You can easily walk around anywhere in Havana and it’s very safe. But there are an assortment of taxis if you don’t want to spend time walking. A classic car can cost you around 10-15 CUC to get from any two major points in the city, while a normal taxi can be 2-5 CUC. Most taxis have meters and if they don't, simply negotiate the rate before you get in. Even though we planned on utilizing taxis, we ended up walking everywhere for the 4 days that we were there. The streets and surrounding area of Old Havana are so enjoyable to walk through; fascinating old colonial architecture, street vendors and local artists singing & making music, colorful classic cars parked at each street corner, walking is the best way to see and get a feel for the city.
Definitely take the opportunity to drive around in a classic car for an hour or two, though. Arelis, our airbnb host, arranged a pink car for us to drive through the Malecon and around the outskirts of Old Havana. We stopped in revolutionary square, John Lennon Park, and near the famous National Hotel. You can book cars in advance online but we found it to be much cheaper to have a local organize it for us. We paid 40 CUC (about $13 each) for 2 hours of sightseeing around Havana.
I would also highly recommend downloading an app called ‘mapsme’. The app allows you to download city maps while connected to wifi or data service and use them offline anywhere in the world. Since Cuba has no wifi/service, this was primarily how we found our way around Havana.
Getting There (for US citizens):
Although the embargo has been loosened and Cuba-America relations have recently improved, it is still technically illegal for U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba for tourism. If you want to do it the right way, you need to fit your trip into one of the 12 approved categories or book through a tour agency (there are several online) and they will organize your entire itinerary and visa.
While there are individuals who enjoy being in a guided tour and find it an ideal way to visit a new place, I am not one of those individuals and would most always prefer to see a new place on my own terms. I knew there was a risk entering from the States as U.S. government regulations aren't very black and white. The 'Journalism' category seemed the best selection for me, but it was unclear if customs officials would need proof and how much of it. Because of that, we decided to enter Cuba through Cancun to avoid the possibility of getting denied entry.
Flying from Cancun to Havana is generally very cheap. My sister and I secured our tickets weeks before for $90 through skyscanner.net. While checking-in at the airport, a representative will collect the $25 tourist card fee and issue you a green slip which serves as your ticket into Cuba. We found the process to be very simple.
We weren't sure how getting back into the States would go since we had entered Cuba through Mexico, so we printed out our itinerary with specific journalistic activities to present to customs just incase. The customs official simply asked where we were traveling from and what we were bringing back with us. A smile, and a "welcome back home" later, and we were successfully back on U.S. soil. Easy peasy!
Another sort-of grey area that we encountered while researching online, was the Cuban currency. Here is a basic explanation of how to understand Cuban money: There are two currencies in Cuba, the CUC & the CUP. The CUC is the stronger of the two and matches 1-1 with the USD. The problem in Cuba, though, is that most places charge a 10-15% conversion fee. Because of this, it is best to enter Cuba with Canadian dollars instead of US. The second currency they use in Cuba, the CUP, is mainly used by locals to buy small items like fruits from the market. 1 CUP= 25 CUP.
How to distinguish between the two currencies?
You will need to make sure you know the difference to avoid getting ripped off when given change (we never had anyone actually try to do this to us, though). The easiest way to distinguish the two is CUC = pictures of monuments/statues, CUP = pictures of faces. The CUC will also state on each bill “convertible pesos”.
You can convert dollars to CUC at the airport once outside customs and baggage claim. The taxis at the airport cost 25-30 CUC to get into central Havana.
Questions about Cuba? Inquire below!