The Worst Scams In Cuba

The Worst Scams In Cuba

Scams in Cuba are common, annoying and pretty much inevitable. 

You see, people in Cuba have had to smarten up. When they get an average salary of around $30, no matter their studies and titles and no matter how hard they work, some of them have found ingenious ways to make ends meet, and more often than not these are at the expenses of unaware tourists that have decided to visit their beautiful country. 

One thing you need to know is that Cubans work in team. You may not notice it, but that is a fact. Whatever service you may need, if the person you are talking to doesn’t offer the service him/herself, he or she know someone who does and they will take you to him or her, so that they can get their commission. This is actually ok, and not a scam – it’s just how things work and it helps them make a few extra bucks. 

Scams in Cuba are actually more elaborate and they are not like tourist scams in other countries (for scams in Europe, you may want to read this post). That’s why I thought I’d prepare you and inform you on all the ones you can expect when traveling around this otherwise fantastic country. Some of these scams happened to me, and I managed to avoid them. Others to travelers I have met.

food in Cuba

13 Scams In Cuba And How To Avoid Them

The first-timers

This is one of the most common scams in Cuba, if not the main one actually. 

Walk around any city in the country, and someone will be calling you, apparently to chat. The first question you will be asked is whether it is your first time in the country and if you have just arrived. Say yes, and a world of scams will open its doors for you. 

Chances are you will be told it is the national day of “you name it” – most likely whatever item that person is selling – and soon enough you will be asked to buy something which is of no use to you. 

HOW TO AVOID THIS SCAM: Study an answer of sort to show that no, it is not your first time in Cuba – and that will cut the conversation short. Of course you need to prove a little bit of knowledge so give an accurate though short description of a place you have supposedly visited (and when). Feel free to browse around this site for inspiration!

If for whatever reason you forget to do that, just walk away after the usual niceties. 

countries with the best food

The invitation

Cubans are supposed to be world famous for being very friendly and hospitable. In fact, I have met several people who have been invited over for a meal, coffee or what not by a Cuban family. Strangely, usually men, some of them hardly able to communicate in Spanish, but who somehow managed to become friends with the locals and were asked to stay for lunch.

The same never happened to me. I traveled to Cuba with my sister, and sure enough nobody offered us anything, and any time the world “invitation” was used, it was pretty obvious that the invitation implied some sort of payment.

This is how the scam works:

Say you end up at someone’s place during a day – for example for a salsa lesson. Soon enough a neighbor will show up asking if you’d like to stay for dinner. Why, yes! You say. Having a home-cooked meal with a local family, what a nice idea.

If you are lucky, you then get the next question – which will be a cue that you are about to fall for a typical Cuban scam. You will be asked what you’d like to eat. That’s kind of weird. I mean, I never ask my friends what they are planning to serve when they invite me for dinner. It’s not like I am going to a restaurant, right? 

Yeah I know what you are thinking: that is not an actual invitation. And you have no idea how many people fall for it and end up having to pay extortionate prices for a meal, just so that they are able to leave and forget about it.

HOW TO AVOID THIS SCAM: Just refuse the invitation, saying you have other commitments. Always. Even if you think it may be genuine, refuse. Just in case. Or else, be ready to be forced to pay.

Cuban food

The birthday girl / boy

Would you care to share it is your birthday to someone you have just randomly met? Well, personally I wouldn’t. 

But many people in Cuba don’t mind doing that, apparently. Except this is one of the most common scams in Cuba. 

You may be busy minding your business, sightseeing or whatever, and a local approaches you with a random excuse, starts a conversation and then casually drops the news that it is his or her birthday. 

You will automatically feel compelled to give him your best wishes and think that will be it. But the conversation may continue and the whole point is to make you feel pity, to the point that in order to cheer this person up you will invite him to a bar, a restaurant or whatever – and obviously of his choice – to celebrate. 

Now, I don’t know what the customs are in your country but in Italy when we celebrate our birthdays we are meant to pay our meal / drink and that of whoever we invite. Not the other way around. And something tells me this is the case in most of the world. 

So I assume you got it. 

Chances are the person talking to you isn’t actually celebrating his birthday, and use this just as an excuse to take you to his friends’s bar or restaurant where you will pay for his meal, most likely more than what it’d cost otherwise, so that his friend his making money, he is having a good meal, and he is getting a commission on top of it. 

HOW TO AVOID THIS SCAM: Say happy birthday, and walk away. Don’t be afraid to be rude. 

My dad / husband / brother just died

This scam is very similar to the one I have just described above. Someone will approach you and, sad looking, will give you the news that a member of his family has passed away.

But isn’t it kind of weird that when someone close dies these persons are wandering out and about instead of being with their family, and try to talk to strangers? 

The whole point is to may you feel pity to the point that you end up paying, by inviting them for a drink or a meal. 

