What to do in Cuba n°1: Visit Havana
This mythical city has everything to seduce. Havana, the capital of Cuba, is a big city with a centre on a human scale. Its numerous squares lined with colourful colonial buildings are worth a visit, and its wide avenues proudly display the vintage cars that have become the symbol of the island.
Don’t miss :
- the old Havana with the Cathedral Square, the Old Square and its lively alleys
- a sunset walk on the Malecon River
- attend the famous Tropicana cabaret show in full colour
- wiggle on Cuban salsa at the Casa de la Musica
- visit the Hemingway Museum, the “Finca Vigia”, to discover its world, which has remained intact.
- travel back in time to Fort El Morro, which guards the entrance to the bay.
- And as a bonus, here’s a piece of advice forgotten by travel guides: when you arrive in Havana, if you travel on a small budget, run to exchange a few CUC (convertible pesos, the currency used by tourists) for CUP (Cuban pesos, the currency of the people).
1 CUC = 25 CUP, but in a cafeteria frequented by locals, you can find dishes at 7 CUP, sold 7 CUC in tourist restaurants… Thanks to this trick, I ate for less than one euro per meal for 10 days, quite an economy!
Things to do in Cuba n°2: Visit Viñales
Located in the Guaniguanico Mountain Range in the region of Pinar del Rio, the Viñales Valley is a must in Cuba! This place will delight nature lovers: although quite touristy, it remains a preserved corner of the western part of the peninsula.
On the program: hiking in the mountains, walks in the middle of tobacco fields, horseback riding with a local guide, relaxation far from the hustle and bustle of Havana. From Viñales, you will enjoy a splendid view of the mogotes, the limestone mountains that give all its charm to the valley.
And which are not without reminding the sugar loaves of the bay of Ha Long in Vietnam …
Things to do in Cuba n°3: Visit a cigar factory
Impossible to leave Cuba without visiting a cigar factory! There are 2 major ones in Havana, very popular with tourists: the Real Fábrica de Tabacos Partagas, one of the oldest in Cuba, and the Real Fábrica de Tabacos Romeo y Julieta. The Vegueros factory in Pinar del Río is also worth a visit as it produces cigars that are renowned throughout the world.
You will have the opportunity to see the workers at work and admire their precise gestures, always identical in order to produce homogeneous cigars.
Cigar making is a true art that few people master. Your guide will explain to you the most important points, and of course will suggest you to leave with a box. Beware of scams: at the end of the tour, charlatans may be waiting for you outside, offering you copies of the real brand.
Things to do in Cuba n°4: Visit Santiago
Former capital of Cuba, Santiago is a large metropolis nestling in the east of the peninsula. It is a very lively city, with a very marked culture.
It is the most Caribbean of Cuban cities, and its streets are often the scene of Afro-Cuban concerts, dance, scenes of daily life … If you are lucky enough to be there between June 24th and July 26th, you will attend the carnival of Santiago, an event not to be missed!
Discover the great attractions of the city:
- The lively Heredia Street
- La Asunción Cathedral and Cespedes Park
- The Emilio Bacardi Museum, which displays objects from the colonial period to independence.
- The Carnival Museum which houses the costumes and instruments of the famous Santiago Carnival.
- The Santa Ifigenia cemetery, where important figures such as Fidel Castro and José Marti are buried.
- The Revolution Square and the famous barracks of Moncada where the first attack by Fidel Castro took place, considered to be the starting point of the Cuban revolution.
- The Castle of San Pedro de la Roca del Morro, a military fortress built in the 17th century, very well preserved and declared a World Heritage Site. In addition to its
- fantastic view of the sea and the surrounding area, there is a museum about its history.
- The Sanctuary of the Virgin of Charity of Copper: she is the patron saint of Cuba and a true symbol of the island. It is an interesting example of a mixture of local and
- Catholic beliefs as she is associated with Ochun, the goddess who represents the mother in some African beliefs.
- The House of Diego de Velazquez: built in 1516 under the orders of Hernan Cortes, it is the oldest colonial house in America. It is now a historical museum.
- La Gran Piedra: as its name suggests, it is a large rock on which you climb up 452 stairs and which offers a breathtaking view of the surroundings.
If you travel by bus, plan a long day’s journey, as the roads are not very good in the centre of the island.
Things to do in Cuba n°5: Visit Trinidad
Ah, Trinidad… my favourite city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s definitely one of Cuba’s must-see places! If you want to take a leap in 1850, head south along the coast to this colonial city!
