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Best Things to Do in Cuba

Get ready to embark on an unforgettable journey. A trip to Cuba offers a rich, vibrant blend of culture, adventure, and relaxation. Imagine strolling along the beaches of the Caribbean Islands, dotted with palm trees swaying gently in the wind. Visit Cayo Jutias, where the sandy beaches and clear waters offer a perfect retreat. Don’t forget the Valle de Vinales, a lush, green expanse that promises peace and tranquility.

In the heart of the 20th century, Cuba emerged as a powerhouse of culture and history. Visit the Tropicana Club and feel the pulse of Cuba’s vibrant nightlife. Or take a stroll down La Bodeguita Del Medio, a famous spot known for its delicious Cuban cuisine and lively atmosphere. The city streets are alive with the hum of vintage cars, offering a nostalgic throwback to the past.

After a day of exploring, nothing beats cooling off in a swimming pool under the Cuban sun. With miles of untouched north coast, Cuba offers a perfect getaway for those looking to escape and relax. From the bustling city streets to the peaceful countryside, a trip to Cuba promises a mix of culture, adventure, and relaxation.

Exploring the Heart of Cuba: Havana

Havana, the heart of Cuba, is a treasure trove of culture and history. The city’s rich past is reflected in its grand monuments and intriguing museums. Exploring Havana is one of the top activities in Cuba for travelers. The city’s unique charm and vibrant energy will leave you captivated.

Take a Stroll along the Havana Malecon

One of the must-do activities in Havana is taking a stroll along the Havana Malecon. This bustling promenade stretches a whopping 7 kilometers, offering breathtaking views of the sea. The Malecon is a symbol of the city, oozing with Baroque and Art Deco styles, and painted in hues of Cuban pink and yellow.

The Malecon is a place where locals gather to share stories, puff cigars, and enjoy the salty sea breezes. Amidst the energy and chatter, vintage cars bounce and bump over the uneven roads, adding to the charm of this vibrant city. A walk along the Malecon is simply not to be missed.

Discover Old Havana

Old Havana, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, offers a glimpse into Cuba’s rich architectural heritage. The buildings, a blend of French classicism, Art Deco, and Art Nouveau styles, narrate stories of Cuba’s multifaceted culture and difficult past. A visit to Plaza Vieja, the historic square lined with colorful buildings and charming cafes, is a must.

Among the many gems of Old Havana, El Floridita stands out. Famous for its daiquiris and as one of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite hangouts, it’s a perfect place to soak in the city’s vibrant energy. Discovering Old Havana is a journey through time, offering a chance to experience the essence of Cuba’s rich history and culture.

Experience a Classic Car Ride

One of my most memorable experiences in Cuba was riding in a classic car. The connection between cars and Cuba is iconic, evident right from the moment you step out of the Havana airport. My first ride was in a 1950’s classic American car, which served as our “taxi” from the airport. It was a fitting introduction to the vibrant classic car culture in Cuba.

Riding in these classic cars, I found, was an excellent way to explore the stunning Cuban beaches along the coast. It was indeed one of my favorite things to do in Cuba. So, if you are planning a visit, make sure to take a ride in one of these classic cars. It’s an experience you won’t forget.

Visit Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes

Nestled amidst the historic streets of La Habana Vieja, the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes is a must-visit for art lovers. This museum is loaded to the brim with masterworks that chronicle the various artistic periods of the island and its people. A visit here gives you a glimpse into the rich Cuban art scene.

From the psychological portraiture of Federico Beltrán Masses to the politically infused paintings of Guillermo Collazo, and modern sculpture works, the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes is a treasure trove of Cuban art. So, take some time out to explore this museum and immerse yourself in the vibrant world of Cuban art.

Learn About the Past at the Museum of the Revolution

If you are interested in Cuban history, especially the period of the Cuban revolution, the Museum of the Revolution in Havana is the place to be. It was here that I learned about the revolution that began in July 1953 and led to the sacking of the dictatorship government of Fulgencio Batista Zaldivar.

