Not many people know, but hiking in Cuba is actually excellent. Most people who travel to this vibrant and lively Caribbean country enjoy the beautiful colonial cities, the fantastic beaches, the delicious food, the fun music, the contact with a completely different culture.
Talk about hiking in Cuba, though, and most people simply ignore that it’s actually a thing. The country is packed with good trails that allow you to get closer to nature, breathe in the clean air, enjoy an incredible view and just get away from it all. Hiking is definitely one of the best things to do in Cuba.
This post highlights some of the best hikes in Cuba and shares some tips to make the most of them.
Vinales Valley is one of the best places to go hiking in Cuba
Hiking In Cuba – 7 Unmissable Places
Valle de Viñales
The nicest place to go hiking in Cuba is by far Viñales National Park, in the province of Pinar del Rio. This is the most Western province of Cuba, a place that most travelers go to to explore the tobacco plantations and the appreciate the countryside vibe. While most limit themselves to a one day visit that involves a car tour around the valley, the best way to fully appreciate the area is on a hike or bike tour.
Viñales has a unique environment of carsic mountains, known as “mogotes” (these are beautiful, isolated steep-sided hills that have a rounded, tower-like shape, and are surrounded by flat alluvial plains). The tobacco plantations, the many caves that are scattered around the valley, and the rich cultural heritage make this the perfect place to go hiking in Cuba.
There are many trails in the area, and you can mix and match to make them longer and adjust them to your taste and interests. I recommend one that goes by the mogotes, through the tobacco plantations, by the caves and that reaches places the small community of Los Aquaticos.
It’s not a difficult hike, but there’s hardly any shade along the way, and with the strong sun and heat it can be exhausting.
TIP: Make sure to carry sunblock, lots of water and enough food for the hike. There really aren’t places to et water and food along the way. Also take your swimsuit and a quick dry, lightweight towel with you as there may be a chance to swim in the Cueva del Indio.
There are some great hikes in Las Terrazas – photo courtesy of BinoCanada (flickr)
Not many people who travel to Cuba make to Las Terrazas, in the Sierra del Rosario. I did, and let me tell you: it’s worth going. This eco-village was founded in 1968 in the attempt to re-forestate the region, and is now a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The area is fantastic for birdwatching, and it’s an overall great place to get away from the chaos of Havana for a day or two.
The Sierra del Rosario is one of the best regions to go hiking in Cuba, and there are plenty of good trails. The bad news is that none of the trail is well marked, and that you’ll need a local guide to enjoy them. The good news is that guides are easy to scout in Las Terrazas, and you’ll be able to pick from a great variety of trails.
Among the best trails there are that to San Claudio, the most challenging one with a 13 km walk that gets all the way to San Claudio waterfalls; the El Contento trail, a nice, easy 8 km walk through the Campismo El Taburete (a Cubans-only camping site) and the Baños de San Juan, that also goes to some coffee plantations; and Sendero la Serafina, which starts at Rancho Curujey and is the best one for people who are into bird watching.
TIP: While the few tourists that venture to Las Terrazas only go on a day trip (after all, it’s only one hour drive from the capital), I recommend staying a bit longer to appreciate all that Las Terrazas has to offer, especially if you are into hiking.
The area of Topes de Collantes is one of the best for hiking in Cuba – photo courtesy of Gabriel González (flickr)
Salto de Caburní
One of the best places to go hiking in Cuba is Topes de Collantes, a natural park in the province of Sancti Spiritus that can be easily reached from Trinidad.
One of the best trails in Topes de Collantes is that to Salto de Caburní, where the Rio Caburní ends in a 62 meters high waterfall that drops right into a gorgeous natural – yet freezing – pool. The trail is 5 km long (10 km there and back). You will be walking downhill on the way to the waterfall, and uphill on the way back. It’s a fairly easy trail to follow, but a guide is recommended.
TIP: Make sure to carry a swimsuit and a lightweight towel. Though cold, the natural pool is pleasant and swimming there is a great way to cool down before walking back. Make sure to carry enough water for the duration of the hike.
There is a nice trail in El Nicho
One of the nicest places to go trekking in Cuba is the area of El Nicho. To be fair, these are more like walks than proper trails, but still worth going as the area is stunning. It is where the Rio Habanilla has a beautiful system of waterfalls and natural pools. A short hiking trail allows you to admire the caves, get close to all the natural pools and do some bird watching.
TIP: The water is the natural pools quite cold, but incredibly transparent and inviting, so make sure you bring a swimsuit to make the most of your day.
Pico Turquino is perfect for hiking in Cuba – photo courtesy of Fabian Michelangeli (flickr)
If you are looking for the ultimate, most challenging place to go hiking in Cuba, head to Pico Turquino, which is where the revolution forces established one of their basis during the civil war. With its 1972 meters, this mountain is the highest peak in Cuba and dominates the Caribbean Sea. It’s covered in a gorgeous cloud forest and protected by a national park of roughly 140 square km.
The usual starting point to hike Pico Turquino is Santiago. The hike is a challenging one that takes two to three days and starts in Alto de Naranjo, near La Plata, and finishes at Las Cuevas, on the Caribbean coast. You need to hire a guide for the duration of the hike.
You spend the first two days walking on the trail that goes to Pico Turquino, sleeping in the huts of Pico Joachín and Pico Cuba. From there, you’ll get another guide that will take you to Las Cuevas.
The main challenge of this hike is the fact that you’ll go from 2000 meters above sea level to virtually sea level in just one day, and in less than 10 km. Yet, the views are rewarding.
TIP: You’ll need to carry virtually everything you may possibly need for the duration of the hike, including warm clothes, a sleeping bag, a rain coat, sufficient food for the duration of the hike plus a bit extra to offer to the guards on duty at Pico Cuba. You can buy drinks at Pico Cuba, where the trail starts.
TIP: Spanish speaking guide are easily found, but if you’d rather have an English speaking one make sure to book well in advance. Ecotur is a good company to ask for a guide.
