For many people, Cuba still speaks to the imagination: the old cars, the omnipresent history… The island definitely has a lot to offer. Not convinced? Here are… 30 of the best things to do in Cuba.
30 things to do in Cuba
1. Sea, Sand, and So Much More
Located in the Jardines del Rey chain off Cuba’s central coast, the tropical island of Cayo Coco is popular and easily accessible by plan. From Havana to Cayo Coco, it's a little over an hour's flight. Beautiful white sand beaches and warm turquoise waters are the major attractions, but the island is also known as a natural reserve for marine birds.
One of the things to do in Cayo Coco Cuba is to go to the lagoon areas near the coast to see the large populations of flamingos. There are modern tourist amenities and sports facilities for those interested in diving and other water sports.
2. Have a Cigar
Created using some of the finest tobacco, Cuban cigars are among the world’s best. To appreciate what goes into each of these hand-held works of art, take a trip to a genuine Cuban cigar factory or “habano” where you can watch artists ply the skills developed over generations to make outstanding cigars respected the world over. The Partagas factory is among the most popular habanos for visitors.
3. Get Lost in the Fifties
One of the side-effects of the Cold War was the lack of modern American automobiles in Cuba. But that didn’t stop Cubans from restoring and repairing the vehicles they already had, which can make for a “time-trippy” feel to the look of traffic in cities like Havana.
So join in the throng of vintage American cars to tour Havana, either by driving a rental yourself or by hiring a tour guide to drive you through the streets lined with beautiful, vintage colonial buildings and other sights. Either way, convertibles are recommended so you don’t miss a single detail.
Check out this tour which takes you around Havana in a classic 1950s convertible.
4. Learn the History of Cuban Sugar
The town of Trinidad in central Cuba was created and built on the sugar trade and there is still much history to learn and see there. Hire bicycles and head to pristine Ancon Beach for a picnic, or take a cultural walking tour of some of the most palatial buildings in Cuba. These architectural masterpieces are the result of the enormous wealth created by sugar crops, often worked by slave laborers.
A train trip to the Valley of the Sugar Mills provides some amazing scenery as well as an idea of the scope of the Trinidad area’s harvesting and processing capabilities. A hike in the Escambray mountains, followed by a cooling dip in the Caburni Waterfall makes for a relaxing afternoon.
5. Enjoy a Spectacular Sunset
Although there are many places in Cuba to catch a great sunset view, El Malecon, the historic Cuban seawall in Havana, is one of the all-time favorites. Seven km long, this stretch of pavement is as popular with locals after a hard day of work as it is with tourists seeking to unwind after a day of sightseeing.
The contrast of the crashing waves on one side and some downright decadent buildings on the other, combined with the setting sun provides a great atmosphere in which to relax.
6. Listen or Dance to Traditional Cuban Music
There is no argument that Cubans love their music, whether singing it, playing it, dancing to it, or just enjoying it on the radio. That’s one of the reasons it is so accessible. You will never be far from a street corner with live local musicians sharing their talents with passersby. Many bars and restaurants also feature live music, so you should be able to find a style that agrees with you.
7. Visit a Fort/Prison/Museum in Santiago
The historic Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca del Morro is perched strategically atop a 60m high escarpment at the entrance to Santiago Harbor. The fort was designed in 1587 as a defense against marauding pirates which had sacked Santiago in 1554.
Due to financing issues and a vicious attack by British privateer Henry Morgan, the fort wasn’t built until the early 1700s. By then the pirate threat had diminished, so the fort became a prison in the 1800s.
Today, the building houses a museum dedicated to the history of piracy in the area as well as a room depicting the battle that took place in the harbor in 1898 between the U.S. and Spanish naval forces. The fort provides a breathtaking vista of the Santiago coastline.
8. Visit Old Havana
Known as “Habana Vieja”, this part of the city is important historically, geographically, and culturally. It served as a gateway to the New World as well as a stopping point for Spanish ships carrying new riches back home. The enchanting mixture of architectural styles including neoclassical and baroque, should not be missed.
