With a rich history, vibrant culture, exquisite architecture, and beautiful landscapes, Cuba exudes an alluring magic that will draw you in and leave you wanting more. Like a sleeping bear slowly awakening from winter hibernation, the country is emerging from an economic embargo that has lasted more than half a century and seems to be trapped in a time warp, which makes it all the more special.
It’s a country of rich dichotomies – grand squares lined with shabby colonial buildings rub shoulders with sleek modern hotels; beautifully restored classic cars fight for space in Havana while the highways around the country are curiously empty, and bustling beach resorts are a stone’s throw away from rural villages that seem to be lost in time. Cuba is nothing less than magical.
Havana is the beating heart of the country and the perfect place to start your trip. It is lively, colorful, and full of things to do from soaking up some splendid architectural gems to salsa dancing with the locals on a street corner. Take a stroll along the Malecon, the beachfront promenade where locals gather every evening to get a real feel for the city. Take a drive in a 1950s classic car, for which Havana is famous, and sip a minty-fresh mojito at Hemingway’s Café.
Another must-visit is Santiago de Cuba, the country’s bustling and vibrant cultural capital. Nestled between the majestic Sierra Maestra mountains and the turquoise Caribbean Sea, Santiago has a distinct Afro-Caribbean atmosphere with music and dancing at every turn and is well worth exploring.
Here’s a list of the best things to do in Cuba.
1. Wander Around Old Havana (Habana Vieja)
Habana Vieja or Old Havana is steamy, seductive, and simply beautiful. This well-preserved slice of Cuban history is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is home to charming cobblestone streets lined with a jumble of Spanish Colonial, grand Baroque, Art Deco, Neoclassical, and Art Nouveau buildings. Airy plazas are bustling with alfresco cafés and buzzing bars belting out Cuban music, and beautifully restored candy-colored vintage American cars jostle for space.
The Baroque Catedral de San Cristobal is set on the Plaza de la Catedral and the military fortress, Castillo de la Real Fuerza is impressive. Have a drink at the legendary Bodeguita del Medio and climb the camera obscura for spectacular city views.
Suggested Tour: Discover Old Havana: Small-Group Walking Tour with Lunch
2. Stroll Along the Havana Malecón
The Malecón is a broad promenade that stretches for five miles along the coast in Havana is a popular gathering spot for locals and tourists alike. The six-lane avenue, which features an ample sidewalk and a sea wall is an iconic symbol of the city and is always bustling with people taking a stroll in the fresh sea breezes, fishing and diving off the wall, and street entertainers touting their talents. Lined with crumbling old Baroque and Art Deco buildings on one side and the ocean on the other, the Malecón is particularly beautiful at sunset.
Suggested Tour: Havana: City Sightseeing Bike Tour
3. Visit the Museo de la Revolución (Museum of the Revolution)
Housed in the spectacular neo-classical Presidential Palace in the heart of historic Havana, the Museo de la Revolución (Museum of the Revolution) is a must for history lovers or if you simply want to know more about the history of Cuba.
The museum’s extensive exhibits chronicle Cuban history from the independence wars against Spain and the political upheavals of the 50s to the country’s communist rebuilding in the 60s and 70s. Fascinating artifacts include those that brought Castro to Cuban shores in 1956 and the guns used by Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos during the Revolution.
Address: Refúgio Street 1, between Monserrate and Zulueta, Avenida Bélgica, La Habana 10600, Cuba,
Opening Hours: 9:30 am – 4 pm, daily
Suggested Tour: Havana City Tour
4. Wonder at Cuban Art at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes
The Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (National Museum of Fine Arts) is home to a comprehensive collection of Cuban art that chronicles the artistic history of the island, as well as international works by El Greco and other Spanish masters.
The museum is spread over two campuses: the Arte Cubano is in the Bellas Artes building on the Trocadero between Zulueta and Monserrate and is dedicated solely to exhibiting Cuban art. The Arte Universal section is based in a grand palace overlooking Parque Central and showcases international artworks.