La Gran Piedra
Among the places to go trekking in Cuba there is La Gran Piedra, which is not far from Santiago de Cuba, in the south of the country. This is a massive boulder weighting 63000 tons located at the top of a mountain range whose highest peak reaches 1234 meters above sea level. Given how hot Santiago can be, this is nice and cool in comparison.
In order to hike La Gran Piedra, you have to get all the way to the information center which is at the top of a 12 km road that is very steep. You can get there by car or taxi – buses can’t really make it up there, as it really is too steep.
The trail starts at the information center, and it’s very easy to follow. Some 500 steps take you all the way to the Gran Piedra, from where you can enjoy a breathtaking view. From there, you can also reach the nearby coffee plantations – some of the oldest in Cuba – where you can have a tour and even taste coffee.
TIP: You can combine your hike to la Gran Piedra with a visit to one of the beaches in the area such as Playa Siboney.
On the way to El Yunque for one of the best hikes in Cuba
One of the most famous places to go hiking in Cuba is El Yunque, near the lovely city of Baracoa, in the Guantanamo province. Locals and tourists alike enjoy this trail, which is some kind of rite of passage. The mountain, which can be seen from a distance in Baracoa, is cone shaped and flat at the top, and though it only gets to roughly 500 meters above sea level, this is a challenging hike.
The region is very tropical, with incredibly thick vegetation and trails that are though marked can be difficult to follow, as they are so muddy. In order to get to the starting point of the trail, you have to walk through the countryside and then cross the river – either on foot, getting in the water, or on a cayuca boat is this is available once you get there.
It takes around 2 hours to get to the top, and more or less the same amount of time to walk back down to the beginning of the trail. The overall walk from the visitors center – including stops at the waterfall – takes around 6 hours.
The views from the peak are incredible: you can see the many beautiful beaches near Baracoa. It’s one of the most challenging hikes in Cuba, despite being a short one, because the region is very humid and it rains every day, which means that you don’t only have to battle the heat, but you also have to walk along a very muddy, slippery path.
TIP: Make sure to wear a good pair of hiking boots that properly hold your ankle, as the terrain is muddy and very slippery. Wear a swimsuit, as there will be plenty of chances to swim in the beautiful rivers of the region. Also take plenty of water for the hike, and enough food, as there are no shops or kiosks along the way.
TIP: You will need to hire a guide for this hike. You can get one at the visitors center, once you get to the park.
If you are looking for the best beaches in Cuba, search no further! I am quite an expert on gorgeous beaches, as I grew up in Sardinia an island that has the most impressive concentration of jaw dropping beaches.
You see, I am hardly ever impressed when I get to a beach in a place outside Sardinia. Don’t say this out loud, but to be honest I didn’t even find the beaches in Antigua to be that special. Colombia? I was hardly amazed. Mention Cuba, however, and I will admit that the majority of Cuban beaches are simply gorgeous, even to a beach expert like me.
This post includes a selection of the best beaches in Cuba. I will divide them by region, and add a few tips to make the most of them.
At only 18 km from Havana, Playas del Este is a series of nice beaches that start in Bacuranao and ends in Guanabo. These are some of the best beaches in Cuba, and they are very popular among tourists and locals who are looking for a quick getaway from the chaos of the capital. The good news is that it is not nearly as developed as Varadero.
The Cuban beaches of Playas del Este are characterized by beautiful white sand and clear blue waters. They are the kind of place where time seems to have stopped. Chances are that in the winter months you’ll get the place to yourself, whereas in July and August the beaches will be crowded with locals escaping from the city.
How to get to Playas del Este
Going to Playas del Este is a common day trip from Havana. Playas del Este can be reached by public bus: Havana Bus Tour leaves every hour from Parque Central. You can also go by train, with the Hershey Train departing 5 times a day. Or else, you can look book a private transfer here.
Without a doubt, Cayo Jutias is one of the best beaches in Cuba
Pinar del Rio
One of the best beaches in Cuba is located at about 65 km from Viñales. It’s so gorgeous that you will likely mistake it for heaven. It’s 3 km of white sand, mangroves and the clearest waters you can imagine, with the coral reef within easy reach. Here, you can relax in the sun, snorkel and even dive. The beach is nicely serviced so you can rent beds and umbrellas. There’s a couple of places where you can eat, but the food is cafeteria style. Not far from the beach there is a lighthouse that dates back to 1902.
TIP: Most tourists go to Cayo Jutias on organized tours that include transportation and a rather tasteless lunch. Invest a bit extra money for a private transfer, so that you can stay as long as you want (organized tours leave when the sun is still shining bright in the sky) and instead of the tasteless lunch you can ask one of the local fishermen to cook fresh lobster for you. Here you can book your private transfer from Viñales to Cayo Jutias.
Where to stay in Cayo Jutias
Most people visit Cayo Jutias on a day trip from Vinales where there is a good selection of places to stay. Here’s a few good casas that can be booked online:
If you want to stay nearer the beach, there aren’t many options in terms of casas particulares. Villa Los Cuatro is a good one in the area. You can book it here.
Cayo Levisa has some of the best beaches in Cuba. They are as nice as those of Cayo Jutias, but a bit more crowded since – as opposed to Cayo Jutias – there is a hotel with bungalows. Cayo Levisa can only be reached via a short boat ride from Palma Rubia and counts with a 3 km sandy beach and fantastically clear waters. There is a diving center where you can rent equipment.
Playa Maria la Gorda
One of the best beaches in Cuba is Playa Maria La Gorda. The beach is lovely, with white sand and lined with palm trees. This is a favorite of divers, thanks to the beautiful coral reef: coral formations and incredible marine life can be seen at a mere 14 meters under the surface! You won’t find any of the resorts of Varadero here, but one of the most isolated hotels in Cuba.