The museum is home to plenty of exhibitions that give a good education about one of the most intense periods in Cuban history. From bullet holes from an assassination attempt to the war equipment used during the war, there is so much to see and learn here. It’s a great place to understand the happenings that led to the modern state of Cuba.

Uncover the Cristobal Colon Cemetery

One of the most unique things to see in Cuba is the Cristobal Colon Cemetery. While graveyards might not usually make it to your holiday itinerary, this one is something you won’t want to miss. The Havana cemetery is renowned for its breathtaking architecture, showcased in its various sculptures, monuments, and mausoleums.

As I wandered through this impressive site, I could feel the tangible history around me. The Cristobal Colon Cemetery is unavoidably intertwined with Cuba’s past and provides visitors with a deeper connection to the country’s legacy. It’s a serene and solemn place that gives you a deeper understanding of Cuba’s past.

The Hidden Gems of Santiago de Cuba

My adventures in Cuba also led me to the lesser-known, but equally enthralling Santiago de Cuba. This place is home to a number of hidden gems that are worth exploring. One such gem is the Castillo de San Pedro, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Castillo de San Pedro, also known as Castillo del Morro, is one of the best-preserved Spanish fortresses of the 17th century. Located at the entrance to the Bay of Santiago, about 10 kilometers southwest of Santiago de Cuba, it’s a sight to behold. This fortress, less than an hour from the city, offers a fascinating glimpse into the country’s past and is a must-visit when in Santiago de Cuba.

Visit the Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca

The city of Santiago de Cuba, located on the largest island of the Caribbean, houses the majestic Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca. Nestled on a cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea, this Spanish fortress serves as a reminder of the city’s historic past. This must-visit site is known for its panoramic views of the sea and the city, making it a perfect spot for photographers and history buffs alike.

The fortress, also known as San Pedro de la Roca, is a stone’s throw away from the Sierra Maestra, a mountain range that is home to the Jardines de la Reina, a national park teeming with unique wildlife. After exploring the fortress, travelers can unwind at the Hotel Nacional, a historic hotel that once served as the Presidential Palace. A visit to the Castillo is definitely a top activity in Santiago de Cuba, the second-largest city in Cuba.

Wander Around Santiago de Cuba

Exploring the city of Santiago de Cuba is like stepping into a vibrant Caribbean postcard. As the second-largest city in Cuba, Santiago de Cuba boasts a unique blend of music, architecture, literature, and politics. The city’s buzzing energy and warm, welcoming locals make it a must-visit destination in Cuba.

The heart of the city lies in the Parque Céspedes, a lively, musical hub surrounded by colonial architecture and charming streets. Whether you are looking for a relaxing day in the park or a lively night filled with music and dance, Santiago de Cuba offers a range of experiences to suit every traveler’s taste.

Experience the Vibrant Streets of Trinidad

Trinidad, a Spanish colonial town in the heart of Cuba, is a gem waiting to be discovered. With its colorful buildings, cobblestone streets, and rich history, this UNESCO World Heritage Site has something for everyone. From art stores and rooftop bars to churches and historical sites, Trinidad is a town where time seems to have stood still.

One of the best ways to experience Trinidad is to simply wander its vibrant streets. The town’s Spanish colonial architecture, combined with the lively atmosphere, creates a unique experience that will stay with you long after your visit.

Fall in Love with Trinidad’s Architectural Beauty

Trinidad’s architectural beauty is something that is bound to capture the heart of any visitor. From cobblestone streets to colorful colonial architecture, the city is a visual feast. A walk through the city center, where vehicles are not allowed, is a great way to take in the city’s charm. The Plaza Mayor, the city’s main square, is a great place to start.

Another must-see is the Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco de Asis. Climb the bell tower for an unforgettable view of the entire city. For a unique experience, take a taxi ride to Disco Ayala, a nightclub located in a natural cave, just a short drive from the city center. Trust me, exploring Trinidad, located in the province of Sancti Spiritus, is one of the best things to do in Cuba.

