By Mayté Solano Gómez
Cuba is an excellent tourist destination to vacation, either alone, with the family or on a honeymoon trip. Even if you come for work, you can also enjoy in your free time many of the options that the tropical island offers its visitors.
The fact of having a mostly sunny and warm climate for most of the year is really favourable. Being an island, its maritime resources make it a beach destination par excellence, including the nautical activities that can be carried out. The historical, cultural and patrimonial wealth is also in every corner.
So… what are the best things to do in Cuba?
Bathe in the blue and crystalline waters of one of the Cuban beaches
Cuba, as an island, has innumerable beaches with crystal blue waters, as well as all the conditions to access and enjoy them.
In the keys that surround the main island, it is considered that there are some of the best beaches not only in Cuba, but in the Caribbean. Many of them virgin, have great beauty and fresh, calm and transparent waters. They have coral reefs and an ideal marine fauna to enjoy diving, snorkelling and other nautical activities. Some of these keys are Cayo Coco, Cayo Saetía and Cayo Levisa.
In any case, there are many options for this type of sun and beach tourism. Playa Jibacoa, in the west of the island, between Havana and Varadero, is a quiet and secluded place, less known by tourists who visit Cuba, but it has crystal clear waters, fine white sands and offers visitors varied opportunities to go hiking, horseback riding or snorkelling and appreciate the colours of the coral reef.
You should always bear in mind that in Cuba the temperatures throughout the year are usually high and the sun is intense. It is always recommended that you protect your skin with powerful sunscreens. You should also limit sun exposure. The early hours of the morning and before sunset are appropriate to take care of your skin and enjoy the beach.
However, among the best beaches in Cuba are:
Virgin beach is located in Cayo Largo del Sur; it is considered one of the best beaches in the Caribbean. With less influx of tourism, it is an excellent place for diving and snorkelling, since it has abundant marine biodiversity and centuries-old sunken ships.
Also in Cayo Largo del Sur, there is other of the best beaches in Cuba and the Caribbean, Playa Sirena. Away from mass tourism, it is an ideal place for those who enjoy nudism, to relax with the beauty of the landscape and cool and still waters. Other beautiful beaches in Cayo Largo del Sur are Playa Landemar, Playa Blanca, Playa Los Cocos and Playa Tortuga, where these animals spawn.
El Pilar Beach
Located in Cayo Guillermo, it is currently so well-known and enjoyed by tourists that the influx of them to this virgin beach is increasing. However, the natural wealth and the crystal clear and calm waters make it a destination that cannot be missed. It has been among the favorites of many personalities, such as the famous novelist Ernest Hemingway. It has large sand dunes, which rise up to 16 meters above sea level, the highest in the Caribbean.
Also known as the Blue Beach of Cuba, it is one of the most famous beaches in the world, for its crystal blue, calm waters and its fine white sand. It has a perfect tourist infrastructure for the large influx of foreign and national visitors. Internationally awarded hotel facilities belonging to the Spanish Meliá and Iberostar hotel groups are located in Varadero.
For those tourists who prefer to be in direct contact with Cubans, staying in private homes in Varadero will allow you to live this experience and more. Excursions to the sites of most natural interest in the region and for diving, snorkelling and fishing are guaranteed. Casa Menocal, a few meters from the beach, is one of them. Casa Menocal, in Varadero, is located a few meters from the beach.
Less well-known, but not to be missed in Varadero, are Cayo Buba, a small island at the end of the peninsula, rich in wild and unspoiled nature, Cayo Romero, Cayo Piedras del Norte and the Dolphinarium.
It is for many one of the most beautiful beaches in Cuba. Located in the city of Trinidad, from where it can be easily accessed, it is ideal for lovers of snorkelling or diving, with more of twenty immersion points. This is thanks to the fact that most of the year, the sea on this beach remains almost totally calm.
Playa Ancón has an important archaeological reserve where there are countless ships and galleons from the colonial era when corsairs and pirates prowled the city and tried to attack the town of Trinidad.