The colourful houses give a unique atmosphere to Trinidad, and the carriages circulating on its cobbled streets create a pleasant background.
Take a tour to the Plaza Mayor with its architectural museum, the Convent of Saint Francis of Assisi.
And don’t hesitate to wander away from the tourist streets: in the north of the town, on the hill, you will discover the real Trinidad, with its children playing in the streets, its modest musicians and its cafés full to bursting point.
Don’t miss the Casa de la Musica local, which hosts concerts every evening in high season (unfortunately frequented almost exclusively by tourists).
If you have a little time and feel like a nature getaway, take a trip to the Parc Topes de Collantes in the Sierra del Escambray to see beautiful sites such as the El Rocio Falls or the Salto del Carburni…perfect for a swim!
Things to do in Cuba n°6: Visit Cienfuegos
This city, partially built by French settlers, is a must see in Cuba. Its perfectly squared streets and its typical buildings will plunge you into a completely different atmosphere.
The city is small and you will have made the tour in one day. Don’t miss José Marti Square, one of the most beautiful squares in the country, the Cathedral of Our Lady of Purisima Concepcion, the art deco Jerry’s Theatre and its famous Botanical Garden, home to nearly 1600 different species!
Don’t hesitate to go to Punta Gorda, one of the most beautiful areas of Cienfuegos, with the Palacio de Valle, an architectural jewel that today houses a seafood restaurant, a bar and a museum.
Things to do in Cuba n°7: Visit Camagüey
Another colonial city and the third largest city in Cuba, Camagüey is not to be missed. A little further away from the capital in the direction of Santiago, it has a beautiful historic centre with the Plaza del Carmen, as well as many museums and churches such as the Cathedral of Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria.
Life is lively in the evenings, and you can attend concerts of traditional Cuban music that you won’t find elsewhere.
Don’t hesitate to discover the local art of ceramics. Lose yourself in the winding alleys, visit the rum distillery, have an aperitif at the La Trova bar, and relax in the Plaza de la Revolución.
Things to do in Cuba n°8: Visit Baracoa
Baracoa, a village located at the eastern end of Cuba, has been preserved from mass tourism due to its difficult access. It is a place to see in Cuba when you have a little time (the bus ride is long).
This small fishing village, very well preserved, is located in an exceptional natural landscape: lush forests, intimate beaches and heavenly coastline.
There are plenty of opportunities for hiking and swimming, and you can also explore the local rivers, little known to tourists.
Things to do in Cuba n°9: Santa Clara
Santa Clara is a city rich in history, which will amaze the amateurs. Indeed, it is here that Ernesto Guevara, commonly known as Che, is buried. The city has a mausoleum erected in his memory, as well as several museums that retrace the history of Cuba and its revolution.
It is also a beautiful city that allows for beautiful cultural strolls, around a church, a pretty square or a street orchestra. To be seen:
- The mausoleum Che Guevara
- Santa Clara de Asis Cathedral
- The lovely La Caridad Theatre
- Leoncio Vidal Park, the main square of the city
- The Museum of Decorative Art, which displays objects from the colony.
- From Santa Clara you can take the road to the colonial city of Remedios and then continue to Cayo Santa Maria (1h30), a real little paradise with beautiful beaches!
Things to do in Cuba n°10: Visit Playa Giron
This beach, located in the Bay of Pigs, is one of the best known and most popular in Cuba. What more can we say about it, except that it is worthy of a postcard, that it has fine white sand and turquoise water at an ideal temperature?
Just watch out for sand flies, or jejenes, which are very aggressive in high season. Their bites are not very painful, but they can cause itching that sometimes lasts several weeks?
And don’t forget to protect yourself from the sun, because in Cuba, it hits hard even under a thick layer of clouds!
Things to do in Cuba n°11: Visit Cayo Coco
Cayo Coco is a haven of peace still relatively well preserved, known mainly for its white sand beaches, ideal for resting, diving and water sports.
Among the best beaches are Las Coloradas, Playa Larga, El Paso and Playa Pilar which are located between Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo, just next door.
Spend at least two nights there to enjoy the tranquility and beautiful scenery. Also to be done on site:
- Visit the city of Ciego de Avila, typical and pleasant, known for sugar cane and pineapples.
- Discover the cigar factory and bring back a box as a souvenir
- Walk in the park El Baga to see an authentic and preserved fauna and flora
Things to do in Cuba n°12: Visit Isla de la Juventud
This island is especially for lovers of diving and snorkeling.