Some of the nicest Cuban beaches are in Bahia de Cochinos
Bahia de Cochinos
Some of the best beaches in Cuba are in the province of Matanzas. There, my favorite place by far is the Bahia de Cochinos, known internationally as Bay of the Pigs. To be fair, this isn’t really a beach by an enclosed bay with incredibly transparent waters that are perfect for diving and snorkeling.
Contrary to most Cuban beaches, Bahia de Cochinos doesn’t have sandy beaches, but diente de perro (jagged rocks). It’s not really a place to chill in the sun or go for walks, but if snorkeling or diving is your thing, this is the place to go.
TIP: Bahia de Cochinos can be visited on a day trip from Cienfuegos, the closest big city. The best way to roam the area is on private transportation, which can be arranged through your casa particular and during which you can also stop in some of the beaches mentioned below.
Playa Larga isn’t often mentioned among the most famous Cuban beaches, but it’s worth stopping by during a tour of the Bahia de Cochinos. It’s really not a touristy place, so chances are nobody else will be there when you visit – there only is a mediocre resort in the area, and a couple of casas particulares. It’s worth going for a short while to enjoy the clear waters.
Where to stay in Playa Larga
There are some casas particulares in Playa Larga that can be booked online:
On the eastern side of the Bahia de Cochinos, Playa Giron is one of the best beaches in Cuba. It takes its name from the French pirate Gilbert Giron, who in the 17th century regularly raided the area until the locals managed to catch him and finally beheaded him. The beach is long and sandy, with clear waters, and has easy access to the gorgeous coral reef.
Where to stay in Playa Giron
There are a few good casas particulares near Playa Giron. Here’s a selection of them that can be booked online:
Not a beach proper, Caleta Buena is located at around 8 km south of Playa Giron. It’s a fantastic small cove with some of the clearest waters you could hope for, perfect for snorkeling as it is well protected from the currents. As opposed to most Cuban beaches, there is a fee to access Caleta Buena, but this includes the rental of beds, and access to a lunch buffet and drinks throughout the day.
Playa Los Cocos
Located on the eastern side of the Bahia de Cochinos, this is a nice sandy beach (as opposed to the majority in the area which are rocky) with beautiful, clear waters, making it one of the best in the region, and one of the best beaches in Cuba.
There’s no denying that one of the best beaches in Cuba is that of Varadero. Located at a mere 2 hours drive from Havana, this 25 km long, white sandy beach is lined with all-inclusive resorts and is a very famous (if only a bit too touristy) destination in the country. It’s the kind of place where you can get dance lessons, fitness classes and other resort kind of entertainment. The good news is that the surroundings are fabulous, with a gorgeous coral reef and lots of sea caves.
What makes Varadero one of the nicest Cuban beaches is also the number of diving sites (though to be fair they aren’t very close to the beach) and the offer of water sports such as sailing, fishing, snorkeling.
TIP: If you want to experience Varadero minus the international crowds, or hope to see more locals, go in July and August. Varadero can be reached from Havana by car. You can book your transfer here.
Where to stay in Varadero
Most people that go to Varadero stay in all inclusive resorts. If that really isn’t your kind of place, you can count on a handful of decent casas particulares. Here’s a few of them that can be booked online:
When it comes to snorkeling and easy access to the coral reef, Playa Coral is one of the best beaches in Cuba. It’s located on the coastal road, at about half way between Matanzas and Varadero. Though reaching the coral reef from the beach is fairly easy, the best way to see it is from Laguna de Maya, the Fauna Reserve. There, you can rent any equipment you may need to snorkel and hire a guide that will show you the best spots. There are supposed to be around 300 species of fish in the area.
The best beaches in Cuba have clear waters and fine sand
One of the nicest Cuban beaches near Cienfuegos (18 km south of the city) is Rancho Luna. The beach is nice, with golden fine sand and clear blue waters, perfect to relax in the sun and swim. The coral reef can be accessed easily. There is a diving center, two hotels and a couple of casas particulares in the village on the way to the lighthouse.
TIP: There are supposed to be some local buses going from Cienfuegos to Rancho Luna, but the easiest way to get there is by scooter. You can rent one in town.
Punta La Cueva
Punta la Cueva is one of the nicest Cuban beaches near Cienfuegos and very close to Rancho Luna. It’s a nice, quiet sandy beach with clear, calm waters.
Lovely Cuban beaches
One of the best beaches in Cuba is Playa Ancon, which is at just 12 km from the lovely Trinidad. The beach is nice, long and sandy, with clear waters. You can easily get there by bus or taxi, and even by bike but keep in mind that the ride back will be mostly uphill.
TIP: Bring come insect repellent. Sandflies are everywhere in Playa Ancon and they are particularly aggressive.
At 25 km south-east of Playa Ancon there’s Cayo Blanco, a tiny island that can be reached by boat from Marina Trinidad. The beach, one of the nicest Cuban beaches, is small, but the waters incredibly clear and perfect for snorkeling and diving.
Boat tours to Cayo Blanco can be booked in one of the many state agencies in Trinidad and they include transportation to the Marina and back, boat ride, lunch and drinks.
TIP: Go to Cayo Blanco only in perfect weather conditions. If it is overcast or windy, the boat won’t stop in the snorkeling spots and you will miss out.
Looking for gorgeous Cuban beaches? Cayo Jutias is one!
Playa Santa Lucia
One of the nicest Cuban beaches is Playa Santa Lucia, at around 112 km from Camaguey. It’s a beautiful, white sandy beach that stretches for 20 km, and a perfect diving spot thanks to one of the most easily accessible reefs. The beach lacks the tourist infrastructure that is present at other beaches in Cuba, but the nearby all-inclusive resort are a good option if you want to spend a few days in the area. Not far from the beach there is a lagoon with beautiful flamingoes.
TIP: Reaching Playa Santa Lucia from Camaguey is a bit of a hassle. There is only one public bus per week, and there are private buses leaving from the airport. There’s supposed to be a train from Camaguey to Nuevitas, after which you’ll have to take a taxi, but when I visited trains were not an option. Given the circumstances, the best way to get to Playa Santa Lucia from Camaguey is by private transfer. You can book it here.
