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. And if you want, you can opt to go there on a classic car. Book it here.
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. Alternatively, you can opt to ride a classic car all the way to Playa Ancon. You can book it here.
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.
The best way to enjoy Trinidad is on a guided walking tour and the great news is that there are some excellent free ones. Click here to book yours.
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. Alternatively, you can opt to ride a classic car to Playa Ancon. You can book it here.
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?
There is such a wide range of things to do in Cuba, that it would be a pity to go for just a week.
I love traveling to Latin America. I have a particular obsession for this amazing continent, and Cuba has always ranked very high on my bucket list. Although I have already been there, I would like to visit again, because there are many incredible things to do in Cuba.
I believe that Cuba is always better the second time around, when one knows what to expect based on their first hand experience rather than on the information they have gathered on the web, or from friends who have been there, which may often be misleading. And with all the places to visit in Cuba, a second time there is guaranteed to be completely different from the first.
Biking around Vinales Valley is one of the nicest things to do in Cuba
No matter how much I prepared myself before visiting Cuba, this incredible country took me by surprise. It has charmed me and infuriated me at the same time. With my guide on all the things to do in Cuba, and my further post on what to do in Cuba when facing scams, I aim to warn readers as much as possible on what they should expect, and on how to avoid some common traps tourists fall for, as well as to give a good idea about the places to visit in Cuba.
Sure enough, one thing Cuba tourism should not be proud of is the scams that tourists face every day. I fell for a few of them – to read more about them, head over to my post “Where are the lovely Cubans?”
However, before getting into the actual things to do in Cuba and into the places to visit in Cuba, I shall provide some advice on how to prepare for the trip. I shall also add that though I enjoyed traveling independently around Cuba, one of the best things to do in Cuba may be joining a guided tour, to take away the stress of organizing everything. Click here for some excellent guided tours of Cuba.
Things to do in Cuba: the ultimate guide for a trip to Cuba
Deciding when to go to Cuba:
The country can be visited in any season, but if I must recommend when to go to Cuba I would suggest to go between November and March, when temperatures are not as hot and it rains less. This way, it is possible to enjoy all the things to do in Cuba. The prices of flights don’t change much throughout the year. The average return flight from Europe to Cuba costs around 700 US dollars, depending on the carrier and on the town of departure. It costs around 350 US dollars to fly from Cancun.
What to do in Cuba: who wouldn’t want to snorkel in these waters?
Finding out what is needed in order to go to Cuba:
Along with a round trip ticket that proves one is leaving the country, all those traveling to Cuba will need to buy a good travel and health insurance (you can do so here) – this is required by Cuban national laws – and a visa, known as tarjeta de turista, which is normally valid for 30 days but can be extended while in Cuba. This costs around 30 US dollars and can be bought through the Cuban consulate, or, better, through a good travel agent.
In theory nobody can enter Cuba with a one way ticket. In practice, one may or may not be asked by immigration upon arrival, and since this is a possibility and one may be denied access once in Cuba, most airlines won’t allow passengers to fly unless they have a round trip ticket. Sure enough, getting a round trip ticket is one of the most important things to do in Cuba.
Americans can legally visit Cuba on the “support for the Cuban people” license tours – yes, they can still go despite all the new restrictions. All it takes is joining a guided tour that works under that definition and that really works to support the local economy by staying in local casas particulares, eating in locally owned restaurants and getting involved in activities that really support the local people and economy.
One of the most important things to do in Cuba is learning about the two currencies and making sure not to get confused with the notes – some are very similar, but one may be worth much less than the other. There are two currencies in Cuba: the CUC, or Peso Convertible, used by foreigners and by Cubans to buy certain specific things, and worth about one US dollar; and the MN, or Moneda Nacional, whose conversion rate is 25 to a CUC.
Considering that the average salary for Cubans is 15 CUC per month, and that the average price of tourist accommodation in Cuba 20 CUC, it is easy to figure why most locals aim to work in the Cuba tourism industry one way or another.
Paying by cash is what to do in Cuba, pretty much anywhere. It is possible to withdraw cash in most places, save for the occasional power cuts that at times may leave tourists stuck with little to no cash. For this reason, I recommend as one of the most handy things to do in Cuba withdrawing cash the day before traveling, as otherwise one may get stuck in a place with no money for the bus ticket! Cards generated by US bank accounts are not accepted.
One of the most fun things to do in Cuba is interacting with the locals
Security issues in Cuba:
This is a safe country to travel alone, as a single woman, or even with children. Criminality rates are low, save for the occasional theft of clothes and money from suitcases locked and left inside the room: one of the things to do in Cuba that I wholeheartedly recommend is to always count money and items left locked and and write it down on a notebook.
If realizing that something is missing, threatening to call the police is what to do in Cuba: just this will make everything magically reappear.
Cuban men and women often comment on the good looks of women (and men) and even mildly harass tourists by insisting on dancing, offering flowers, or inviting for a drink. That’s why all of them want to work in Cuba tourism: the tourist would inevitably have to pay the drink or meal. It is almost a custom that when someone invites a foreigner to something in Cuba, the person invited actually pays and most likely the guest is getting a commission by the bar or restaurant.
Unless willing to pay an extortionate price for a drink, one of the smartest things to do in Cuba is politely refusing any invitation, or simply ignoring.
Another one of the things to do in Cuba is wanting to say extra safe is going around with a local. ViaHero is an excellent site that puts travelers in touch with locals, who can help organize activities and tours, so that they can feel extra safe.
Traveling by bus is one of the things to do in Cuba – but check the tires first!
Getting online in Cuba:
Certainly, getting online is not among the the things to do in Cuba. It is a good opportunity to forget all social media accounts and Whatsapp, which in a way is liberating. Internet is usually available at ETECSA centers but it is so slow that it is better to go without. Warning family and friends that one isn’t going to be online while traveling is what to do in Cuba.
If talking is necessary, one of the easiest things to do in Cuba is to call (calling cards are available at ETECSA centers, and can be used on any phone) or send a text message. Detoxing from internet and social media is definitely what to do in Cuba.
Wifi is now available in major Cuban cities, but the costs are so high, and the speed so low, that I would dare say that accessing the internet is not one of the smartest things to do in Cuba.
Planning a trip to Cuba:
Take it from someone who’s quite a travel planner: one of the hardest things to do in Cuba is planning the trip. No matter how hard I tried to stick to my plans, something would happen almost every day that caused a change – much to my frustration.
Before traveling to Cuba, I thought I’d want to get closer to the local culture. This became a mission impossible, to the point that I eventually gave up. Yet, getting to know locals is one of the nicest things to do in Cuba.
In recent years, more and more people travel around with a tablet or small laptop, even if they are just going away for a short period of time. This way, they can take advantage of the free wifi at hostels to browse in search of accommodation for their next stop. This is not one of the things to do in Cuba: there is hardly any wifi.
If staying at hotels, one of the best things to do in Cuba is to arrange all bookings before traveling so as to avoid the hassle of having to look for (unreliable) internet. There’s decent hotels in pretty much the entire island and the number of those that are listing themselves on booking engines such as Booking.com is growing.
Travelers who aren’t staying at hotels are then left wandering what to do in Cuba when it comes to bookings. The simple answer is: hardly anything!
Most people likely land in Havana after a long flight (besides, this is one of the places to visit in Cuba). If this is the case, one of the easiest things to do in Cuba is to look for a casa particular (a private home) there: nowadays, a few engines such as Cuban Eden allow to make reservations for cases particulares. Otherwise, take that suggestion from a friend or acquaintance who has been there already, double check on trip advisor for recommendations (some casas are listed), then send an email or, if speaking Spanish, make a phone call.
Indeed, Cubans mostly work via phone, and most casas won’t have an email address that can be used to contact them. In case they do, one of the recommended things to do in Cuba is to be patient until they reply – and remember that internet in Cuba is not to be taken for granted.
Owners of casas particulares have an interest in accommodating their clients, and they would usually say that yes, they have availability when in fact they don’t. Despairing is not what to do in Cuba: if unable to accommodate visitors at a specific casa, owners take guests to that of a friend or a relative nearby, which would be just as nice.
Owners will normally ask about future plans so that they can suggest a good casa for the next stop – they know people running casas particulares all over the country. They are generally glad to make the phone call and the booking for their guests. Relying on this system if one of the nicest things to do in Cuba. And if, for whatever reason, one has no reservations at all, the minute he or she gets off the bus at the station, he will be literally surrounded by owners offering to rent a room. This is what happened to me in Baracoa.
Wondering what to do in Cuba when you don’t have any accommodation reservation? Simply get off the bus
Where to stay in Cuba:
This is the one place in the world where cheaper accommodation is actually better! One of the most fun things to do in Cuba is staying at casas particulares, which are private homes where the owners rent up to three rooms to travelers and for a small additional price also provide really good meals.
Casas particulares are thriving in Cuba tourism; they way more personable than hotels, they allow to actually experience a bit of the Cuban lifestyle (I remember seeing friends and relatives going in and out of the house, and met so many!); they are clean, and they are way cheaper than hotels.
