Why Visit Cuba
In all its audacity and raw flamboyance, the Caribbean island of Cuba is a place worth exploring.
From its timeless colonial architecture to the serenity of its pristine white-sand beaches, the island’s distinctive charm is a blend of vibrant Latino rhythms, smiling genteel people, and the seductive aroma of the world-famous Cuban cigars.
Couple these elements with the tropical island’s storied history, and you’ve got yourself a travel destination that promises to be unforgettable. You will never run out of reasons why you should visit Cuba.
So let’s explore the 17 Best Things to Do in Cuba.
Overview of Popular Destinations in Cuba
Cuba is an exotic location that carries the perfect blend of city, history, culture, and sun-kissed beaches.
The must-visit destinations include the historic, UNESCO World Heritage-designated city of Havana, with its vintage ambiance and glamorous street art.
Witness the pristine, sandy shores and azure waters of Varadero while lounging in luxury at world-class beach resorts.
Head to the timeless colonial city of Trinidad as you take a leap back in time into a vintage, post-colonial era with cobblestone streets and beautifully preserved architecture.
Don’t forget to check out the natural wealth of the outdoor paradise in Viñales, an idyllic valley offering spectacular vistas and several eco-friendly activities.
Lastly, for an offbeat experience, visit the bustling town of Sancti Spiritus, known for its colorful buildings, and the unspoiled island of Cayo Levisa, offering serene and tranquil beaches.
Soak Up the Culture
1. Wander Around Old Havana
The charm and beauty of Old Havana, locally known as Habana Vieja, is as timeless as the vintage cars that cruise its streets.
Strolling around the cobbled lanes and getting lost amidst the grand aura of Baroque and neoclassical edifices, you’re sure to be struck by the glimpses of life in Cuba as it was 200 years ago.
Revitalization projects have resurrected life into many historic buildings in this UNESCO World Heritage site.
Do visit the Plaza de la Catedral, where the Cuban Baroque-style Catedral de San Cristobal, and Castillo de la Real Fuerza, a historic military fortress, await to impress you.
The Plaza Vieja, another highlight, houses the 18th-century Casa del Conde Jaruco, which is known for its beautiful stained-glass windows.
Wandering around Old Havana allows you to capture colorful photo ops such as pastel-painted buildings, washing lines full of drying clothes, candy-pink classic cars, and folklore music and rhythms echoing through the streets.
It’s recommended to reserve at least one day for exploring Old Havana, but trust me, the more, the better.
2. Admire Trinidad's Architectural Beauty
The enchanting town of Trinidad, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is akin to stepping back in time to the 17th to 19th centuries.
Situated at the heart of Cuba, this quaint city boasts of vibrant, colorful colonial architecture and countless art galleries that narrate the tale of its glorious past.
The town is compact, and its center is pedestrianized, making it an ideal place to explore on foot.
As vehicles cannot enter the city center, you get the opportunity to fully cherish the cobblestone streets and the old-world charm that they embody.
- One of the prime attractions in Trinidad is the Plaza Mayor, a wonderful place to admire the city’s diverse architecture and interact with the locals.
- For an eye-catching view of the entire city, do climb the bell tower of the nearby Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco de Asis.
- The neoclassical, pastel-yellow church, Iglesia Parroquial de la Santísima Trinidad, that oversees the city square, is a beautiful sight to behold.
- Next to the church stands the Palacio Brunet, built in 1812, housing the stunning Museo Romantico that still retains and displays the Brunet family’s belongings.
- To enjoy panoramic views stretching to the lush Escambray mountains, you can get to its second floor at the cost of a few convertible pesos.
- Don’t miss a visit to Palacio Cantero, the biggest house in the city and now Museo Historico Municipal. While exploring the museum, do step out into the beautiful courtyard.
For more stunning vistas across Trinidad, you can climb the somewhat deteriorated staircase in the tower, but ensure to check their opening hours as it closes quite early.
These architectural marvels invite you into the rich history and soul of Trinidad, making it a destination that no photographer or history enthusiast should miss.
3. Ride Around Town in a Vintage Car
Riding in a vintage car through the colorful streets of Havana is one of the quintessential Cuban experiences that travelers should not miss.
Classic cars from the 1950s, painted in vibrant hues, cruising through the historic landscapes, add that unique flavor of nostalgia to the ambiance of the city.
These classic cars, mostly American models, started being used as taxis after the Cuban revolution, along with bici-taxis and motorbikes with sidecars, adding a fascinating layer to the country’s transport scene.