A shell-shaped beach, with fine white sands and crystal clear waters, it is flanked to the north by a coral reef and to the south by forests and hills of thick and green vegetation. Thanks to this peculiar geography, it is an incredible place, ideal to enjoy not only the sea and the sun, but also to practice nautical activities such as windsurfing, kayaking, sailing, boating and diving, as well as to enjoy the typical nature of area.
According to history, Guardalavaca was one of the first places visited by Christopher Columbus upon his arrival on the island and where he pronounced his famous phrase “this is the most beautiful land that human eyes have seen”.
Check out our full blog on the ‘Best Beaches in Cuba’ here.
Immerse yourself in the waters off the coast of Cuba and enjoy, diving, the beauty of the fauna and the coral reefs
Nautical activities for tourists in Cuba are mainly organized by Marinas Marlin, which offer clients a wide and varied range of services. The high quality and variety of its services, the proven professionalism of its staff and the variety of its specialized proposals allow it to satisfy the most diverse demands.
It is possible to find Marlin Marine throughout the island. Among the main options they offer are diving, sport fishing, excursions and walks, life on board, beach activities, adventure and safe harbours.
The most important Marina in Cuba is located in Havana and is none other than the Marina Hemingway. Located about 9 miles west of the Havana Bay, or 25- minutes’ drive from José Martí airport, almost at the end of 5th Avenue, it has four channels with the capacity to dock almost 400 boats. The optimal draft for anchoring is 3.5 to 4 meters.
At the Marlin facilities in Cuba, you can find the equipment and other resources necessary for your experience. In any case, the recommendation will always be to enjoy the beautiful places that exist on the island and the gratifying experience of fishing in the company of the Cuban people from the village, who are happy and always helpful.
On the Ancón peninsula, there is the Marina Marlin Trinidad, with multiple dive sites. With the Seafari, one of the tourist options, you can access the Blancos, Macho Afuera and Iguanas keys. Some of them consist of virgin islets more than 1 km long and 200 wide.
At Casa Bernardo y Sarahi you can enjoy Cuban simplicity, in addition to the colonial-style prevailing in Trinidad. Creole hospitality prevails, so you can count on the help of the owner with excursions that will allow you to make your visit an unforgettable experience.
Playa Larga, in the Bay of Pigs, Matanzas, has incredible natural beauties, ranging from a National Park to crocodile farms and indigenous settlements. However, none beats the possibilities of diving in the Cueva de los Peces (Fishes Cave) (despite its name, there are no fish in this cave), which is accessed from a beautiful swimming hole. A few meters away is the beach, with diving options for beginners and abundant fish.
Learn how to make and taste a good Cuban cigar and an excellent cup of coffee on a farm in Viñales
The Viñales Valley is located in Pinar del Río. Since 1999 it was approved as a National Park and declared by UNESCO a World Heritage Site, in the category of Cultural Landscape.
Among its main tourist attractions are the Cueva del Indio, the Mogotes, the Mural of Prehistory and the Botanical Garden. However, everyone who visits the place cannot miss one of the farms in the area and its cigar and coffee plantations. According to experts, the best tobacco leaf on the island is grown in this region.
With CubaCasa you can book excursions that include a visit to tobacco plantations and drying house, where the process of the same will be explained, from the plantation to the elaboration of a Cigar (participation in the tasting of this product), as well as to coffee plantations, which includes an explanation of the process of collecting, drying and roasting it with the participation of the members of the excursion. They will also be able to visit the peasant house where they will be explained about the Guayabita del Pinar, a typical rum of the region (tasting of said rum).
Tour the historic centre of a heritage city in Cuba
Cienfuegos, the Pearl of Cuba
Founded in 1819, Cienfuegos is considered the city with the best urban layout in the country. It is the only one in America, of those founded in the 19th century, declared a World Heritage Site in 2005, mainly due to its architectural heritage.