HOW TO AVOID THIS SCAM: Give your condolences, and walk away.

Cuban food

The milk scam

This is one of the most popular scams in Cuba and I swear most people who travel there end up falling for it somehow. I haven’t, luckily! 

Here’s how it works:

A jinetero (hustler) will approach you to start a conversation. Soon enough, he’ll tell you that his baby needs milk. I mean – a baby! You don’t want a baby to starve, right?! You will end up offering help, and soon enough you will be taken to the nearest shop where – what are the odds! – a bag full of cans of powdered milk is waiting to be collected. And you obviously have to pay for that – $20, and even $30 USD. 

Well you can rest assured that the minute you part ways, that jinetero is walking back to the shop and he’s splitting the cash with the owner. 

HOW TO AVOID THIS SCAM: Just don’t feel pity! Say you are sorry, and walk away.

I am out of change

Of all the scams in Cuba, this is the one Italians may be likely to fall for. Shop owners here in Italy always seem to be short on change, to the point that they often have to leave the shop in search of smaller notes to be able to give you back what they owe you. 

Now, the same happens in Cuba. Like. ALL. THE. TIME. 

HOW TO AVOID THIS SCAM: Tell the owner you are going somewhere else to get change and you can rest assured change will magically appear soon after. 

things to do in Havana

I am not like other Cubans

If someone tells you those words, it’s a cue for you to run. This is one of the worst scams in Cuba. I mean, this is not a scam per se, but it inevitably leads to one. In fact, if someone tells you he is not like all other Cubans (meaning he is not trying to scam you), you should just assume he is worse!

It all starts with a nice conversation. Most likely this person has seen you looking at a map, perhaps a bit lost, and he comes to your help, with good information that you find useful and with clear answers to exactly what you are asking. 

But. Yes – there is a but indeed! 

Soon enough, he will offer a very good alternative to what you are looking for. Say you want to go to a restaurant that’s recommended on your guidebook? He can surely take you to one that is much better, where locals go (except you walk in and nobody is a local, because locals can’t afford to pay $30 for a meal). Is is a casa particular you are looking for? His friend has one just around the corner. 

HOW TO AVOID THIS SCAM: Refuse the offer to be walked to whatever place this person is offering to take you to. Chances are he will get angry and even bully you a bit, but just move on and if anything threaten to call the police.

Station Baracoa, Cuba

That business has closed

Ah, I have yet to meet a person who didn’t hear these words when traveling around Cuba.

“Està cerrado” – closed or out of business.

These words are used in reference to a restaurant, but more often to a casa particular. It’s one of the most annoying scams in Cuba that is run by jineteros to grab some business and commissions. They will literally stand at the street corner close to the place you are looking for, and warn you that the owner has died a few days before, or use whatever other excuse so that you go to a place of their choosing. 

HOW TO AVOID THIS SCAM: First of all, if you are planning to stay at a casa particular, call them before arriving – a day before or even on the same day. This way you will know whether they are open or not. Then, whether it is a restaurant or a casa particular you are looking for, simply don’t listen to what the jineteros are telling you and go check for yourself. Chances are that the business will be very much open.

The museum is closed today

Another one of the scams in Cuba that occurs to literally all tourists. Sure enough they tried it on me! It works much like the closed business one: you are looking for an attraction, and just as you are about to get there someone will warn you that it is closed and suggest you go to a nearby bar instead. 

I guess you got it by now: the minute you walk inside that bar, they will make a commission.

HOW TO AVOID THIS SCAM: Just ignore the warnings and go check for yourself. You will see that the museum is very much open!

scams in Cuba

The bus is full / not leaving today

Much like in the rest of the world, bus stations are the worst places for scams in Cuba. The most typical thing you will hear is that the bus is full or not leaving on that day, and of course there will be plenty of taxi drivers ready to take you to your chosen destination for about 10 times the price of a bus ride. 

HOW TO AVOID THIS SCAM: First of all, always book buses in advance in Cuba. As you won’t really be able to do that online (and surely not once you are in Cuba), my recommendation is to go to the bus station a day or two before you want to leave and make a reservation. Also take a screenshot or notes of the bus departure times. Finally, once you are at the station just walk past the wall of taxi drivers inside the bus station to verify whether what they are saying is true. Chances are it isn’t!

The overpriced coffee

Of all the scams in Cuba, this is one you may find hard to recognize. 

Say you walk into a bar or coffee shop. You order a coffee and they try to charge you an extortionate price for it. Outrageous! But then, a local comes in your help and offers you to pay the coffee for you, at a local price. He just wants a dollar in exchange. Oh well, that’s ok right? 

Well chances are one thing will lead to the other and you may find yourself having company for your wanderings about town. Except at the end of it, you will be required to pay for services you never asked for to begin with. 

