Havana, the vibrant capital of Cuba, is a city that captivates the senses with its rich history, colorful architecture, lively music and delicious cuisine. If you find yourself with only 48 hours to explore this fascinating city, fear not! With careful planning and a sense of adventure, you can make the most of your limited time in Havana.
I was spending 3 months or more in Cuba per trip. And you will find longer itineraries for Havana on this site if you have more time to spend in Havana. Yet now that I’ve moved to Bogotá, Havana is only a short flight away.
As a weekend getaway from Bogotá, Medellín, Miami or any of the surrounding countries, I believe Havana is the perfect destination. With 48 hours in Havana you can have an extremely cheap and exciting weekend break.
In this ultimate guide to 48 hours in Havana, I will walk you through the best things to do, where to eat and how to navigate the city like a local. So, let’s dive in and discover how to spend an unforgettable 48 hours in Havana!
How to spend 48 hours in Havana Cuba?
Before embarking on your journey, there are a few essentials you need to sort out. While you will obviously need to book your flights and accommodation, most people forget to pre-book transfers from Havana’s José Martí International Airport, which is a big mistake.
Yet for Cuba you will also need a visa, travelers medical insurance and a VPN to access the internet in Cuba. And you will need to carry enough cash for the duration of your stay.
Here’s a quick and easy explanation of everything you need for your 48 hours in Havana.
Visa Requirements for Cuba
For a hassle-free trip, ensure that you secure a Cuban visa. Many airlines offer visa services and will sell you the Cuban visa when you arrive at the airport for $25 USD. But it’s advisable to check your airlines visa policies beforehand. You might also want to consider ordering your visa online from the embassy in your country to avoid any last-minute rush.
Travelers Medical Insurance For Cuba
Another crucial requirement is travelers medical insurance. Cuban law mandates that all visitors have valid travel insurance that covers Cuba. If you arrive in Cuba without travelers medical insurance or can’t produce a valid insurance policy when asked, Cuba will make you buy their own expensive (and useless) policy.
Having medical insurance while in Havana ensures that you are protected in case of any medical emergencies or unforeseen circumstances during your trip. Be sure to arrange a travel insurance policy that covers the entire duration of your stay in Cuba.
I get all my policies for Cuba from www.visitorscoverage.com. Visit Visitors Coverage or use the widget below.
Do not travel to Havana without A VPN
If you’re planning to use social media or messaging applications, online banking or visit basically any website that isn’t Cuban, you will need a VPN. Most websites, banking, social media and messaging applications are blocked in Cuba.
My strong advice to you, is don’t travel to Cuba without a VPN.
I use and recommend NordVPN for Cuba. I’ve spent months in Havana on each of my trips and NordVPN has never let me down (unlike other VPN services). With NordVPN in Havana I could access all websites, social media and messaging applications and I could use my online banking.
NordVPN is available at www.nordvpn.com or click the banner below.
Cheap Direct Flights To Havana
Obviously, unless you plan on paddling to Cuba on a leaky little boat or you are coming into Havana via a cruise ship, you will need an airline ticket. It’s a requirement under Cuban law for tourists to have a round trip booked.
I get all of my tickets from two sources. And I recommend you check both. What I use are OMIO, a German owned and operated booking engine and WayAway, which is owned and operated by Travel Payouts.
Accommodation in Havana
In Havana, you are spoilt for choice when it comes to accommodation. One unique option is staying in a ‘casa particular’ or a guesthouse. These are locally run, giving you a chance to witness the authentic Cuban lifestyle. And they can be booked using Airbnb if you have NordVPN.
If you prefer hotels, consider booking a 4* or 5* hotel. Despite their unconventional style, these hotels have a unique charm that adds to the Havana experience. I recommend looking at the Hotel Inglaterra and the Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski in Old Havana. As they’re right on the plaza (Parque Central) and close to all the old town sites.
