The Cuban capital is gearing up for a big celebration. Here's all you need to know for a visit, writes Claire Boobbyer.

Go now

November marks the 500th anniversary of the founding of the city and there will be festivities taking place throughout the year. The local government has also been sprucing up some areas of the city, as well as enhancing the living conditions of some of its inhabitants, especially in Old Havana. The Cuatro Caminos market, which has been closed for more than a decade, is due to reopen this year, now converted into a modern shopping centre.

Stay here
With an infinity pool overlooking El Morro Castle, and the Bay of Havana, the central location of new Iberostar Grand Packard is perfect for Old Town sights and wandering Havana's iconic ocean boulevard. Doubles from $617, including breakfast. Bijou bed and breakfast Madero B&B packs a lot of style into a petite converted townhouse. Doubles from $150.

Advertisement

Walk here
Walk south from the ocean along elegant El Prado Promenade. Swing left, past the Moorish facade of the Hotel Sevilla (guests have included Al Capone, and Josephine Baker) on Trocadero St. Cross Zulueta St, passing between the Revolution Museum garden with the encased yacht Granma — which brought Fidel Castro from Mexico to Cuba in 1956 at the start of his rebel campaign — and the modern Museum of Fine Arts. Turn right on Monserrate Avenue; look up for the exquisite caramel-and-cream Art Deco Bacardi building topped by a bat sculpture. Further up is Hemingway haunt El Floridita. Step inside for live music and that icy daiquiri at the gorgeous long bar.

See this
Cuba's renovated wedding-cake white Capitol building has reopened to the public. Go for the third largest interior statue in the world, the gleaming Hall of Lost Steps, and the unusual garden statue of Lucifer. Between three and six guided tours daily Tues-Sun. $14.

Drink here
For funky colours, convivial company and live piano and sax, pull back the curtain at Sia Kara and head straight to the bar.

Eat here
At old-school paladar (private restaurant) Grados, chef Raul Bazuka is reviving traditional Cuban recipes. Expect to pay around $29pp, including a cocktail.

Try this
For a Lilliputian view of Old Havana life, climb to the Camera Obscura on Plaza Vieja, 8.30am-6pm daily. $3.

Shop here
Browse memorabilia at the Book and Curiosities Market, Baratillo St, corner of Justiz St, off Plaza de Armas. For cool Cuban design gifts, visit Clandestina.

Off the map
Hemingway's Havana home for 21 years, Finca Vigia, is preserved as a museum. The novelist's house, writing tower, pool and beloved boat, Pilar, can be seen in the fragrant gardens. Mon-Sat 10am-4pm.

(Closed if raining.) $7.50 entry. Return taxi $30. It's 12km from Old Havana.

Advertisement

TIPS

● New Zealanders must obtain a Tourist card prior to entering Cuba — get one from your travel agent or by direct application to a Cuban embassy. Tourist cards are valid for one-month stays.

● Cuba operates a dual currency system. Visitors use the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), while locals use the Cuban Peso (CUP). Check with your bank before travel that your credit and debit cards will be accepted in Cuba. NZ dollars can not be exchanged in Cuba, and US dollars are no longer accepted as payment. MFaT advises "not to change money anywhere other than at the airport, hotels or banks, due to the prevalence of forged currency.

FACT FILE

GETTING THERE

Latam

flies from Auckland to Havana, via Santiago, Chile and Lima, Peru.