Explore the Valle de los Ingenios

Just a short trip from Havana, the Valle de los Ingenios offers a glimpse into Cuba’s history. This valley, which was once home to a bustling sugarcane industry, is now a peaceful place to explore. Here, you can see the remnants of plantations and learn about the history of slavery in Cuba.

One of the main attractions is the Manaca Iznaga, a former sugarcane plantation. The plantation’s 44-meter high tower, once used to keep a watchful eye on the slaves, is now a popular spot for visitors. For a different perspective, take a ride on the Baldwin Locomotive steam train. This journey offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape and is a great way to explore the Valle de los Ingenios, located in the province of Pinar del Rio.

Hike the Topes de Collantes

One of Cuba’s most stunning interior landscapes is the Topes de Collantes in the Escambray Mountains. Straying from the beaten path, I found myself immersed in the breathtaking views of countless waterfall hikes like El Nicho, Salto de Caburní, and Vegas Grande. The Topes de Collantes is more than a hiking destination; it’s a sanctuary, an escape into nature’s grandeur.

Don’t forget to pack your bathing suit! Swimming beneath the cascading waterfalls is a refreshing treat that you wouldn’t want to miss. Whether you’re an avid hiker or a nature lover, the Topes de Collantes is a must-visit spot for an unforgettable adventure in Cuba.

Immerse in the Natural Splendor of Cuba

There’s something truly captivating about discovering a country’s past through its landscapes and monuments. As a tour guide led me through different regions, I was intrigued by the fascinating history etched into every corner of Cuba. From the revolution-touched buildings in Havana to the natural splendors of the Escambray Mountains, Cuba is a historical and natural treasure waiting to be explored.

Bask on the Beaches of Varadero

A couple of hours from Havana, you’ll find Varadero, one of the best places to visit in Cuba, renowned for its idyllic beaches. This resort town is a sun-seeker’s paradise, offering the perfect setting for a laid-back day under the Cuban sun. While it’s often bustling with tourists, the vibrant atmosphere adds to its charm.

The turquoise waters, the fine sand, and the warm sun make Varadero an irresistible destination. Whether you’re looking to unwind, swim, or simply soak up the sun, Varadero’s beaches promise a delightful day out in Cuba.

Experience the Breathtaking Views from El Nicho

Another gem in the heart of Cuba is El Nicho, a series of beautiful waterfalls on the Rio Hanabanilla. The trail here leads to various natural pools, jumping spots, and caves, offering an exciting blend of adventure and relaxation. The water might be cold, but it’s so inviting that I couldn’t resist taking a dip!

What sets El Nicho apart is its breathtaking views. Every step on the trail unveils a new vista, each more beautiful than the last. If you’re searching for a piece of paradise in Cuba, El Nicho should definitely be on your list.

Discover Ciénaga de Zapata’s Unique Wildlife

On the southern coast of Cuba lies one of the country’s most unique natural spots, Ciénaga de Zapata. Known as a haven for wildlife, it’s home to over 900 species of plants and an array of bird species, some found only within this nature reserve. The sight of the world’s smallest bird and Cuban crocodiles in their natural habitat was truly unforgettable.

A trip to this UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, also known as the Zapata Swamp, is a thrilling adventure for nature lovers. I recommend combining it with a visit to Playa Girón, another one of the best places to visit in Cuba, where you can swim at off-the-beaten-path beaches and explore unique swimming holes. Just remember to keep an eye out for the unique creatures that call this park home!

Relax in Cayo Coco

There’s no better place to unwind in Cuba than Cayo Coco. This beautiful island, part of the Jardines del Rey archipelago, is the perfect spot to soak up the sun and let your troubles melt away. The island offers plenty of opportunities for bird watching and beach lounging, especially at the stunning Playa Los Flamencos, Playa Prohibida, and Playa Pilar. These pristine beaches stretch for miles, offering a tranquil retreat for visitors.