Owners of casas particulares are always keen to provide information – some of them are literally living encyclopedias on the country, as they often are university professors! – on things to do in Cuba, places to visit in Cuba, on where to eat, and they will arrange transportation and laundry. Besides, they are the best persons to warn their guests about scams.
Some casas are beautiful colonial buildings. Rooms in casas particulares are usually private doubles, with a private bathroom. The price stated is per room, meaning that traveling with a friend will imply considerable savings.
Meals at casas are not included but the owners are usually great cooks who will be very keen to prepare some of their best recipes (lovely breakfast, packed lunches and incredibly good dinners), waiting on their guest keenly to receive praise for their culinary abilities. Eating meals at casas is one of the nicest things to do in Cuba.
Prices of rooms vary between 15 and 30 CUC – so between 7.5 and 15 CUC per person. Rooms are more expensive in Havana, Trinidad and Santiago (around 30 CUC for a good casa), and cheaper in other locations (2O to 25 CUC in Viñales, up to 25 CUC in Baracoa, up to 20 CUC in Cienfuegos).
Some casas particulares can be booked online. If staying at casas particulares is what to do in Cuba to get closer to the local culture, hotels are a good alternative and they have the plus side of allowing online reservations through sites such as Booking.com.
Eating and drinking in Cuba:
Food in Cuba is cheap and good. One of the smartest things to do in Cuba is eating in casas particulares and paladares (privately run restaurants), where a full meal costs between 5 and 12 CUC (where for 12 CUC one can actually eat lobster, which is one of the things to do in Cuba!). Paladares give huge portions that can be easily shared.
Street food is tasty: pizza from the “holes in the wall” costs just 20 MN, as well as sandwiches, ice cream, churros, potato chips, etc. The other option would be eating at State owned restaurants, but food there is boring, and has that bland taste that food in school cafeterias or hospitals do. I would not recommend it as one of the nicest things to do in Cuba.
Beef is not common, while pork, fish, shrimps or lobster (oh that’s too bad!) and chicken, and at times even lamb are available. They are usually accompanied by tostones (fried plantain croquettes), rice, beans (congris), and a season salad. The tastiest food in Cuba is in Baracoa: eating shrimps, octopus and lobster in coconut sauce is what to do in Cuba! Drinks are good too: Cubans all have their own special recipe for mojitos and piña coladas, but whichever one I tried, I did love it.
One of the coolest things to do in Cuba is taking a cooking class and trying all the local specialties. Owners of casas particulares are usually happy to teach!
Riding a vintage car is definitely what to do in Cuba when looking for a unique experience
Haggling and avoiding scams in Cuba:
With the exception of restaurants, casas particulares, or tourist buses like Viazul, one of the recommended things to do in Cuba is haggling, especially with taxis. When I was in Cuba, I was hardly able to take a step without jineteros (a word used to refer to an intermediary, that will normally get a commission for taking tourists to a specific casa, paladar, or getting a specific taxi) following me around.
Jineteros normally state the price for a taxi, but knowing the actual price to pay should be much cheaper haggling till reaching a more reasonable price is what to do in Cuba.
Jineteros compete so much for clients that, if they find out a tourist is going to a casa particular that is not the one they recommend, they may even tell them that the owner has died and the casa has been closed. They would do anything to make tourists believe that the bus they need to take is already full and that it is better to hop on taxi. And, sure enough, the price they would indicate for the taxi they offer is always much higher than what one should actually pay. Not trusting jineteros is one of the smartest things to do in Cuba.
While it isn’t possible to haggle the prices of state owned taxis, this should definitely be done for taxis particulares. For long distance taxis, I recommend as one of the things to do in Cuba to first find out how much a bus ticket would cost. If the price of the taxi is only 1 or 2 dollars more of what the bus would be, per person, it is definitely worth opting for the taxi – it is much faster, it won’t stop randomly to allow the driver to say hello to his family or drop his groceries at home (yes, they do so!).
So for example, if the bus from Viñales (which is one of the places to visit in Cuba) to Las Terrazas (which, on the other hand, I don’t particularly recommend) costs 8 CUC per person, and the jinetero offers a taxi ride for 80 CUC for the same distance, offer to pay no more than 20 or 25 CUC. Sticking your ground in cases like this is one of the things to do in Cuba.
The same goes for short distance taxis: it is good measure to ask the owner of the casa particular how much taxis around town should cost. And if the jinetero is refusing to go down on the price, start walking. Yes! The minute one starts walking, jineteros come running, agreeing to go to the picked destination for a reasonable price. Mark this trick as one of the things to do in Cuba.
In the case of long distance rides, try to gather a group of other travelers (it’s easy to find them at bus stations, when asking for information) to share the expenses of a taxi – ie when traveling from Camaguey to Trinidad (another one of the places to visit in Cuba), the taxi would cost 80 CUC for a ride of about 4 hours, but squeezing 4 persons in the car, t the taxi only ends up being 20 CUC per person and way more convenient than taking the only Viazul bus, which leaves at 2 am. Another of the smart things to do in Cuba.
One of the nicest things to do in Cuba is using local transportation, but as of late, this is hardly available to tourists. When I visited, I mostly relied on Viazul buses to move around the country and cover the longest distances. I’d just go to the station as soon as I arrived in a new place, and make reservations for my next trip.
Nowadays, Viazul buses are more difficult to catch, so tourists mostly have to make use of private taxis, with all that this implies with regards to haggling and timings (I still remember the endless ordeal of looking for a taxi to take me from Camaguey to Trinidad, when the taxi showed up at its own time and demanded a different price than what we had agreed!). In order to avoid disappointments, delays and long haggling arguments, I suggest making online bookings for private transfersas one of the things to do in Cuba.
Trinidad is definitely one of the places to visit in Cuba
What to pack for a trip to Cuba:
Cuba is a country like no other, with a constant shortage of goods travelers may take for granted. Having said so, one of the most important things to do in Cuba is packing smartly, being prepared for anything that may happen, and keeping in mind that shopping the way we know it isn’t exactly a thing there.
First of all, among the smart things to do in Cuba is traveling with a backpack rather than a suitcase. Streets in Cuba are full of potholes and it is virtually impossible to carry around a suitcase. My favorite backpack is the Osprey Ariel 65, which in my opinion fits perfectly and carries just the right amount of stuff. A good alternative is the Berghaus Wilderness 65+15, which however is significantly larger.
And here’s what goes inside the backpack:
Hiking boots – yes, they are heavy to carry but I always wear them on a flight or when I am moving from one place to another. One of the coolest things to do in Cuba is hiking, and they will be necessary.
A pair of Hawaianas– useful to go to the beach (which is one of the nicest things to do in Cuba) and even to walk around on a hot day. However, make sure to take a pair that isn’t worn out. If they break, it is quite hard to find another pair.
Walking shoes – I am a huge fan of Converse All Stars, which I find comfortable and smart. Alternatively, wearing a pair of good sandals is what to do in Cuba to stay comfortable and cool.
One or two pair of shorts– they are good to go to the beach and walk around town on a hot day.
Hiking pants, or leggings – especially the latter are easy to wear and easy to wash even in a small sink.
A pair of jeans or other kind of nicer pants – one of the nicest things to do in Cuba is going for a drink and it is nice to be a bit more dressed up.
A sun dress and a skirt – for the same reason as above, and they can also be worn during the day.
Up to 5 t-shirtsand tops – better to wear cotton ones, as they are easier to wash.
A fleece sweater – for as warm as it is year round, Viazul buses are freezing inside, and there’s no way to convince the driver to turn the air conditioning off. Wearing layers is one of the best things to do in Cuba when traveling by bus. For the same reason, I also take a scarf.
A waterproof jacket. My favorite one is by The North Face – it may rain, and it is good to have some sort of protection.
A bikini or another swimsuit – one of the nicest things to do in Cuba is snorkeling, so this is a must!
A toiletry bag– this should contain a good shampoo and conditioner, a soap or shower gel (actually hard to find in Cuba: one of the things to do in Cuba is carrying extra bars of soap as the locals often stop tourists to ask for it), tootbrush and toothpaste, a good sunblock, deodorant, and mosquito repellent.
Pharmaceuticals – aside from prescriptions, I recommend carrying off the counter paracetamol, motion sickness pills, imodium and some cold and flu medications.
A quick dry towel– it folds really small and dries so quickly that carrying one is among the smartest things to do in Cuba.
Finally, take a day pack where to put stuff such as sunglasses, a camera, powerbank, wallet and any other travel documents, and even a travel guide book (remember that wi-fi is hardly a thing in Cuba, so using a good old guide book may well be one of the smartest things to do in Cuba).
Places to visit in Cuba
I didn’t have to think hard when deciding where to go in Cuba. It is such a beautiful country, there are so many places to visit in Cuba, that I could have easily spent a month traveling and still feel like there was more to see. I boarded my return flight with the feeling that there are so many things to do in Cuba, that I hoped to go back again in the future, to explore more of it.
