There are certain countries that you just know will be incredibly and unpleasantly expensive if you ever want to visit. But of course, on the flipside of that are all those other places where you can live like a king on your spare change. A large beer in a Parisian bar can cost you around €8 (approximately $11.20 in US Dollars), and yet in Berlin, just over the border, you can get a beer of the same size for around €1.50 (around $2.10 USD). Cuba is one of those countries that are in the middle, and you can easily spend a lot of money here. If you’re in the know, however, you can enjoy your time on this island paradise very inexpensively, and one of the major ways to cut costs is by making the most of the many free activities and places to visit in Havana.
1. Old Havana (La Habana Vieja)
The “Old Town” is a common fixture in many cities that have been in existence for centuries – a village type place made up of narrow streets, which was essentially the seed from which the rest of the city grew. Old Havana, or La Habana Vieja is truly something special, and is in fact a UNESCO World Heritage Site, founded in 1519. Interestingly, much of Old Havana was destroyed by pirate attacks, which is why the city fortifications were constructed, and these can still be seen today. You simply have to take a walk along the Avenida de Maceo, an 8km/5 mile walk along the ocean that takes you through all of Old Havana. A Old Havana walking tour with a local guide, is the perfect way to explore this city on a small budget.
2. Havana Cathedral
Part of Old Havana, and yet a worthy attraction in its own right is La Catedral de la Virgen María de la Concepción Inmaculada de La Habana, or in English, The Cathedral of The Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception, although of course it’s easier to just call it Havana Cathedral. Entry is free, and you can spend a few quiet contemplative moments in the cool interior of the cathedral, which was completed in 1777. There’s also an impressive art collection inside, featuring paintings by Rubens and some sensational religious frescoes, which are beautiful and moving, no matter what your beliefs happen to be.
3. Taller Experimental de Grafica
Just off Cathedral Square, which fronts Havana Cathedral, you’ll find Taller Experimental de Grafica – a vibrant artists workshop. You can see artists at work, and of course, artists need to eat too, so you can buy most of the artwork you see. Just remember that a beautiful large canvas might look great on your wall, but you probably can’t get it on the plane so easily. On any given day, there are around 50 artists at work in Taller Experimental de Grafica, and you’re free to wander, explore and observe. Many of them appreciate the distraction, and might want to talk about their work, although it helps if you understand a bit of Spanish.
Even though Professional Baseball Leagues in Cuba were cancelled by Fidel Castro shortly after the revolution, it still remains a national passion in Cuba. There are in fact dozens of Cuban players who have defected to the United States so that they can make a living from their amazing skills, and those who stayed behind are pretty sensational too. Head to the Esquina Caliente in Havana’s Central Park, because here you will see large groups of men practising their baseball skills, but more importantly (and more interestingly) discussing, debating and arguing about the game they love so much. For a visitor it can be utterly fascinating to watch men shout aggressively at each other over a player or a particular game, almost coming to blows, only to laugh it off a few moments later before shaking hands and changing the subject.
5. Castillo de los Tres Reyes Magos del Morro
Usually just referred to as Castillo del Morro, this fortress was constructed in 1589, and is best visited early in the day or in the evening if you want to beat the crowds. It was built as the city’s primary defence against marauding pirates and attacks from foreign navies, although the British successfully captured the fortress in 1762. Nestled in a prime position overlooking the Bay of Havana, the Castillo del Morro is visible from Old Havana, and can be seen clearly for most of the length of the Avenida de Maceo. It’s a wonderful journey to walk around the shore to the Castillo and look at its amazingly well preserved fortifications, although you will actually need to pay an entry fee of around $3(USD) to enter the building, which now contains a museum. The inside is arguably a sanitized version of Cuban history, since the Castillo del Morro used to be home to a large prison, which housed a number of political prisoners – often under harsh conditions.