You can hail these “taxis particulares” for a ride, but remember to negotiate the fee beforehand.
Booking a guided tour in a vintage car enhances the experience as you can cruise leisurely through the popular routes of the city without worrying about the destination.
For a full-on immersive experience in Havana’s rich history and culture, commence your trip in a classic car tour.
The drives cover scenic routes passing by signature spots in the city like the Plaza de la Revolución and the Malecón.
Most guided tours are offered in convertible models, the ultimate way to soak in the city vibe. You can book your ride online in advance for hassle-free travel and to avoid carrying extra cash.
Exploring Cuba in a vintage car is an exciting way to capture the vibrant energy of the city and its timeless appeal, combining the thrill of the ride with an extraordinary journey through Cuba’s rich history.
Vintage cars in Havana are an iconic sight – a stark contrast to other flashy cities where old cars are unusual – underlining the uniqueness of the Cuban experience.
The chronicled past of Cuba, which rendered modern cars inaccessible to Cubans, showcased the locals’ knack for preserving and maintaining these vintage automobiles.
It’s fascinating to see how they have adapted and kept alive part of their history in such beautiful machinery. They didn’t just roll with it; they rode with it!
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Embrace the Natural Wonders
4. Enjoy the Tranquil Beaches - Varadero and Cayo Coco
Cuba, dubbed as the ‘Pearl of the Antilles’, is renowned for its series of picturesque beaches that stretch all along the island.
Best described as a sliver of paradise, Varadero is famed for its exquisite 20-kilometer stretch of white sandy beaches and turquoise blue waters.
This resort town in Matanzas is considered to have one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
Not only is it popular for relaxation, but it also provides opportunities for water sports such as scuba diving and kayaking.
Luxurious all-inclusive hotels, restaurants, and beach huts offer the distinctive resort atmosphere that the Caribbean is renowned for.
Explore the lush forest areas, historical attractions, and caves that are part of the town’s landscape.
Just sitting, soaking up the sun under a beach hut on the soft white sands of Varadero, is enough to make you lose track of time as you admire the stunning sunset.
Located in the Jardines del Rey archipelago, Cayo Coco is another gem in Cuba’s crown of beautiful beaches.
The powdery white sand and clear, shallow waters of its beaches make it an ideal spot for snorkeling. Cayo Coco is a haven of tranquility and a must-visit for any beach lover traveling to Cuba.
Visit Varadero and Cayo Coco not just for their pristine beaches but also for the quintessential Caribbean resort atmosphere that they offer.
Endless swaying palm trees, azure waters, exotic cocktails, and beachside cabanas – what more can one ask for in a perfect beach vacation?
These beach getaways are loved by international travelers as well as Cubans for their stunning natural beauty and the convenience they offer.
From watersports for the adventurous to the laid-back lifestyle for the relaxed, these beaches have something for everyone.
Stick to Varadero and Cayo Coco for a more commercial experience, or head off the beaten path to Cayo Jutias near Viñales, Cayo Saetia in Holguin.
Here is my Complete List of the Best Beaches in Cuba.
5. Hike El Yunque
Uncover the captivating beauty of nature as you hike El Yunque, an iconic flat-topped mountain near Baracoa.
The trail is perfect for beginners and pros alike, with a gentle slope that elevates you 500 feet above sea level.
Licensed guides stationed at the trailhead ensure your safety and enrich your hiking experience with insights into the local flora and fauna.
The trail culminates at enchanting waterfalls and natural pool areas, making for ideal spots to cool down, so don’t forget to pack a swimsuit!
To ensure you have everything you need, here is my Complete Cuba Packing List.
6. Explore the Valle de Vinales
Escape to the tranquil expanses of the Viñales Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site enveloped by verdant farmland and artful limestone mogotes.
Viñales is a snapshot of Cuba at its most bucolic, with local farmers employing age-old agricultural methods, especially in their famed tobacco plantations.
Get on horseback, cycle, or lace up your hiking boots to tour the plantations, taste some of the world’s best tobacco, and learn about Cuba’s rich agricultural traditions directly from the locals.
The rocky landscapes are reminiscent of Vietnam’s Halong Bay and house fascinating cave systems waiting to be explored.
Experience the Classic Cuban Lifestyle
7. Smoke A Real Cuban Cigar
Ignite your Cuban adventure by embracing a classic part of Cuban culture – smoking a genuine Cuban cigar.
Cuba’s fertile lands produce some of the world’s premium-quality cigars, and the tradition of cigar smoking is embedded deeply in the country’s history.