It has the longest Paseo del Prado in Cuba, in which there is a life-size statue of the famous Cuban singer and composer Beny Moré and the Reina Cemetery, unique in Cuba and in which there is a beautiful statue of Sleeping Beauty, who has a sister in Genova, Italy. There is also the Botanical Garden, declared a National Monument; the Tomás Terry Theater, notable for the conservation of its architecture and decoration; the Fortress of Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles de Jagua, strategically located at the entrance to the Port of Cienfuegos, to defend the city from the assaults of pirates and filibusters. Other interesting places are Rancho Luna beach and the Dolphinarium, which is an ideal place of recreation for young and old. To close, you should not miss a sunset on the Malecón of Cienfuegos.
Trinidad, the Museum City
Founded in 1514 by Spanish settlers, it was considered a city of “contraband”. Trinidad was very probably the Cuban town most looted by corsairs and pirates and a favourite place for bandits and outlaws.
Also known as the Museum-City, many consider it perfectly preserved. On the one hand, the streets in the historic centre of the city remain cobbled, making it difficult to circulate cars or walk them in heels. The colonial architecture remains practically intact. Houses of this style still show high ceilings, large interior courtyards and spacious rooms.
It was declared a National Monument in 1978 and in 1988 UNESCO granted the City of Trinidad and its Valle de los Ingenios the category of Heritage of Humanity.
Among the most interesting places in this town is the Plaza Mayor, in the historic centre of the city, presided over by the current Iglesia Mayor de la Santísima Trinidad, as well as the Museum of Colonial Architecture and the National Museum of Fight Against Bandits. The Casa de la Trova and the Casa de la Música are ideal places to listen to authentic Cuban music in Trinidad, while enjoying a good canchánchara (a delicious typical drink of the region) and the excellent company of the locals who also frequent them.
The Iglesia Mayor de la Santísima Trinidad (Greater Church of the Holy Trinity) has, since its creation, been destroyed by the English, suffered serious damages because of a hurricane and was completely demolished, before being rebuilt in the form we see today.
Camagüey, the city of the Tinajones
Founded in 1514, its historic centre was the last to be added to the UNESCO heritage list, in 2008. It is the largest and best-preserved on the island. Among the places of most tourist interest are the Plaza de San Juan de Dios and the Plaza del Carmen, the Convent of the Ursuline Mothers, the Five corners of the Angel; the Water Carrier of the Railroad, the Parish of Our Lady of Solitude and the Parish of Our Lady of Charity or the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Camagüey is the region with the largest number of keys and islets, among which are Cayo Romano, which was the scene in which Ernest Hemingway dedicated himself to looking for Nazi submarines during World War II and hunting and fishing trips. To the south, the Jardines de la Reina keys is an exotic natural setting with abundant coral reefs of wide biodiversity.
You can stay at Los Vitrales, a private colonial house in the very centre of Camagüey. Built in 1795, it was a convent until the nuns left in 1940. From here you can tour the churches and squares of the city, and then cool off in its spacious and cool interior patio with more than 90 species of plants.
Dance with a troupe in the Carnivals of Santiago de Cuba or in the Parrandas de Remedios
The Carnivals of Santiago de Cuba, declared Cultural Heritage of the Nation in 2015, are the most famous on the island. Each year they attract numerous tourists, in addition to the inhabitants, in the month of July, when this festival is traditionally held. Throughout the day music, dances and joy fill every space in the centre of the town, founded in 1515. At night, the troupes, floats and dolls enliven the evening. The typical food of the region and drinks are not lacking in these times.
To close the festivities in Santiago de Cuba, there is the celebration of July 26, the day of the National Rebellion, in commemoration of the Assault on the Moncada Barracks. Although this festivity takes place in the whole country, it is in the east of the island where the hubbub and pride is greatest.
For its part, the Parrandas de Remedios are the best-known popular festivals in the province of Villa Clara, in the centre of the island. It has become, in recent years, a meeting point for both nationals and foreign tourists. Also declared Cultural Heritage of the Nation, it is celebrated in the month of December, ending with Christmas Eve. The town is divided into two sides, which symbolically face each other like the Gavilan and the Rooster, to dispute who dances more and better, who has the best float, while fireworks enliven the night.