Address: Arte Cubano: Trocadero between Zulueta and Monserrate, Havana, Cuba / Arte Universal: San Rafael between Zulueta and Monserrate
Opening Hours: Tuesday to Saturday 09:00 am – 5:00 pm / Sunday 10:00 am – 2:00 pm
Suggested Tour: Welcome to Havana: Private Tour with a Local
5. Marvel at the La Plaza de la Revolución
The Plaza de la Revolución (Revolution Square) in Havana is one of the largest city squares in the world and captures the raw spirit and heritage of Cuba. Spanning 11 acres, the massive square hosts huge political rallies and was the site where the Castro brothers addressed millions of Cubans.
The 360-foot-tall Jose Marti Memorial dominates the square to the north by the Jose Marti Memorial and a giant steel sculpture of Cuba’s revolutionary hero Che Guevara hangs on the eastern façade of the Ministerio del Interior. The mural is lit from behind at night with a golden glow that is said to symbolize the spirit of Cuba’s revolution.
Address: Avenida Paseo, Havana, Cuba
Suggested Tour: Havana City Tour
Relax on the Beach in Varadero
Set on Cuba’s narrow Hicacos Peninsula, Varadero is a popular beach resort town with more than 12 miles of spectacular coastline boasting palm-fringed, white sandy beaches, turquoise waters, and a plethora of all-inclusive hotel and spa resorts. Spend the day on the beach and enjoy a range of watersports from snorkeling and diving in the gin-clear waters to kayaking, kite-surfing, and deep-sea fishing.
Other attractions in Varadero include the Reserva Ecológica Varahicacos, a nature reserve with hiking trails and an ancient burial cave, and Parque Josone, a pretty park with lovely gardens and tranquil ponds.
Where: Matanzas Province, Cuba
Suggested Tour: From Varadero: Sea Cruise to Cayo Blanco
7. Pay Homage to a National Hero at the Che Guevara Mausoleum
Located in the Plaza Che Guevara in the heart of Santa Clara, the Che Guevara Mausoleum (Mausoleo del Che Guevara) houses the remains of the revolutionary and national hero Ernesto “Che” Guevara. It also houses 29 of his comrades who were killed during an attempted uprising in Bolivia in 1967.
The grand marble mausoleum features a fascinating selection of exhibits that display his gun, binoculars, water bottle, and a myriad of photographs taken throughout his life. A huge bronze statue of Guevara stands outside the mausoleum in honor of Cuba’s most iconic man.
Address: Santa Clara, Cuba
Opening Hours: Tuesday – Sunday 8: 30 am – 5 pm
8. Explore the Mighty Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca del Morro
Perched high atop a cliff at the entrance to the Bay of Santiago close to the city of Santiago de Cuba, the Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca del Morro is an exquisitely Spanish fortress dating back to the 17th century and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Designed in 1587 and completed at the end of the 17th century, the citadel was built to protect against pirate attacks, but also served as a prison for some time before being converted back into a fortress. Now, you can explore the magnificent structure, learn about its history, and soak up some impressive views from the ramparts.
Address: Santiago de Cuba, Cuba
Opening Hours: 9 am – 7 pm, daily
Suggested Tour: Santiago de Cuba: Historical Discovery Tour
9. Stand Among Dinosaurs at Parque Baconao
Parque Baconao is a World Heritage Biosphere Reserve between Santiago de Cuba and the Río Baconao that has some wonderful things to see and do, including beautiful botanical gardens, coffee plantations, and a park of life-sized dinosaur sculptures.
The biosphere has an exceptionally diverse array of fauna and flora with over 1800 endemic species of plants and some endangered bats and spiders. Climb the 4,000-foot-high volcanic Gran Piedra for spectacular 360-degree views over the mountains and sea.