Once you head to Viñales, the tobacco-growing region of Cuba, roll your own Cuban cigar under the guidance of local farmers.
You’ll get to know first-hand the craftsmanship and dedication it takes to produce each cigar.
Famed brands like Cohiba are definitely worth trying, but exploring other lesser-known brands also adds to the experience.
Please note that these authentic Cuban cigars are best purchased from state-run cigar shops or hotels to avoid counterfeit products.
Enjoy your Cuban cigar with a backdrop of a stunning sunset or while sipping a traditional Cuban rum.
8. Drink Cuban Coffee and Rum
Embrace Cuba’s flavorful passions with a sip of their world-renowned coffee and rum.
Each sip of Cuba’s coffee elicits a strong, sweet espresso taste with a pleasingly foamy top.
Savor this delightful drink from local storefronts frequented by locals for just a few pesos. It’s a must-try experience when you visit Cuba.
When it comes to rum, Cuba excels. The country boasts an array of delicious cocktails, chiefly the Daiquiri, Mojito, and the Cuba Libre, each resonating with Cuba’s famous rum.
Havana Club rum tops the popularity chart in most bars; however, should you desire a local, economical flavor, give boxed rum a try!
Hangovers aside, the party scene on the streets with your rum-filled juice box will be one to remember.
9. Have A Meal In A Local Cuban Cafeteria
Experience the authentic taste of Cuba at a local cafeteria — a gateway to explore locals’ day-to-day dining habits.
While tourist restaurants offer a curated menu, these modest kitchens serve a humble, tasteful gastronomic journey truly reflective of Cuba’s flavorful heritage.
Cuban cafeterias are inexpensive and operate with the local currency CUP. Don’t be surprised if you receive CUP as change when paying with CUC (the currency more commonly used by tourists)!
This change doubles up as a nifty souvenir of your Cuban culinary adventure.
Get ready to ditch commonplace ham sandwiches, black beans, and hot dogs.
Make space instead for dishes made with exotic ingredients concocted with a Cuban twist, like baby wild boar rib chops, lobster carpaccio salad, and pineapple sorbet.
While quality varies across these establishments, a bit of research or asking fellow travelers will lead you to the best spots such as Chachahca, El Dandy, and El Biky, all located in Havana.
Don’t forget to dig into the renowned local lobster, shrimp or octopus in flavorful coconut sauce — it’s a palate showstopper.
Tap into Cuban Art and History
10. Visit Fábrica de Arte Cubano
Welcome to the wonder that is Havana’s Fábrica de Arte Cubano (FAC).
Founded by Cuban musician X-Alfonso, this vibrant art space is a strikingly versatile combination of a fine arts gallery, concert hall, nightclub, movie theater, and cultural space — all under one roof!
A walking tour of FAC unfolds like a cultural magic box. One moment you could be swaying to a live jazz performance, and the next you might find yourself exploring an intriguing art exhibition.
With exhibits and performances rotating every three months, every visit to FAC is a fresh sensory delight.
Indulge your gastronomic cravings at FAC’s pop-up restaurant or enjoy a drink or five at their unique bars. The drinks are reasonably priced, so don’t hesitate to treat yourself while appreciating the arts.
The international popularity of FAC is undeniable. Global figures like Michelle Obama have reveled in the glory of FAC, and it was fittingly named one of the “100 Greatest Places in the World” by Time Magazine.
To avoid potential queues, it’s best to arrive early (between 8 pm and 9 pm) on open days from Thursdays through Sundays.
FAC is undoubtedly a must-visit when in Havana for an unforgettable mix of Cuban art, music, and life.
Here is my list of the Best Things to Do in Cuba.
11. Immerse Yourself in Cuban History at Museo de la Revolución
Submerge yourself in Cuba’s riveting historical timeline at the Museo de la Revolución in Havana.
This iconic museum, housed in the impressive neoclassical Presidential Palace, reveals some of Cuba’s most dramatic moments from the 15th to the 21st centuries.
A highlight of your visit will be exploring the museum’s exhibits dedicated to the country’s communist rebuilding in the 60s and 70s, alongside sections explaining the independence wars against Spain.
Your journey through the museum’s corridors will illuminate personal artifacts, documents, and real-life objects, like the yacht used in one of the attempted coups.
Learn about Cuba’s revolutionary struggles, including the 1950s Cuban Revolution, and gain insight into the local perspective on these events.
An essential tip: since most exhibits are in Spanish, it may be worthwhile hiring a tour guide or a translation app to enrich your experience and understanding.
