10 of the best places to visit in Cuba
10 of the best places to visit in Cuba: From beautiful cities swaying to the beat of tropical rhythms to lush, unspoilt forests, Cuba delights travelers with a wide variety of contrasting locations.
Travelers will find eclectic architecture, white-sand beaches and wildlife-watching sites throughout the country. Here are 10 places to add to your Cuba itinerary to truly discover the Caribbean’s largest and most fascinating island.
Ideal for getting out into nature (and tobacco plantations)
Around 180 km (100 miles) west of Havana, Viñales is one of Cuba’s most beautiful places. It was added to Unesco’s World Heritage list for its spectacular scenery of red soils and distinctive limestone outcrops called mogotes.
Viñales has the best private homes in Cuba and some of the friendliest and most helpful house owners who are essential coordinators of local activities. Bike, horseback ride or hike to Los Acuáticos and Valle del Palmarito, or drive to Gran Caverna Santo Tomás, Cuba’s largest cave system.
Planning tip: Considered the home of the world’s finest tobacco, Viñales isn’t fully experienced unless you book an expert-guided tour inside the triangular-roofed drying sheds scattered around the local tobacco plantations.
Best city for art and architecture
The Cuban capital of Havana is brimming with vintage cars, embellished with old-world cobblestone squares and carved out to the north by an eight-kilometer waterway known as the Malecón. Be sure to visit the old squares of Habana Vieja for a glimpse of the colonial architecture that shaped the city in the 1700s and 1800s, where you can admire the lavish mansions that now function as museums and hotels. A stroll along pedestrian boulevard Obispo offers art galleries, boutiques, concert halls and incredible architecture, with buildings ranging from the 1700s to the late 1900s just 1.6 km away.
Planning tip: Art is ubiquitous in Havana, with numerous galleries and artistic outdoor spaces such as San Isidro Art District or Fusterlandia. Spend a day at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes – Arte Cubano for a comprehensive education on the artistic history of Cuba.
Cuba’s best seaside resort
Even if every tourist in Cuba has decided to meet in Varadero, there’s still room for more. Varadero is Cuba’s best seaside resort, with 20 km (12 miles) of powdery white sand and incredibly crystal-clear waters. You can stay in all types of accommodation, from top-of-the-range all-inclusive resorts to magnificent maisons particulières (private guesthouses). Houses serve as B&Bs and range from budget rooms adjacent to family homes to elegant youth hostels with private pools. Families enjoy Varadero’s safe, shallow shores while partygoers dance the night away at the Casa de la Música or theme parties at the hotels.
Santiago de Cuba:
Ideal for understanding Cuba’s revolutionary past
Considered Cuba’s second capital, Santiago de Cuba was the headquarters of the revolutionary guerrilla movement in the 1950s, but there’s more to discover here. Caribbean rhythms, tropical flavors and wild festivals set the pace in this colorful city.
Start with a visit to Cuartel Moncada, one of Cuba’s finest museums, with an organized collection of guerrilla paraphernalia and a detailed explanation of the events that sparked the 1959 revolution. Continue your journey into the past at the Basílica de la Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, Cuba’s most revered church. It features an exhibition of offerings made to the patron saint, including those given by the bearded revolutionaries themselves in the 1950s.
Planning tip: In symphony with its rebellious roots, Santiago erupts in an atmosphere of constant celebration, reaching its peak during the nationally renowned Carnavales just after the Día de la Rebeldía Nacional on July 26.
10 of the best places to visit in Cuba: Trinité:
Ideal for buying handmade arts and crafts
Declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1988 and a World Crafts City in 2018, Trinidad, full of cobblestone streets and colonial-era mansions, is not only Cuba’s best-preserved “open-air museum”, it’s also home to the finest handmade crafts. on the Island. Trinidadian seamstresses sew their linen pieces in open-air markets, displaying handmade garments, delicate embroidered tablecloths and garments such as guayaberas (Yucatan Shirts).
