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Are you visiting Cuba soon and would like to know what are the best places to visit in Cuba?
No matter how much you prepare yourself for a trip to Cuba, you’re still blown away when you first arrive.
The life, the colour, the music…it’s all here – a pulsing, heartbeat that sweeps you up and carries you off in its bohemian salsa tempo. The personality of this fascinating country is magnetic, infectious and impossible to say no to.
Most interestingly, this incredible vibrancy is everywhere you visit in Cuba.
Every town and village we visited, the countryside, the cities in Cuba, this vitality is woven into the very fabric of what makes Cuba.
This isn’t to say there aren’t problems here or that everywhere is just the same. Not at all.
Travel in Cuba can be tricky.
Public transport is virtually non-existent, hitching is not recommended and if you’ve only really driven in places like the UK, Australia, and North America, self-drive isn’t a great option either.
There are some amazing small-group tour companies like Cuban Adventures that really deliver and make sure you’re safe. And more importantly, that you’re not wasting valuable travel time waiting for a bus that’s gone MIA.
Of course, there is crime in Cuba too, but most of the time the street scams you can see coming a mile off.
It’s really just people trying to get by, as poverty is still an issue in Cuba. Generally speaking, locals are incredibly friendly and will want to talk to you.
As far as destinations go, there is just so much to see and do in Cuba, a culture-rich country.
Every little town and every big city in Cuba has its own unique feel and its own specific history. And while there are places we’d recommend avoiding in Cuba, there are some amazing places you shouldn’t miss for anything.
4 places to visit in Cuba
Ok, let’s talk about what to see in Cuba and what are the best Cuba attractions.
If you don’t come to Havana when you visit Cuba, you’re doing this country an injustice.
Havana is one of the most wonderful cities we’ve ever visited. And by that, I don’t mean ‘oh isn’t this wonderful, darling’. Havana really is full of wonder and one of the best things to do in Cuba.
From the crumbling buildings to its curious narrow streets brimming with life and ingenuity, Havana is Cuba’s capital for a reason. Here you get the perfect screenshot of a culture the rest of the world has pretty much ignored for so many years.
Our best advice is to take a walking tour through the city. You’ll hear some of the amazing history and culture that’s alive here and discover elements you’d miss if you weren’t told about them.
Things to see in Havana, Cuba:
• El Capitolio – National Capitol Building
• Rooftop bar of Hotel Ambos Mundos
• The Malecón – esplanade and sea wall
• Almacenes San Jose market
• The Cathedral Havana (plus square of the houses of the 4 richest families in Cuba)
• Plus if you have time, visit the castle – Castillo el Morro – the other side of the harbour. It’s full of history and a real icon of the city.
A tiny town with a huge influence over the rest of the country, Vinales is where the very best tobacco is grown for the biggest cigar brands. Cohiba, Montecristo, Cuaba – they all use the leaves grown in this valley.
From the mountains surrounding it to the little dance club behind the main square, Viñales epitomises regional Cuban life.
Things to see in Viñales, Cuba:
• Cuban dance club
• Hike through tobacco fields
• Organic farm
• Lunch at El Olivo Restaurant
• People-watching from anywhere you can!
About an hour and a half west along the coast from the Bay of Pigs, this harbourside town is full of art, culture and history. Cienfuegos is known as the Pearl of the South thanks to its beautiful bay – Bahia de Jagua.
There’s plenty to do here – even if it’s just strolling around the town’s streets.
The locals seem the most westernised and the city itself has a much more European feel to it. This is thanks to the strong French influence in town’s customs and architecture.
Other Cubans say the people from Cienfuegos are the most beautiful and the most cultured.
Things to see in Cienfuegos, Cuba:
• Have dinner in El Tranvia
• Plaza de Armas and the monument to the Cuban hero José Martí
• The art galleries around the Plaza de Armas
• The Arch de Triumph in Jose José Martí Park – the last remaining in the country
• The Bahia de Jagua – the bay that makes Cienfuegos the Pearl of the South
Apart from Havana, Trinidad has to be the most historic city in Cuba.
Similar to Havana, the Old Town section here is UNESCO heritage listed (as a World Monument), but unlike Havana, this part of town is only accessible on foot or horseback. Carts are also allowed and commonly seen.
The narrow cobbled streets and the low, leaning, brightly coloured houses are iconic to this city. Trinidad is a place of unrivalled beauty in this country already well represented in the photogenic stakes.
Things to do in Trinidad, Cuba:
• Roam the cobbled streets of Old Town
• Visit the Museo Romántico opposite the Plaza Mayor. The view out over the city is worth the entrance fee.
• Visit the other important buildings like the Holy Trinity Church and Plaza de Santa Ana and the Royal Jail built in 1844.
• Casa de la Musica – bar and square for drinks in the day and music and dancing at night
• Stroll through the street markets
• Visit Playa Ancon beach at sunset
• Disco Ayalu – a nightclub in a huge cave!
Places to avoid in Cuba
On your trip to Cuba, these are places I recommend to avoid.
Historically interesting but unethical in its tourism, the Varadero peninsula stretches into the Caribbean at the northernmost point of Cuba. It’s about 2 hours east of Havana.
The American mafia wanted to build a stretch of casinos from this peninsula all the way to Havana – so naming it the Casino Coast.
However, when Castro took control from the corrupt Batista, he kicked the mafia out, who then started Las Vegas in Nevada.
This peninsula has some of the most stunning coastline in the country, and ordinarily we’d be voting for this one to be a priority to visit.
The problem is the resorts lining the beach here utterly spoil it. All-inclusive package deals keep unwitting and unwelcome tourists in their complexes where the beaches are guarded and locals are not allowed.
There is even a boom gate at the start of the peninsular stopping Cubans from entering.
Interestingly, outside the confines of these huge resorts, Cuban life does carry on in Varadero with relative normality.
There are classic American cars, casa particular, little shops and bars. It’s just tainted by the legacy the Cosa Nostra left behind.
Further away east towns like Santiago de Cuba and Baracoa offer amazing beaches, beautiful towns, exciting adventures and a path far less trodden. We didn’t make it there.
But it’s a matter of yet than never!
We can’t wait to get back to Cuba and explore more of this fascinating country.
Do You Need Travel Insurance to Visit Cuba?
Yes, you need to have travel insurance to enter Cuba.
Plan Your Trip to Cuba
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When are you going to Cuba? Share your tips in the comments below on what you think is the best of Cuba?