Yet I choose to stay in Vedado. And I recommend the suburb of Vedado over Old Havana. Personally, I visit Old Havana for sightseeing but wouldn’t stay there again. It smells and is noisy 24/7. It also has the highest density of ‘jineteros’ (scammers) in the city.
Vedado has a much more laid back vibe. And it’s only a 5-10 minute taxi or La Nave (Cuba’s Uber) ride to Old Havana. Vedado is also more central if you’re going to be exploring Havana’s nightlife and fine dining.
In Vedado, I recommend you look at Hotel Capri and Hotel Nacional de Cuba. With the Hotel Nacional being the most historical hotel, but it also has the best pool. Just don’t stay at the Tryp Hotel Habana Libre, the former Hilton.
Pre-Book Your Airport Transfers for Havana
Once you know your flight details and have booked your accommodations, you should pre-book an airport transfer. It will be cheaper and more comfortable than taking a taxi from Havana’s José Martí International Airport.
Most first time visitors to Havana make the mistake of not pre-booking an airport transfer and wind up being over charged for a ride to town by the taxis. The taxis in Havana and the rest of Cuba are not what you’re used to in other parts of the world.
Taxis in Havana have no meters. There are no set prices and what they quote you will be based on how much money they think they can get from you, the tourist. Taxis from the airport will want to be paid in foreign currency and will start by quoting high prices of $50 or more.
But if you have Spanish language skills and can negotiate you can usually get them down to around $25 USD. They will then take you to your hotel in a soviet era Lada that may or may not have a functional exhaust and 3 out of 4 wheel nuts.
Conversely, you could have a pre-booked airport transfer waiting for you on arrival for $25 USD or less per person. The driver will speak English and the vehicle will be modern and comfortable, with air-conditioning.
With a pre-booked airport transfer, the driver will load and unload your luggage and you will be chauffeured directly to your accommodation in complete comfort.
Currency Exchange in Havana
Given the American embargo on Cuba, it’s advisable to carry enough USD or Euros to last your entire trip. There are no functional ATMs, and most places don’t accept credit cards. If your bank does business in the United States, it most likely won’t work in Cuba.
Only a select few Canadian, German, middle eastern and asian bank cards work in Cuba. But even if your bank cards did work, you wouldn’t want to use them in Havana. You will get twice the government exchange rate by exchanging cash.
When you arrive, you should avoid exchanging your USD or Euros for Cuban CUP at the airport. And remember, there is no longer a dual currency system in Cuba – tourists and locals all use CUP.
Day 1: Arrival and Cultural Immersion
Arrival at Havana Airport and Airport Transfers
Your journey begins as you arrive at Havana Airport, ready to embark on your 48-hour adventure in Havana. After clearing customs and collecting your luggage, you’ll need to arrange transportation to your accommodation if you haven’t already done so.
There are a few options to get into Havana from José Martí International Airport. These include taxis and La Nave (Cuba’s Uber). But if you prefer convenience, comfort and want to save some money, booking a private transfer in advance is highly recommended. This way, you can relax and enjoy the ride to your hotel without any hassle.
Checking into Your Havana Accommodation
Once you arrive at your hotel or casa particular, it’s time to check in and settle into your home away from home. To check-in you will need to show your airbnb host or hotel your passport and be registered at your accommodation.
It’s a requirement under Cuban law that all foreigners be registered at their accommodation. But don’t worry, this only takes a few minutes. And while they’re registering you at your address, you can drop your bags in your room and get ready to start your 48 hours of exploration in Havana.
Morning: Exploring Old Havana (Habana Vieja)
Now that you’re settled in, it’s time to start exploring the heart and soul of Havana – Old Havana. Also called Habana Vieja in the local Spanish.
This UNESCO World Heritage site is a treasure trove of history, architecture and culture. Start your journey by strolling along the cobbled streets around Plaza de la Catedral, where you’ll find the impressive Havana Cathedral. Admire its stunning baroque facade and step inside to marvel at the intricate details of the interior.