Keeping in mind that there are so many places to visit in Cuba, I will highlight where to go in Cuba when having limited time – these are my favorite picks, but as I have said, there are so many more to see!
One of the nicest things to do in Havana is admiring the city from above
Havana, in the Artemisa and Mayabeque province, is where most flights are going to land, making it the first among the places to visit in Cuba. There are so many things to do in Havana, that one can easily spend 10 days wandering around. I recommend spending at least 2 full days, a good measure in order to get over the jet lag and get acquainted with the local culture. I am sure nobody needs reminding, but perhaps I shall highlight why I think Havana is one of the places to visit in Cuba.
Havana is a city of paradox: right next to the recently restored Capitol building, there are apartment buildings that are either falling apart or must have been lined up for restoration such a long time ago that the scaffolding is completely covered in ivy. Seeing these kind of things is one of the most interesting things to do in Cuba.
This is where vintage cars line up at the traffic lights – and it is fun to take a tour of Havana in a classic vintage car; motorbikes still have sidecars; and bicitaxi drivers laze about sending text messages. Watching local life is one of the most fun things to do in Cuba.
Havana is one of the unmissable places to visit in Cuba
Among the things to do in Havana, there is visiting one of its many museums and historic buildings; going to one of its lively bars and listen to some live music (I love jazz, and I was delighted in knowing that the Festival Internacional de Jazz takes place in February, right when I was visiting).
One of the best things to do in Havana is attending the ceremony of “el cañonazo de las nueve” in Havana. It takes place each night at 9 pm, in the fortress of La Cabaña, which was completed by 1774 and made Havana the most fortified city in the “new world”. During the cerimony, soldiers dressed in the traditional costums of the 18th century, shoot the cannon as a warning to close the doors of the walls surrounding the city, in order to protect it by the pirates and by the army of enemy countries.
The show is interesting, and the entrance ticket will also include a drink, which can be sipped while enjoying a beautiful view of Havana at night or wander about the various museums and art exhibition inside the fortress. A taxi to get there from the centre should cost around 3 CUC – a price worth paying for one of the most interesting things to do in Havana.
Other things to do in Havana include a visit to the Museo de la Revolucion in Havana, which definitely gives a good understanding of the Cuban revolution; a walking tour of Havana Vieja which goes to the Plaza de la Catedral, Plaza de Armas with its book market, Plaza Vieja and the Real Fabrica de Tabacos Partagas. Callejon de Hamel is a good example of street art in Havana.
One of the things to do in Havana is go on a sunset walk on El Malecon – 8 km of paved road along the sea, where the ocean waves splash and local go to relax and flirt after a day of work. Along the Malecon, the Hotel Nacional is a beautiful neoclassic/art decò building which became famous in 1933 when, after the military coup of Fulgencio Batista, 300 army officers took refuge there hoping to receive the assistance of the US embassy. In 1946, Hotel Nacional hosted the biggest mafia convention of North America. Now, it is just a beautiful building with a stunning view of the Malecon.
I also recommend getting to the Vedado, a residential area packed with incredible colonial homes and full of parks and gardens. It is one of the nicest and most unique places to visit in Cuba.
Finally, if looking for things to do in Havana at night, make sure to go to La Bodeguita del Medio to have a mojito and to Floridita to have a daiquiri. Sure, they are definitely not the best mojitos and daiquiris in Cuba, but they are cool places to visit and if there often is live music.
Walking along the Malecon is one of the nicest things to do in Havana
Where to stay in Havana
As I have already said with regards to accommodation, one should not give too much thought on where to stay in Cuba: staying in casas particulares is one of the nicest things to do in Cuba. If looking for where to stay in Havana, I particularly recommend Casa Particular Abalidia in Vedado, in calle 15, between E and F. Felix and Lidia are wonderful hosts. Lidia is incredibly sweet, but never pushy. She is a great cook and her breakfast is perhaps the best I’ve had in Cuba. Her lobster dinners and congrì rice are memorable. Felix is a university professor, he loves anything Italian and knows a lot about Cuban history.
The house is a beautiful colonial building, with a nice patio at the back. Only two rooms are rented to guests. Felix regularly checks his email and if unable to get in touch him, communicate with his Italian friend in Rome who is regularly in touch with him via phone and can make the reservations. The email is firstname.lastname@example.org; the Italian contact is Lucia Nardi, email@example.com. A little bonus? Abalidia arranges rides from the airport. Expect to be picked up by Felix’ friends, who has a beautiful Ford 1956 – remember, riding vintage cars is one of the nicest things to do in Cuba.
Other places to stay in Havana:
Casa Tito is a good alternative should Abalidia be fully booked.
Iberostar Parque Central is a great hotel option. If one of the coolest things to do in Havana is staying in Havana Vieja, this is the best place to stay.
One of the nicest things to do in Santiago is enjoying the beautiful historic centre
Santiago de Cuba
Santiago, in the Santiago de Cuba province, is where to go in Cuba for a truly Caribbean atmosphere. There are regular Cubana de Aviacion flights connecting La Havana to Santiago de Cuba, at the South of the Country, or it is possible to get there via a 16 hours bus ride with Viazul.
This is the second largest city in Cuba, perhaps the hottest one and, according to the Lonely Planet (which I do not dare contradict on this!), a city of tricks and trouble that may make visitors want to run away as fast as possible (that was my case!). It is also a cultural capital interesting for its music, architecture, literature, people and politics, and for this reason, one of the most interesting places to visit in Cuba.
There are many things do to in Santiago and right outside the city. The Parque Céspedes is a must see, for it is lively, musical and surrounded by historic buildings and museums. Not far from it, one of the places to visit in Cuba is in Calle Eredia, and it is the Casa de la Trova, considered a sanctuary of traditional music hosting artists such as Eliades Ochoa, who became famous thanks to Buena Vista Social Club.
One of the nicest places to visit in Cuba that can be visited on a day trip from Santiago is La Gran Piedra, a mountain range whose climate is pleasantly cooler than that of Santiago and where there are some old bust still functioning coffee plantations – a tour of a coffee plantation (with a taste of the amazing, strong, dark coffee) is one of the things to do in Cuba! Cafetal la Isabelica is not far from the peak of La Gran Piedra, which can be reached by climbing the 459 steps and from where it is possible to admire a splendid view of the Caribbean sea.
At a distance of about 20 km from Santiago, the Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Cobre is one of the places to visit in Cuba. The road taking that goes there is stunning, and inside it is possible to spot the tiny statue of the Virgen de la Caridad, which according to legend was found floating on the waves in the Bahia de Nipe in 1612.
La Gran Piedra is one of the places to visit in Cuba – best to hike there
Where to stay in Santiago
As I have already stated, staying in casas particulares is one of the nicest things to do in Cuba. In Santiago, Casa Colonial Maruchi is the best place to stay. Ms Maruchi has a fabulous casa particular in Hartmann 357, between General Portuondo and Maximo Gomez. This is perhaps one of the best places to stay in Cuba: the house is simply a safe haven from the noise and pollution of Santiago!
Maruchi is among the few Cubans using the internet for business, and bookings can be arranged by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Maruchi is a santera, a representative of “santeria”, a syncretic religion hiding its african roots under catholic symbolism. The name is due to the colonizers joked about the African slaves’ way to pray to the saints. Though I don’t recommend asking her directly about santeria, appreciating Maruchi’s aura is one of the nicest things to do in Cuba.
Melia Santiago Hotel: although staying in casas particulares is one of the most fun things to do in Cuba, including in Santiago, a good alternative is the Melia Santiago Hotel, which has the advantage that it can be easily booked online.
Playa Maguana, near Baracoa, is where to go in Cuba to enjoy a relaxing day at the beach
Baracoa, in the Guantanamo Province at the South West tip of the island, is likely to be among the places to visit in Cuba that people haven’t heard of. The good thing about it, however, is that once visited, it is remembered forever.
One of the hidden gems of the country, it is not on everybody’s list of where to go in Cuba, because it is pretty much isolated from the rest of the country: La Farola (the lighthouse road), is the only road connecting Baracoa to Santiago de Cuba and the rest of the country. Built in 1964 thanks to Fidel Castro, the view from it while crossing the hills and the forest on the bus ride is spectacular. I recommend a drive on La Farola as one of the nicest things to do in Cuba.
There is a daily 5 hours Viazul bus connecting Santiago to Baracoa (another one of the places to visit in Cuba, but not among my favorites). Travelers are better off making the bus reservations (it literally is just a matter of minutes, done by putting the name on the list of passengers) one day before leaving, directly at the bus station. It will leave passengers at the only station in Baracoa, from which there normally isn’t any problem reaching a casa particular.
Baracoa is really small and it can be visited in a couple of hours. It is pretty, if only a bit beaten up by the weather – this is the wettest region in the country, and it rains every day here. As in any proper Cuban city, there are see lots of murales of Che Guevara and other revolution heroes. Admiring them is one of the nicest things to do in Cuba.
Around Baracoa there are some of the best places to visit in Cuba. It is known in Cuba as the city of the 29 rivers. A cayuca takes visitors across the Rio Toa, whose waters are so clean that all one may want to do is to swim in there.
