With the opening up of Cuba to the world recently, tourism is booming here and there’s been no greater time to explore it’s magical towns, pristine beaches, verdant countryside, charismatic people or unfamiliar customs. A country that refuses to be categorised – or to go along with the rest of the world – this bastion of socialism in the Caribbean is full of historic heritage, a place where literally anything can and does happen and has much more to offer beyond the perfect beaches of Varadero and Cayo Coco. Revolutionary fever still runs strong here and you can see the effects of a half-century of embargo’s and socialism almost everywhere you look – though it’s up to you to draw your own conclusions about what you see. Perfect for a weekend getaway, a week or a month – Cuba sucks you in and offers plenty of diverse attractions. Here is my take on the 50 Top Things to Do in Cuba in one month, I’m sure you will discover plenty more yourself but hopefully this helps to inspire you to visit more than Havana, to truly explore this unexpected country and to discover all the best Cuba tourist attractions for yourself!
While the jury is still out on the exact location for the best scuba diving in Cuba, no matter where you get in the water you can guarantee you are going to love it! Cuba dive trips are relatively straight forward to organize and have prices set by the state – Normally around $30 – $40 per submersion. Pristine waters, elegant corals and colourful fish await! Equipment quality is generally very high and the guides professional! Top contenders for the best scuba diving in Cuba are Jardines de la Reina, Playa Larga, Maria La Gorda, Santa Lucia, Cayo Coco and the Bay of Pigs. For some unique dives look out for cenote / cavern diving or consider the USS Merrimac wreck near Santiago de Cuba! You can easily hire gear here so that’s one thing less on your Cuba packing list!
Alternatively for non-divers there is also the option of snorkelling in Cuba, and for the best snorkeling in Cuba I would highly recommend any of the beaches in the Bay of Pigs between Playa Larga and Playa Giron! However if you are on a quick all inclusive Cuba trip to Varadero there is also scuba diving and snorkeling there.
While I would recommend against starting discussions on politics (top of the list of what not to do in Cuba..like in many places in the world!) – you can and should try practice your Spanish here and take any chance you get to talk to the friendly and open Cuban people. A window into real life here, people will quickly tell you about all the oddities and ongoings in the town, festivals, their favourite places and what they think are the main problems in Cuba at the moment. No conversation will ever be the same and your experience in Cuba will be all the richer for it (as well as being a great way to meet the people to people USA visitation requirement)! Just watch out for overly friendly Cuban men on the street – who will always have something to sell you given the chance!
Explore off the beaten track in Havana in Vedado – a large, mostly residential neighbourhood famed for it’s grandesque buildings built during the Cuban sugar rush in the 1920’s and 30’s where an influx of American money made this nneighbourhood the most desirable in all of Havana. Many of the best hotels of this era where also built here such as the Hotel Nacional, the Capri and the Havana Libre – all famed for their opulence, gambling, and corruption and all fronted by the famed Malecon Cuba!
Today however the money is long gone and you can wander through streets of stunning mansions and unique architecture literally crumbling around you. Most of the Cuban diaspora who fled during the Revolution lived in Vedado and today some of their houses now house embassies and a variety of state institutions!
Famed through-out the world for their quality, Cuban Cigars and specifically Cohiba cigars, are just something you have to try in Cuba…whether you’re a smoker or not! Touts on the street will whisper ‘Cohiba cigars, Cohiba cigars’ as you walk past but rest assured, these are not the real deal and the only way to ensure cuban cigars for sale are the real deal is buying from state run cigar shops or hotels. Cohiba Cigars can be found pretty easily including a very high end Cohiba Cigars Lounge within the Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski La Habana – but you should also try many of the other lesser known Cuban cigar brands to get an idea of the different tastes and flavours. Best enjoyed with a view and a drink at sunset in my opinion!
Since the fall of the Soviet Union and Socalism across the rest of the world in the 90’s Cuba has been forced to allow small amounts of capitalism into its tiny nation and there is no greater example than the proliferation of the casa particulares (private rooms in local houses) – found everywhere except resort towns. Casa particulares are not only the most authentic and cheapest places to stay in Cuba (being the equivalent of a bed and breakfast in Cuba even serving breakfast and dinner) but by being allowed into local homes you can truly see how locals live – at a fraction of the price of hotels in Cuba.