Where: Santiago de Cuba
Suggested Tour: Tour to La Gran Piedra + Baconao Park
10. Hike the Wilds of the Sierra Maestra
Set in the deep southern reaches of the country, the mighty Sierra Maestra rises in steep bastions and rugged bluffs Cape Cruz to the estuaries of the Guantanamo River and cascades dramatically to the Caribbean Sea.
These hills are famous for the hide-out of revolutionaries like Che Guevara and Fidel Castro in the 50s and the old secret headquarters of the rebels can still be explored. Enjoy short to multi-day hikes into these magnificent peaks with a trekking guide from the nearby city of Bayamo.
Where: Southern Cuba
Suggested Tour: Sierra Maestra Trek
11. Join the Fiesta de la Cubania in Bayamo
Every week in the ancient town of Bayamo, the locals put on the Fiesta de la Cubani complete with blaring Cuban and Caribbean tunes, dancing, feasting on fiery dishes, and tooting traffic lines of Buicks and Cadillacs.
Located in the far-flung reaches of Oriente, Bayamo, which dates back to 1513, is beautiful with sun-splashed streets and grand historic and colonial buildings and well worth a visit. The town is renowned for its accomplished chess players, so chance a game with the locals if you dare.
Suggested Tour: Bayamo Tour from Trinidad
12. Enjoy Cabaret at the Tropicana Club
Tucked between the streets of Marianao on the western side of Havana, the Tropicana Club is world-renowned for its nightly cabaret shows of bombastic music and dancing, complete with showgirls clad in shiny sequins and plumes of peacock feathers that have been going on since the 1930s.
The Tropicana Club, which was once a regular hangout of the Floridian La Cosa Nostra, is a mainstay of the capital’s nightlife and although entry isn’t cheap, it’s a must if you love cabaret.
Address: 72 A, La Habana, Cuba
Opening Hours: 24 hours
Suggested Tour: Havana: Cabaret Tropicana Admission Ticket
13. Soak Up the Spanish Colonial Vibes of Trinidad
The charming town of Trinidad is one of the veritable jewels of Cuba’s south coast. Founded in 1514, it’s kept an authentic Spanish charm with cobblestone streets lined with beautifully restored buildings and tiny pueblo cottages that exude a quaint colonial feel.
The cobblestone Plaza Mayor is the city’s main square and is bordered by the breathtaking neoclassical Church of the Holy Trinity (Iglesia Parroquial de la Santisima Trinidad) and the Baroque Iglesia y Convento.
Other attractions in the UNESCO World Heritage-listed town worth checking out are the art gallery at the Casa de Aldeman Ortiz; the Museum of Colonial Architecture (Museo de Arquitectura Colonial); and the grand Palacio Brunet with its original frescoes and marble floors dating back to 1812.
Where: Southern Cuba
Suggested Tour: Trinidad: Full-Day E-Bike Tour
14. Tour the Valle de los Ingenios
Once the industrial powerhouse of the nation and the reason for Trinidad’s immense wealth, the trio of valleys that make up the Valle de Los Ingenios (the Valley of Sugar Mills) are steeped in history. Also known as Valle de San Luis, the area was the sugar-growing center of the country, tilled and harvested by more than 30,000 slaves.
Ruins of dozens of 19th-century sugar mills, manor houses, and slave quarters still dot the valleys, which are now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The best way to see and experience the valleys is to take a ride on the Baldwin Locomotive steam train through the area and learn all about the dark history of slave ownership in the valleys.
Where: Southern Cuba
Suggested Tour: Manaca Iznaga Valley Tour
15. Snorkel in Guardalavaca
Fringed by shimmering white sandy beaches lapped by crystal clear waters, Guardalavaca, in the Holguin province, is a beach lover’s paradise. Colorful coral reefs lie just beneath the surface of the turquoise waters, making it a fantastic spot for snorkeling and scuba-diving.
