting.
5 Things Cruise Lines Won’t Tell You about Cuba! Of all the ports I’ve sailed into as a crew member, Havana is my favorite. I fell in love with the city while working as a guide on the first round of Cuba cruises. We were the only ship from the United States, with just 700 passengers every 2 weeks. This summer is the beginning of a new era for Havana. If you’re considering a cruise to Cuba, don’t hesitate! But make sure you follow my insider tips to get the most out of your visit. And, if you’re looking for a quick and easy read, checkout my cruise-friendly guide 12 Hours in Havana.
A Sunset View towards Havana, Cuba from one of the garitas, (dome-covered sentry boxes), at the fort. Photo by Greg Shapiro.
#1- Don’t miss the sail in: Sailing into Havana is like going back in time. On the port side of the ship, you’ll get up close and personal with the Morro Castle as you sail through the narrow harbor. On the starboard side, you’ll enjoy a panoramic view of hustle and bustle of central Havana, Art Deco facades, classic cars, and pedestrian traffic on the Malécon, Cuba’s ocean-front boulevard. Get a good spot on the top deck early in the morning and bring your binoculars.
Castillo de los Tres Reyes Magos del Morro, is named after the three biblical Magi. El Morro guards the entrance to Havana bay in Havana, Cuba. The design was drawn up by the Italian engineer Juan Bautista Antonelli;
#2- Carry a lot of water with you: It’s going to be a long, sweaty day and you need water by your side. I suggest investing in a 40 oz. Hydroflask. Fill it with ice and water from the ship before disembark. You’ll have cold water for 12+ hours and create less waste from buying and disposing plastic bottles.
One reason Belles World Travel HIGHLY recommends Cruise Travel for a visit to Cuba is WATER!!!!
Havanatours supplied PLENTY of “Cuban” water during our People to People organized tours.
For more information on Cruises to Cuba <click here>
#3- Don’t get stuck in the line to exchange money: Your credit and debit cards from the United States likely won’t work in Cuba so you’ll need to exchange money…and so does everyone else. Either get off the ship before you’re fellow cruisers, or get stuck in an hour long backup at the exchange booths in the cruise terminal. Another option is to exchange money at the San José Artisans Market down the street. Save money: Make sure you bring Euros, Pounds, or Canadian Dollars to avoid the extra 10% exchange fee on United States Dollars. To learn more about the Basics of Cuban Currency Exchange, <click here>.
#4- Get away from the bus: Tours are great, but let’s face it, you spend more time stuck on a bus than you do immersing in the local culture. Budget some time in your schedule to stroll around the Plazas of Old Havana or visit a museum near Parque Central. Just make sure you check the “self-guided” box when you fill out your affidavit. This means that you agree to document the educational and cultural activities you do while you’re in Cuba. Lynn and Rob suggest a side trip UP the Bell Tower of the Cathedral. The gallery below are all photos by Greg Shapiro-off the bus and Immersing Himself in the Cuban Culture.
#5- Do some research beforehand: Enrichment presentations can be hit or miss, so don’t wait until you’re onboard to start thinking about Cuban politics and culture. This doesn’t mean you have to bury your head in a long history book. Rent the movie Una Noche. It’s a thriller about teenagers who try and escape Havana on a homemade raft.
12 Hours in Havana is a user-friendly guide that makes exploring Cuba’s capital easy, fun, and inexpensive. It organizes Havana’s best attractions, restaurants, and shops into convenient itineraries that you can download to your smartphone. Get the ultimate inside scoop from a guide who has led travelers on countless day-trips around the city. Available on Amazon. Just click the preceding “Amazon” link.
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