Not sure where to go on your next trip to Cuba? As a lover of all things Cuba, I’ve passionately curated a list of the top travel destinations in Cuba and rounded up other travel bloggers so together, we can give you our distinct inputs on these best places to visit in Cuba. Below are 15 of the coolest places in Cuba to travel to during your next visit to this beautiful island.
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If you can only visit one destination in Cuba, it should be Havana. Havana is home to some of the country’s best museums, local events, cultural spaces, restaurants, and nightlife venues. You can also immerse yourself in Cuban culture through the many workshops and classes offered all around Havana, such as salsa lessons through Airbnb experiences or Spanish lessons at the University of Havana.
Havana is quickly changing and evolving, so you could spend months in Havana and blink and something completely different will pop up captivating your attention. Havana is also conveniently located in the epicenter between many other top destinations (listed below) and as a jumping point to a few popular day trips: Fusterlandia, Hemingway’s’ home, and Playa Santa Maria. All roads (and local transportation) lead to Havana, so getting to and from Havana is the easiest. For this reason, I’ve dedicated an entire article on the best things to do in Havana.
Viñales is the fertile cradle of western Cuba where the vintage cars of Havana are replaced by oxen pulling local farmers on home-made ploughs. The green craggy limestone mogotes (flat-topped hills) that float in the white mist of the valley have earnt Viñales a UNESCO listing.
Yet despite its popularity, Viñales manages to retain the slow, relaxed feel of its primary purpose: an agricultural town feeding the nation yucca, sweet potato and tobacco. Farmers, having worked the fields in the midday heat, take to their porches in the cooler evenings and mingle effortlessly with tourists.
But the real beauty of Viñales is just outside the town, where you can hike, bike or horse ride around the beautiful scenery. Feeling less energetic? Simply stand at a mirador and take in the views of this remarkable location. Viñales is around 3 hours from Havana by collectivo which will cost around 20 CUC per person.
Trinidad’s historic town center is a UNESCO World Heritage site and closed off from traffic, making it a delight to explore by foot. Trinidad was founded in 1514 and quickly rose to prominence as the most important area for sugar cane cultivation and commerce – thus also becoming the wealthiest city in Cuba at one time.
Today, Trinidad is packed with interesting sights, museums, and day trip nature attractions. The main square (Plaza Mayor) is surrounded by colorful colonial buildings. And if you visit just one, make sure to go to Convento de San Francisco and walk up the bell tower for a breathtaking view of the city.
Just a 15-minute taxi ride from Trinidad’s town center, Playa Ancon is the perfect place to lay in the sun for a day, and swim in its clear baby blue waters. Lovers of nature can head to Topes de Collantes and hike to Salto del Caburni, a beautiful waterfall with a cold but refreshing swimming hole or Parque el Cubano which also has a rewarding waterfall at the end of a shorter hike.
Valle de Los Ingenios is the best place for a day trip for anybody who is interested in learning more about the sugar plantations and the use of slaves in the production of sugar.
Last but not least, in Trinidad, there are many lovely art and souvenir shops (which are actually not that common in Cuba), plenty of nightlife opportunities, and incredible paladares where your try the local specialties.
Bonus tip: don’t miss out on trying the freshly made cocktail “la canchanchara” at Taberna La Canchanchara!
4) Sancti Spiritus
Sancti Spiritus is a charming colonial town that sits almost exactly in the center of Cuba. It was one of the seven villages that were founded in the early 16th century by the Spanish conquistador Diego Velázquez.
Since it’s in the same province as the more famous Trinidad, which was also founded by Velázquez and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Sancti Spiritus often gets skipped over by tourists in favor of its better-known sister city. And therein lies its charm. Lonely Planet has aptly dubbed Sancti Spiritus as “Trinidad without the touts”, which is a perfect description.
Here, you can enjoy the slow pace of life and relax in peace and quiet, listening to live music on the square or savoring a meal of authentic Cuban food, without any hassle.