Just west of Guardalavaca is Bahia de Naranjo and the small island of Cayo Naranjo which has a Dolphinarium where you can enjoy close-up encounters with dolphins. Other fun things to do here include sailing trips, jungle adventures, and visiting a recreated Taino Indian village and native Indian burial area in Chorro de Maita.
Where: Holguin Province, Eastern Cuba
Suggested Tour: Eastern Cuba Tour
16. Soak Up the Sun on Hemingway’s Favorite Island
Cayo Coco is one of the most beautiful and isolated islands in Cuba and loved by Hemingway so much that it starred in his novels, Islands in the Stream and The Old Man and the Sea. The islet forms part of the Jardines del Rey and the archipelago of Sabana-Camaguey and is connected to the mainland by a bridge.
Best known for its long, white, footprint-free beaches, the island is best for beach-bumming, snorkeling, swimming, and soaking up some sun. The quiet and undeveloped Playa Prohibida has a lovely, peaceful nature trail and offers excellent birding.
Where: Ciego de Avila Province
Suggested Tour: Cayo Coco Tours
17. Explore the Parque Nacional Viñales (Valle de Viñales)
Nestled in the Sierra de Los Organos, north of Pinar del Rio, the Parque Nacional Viñales is a beautiful, verdant valley with a patchwork landscape of mogote-studded plantations and orchards. Steep limestone hills (mogotes) create a breathtaking and tradition-steeped landscape.
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Parque Nacional Viñales offers great outdoor activities like hiking, biking, and horseback riding in the hills. The charming town of Viñales is a perfect base for exploring the valley.
Where: Pinar del Rio
Suggested Tour: Havana: Exclusive Viñales Trip
18. Step Back in Time in Baracoa
The beautiful city of Baracoa in eastern Cuba’s Guantanamo Province is the oldest in the country and well worth a visit. Founded in 1511, the city is surrounded by thick steamy jungles and was cut off from much of the outside world until the 1960s. It still has a remote feel about it, which adds to its charm.
The almost 2,000-foot-high El Yunque stands sentry over Baracoa, drawing hikers and climbers from far and wide to scale its flat-topped peak. The city has charming colonial architecture, pretty beaches, and lush countryside with many waterfalls, and the hillside of El Yunque is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve which is home to a plethora of fauna and flora.
Where: Guantanamo Province
Suggested Tour: El Yunque and Parque Nacional Alejandro de Humboldt
20. Get Back to Nature at Ciénaga de Zapata
The Peninsula de Zapata is a remote, sparsely populated area of Cuba and a haven for birders and nature lovers. The area is home to one of the largest wetlands in the Caribbean known as the Cienaga de Zapata, or the Zapata Swamp, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in which over 150 different species of birds and crocodiles reside.
You can see many of these creatures in their natural habitats in the Gran Parque Natural de Montemar, a designated nature reserve on the peninsula and the famous site of the 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion, Playa Giron is located at the mouth of the Bay of Pigs (Bahia de Cochinos). Explore this fascinating history at the small Museo Giron.
Other attractions on the Peninsula de Zapata include Playa Larga which offers excellent scuba diving along the reefs and the Criadero de Cocodrilos crocodile farm at Boca de Guama.
Where: Matanzas Province, Southern Cuba
21. Cool Off Under the El Nicho Waterfalls
Located in the densely forested Gran Parque Natural Topes de Collantes in central Cuba, the El Nicho waterfalls are the perfect place to cool off surrounded by nature. The waterfalls are reached by a 1.5-mile palm-lined trail surrounded by thick, tropical forest and the scenery is spectacular. The falls cascade into several jade-green jungle pools where you can swim and sunbathe. Keep an eye out for the tocororo, Cuba’s national bird.
Where: Central Cuba
22. Visit a Cigar Factory and Smoke a Cuban Cigar
Cuban cigars (called puros) are legendary and Cuban tobacco is hailed as some of the world’s finest. The best way to learn all about Cuban cigars is to take a tour of a Cuban cigar factory and journey back in time.