As you continue your walk through Old Havana, don’t miss the iconic Plaza de Armas, the oldest square in the city. This charming plaza is surrounded by historic buildings, including the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales, which now houses the City Museum. And the Castillo de la Real Fuerza, a 16th century star shaped fort surrounded by a moat.
Take a moment to rest on one of the benches in the Plaza de Armas and soak in the vibrant atmosphere of this bustling square. Before visiting El Templete, a monument in the shape of a greek temple that features oil paintings, marking the founding of Havana.
As you circle back through Old Havana (Habana Vieja) you should stop by Plaza de San Francisco de Asís. This plaza is home to the St. Francisco de Asís Basilica, a 16th century Franciscan convent. And the statue El Caballero de Paris, a monument to El Caballero de Paris, a cult figure in Havana during the 1940’s and 50’s. It’s considered good luck to rub his beard and get a photo with his statue.
Lunch: Indulge in Havana Street Food
As the sun gets high in the sky, Old Havana gets hot and sticky. And by this time you should be getting hungry. Exploring a city is not complete without indulging in its local cuisine, and Havana is no exception.
One of the best ways to experience the flavors of Havana is by embarking on a street food tour. For a late lunch, I recommend taking the Havana Street Food Tour which starts in Old Havana’s Parque Central, by the Hotel Inglaterra.
The Havana Street Food Tour is run a by a collective of Havana foodies who all speak perfect English. And it will allow you to discover the hidden gems of Havana’s street food scene.
From savory empanadas to sweet churros, you’ll find a wide variety of delicious treats to satisfy your taste buds. Yet you’ll also learn that Havana’s culinary scene encompasses far more than just the famous Cuban sandwich.
When I took the tour one of the highlights for me was learning about how seasonality and shortages affect Cuban cuisine. With different ingredients substituted into popular dishes when key ingredients become unavailable.
Afternoon: Visit Capitolio Nacional de Cuba (El Capitolio)
Similar to the United States Capitol building, but one meter larger in all dimensions (height, width, depth), El Capitolio, the Cuban National Capitol building that was once home to the Cuban senate, is a must see attraction in Havana.
Cuba’s National Capitol building houses the worlds third largest statue after the Abraham Lincoln memorial. Its entrance stone marks kilometre zero for Cuba and was originally inlaid with a 5g, 25 carat diamond said to have belonged to Tsar Nicholas II of Russia. The original diamond has been replaced with a replica, but it’s still a sight to behold.
Be sure to see the Capitolio Nacional de Cuba by both day and night. The Capitolio Nacional de Cuba and the hotels surrounding Parque Central across the road are beautifully illuminated at night.
Note: If you’re starting your day near Parque Central, you can visit El Capitolio before wandering into Old Havana. And if you want to take a tour of the interior you should check times and availability in advance. But a word of advice, Cuba’s attractions never adhere to their advertised schedules.
Evening: Sunset Over The Malecón and Dinner at La Guarida
Start your evening by watching the sun set over Cuba from either the Malecón, the 8km (5 mile) long sea wall referred to as the ‘lounge room of Havana’. Or get to La Guarida early and watch the sunset over Havana and the Malecón from La Guardia’s roof top bar.
Personally, I’ve done both more times than I can count. And both are spectacular options for sunset in Havana. But if I had to choose just one option, I would opt to watch sunset from the rooftop bar of La Guarida. As the sun sets, Havana’s ‘golden hour’ really is golden. Because the sky looks like it’s almost on fire.
If you decide to watch the sun set over Havana from the Malecón, you should grab yourself a spot around Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta. Another 16th century star shaped fort at the Old Havana end of the Malecón. From Castillo de San Salvador you will be able to watch the sun set over Havana and the Hotel Nacional at the far end.
If you decide to watch sunset from La Guardia’s rooftop bar before dinner, you will be able to see the sun set over most of Havana, including over El Capitolio. Which reflects the sun from its golden roof top panels. And looking down on Old Havana before night descends on Havana, gives you another unique perspective on this city.