Most people I met on my trip to Cuba traveled between Vinales in the island’s very west to the centrally located Trinidad. Only a few travelers venture further east and I think they are missing out on a lot. Especially if they don’t get to see the easternmost town of Baracoa – located in the infamous district of Guantanamo.
It takes an entire day to get to Baracoa from Havana by bus. But there are domestic flights that take you there in an hour.
Although Baracoa was Cuba’s first Spanish settlement in the early 16th century and even used to be the capital from 1518 to 1522, it’s pretty much secluded and remained unspoiled since it’s cut off from the rest of the island by a mountain range. Therefore, the main attractions are the hills, rivers, fields, and orchards – it’s a Garden Eden.
The beaches in the town of Baracoa are not so great, but a jeep can take you from the Parque Central to the paradisiac Playa Maguana for a handful of CUC in about twenty minutes. Another trip not to be missed is a hike at the national park Parque Alejandro de Humboldt. Avid hikers will enjoy a tour on the mountain El Yunque located about seven kilometers west of Baracoa. Avid romantics – or drinkers – will enjoy the view of El Yunque while having a nice sundowner on the terrace of Hotel El Castillo throning way up high over Baracoa. It’s government-owned, so the service is not so great, but the drinks, prices, and views definitely are.
6) Playa Giron
By Sarah of ASocialNomad
Playa Giron is the site of the historic failed US invasion of Cuba, known as the Bay of Pigs Invasion. Playa Giron a small town well worth a visit for a number of reasons.
First, learn more about the history and artifacts from the Bay of Pigs Invasion at the Playa Giron Museum (Museo Municipal de Playa Girón). All exhibits are in Spanish but you may be able to swing a tour in English.
Second, this is one of the most popular places to dive in Cuba. Diving here is shore-based – so you walk in or jump off the rocks and it is only $25 USD per dive! Beginners can do a guided instructional dive for an extra $10 USD. Rates include all equipment and a dive guide too. The diving locations are in beaches/cave sites between the towns of Playa Larga and Playa Giron.
Lastly, when you’re ready for a break, head to the gorgeous Coco Beach, where there’s shade, fresh rum, and coconut for you to chill out under the trees or jump in and snorkel a little more!
7) Playa Larga
Playa Larga is one of the best places to visit in Cuba! It’s only a 30-minute drive from Playa Giron and also includes the exact same diving sites/opportunities for world-class diving at one of the most economical prices around the globe ($25 USD). The diving sites are located at an equal distance between both beach towns.
However, Playa Larga deserves its own section on this list due to its quaint beach town charm which hosts a variety of delicious places to eat and cute casa particulares to stay at… but most importantly for two other particular reasons.
This especially arid region is home to Ciénaga de Zapata National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Centre/Biosphere Reserve. At this dry wetland swamp, you can go bird watching (including flamingos) and explore a “variety of terrestrial and marine habitats like semi-deciduous forests, grasslands, mangroves, coral reefs, seagrass beds, underwater canyons, [and] lagoons” (World Atlas). You must hire a tour guide to enter this park and have a car rental/driver to take you.
The other particular reason to check out Playa Larga (in addition to Playa Giron) is for the crocodile farm. Here you can see how they are raised, learn about the different stages of a crocodiles life, and even, eat crocodile at the restaurant!
8) Santiago de Cuba
Santiago de Cuba is the island nation’s second largest city after Havana, the capital. It sits snugly on a beautiful bay surrounded by soaring mountains. The city is a perfect example of a colonial town with winding, cobblestone streets, white-washed houses with the classic orange tiles and tropical gardens sprouting at every turn. There are plenty of things to do in Santiago: Visit the Catedral de Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion (Our Lady of the Assumption Cathedral) in Cespedes Park, the city’s main square. On the same square is the Casa Velasquez, the oldest standing house and a remarkable museum displaying furnishings and artifacts from three different centuries in Santiago’s history. Also on Cespedes Park is Hotel Casa Granda, where you can enjoy a shady respite from the sun with a cold drink in the outdoor café or rooftop terrace. Love colonial history?