Hiking El Yunque is one of the coolest things to do in Cuba – but be ready for the challenge
A cayuca is what is also used to cross the river on the way to El Yunque, which is where to go in Cuba if looking for a unique hike. This is a mysterious mountain that can be seen from Baracoa. In order to hike El Yunque (one of the most fun and exhilarating things to do in Cuba) it is necessary to hire a guide for the hike, and wear proper hiking boots as the terrain is muddy and very slippery due to the frequent rains. I also recommend wearing a swimsuit as at the end of the hike there is a chance to go to some very beautiful waterfalls with some lovely natural pools.
Surely, one of the things to do in Cuba is enjoying a proper day at the beach. Playa Maguana is one of the best beaches in Cuba, and it is not far from Baracoa. Picture a long, white, sandy beach and the coral reef that can be reached just by swimming!
Finally, a lovely bike ride along the coast goes all the way to the Boca de Yumurì, one of the nicest places to visit in Cuba, where it is possible to rent a pedal boat to explore the river. They also do guided tours of Yumurì.
Foodies will be glad to know that Baracoa is the gourmet capital of Cuba. Food here is simply heavenly and nobody should leave without having tried shrimps or octopus in coconut sauce, best if eaten at Nilson’s Paladar, in Flor Combret 143 (he also rents out some rooms). Eating local food is one of the yumiest things to do in Cuba.
Where to stay in Baracoa
As staying at casas particulares is one of the nicest things to do in Cuba, I found that a good casa particular in Baracoa is Casa Colonial Gustavo y Yalina, in Flor Combret 125, phone number 0053 21 64 25 36: a nice colonial house with very big rooms facing an internal yard. Yalina is a sweet and helpful lady and her lobster in coconut sauce is delicious. These are other good places to stay in Baracoa:
Hotel El Castillo, which is just 5 minutes from the centre and has a lovely pool (and the bar does delicious cocktails).
Things to do in Cuba: spotting the locals riding a sidecar
Camagüey, in the Province of Camagüey, is a labyrinth. Some people love it, other hate it. I must say I did not totally love it, but I can see why some would. It simply is a unique city, and it among the places to visit in Cuba to see something completely different.
It was built in a medina style to keep away attackers who would get lost, and lost I got, no matter how good at reading a map I can be (I admit I am not, I am an unsuccessful backpacker). Camagüey city centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2008, it is packed with art parlour and lovely tiny alleys. It is crowded and at times messy, but interesting nonetheless. Some would say that visiting Camagüey is one of the things to do in Cuba.
Camagüey can be reached with the bus that leaves Santiago at 7:30 pm, and only gets there at 2 am, to then continue to Trinidad. Not a very convenient time to arrive there, nor to leave town to go to Trinidad (this is when bargaining a taxi and trying to find other people to share the expenses may be a good idea and one of the smartest things to do in Cuba), really. But I stayed at Casa de Caridad, and the owner made sure to arrange a taxi to take me home.
Where to stay in Camagüey
If staying at casas particulares is one of the things to do in Cuba, Casa de Caridad is a good choice in Camagüey. This is one of the best places to stay in town, located in Oscar Primelles 310A between Bartolomé Masò and Padre Olallo (0053 32 29 15 54). The huge house has very high ceilings, antique (but perfectly functioning) bathrooms, a lovely garden at the back, and the most motherly owner: she took good care of me when the heat of the city hit me, but would also tell me off if she thought I was doing something not recommendable, and needless to say she is an excellent cook. Marya’s house is a good alternative.
Trinidad is where to go in Cuba when looking for a beautiful historic city
Trinidad, in the province of Sancti Spiritus, is perhaps the the epitome of Cuba tourism (aside from all-inclusive resorts of Varadero), and it definitely is among the places to visit in Cuba. A beautiful city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a very well preserved example of a colonial city, it gives visitors an overall impression that time there has stopped in the 19th century.
Trinidad used to be the commercial heart of Cuba, where huge wealth was accumulated. No cars can get into the city centre (just donkeys and horse carriages), so it is lovely to wander around the many artesania shops and painters’ studios. And if shopping is not one of the things to do in Cuba (there really aren’t many shops), it is one of the things to do in Trinidad.
There are many things to do in Trinidad, which is packed with museums and places of interest. Even just a walk is lovely, as it goes through pretty cobbled streets, colonial buildings so well preserved that some even have original furnishings, and balconies covered in colorful bouganvillea.
Among the things to do in Trinidad there is dancing salsa, listening to the music that is played at pretty much every corner, and in the evening right on staircase next to the cathedral.
Listening to live salsa is one of the nicest things to do in Cuba
The surroundings of Trinidad are packed with sites of historical and natural interest. if ever wandering about what to do in Cuba to get a better understanding of the history of slavery, head to Valle de los Ingenios. Visit the Manaca Iznaga, a former sugar cane plantation whose owner, Pedro Iznaga, was one of the richest men in Cuba thanks to the slave trade. The 44 meters high tower was an observation point to check on the slaves. There are more, smaller and less touristic sites too but it is better to hire a guide to get there.
Those that enjoy hiking will find that hiking Topes de Collantes is one of the most fund things to do in Cuba. The heat, the humidity, the thick vegetation make it for a rather tiring hike, but it is possible to refresh with a swim in the freezing Salto de Caburnì natural pools.
Some of the best beaches in Cuba are near Trinidad. Playa Ancon is among them and can be easily reached by a taxi ride that should not cost more than 5 CUC.
These are some of the best tours of Trinidad and the surrounding areas:
As one of the best places to go in Cuba, there are hundreds of casas particulares in Trinidad, but getting there early during the day is a good thing to do since if not having any reservations. There is a good casa in Callejon de Peña, at the back of a beautiful jewelry shop. Prices are roughly around 30 CUC for a double room.
A meal in a good restaurant (there are many) is about 25 CUC (a splurge compared to the rest of the country, but this is the most touristic destination in Cuba). I really liked Paladar Sol y Son, in Simon Bolivar 283 between Frank Pais and Jose Marti. Yes, it is touristy, but it looks like a museum, and the food is tasty. The traditional cocktail is canchanchara, made with aguardiente, rum, honey and lime and served in traditional earthenware. Eating and drinking are among the best things to do in Cuba and this is the place to go for that!
Bay of the Pigs, locally known as Bahia de Cochins, is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Cuba
Cienfuegos, in the Province of Cienfuegos, is close to Trinidad. There are 6 buses per day connecting the two cities in little over one hour. It is at about 6 hours from Havana and 7 from Vinales (there are daily direct buses). I loved it, and will gladly recommend it among the places to visit in Cuba.
Cienfuegos is a UNESCO World Heritage site, so relaxed and breezy, and there are so few jineteros here, that it is a good place to have break from the frenzy of the rest of the country.
The city was founded in 1819, right by the sea, which can be admired from El Malecon or from Punta Gorda. Not too far from the city, the botanical gardens are perfect for a chilling afternoon walk and for observing various plants, including various kinds of bamboos. Discovering its flora is one of the things to do in Cuba.
What’s best, Cienfuegos it is great starting point for many more places to visit in Cuba. Cienaga de Zapata is a huge fen that homes some of the most varied ecosystems in the country. There are different kinds of vegetation, various species of birds and rectiles, including criadero de cocodrilos.
From Cienfuegos it is also possible to visit the famous Bahia de Cochinos (Bay of the Pigs), definitely what to do in Cuba to admire crystal clear waters and seeing the amazing coral reef. It is a good spot for diving too. From here, the Kennedy administration memorably failed to invade Cuba in 1961. Not far from it, Caleta Buena is lovely cove perfect for snorkeling. There is an entrance fee, but this includes sun beds and all you can drink cocktails.
One of the best places to go in Cuba to see some spectacular natural pools is El Nicho, a series of beautiful waterfalls on the Rio Hanabanilla. There is a a hiking trail, natural pools where it is possible to jump in and caves. The water is cold, but so inviting! There are various pools, the less crowded ones are on the left side of the street that separates the two sides.
Swimming in the cold pools of El Nicho is one of the most refreshing things to do in Cuba
Where to stay (and eat) in Cienfuegos
Casa de Olga y Eugenio, in Avenida 50 n. 4109, between Calle 41 and 43 in Cienfuegos is one of the best places to stay in Cuba. A lovely family, and a relaxed atmosphere, topped off by very good value for money (only 15 CUC per room). It is very close to the centre of town and the bus station. Eugenio speaks a bit of English, and always makes sure to protect his guests from scams and puts them in touch with good local guides and drivers.
Las Mamparas, in Calle 37 n. 4004, is a very good paladar in Cienfuegos, popular among the locals too. A huge meal costed about 6 CUC (drinks included). Restaurante Dona Nora in Calle 37 has a lovely balcony overlooking the Prado and prices are good too. If enjoying local food is what to do in Cuba, these are the places to go to.