Once the sun has descended over Havana, settle down for dinner at La Guarida, Cuba’s most iconic restaurant. La Guarida was the setting for the only Cuban movie to ever be nominated for an Oscar, ‘Strawberry and Chocolate’.
La Guarida has hosted celebrities from all over the world. Including Robert De Niro and Obama. And its location, setting and food are all superb. Reservations are necessary for La Guarida.
Note: If La Guarida has no availability or is booked out, there are many other restaurant options in Havana. Checkout my foodies guide to the best restaurants in Havana.
Night: Immerse Yourself in Cuban Art and Music at Fábrica de Arte Cubano (FAC)
No visit to Havana is complete without experiencing its vibrant art and music scene. After dinner, head to Fábrica de Arte Cubano (FAC), a former cooking oil factory turned into a multi-disciplinary art space.
This unique venue showcases the best of contemporary Cuban art, music, dance and theater. Explore the different galleries, enjoy live performances and dance the night away to the rhythms of Cuban music. FAC is a true cultural hub that brings together artists and art enthusiasts from all over the world.
Day 2: History, Culture and Exploring Beyond Old Havana
Breakfast: Head To The Havana Suburb Of Vedado For Breakfast
After a night of partying in Fábrica De Arte Cubano (FAC), you’re going to need some strong Cuban coffee and a hearty breakfast. Your two best options are both in the Havana suburb of Vedado.
They are Boné Ma, a western style coffee shop with a hearty English breakfast. And El Cimarrón, a uniquely Cuban establishment with the best muesli, bread, spreads and organic produce. Everything at El Cimarrón is organic, boutique and locally sourced.
Now, which spot you choose for breakfast is going to depend on just how hungover you are. On a scale of 1 to WTF happened last night, anything over a 5 and you should visit Boné Ma for the English breakfast. If you had an enjoyable night and didn’t overdo it with the rum and cigars, you should visit El Cimarrón for breakfast.
El Cimarrón is set in an old colonial house on a quiet suburban street in Vedado and it also functions as a kind of art project space and speak easy. El Cimarrón teaches local Afro-Caribbean dance, capoeira and holds artsy events. It’s a fantastic spot away from the noise and chaos typically associated with Havana.
Morning: Explore the Historic Colon Cemetery
After breakfast, start your second day in Havana with a visit to the historic Colon Cemetery (Necrópolis Cristóbal Colón), one of the largest and most beautiful cemeteries in the world. It’s only second in Latin America to Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires.
This architectural masterpiece is a testament to Havana’s rich history and features elaborate mausoleums, statues and ornate tombstones. Take a leisurely stroll through the cemetery and admire the artistry and craftsmanship of the monuments.
Don’t miss the stunning marble statue of La Milagrosa, a symbol of hope and faith. Or the tombs of legal fraternities, which are perhaps admissible as evidence that lawyers do go to heaven.
However the tomb that stands out most to me, is that of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, the most awarded diplomat of all time. Yet it’s the ‘Grave of Loyalty’ that is one of the more important to the Cubans.
Mid-Morning: Discover the Colorful Neighborhood of Vedado
After immersing yourself in history at the Colon Cemetery, it’s time to explore the vibrant neighborhood of Vedado. This bustling district is known for its wide boulevards, stunning mansions and lively nightlife (as you found out the night before).
Now, there are five (5) main points of interest you should visit in Vedado after the Necrópolis Cristóbal Colón. They are the Museo de Artes Decorativas, Callejón de Hamel, John Lennon Park, Hotel Nacional and the Plaza de la Revolución.
With the exception of the Museo de Artes Decorativas, all are outdoors and free. But they are spread all over Vedado. Which is quite a big suburb and would eat up a large chunk of time on your last day if you were walking between sites. That’s why I suggest booking an Havana classic car tour.