Planning tip: You’re likely to see local markets in the pedestrian areas of the city’s historic center, next to the Playa Mayor, but artisans also hold a daily fair at the foot of Torre Manaca Iznaga, 16 km (10 miles) outside Trinidad.
Ideal for wildlife watching
Located in the easternmost tip of Cuba, just getting to Baracoa is an experience in itself. The road from Guantánamo leads to La Farola, a winding 60 km (37 miles) long road considered Cuba’s most scenic. Expect a three-hour journey through lush mountains, interrupted only by vendors selling Baracoa cucuruchosa cone-shaped mixture of coconut flakes, honey, guava paste and a fruity flavor (such as pineapple and orange zest) all wrapped in a palm leaf.
Planning tip: Río Duaba and El Yunque are excellent places to hike among abundant flora and birds, but if you’re looking for a deeper immersion in semi-virgin forests, book a visit to Parque Nacional Alejandro de Humboldt.
Best city for strolling
Elegant and artistic, Camagüey is brimming with charm and youthful energy, but it’s the surprisingly intricate street pattern of the city center that usually strikes visitors the most. With most of the grid made up of narrow, one-way streets, it’s almost impossible to sort out if you’re behind the wheel. Instead, wander through maze-like alleyways to discover small but pretty squares all within walking distance of each other.
Spend a day wandering between the artisan market of Plaza San Juan de Dios and the less-visited Plaza del Carmen, home to Martha Jiménez Pérez’s inspiring art gallery.
Planning tip: Discover Cuba’s narrowest and shortest streets while you’re in Camagüey. Callejón del Cura is just 1.4 m (4.6 ft.) wide, while Callejón de la Miseria is 15 m (49 ft.) wide, with just two houses facing each other.
10 of the best places to visit in Cuba: Matanzas:
Ideal for live music (and dancing)
Billed as the Athens of Cuba, Matanzas is home to some of the country’s best-loved artists, such as Miguel Failde, creator of the cheek-to-cheek danzon (ballroom dance). The city is also the birthplace of rumba, an Afro-Cuban dance that the 70-year-old music group Muñequitos de Matanzas has promoted worldwide. Don’t miss the weekly live music shows at the Museo Histórico Provincial – Palacio de Junco.
Local tip: For travelers looking for a more Cuban Cuba – and not the usual tourist postcard of Varadero – Matanzas offers seductive architecture, with neoclassical buildings like the fully restored Teatro Sauto or lively antiques like the Museo Farmacéutico, founded as the first of its kind in Latin America. in 1882.
Best place for water sports like kayaking, fishing and windsurfing
Known as the Pearl of the South, Cienfuegos is Cuba’s French-inspired city, founded in 1819 on a magnificent natural bay. Deep enough to accommodate cruises and mega-yachts, the bay is best enjoyed from Punta Gorda and the nautical centers of Club Cienfuegos and Marlin Marina Cienfuegos.
Planning tip: Enjoy a day of kayaking, fishing or windsurfing, but be sure to include a trip to Laguna Guanaroca, Cienfuegos’ protected natural area, for a chance to spot pink flamingos and a boat trip on the lake.
Ideal for swimming, diving and birdwatching
In the south of the province of Matanzas, Playa Girón boasts one of the country’s best diving sites, not far offshore – no boat required! The clear Caribbean waters offer impressive clarity and a colorful variety of marine life. Opt for a refreshing swim in a beautiful cove at Caleta Buena or search for coral reefs at Punta Perdiz.
Playa Girón is also one of Cuba’s best birdwatching spots, being part of the Parque Nacional Ciénaga de Zapata, home to around two-thirds of Cuba’s nearly 350 bird species.
10 of the best places to visit in Cuba: Planning tip: On your way from Playa Larga to Playa Girón, be sure to stop at Cueva de Los Peces, one of Cuba’s rare cenotes.