The best place to find a list of casas particulares in Cuba is through Airbnb which has over a thousand apartments and rooms for rent in Havana alone! However if you are going to use Airbnb to book casa particulares in Cuba (which I recommend as you can minimize the amount of cash you then need to take with you) be sure to book before you enter Cuba as Airbnb bookings cannot be made from within Cuba.
While Santiago de Cuba lacks the glamour and charm of Havana you can still find a unique beauty here within the chaos. Closer to Haiti than Havana, the Afro-Caribbean culture shines through here and it was also the starting point for the Cuban Revolution – something it’s inhabitants are fiercely proud of. The music and culture scene is truly alive here which more than makes up for the lack of historical authenticity – and while the hustlers in Santiago de Cuba are probably the worst in the country there are plenty of gorgeous casa particular in Santiago de Cuba on Airbnb in which to escape them and truly interact with the locals of Cuba’s second largest city!
A visit to La Gran Piedra – Cuba’s biggest rock – is a must for anyone who wants sweeping, panoramic views of the Cuban coastline from up high. A half-day trip from Santiago de Cuba, do not miss the nearby (but well hidden) Cafetal la Isabelica – a glorious, old coffee plantation and manor which is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Listed Archaeological Landscape of the First Coffee Plantations in the South-East of Cuba! And the coffee still brewed here is not bad either!
A hidden gem in the heart of Old Havana with amazing food, electic style, great service and live music most nights. Consistently rated as one of the best restaurants in all of Cuba Restaurant Van Van eskews the giant menus traditionally found in Cuba for only 6 main items (changing often) and really knows how to do them well! My favourite was the Ropa Vieja – a traditional Cuban dish not to be missed, and the cocktails here are not bad either! Great value for money, be sure not to miss this one!
Old car tours in Havana are all the rage – and for good reason! Due to the embargo, Cuba’s socialist nature and strict import regulations in Cuba American classic cars are found in a ridiculous abundance all over the country and you will undoubtably end up in a beat up old car at some point either as a transfer of taxi. However the best American classic cars are all reserved for the old car tours in Havana where pink and red convertibles ply the street making for iconic photos and making you feel like you have stepped into a time machine. While a trip in the most well-kept American classic cars are not cheap – It’s a once in a life time experience and one of the most iconic Cuba tourist attractions!
Located in the province of Pinar del Rio Cuba, The Viñales valley is filled with verdant farmland surrounded by craggy mountains and dramatic rocky outcrops reminiscent of Halong Bay in Vietnam. Famed for its old-school farming techniques and the quality of the tobacco produced here (as well as its cultural landscape of farms and villages which have earned UNESCO status),Viñales is a not-to-be missed location with small restaurants, bars, hiking, horse riding, caves and more. Due to it’s proximity to Havana it seems like almost every house is a casa particular in Viñales so you are truly spoilt for choice. Again – you can see the best casa particular in Viñales in advance by checking on Airbnb.
The centre piece of any trip to Cuba (and potentially the only destination if you opt for a short Miami to Cuba 3 day vacation!) – The Old Town of Havana has it all! Founded in 1519 as a ship-building centre for the Caribbean it quickly became fabulously wealthy and this shows through the eclectic mix of Baroque and neoclassical buildings and monuments today protected by UNESCO. While hoards of tourists descend here on cruises to Cuba or short Cuba vacations it still has not lost its charm and local life still dominates many streets here. Take your camera, get lost, explore quieter streets and let the unique vibes of this city fill you. There really is nothing at all like Havana anywhere else in Latin America or the world!
And if you’re wondering where to stay in Havana I can categorically say the old town is the best place! And here you will find everything from quaint casa particular in old Havana to 5 star luxury hotels in Cuba.