HOW TO AVOID THIS SCAM: Part ways as soon as possible. And if you fall for it, just refuse to pay. 

Trinidad Cuba

The cigar scam

Cigars are among the best presents you can bring back from Cuba, and literally everyone sells them in the street. But more often than not, the ones you get off street vendors are not only bad quality, but they may also be a scam – where you open up the box of cigars you have just paid for and realize it’s just a bunch of leaves! 

HOW TO AVOID THIS SCAM: Don’t buy cigars in the streets – fake cigars for which no duty has been paid will be confiscated at customs anyways. Only buy cigars directly in shops or at cigar plantations.

The taxi scam

The taxi scam in Cuba is a bit more elaborate than the classic (raising the prices, taking a longer route if running on a meter and the like).

In short, this is how it goes. 

You book a taxi to take you around for a day or so, asking the driver to take you to a certain number of places. He picks you up in the morning, and off you go for your day out. Of course you don’t know the way to the destination, so you are completely unaware that a scam is unfolding. Soon enough, you will find that the driver has taken you to a place where you had not requested to go – and he’ll insist that the place you wanted to visit is closed for the day, or that the road is blocked etc. Of course, he completely omitted to warn you when he picked you up!

Falling for this scam is inevitable, it’s happened to a bunch of people I know and the experience turned sour. If it happens to you, be ready for a good argument. 

HOW TO AVOID THIS SCAM: You can’t, really. And if and when it happens, you should refuse to pay the amount you are requested. Just give a fee you think is fair, especially considering you were not taken to the places you had requested.

cuba classic car

Further Considerations And Tips To Avoid Scams In Cuba

Of course, knowing what to expect makes everything easier and will give you the possibility to react in a prompt manner. But if you ask me, speaking the language is definitely one of the best ways to keep scams in Cuba at bay. 

I have a dedicated post on tips on how to learn a language (you can read it here). But I also recommend taking a phrase book with you, or a pocket dictionary. Remember that internet in Cuba isn’t a thing really, so you may need a good old paper version. 

Here are a few grammar books and phrase books that may help:

One thing that I’d like to make clear is that – despite the scams, which by the way can happen anywhere, Cuba is a great country and along with the people who will try to exploit the situation, you will meet others that will be nothing but nice – like the guy who carried my suitcase along the streets of Baracoa; or the owner of the casa particular where I stayed in Vinales, who stood by me when I argued with the taxi driver to protect me. 

What’s important in order to avoid scams in Cuba to know what to expect, so that you know to react. And I hope this post helps you with that!

Further readings about Cuba

For more information about Cuba, make sure to read my posts:

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Discover the most common scams in Cuba - via @clautavani

 

The 32 Best Beaches In Cuba

The 32 Best Beaches In Cuba

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 this Caribbean country, however, and I will admit that the majority of beaches are simply gorgeous, even to a beach expert like me. And the best part of it is that they can be enjoyed year-round!

This post includes a selection of the best beaches the country. I will divide them by region, and add a few travel tips to make the most of them.

For a more general guide, check out my post The Most Fantastic Things To In Do Cuba: The Ultimate Guide.”

Make sure to also read my post How To Get The Visa For Cuba In 8 Easy Steps (Also For Americans).”

best beaches in Cuba

What are the best beaches in Cuba?

32 Incredibly Beautiful Cuban Beaches

La Habana

Playas del Este

At only 18 km from Havana, this 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.

These beaches 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

This is a common day trip from Havana. The beaches 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 book a private transfer here.

Planning to go to Havana? Read my post 27 Absolutely Unmissable, Fun And Quirky Things To Do In Havana.”

Cuban beaches

Pinar del Rio

Cayo Jutias

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 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 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, the Cuban way. Here you can book your private transfer. And if you want, you can opt to go there on a classic car.

Where to stay in Cayo Jutias

Most people visit on a day trip. 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

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 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 beach and fantastically transparent 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 thick vegetation. This is a favorite of divers, thanks to the beautiful reef: coral formations and incredible marine life can be seen at a mere 14 meters under the surface! You won’t find any resorts here, but one of the most isolated hotels in the country.

best beaches in Cuba

Some of the nicest beaches are in Bay of the Pigs

Matanzas

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.

Contrary to most beaches, here you won’t find 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: You can visit 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 (remember to do it the Cuban way, and haggle the price!) and during which you can also stop in some of the beaches mentioned below.

Playa Larga

This isn’t often mentioned among the most famous beaches in the country, but it’s worth stopping by during a tour of the area. 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 beautiful waters.

Where to stay in Playa Larga

There are some casas particulares nearby that can be booked online:

Playa Girón

On the eastern side of the bay, this 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 and has easy access to the gorgeous reef.