Whether you’re a history lover or just curious, you’ll find the Museo de la Revolución absolutely fascinating, and a trip to Havana is incomplete without spending a day here.
12. Walk in Ernest Hemingway’s Shoes
Immerse yourself in the legacy left behind by Ernest Hemingway, one of America’s greatest literary figures who lived in Cuba for several decades.
Hemingway’s time in Cuba inspired him to create many of his celebrated novels, and visiting these sites offers a unique perspective into his life and work.
Start by visiting his home, Finca Vigia, nestled in San Francisco de Paula, where you can voyage into his world, from the preserved artifacts to the tower overlook.
It’s a great spot to feel the inspiration that created seven of his renowned books.
Relive Hemingway’s leisurely days by dropping into the classic Havana bars, El Floridita and La Bodeguita del Medio.
These vibrant bars with the aura of an old-world charm are adorned with memorabilia hailing Hemingway’s legacy, creating an atmosphere similar to the author’s heyday.
Cap off your Hemingway tour with a visit to the mesmerizing Cayo Guillermo, where you stumble upon the island’s most beautiful beach, Playa Pilar, named after his yacht.
Experiencing life in Havana through Hemingway’s eyes and in his footsteps is a once-in-a-lifetime narrative of a rich and compelling slice of Cuba’s history.
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Indulge in Local Festivities
13. Participate in Cuba's Ebullient Festivals
Soak up Cuba’s vibrant atmosphere at traditional festivals that take place across the country.
Regardless of its history of socialism and crippling embargos, the Cubans revel in their fiestas like no other nation.
The streets come alive with imbued spirit, music, dance, and radiant smiles that complement the picturesque backdrop of colonial architecture, azure water, and palm trees.
From the Havana and Santiago de Cuba Carnivals to the 26th of July celebrations marking Cuba’s National Revolution Day or even prestigious gatherings like the Havana Ballet Festival or Film Festival — you get to experience the real essence of Cuba in its festivities.
Of particular interest to many travelers is the world-famous Ballet Nacional de Cuba, where you can enjoy awe-inspiring ballet performances at a tiny fraction of international prices when they are home in Havana.
You can even stumble upon many smaller local festivals throughout the year.
Preplanning and aligning your trip dates around these significant festivals will transport you into a universe of unique and memorable experiences, where the excitement is turned way up, and the celebrations resonate in every corner of Cuba.
So put on your dancing shoes and let the rhythm of Cuba take over your heart and soul.
14. Catch a Live Cabaret Show
Dress up and step into the glitz and glamour of Havana’s lively cabaret scene.
It’s the perfect way to experience the authentic Cuban nightclub environment, dating back to the flamboyant 1950s variety shows.
A trip to the island is incomplete without attending one of these captivating performances.
Arguably the most famous is the Tropicana Club show. Under a canopy of Caribbean stars and amidst fragrant tropical gardens, immerse yourself in a breathtaking spectacle of sequin-studded dancers and over-the-top singers.
The bombastic dance shows and music nights create an unforgettable experience embellished with plumes of peacock feathers and shiny sequins. Tropicana, with an entry fee of around $60, isn’t cheap, but it’s worth every nickel for the extravaganza you experience.
Alternatively, you can enjoy a more Moulin Rouge-style cabaret at the Hotel Nacional’s Cabaret Le Parisien. Both options guarantee an exclusive and exhilarating taste of Cuban nightlife.
Going to these shows will offer you a piece of living Cuban history, a night of colorful costumes, and thrilling entertainment. You might just find yourself salsa dancing before the night is over!
Test Your Spirit of Adventure
15. Dive And Snorkel In The Caribbean
Experience the fantastic underwater world of Cuba with a day of diving or snorkeling.
The pristine turquoise Caribbean waters offer some of the best visibility, creating an underwater photographer’s paradise.
Make your way to Jardines de la Reina, an underwater reservoir considered one of the world’s best-preserved marine areas.
Here, you can dive and marvel at massive coral formations while swimming alongside sea turtles, rays, and schools of snapper.
The site is also home to the grand Goliath grouper and various sharks. Be warned — only venture to dive in such spots with a credible guide for your safety.
If you prefer snorkeling, head to the Bay of Pigs, a beloved spot for its stunning underwater caves, bright and vibrant marine life, and beautiful waters.
Playa Larga and Caleta Buena are excellent picks for this sport. Remember the rule of thumb – leave only bubbles, and don’t touch anything underwater.
Every dive and snorkel trip promises a unique encounter with Cuba’s fascinating marine life, making it an unmissable adventure.
