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Havana tours and excursions

Havana tours

Walking and bus tours

A guided tour is a great introduction to Old Havana and (comparatively) bucolic Vedado. Most walking tours begin at the Plaza de la Revolución, the centre of political life in Cuba. Many stroll through the narrow streets of Habana Vieja, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and explore the restored squares surrounded by splendid old colonial houses.

Havana city tours operate daily, most are subject to a minimum number of people. Clients are collected from their hotels. Two recommended operators are Havana Tour Company and Havana Urban Adventures. Private tours can also be arranged locally with English-speaking guides.

Tel: +53 5 307 0220; +53 5 338 7373.
Website: http://www.havanatourcompany.com

Tours in classic cars

History comes alive touring the city in a classic car. Take your pick from 1950s Cadillacs, Fords or Chevrolets – convertibles too – and cruise Havana in the coolest possible way. You can contract a car and driver from any number of vintage car operators, or strike a deal with a freelance taxi surrounding Parque Central.

Tel: +53 5 242 8987; +53 5 289 9155.
Website: http://www.oldcartours.com

Havana excursions

Finca Vigía (Hemingway's home)

In 1939, Ernest Hemingway bought this farmhouse 15km (9 miles) east of Havana in San Francisco de Paula. The house and grounds have been preserved as Hemingway left them. Visitors are only allowed to look through the windows (though a small tip to museum guards may help gain entrance). Bring a picnic to fully enjoy the verdant grounds. Nearby is the seaside village of Cojimar, where Hemingway kept his boat, the Pilar, (now dry-docked at Finca Vigía) and went fishing with Gregorio Fuentes, who inspired the title character in The Old Man and the Sea.

Tel: +53 7 860 1524.
Website: http://www.hemingwaycuba.com/finca-la-vigia.html

Viñales Valley

For pure natural beauty, Viñales Valley, with mogotes (limestone hills) rising up from the lush green valley floor, is unparalleled. Fertile Pinar del Río province is where Cuba's world-famous tobacco is cultivated and there are many local tobacco farms in the area to visit. Stop by the hotel Los Jazmines for a breathtaking view of Viñales Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage site, before rambling around the quirky, extraordinary Jardín de Caridad. Tours can be arranged at most hotel tourist desks. Viñales is three hours from Havana by car.

Website: http://pnvinales.webcindario.com

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Featured Hotels

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Parque Central Hotel

This well-situated, upscale hotel straddling Central Havana and Old Havana has been setting the standard for luxury lodging in the Cuban capital for years. In 2010, the Parque Central added 149 rooms in its new, chic La Torre building, further cementing its reputation as one of the city's best places to stay. Connected to the original building (with 277 rooms), La Torre is more low-key and the rooms fresher. The rooftop pool with panoramic city views is a real draw here.

Park View Hotel

A great location combines with a nice price to make the Park View a perennial favourite. Close to both the famous Museo de la Revolución and the exquisite Museo de Bellas Artes, this small Havana hotel provides a warm welcome to the city. Functional rather than fancy, rooms have air conditioning, satellite TV and a safe deposit box. The on-site restaurant has awesome city views and hotel staff are friendly.

Hotel Sevilla

One of the city's most striking examples of Moorish architecture (the façade and lobby, anyway), this historic hotel is a feast for the eyes, from the exotically tiled lobby to the sweeping city views from the Roof Garden Restaurant. Its location (steps from the Paseo del Prado, Gran Teatro and many museums) puts Havana's highlights at your beck and call. The rooms are rough around the edges, however; best to check one out before checking in. The lobby is always abuzz with live music, clinking cocktail glasses and laughter.

Hotel Santa Isabel

To date, the only (supposed) 5-star hotel in Old Havana's historic core, the Santa Isabel occupies a privileged spot on picturesque Plaza de Armas. The setting is charming, with many of the 27 rooms overlooking the Plaza or Havana Harbor, which is largely what attracts famous guests including Jimmy Carter and Robert Plant. However, like many historic buildings (this one dates from the 1700s), interiors can be dark and musty, plus hotel staff can be bristly and less than efficient.

Hotel Habana Riviera

Once upon a time, this hotel overlooking the Malecón was a major mobster hangout (it was built by infamous mafia kingpin Meyer Lansky) and everything from the retro, low-slung couches in the lobby to the legendary shows at The Copa Room cabaret throw back to that bygone era. Unfortunately, it can feel like the rooms haven't been updated since then. On the upside, even standard rooms are giant, each has city or sea views (go for one on the upper floors, with a balcony), and the windows actually open. The seawater pool here and lobby bar are attractions in themselves.

Hotel El Terral

One of Havana's newest properties, this boutique hotel is superbly perched overlooking the Malecón – and every room has a private balcony from which to appreciate the killer sea views. One guest says it's like being on a ship, you're that close to the water. So chic and popular is this place, you'll be lucky to land one of the 14 rooms. Doubly lucky are those that book a corner room (with two balconies) or one of the two suites each with long, deep terraces. The staff are friendly and pay meticulous attention to detail, plus you can walk to some excellent restaurants and sites.