Havana is dotted with cigar factories of all shapes and sizes, most of which are open to tourists and offer guided tours. The Partágas Factory is the most popular, but other great factories that are open to visitors, include the Romeo y Julieta Factory and La Corona.
Suggested Tour: The Cigar Trail
23. Sip a Mojito at La Bodeguita del Medio
When in Havana, head to the La Bodeguita del Medio, a now world-famous bar in Old Havana where Nobel Prize-winning writer Ernest Hemingway was known to beat the heat with a few drinks while penning his award-winning novels. The bar is also famous for its mojitos and even if you aren’t a fan of rum, try one – you’ll be hooked!
Address: Empedrado, La Habana, Cuba
Suggested Tour: Havana: On the Trail of Ernest Hemingway Tour
24. Marvel at the Dreamy Folk-Art Kingdom of Fusterlandia
Cuban artist José Fuster transformed the once rundown neighborhood of Jaimanitas outside Havana into a vibrant, strange, and fantastical land of folk art. Inspired by the works of Gaudi, Picasso, and Brâncuși, Fuster decorated his neighborhood using his whimsical imagination and the result is a wonderland of art and creativity.
Fuster’s still-growing kingdom has become an artist’s paradise and created a new generation of artists. Well worth a visit!
Suggested Tour: From Havana: Full-Day E-Bike Tour to the Unknown West
25. Visit the Colón Cemetery
The Colón Cemetery is a stately and impressive sanctuary in the heart of Havana with some beautiful architecture. Established in 1876 and named after Christopher Columbus, the 150-acre cemetery has over 500 mausoleums, chapels, and vaults designed in an array of architectural styles from Art Deco to Renaissance.
There are also some striking examples of funerary architecture such as an elaborate 75-foot-tall memorial for firefighters who died in the 1890 fire and special monuments dedicated to well-known Cubans. There are also abandoned and unmaintained tombs and chapels of families now living in exile.
Address: Calle 12, Havana, Cuba
Suggested Tour: Havana City Tour
26. Have an Ice Cream at Coppelia
The aging citadel of Coppelia is the beating heart of the Cuban ice cream craze and has been serving scoops for over 50 years. Commissioned by Fidel Castro and built in 1966, the sprawling, retro-modern helado complex may be crumbling, but it’s still the only place to go for an “ensalada” (five scoops in a bowl).
Address: 2111 Calle L, Vedado, Havana, Cuba
27. Delight Your Senses at the Old Havana Perfume Museum
Located in Old Havana, Habana 1791 is a wonderful museum dedicated to perfume. It has a collection of historical artifacts, ingredients, and old bottles, as well as an array of perfumes on display that predate 1960.
The museum also houses French perfumes, including Chanel No. 5, as well as great Cuban perfumers Gravi, Sebatés, and Crusellas. It also has a complete collection of Suchel Fragancia products, including the official state perfume produced in the country.
Address: Calle Oficios between Obispo and Obrapía, Havana, Cuba
Suggested Tour: Discover Old Havana: Small-Group Walking Tour with Lunch
28. Zipline over Las Terrazas
Once a pioneering ecovillage, Las Terrazas is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve with a busy activity center that offers hiking, mountain biking, and canopy tours through the beautiful natural surroundings.
The vibrant art community has a picturesque, whitewashed village overlooking a small lake, open studios, woodwork and pottery workshops, and an upmarket eco-resort for overnight guests. It’s the perfect place to escape the chaos of Havana for a night or two.
Address: Artemisa Province
Suggested Tour: Las Terrazas with Canopy Tour
29. Dance the Night Away in an Underground Cave
The colonial city of Trinidad has a vibrant nightlife and one of the hottest spots to go dancing is Disco Ayala, also known as La Cueva, a dance club built into a natural cave 100 feet underground. Located on the northern outskirts of town, the cavernous disco has naturally formed stalagmites and stalactites that are illuminated by colored lights and resident bats that need to be smoked out each evening before the disco opens.