Explore the Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca, more commonly known as El Morro, a massive 17th-century fort built to protect the key city of Santiago from pirates. It is the best-preserved example of Spanish-America military architecture. Explore the final resting place of Cuba’s notables as you stroll the marble walkways of the Santa Efigenia Cemetery.
In addition to Santiago’s many daytime activities and attractions, night time is when Santiago really sizzles. The local entertainment venues offer every type of music and dancing; salsa, jazz, traditional trova and more. Club 300 and Iris Jazz Club offer top-notch jazz. Don’t miss the Casa de la Musica club for traditional Cuban music in the center of town if you want to practice your dancing skills or take salsa lessons.
To get to Santiago de Cuba you can fly direct from Havana 877 kilometers away. Other options include taking the Viazul bus service or hiring a shared taxi.
Bonus tip: Take a day trip to visit La Gran Piedra (pictured above) in Cuba’s famous Sierra Maestra mountains to check out some mountain nature and visit the home of a plantain owner for some important post-Haitian-French-Cuban slavery history.
Although Camagüey is Cuba’s third largest city, only the deeper Cuba connoisseurs seem to find their way up here. Too bad since it’s definitely worth a visit – for its bustling art scene as well as its many beautiful squares like the Plaza Agramonte. Moreover, you can visit historic spots like the Cathedral, or cultural spaces like the Casa de la Trova, and explore the local gastronomy! My favorite was Café Cuidad where they serve good coffee and had internet (provided you have your internet card)!
Also, almost un-Cuban variety of shopping stores line the Calle Maceo – check them out for reasonably priced souvenirs like these colorful little ceramic houses. And while we’re on the subject of colorful houses: It’s nice just strolling through Camagüey by foot admiring the gorgeous homes and beautiful streets – they’ve been listed as a UNESCO world heritage site for good reason.
Stroll all the way up the beautiful Calle Marín Varona to the Plaza del Carmen to check out the small bars, shops, and art galleries.
10) Pico Turquino
At an altitude of 1974 meters above sea level, Pico Turquino in the Sierra Maestra National Park is Cuba’s highest mountain. Although the peak isn’t extremely elevated, one shouldn’t underestimate the effort it takes to climb to the top. The trail is very rugged and requires a certain level of fitness. A trek to Pico Turquino can be done in two days and is often combined with a visit to Comandancia de la Plata, Fidel’s hidden rebel headquarters during the Revolution, on the third day.
As you climb up, you’ll notice how the surroundings change from lush tropical vegetation to smaller plants and pine trees. You’ll spot many birds, among which Cuba’s national bird, the Tocororo. Your hiking guide can explain all about the local fauna and flora. The top of Pico Turquino doesn’t really offer a nice view because of the dense woods, but on clear days, you’ll get some amazing sights along the way.
You must hire a guide to hike Pico Turquino. It is compulsory to enter the national park. You can book a tour ahead of time and they can pick you up in Santiago de Cuba (for example), guide you to the top of Pico Turquino and drop you in Bayamo afterwards. One organisation that does the tours is Cuban Adventures.
Cienfuegos is on the way from Havana to Trinidad, and while a few tourists do make a stop here, a lot just travel directly to Trinidad and miss out on this beautiful city.
Cienfuegos has a beautiful square with old buildings, and of course, there are plenty of classic cars parked offering you a tour around town. I would say that Cienfuegos is worth a stop for a few nights.
The best way to experience Cienfuegos is to go the more chill route: stay at a casa particulares and eat at local paladares. My favorite restaurant was Villa Maria, which is a family-owned hotel and restaurant with very friendly and generous owners. Their lobster is fantastic! Lobsters are one of the main reasons to go to Cienfuegos. They are famous for it, and a full-service meal of lobster often costs less than 10 USD.