Where to stay in the area

There are a few good casas particulares near the beach. Here’s a selection of them that can be booked online:

Caleta Buena

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 swimming as it is well protected from the currents. As opposed to most 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 bay, this is a nice sandy beach (as opposed to the majority in the area which are rocky) with beautiful, transparent waters, making it one of the best in the region, and one of the best beaches in Cuba.

Varadero

There’s no denying that Varadero beach, in the Hicacos Peninsula, is one of the best beaches in Cuba. Located at a mere 2 hours drive from Havana, this 25 km long, white 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 reef and lots of sea caves.

What makes this one of the nicest beaches in the country 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 and fishing.

TIP: If you want to experience Varadero minus the international crowds, or hope to see more Cuban people, go in July and August. You can get there  from Havana by car. You can book your transfer here.

Where to stay in Varadero

Most people that go to this part of the country 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:

Playa Coral

When it comes 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 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.

best beaches in Cuba

The best beaches in Cuba have clear waters and fine sand

Cienfuegos

Rancho Luna

One of the nicest 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 beaches near Cienfuegos and very close to Rancho Luna. It’s a nice, quiet beach with clear, calm waters.

best beaches in Cuba

Sancti Spiritus

Playa Ancon

This is one of the best beaches in Cuba at just 12 km from the lovely Trinidad. The beach is nice, long and sandy, with inviting 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 Playa Ancón.

TIP: Bring come insect repellent. Sandflies are everywhere in Ancón and they are particularly aggressive.

Cayo Blanco

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 is small, but the deep-sea incredibly clear and perfect for water sports.

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 to allow you swim and you will miss out.

Looking for more information on Trinidad? Read my post Trinidad, Cuba: The Most Complete Guide.”

Cuban beaches

Camaguey

Playa Santa Lucia

This is one of the nicest beaches in Cuba, located at around 112 km from Camaguey. It’s a beautiful 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 this beach 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 there 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 sugar-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.

Cayo Sabinal

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.

best beaches in Cuba

Holguin

Playa Blanca

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.

Playa Caletones

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 waters you will want to swim in. 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

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.

Playa Guardalavaca

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 blue waters, lined with 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.

TIP: Guardalavaca can be reached by car from Holguin. You can book your transfer here.

Where to stay in Guardalavaca

There are some good hotels and resorts in Guardalavaca, and even a good selection of casas particulares. Here are the ones that can be booked online:

Playa de Morales

Remember the luxury resorts of Playa Pesquero? Well, Playa de Morales is nothing like it. Not far from Banes, it’s a nice 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

Playa Siboney is located at 19 km from Santiago, 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 inviting 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

Playa Cazonal is one of the best beaches in Cuba in terms of what it offers. It’s quite popular with the locals, who go there knowing they will find shade under the trees, and warm waters where you’ll want to swim.

Cuban beaches

Playa Maguana is one of the best beaches in Cuba

Guantanamo

Playa Maguana

This 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, incredibly well-kept with a long stretch of fine golden sand, transparent waters with an easy reached reef.

Playa Nava

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: Both beaches 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.

Where to stay in Baracoa

Baracoa, a lovely small city in Guantanamo, is the best access point to the beaches in the area. Here is a selection of good casas particulares that can be booked online:

best beaches in Cuba

The Best Beaches In Cuba Located In Cayos

Playa Pilar 

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 scuba 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!

Playa Paraíso

Located on Cayo Largo (also referred to as Cayo Largo del Sur and part of the Canarreos archipelago), Playa Paraiso is one of the most beautiful beaches. The sand is incredibly fine, and the water clear and shallow. If you can spare the time and money to go all the way there, definitely make sure to go.

GOOD TO KNOW: Another great beach in Cayo Largo is Playa Sirena.

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 beach with sapphire waters perfect for snorkeling, that make it one of the best beaches in Cuba.

Playa Las Gaviotas

Located in Cayo Santa Maria this postcard-perfect beach is one of the sand beaches on the island that is not connected to a resort. It’s located inside a nature reserve which you can reach by car. You will have to pay a fee to park your car (that’s unless you have a local driver) and then walk along a short trail to get to the beach. 

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Discover the best beaches in Cuba - via @clautavani

The Most Delicious Cuban Food: 43 Mouthwatering Cuban Dishes

The Most Delicious Cuban Food: 43 Mouthwatering Cuban Dishes

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. And I am sure you will be too. It’s incredible what Cubans manage to put together with so few ingredients. Traditional 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 you have a simple snack bought in a kiosk or a full meal, you will enjoy what you eat.

In this post, I share with you what to eat in Cuba. Whether you want to indulge for a proper Cuban-style feast or for something a bit more low key I have you covered. Let me first start, however, by sharing a few tips on how to best enjoy Cuban food.