Valle de Viñales
Valle de Viñales, in the Province of Pinar del Rio, is one of the places to visit in Cuba: so wonderful that I recommend leaving it last as one of the nicest things to do in Cuba. It is one of the most wonderful places I have ever seen, a great mix of a pretty yet tiny town, lovely country side, not too far beaches which are among the best beaches in Cuba, tobacco and coffee plantations.
The main street has a cultural centre facing the main square, a small artesania market with lots of street food stalls (fried potatoes, churros, hand-baked pizza, and a piña colada stall right by the front of a house, baring a sign stating “aqui todo natural”, that makes the best piña colada in the world), and a few side streets which connect to the hills and countryside around. It is pleasant to walk around: life is slow paced here. Easy to see why it is one of the best places to go in Cuba.
Exploring Vinales Valley is one of the nicest things to do in Cuba
There is an information desk right by the Viazul bus stop, where to get information on things to do in Cuba too, and also book a lot of excursions and even salsa lessons.
Whichever mode of explorations of the valley, it is enjoyable. Some prefer to hike it, others to go horse riding. I biked around, and I found it a great way to get closer look to the mogotes, isolated steep-sided residual hills generally having a rounded, tower-like shape and surrounded by nearly flat alluvial plains. The Mural de la Prehistoria, meant to portray world history up until the age of humans on a rock wall, is also seen during the ride.
Viñales is where to go in Cuba in order to visit a tobacco plantation and observe how artesanal cigars are made.
Visiting a cigar farm is one of the most unique things to do in Cuba
Some bike tours also go to Los Aquaticos, although it is necessary to leave the bike at some point and hike up there to reach a tiny community of people who believe in the healing power of water. The view of the Valley from Los Aquaticos is breathtaking – from there, it is easy to understand why Vinales is one of the top places to visit in Cuba.
The final stop of the bike tour is usually at the Hotel Los Jazmines, where the public terrace has an incredible view of the valley and mogotes.
Cayo Jutias is one of the best beaches in Cuba and can be reached from Viñales. It is a long, white and sandy beach, with mangrovias growing wildly on it, reached through a lovely road that goes through a pedraplen (embankment). It is the perfect place to relax and snorkel or even dive and one of the best places to go in Cuba.
Snorkeling expeditions cost about 12 CUC and include all the necessary gears and a guide. There often are fishermen here offering to catch and cook lobster too. Eating lobster is one of the tastiest things to do in Cuba.
Where to stay in Viñales
As with the rest of the top places to visit in Cuba, there are many casas particulares in Viñales. I liked Casa Dovales, of Dr. Aracelys Dovales Corrales, in Adela Azcuy n. 2. tel 0053 48 696 669. The room was nice and clean; the lovely owner regularly saved me from being ripped off and she cooked amazing dinners for me. Casa Arcoiris is also a good one.
Despite being a small place, nightlife is lively in Viñales. There are a few bars around the main square and on the main street; some with salsa music. Centro Cultural Polo Montañez has a weekly “festa del campesino” (peasant’s party), during which locals participate in an improvisation singing game, with less than good results, but guaranteeing all a good laugh to locals and tourists assisting.
All that is left to do now is deciding when to go to Cuba.
If you need assistance in creating your personalized itinerary in Cuba you can contact me in private through the contact form.
The range of things to do in Havana is incredible, and you will inevitably fall in love with this crumbling, charming city.
Full of mystery and charm, Cuba is a favorite of travelers who, despite the difficulties they encounter, are fascinated by it. Havana is the obvious starting point of a trip to Cuba. Dusty, noisy, crowded and with bad traffic, the Cuban capital may at times feel overwhelming. Yet, there are so many things to do in Havana that it would be a real pity to miss out on them. This is where you will get a proper introduction to the country and all that it has to offer, to its culture and history, and to its people.
My recommendation is to spend at least 3 full days in Havana to visit all the main attractions – the city is actually quite spread out. If you have an extra day or two to spare, even better – this way you will have a chance to explore it more in depth.
This post highlights all the unmissable and fun things to do in Havana, and shares a few tips to make the most of this incredible city.
There’s little doubt that one of the ultimate things to do in Havana is riding a vintage car
27 Incredible Things To Do In Havana
Ride a vintage car
One of the things Havana is most famous for are the vintage cars. They are everywhere – on any street corner, traffic light, parking lot. Some of these cars are incredibly well kept: perfectly restored, shiny 1950s Fords that are the pride and joy of their owners. Others are falling apart – but in a country where nothing goes to waste, they keep being fixed and they keep running. Needless to say, one of the most fun things to do in Havana is not only taking plenty of photos of the vintage cars, but actually riding one.
If you are keen on going on a ride, you have three options:
Option one: take a taxi particular
If your Spanish is up to scratch, one of the nicest things to do in Havana is to just stop any of the old taxi particulares (private taxis) and use it as a regular taxi to be taken to your next destination. This is a fun option, not to mention the cheapest one, as taxis particulares are actually shared so chances are that some local will jump on board too and you’ll get to mingle. However, you’ll only stay in the car for as long as your ride is, and most importantly you’ll have to haggle so that you get charged a fair price.
Another option is to opt for a vintage car ride, which can last anything between one and two hours. These are easy to find, as beautiful, shiny and well kept vintage cars are pretty much anywhere in Havana, and chances are that the driver will try to catch your attention so that he can offer you a ride. However, keep in mind that this is one of the most touristy things to do in Havana so it is likely that the driver will inflate the prices: you’ll have to haggle fiercely to get a better price.
Option three: book a vintage car ride online
The last and easiest option is to book a vintage car ride online. This will spare you the hassle of having to haggle with the driver, which can be exhausting and it can take you a lot of time.
These are some of the best vintage car rides in Havana that can be booked online:
A walk in Havana Vieja is one of the things to do in Havana
Walk around Havana Vieja
Going for a walk in Havana Vieja (which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site) most definitely is one of the unmissable things to do in Havana. This is a great way to discover the city and see most of its attractions, such as the Plaza de la Catedral, a gorgeous square where all the buildings, including the Cathedral, are all in Baroque style; Plaza de Armas, which is the oldest square in Havana; and Plaza Vieja, which is the most eclectic style in the city and baroque style buildings sit right next Art Nouveau ones. You’ll also have a chance to see the crumbling building Havana is famous for.
TIP: If you feel like you need a break from the sightseeing while you are in Plaza de la Catedral, you may be happy to know that La Bodeguita del Medio, Hemingway’s favorite cocktail bar in Havana, is right around the corner. Mojitos are quite expensive compared to the rest of the country, but between the fact drinking a cocktail is one of the things to do in Havana, and that La Bodeguita is one of the landmarks in the city, you shouldn’t pass on the chance to pay a visit.
A guided tour of Havana Vieja may well be what to do in Havana if you are pressed for time and yet don’t want to miss out on the most important attractions.
This site puts you in touch with local guides who can craft a guided tour of the city according to your taste and needs.
Discover the hidden gems of Calle Mercaderes
Most people who visit Havana walk along Calle Mercaderes without even realizing its full value. This street was beautifully restored to its original 18th century splendor, and walking along it is one of the nicest things to do in Havana. Calle Mercaderes is packed with small museums (most of them, such as the Museo de Bomberos dedicated to firefighters, or the Museo del Tabaco, are free), shops and restaurants, but visitors can also pop in to get to know one of the many social projects that have their headquarters here.
Exploring Plaza de Armas is what to do in Havana if in search of a book
Buy a book or two in Plaza de Armas
Book worms will be happy to know that the oldest square in Havana hosts a daily book market. Browsing the stalls in search of a book is one of the nicest things to do in Havana.
Mix with the locals in Calle Obispo
Calle Obispo is the main street in Havana Vieja, where a series of art galleries, shops, and bars with live music are located. More than anything else, it’s among the busiest pedestrian streets in the city, and walking along is one of the unmissable things to do in Havana, if anything to get a flavor of local life.
Go to the Capitol Building
The former seat of the government until the Cuna revolution, the Capitolio now hosts the Cuban Academy of Sciences. It’s a gorgeous, imposing building where visitors aren’t admitted, but you can surely look at it from the outside: it’s one of the unmissable things to do in Havana.
Visit the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes
Art lovers will agree that visiting the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes is what to do in Havana. The collection is truly interesting, with pieces of international art that date back to 500 AC! If you plan to visit, keep in mind that the museum is spread across two buildings.
Visit the Museo de la Revolución
If you decide to only visit one museum when in Havana, make sure you go to the Museo de la Revolución. This is located in the former presidential palace. Here, for a really small fee, you’ll be able to get some better understanding of the history of the revolution in Cuba. The collection comprises a lot of documents and photos, so there is a lot of reading to be done.
Plaza de la Revolucion is one of the landmarks of Havana
Then head to Plaza de la Revolución
Plaza de la Revolución is one of the landmarks of the city, and visiting is one of the unmissable things to do in Havana. This is where political rallies and gathering take place; where politicians appear to address their electorate; and where Cubans gathered to give their last farewell to their former president Fidel Castro.