My suggestion is to visit the Museo de Artes Decorativas after the Colon Cemetery as it’s only a short walk. And if like me you’re into antiques, I would ask the workers the Museo de Artes Decorativas where to find an underground antiques dealer nearby for a spot of souvenir shopping.
Once finished souvenir shopping, I would take an Havana classic car tour. The Havana classic car tour is 2 hours in length. And it allows you to see the sights you choose.
When I took the Havana classic car tour below, I set my own itinerary and was able to stop at each of the sites I’d chosen and take photos. It’s the perfect mode of transport to see the remaining sites on this list.
You can set the pickup and drop off location. So after touring Callejón de Hamel, John Lennon Park, Hotel Nacional and the Plaza de la Revolución, you can have the driver drop you off at a restaurant of your choice for lunch.
Late Lunch: Indulge in Cuban Cuisine – Spoilt For Choice
Treat yourself to a late lunch at Casa Mia Paladar, Costa Vino or one of the other fantastic restaurants with ocean views. Based on its location in Vedado, nearby to the other attractions and its spectacular seaside position along the malecón, Casa Mia would my first choice.
Bookings are essential for Casa Mia Paladar.
Afternoon: See a different side of Havana
After lunch, wander through Vedado or along the malecón. Or, if time allows, take a taxi or La Nave ride across the harbour to Castillo De Los Tres Reyes Del Morro and see Havana from a different side.
On the opposite side of the harbour from Old Havana, you’ll not only find Morro Castle, but also la Cabaña de Che, El Cristo de La Habana (Christ of Havana) and the dreaded la Cabaña (Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña).
Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña, or la Cabaña as it’s known, was the prison and final setting for the revolutionary trials and the executions that took place following the revolution.
All of the complexes on the opposite side of the harbour are large. But there isn’t a lot to see and do. The main drawcard for this side of the harbour is the view over Havana that it provides.
Evening: Enjoy Sunset Cocktails at Paseo Marítimo
As the day draws to a close, hop in a final taxi or La Nave and make your way back to Paseo Marítimo (1ra y 70) to enjoy a breathtaking sunset over the sea. Paseo Marítimo is a tiki inspired container village on the waterfront in Miramar.
Unlike other establishments in Havana, Paseo Marítimo is not a single bar. But rather it’s a collection of bars, each with a slightly different vibe. Grab a spot up high, order a cocktail and kickback to watch sunset over the ocean.
As the sky transforms into a palette of vibrant colors, this is the perfect time to reflect on your 48 hours in Havana. And soak in the beauty and charm of this captivating city.
Departure and Farewell to Havana
As your 48 hours in Havana come to an end, it’s time to bid farewell to this enchanting city. Take a moment to savor one last Cuban breakfast, perhaps enjoying a freshly baked pastry, cup of strong Cuban coffee and a cigar.
Reflect on the memories you’ve made during your short but unforgettable stay in Havana. Whether it’s the vibrant music, the colorful architecture or the warmth of the Cuban people, Havana has left an indelible mark on your heart.
As you board your flight, carry the spirit of Havana with you and cherish the memories of your time in this extraordinary city.
Havana, with its rich history, vibrant culture and warm hospitality, is a city that will captivate and inspire you. With this ultimate guide, you now have the tools to make the most of your 48 hours in Havana.
So pack your bags, book your flights, get your travel insurance and your VPN. And don’t forget to book your tours in advance, particularly in peak season. Then get ready to embrace the rhythm of the Cuban capital. An unforgettable adventure in Havana, the heart of Cuba, awaits you!
Where Can I Get More Information About Cuba?
I’ve made my Complete Guide To Traveling Cuba available on this website. And I recommend you read it before traveling to Cuba. It will help you navigate Cuba and Cuban society.
My Complete Guide To Cuba will save you a lot of time and a significant amount of money on your trip to Cuba. Cuba is not the sort of destination where you can just arrive unprepared.
Read the most Complete Guide To Traveling Cuba here.