Playa Los Cocos
At the end of Playa Santa Lucia and near La Boca there is one of the best beaches in Cuba, Playa Los Cocos. This white sand beach has the clearest emerald waters you may hope for. At times, you may see the flamingos in the lagoon at the back of the beach.
This small island off the north coast of Camaguey province can be reached by car through a pedraplen, and has some of the best beaches in Cuba. It’s 25 km west from Santa Lucia, and is completely quiet and relaxing. The nicest beach in Cayo Sabinal is Playa los Pinos, with clear turquoise waters and beautiful sand.
Clear waters in the gorgeous Cuban beaches
Playa Blanca is one of the best beaches in Cuba. It’s long white and sandy and the turquoise waters make it a favorite of locals and travelers.
Playa los Bajos
Playa los Bajos is east of the lovely Gibara, and is one of the nicest Cuban beaches. It can be reached via a short boat ride that leaves from the Enramada, right out of Gibara, towards Playa Blanca – it’s another 3 km east to get to Playa los Bajos.
One of the nicest Cuban beaches, Playa Caletones is located 17 km west of Gibara. It’s a small beach with incredibly fine sand and clear waters. There is no public transportation to get there, so you’ll have to hire a taxi or rent a bike.
Where to stay in Gibara
The best access point to Playa Caletones, Playa Blanca and Playa los Bajos is Gibara, which is a lovely small city to explore in and of itself. There are a few good casas particulares there. Here’s a selection that can be booked online:
Playa Pesquero is one of the loveliest Cuban beaches. There are four luxury resorts on the beach, so this is the kind of place you can go to to fully treat yourself and where you can expect to be served a fresh coconut water any time you feel thirsty. The beach itself is white and sandy, with clear blue waters that are perfect for snorkeling.
The beaches of Guardalavaca are among the best beaches in Cuba and it’s no wonder this is one of the most popular tourist destination in the countries. It’s a nice stretch of white sand and clear waters, lined with palm trees and tamarinds. It’s a popular place among tourists and locals alike, and it has retained its character. You can rent snorkel equipment at the beach.
Remember the luxury resorts of Playa Pesquero? Well, Playa de Morales is nothing like it. Not far from Banes, it’s a nice sandy beach where you can still relax. The biggest luxury you can have at night is that of freshly cooked fish.
Santiago de Cuba
Playa Siboney is to Santiago what Playas del Este is to Havana: at 19 km from the city, it’s a favorite of the locals and one of the nicest Cuban beaches. The village itself is rather rustic, but the beach is pretty: sandy, with clear waters and lined by palm trees. A few kiosks on the beach serve very cold fresh coconut – perfect on hot days.
Where to stay in Siboney
Most travelers visit Siboney on a day trip from Santiago, which has a good selection of accommodation options. These are some of the best casas in Santiago that can be booked online:
Should you want to stay in Siboney, the only casa that can be booked online is Villa Ruiz. You can book it here.
Playa Cazonal is one of the best beaches in Cuba in terms of what it offers. Its quite popular with the locals, who go there knowing they will find share under the trees, and a sandy beach with clear warm waters.
Playa Maguana is one of the best beaches in Cuba
Playa Maguana is one of the best beaches in Cuba, popular with the locals and now getting more known also by tourists. Yet, you can still find some peace there. It’s a perfect tropical beach with a long stretch of fine golden sand, incredibly clear waters with an easy reach coral reed, lined by palm trees.
About 5 km west of Playa Maguana there is one of the most remote Cuban beaches. This is the kind of place you can go if you want the beach all to yourself!
TIP: Playa Maguana and Playa Nava can be visited on the same day. You will need to hire a taxi to get there, as they are a bit of a way from the city. You can get to Baracoa by bus from Santiago, or else, you can go via a private transfer, that you can book here.
Located on Cayo Guillermo, Playa Pilar easily qualifies as one of the best beaches in Cuba. It’s a long, white, sandy beach with clear waters, perfect for long walks, water sports (especially diving) and hanging out, relaxing. There are some nice bars and restaurants on the beach.
TIP: If you opt to visit Cayo Guillermo, make sure to visit the flamingos colony!
Located on Cayo Largo del Sur, Playa Paraiso is one of the loveliest Cuban beaches. The sand is incredibly fine, and the water clear and shallow.
Playa Los Flamencos
Playa los Flamencos, in Cayo Coco, part of Jardines del Rey islands, is best known as Cayo Coco beach, taking its name from the coco (white ibis) birds that populate the island. It’s a white sandy beach with sapphire waters perfect for snorkeling, that make it one of the best beaches in Cuba.
Have you ever been to Cuba? What are your favorite Cuban beaches?
Time has stopped in Trinidad, Cuba. A fantastic mix of colonial architecture and vintage cars, this city is an absolute must see.
One of the nicest cities in the Caribbean region is Trinidad, Cuba. This is one of the first Cuban cities founded by the Spanish (around 1514), which grew to become the richest in the country thanks to the production of sugar cane, cattle and tobacco by the slaves that were imported from Africa.
Plantation owners made it a point to show their wealth, so Trinidad, Cuba, is an extravaganza of beautiful palaces, airy squares, colonial homes. No trip to the country can be considered complete without visiting this beautiful town, so well preserved that it also is a UNESCO World Heritage Site where the historical center is completely closed to cars.
Sure, this is the most touristic place in the country, second only to Havana. It also is significantly more expensive than other cities in Cuba. But there are many good reasons why travelers flock to this lovely city and are happy to blow their budget there.
Nowadays, Trinidad is a maze of cobbled alleys, colonial museums and fabulous restaurants. Here, live music is a constant: people meet in the squares to dance, sip refreshing drinks, and have a good time. Adding to this there are a handful of gorgeous beaches nearby, and a few hiking trails within easy reach. In other words, Trinidad, Cuba, is the perfect destination for lovers of history, culture, beaches and nature alike and, according to National Geographic, visiting is one of the top experiences in Cuba.