One of the immediate benefits of socialism and the dual currencies of Cuba (the national CUP and tourist CUC) is many state run restaurants provide food at insanely low prices designed for local consumption – but there is nothing stopping tourists from going there. Look out for prices listed in CUP and you have found the key to cheap vacations to Cuba! One of my favourites is Coppelia – a national ice-cream chain where you can get desserts for 8 cents (USD!) … The key to this is changing CUC to CUP at the local bank – they have no problem doing this – and then looking out for busy places with plenty of locals. You can be sure you’re on to a winner here and can eat for a 10th of the price of tourist restaurants, or less!
The Santa Ifigenia Cemetery in Santiago de Cuba is a must visit for anyone interested in Cuban history and the revolution. Here you can find Jose Marti, one of Cuba’s national heros for his role in the fight for independence from Spain, and the recently deceased Fidel Castro, a more controversial character to say the least! The rest of the Santa Ifigenia Cemetery is stunningly beautiful in it’s own right with marble white tombs and plenty of interesting corners to explore – You can find many of the Baracadi family (of Rum fame) buried here. The Santa Ifigenia Cemetery is about a 10 minute walk from the Viazul Bus station in Santiago de Cuba so even if you are transferring through it’s worth a quick visit!
In Latin America street art is all the rage and Cuba is no exception with plenty of Cuba street art to be discovered by those who look and have a keen eye. Don’t however expect to see anything similar to the controversial street art that made the likes of Buenos Aires or Medellin famous – Political censorship is rife in Cuba and freedom of speech is not exactly upheld. Instead you are more likely to see street art praising the revolution and it’s leaders and reminding citizens the struggle is not over yet …despite more than 60 years having passed. When will the revolution end? I’m not sure anyone quite knows.
One of the tallest observation areas in all of Cuba – The 5 star Hotel Melia Santiago offers unparalleled views by both night and day. Weirdly however, given it’s luxury status and location the drinks here are incredibly affordable…and some of the best we had on our whole trip! Ranging from 3-4 USD per drink (and 2 for one happy hour daily from 5 till 7) you can add a little bit of elegance to your trip while still keeping to a budget. Alternatively the hotel itself is internationally managed and has great amenities (including three swimming pools) so could be worth staying and relaxing a bit. Especially if you can get a room with a view!
The Moncada Barracks is literally where the revolution all began in Santiago de Cuba. A ill-fated and ill-planned attack orchestrated by Fidel Castro of Batista’s barracks in order to get weapons. It of course failed horribly, resulting in would-be revolutionaries being shot or jailed – Fidel was spared by international outrage and simply jailed, where he was later granted amnesty, fled to Mexico and plotted his grand revenge. The rest is history as they say and today the Moncada Barracks is one of the biggest of Cubas tourist attractions and houses an interesting museum – although all in Spanish. Oh incase you’re wondering about those bullet holes on the outside? Fake – and put in after the revolution! The originals were of course repaired!
Coffee has a long and proud history in Cuba going back to the 18th century where French farmers, fleeing the revolution in nearby Haiti, brought their knowledge and plantations to the Western Mountains of Cuba – today recognised by UNESCO in the archaeological landscape of the first coffee plantations world heritage site. Coffee production grew quickly but peaked a century latter as Costa Rica, Colombia and Brazil produced vastly more at cheaper prices and Cuba focussed on sugar.
The revolution and the nationalisation of Cuba’s coffee industry however dealt the death blow and what was once an important export is fairly insignificant and rather hard to find outside of Cuba. Still….this is a nation of coffee lovers and you can find their expresso shots in every town for a few cents, often mixed with sugar. Finding a decent coffee with milk however is another issue entirely. Cuba coffee is a love it or hate it proposition, but one that has to be tried at least once!
Castro Fidel declared religion and Catholicism inherently incompatible with his revolution and up until 2015 no practicing members of any religion were able to join the Communist party. The visit of the Pope in that year however prompted Raul Castro to change his mind and he even attended the mass. Luckily however, unlike in the Soviet Union, no churches or cathedrals were destroyed in the revolution and you can still appreciate their grand beauty across Cuba – normally occupying pride of place in the main city plaza. Most have erratic opening hours, or may even house other institutions but if you preservere and can manage to get in it is generally well worth your time!