Casa Juan is a sample of how you can enjoy your vacation in Santiago de Cuba: super nice accommodation, the owner who guides you during your stay and with whom you can also share the best moments of the Santiago de Cuba Carnival.
Enjoy salsa lessons and put what you have learned into practice
Being a Caribbean and very tropical island, music is not lacking in Cuba, in every corner and in every inhabitant of the island, even if they cannot dance. There are many countries where you can find a dance hall where you can learn to dance Cuban Salsa or the Cuban Casino. Well, in Cuba this is much more frequent.
Furthermore, the places where you can practice what you have learned and observe how the Cubans themselves do it are numerous. At present, if you decide to take salsa classes in Cuba, you can also have the teachers as companions in the nightclubs and dance with them to the beat of the music performed by a live Cuban popular music orchestra.
Go hiking, bathe in a waterfall and enjoy the natural beauty of Cuba.
The Viñales Valley, with its mogotes and its “alturas de pizarra” (slate heights, types of elevations typical of this region), being part of the Guaniguanico Mountain Range, is ideal for hiking and being in direct contact with nature. On these tours, it is possible to visit caves and underground rivers, such as the Cueva del Indio, or taste a delicious Creole meal from the top of the Balcón del Valle viewpoint. Horseback riding is also popular in this area.
The Viñales Botanical Garden, the Soroa Waterfall and the Orquideario are other options that will allow you to enjoy the best of nature in Cuba.
For its part, the Topes de Collantes Protected Natural Landscape, in Trinidad, is located 800 meters above sea level. It has a microclimate due to the high mountains, as well as dense and varied vegetation, similar to that of tropical forests in many cases.
There are many parks that exist in this region, and each of them contains countless natural beauties. The site is ideal to enjoy walks, with small hanging bridges, horseback riding, bird watching and bathing in waterfalls and pools. Among the best-known places are the El Cubano Natural Park, an excellent option to enjoy, either alone as a family, adults and children; the Salto de Javira is found when travelling the path of the same name, in this Natural Park; the Caburní Natural Park is located in the heart of Topes de Collantes and has among its main attractions the Caburní waterfall.
On the Vegas Grandes Trail, you can enjoy the waterfall found in these places, after a descent of about 500m. With a beautiful view and freshwaters where you can dive, it also has a small cave, protected by the waters that fall, resembling a curtain.
The lesser-known La Batata Trail runs through the dense green forest, a river and at the end has a curious formation of caves along the river, which can be accessed through a small and shallow water hole.
Today, El Nicho is one of the places in Cuba that lovers of natural beauties should not miss. Located in the Sierra del Escambray, it can be accessed from both Cienfuegos and Trinidad.
Overnight in Havana and enjoy its various options for foreign tourists.
Havana, founded in 1519, is a mandatory destination if you travel to Cuba. Being the capital of the island, it offers endless options, for the most varied tastes. Almost everything we have seen in this article so far can also be found in this city: heritage sites, beaches, nautical activities, salsa classes, and more. Furthermore, it is the point of departure and returns for foreign visitors, as it has the José Martí International Airport, the most important in the country.
Havana is a cosmopolitan city, where not only cultures and customs from many countries converge, but also from various eras. It has a historical, architectural and cultural heritage of great attraction for tourists, together with more contemporary elements, of which the town itself, the ordinary people, constitutes the factor that differentiates it and makes this nation unique.
Among the most popular things to do in Havana are:
Tour the historic centre of the city, a World Heritage Site
The historic centre of Havana is considered the main axis of tourism in this city, both for nationals and foreigners. Declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1982, it is today one of the best-preserved in Latin America. The system of squares and existing fortifications attest to this.
Walking through the streets of the historic centre of the city is to go back in time, through its architecture. The cobbled pedestrian street Obispo, the main artery in this area, leads tourists from a more contemporary time until it ends in the system of squares that date back more than 4 centuries in the past.