The memorial square is dedicated to one of the heroes of the Cuban revolution, José Martí. On the other side of the square, there is a huge image representing Ernesto Che Guevara and his famous motto “Hasta la Victoria Siempre.” To these two, the image of Camilo Cienfuegos, another Cuban revolution hero, was added in 2009 on the nearby telecommunications building.
To be fair, this isn’t exactly the prettiest place to visit in Havana – the area is grey, somewhat dim. But its historical and political significance are undeniable so I recommend visiting.
TIP: Keep in mind that Plaza de la Revolución is a bit far from everything else, so you are probably better off haggling a taxi to get there and back.
A walk on El Malecon is a must – it’s one of the unmissable things to do in Havana
Walk along El Malecon
If you visit the Cuban capital, you have no choice: going for a walk along El Malecon is one of the unmissable things to do in Havana – you get bonus points if you do it at sunset! This 8 km paved road connects the outside of the the old city with the residential Vedado (more about it later) and it is where Havaneros love to hang out in the late afternoon. Here, the ocean waves crush on the shore; there are a lot of beautiful, old and crumbling buildings (one of them is the famous Hotel Nacional), and the vibe is overall relaxing.
Explore the Cuban Missile Crisis Tunnels
Right behind the Malecon, on the far right corner of Hotel Nacional, you can look for the signs that point towards the tunnels where the missiles set up and aimed at the US were kept during the Cuban Missile Crisis (learn more about the crisis here). It’s a rather interesting place to explore and to understand more about the story of the country and of its place in the international arena.
Take a small detour to visit the Callejón de Hamel
The Callejón de Hamel is a really tiny street not far from El Malecon. Here, you can find some interesting street art and get a feel for the Afro-Cuban culture that is so typical of the country. Beware of the touts that hang out in this area, and be prepared for a lot of cat calling.
Make a stop at Hotel Nacional
The most famous hotel in Havana is Hotel Nacional, and it is right on the Malecon. This neoclassic / art decò building has a beautiful garden and a fantastic terrace with views of the ocean. It’s where some Cuban army officers sought refuge in 1933, hoping to get help from the US after Batista’s coup. Nowadays, the hotel remains a great place to visit; it hosts events, wedding celebrations and parties such as quinzeneras (15 years old birthday celebrations) and it’s a great place to enjoy a sunset drink. Needless to say, making a stop here is one of the things to do in Havana.
Go to the Vedado
One of the nicest areas in the Cuban capital is the Vedado, and visiting is one of the top things to do in Havana. Here, there are some gorgeous colonial style homes, beautiful gardens and the traffic is much less compared to the rest of the city. And since it is not in the center of Havana, not many tourists go all the way there. Which means that if you decide to visit, you’ll most likely have the whole place to yourself.
TIP: Although most people who visit Havana opt to stay at a casa particular in Havana Vieja, I suggest considering staying at Vedado. There are some incredible houses there (more about this in a bit).
Go see el cañonazo de las nueve
One of the most touristy, yet interesting things to do in Havana is attending the ceremony of “el cañonazo de las nueve.” This takes place every night at 9:00 pm in the fortress of La Cabaña, where soldiers dressed in traditional costumes of the 18th century, shoot the cannon. Back in the day, this indicated that it was time to close the doors of the walls that surrounded the city, so as to protect from enemies.
The show is interesting, but more than anything by attending you’ll gain entrance to the fortress, where Ernesto Guevara had established his headquarters right after the revolution, and where nowadays there are several interesting exhibits and souvenir shops. The entrance ticket also gets you a drink.
TIP: Make sure to go at least one hour before the ceremony, so that you have plenty of time to browse around the exhibit and to sip your cocktail. A taxi from the city to the fortress should not cost you more than 3 Convertible Pesos (around $3 USD).
Cigars are common in Cuba, and visiting a cigar factory is one of the many interesting things to do in Havana
Visit a tobacco factory
One thing Cuba is really famous for is its cigars. The Real Fábrica de Tabacos Partagás is one of the places to visit if you want to learn a bit more about how cigars are made, and to buy a few that you can carry home with you. If you do, make sure to store them in the fridge on a wet cloth to keep them nice and moist (I learned this from a local!).
Stay at a casa particular
One of the top things to do in Havana is to stay at a casa particular (literally “private home”). Pretty much anyone who has a spare room or two in Havana rents it out, preferably to foreign tourists, to make a bit more money. Rooms at casas particulares are pretty standard: they are typically double and with a private bathroom with running hot water. Meals are not included in the price of the room.
A room at a casa particular costs anything between 20 to 35 CUC, depending on the location and on the size of the room. Breakfast costs around 5 CUC, and dinner anything between 8 and 15 CUC. Keep in mind that the portions are truly huge, enough to feed an army, and that the food is really good.
Most travelers opt to stay at casas particulares in Havana Vieja, but there are a few excellent options in Vedado as well.
Here is a selection of good casas particulares in Havana:
Abalidia is an excellent house in Vedado. You can book it by sending an email to either Felix at email@example.com or to their Italian contact Lucia at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is the casa where I stayed when I visited, and I truly enjoyed my experience there.
Eat at a paladar
One of the unmissable things to do in Havana is trying the local food. The best food in Cuba is found either in local homes or at paladares, privately owned restaurants. There, for a real steal, you can have huge portions (one Cuban portion likely serves two!) of the most delicious local dishes. The price of a meal at a paladar can be as cheap as 7 CUC and as expensive as 35 CUC, depending on what you have and on the location of the restaurant.
Sugar cane juice can be found in all Caribbean countries. To be fair, it’s an incredibly sweet drink, but if you add a good dose of fresh lime juice, it can be nice and refreshing, and give you a boost of energy and a break from the exhausting heat. Besides, seeing how guarapo is prepared is one of the coolest things to do in Havana.
One of the things to do in Havana is having a refreshing cocktail
Have a good cocktail
Speaking of lime, lemon and drinks, there is no denying that cocktails in Cuba are good. One of the things to do in Havana is having a good drink. If La Bodeguita del Medio is the most popular place for a mojito (though I think the best mojitos are those that you can get at any random bar in the city), the best place for daiquiris is definitely El Floridita. It’s just as touristy as La Bodeguita, but who cares when the drinks are so good?
Walk around the Barrio Chino
There is a Chinatown in Havana. Or perhaps I should say there was. Once upon a time there used to be a large Chinese community in Cuba, but nowadays there are no more Chinese people left. Yet, the Barrio Chino is a cool place to visit: it’s so small it won’t take you more than 15 minutes to walk through it and browse at the various Chinese restaurants.
Shop at a local market
Visiting the local markets is one of the nicest things to do in havana. There are various small fruit markets in the city where you can buy some fruit at a real steal. There also are some crafts market where you can get some small souvenirs – the same you can see in souvenir shops, to be fair.
TIP: Remember that Cuba uses two currencies, the CUC, or Peso Convertible, which is mostly for visitors, and the CUP, or Cuban Peso. Make sure to change some of your CUC to CUP if you intend to do some small shopping at a local market. Keep in mind that 25 CUP = 1 CUC.
Get to know the locals
One of the biggest perks of traveling is getting to meet the locals. In Cuba, this is easier said than done. Most of the time, a local approaching you in an overly friendly manner should send you on your way and should be a warning sign for a scam. Having said so, one of the nicest things to do in Havana is having a chat with a local and I promise that once you weed out all the possible scams, you will manage to find some really genuine ones.
Live music is everywhere in Cuba and one of the most fun things to do in Havana is listening to live music
Listen to some great music
Music is everywhere in Havana, and all that it takes to listen to some good live music is turning a street corner (there’s bound to be some band playing in the street) or getting into a bar, since most in Havana have live music.
Practice salsa dancing
Try to listen to salsa music without wanting to dance. It’s impossible! One of the most fun things to do in Havana is enrolling in a salsa dancing class. And if you want to have a proper night out, go to Casa de la Musica, which is located in Miramar, west of Vedado. It’s a huge, indoor nightclub but the cool this is that they play live music. This is where the young locals go to dance live salsa, but it’s becoming increasingly more popular with tourists too.
TIP: Make sure to either reserve a taxi back home, or to ask the driver who took you there to pick you up, or else it will once again be a fierce haggling game until you find a taxi that can take you back to your accommodation at a honest price.
See a Tropicana show
The Tropicana is an iconic Cuban show, and seeing it is one of the things to do in Havana. You will need to buy tickets in advance, as the place fills up really quickly. Once you get in, you will be offered a cigar. You can even eat dinner there.
The good thing about Havana is that it is fairly easy to get out of the city and there is quite a bit to see in the surroundings. Some even make it all the way to Vinales or Cienfuegos for a day trip, but to be honest I think that they deserve a proper, longer visit. Having said so, one of the nicest things to do in Cuba is going for a day trip to the beach, and Playas del Este is an excellent option in terms of vicinity (you can go there independently), beauty and local feel.
Make sure to hang out with the locals, it’s one of the things to do in Havana!