El Yunque Cuba, the famed table-top mountain that dominates the skyline in Baracoa – climbing this mountain is on most tourists bucket-list and is highly rewarding. 8 kilometers round-trip, it’s not so much the distance but the temperature which will test you, but the incredible flora and birds along the way, plus the vista at the top make it all worth it!
Tours are best organised directly with Cubatur on the Baracoa main square (and cost 16 CUC including a guide and transfers) and better yet – include a stop at a fresh swimming hole on the way back which you will be very, very grateful for. El Yunque Cuba was one of my favourite excursions in Cuba and I can promise you it is well worth the effort to conquer it for yourself!
One of the most famous hotels in the world, the Nacional Hotel in Havana is a must visit – if only for it’s past history as a den of gambling, vice and decadence and it’s role as host to the 1946 mob summit famously shown in the Godfather II. Today, the Nacional Hotel still retains the air of elegance and it’s spot on the malecon makes it the perfect location for a sunset mojito in Havana. In it’s 80+ years of existence, the Hotel Nacional has had more important guests than any other hotel in Cuba including Winston Churchill, Frank Sinatra, Ernest Hemingway and Jimmy Carter. Not to be missed!
Long gone are the days of the government monopoly on food and with the opening and expansion of private restaurants across the island something of a gastronomic renaissance is sweeping Cuba – and especially Havana – as Cubans rediscover food beyond just mere sustenance. Good bye ham sandwiches, black beans and hot dogs. Hello exotic ingredients with a Cuban flare such as baby wild boar rib chops, lobster carpaccio salad and pineapple sorbet.
However, not all new found eateries are a raging sucess and quality varies considerable so it pays to ask other travellers you meet or do research before hand to find the best spots. Some stand outs for me were Chachahca, El Dandy and El Biky (all in Havana) to get you started! Feel free to let me know your best places to eat in Cuba on your return.
While access to the Alejandro de Humboldt National Park maybe limited to only the peripheral ‘transition’ zone a visit is still well worth your time to discover why UNESCO decided to inscribe it as a natural world heritage site. The complex geology at the Alejandro de Humboldt National Park along with it’s varied topography have created a unique ecosystem unmatched in terms of biodiversity in the Caribbean and is actually one of the most biologically diverse locations on earth.
The underlying rocks here are actually toxic to plant species so a unique evolutionary process has allow species to survive the hostile conditions present within the Alejandro de Humboldt National Park. There are three short walks available with the longest talking only 2 hours and all must be done with a guide while there is also options to see manatees in the Bahia de Taco in season.
Breakfast or brunch in Cuba is not really a going out event like it is in much of the west, but luckily the casa particulares in Cuba are always able to whip you up an incredible breakfast to start your day – often with a stunning view to match. These breakfasts consist of fresh fruit, bread, eggs, cheese, ham, coffee + juice and while it might get repetitive after a while its better than the alternative, which is nothing because honestly outside Havana nowhere serves a proper breakfast and even in Havana it is rare. I bet however the first Cuban business which goes all in with a brunch concept is going to be very, very popular! But hey – as I said, the food is fresh and the experience is one of a kind.
Seeing a baseball game is something iconic you just have to do in Cuba – without a doubt it is the national sport and its a game everyone here is crazy passionate about. While baseball games in Cuba are dirt cheap due to state subsidies and of a very professional level they are actually notoriously difficult to find – trying to find schedules and locations for games (which are done last minute or frequently revised) is the hardest part! I recommend asking your casa owner in Cuba for information or checking out this Cuba Baseball website in advance.
Trust me however – it’s worth the effort and you will see a completely different side of Cuba after going to a baseball game. Oh and incase you are wondering about the photo, its the post-apocalyptic looking Estadio Manuel Fuentes Borges stadium in Baracoa (which I think should be one of the biggest Cuba tourist attractions in it’s own right!). Literally right on the beach, weather it actually hosts games still is anyones guess!
Che Guervara – the doctor come revolutionary guerrilla who made it to the top of the FBI’s most wanted list. A controversial figure who means many things to different people, but above all a lover of Latin America. Murdered by the CIA after trying to incite another revolution in Bolivia, his remains were lost for many decades before finally being returned to Cuba in 1997 where his remains along with twenty-nine of his fellow combatants killed in the same Bolivia campaign were laid to rest in the Che Guevara Mausoleum in Santa Clara.