This post highlights everything you need to know to make the most of Trinidad, Cuba, with the top sights and activities in and out of the city, as well as the best places to stay and eat.
The historical center of Trinidad, Cuba, is lovely to explore
Trinidad, Cuba – What To See And Do In And Out Of The City
Trinidad, Cuba: the city
Visiting the Centro Historico
The historic center of Trinidad, Cuba, is closed to traffic. This makes it particularly pleasant to walk around and take in the views of beautifully kept colonial buildings. The best ones are all in Plaza Mayor, but if you push yourself beyond that, on the side streets, you’ll discover a glimpse of local life, with people sitting on doorsteps, trying to protect themselves from the sun, playing dominos or just chatting with friends.
Among the sights you’ll be able to see in Trinidad, Cuba, when exploring the historic center, there are:
The heart of Trinidad, Cuba is its Plaza Mayor. This beautiful square was built at the time of the maximum wealth of the city, when it was rich thanks to the sugarcane plantations. The square is surrounded by colorful historic buildings dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries.
TIP: As one of the main attractions in town, Plaza Mayor is crowded with tourists. Along with tourists there are many touts. Be prepared to be called by them, and asked for just about anything. One even asked me to give her the shirt I was wearing. A firm no helps pushing them away.
The Convento de San Francisco is one of the most visible buildings in Trinidad, Cuba. Its bright yellow tower can be seen from various parts of town. It’s a famous landmark, where people love taking a postcard photo. The convent is now a museum with an exhibits about the Cuban revolution. Its main attraction, however, it the tower from where there is a splendid view of the city below.
Museo Histórico Municipal, aka Palacio Cantero
The Museo Histórico Municipal is the most interesting one in Trinidad. It’s housed in a mansion off Plaza Mayor that used to belong to the Borrell family and was then bought by Kanter (or Cantero), a German planter. Its exhibit includes lots of objects that date back to the slave trade times. Yet, it’s the views from the tower that make it worth the price.
Museo de Arquitectura
Located in a 18th century mansion that once belonged to the Sanchez Iznaga family, this museum is the best place to visit in Trinidad, Cuba, to get a good idea of what colonial mansions looked like. There even is a 19th century style bathroom.
Housed in Palacio Brunet, once the home of rich sugar baron Conde de Brunet, this museum showcases items that belonged to the family.
Enjoying the views of Trinidad Cuba, on a sunny afternoon
Shopping in Trinidad, Cuba
One of the things I immediately noticed about Trinidad, Cuba, is that as opposed to other places in the country this is a great place for shopping. Here you will be able to buy any sort of souvenirs – from clothing to t-shirts, from art to jewelry, from ceramics to cigars and even musical instruments. Places like Taller Alfarero, Tienda Amelian Pelaez and the Art and Crafts Market are all great to get some souvenirs such as pottery or crochet works. Casa del Habano is a good place to buy quality cigars (avoid buying the cheap ones sold in the streets).
TIP: Make sure to do a bit of haggling when shopping in Trinidad, Cuba, but don’t get too carried away when buying hand made items.
Eating and drinking in Trinidad, Cuba
Food in Cuba has a reputation for being rather bland. I actually liked it (possibly because I am not a fan of food that has the overpowering taste of garlic, or that is too spicy), and during my trip I managed to try several good dishes.
Basic meals in Trinidad, Cuba, cost anything between $5 and $10 USD. But if you are in for a unique experience, make sure to visit one of the paladares located in former colonial homes. They are costly compared to the rest (you pay up to $30 for a full meal), but you get to dine in an incredible setting of a gorgeous patio and garden, with antique furniture on display for customers waiting to be seated. The nicest paladar is Sol y Son.
If you want to try the local cocktail make sure to go to La Canchanchara, a mansion famous for its cocktail (which actually has the same name) made of rum, honey, lemon and aguardiente and served in ceramic cups.
Enjoying Trinidad’s nightlife
Nightlife in Trinidad, Cuba, evolves around drinking cocktails and dancing. Music is really everywhere in Cuba, and at every corner you turn in Trinidad you’ll find a band playing. Every night, from 7:00 pm, locals and tourists head to the Casa de la Musica, order a drink and sit on the stone staircase to enjoy the sunset and the atmosphere. Once the live music starts, people will start dancing to salsa tunes.
TIP: The staircase to Casa de la Musica is one of the few places in Trinidad where you can get decent wifi.
Another place to enjoy a bit of nightlife in Trinidad, Cuba, is Disco Ayala. This is located inside a natural cave.
A common scene in Trinidad, Cuba
Trinidad, Cuba: the surroundings
The great thing about Trinidad, Cuba, is that it’s incredibly easy to get out of the city and that there is plenty to see and to outside. The following is a selection of attractions and activities.
Valle de los Ingenios
Not far from Trinidad, Cuba, there is Valle de los Ingenios, where most sugar cane plantations that contributed to the city wealth are located. At its highest point more than 30000 slaves working in the mills: this was thought to be the sugar capital of the world.
One of the unmissable places to visit is the Manaca Iznaga. Here you can see the remains of the main house and walk up the 44 meters tower that was used to keep an eye on the slaves working in the fields. You can even ride a steam train all the way there from Trinidad.
This is the best tour that includes a visit of Manaca Iznaga:
Some tours also go to lesser known (and therefore significantly less crowded) sugar mills.
Topes de Collantes
Not far from Trinidad, Cuba, there’s the country’s second largest mountain range, called Sierra del Escambray. This is where the Topes de Collantes National Park, a beautiful nature reserve, is located. Topes de Collantes is packed with hiking trails, and there also are some beautiful waterfalls. One of the nicest hikes is the one to Salto de Caburni, which goes through a coffee plantation and leads to the 62 meters tall waterfall of Caburni river, below which there is a fantastic swimming hole with freezing but clean waters.
One of the nicest views of the countryside around Trinidad is that from the radio tower. On a clear day you can see all the way to Valle de los Ingenios.