Did you know that Cayo Coco was a favorite of Ernest Hemingway? He mentioned it in his novels “Islands in the Stream” and “The Old Man and the Sea.” You can get there by flying directly into the Jardines del Rey airport, or by crossing a bridge from mainland Cuba. Cayo Coco is also connected to another beautiful island, Cayo Guillermo. As the sun rises, you’ll be treated to a stunning display of colors that will take your breath away.

A Glimpse of Cuba’s Lesser-Known Cities

Many of Cuba’s most popular destinations are not actually on the mainland. They’re the tiny islands, or cayos, that sit just offshore. These cayos are home to some of Cuba’s most luxurious resorts and best beaches. Cayo Coco, with its stunning white sand beaches, is just one example. This island is located off Cuba’s north central shore and is connected to another popular destination, Cayo Guillermo.

Another cayo worth a visit is Cayo Largo del Sur. Known for its incredible beaches, this island is a must-see for anyone looking for the ultimate beach getaway. These cayos offer a unique and unforgettable Cuban experience away from the bustling cities.

Get Lost in the Maze-Like Streets of Camagüey

Camagüey, the city of tinajones, churches, and erstwhile pirates, is a place like no other. Unlike any other Spanish colonial city in Latin America, Camagüey’s street grid is quite unique. Its labyrinthine lanes are filled with Catholic churches, triangular plazas, and beautiful colonial buildings. These charming streets are a sight to behold and getting lost in them is part of the experience.

The city’s maze-like streets hide a growing ensemble of smart boutique hotels, encased in restored colonial buildings. The Spanish colonial architecture is a prominent feature of Camagüey, adding to its charm and allure. This city is a must-visit for anyone looking to experience a different side of Cuba.

Discover the Charm of Cienfuegos

Located at the Southwestern tip of the island, in the Guantanamo Province, lies the charming city of Baracoa. Founded in 1511, Baracoa is one of the lesser known places to visit in Cuba. However, once you visit it, you’re sure to remember its charm.

The city is pretty isolated from the rest of the country, connected to Santiago de Cuba and the rest of the country by only one road, La Farola. The road was built in 1964 thanks to Fidel Castro and offers spectacular views of the hills and forests. Despite being a bit beaten up, Baracoa is a beautiful city that can be visited in just a few hours.

A Taste of Cuban Cuisine

No Cuban vacation is complete without experiencing the local cuisine. And there’s no better place to do that than at Havana’s Fábrica de Arte Cubano (FAC). This artistic space is a hub for local creative and performing arts, but also offers an array of culinary experiences.

The line-up at FAC changes every three months, meaning you’ll always have fresh and exciting cultural and culinary experiences to look forward to. From films and concerts to exhibitions and performances, there’s something for everyone. Just remember to arrive slightly early to accommodate the line for tickets, which are available at the door.

Savor the Delicacies in Baracoa

Baracoa, the gourmet capital of eastern Cuba, is a paradise for food lovers. It’s renowned for its unique and mouthwatering delicacies, and experiencing them is a must when you’re in Cuba. The city offers a variety of delicious seafood, including the famous local lobster, shrimps, and octopus. These are often served in a flavorful coconut sauce, which adds a tropical twist to the dishes.

For a memorable dining experience, head to Nilson’s Paladar, located at Flor Combret 143. This popular spot not only offers scrumptious meals, but also rents out rooms for visitors. After a day of exploring Baracoa, you can relax at the beach, Playa Maguana, and savor the delectable cuisine this city has to offer.

Try Authentic Cuban Food

When it comes to food, Cuba has an array of authentic dishes that are sure to delight your taste buds. Contrary to popular belief, the Cuban sandwich, often associated with Cuban cuisine, was actually created in Florida. But don’t worry, there are plenty of other delicious dishes to try here.

Discover the simplicity and flavor of Cuban food by trying Arroz con Frijoles (rice and beans), Tostones (fried plantains), Ropa Vieja (shredded beef), and Yuca con Mojo (yuca with garlicky sauce). Seafood lovers can indulge in a variety of dishes, including shrimp, lobster, and Arroz Imperial (rice with seafood). These are just some of the culinary delights that make Cuban food a gastronomic adventure.