To get to Cienfuegos from Havana, you should pay about 20-25 CUC for a bus or shared taxi.
In the evenings, don’t miss out on the several bars serving freshly made mojitos!
Bonus tip: Take a day trip to the stunning El Nicho waterfalls an hour from Cienfuegos.
12) Las Terrazas
By: Ayngelina of Bacon is Magic | @Ayngelina
Las Terrazas is a great stop just thirty minutes outside Havana on the way to Viñales. Unlike most tourist destinations in Cuba, this is actually somewhere Cubans visit.
Las Terrazas is unique because it was once home to a number of French-owned Cuban coffee plantations. That coupled with a few hurricanes left the mountains deforested and when the French left the countryside was left in poverty.
But during Fidel Castro’s regime, the region was rebuilt over 10 years they replanted 7 million trees. Today it is an eco-resort area where you can come for the day to hike, cycle, go horseback riding or just relax along the river and lake.
There’s only one hotel on site but there are also a number of community rooms in people’s homes and glamping cabins along the lake. There is also a solar-powered delicious vegetarian restaurant on site: El Romero.
13) Santa Clara
Established in 1689, Santa Clara is the capital of the Villa Clara Province in Cuba. Its claim to fame is a wealth of monuments and museums dedicated to the Cuba Revolution. The Che Guevara Mausoleum and Museo Histórico de la Revolución are here.
Here are a few other places to explore in Santa Clara:
- Parque del Carmen
- Tren Blindado Monument/Museum
- Villa Clara Provincial Museum
- Decorative Arts Museum
- Las Parrandas Museum
- La Caridad Theatre
After taking in the local history in Santa Clara, explore the bustling nightlife at Club Mejunje.
Afterwards, you go on a day trip to the coastal town of San Juan de los Remedios, one of the oldest cities in Cuba with foundations dating to circa 1520.
14) Maria La Gorda
Located on the West coast of Cuba, Maria La Gorda is the perfect place to dive, snorkel or just explore much quieter beaches than those found in the package holiday friendly areas of Varadero. The area is painfully small with very little nearby, only having one hotel, a single dive school, and two restaurants/bars. Other than diving, another highlight of the area is heading to the most Western tip of the country marked by a picturesque lighthouse and is also famous for the seasonal crab migration in spring (generally April each year). The roads are completely blocked by thousands of bright red crabs heading from the forest to the ocean. It’s one of the top migrations in the world despite not being too well known by the general public. From this area, you’ll also be able to drive all the way along this fairly abandoned coastline to see wildlife & stunning viewpoints of the Caribbean. It’s a full day trip with stops cenotes and bat caves, and the hotel staff can help arrange transport for you to get around here.
Being remote, you aren’t able to get any public transport here so will need a taxi or driver to take you but this makes the destination even more special. Due to there really being nothing else around, the stars at night are so clear and the water has no pollution. As you can imagine, somewhere that can be this difficult to get to it’s unbelievably worth it. Spend your days in the water and your nights under the stars!
Runner Up: Varadero
Varadero has a reputation for being a bland and touristy resort Cuban destination, with many foreigner coming here just for the beautiful beach and the all-inclusive hotels. However, Varadero can be more than beach and resort.
I booked a Casa Particular (homestay) which turned out to have the most wonderful owners, who welcomed me with food and drinks. It was just across the street from a white sand beach with cerulean crystal clear waters.
Varadero Town is quiet with wonderful local restaurants where one can eat a full meal at affordable prices. You can also check out the artisan market where a lot of locals are selling hand-made handicrafts, such as leather goods, wood carvings, coconut jewelry, and souvenirs.
At the end of the peninsula, there is a natural ecological reserve that not many people know about. Here you will be surprised to find stunning caves filled with turquoise water, in which you can swim!
Varadero is home to an international airport or you can take a two hour car drive from Havana here.