TIP: The hike to the Radio tower is relatively easy and takes around 30 minutes each way. It’s better to go there early in the morning to avoid the heat of the day and get a better light for pictures. Make sure to carry water!
Of the various places that can be accessed from Trinidad, Cuba, El Nicho is the hardest one to reach (you need a 4×4 vehicle) and the furthest away (it takes around one hour and a half to get there). Having said so, it’s worth the effort of going. It’s a series of small waterfalls and natural pools with water so clear that calls for a swim!
Playa Ancon is thought to be one of the nicest beaches in Cuba. It’s located at around 12 km from Trinidad and you can go there by bus, taxi (it takes between $5 and $10 USD each way, depending on your haggling skills) and even bike. It takes around one hour to bike all the way there, but keep in mind that the back trip is uphill. Renting a bike costs around $5 USD for the day.
TIP: Playa Ancon is infested with sand flies so make sure to apply insect repellent!
A boat trip to Cayo Blanco is one of the most popular day trips from Trinidad, Cuba. It usually leaves at around 9:00 am from the city, and the boat ride takes around one hour. The trip returns by 4:00 or 5:00 pm. The Cayo is nice, surrounded by the coral reef and with a small but clean beach. Day trips usually include transportation, lunch and snorkeling gear.
TIP: Keep in mind that this trip varies greatly depending on the weather and sea conditions, so if the day is not clear or if it is windy, postpone it as it won’t stop on the barrier reef.
Make sure to also get a good guide book. I recommend this one.
If you prefer to travel to Trinidad, Cuba, independently, the following information may be handy.
When to visit Trinidad, Cuba
The weather in Trinidad, Cuba, can be separated into three main seasons: dry, from November to April (keep in mind it can still rain in the dry season!), wet, from August to October (this is the rainiest season, with proper tropical storms) and hot, from May to July. Locals may complain it is cold in the winter months, but unless you grew up in a tropical country yourself, you will find the temperatures pleasant. Each season has its own perks, so your decision on when to visit should be based on the kind of experience you want to have.
Another beautiful view of Trinidad, Cuba
How to get to Trinidad, Cuba
Trinidad is in the center of Cuba and can be easily reached by other tourist destinations. You can get there by car – either renting your own vehicle, or paying for a taxi; or by bus.
It takes around 4 hours to drive to Trinidad from either Havana, Varadero or Camaguey, and one hour and a half from Cienfuegos.
TIP: If you like the idea of traveling independently, and can share the costs with other people, the best thing to do in Cuba is renting a car. However, this is easier said than done. A car costs around $85 per day with insurance, and you absolutely have to book it in advance (possibly months ahead of your trip). Booking a car locally is virtually impossible.
If you are not keen to drive, you may hire a car with a driver to take you all the way to Trinidad. It probably is the priciest option, but the taxi will pick you up at your suggested time and will be at your service.
This site allows you to compare the prices of taxis to Trinidad and to book the exact service you need. You can even decide if you want a regular car or a vintage one. Click here to find out more.
Viazul buses go to Trinidad from various places in Cuba, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find a seat or make a reservation, so you may be better off renting a car or getting a taxi. Having said so, if you can get a seat your trip will be significantly cheaper. You can try to make a reservation here.
Getting to Trinidad, Cuba by bus takes inevitably longer. Traveling time is 7 hours from Havana, 9 hours from Vinales, 6 and a half hours from Varadero and 1 and a half hours from Cienfuegos.
Getting online in Trinidad, Cuba
There are several wifi hotspots in Trinidad, Cuba. The main one is in Plaza Mayor, and the wifi signal even reaches a few restaurants so you can surf the web while you eat. You can also buy wifi cards at the ETECSA center, or at the tourist information center. It costs $2 USD per hour. Hotels also sell internet cards, but they are significantly more expensive.
Scams and safety in Trinidad, Cuba
Much like in the rest of Cuba, scams are common in Trinidad. Though jineteros (hustlers) aren’t nearly as aggressive as in Havana or Santiago, they surely are there. They will try to sell you stuff; tell you the saddest story, and convince you to surrender your shirt; rent a casa particular their recommend; eat at their friend’s restaurant which they’ll swear is the best in Trinidad; let you borrow their bike for a convenient rate (sic.!); suggest a convenient (so they say) taxi to get around, and what not. Smarten up, learn how to haggle, say a polite but firm “no thanks” and never lose your cool.
Read more about my experience in Cuba in this post.
Petty crime in Trinidad, Cuba, is not common but it’s on the rise. Make sure to lock your important belongings in your suitcase when you go out; and make sure to count your money before you lock it away. I haven’t had an issue, but I have heard of several travelers who had their stuff raided by the staff at their casa particular. If this happens to you, make sure to call the police. Sometimes, even just threatening to do so will prompt the thief to return your staff.
TIP: Remember that travel and health insurance is required to travel to Cuba. You can get yours here.
Have you ever visited Trinidad, Cuba? What did you enjoy the most there?
What’s up with people visiting countries and always, inevitably and predictably falling in love with its people? Each time I plan to visit a new place, I spend hours on the web reading about it. Travel blogs, online magazines, guides, travel diaries and what not. I don’t think I have ever come across a negative comment about the people of a specific country. Hardly anybody ever said publicly that the people in said country are unwelcoming, or that those of another are rude, pushy or lazy.
Privately though, it is a different story. And recently I have started coming across more and more blog posts that give a honest and personal version of things. That’s when I hear people say that really, they hated the people in a country and actually fled because they could not take the locals anymore. A friend of mine who spent years living and working in Peru finds Peruvians hardly amicable. Another who travelled across South America thought that people in Bolivia are rude and cold. What’s interesting is that I have a completely different opinion on both Peruvians and Bolivians. In my experience, they are both reserved people, yet so welcoming and caring. I have had some great encounters in both countries and hold great memories of the people there. Then again, I appreciate reserved people as I enjoy silence and time alone.