Unforgettable Excursions in Cuba

Cuba isn’t just about the food and culture, it’s also a destination filled with breathtaking sights and unforgettable experiences. From exploring historical landmarks to embarking on thrilling adventures, there’s something for everyone. If you love diving, Cuba’s clear, turquoise waters are a paradise, filled with colorful coral reefs and diverse marine life. No matter where you dive, the underwater landscapes are always enchanting.

For those who prefer exploring the land, Cuba offers a variety of outdoor activities. Whether you’re biking through the countryside, hiking up a mountain, or just taking a leisurely stroll on the beach, there’s always something to do. So, pack your bags, and get ready for an adventure of a lifetime in Cuba.

Bike to the Boca de Yumurì

One of the best ways to explore the beauty of Cuba is by bike. For a thrilling day trip, rent a bike and head to the Boca de Yumurì. The journey from Baracoa is approximately 30km (18 miles) and takes you along the coastal road. On the way, you’ll pass through the famous Tunel de los Alemanes (German Tunnel), adding a touch of history to your adventure.

Once you reach the Boca de Yumurì, you’ll be greeted by a canyon that’s 180 meters deep. Here, you can rent a pedal boat and explore the river. The ride takes you through beautiful landscapes and offers a chance to spot locals riding sidecars, a common sight in Cuba.

Hike El Yunque

El Yunque, a unique tabletop mountain outside of Baracoa, is one of the best things to do in Havana. Also known as the Anvil, this mountain offers some of the most breathtaking views in Cuba. The journey to the top is filled with lush jungles, beautiful waterfalls, and small farms, making it a favorite spot for hikers.

The hike isn’t technically challenging, except for a short steep section before reaching the tabletop. Along the way, you’ll come across local families who have set up businesses, offering homemade meals to hikers. It’s an excellent hike, and definitely worth traveling here for. So, lace up your boots, and prepare for an unforgettable adventure.

Swim in the Bay of Pigs

The Bay of Pigs is not just a historical landmark, but it’s also a haven for water enthusiasts. The clear waters are perfect for snorkeling and scuba diving, providing a unique opportunity to explore vibrant coral reefs and colorful marine life. Imagine the thrill of gliding through the warm Caribbean water, surrounded by an array of sea creatures.

Start your aquatic adventure at Playa Larga, a popular beach known for its underwater activities. Conveniently located near the mainland, you’ll be able to rent all necessary equipment right on the beach. Whether you’re a seasoned diver or a first-timer, swimming in the Bay of Pigs is an experience not to be missed.

Reminiscing Cuba’s Revolutionary Past

Traveling to Cuba offers more than just picturesque views and vibrant culture; it’s a chance to delve into its complex and compelling history. Understanding Cuba’s past enriches your experience, making your trip more meaningful and immersive. The revolutionary past of the country is a significant part of its identity, shaping the society today.

While there, it’s worth reading more about it. If you’re limited on space and can only bring one book, consider “Cuba: What Everyone Needs to Know”. This book provides a comprehensive overview of Cuba’s history, making it a perfect companion for your journey.

Pay Homage at Che Guevara Mausoleum

The city of Santa Clara is home to the Che Guevara Mausoleum, a significant landmark commemorating the life and legacy of the revolutionary guerrilla, Che Guevara. Known for his love for Latin America, Che Guevara’s life was full of controversy, making him a fascinating figure to learn about.

The Mausoleum features a bronze statue of the iconic figure, standing tall and proud. It also houses a collection of his personal items, giving you a glimpse into his life. A visit to the mausoleum is a must for history buffs and those interested in Cuba’s revolutionary past.

Visit the Parque Historico Militar of Havana

For a deeper understanding of Cuba’s past, visit the Parque Historico Militar in Havana. The park consists of two fortresses, El Morro and the Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña, both playing significant roles in the 17th century. The fortresses were constructed for defensive purposes, protecting the city from pirate attacks.