Check out my post on the most amazing things to do in Cuba.

Food in Cuba

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 dishes to eat in Cuba, 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) Cuban Restaurants

Cuban restaurants 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.

Food at Cuban restaurants 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

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 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.

For more information about Trinidad, check out my post “Trinidad, Cuba: The Most Complete Guide.”

Baracoa

You will have some of the best Cuban food in Baracoa

Casas Particulares

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 food 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, Cuban coffee – or cortadito, as it will be called in Cuba – 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 snakcs. 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.

Taking A Guided Food Tour

I am a massive fan of guided food tour. These are a rather new thing in Cuba, but if you can try to do one – it’s a great way of getting acquainted with Cuban food and – through that – with local culture. The following are two good tours you can book online:

food in Cuba

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, but you can have the sweetest guayaba (so delicious that they spread their fragrance around the house). 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. A Cuban-style meal is usually very plain. 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.

food in Cuba

You will be able to eat excellent Cuban food in Havana

All The Best And Most Mouthwatering Cuban Food

The following is a list of some of the most delicious dishes. I have tried most of them when I was there, and all I can say is yum!

Rice based Cuban Food

Congrí

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.

Looking for more things to do in Havana? Check out my post!

Paella

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.

Arroz con leche

Arroz con leche is found typically across all Latin America. It basically is just rice pudding. But in Cuba they make it with evaporated milk, so it is even thicker and more delicious. They also add lime peel, cinnamon and vanilla sticks – pure yumminess. 

cuban food

Pork Based Cuban Food

Lomo ahumado

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 local 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.

Costillitas

As far as pork goes, costillitas is what to eat in Cuba. 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.

Guava basted ribs

This is one of the best Cuban food you can hope to eat. Pork ribs are marinated and then barbecued and served with a good amount of guava barbecue sauce. Mind you, Cubans tend to overcook meat so the dish may end up being a bit dry – in that case, ask for an extra serving of barbecue sauce. 

Lechón asado

One of the dishes that most reminds me of food in Sardinia is Lechón 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!

cuban food

Trinidad has a great selection of paladares

Filete Uruguayo

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 of two 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

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 this post. They are crispy fried pork rinds that melt in the mouth.

Cuban cuisine

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

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.

Deviled crab

Don’t try this dish if you are not a fan of spicy food, because it burns! But if you do, you are in for a real experience. Crab meat is stir friend and served with abundant enchilada sauce. You may want to ask for extra bread, or for some white rice to mellow it down a bit!

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.

Huevo habaneros

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, bell-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

Cuban cuisine doesn’t have much beef: ropa vieja is one of the few dishes.

Beef Dishes

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.

Boliche

I wasn’t sure how to categorize this Cuban dish, because it contains both beef and pork. It’s prepared by simmering beef that is stuffed with chorizo in water, onions and abundant oil. It is usually served with yuca, fried plantains, and rice. One of the best Cuban food around – if you like meat, that is.

Ropa vieja

Ropa vieja literally means “old stuff.” As far as beef-based traditional 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 with shredded beef made with beef chunks, cooked so slowly until the beef indeed shreds. It also contains onions, bell-peppers and tomatoes. It is usually served with rice and sweet plantains.

Rabo encendido

A stew kind of dish prepared with oxtail, potatoes, onions, tomatoes and herbs The meat cooks for so long on slow fire until it literally falls off the bone. It is served with white rice and plantains – one of the most filling local dishes for sure.

Pulpeta

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.

Frita

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.

Vaca Frita

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.

Cuban cuisine

Corn on the cob the Cuban way – some of the tastiest food in Cuba

Corn Dishes

Tamales

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

Ajiaco

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.

Black bean soup

This thick soup is a stable of Cuban food. It is made with black beans, avocado and oregano and to make it tastier Cubans also add a few pieces of bacon. It’s one of the best Cuban dishes – if you are vegetarian, just ask to have it prepared without bacon (provided they understand what you mean!).

Cuban Sandwiches

Medianoche

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. Should you find yourself in Miami and crave for one, head straight to Little Havana for a bite. 

things to do in Havana

Street Food 

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. 

Croquetas

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 fritters

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.

Yuca fingers

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.

Yuca con mojo

This Cuban dish is prepared by stir frying yuca in bitter orange. It is usually served as a side dish with pork – another great Cuban food to try.

Pastelitos

One of the most popular Cuban food to be had in the street, this puff pastry can be filled with just about anything – sweet ones will have guava and cream cheese; savory ones will come with ground meat. It’s a common Cuban dish for breakfast or for a snack.

Tostones

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 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.

Pizza 

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.

food 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.

Ice Cream  

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.

Maduros

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.

Churros 

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

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.

Chocolate

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.