This goes to show that really, the way we perceive a people and a country is all a matter of individual perspective. It depends on how we feel while we are travelling, and sometimes even on who we are travelling with. And, quite importantly so, it depends on our ability to communicate, both verbally and non verbally.
People you meet at the book market in Havana
If what I say is true, I must not have been in a very good mood when I travelled to Cuba then (and none of my friends who have been there before and after me were in a good mood either!) because seriously, I did not like Cubans all that much. Mind you, I love the country and I could visit it again any time. I had a great time there, despite everything, and I even think that the second time around I would have a real blast and perhaps, knowing what to expect, I would not have such a hard time communicating with the locals. Because really, in the end it was all due to miscommunication and cultural differences.
But… was it?
I like to think of myself as a fairly open minded individual. I have travelled widely, and I have lived in various countries that are not my own. I have learned to communicate effectively with people from all over the world. However, try as I might, it was impossible for me to meet those loving, friendly, smiling, fun, relaxed and fantastic Cubans everyone talked about, to the point that I even wondered if we were talking about the same country, about the same people at all.
The Cubans I have met felt more like sharks I should steer away from, swimming against the current not to fall for their scams. They made such a strong impression on me that I actually started my blog in the very ambitious attempt to warn the world about what travelling to Cuba really implies. I suppose I had to digest what had happened though, as now, despite my various misadventures and the numerous scams, I end up recommending Cuba as a country to visit to just about anybody – with a number of scam warnings attached to my recommendations.
What I found frustrating in Cuba was that I could hardly mix with the locals. I speak Spanish fluently (and in any case, not speaking the local language has never stopped me from communicating!) and I find that getting to know someone from the place I visit, sharing my travel tales, and even parts of my life, culture and country, as well as learning more about the country where I am travelling through the eyes of someone who was born there is always an enriching experience. I have always met amazing people during my travels who, for as brief the encounter, have always wanted to help me, to know about me, and to just talk for the sake of it.
I would have liked to chat but I felt there was a barrier
Having an authentic experience: scams in Cuba
Hardly any of this happened to me when I travelled in Cuba. Any genuine conversation I would try to have would end up in an offer of sex (in exchange of money or a drink), in demands that I buy something or that I give away my clothes (including those I was wearing), or in a trickier scam attempt. Not so much of a cultural exchange – or perhaps it was a cultural exchange, just not the kind I was hoping for. Even if I tried to find an explanation for what was occurring, I could hardly justify it. Cuba is a poor country, I told myself. But then, I have been to places that are considerably poorer and none of this had happened and even those who had nothing were kind and helpful and not so hardened by life.
What about those people who’d approach me and start introducing themselves by saying: “I’m not like other Cubans”? In fact, they were not like other Cubans – way more sleek in their scams! They would present themselves as the most helpful people in the city, so good in their act that they seemed genuine. They would master a few words of Italian. They’d prompt me to watch out for scams and people working for commissions (called jineteros) and then offer to take me to a good restaurant or bar (hardly the one I may be looking for) to then sit and have a drink (which I’d offer, to thank them for their tips), leave without a word of thank you and get a commission from the owner in the end. Ah, the irony!
What about those who were celebrating their birthday everyday? I can’t even remember how many people I have met in Cuba who, after some small talk, told me “today it is my birthday” – and then expected to be offered a drink in a bar of their choice (scam warning: this is just a strategy to bring tourists to a bar or restaurant and get a commission from the profits).
All in all, the feeling I had was that people saw me as an ATM with legs that they could try to get cash from, or as a sexual object, or a passport, or all of that. There was no explaining that I was on a tight budget and had saved for years to be able to afford that trip, or that I was not interested in sex as I was in a relationship (I wasn’t, but you get the point). Nobody cared. All that people seemed to think about me is that I was a foreigner, therefore better off, and as such it would be fair to try to take advantage of me.
The wall – casas particulares owners looking for guests at the bus station in Baracoa
Some other episodes that occurred to me during the few weeks I spent in Cuba made my opinion of the locals become less than positive. I spent my first ten days in Cuba fighting not to get scammed. The first thing that the owner of the first casa particular where I stayed in Havana warned me against was the existence of the jineteros. He made it a point that I learned to defend myself against them.
When he offered to take me to the ceremony of El Cañonazo in Havana, I gladly accepted – he was so well educated that I figured it would be a great experience. Then, a few hours before going, he said he could not make it and suggested his (less than talkative) cousin could take me instead, for “protection”. I said that would be nice of him, and he told me straight out to just pay him the entrance fee, the taxi, and a meal and drink afterwards. I was shocked. Had he not just warned me against this practice of having to buy drinks to men in exchange of company and protection?
I felt like I always had to watch my back
By the end of my trip, I was well trained in recognising scams. On my first night in Viñales, I signed up for a salsa lesson. As the dancing school was undergoing renovation works, I had to take the class at the teacher’s neighbour’s apartment. The lady was nice, polite, her flat small but spotlessly clean. As we finished the lesson, I asked the teacher if he could suggest a restaurant for the night as I didn’t have time to look for one on my guide. The lady jumped at the occasion and said I could eat at her place. In disbelief for the invitation (was a Cuban really going to offer me dinner, at her house?), I started asking questions.
It soon became clear that I wasn’t going to be invited in the western sense: I’d have to pay for the food, I’d be served at the table and sit by myself. Just as in a restaurant, only this time sitting uncomfortably and slightly abashed in some0ne’s home. I told her I’d eat there the day after and suggested that the family, as well as the salsa teacher, should eat with me. I suppose I took them by surprise. But I think they were not surprised when the day after I did not show up as there was no way I would accept an invitation to then have to pay for everyone’s meal – my means were not such for me to be able to afford it, and even though I could appreciate the cultural differences, it would simply be odd to have to offer dinner to some complete strangers when I had been “invited” to their home.