Also within the historic center is the Plaza de la Catedral. The square is surrounded by beautiful colonial buildings and offers a glimpse into Cuba’s architectural past. The combination of historical landmarks and stunning architecture makes the Parque Historico Militar a must-visit place in Havana.

Unique Cuban Experiences

If you’re looking for a unique cultural experience, visit the Fábrica de Arte Cubano in Havana. This artistic space is a hub for creative and performing arts, offering a diverse range of events and exhibitions. From films and concerts to art exhibitions, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

The line-up at the Fábrica de Arte Cubano changes every three months, ensuring there are always fresh and exciting experiences to enjoy. Be sure to arrive a bit early to secure tickets at the door. An evening spent at Fábrica de Arte Cubano is an experience you won’t forget, and a highlight of any trip to Cuba.

Enjoy a Havana Sunset on the Malecón

As the sun begins to set in Havana, the city’s famous sea wall, El Malecón, transforms into a grand stage for nature’s display. The sky paints itself in hues of pink, orange, and purple, creating a spectacle that’s best enjoyed perched atop the Malecón, with the rhythmic lull of the waves as your soundtrack. It’s an experience that costs nothing but offers a priceless memory.

To take in the sunset from a different perspective, you could hop on a bus or taxi and head through the tunnel across the Havana harbor to the Cristo de la Habana. Alternatively, you could take the Lanchita de Regla ferry from Old Havana. Either way, you’ll reach a mesmerizing vantage point below the statue that overlooks the entire Malecón, Old Havana, and the ocean. It’s a little-known spot that offers a breathtaking view of the sunset, so it feels like you’ve discovered a secret treasure.

Party at the Tropicana Club

When the sun sets and the Malecón lights up, Havana’s nightlife comes alive. At the center of it is the iconic Tropicana Club. As you step into the club, you’re greeted by a world of music, dancing, singing, and themed performances that embody the spirit of Cuban showbiz. The club’s old-timey cabaret shows are a must-visit, featuring an array of colorful costumes and exciting entertainment.

The moment you step foot in the Tropicana, you’re swept up in the vibrant energy that’s unique to Cuba. It’s a place where you’ll find yourself swaying to the rhythm of salsa music, surrounded by locals and tourists alike, all enjoying the essence of Cuban culture. Whether you’re a dance enthusiast or not, a night at the Tropicana Club promises an unforgettable experience.

Stay in a Casa Particular

When it comes to experiencing Cuba’s culture up close, nothing beats staying at a casa particular. Long before the trend of renting homes caught up globally, Cuba was already setting the pace with its casas particulares. These private homes offer a range of options, from a simple spare bedroom to a sprawling mansion with a private pool, and often at a fraction of the cost of a hotel.

Staying in a casa particular offers a more authentic experience than a typical hotel stay. It gives you a chance to interact with locals, understand their way of life, and enjoy Cuba’s best hospitality. More importantly, by choosing to stay in a casa particular, you’re supporting the livelihoods of many Cubans who depend on these rentals for income. So, when you visit Cuba, consider staying in a casa particular for a truly unique and enriching experience.

Wrapping Up: The Unforgettable Cuban Adventure

As I venture back to the United States, I carry with me the vibrant colors, tantalizing flavors, and rhythmic sounds of Cuba. The echoes of laughter from the bustling streets, the mesmerizing landscapes, and the heartfelt hospitality of the locals are all etched in my memory. From the architectural delights of Havana to the tranquil beauty of Guardalavaca Beach, the cultural treasures of Cuba have left an indelible impression on me.

Reflecting on my journey, I am captivated by the richness of life in Cuba. The history of the city, from its colonial past to its revolutionary present, has been a fascinating exploration. I hold close the unforgettable moments, like the sunset at Havana’s Malecón or the vibrant party at Tropicana Club. Each adventure, each encounter, has been a window into a world that is both incredibly vibrant and deeply rooted in tradition. As I say adios to Cuba, I know that I’m leaving with a piece of its soul, forever imprinted in my heart.

Lukasz Zaborski
Lukasz Zaborski

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