Places such as the Museum of Arts, the Manzana Kempinski hotel, The Floridita and the Ambos Mundos hotel, the latter known for their connection with the North American writer Ernest Hemingway, are part of the most contemporary in this tour.
The Plaza de Armas, the Plaza Vieja, the Plaza del Convento de San Francisco de Asís and the Plaza de la Catedral attest to the 500 years of Havana. However, you will not fail to find bars and cafes along the way with traditional Cuban music performed by a small-format band, a delicious and refreshing cocktail bar and hundreds of Cubans who will remind you that we are in the 21st century.
Enjoy a centennial ceremony: The 9 o’clock cannon shot
On the other side of the bay, the Morro Cabaña Military Historical Park currently includes the Castillo de los Tres Reyes del Morro, where the Lighthouse currently stands, and the San Carlos de la Cabaña Fortress. Restored between 1986 and 1992, its construction dates from the 16th to the 18th centuries and their main objective was to defend the town against attacks by pirates and corsairs.
At present, this complex of fortifications houses the Museum of Weapons, the Museum of the Commandery of Che and a Monographic Museum, which tells the history of the fortress.
It is also a space in which important cultural events are held in Cuba, such as the International Book Fair and the Biennial of Plastic Arts in Havana, as well as occasionally other fairs such as Tourism.
For the tourist, there is also the possibility of finding the ideal souvenir here, since a large number of artisan artists meet daily in the cobbled streets of the fortress, who sell their works and artisan products.
However, without a doubt, one of the main attractions that can be enjoyed in the San Carlos de la Cabaña Fortress, both by nationals and foreign tourists, is the ceremony of the 9 o’clock cannon shot. Every day, late at night, a cannonball is fired. However, this ceremony does not begin at that time, but about 40-45 minutes before … even centuries before …
Since its inception in the 18th century, El Cañonazo de las 9 only stopped taking place during World War II, between June 24, 1942, and December 1, 1945, when it was suspended to save gunpowder and protect the location of the city and the only time it rang out of time, without even knowing the cause, was in September 1902, when the traditional shot was fired 30 minutes after the established date.
The Cannonball ceremony is currently carried out by a platoon of artillery cadets dressed in colonial style and with an 18th-century piece that, although it can launch a spherical solid iron bullet up to 800 meters, in the show they fall within walking distance. Through a proclamation, it begins with a call to silence, with the participation of an officer, a drummer, a standard-bearer, several artillerymen and a lamplighter who is singing the story of the cannon shot.
It is ensured that the sound of the cannon shot reaches the entire capital of Havana; taking four seconds to the Capitol, 13 to Paseo Street, in Vedado; 19 to Loma del Mazo, in La Víbora; 32 to Marianao; 36 to Cubanacán, formerly Country Club. In Santiago de las Vegas, near the José Martí International Airport, he arrives a minute later.
Although the Cannonball ceremony starts shortly before 9 at night, it is advisable to arrive at the place at least around 7. 30.. in this way, you can have a better location to enjoy the show. On a daily basis, both nationals and foreigners delight in the act, which is why it is usually always well attended. If you go on weekdays, there may be less public.
Bathing in the delicious waters of Playas del Este
The East Beaches are the best known and most visited in the country’s capital, both by national and foreign tourists. Tarara, with its Marina Marlin and the possibilities of carrying out varied nautical activities, Mégano, Santa María, Boca Ciega and Guanabo are among the best options and with the easiest access, despite being about 40 minutes from the city centre. To get there, you can do it on the hop on hop off buses, available in Central Park, next to the Capitol.
You should bear in mind that, in the months of July and August, during the vacation season in Cuba, these beaches are usually crowded with Cubans, so if you prefer tranquillity, this is not a good time to go. However, in the month of September the days will still be sunny and the waters calm. Between October and November, although the weather hasn’t changed much yet, the water is usually colder and a bit more agitated.