However, the episode that well classifies as the worst and that still makes me angry if I ever think about it happened to me on my very last day in Cuba, in Viñales. The guide who took me on a tour of the valley seemed to suffer from mood swings. One minute he was kind and helpful, the next he’d leave me alone to bike and hardly said a word. All in all, he was rude. I had kept to myself, and he must have not liked it because at some point, when we stopped to have a break, he started talking to my Mexican friend in Spanish (as if I was not there to hear and I could not understand) and said that if he did not plan to have sex with me, he would. I felt like an object, and disgusted.
I was right there when the guide (on the right) asked my friend whether he planned to have sex with me.
All in all, I suppose I did get a very authentic Cuban experience – as authentic as it can get for tourists. Because really, there is hardly anything as authentic as a Cuban scam in Cuba.
Don’t get me wrong. It was not all so bad and I actually met a few people who were nice. Although most owners of casas particulares were almost intrusive when wanting to find out about my future plans on the island (so that they could push the services of one of their friends on me, whether I liked it or not), others were very kind and talkative yet never pushy – one was so keen to practice his English that he took “advantage” of me on that; another was so motherly that she’d check on whichever guide that took me around and if he didn’t pass her test she would not allow me to go out; one more spent hours in Trinidad looking for the yogurt I asked her for, not knowing it was hard to find in Cuba. Some guides were protective of me to the point that they offered to go give a lesson to the driver who had scammed me the night before. A young man in Baracoa carried my backpack across town when he saw me bent over the weight.
I left from Cuba with a huge smile on my face – I wanted that to last
In general, my impression is that Cubans have suffered from the isolation that the embargo era has caused. They have all they need – food, education, healthcare. But nothing more than that. However it is in human nature to want more – and to find ways to get it, even if this means swindling unaware tourists.
Travelling in Cuba was tiring. I knew that any time I’d set my foot out the door, I’d be surrounded by people making demands, either openly or in a more sneaky way. I knew I could not go for a walk by myself, because nobody would respect my need for alone-time. I never felt respected as a tourist, as a person, let alone as a woman. I remember spending whole mornings saying “no” to taxi drivers who, one after the other, would ask me if I needed a taxi, although they heard me turn down their collegues’ offer just one second before. Did they never realise it was annoying?
I became almost aggressive any time I was approached by locals, because a polite “no thank you” would not end a conversation but turn into an endless rant which would inevitably lead to a quest for money, clothes (even those I was wearing) and whatever else I may have on me. I remember walking in the street without ever making any eye contact, or smiling, or answering to those who said hello, because I knew that there was no way they’d be interested in me as a person but they only saw me as a tourist to exploit to their benefit.
That was not how I wanted to travel. It made my trip less enjoyable, because there hardly was a memorable encounter with a local that was genuine and kind to me, just for the sake of it. I felt I could not let myself go and enjoy a conversation because if I lowered my guards there would be a scam waiting for me; and if I told straight out that I was not looking for company, or that I had nothing to offer, people would get offended. I tried a few times to be more approachable and I fell for scams – it happens to the most experienced travellers, really, but this did not make me feel any better. In the end I really felt I could not trust anybody, that nobody wanted to help me, ever – they only wanted to help themselves and make money out of me – and this is not an uncommon feeling among people who travel there.
I like to think the way I felt when I travelled to Cuba has a lot to do with my personality. I consider myself to be a “social introvert” – I like socializing, but I need a lot of alone time. I like observing, but from a distance. I don’t always want to be surrounded by people and I don’t necessarily want to talk all the time. In my experience, Cubans are the opposite of that: they very open, they like meeting people; they like to talk and they don’t have as much a need for privacy as I may have. Cuban homes are a mirror of Cuban culture and personalities: they are always open and people go in and out, often unannounced. I need people to ring my bell and ask permission before I can open up.
I now can’t help but wonder if, going to Cuba again, I would be able to finally connect more with the locals and have a more enriching experience, that cultural exchange that I felt was missing my first time there. I wonder if, knowing what to expect, I would be able to figure out the people I had to steer away from and those I could trust. I surely am ready to try.
Have you been to Cuba? What was your experience with the locals?
My trip to Cuba started in Havana, where I spent two full days browsing around its many museums and places of interest, including the Capitolio, la Cabaña, the Museo de la Revolucion and its famous Malecon. I then flew to Santiago de Cuba, known for its Caribbean attitude. This is a good starting point to hike La Gran Piedra or to just soak in the sun in Playa Sibonay. From there, I took the bus to Baracoa, where I arrived after an eventful trip which included a flat tire. Known as the city of the 29 rivers, Baracoa is purely tropical. Must dos include a hike of El Yunque, a boat trip around Rio Yumuri and the beautiful Playa Maguana. Baracoa is also the gourmet capital of Cuba: I had some of the most interesting food here, including shrimps in salsa de coco.
On the way to Trinidad (the most touristic city in Cuba), I stopped in Camaguey, which I did not really enjoy due to the tremendous heat and the high presence of jineteros and scams. 5 hours away, Trinidad is a perfectly preserved colonial city, with cobblestone streets, music playing at every corner, dancing and good nightlife, museums, good restaurants and a huge variety of daily trips in its surroundings. I particularly enjoyed Valle de los Ingenios and the hike from Topes de Collantes to the Salto de Caburnì.
About 90 minutes north, Cienfuegos is also splendid, and is a great port of access to El Nicho, with its natural pools, and to explore the amazingly clear waters and coral reef of the Bahia de Cochinos and Caleta Buena.
I concluded my journey in Viñales, in the North-West side of Cuba, which felt like the cherry on the cake: a valley where coffee and tobacco are cultivated, where mogotes appear just about anywhere. And it is not far from Cayo Jutias, where I spent a perfect day at the beach.
To read more about my adventures in this amazing island, click here!
Hi, my name is Claudia. One day I packed my life and started traveling… except I packed too much. Follow me as I fill my life with dreams, drop the weight and inspire you to live your dreams. View and download my media kit here (updated Oct 2018). Learn more about me here…