The first stone fortification built in the Americas, Castillo de la Real Fuerza, is still the main attraction. The Museo de la Revolucion and Museum of Fine Arts are definitely not be missed for history buffs and art aficionados. To avoid missing some of the major sights in Habana Vieja, the best idea is to engage a tour guide and be ready to be awestruck.
This private tour with a local gets great reviews.
If you rather go on a group tour, this one comes highly recommended.
9. Experience a Very Special Hotel
The historic Hotel Nacional de Cuba offers not only some first-class accommodations and fine dining, but also slices of history. Constructed in 1930, the Nacional was “The” hotel in its heyday, catering to visiting dignitaries, Hollywood movie stars, and some very famous gangsters.
During the Cuban Missile Crisis in the 1960s, the Nacional served as the main base of operations for Fidel and Raul Castro, as well as another important member of the Castro government, Che Guevara. The beautiful look of the art deco architecture and the magnificent views are famous throughout Cuba.
10. Party in a Cave
A night spent in Trinidad de Cuba is not complete without a visit to an underground club called Disco Ayala. In addition to music, dancing, and a very unique location, they provide live shows as well, including legendary fire dancers.
11. Pretend to Be Ernest Hemingway
The daiquiri was invented in Havana in the 1930s and its official “home” is the El Floridita Restaurant and Cocktail Bar. This was one of Hemingway’s favorite hangouts and they can even serve you up a “Papa Hemingway” cocktail. This is a standard daiquiri, but with twice the rum and no sugar.
12. Check Out “The Other” Beach
Located between Havana and Varadero, Playa Jibacoa has beautiful white sand beaches and a number of hotels, but it isn’t as well-known to tourists as other beaches in the area. Because of its location, you can either make it a day trip or spend a few nights away from the hustle and bustle of Havana.
13. Immerse Yourself in Cuban Works of Art
The Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes is an amazing art museum featuring examples of the numerous artistic periods of Cuba, from colonial to contemporary. With its range of displays, this museum is considered by many to be the finest in the Caribbean. Another portion of the museum features international art from 500 BCE to today.
14. Learn About the Cuban Revolution
Physician, writer, political activist, fighter, strategist, and hero of the revolution, Che Guevara is memorialized in beautiful Santa Clara. His mausoleum includes displays of many of his personal belongings. The story of this iconic figure is told in a series of tableaus, sculpted to honor this key person in Cuban history.
15. Pamper Yourself in a Seaside Resort
On a small peninsula on the north side of Cuba is the resort town of Varadero. With over 20 km of pristine coastline, there are a number of hotels, resorts, and spas, as well as a beautiful golf course. You can relax on the beach, go cave swimming, scuba diving, hit the local markets, or just enjoy some privacy.
16. Take a Trip to the Theater
In addition to the beautiful performances by the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, this theater is a work of art itself. Opened in 1915, this amazing venue features a facade of breathtaking sculptures, as well as other elements in bronze, stone, and marble.
The front of the theater features symbolic marble sculptures by Giuseppe Moretti. This magnificent theater hosts a number of international events every year, as well as ballets.
17. See How the Bay of Havana Was Secured
The Bay of Havana has always been of strategic importance to Cuba, so defensive structures have been erected to deter attackers. One of the most famous fortifications is Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta. The fort has played many roles over the years, including a museum housing plunder and other artifacts from pirating days.
Currently, this picturesque piece of architecture is surrounded by a beautiful plaza which has some of the best views of the bay available.
18. Take a Hike
At 6,476 feet, Pico Turquino, in the Sierra Maestra range in southeast Cuba, is the highest point on the island and a challenging 2 or 3-day hike. Visitors can enjoy the wide variety of plant and animal life at the various elevations. Guides are recommended and although no special climbing gear is needed, it helps to be in good physical shape.
This is the area where the Revolutionary Army of Fidel Castro set up their headquarters.
19. See What the Locals are Eating
Street food is its own adventure in Cuba. Many local entrepreneurs are starting up businesses based on the incredible variety of street foods that Cubans love. The good news is that you won’t have to look far to find a vendor with an intriguing menu. Working folks in Cuba love to grab coconut pies, pork hamburgers, guava milkshakes, and even Hawaiian pizzas on their lunch breaks and that’s only the tip of the street food iceberg.