Practical Tips To Organize Your Trip To Havana
Where to stay in Havana
Havana has some excellent accommodation options. There are a few good hotels in town, but to be honest you are better off staying in one of the many casas particulares where you’ll have a chance to get right into the culture and way of life of a local family. Other than the casas I have mentioned above, the following is a selection of some good casas particulares in Havana:
Abalidia, located in Vedado, is a lovely colonial home managed by the charming Felix and Lidia. There are two large rooms, a fantastic patio and Lidia is an excellent cook. You can’t book it online, but you can reach out via email through their website. Click here for reviews.
Cuba is an easy enough country to travel around if you are an experienced traveler and if you don’t mind having to put up with the unreliable transportation system and accommodation bookings that at times go missing. In other words, there is only so much planning you can do there. If you’d rather leave the organization bits to the experts and just worry about what to pack for your trip, you can join a guided tour. There are some excellent ones around.
This is a selection of the best guided tours of Cuba. They all go to Havana:
Cuba Libre – a classic 6 days tour that is also very budget friendly.
Cuba Colonial – a 15 days tour that covers all the nest places to visit in the country.
How to get to Havana
Havana has an international airport with flights to the rest of the world. The airport is at an easy taxi ride from the city. If you don’t want to have to worry about haggling prices as soon as you land from your international flight, you are better off booking a cab in advance. You can book one here.
How to move around Havana
If you are staying in Havana Vieja, you won’t really need to use public transportation to go anywhere. If you like walking, even Vedado can be reached on an easy walk along the Malecon. Other than that, you can rely on the many taxis particulares that move around town. Make sure to always bargain the prices though – remember that as a tourist you’ll be charged 10 times more than the regular price, so keep this in mind when bargaining!
When to visit Havana
Any time is a good time to visit Havana, but the summer months are incredibly hot and humid, with higher chances of rain. I recommend visiting in the winter, between December and March, for pleasantly mild temperatures and sunny, dry days.
Other useful information
You will need a tarjeta turistica to travel to Cuba. You can get it at a good travel agency. Having a travel medical insurance is another requirement. You can get yours here.
For further readings about Havana and Cuba, you can check out one of these books:
It’s amazing what people are able to create with so few ingredients: Cuban food is simply delicious.
I am hardly a foodie. In fact, whenever I have to fill a dietary requirements’ form before a trip, I am almost tempted to write down what I actually eat, rather than what I don’t eat. It would be easier and faster. This, however, doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy eating. Quite the opposite, indeed. And one of the things I love the most when I travel is discovering a country and its culture through its food. Such was the case with Cuban cuisine and one of the reasons I find Cuba to be a fantastic holiday destination.
The thing is, when I traveled to Cuba I was actually impressed with the food. It’s incredible what Cubans manage to put together with so few ingredients. Cuban food, for as simple as it may seem, is full of flavor, fresh and (quite importantly for a health freak like me) healthy. Whether I had a simple snack bought in a kiosk or a full meal, I enjoyed what I ate.
But why would someone who’s not a foodie ever write something about food at all? It just so happens that the other day that my sister told me she’s missing traveling with me; she misses the time when we’d get to dinner time already a bit tipsy from drinking a mojito, and then stuff our faces with delicious food. She was obviously referring to Cuban food. Hence my urge to write about it, and remember it.
One of the best Cuban dishes is shrimps in coconut sauce – photo courtesy of Barbara-Dieu (flickr)
Where To Find The Best Cuban Food
Before digging deep into the most mouthwatering Cuban dishes, it is worth pointing out where to find the best food in Cuba. Keep in mind that this is a country like no other, where commerce and businesses are hardly free as we know them, and the word restaurant shouldn’t necessarily be associated with the finest food. So, here’s where to eat in Cuba.
(State Owned) Restaurants
Restaurants in Cuba are typically owned by the State. And as with any State owned “business,” people who work there hardly have an interest in growing it. This means that restaurants hardly do any justice to Cuban cuisine.
Cuban food at State owned restaurants often resembles that of school cafeterias. It often tastes like warmed up leftovers. And the prices hardly reflect the quality of the food. The equation “mediocre food for high prices” should be enough to deter people from going to State owned restaurants.
Paladares are restaurants as we know them. They are owned by privates, and they are the best places to enjoy Cuban food. Portions at a paladar are typically huge – something to keep in mind when ordering a meal. It may be worth sharing. The prices of a full meal at a paladar vary. They can go from under $5 USD to even $15, depending on the location and on how popular the paladar is.
So for example, a meal of Cuban dishes in a paladar in Cienfuegos, which is less touristy compared to the rest of Cuba, is much cheaper than a meal in Trinidad, possibly the most touristy city in the country.
A casas particular is the equivalent of a western bed and breakfast (though come to think of it, breakfast is always available but never included in the price). Many Cubans, when they have a couple of spare rooms in their house, rent them out to travelers. Staying at a casa particular is one of the best ways to experience Cuba. And to add to the experience, it is also possible to enjoy some of the best Cuban dishes there.
Cuban food at casas particulares is typically delicious (and quite cheap). The great thing about it is that it really is home cooked food, with the owners going above and beyond to make their guests happy and to hear the words “delicioso” and “que rico!”
Eating at a casa particular is usually cheap. Breakfast costs no more than $4 or $5 USD and it includes more food than a human can eat (fruit, juice, bread butter and jam, eggs, cakes, coffee and what not). Dinner can cost anything between $7 and $12 USD, depending on the location and on the main course (lobster will cost more than pork, obviously). Either way, eating at a casa particular is one of the best ways to enjoy Cuban cuisine.
Kiosks And Holes In The Wall
Street food in Cuba is actually really good. It can be found anywhere – street corners, main squares and beaches. Holes in the wall are fun to see – they are typically small windows from where a person serves whatever is on sale for the day.
Kiosks and holes in the wall are great places to have a meal on the go, and to try some of the most interesting Cuban dishes. Some sell just fruit (which, by the way, is delicious in Cuba). Others sell small freshly baked pizza; sandwiches; churros; fried plantains and potato chips. The prices are super cheap – expect to spend no more than $1 USD.
A refined version of tostones, one of the loveliest Cuban dishes – photo courtesy of Anthony Quintana (flickr)
The Staple Ingredients Of Cuban Cuisine
The staple ingredients of Cuban food are similar to those of other Caribbean and Central America countries such as Nicaragua – some dishes are actually quite similar, though they have different names.
However, we should not forget that Cuba has been suffering from isolation for well over half a century. What this means is that some ingredients are simply not available: all the food in Cuba is cooked using local and seasonal produce. Go in February, and mango will simply not be on offer. Apples are not to be found (or at least, they were nowhere to be seen when I visited); beef is hardly on the menu; I don’t remember seeing much milk (or yogurt) around.
The daily diet of Cubans consists of rice and beans and a few other things. The most typical Cuban food is the comida criolla, a dish that along with rice and beans has a salad, plantains (often fried) and at times eggs, pork, chicken or fish.
All The Best And Most Mouthwatering Cuban Food
The following is a list of some of the most delicious Cuban dishes. I have tried most of them when I was there, and all I can say is yum!
Rice based Cuban Food
Also known as moros y cristianos, congrí is a staple of Cuban cuisine. It is a combination of white rice with black beans which are cooked in garlic, oil and a bunch of other spices. I think I had it every day when I traveled to Cuba, and I actually loved it. The best one I had as at Abalidia, a lovely casa particular where I stayed in Havana.
Cuban cuisine has its own version of one of the most typical dishes in Spain. I tried it in Havana Vieja, the day after I arrived, and it certainly was good. It had chicken, ham, chorizo (sausage), and a bunch of seafood such as shrimps, scallops and lobster. What can I say, other than it was delicious – especially if accompanied by a mojito!
Arroz con pollo
Arroz con pollo literally means rice with chicken. It’s quite popular in Cuban cuisine, though I know it is found in other Caribbean islands such as Puerto Rico. It pretty much is like Cuban paella, minus the seafood.
Pork Based Cuban Food
I ate lomo ahumado the very night I arrived in Havana. Felix, the owner of Abalidia, the casa particular where I stayed in Vedado, described it as one of the most delicious Cuban dishes. He recommended a place nearby where I could have it, and since I was starving after 24 hours of flying I decided to try it.
To my surprise, I learned that the lomo (fillet) isn’t actually made of beef (which is hard to find in Cuba) but of pork, which is a staple of Cuban food. The fillet is smoked so slowly until the meat becomes full of soft, moist and oh so tasty.
As far as pork goes, costillitas are probably one of the best Cuban dishes. It is made of baby back ribs, marinated in a mix of sour orange juice, lime juice, oregano, garlic, and oil. The result is a sweet and tangy flavor which is truly mouthwatering.
One of the Cuban dishes that most reminds me of food in Sardinia is lechon asado. It is a suckling pig which is slowly roasted on a spit, until the skin is light and crispy. It’s perfect, and even better when served with mojo, a spicy marinade. I saw it being cooked in the countryside around Baracoa – it looked like a feast was in the making!
This is the Cuban (pork) version of the Chicken Kiev I had in Ukraine. It’s not exactly a healthy meal, but it’s ever so tasty that I find it to be one of the most comforting Cuban dishes. It is made by filling a pork chop with ham and cheese. This is then dipped in beaten eggs, passed on breadcrumbs and fried. My mouth waters at the thought.