16. Check Out Che Guevara Mausoleum
Immerse yourself in the local history by paying a visit to the Che Guevara Mausoleum in Santa Clara, a symbol of the nation’s respect for their revolutionary hero, Ernesto “Che” Guevara.
Constructed in 1997, the mausoleum is a blend of a monument and a museum. It presents an intriguing journey into some unknown aspects of the Revolutionary War.
The memorial houses the remains of Che and his comrades killed in Bolivia in 1967 and displays a collection of Guevara’s personal belongings, including his gun, binoculars, water bottle, photos, and various architectural artworks.
In this somber yet remarkable place, you’re not just traveling through time but also getting introduced to the essence of Cuba’s spirit and Guevara’s iconic role.
The Che Guevara Mausoleum stands as another impressive testament to Cuba’s unwavering character that has shaped its history and identity as a nation.
TIP: It’s advisable to arrive early to avoid long lines, and remember to dress respectfully as it’s a burial site.
17. Ride a Bull
Experience a thrilling ride in Cuba unlike any other: riding a bull!
A refreshing break from traditional horse rides, this bull-riding activity brings you closer to the country’s agricultural roots.
Watch the world turn a little slower as you find yourself amidst tranquil countryside, rolling tobacco fields, and fellow travelers equally eager to embark on this unique adventure.
Animal lovers, this might just become your most memorable moment from the trip!
Though a mix of livestock and people is common in Cuba, this exotic adventure is particularly popular in Vinales.
Opt for a tobacco tour and journey through tobacco fields either by a bull cart or horseback. Sound interesting, right?
Both kids and adults can experience this adventurous ride.
Bulls are domesticated animals, and under the watchful eyes of professionals, they make for a safe and unique mode of touring.
Riding a bull isn’t just about enjoying a fun activity — it’s an experience that slowly immerses you in the authentic, rural, slow-paced lifestyle that is classic Cuba.
Ensure you book your bull ride with a responsible agency. Though not as streamlined as other tourist offerings, the experience is still safe and enjoyable.
If nothing else, you’ll certainly be striking a pose atop a bull, which will spark some fun reactions back home!
What is the Best Time to Visit Cuba?
The best time to visit Cuba is from late November to mid-April.
During these months, Cuba enjoys relatively warm and pleasant weather while avoiding the rainy season.
This period also coincides with the peak tourist season.
Expect more crowded attractions and slightly higher prices during this time. It is essential to consider that even in these months, occasional tropical showers can occur.
However, they usually don’t last very long and can be quite refreshing.
Can I Stay Overnight in Cuba's Casas Particulares?
Yes, staying overnight in Cuba’s casas particulares is not only possible but also highly recommended.
It provides an authentic, affordable option that allows tourists to gain firsthand experience of the local way of life.
Many of these homes offer comfortable accommodations, home-cooked meals, and warm hospitality.
Guests can book through Airbnb or contact the hosts directly.
However, ensure to confirm your reservation before your arrival because sometimes casas particulares may get overbooked.
What is Cuba popular for?
Cuba is globally renowned for its vibrant culture and rich history.
Some of the island’s most iconic features include its famous Cuban cigars, rum, the captivating cha-cha, salsa and mambo dances, and intricate Latin jazz music.
Cuba’s historic architecture, particularly in Old Havana and Trinidad, attracts history and architecture enthusiasts from around the world.
Moreover, Cuba boasts natural beauty with pristine beaches, lush mountains, and impressive biodiversity.
It’s this blend of culture, history, and natural beauty that makes Cuba a unique and popular destination.
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Conclusion: Things to Do in Cuba
Cuba’s magnetic charm is nothing short of a paradise caressed with soulful music, vibrant culture, white-sand beaches, tantalizing cocktails, and fascinating history.
Every corner of this beautiful island sings a captivating tale of resilient spirit and sheer joy.
Whether you’re exploring Cuba’s countryside on a bull ride, hiking through El Yunque, or immersing yourself in the bustling nightlife of Havana, every moment of your Cuban journey will generate a memory worth cherishing.
The amalgamation of old and new, rural and urban, and the striking contrasts of Cuba will leave you speechless yet yearning for more.
This collective list of things to do in Cuba provides a peek into the boundless opportunities that this Caribbean jewel offers.
Step out of your comfort zone, embrace the Cuban pace of life, and you’re sure to fall in love with this exceptional destination.
Here’s wishing you the most magical experiences as you explore and navigate the vibrant labyrinth of life called Cuba! Adiós and safe travels!
And if I missed anything, let me know in the comments below!