Dance to the rhythm of traditional Cuban music
Almost in every corner of Old Havana, you can find a place to sit and enjoy the small-format bands that perform pieces of traditional Cuban music live, especially if you walk down Obispo Street. You also have this option on the terraces of the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso and the Inglaterra hotel, in front of Central Park.
However, the Guajirito is the ideal space to enjoy the performance of former members of musical projects such as Buena Vista Social Club, Afro-Cuban All Stars and the Tropicana Cabaret, grouped under the name of “Legendarios del Guajirito.”
A lesser-known variant, which, like El Guajirito, aims to show tourists the best of Cuban music, is the show of the Havana Queens Dance Company, which is presented at the Casa Miglis restaurant, in Centro Habana. With a greater variety of gastronomic offerings of international cuisine, the show also includes more contemporary genres of music and dance. The corps de ballet, made up of young dancers, has been awarded repeatedly in European countries such as Austria and Germany.
Contact the Cuba Casa team in Havana and they will help you to book the places of your interest, as well as salsa classes.
See a sunset while strolling along the Malecón in Havana
The Havana Malecon is a long wall that surrounds a part of the Havana coastline and guards a wide seafront avenue. With its approximately 8 km long, this famous capital avenue is, par excellence, the meeting place of Cubans.
Different generations come to this place to talk with friends, have a romantic time with their partners, play the guitar and sing typical Cuban songs in the light of the moon, fish, watch the ships and cruises enter the bay of Havana or simply contemplate the beautiful sunset… Multiple street sellers also circulate along the avenue, whether to sell knick-knacks, roses for lovers or to offer instant photography or serenading services.
Nothing better than running along the wall of Havana’s Malecón, in the early hours of the morning, when the sun is still rising and it is not so strong or exhausting. There is no stress left after a run along this avenue, to exercise body and mind, with the view of the immense sea and a beautiful sunrise.
The Gardens of the emblematic Hotel Nacional de Cuba, in Vedado, is a luxurious place to enjoy a sunset and contemplate the sea, while enjoying a good drink.
Tour old Havana and modern Havana in an American convertible
This is one of the tourist options most enjoyed by visitors in Havana. Although the price may vary depending on the type of car and, in any case, seem somewhat excessive, it is worth taking a tour of the city, always adjusted to your tastes, and taking photos of these relics, very well preserved.
The Plaza de la Revolución, the University of Havana, the Callejón de Hamel, the Colón Cemetery and the John Lennon Park, will be some of the places that you can visit in these tours.
It is also possible to organize excursions with these old cars to other places of interest. If you stay in private houses like Casa Obrapía, in the historic centre of Havana, you will have the help of their owners to have an unforgettable experience.
Other Things to Do When Visiting Cuba Include:
Stay in a Private House.
You can count on Cuba Casa to book your accommodation in private homes in the main tourist destinations of the island.
Enjoy a good Cuban drink.
La “Canchanchara”, in Trinidad, is a Cuban drink you can´t miss.
Enjoy a good Cuban cigar
In the different provinces, you will find specialized stores where you can buy good specimens. You can also coordinate cigar tastings, mainly in Havana. Count on Cuba Casa if you are interested.
Chat whenever you can with the ordinary Cuban
It is more than interesting to know Cubans, their way of being. Either way, take care of your wallet because the wit and charisma of Cubans can affect your pocket. Be also respectful: they are a fun and not developed people, but very proud.
Learn a little Spanish. Exchanging with Cubans can be very interesting
If you like the language, you can take Spanish classes and take advantage of the fact that you are on the island to practice what you learn.
Visit the Cuban Art Factory (FAC) and Fusterlandia, in Havana
Both places are a sample of what art is like in Cuba, shown by the artists themselves. The musician X Alfonso and the painter José Fuster are the intellectual authors of both sites. In the case of the FAC, in 2019 it was selected by the Times among the 100 places in the world that everyone should visit.
There are really multiple options you have to enjoy the best vacations of your life in Cuba. The sympathy of the Cuban, the safety of the streets, the beauty of the island and the natural wealth that it has will contribute to this. You just have to let yourself go.
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