Pernil Relleno de Moros y Cristianos
One of the best known Cuban dishes is actually a combination oftwo dishes. It is prepared by marinating a pork shoulder in orange juice, garlic, oregano and pepper. The shoulder is then filled with rice and beans and slowly cooked in the oven. Needless to say, it is delicious.
Chicharrones can be found all over the world, and are certainly popular in the Caribbean and in Central America. Easy to see why they have to be included in a list of Cuban dishes. They are crispy fried pork rinds that melt in the mouth.
Roast chicken in Trinidad actually is pot roasted. It one of the tastiest Cuban dishes – photo courtesy of Liza Lagman Sperl (flickr)
Chicken Based Cuban Food
Roast chicken is a comfort food in Italy – we buy it take away when we don’t feel like cooking yet want something yummy. But this traditional Cuban food is actually not what one would expect it. I ordered it in Trinidad, and when the waiter brought it I realized it was a pot roast chicken, cooked with tomatoes and onions and simply mouthwatering.
Fish And Seafood Based Cuban Food
Fish and seafood are easily found in Cuba, they literally are staple ingredients in Cuban cuisine. I had it quite often when I traveled there, often a la plancha (just grilled). Yet, some of the traditional Cuban dishes are quite complex to make and oh so good.
Shrimps (or any other seafood) in coconut sauce
This may well be the most memorable dish in Cuban cuisine. It is typical of Baracoa (in the Guantanamo Province), a small city which many consider the gourmet capital of Cuba. What can I say – I was actually reluctant to try it. In my Italian mind, the association of seafood with a sweet sauce would be a sacrilege. Then I did and well, my mouth waters just at the thought and I’d travel all the way back to Baracoa just for it.
The most delicious of Cuban dishes is prepared by pouring lechita, a sauce made with coconut milk, tomato paste, garlic and mix of spices over shrimps, octopus or lobster.The dish is served with rice.
Eggs Based Cuban Food
Eggs are one of the few ingredients that are easily available in Cuba. After all, everyone has chickens, even in cities – even in Havana. Needless to say, there’s a lot of eggs based food in Cuba. Here’s a couple of unmissable dishes.
One of the most lovely Cuban dishes actually reminds me of a typical dish of Israel, shakshuka. It is made of eggs cooked over a sofrito – a gently fried mixture of tomatoes, garlic, peppers and onions.
Picadillo cua cua
I’m not sure under what to classify this Cuban food. It is similar to hash and eggs, and among the ingredients there are plantains and at times beef. It is served with rice.
Cuban cuisine doesn’t have much beef: ropa vieja is one of the few dishes.
Beef Based Cuban Food
Beef isn’t exactly a thing in Cuba, or at least I don’t think that Cuban people eat it often. I often asked why there was hardly any beef on Cuban menus and I never got the same answer. Some told me that cows are State owned in Cuba, so killing a cow for meat is considered a crime. Others said it is a government’s health concern, as beef is associated with cholesterol.
In any case, there are some Cuban dishes that include beef among their ingredients. I never had it in the over 3 weeks I spent there, so the ones I mention below are those that can be found on menus but I didn’t try.
Ropa vieja literally means “old stuff.” As far as beef-based Cuban food, this is the most popular one and I saw it on the menu in many paladares, though it was hardly on offer in casas particulares. It is a stew made with beef chunks, cooked so slowly until the beef shreds. It also contains onions and tomatoes.
Polpetta in Italian means “meatball.” In Cuban cuisine, pulpeta indicates a meatloaf, made of ground beef and stuffed with ham and hard boiled eggs. In Italy, such a dish would be typically cooked in the oven (though come to think of it, my mom cooks it in a pot, in tomato sauce, and it is yummy). In Cuba, it is cooked on the stove. Clever.
One of the most famous Cuban dishes that includes beef is frita, which is the local version of a hamburger. It is made of a soft bun filled with a patty of ground beef. It’s also possible to get patties of a mixture of beef and chorizo. It is served with french fries or, more often, with plantain chips.
The Cuban version of a stir fry, vaca frita literally means “fried cow.” As with many other Cuban dishes, the meat is marinated in lime, garlic and salt and then seared till. The end result is quite crispy – reflecting the fact that Cubans like their food really well done.
Corn on the cob the Cuban way – some of the tastiest food in Cuba
Corn Based Cuban Food
Tamales are one of the staple foods in Mexico, so I thought I’d give them a try in Cuba too. They are quite similar, though in Cuba the meat is mixed in with the dough as opposed to being used as a filling. One of my favorite Cuban dishes for sure.
Tamal en cazuela
Among the nicest dishes of Cuban cuisine there’s the tamal en cazuela (which means pot), made with ground corn stewed with meat and spices, in the pot. It’s served in the corn husk.
Corn on the cob
We don’t really eat corn on the cob in Italy, but I grew a taste for it when I lived in the US, and it is a common thing to eat all across the Americas. In the Cuban version, the cob is grilled, then rolled in cheese. The finishing touches are chili powder and drops of lime juice.
A Bit Of Everything
I wouldn’t know how else to classify this Cuban food other than “a bit of everything” because really, it does have a bunch of ingredients – including potatoes, malanga (which is similar to topinambur), pumpkin, corn, plantains, tomato paste, meat, lemon juice and whatever else the chef can put her hands on. The end result is quite interesting for sure.
Medianoche means midnight, and in Cuba it refers to a sandwich made with sweet egg bread stuffed with ham, pork, cheese and pickles. Not exactly a light snack, but definitely one of the most interesting sandwiches of Cuban cuisine.
Street Food In Cuba
The best street food in Cuba is all fried. Definitely not the healthiest food to have, but surely some of the tastiest. Here’s my favorite picks.
I’m actually lactose intolerant and I should keep away from cheese. I knew I was going to make myself sick when I tried croquetas, but it was worth it. The best of Cuban food in terms of street finds is ball of cheese, stuffed with ham then battered and fried. It’s crispy and melts in the mouth and oh so good.
Malanga is similar to yam and potatoes. To make malanga fritters, it is grated. It is then battered and fried till crispy and delicious. As far as streed food in Cuba goes, this is a must.
If I didn’t know that it is yuca, I’d be 100% sure that the fried chunks I had in Vinales were just potatoes. Either way, it’s one of the most delicious Cuban dishes.
Tostones are made of plantains, thickly cut, fried in low temperature oil, then pressed together and refried in boiling oil. They look like croquettes. They aren’t properly street food, at they are often served for dinner at paladares. They are known with different names in other countries of Central America. In Nicaragua they are called patacones. Either way, they are one of the most common food in Cuba. And they are good.
I’m Italian, I am a fussy eater, I had pizza in Cuba and I actually enjoyed it. Ok, it’s not even remotely resembling pizza in Italy. But the soft moist yet crispy dough, topped with tomato sauce, cheese and other ingredients such as mushrooms, cooked in tiny coal ovens and served for less than $1 USD at holes in the wall around the country is by far one of the nicest things to eat in Cuba.
As far as sweet Cuban food, churros is my favorite
Sweet Food In Cuba
I don’t really have a sweet tooth, but some of the most interesting food in Cuba is sweet so I gave it a go.
Cubans love ice cream. I often saw them walking around with the most inviting cones, and I admit I wanted to stalk them to ask where they got them. Yet, the only time I actually had ice cream in Cuba was in Camaguey, at Cornelia. Cubans love this ice cream chain, but I admit that I wasn’t too impressed with it. As far as sweet food in Cuba goes, I wouldn’t recommend it.
Again, one of the Cuban dishes that can be found in all of Central America. Maduros are ripe plantains are slowly cooked in oil until they become caramelized. They become sticky, sugary, moist and simply delicious. I love them at breakfast.
Much like ice cream, churros can be found anywhere in Cuba, to the point that I thought it was the ultimate Cuban food in terms of desert. It is a very simple dough made with eggs, flour and little else, then fried until crispy yet moist, sprinkled with sugar and / or chocolate sauce. It’s addictive.
Flan is common in all of Latin America, and when it comes to dessert, it’s considered one of the best Cuban dishes. It’s made of milk, eggs, sugar cooked together then cooled until solid. It’s usually topped with caramel sauce.
I am not the biggest chocolate fan, but after walking around cocoa plantations in Baracoa and learning that the chocolate factory there was inaugurated by Ernesto “Che” Guevara, I thought I’d give it a try. I had various chocolates, a slice of cake, and a cold chocolate. Chocolate isn’t nearly as refined as it is in Europe, but it tastes good! In terms of sweet Cuban food, it’s the way to go.
(Virgin) Pina Colada
I wouldn’t know how else to qualify the most delicious virgin pina colada I have ever had – to me, it was a dessert. I bought it from a hole in the wall in Vinales, and it was made with fresh coconut, fresh pineapple, milk and sugar. It was thick and rich and simply delicious. As far as sweet food in Cuba goes, this is my top pick.
Have you ever been to Cuba? What is your favorite Cuban food?
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