The cave was also once the home of an infamous serial killer, Carlos “Coco” Ayala, who was a deserter from the Cuban War of Independence in the late 1800s and hid in the cave where he committed unspeakable crimes.
30. Catch a Concert at Los Jardines de la Tropical
Los Jardines de la Tropical is a beautifully restored Spanish-style estate and Cuban pleasure garden on the outskirts of Havana that was once a hot spot for high society, hosting orchestras and grand balls in a vast ballroom.
After falling into disrepair and being lovingly restored by the Havana Metropolitan Parks organization, the estate has traded black ties for rock concerts and dance festivals which are held throughout the year.
Address: 41 St & 46 Avenida, Havana, Cuba
The Best of Cuba
Best Beaches in Cuba
1. Playa Los Flamencos (Cayo Coco Beach)
Named after the coco birds (white ibis), the long white sandy beaches of Cayo Coco island are every beach lover’s dream. The gin-clear waters with fine sand and nothing but starfish are perfect for swimming and snorkeling.
2. Playa Paraiso (Paradise Beach)
Playa Paraiso is a beautiful, almost untouched beach with a stunning sandy coastline and sparkling blue water. Famous for its calm waters and spectacular scenery, the beach offers a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of a usual Cuban beach town.
Varadero is one of the best beaches for water-based activities like snorkeling, scuba diving (there are over thirty diving sites around the peninsula), sailing, kayaking, fishing, and glass-bottom boat rides.
Best Hotels in Cuba
Located in the historic center of Old Havana, the Saratoga is a Cuban icon. The small, high-end hotel is known for its classical grandeur and unrivaled views over the city and has the perfect roof terrace for enjoying mojitos by the pool. Loved by Beyonce, Madonna, and the King of Morocco.
Address: Paseo del Prado No. 603, Esquina, Dragones, La Habana, Cuba, Phone: +53 7 868 1000
2. Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski
Set in the historic Manzana de Gómez building overlooking Parque Central and across the road from Hemingway haunt Floridita, Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski epitomizes glamor and luxury. The grand, whitewashed hotel has exquisite interiors and an out-of-this-world rooftop deck with a swimming pool and views over the city.
Address: Calle San Rafael (entre Monserrate y, Agramonte, La Habana 10100, Cuba, Phone: +53 7 8699100
3. Iberostar – Grand Hotel Trinidad
This charming and luxurious adults-only five-star hotel in the perfectly preserved Spanish colonial settlement of Trinidad exudes elegance and old-world charm. Housed in a beautifully refurbished 16th-century World Heritage building, the hotel transports guests back to a bygone era.
Address: 262 62600 Calle Jesús María, Trinidad, Cuba, Phone: +53 41 996070
Best Restaurants in Cuba
1. La Guarida, Havana
Located on the top floor of a dilapidated building in Habana Centro, this upscale eatery is the granddaddy of Havana’s paladares and has served the likes of Sting, Jack Nicholson, and Prince Albert of Monaco. Established over 75 years ago, diners are ensconced in three opulent rooms adorned with old film paraphernalia and savor contemporary Cuban-fusion.
Address: 418 Concordia, La Habana, Cuba, Phone: +53 7 8669047
2. Otramanera, Havana
Owned by an artist and sommelier couple from the Costa Brava, this fine dining restaurant serves Spanish-Cuban fusion fare made with organic ingredients from a local farmer accompanied by stellar wines. Take a table in the lush tropical gardens for a sublime dining experience.
Address: Restaurante Otramanera, 1810 Avenida 35, La Habana, Cuba, Phone: +53 7 2038315
3. Finca Paraiso Agroecológica, Viñales
Finca Paraiso Agroecológica is a family-run organic farm in the Viñales hills with spectacular views and delicious homemade food and wine. What could be more relaxing?
Address: Vinales, Cuba