20. Pick Up Some New Dance Moves
Salsa dancing is never out of style and even if you have no idea how to begin, there are numerous clubs and individuals which can provide you with great instructors. For Cubans, these moves are as natural as walking, but you can quickly learn the basics and begin dancing your evenings away like the locals.
21. Take a Load Off At the Plaza
Built in the 16th century, Plaza Vieja in Havana is custom made for sitting back, admiring the architecture of the city, people watching, and chilling with a mojito or maybe even a three-foot-high tower of delicious local beer. There are a number of art galleries in the area as well as a beer museum.
In the center of the Plaza is an amazing fountain, a re-creation of the original plaza fountain done by Italian sculptor Giorgio Massari which was destroyed by what was essentially an urban renewal project ordered by Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1952.
22. Visit a Different Side of Cuba
Although not as easily-accessible as other parts of Cuba, Baracoa, on the easternmost tip of Cuba has a lot to offer visitors. Baracoa is a 500 mile trip from Havana, but it does give visitors a glimpse of life in Cuba’s oldest colonial town.
Until the 1960s a boat was required to get to Baracoa, but now roads allow for vehicle traffic including buses. Lodgings are almost entirely “casas particulares”, a rough equivalent to a Bed & Breakfast. The biggest products of the area are coffee, coconuts, and cacao, which each show up regularly in the local cuisine. Gorgeous Maguana Beach is one of the must-see attractions in Baracoa.
23. Enjoy Baseball Cuban Style
Like the U.S., Cuba loves baseball. Through the years, many Major Leaguers have come from this island country and visitors can enjoy professional ball games while sipping strong Cuban coffee. The game is the same and even the ballparks are MLB size.
24. Grab a Cup At a Historic Plantation
Roughly a half day’s journey from Santiago de Cuba is Cafetal la Isabelica, one of the oldest coffee plantations in the New World. A lot of Cuban history has been made over a cup of coffee from this plantation and they still serve it up to this day.
25. Enjoy the Art and Architecture of Classic Churches
Although Fidel Castro espoused the belief that religion was not compatible with his Communist Revolution, at least he never called for houses of worship to be destroyed the way some governments did. This means that you can still enjoy the beauty and style of some classic buildings and the artwork they contain.
If you're interested in learning more about the roots of Afro-Cuban religions, this 2-hour walking tour takes you to the homes of local believers, giving you unique insights in this part of Cuban culture.
26. Take Part in a Different Kind of Cuban Revolution
With new-found economic freedom in Cuba, many new restaurants are opening up all over the island, but most explosive is the boom in Havana. Trendy, modern eating establishments are exploring many non-traditional dishes in a gastronomic revolution of their own. New and exotic ingredients are making dining out an exciting adventure.
27. Enjoy a Taste of France in the Caribbean
Back in 1819, when the French were setting up trade in Cuba for coffee, sugar, and tobacco, they established the town of Cienfuegos. Located on Cuba’s Caribbean coast, this beautiful and unique town features some amazing neoclassical architecture.
Visitors can explore the Punta Gorda Peninsula with its breathtaking 50s style homes, take a tour of the harbor, and much more. Just be sure to leave yourself time to wander around the historic city center as well.
28. See The Site of One of the United States Biggest Political Catastrophes
The Bay of Pigs invasion was not one of the USA's finest hours. But the bay is still there and it is home to some of the best snorkeling on the island. The beaches are seldom crowded and you can decide for yourself if you want to take in the museums and monuments that commemorate the historical significance of this piece of real estate.
29. Get a Preview of Cuba's Coming Economic Growth . . . While Enjoying a Cocktail
Back in 2017, a historic event happened in Havana; the country’s first five-star hotel built since the revolution opened its doors. The Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski La Habana is an amazing and luxurious hotel with all the amenities. The rooftop restaurant and bar offers great views of the city.
30. Get the Deal of a Lifetime on a Lobster Dinner
It is one of the quirky bonuses to a visit to Cuba, but the price for lobster, either at a fancy restaurant or at a casa particular, is incredibly low. A visitor could enjoy lobster for every meal, but of course, that would mean missing out on some of the other outstanding Cuban cuisines.
And that's it! I hope this post gave you a good idea of what to do in Cuba.
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