The site was chosen to commemorate the decisive Battle of Santa Clara lead by Che and also at the memorial is a museum dedicated to Che’s life and an eternal flame lit by Fidel Castro himself. Number one on any list of Santa Clara Cuba things to do – though it’s proximity to the bus station also means it’s possible to just have a quick few hour stop and continue on…
Half Way There! Only 25 Top Things To Do in Cuba left to go! With limited WiFi and information hard to come by on the ground – Cuba is one of the few countries I would argue the Lonely Planet guide book is a complete necessity. Lucky you can buy in your copy in advance and get the Cuba Lonely Plenty PDF straight on your phone for information on the fly once you’re in!
Despite 60 years of socialism and crippling embargo’s Cubans still like to party like it’s 1959 and no more apparent is this than in the bumper-list of Cuba festivals that take place every year. From the famed Havana and Santiago de Cuba Carnivals to the 26th of July celebrations or even the prestigious Havana Ballet Festival or Film Festival which every year attract the internal jet-set. No only that but there are many, many smaller Cuba festivals throughout the year so it’s worth while asking around on the ground in Cuba to see what’s going on.
Of particular interest to many travellers is the world famous Ballet Nacional de Cuba which costs hundreds to see as they tour the world, but can be seen for a fraction of the cost when they are home in Havana! Either way – a little bit of preplanning goes a long way and if you can line your trip dates or destinations up with any major Cuba festival you will surely have a unique and unforgettable experience!
On the tip of Cuba likes addictive Baracoa – Cuba’s oldest town which was completely isolated from the rest of the country until a road was built in the 1960’s. Today Baracoa still maintains is own unique charm with lush forests to explore, a unique Afro-Caribbean culture and cuisine, empty beaches and the freshest seafood in all the country. Baracoa is the best ‘undiscovered destination in Cuba’ and still handsomely rewards any traveller who goes out of their way to stay here. Oh and not to mention that Baracoa Cuba Hotels are some of the best deals in the country and there is even one in a converted fortress above the town with panoramic views!
And while we are on the topic of Baracoa – don’t miss the chance to sample the delicious array of Baracoa chocolate on sale here, all grown and produced locally. Che Guevara himself was involved in the original Baracoa chocolate factory which is set up just outside of town (and has incredible deals on a wide, wide range of chocolate products), and you can also take a 4X4 tour through local cocoa farms and see the production from start to finish. Don’t have enough time? No worries there are two Baracoa chocolate cafes on the main street serving a wide range of chocolate inspired meals and drinks – all of which were delicious!
Life in Cuba can be tough – even for travellers. The constant noise, dirty streets, heat and touts in bigger cities can take a toll and some times you need more than just a casa to recover. Luckily Cuba has a wide range of luxury hotels which are available for a fraction of the price of their western equivalents (and many of which are run in conjunction with European hotel partners to ensure standards). Have a look now at the deals on luxury 5 star Cuba hotels over your dates and consider pampering yourself for a few days before you head home or after you arrive….
The Havana Malecón – a 7 km long sea drive made famous in the most recent Fast and Furious film – is one of the cities most romantic and iconic streets…as well as a critical thoroughfare. While the unbearable sun keeps many people away during the day, come sunset the Havana Malecón comes alive and you can wander all the way from the Havana Old Town to Vedado. People watching at it’s finest you will see fisherman, families, lovers, car enthusiasts and all manner of Cuban life on show here.
A word of warning however to be careful late at night however as some areas of the Malecón are known for prostitution and drugs, and given the strict repercussions of getting caught in Cuba with either partaking in either is top of the list for what not to do in Cuba!
Of course no list of the best things to do in Cuba would be complete without mention of Cuba’s stunning Caribbean beaches: most covered in bone-white sand that falls into bright, turquoise water. Sounds perfect right! Even if you are a total culture vulture you should take a few days out to relax with a mojito in hand and to discover the best snorkeling in Cuba. If you are looking for the best beach hotels in Cuba you will want to head to Varadero Cuba, while Playa Ancon is also easily accessed from nearby Trinidad if you are short of time. Other top beaches in Cuba – all with their own unique appeal – are Playa Pilar, Playa Perla Blanca, Los Pinos, Playa Turquesa, Playa Sirena, Playa Francés, Playa Esmeralda and Playa Guardalavaca. Enjoy – and don’t forget to take coral -safe sunscreen if you are going to be getting in the water.
