Where should I stay?
We stayed in Vedado and would recommend staying there. I think the best bet for tourists is either Vedado, select parts of Old Havana, or Playa. I would avoid Centro Habana. We walked through Centro Habana on our way from Vedado to Old Havana (on the north side one street in from the Malecon) and got a glimpse of the many buildings that look ready to fall. I've included a few pictures below to give you a feel for the areas.
What are the neighborhoods like?
- El Vedado – a safe, walkable, residential area with plenty of restaurants and a couple hotels including Hotel Nacional and Habana Libre. Not many tourist sites in the immediate area but a quick taxi ride or nice ~1 hour stroll along the Malecon to visit Old Havana.
- Old Havana (Habana Vieja) – The main tourist area is very busy and many buildings have been/are being renovated. Many shops, restaurants, museums, street vendors + performers, etc to keep you busy for a day or two. Be very careful if you stay here as many areas are run down and don't look so safe. We wandered down one street near the main tourist area and had to turn back.
- Playa / Miramar – west of Vedado, residential, wealthier area, farther from tourist sites, closer to beaches
- Centro Habana – a gritty area with many crumbling buildings. Not a place for tourists but still interesting to walk through during the day. Some reviews on tripadvisor say this is the “real” heart of Cuba. Check it out.
See Frommers for more info on these areas.
Havana Neighborhood Photos
Check out the photos from Vedado, Old Havana, and Centro Habana. We didn't spend much time in Playa, only our failed attempt to go see a show at Tropicana Cabaret.
Walk around Vedado and you'll see many beautiful large homes/mansions like this one… some needing more repairs than others.
This apartment building design must have been popular as we saw many buildings like this (though not all looking as good).
A free concert in Vedado along the Malecon!
Vedado is indeed a nice neighborhood…unfortunately, garbage gets thrown all over the place.
Old Havana (Habana Vieja)
Wandering the main tourist areas of Old Havana. This is Banco de Credito y Comercio (map).
Plaza Vieja (map)
A free art museum near Plaza Vieja (map) where we took refuge from the beaming sun.
Here are some photos from our walk from Vedado to Old Havana on San Lazaro (the north side close to the Malecon – see map)
How long should I stay?
We spent 6 nights in Vedado which was way too long. Looking back, I would have enjoyed 2 nights in Old Havana or Vedado and the rest elsewhere like Pinar del Rio (west) or Trinidad (east). Based on some advice, we didn't stay in Old Havana because we were unfamiliar with the area and most casas don't post the exact location. Though I'm in no hurry to return, for a second visit, I would spend all of my time in the countryside. For first time visitors, certainly spending a few days in Vedado/Old Havana are worthwhile…then head for the beaches or countryside.
My Cameras: These photos were taken using either my Canon S110 (newer model is S120) or my Sony a6000 (with this wide angle lens). The Canon is fits in my pocket and takes amazing pictures. The Sony packs the power of a full size DSLR while being small enough that I'm still willing to bring it!