Further readings about international cuisine

Will you travel for food? Then make sure to read my posts about international cuisine:

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Discover the most delicious Cuban food - via @clautavani

 

How To Get The Visa For Cuba In 8 Easy Steps (Also For Americans)

How To Get The Visa For Cuba In 8 Easy Steps (Also For Americans)

All travelers need a visa for Cuba. Some can get it online, others can’t.

The Cuba Tourist Card or – in Spanish – Tarjeta de Viaje, is commonly referred to as the Cuban visa (though the actual visa is a different thing, as I will explain below). This is fairly easy to get. What you need to keep in mind when applying for one is your nationality. Travelers coming from North America (Canada and Mexico), New Zealand, countries of the European Union or the United Kingdom and other countries in the world need to get a green card.

Are you eligible for a green card for your trip to Cuba? Click here to get yours!

The Cuba visa for people flying from the United States is different: indeed, people flying directly from the US need a pink card.

Are you traveling to Cuba directly from the US? Get your Cuba visa (pink card) here!

PLEASE NOTE: The color of your Cuban visa is not based on your nationality. What matters if which country you are traveling from. So, if you are a British national but you are flying from or through the US (ie London-Miami-Havana), you will need a pink card. If you are a US national and are flying from Canada (ie Denver-Toronto-Havana), you will need a green card.

Let me clarify one thing here: even Americans can actually travel to Cuba; and though for them it is a bit more complicated than for EU nationals, it is actually doable.

To get the visa for Cuba, all you have to do is filling in the application for the Cuba visa online on this site and paying the online fee well in advance, as the Cuba tourist card will be sent to you by mail. You have to make sure you give it enough time so that even in those places where mail is slow (ie where I live!), you do get the card before your departure date.

In this post, I will explain all the steps you have to follow to get your visa for Cuba. Before I do so, let me clarify who needs a Cuban visa (and who actually doesn’t) and what you need to know about it. I will also explain the steps to get a Cuban visa for Americans.

Ask Easy Tourist Card to arrange your visa for Cuba for just $35 USD!

Do you need a visa for Cuba

Cuba is a wonderful place to visit – but you need a visa to enter

Do You Need A Visa For Cuba?

Chances are that you need a visa for Cuba – only nationals from a handful of countries don’t need to have one when traveling to Cuba.

The nationalities that don’t need a Cuban visa are: Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belarus, Benin, Bosnia, China, Dominica, Grenada, Macedonia, Malaysia, Montenegro, Mongolia, Namibia, Saint Kitts, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent, Serbia, Singapore, and Vietnam.

These, on the other hand, are the countries whose nationals can apply for a Cuba visa online: Albania, Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Faroe Islands, Fiji, Finland, France, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Greenland, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Moldova, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, Vatican City.

Nationals of countries that aren’t mentioned above need a Cuba tourist card, but can’t get in online – they will have to get it at the nearest Cuban embassy or consulate.

Cuba Tourist Card

You need to find out whether you need the Green Card or the Pink Card

What Documents Do You Need To Get Your Cuban Visa?

In order to enter Cuba, you will need to have the following documents:

  • A passport with at least six months of validity after the arrival date in Cuba.
  • A round trip air ticket.
  • Proof of sufficient funds for your trip.
  • A good travel insurance valid for the duration of your time in Cuba.
  • Accommodation reservation.

To get your Cuban visa, click here.

What You Need To Know About The Visa For Cuba

Once you get your visa for Cuba, you are allowed one single entry in the country for 30 days from the date you get there.

PLEASE NOTE: the Cuba Tourist Card allows Canadians to stay in the country for up to 90 days from the day of arrival.

The Cuban visa is valid for 180 from the day of purchase – which means you have six months from the day you buy it to actually get to the country.

You can extend your Cuba tourist card at a local immigration office for an extra 30 days while you are in Cuba (Canadians can extend for 90 days). In order to do so, you will be asked to show your passport with at least six months validity from the date of your arrival in the country; your current Cuban visa; a receipt of payment from the casa particular or hotel where you are staying; the credit or debit card used to purchase travel insurance; a valid travel insurance for the extended duration of your stay; and stamps to pay for the extended visa.

Your Cuban visa will be stamped on arrival in the country.

Get your visa for Cuba here!

Tarjeta de Viaje

Getting a Cuba Tourist Card is fairly easy

Step By Step Instructions To Get Your Visa For Cuba

You can get your visa for Cuba in seven very easy steps.

Buy your flights

As you will be required proof of arrival to and departure date from Cuba, make sure to buy your flights in order to get your Cuba Tourist Card. This is a standard requirements for all travelers to Cuba.

GOOD TO KNOW: As of June 2019, cruise ships departing from the US can no longer go to Cuba.

Buy your travel insurance

This is a standard requirement for anybody traveling to Cuba. Your insurance has to cover for medical evacuation by air, repatriation and any medical emergency.