Cuba is known to be one of the best sites in the Caribbean, and among the various spots of the country, divers are in favor of Cayo Largo and the Punta Francés National Park, located on the Isla de la Juventud.
Its assets? Clear and delicately bluish water, a calm sea, not very sensitive to disturbances and a lively and preserved coral reef, populated by thousands of colorful fish.
Ask at the various diving clubs in the area, knowing that they all offer more or less the same services and rates.
Things to do in Cuba n°13: Visit The Cienaga of Zapata
If you are looking for wild and untamed nature, take the road to the Ciénaga de Zapata. This swampy area, the largest in the Caribbean, is probably the most preserved site in the country.
Classified as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, the swamp is home to the famous Cuban crocodile, Helen’s tiny hummingbird and various species of amphibians and reptiles.
You can hike in this unspoiled nature, go fishing with a guide, or bring your binoculars to observe the endemic birds. You will come out amazed!
Things to do in Cuba n°14: Gran Parque Nacional Sierra Maestra
This is where Cuba’s highest mountain, Pico Turquino (1974 m), is located.
Explore this unique park to hike through its exceptional landscapes, observe its rich fauna and dozens of rare bird species and admire its preserved flora, from tiny wild orchids to giant ferns.
Things to do in Cuba n°15: Visit El Nicho
El Nicho is a waterfall not to be missed between Cienfuegos and Trinidad. Magnificent and impressive, it is nestled in a dream setting on the Habanilla River.
At its feet, you can relax in a natural pool with translucent water, while breathing in the fresh, invigorated air thanks to the lush vegetation of the surrounding area.
Things to do in Cuba n°16: Las Terrazas
This is the eco-hippy village of Cuba, located in a nature reserve.
Founded in 1968 by a group of ambitious and hopeful young people who wanted to reforest the surrounding area, this eco-village is populated by musicians, artists and people who want to protect their environment.
The architecture of the place is unique, the good vibes abound, don’t hesitate to visit them!
What to do in Cuba n°17: Visit Holguin
In order to change the landscape, Holguin invites you to discover its picturesque mountain scenery and beautiful beaches.
To be discovered in the region:
- Climb the 458 stairs up to Loma de la Cruz at sunset to enjoy a magnificent view of the surroundings and the illuminated town.
- Discover the centre of Holguin with the Cathedral of San Isidoro, the Natural History Museum which tells the story of the area, the Calixto Garcia Park and many nice bars.
- Take the train between Holguin and Santa Clara to enjoy the beautiful countryside.
- Enjoy the best white sandy beaches in the region: Guardalavaca Beach, Esmeralda Beach, Pesquero Beach, etc.
- Take a catamaran trip or snorkeling in the transparent waters of Cayo Saetia in Cuba’s largest bay.
- Horseback riding in the mountains at BioParque Rocazul
- Take a jeep trip in the La Mensura-Pilotos Natural Park to the Guayabo Falls, the highest in Cuba, and swim in the natural formations of the Pozas de Rafael.
- Visit Gibara, a fishing village with colonial houses and pretty little squares, where Christopher Columbus is said to have landed in 1492.
Things to do in Cuba n°18: Laguna de la Leche
This is the largest lagoon on the island. The Laguna de la Leche is home to an important diversity of aquatic birds, which will delight amateur ornithologists. During the season, you can even observe a myriad of flamingos frolicking in the lagoon’s translucent waters. A spectacle not to be missed!
The site is close to the town of Moron. I advise you to go there for a walk, if only to notice the particular architecture, of European style, which will remind you of our region.
Laguna de Leche. Photo Daniel Wilder
Things to do in Cuba n°19: Varadero
I don’t really recommend Varadero, but it is nevertheless the most popular destination for tourists.
Varadero is a modern seaside resort that welcomes Cubans and tourists looking for sun and relaxation.
You will have the choice between 50 hotels spread over nearly 20 km of beaches.
On the menu of the day: reading lying in the sand, mojitos with your feet in the water, sunbathing (which can quickly end in sunburn…), all this in a magnificent setting, if it hadn’t been so much concreted and somewhat spoiled by the thousands of holidaymakers lined up on their towels…
Things to do in Cuba n°20: Salsa dancing
And finally, what would Cuba be without dancing? Wherever you go, you’ll hear a few notes of music in the street, or come across an elderly couple dancing in the torrential rain, smiling up to their ears, accompanying a small orchestra.
Ask around, in the big cities you will have the opportunity to attend a concert or dance almost every night, and dance schools are not lacking if you want to learn a few rudiments.2