The Viñales Mural de la Prehistoria – commissioned by none other than Fidel himself – is a massive art project put up almost 50 years ago on a rock wall in the Viñales Valley. Controversial even today, you will either love or hate this giant canvas / eyesore which depicts the unique evolution of the region from early mollusks and sea organisms, through dinosaurs and into the modern human area. Easily accessible on the Viñales Hop-On Hop-Off bus route, don’t plan on spending too long – although there is a nice walk to the top starting to the right of the painting.
Founded in 1819, the colonial town of Cienfuegos was quickly settled by immigrants of French origin who came to trade sugar cane, tobacco and coffee and today this city on Cuba’s caribbean coast has a distinctly different feel. Built in the neoclassical style with an architectural ensemble awarded UNESCO World Heritage status for it’s modern ideas in hygiene and urban planning, this is one city not to be missed on a tour of Cuba. Top of the list of Cienfuegos Cuba things to do is visit the city centre, take a harbour tour and explore Punta Gorda, a peninsula with lots of 1950’s homes. You will quickly see they don’t call it the Pearl of the South for nothing!
In the 17th century commercial and political rivalries throughout the Caribbean region lead to a rush of fort construction to protect Spain’s fledgling colonies and the all important gold trade. One of the most complex and imposing of all these is San Pedro de la Roca Castle near Santiago de Cuba – a massive series of fortifications, based on Italian and Renaissance design principles, on a rocky promontory to protect the nearby port city. An intricate site which is the most complete and best-preserved example in all off the Caribbean (even better than those in Panama, Cartagena and Campeche!) and has been awarded UNESCO World Heritage status. Bring your Pirates of the Caribbean sound-track and live out your best Jack Sparrow fantasies – You will not be disappointed! There are also other forts in Cuba – though less extensive – in Havana and Baracoa.
Yes – Cuba literally has more beneath it’s surface than you might first think and its caves are a great example of this. Due to its unique ancient geology and its extensive underwater rivers and aquifers today Cuba is blessed with thousands of extensive caves – some so huge you can spend hours exploring and even go on motorized boat trips through. Most are user friendly and can be accessed for a small free – though check in advance the level of physical fitness required. Saturno Cave in Cuba is one of the most famous in the Matazanas region and can be seen on a day trip from Varadero but you can also find plenty around Vinales, Baracoa and within the Bay of Pigs. All the Cuba caves are different so take the time out to enjoy these bizarre time-worn products of nature.
Visiting a country is always about more than just seeing the sites. Your experience will be so much deeper if you take the time to understand a countries past as well as present social and political conditions. In Cuba this is even more true with its complex and compelling history which have lead to a very different society today. You will appreciate your trip so much more here if you attempt to delve into this and understand Cuba just a bit more. If you are short on luggage space and can only take one book I recommend Cuba: What Everyone Needs to Know as one of the best books about Cuba.
Despite a distinct lack of exotic animals – though on the upside nothing in Cuba is poisonous – the agricultural regions and lack of cars mean livestock and people mix rather freely. There are very few places in Cuba where you cannot see an animal at work, or sneak a few pats if you’re lucky. From the ox pulling plows in the tobacco fields of Vinales to the horses pulling carriages in town – You can even find goats offering children’s rides around the plaza on Sundays. Animal lovers, this is you chance to get your fix!
One of the biggest Cuba tourist attractions – Colonial Trinidad is a completely one-of-a-kind. Not only is it one of the oldest settlements in Cuba but it is also a pristine example of a Spanish colonial town you will not find anywhere else in Latin America. Expect plenty of tourists however as the secret has been out on this colourful town where the clock stopped ever since it received UNESCO status and funding. Plenty of great food, art stores, roof top bars and churches wait to be explore, Trinidad just cannot be missed.