Make sure to read my post Why You Need A Good Travel Insurance.”

Book your accommodation

In order to get your visa for Cuba, you need to show hotel bookings or, even better, private accommodation bookings. If you prefer to stay in private accommodation (casas particulares) make sure to always get licensed ones which can be recognized by the blue logo usually placed on their front door or right by it.

You can book your hotel in Cuba here.

You can book your casa particular in Cuba here.

Select which card you need

The first thing you need to do is going on Easy Tourist Card here and select whether you need a green card or a pink card.

As I have said before, the color of your Cuba Tourist Card is solely based on where you are flying from and not on your nationality.

If you are flying from the US, you need a pink card.

If you are flying from anywhere outside the US, you need a green card.

Fill in the form

You will be prompted to fill in the form with all the information needed to process your Cuban visa:

  • number of visas required
  • First and last name of the applicant(s)
  • Shipping address

Pay

You can pay for your Cuba Tourist Card with your credit card or via Paypal. Once payment is received, it takes a business day to process the visa, so 95% of the visas are delivered within a week from the date of applications.

Delivery

Easy Tourist Card only uses tracked-shipping providers to make sure your Cuban visa is delivered anywhere in the world within 3 business days. You can check the status of your application on Easy Tourist Card contact page here.

The flat fee delivery rate is $23.26 USD USD for delivery of green cards, and $40.70 for delivery of pink cards, within 1 to 3 business days.

Fill in your visa

As soon as you get your visa for Cuba, make sure to fill it out completely and write legibly.

Remember that you need to keep your Cuba Tourist Card with you at all times.

You can get your visa for Cuba here!

Cuban visa for Americans

Yes, Americans can travel to Cuba!

Important Information About The Cuban Visa For Americans

If you are an American traveling to Cuba, the procedure to get your visa may be slightly different. Here are the steps you need to follow.

Determine which kind of visa you need

If you are going to Cuba for strictly tourist purposes, and you are flying directly from the United States, you may qualify for the pink card.

If you are flying from outside the US, you will need to apply for a green card.

If you are going to Cuba to visit family or friends, for business purposes or for a course, you will probably need a full visa. You can check the website of the Cuban Embassy for more information on what kind of visas are available.

Remember that your nationality has nothing to do with which kind of visa for Cuba you need. What matters is the location your are flying from.

Are you a traveling to Cuba from the US? Get your Cuba visa (pink card) here!

Buy your Cuban Tourist Card

If you are traveling from the US, you can buy your visa for Cuba in three different ways.

From an official site

This is the easiest way to obtain your Cuban visa, especially if you like planning everything in advance. You can get your pink card from sites such as Easy Tourist Card and have it delivered to your address via DHL.

From the airline (at the airport or online)

Airlines flying from the US to Cuba normally offer services to their passengers in need of a visa. You should be able to get your visa from the airline either on the plane or at the airport, but sometimes this is not the case: different airlines have different rules, and you’ll have to check with them to see what they are.

Keep in mind that if you don’t have a Cuba Tourist Card and the airline is unable to sell you one, you may be not allowed to board.You may want to save yourself the hassle and get your pink card online.

This is a list of all airlines that fly to Cuba from the United States. Please double check with them to make sure that their policies haven’t changed and to make sure what their prices are for the visa.

From any Cuban embassy in the United States

You can contact the Cuban embassy nearer to you and get your Cuban visa directly from them.

Cuba visa

Getting a Cuba Tourist Card is actually very easy

Frequently Asked Questions About The Cuban Visa

What is the cost of a visa for Cuba?

All Green Cards cost $40.70. To this, you will have to add a flat delivery rate of $23.26 USD for delivery within 3 business days.

Pink Cards, which is for people traveling from a US airport, cost $103.50 USD and have a flat rate for shipping of $40.70 USD, for delivery within 3 business days.

How long does it take to receive the tourist card?

Cuba tourist cards are sent by DHL. You should get yours within a week of purchasing.

Will I have to print information on the visa?

Yes, but we will tell you how to do so.

We are traveling in a group. Do we have to order the visa for Cuba separately?

You can make just one order, so that you’ll only pay one shipping charge. The tourist cards will be delivered to the address used to place the order.

Do minor children need separate visas? 

Yes, regardless of the fact that they may be registered on their parents’ passports.

How long does the processing take? 

Easy Tourist Card normally takes one business day to process the Cuban visa. Your visa is usually delivered within a week.

How long is the visa for Cuba valid for?

Your Cuba visa is valid for one entry and for no more than 30 days from the date of arrival in Cuba. For Canadian citizens, the limit is 90 days from the date of arrival.

Is the visa for a single entry or multiple entries?

The Cuban visa is a single-entry visa.

I am traveling from the USA. Which card do I need?

If you are flying to Cuba directly from the USA, you will have to get the pink card. If you have a layover in another country, you will have to get the green card.

Are the Cuban Visa and the Cuba Tourist Card the same thing? 

No. Only nationals of some African and Middle Eastern countries need a Cuban visa. If you are coming from North America, New Zealand or Europe, you will need a Cuba Tourist Card.

Keep in mind that the Cuba Tourist Card is often referred to as Cuban visa. 

What kind of things can you do if you travel on a Cuban Tourist Card? 

You can only visit the country for tourism purposes.

How long in advance should I apply for a Cuba Tourist Card?

You visa for Cuba will be valid for 180 days from the time of purchase. This means that you should travel to Cuba within 6 months of buying it.

How many times can I apply for the Cuba Tourist Card?

As often as you want. Each visa allows you to stay for up to 30 days.

Can I extend my stay beyond the 30 days limit?

You can extend your stay for another 30 days (90 days for Canadian citizens). You can’t stay for more than 2 months (Canadians can’t stay for more than 6 months).- The maximum stay is 2 months, except for Canadian passport holders that can stay for 6 months.

Further information

You can see a detailed map of which countries require a tourist card or a Cuban visa, and for how long the visa-free countries citizens can stay in Cuba here.

Further readings about Cuba

Make sure to read my other posts about Cuba:

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The Most Fantastic Things To In Do Cuba: The Ultimate Guide

The Most Fantastic Things To In Do Cuba: The Ultimate Guide

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.

things to do in Cuba

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.

Incredible 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

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 35 US dollars and can be bought through the Cuban consulate, or, better, through a good travel agent.

Ask Easy Tourist Card to arrange your visa for Cuba for just $35 USD!

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.

Make sure to read my post How To Get The Visa For Cuba In 8 Easy Steps (Also For Americans).”

Cuban currencies

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.

things to do in Cuba

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.

things to do in Cuba

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.

To take away the stress of planning the trip and the worry of being unable to have a real local experience, I recommend to joining a guided tour with a reliable international tour operator. Click here to find out which tours I recommend.

Making reservations 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.

what to do in Cuba

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!

To learn more about food in Cuba read my post “The Most Delicious Cuban Food.”

what to do in Cuba

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.

Going around with a local guide is what to do in Cuba to be extra safe from scams. It’s just a matter of finding a local you can trust.

Traveling around 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 transfers as one of the things to do in Cuba.

Cuban Eden offers private transportation that is easy to book: travelers can pick the kind of car they want (classic, standard or even a minivan for larger groups); the time and place where they want to be picked up, and the drop off point. It saves a lot of hassle. Click here to discover all available transfer options and to check out the prices.

places to visit 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 Havianas– 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-shirts and 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).

7 Beautiful Places To Visit 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!

things to do in Cuba

One of the nicest things to do in Havana is admiring the city from above

La Havana

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.

For a more complete guide to Havana, check out my post 27 Absolutely Unmissable, Fun And Quirky Things To Do In Havana.”

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.

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.

Here’s some of the best tours to do in Havana:

things to do in Havana

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 abalidiahouse@gmail.com; the Italian contact is Lucia Nardi, lucianardi@yahoo.it. 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

things to do in Santiago

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.

places to visit in Cuba

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 maruchib@yahoo.es. 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.

Other places to stay in Santiago:

  • Casa Colonial 1909, a good alternative to Maruchi;
  • 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.
Where to go in Cuba

Playa Maguana, near Baracoa, is where to go in Cuba to enjoy a relaxing day at the beach

Baracoa

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.

places to visit in Cuba: El Yunque

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.

These are some excellent guided tours in the region of Baracoa:

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:

things to do in Cuba

Things to do in Cuba: spotting the locals riding a sidecar

Camagüey

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.

Where to go in Cuba

Trinidad is where to go in Cuba when looking for a beautiful historic city

Trinidad

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.

things to do in Cuba

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:

If you need more information about Trinidad, read my post Trinidad, Cuba: The Most Complete Guide”.

For other amazing Cuban beaches, check out my post “The 31 Best Beaches In Cuba.”

Finally, check out my post The 7 Best Places To Go Hiking In Cuba.”

Where to stay (and eat) in Trinidad

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.

Other places to stay in Trinidad: 

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!

places to visit in Cuba

Bay of the Pigs, locally known as Bahia de Cochins, is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Cuba

Cienfuegos

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.

This is one of the best tours of Cienfuegos:

things to do in Cuba

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.

things to do 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.

things to do in Cuba

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.

It is possible to book guided tour of Vinales Valley starting from Havana.

These are some of the best guided tours of Vinales departing from Vinales itself:

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.

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Discover the most amazing things to do in Cuba and the top places to visit in Cuba - via @clautavani