No list of things to do in Cuba would be compete without mention of cocktails, those delicious drinks available in every casa and restaurant utilising Cuba’s famous rum. The three most famous cocktails made in Cuba are the Daiquiri (made with rum, ice, lemon juice and sugar), the Mojito (made with rum, sparkling water, sugar, lemon juice, ice and mint) and the Cuba Libre (a blend of rum and cola) – but there are plenty of lesser known cocktails and international cocktails to discover. You will soon learn quality can vary a lot, so ask around to find out the best spots and then sit back and relax. You are on island time!
You might have already tried the famous Cuban Cigar (or even the Cohiba cigars) but do you know how they are made? A tour of a tobacco factory or farm will quickly show you how the best cigars in the world are made – and give you an opportunity to buy cigars at discounted prices. The best tours take place in Vinales however most factories are open to visitors in Cuba at certain times – just avoid those in Havana as they are overpriced and focussed on ripping tourists off. Of course these cigars will not the be your high end Cohiba cigars with brand labels and you should be getting a significant discount if you plan to buy a large amount direct from the factory.
The Valley of the Sugar Mills located near Trinidad makes a great day trip as you can see the last remanent of the once great Cuban Sugar Empire. At it’s peak there were over 50 mills here though today you can only visit the remnants of the structures. Eery and beautiful, this relic from the past is included in the Trinidad and the Valley de los Ingenios UNESCO Site as the former plantations and mill buildings represent the richest example of the Caribbean sugar agro-industrial process of the 18th and 19th centuries, and of the slavery phenomenon on which it relied. Tour to the Valley of the Sugar Mills can be organised in Trinidad with Cubatur, your guest house or via a infrequently run and unreliable train.
The popularity of the hop on bus Cuba tour has soared in recent years and these great tour options can now be found throughout the country. Opting for a hop on bus Cuba tour is a great way to meet other travellers, see the sights of the city and avoid the large costs of organized tours or private taxis. The Havana hop on hop off bus tour around the city or to the eastern beaches is the most popular but there are also lesser known ones including my favourite – the Vinales hop on hop off bus for only 3 CUC all around the Valley or the Cuba hop on hop off bus to Playa Ancon from Trinidad. New routes and cities are constantly being trialled so be sure to ask your guest house on arrival of any options in your towns.
One of the oldest villages in Cuba – and the only set inland – Camagüey is a maze of irregularly connected streets, alleys, large blocks and serpentine roads all designed to confuse invading pirates. A mis-match of architectural styles including neoclassical, eclectic, Art Deco, Neo-colonial as well as some Art Nouveau Camagüey makes a great stop in the middle of the country for a few days. More if you get lost in it’s streets. Cheap, with a main shopping street, multiple cinemas and incredible food – it’s the kind of place which sucks you in and begs you to stay longer. For the best view visit the Gran Hotel Camagüey Cuba rooftop at sunset for a view you will never forget.
You really can’t say you have been to Cuba until you have at least waited in a few lines for a product that you then find is out of stock. A ubiquitous experience in Cuba – You will wait for WiFi cards, ATMs, entrance to shops and more. To fit in like a local yell ‘ Ultimo’ and whoever replies is the person you will go after… yes, lines are a loose concept here but this system does seem to work. People however are very courteous and will help you out if lost or confused. A by-product of their socialist system, just be thankful you will only have to do this a few times and spare a thought for all the poor Cubans who do this day in and day out.
The Bay of Pigs famed throughout the world as one of USA’s greatest strategic blunders, is today actually an increasingly popular tourist destination. While still very propaganda heavy and with a few museums and monuments, a trip to the Bay of Pigs (and the settlements of Playa Larga and Giron) today will more likely involve lying under palm trees or experiencing the world class diving and snorkelling here. Playa Giron especially has a quaint charm and with barely a tourist in site this is your chance to enjoy beaches by yourself and really interact with the locals.
Yes, it wouldn’t be Latin America without some adorable street dogs to pat – and luckily in Cuba they are all generally very clean and friendly. If you are going for a walk around a small town or on the beach they may join you for nothing else but the company. Even if you don’t like dogs they will grow on you! In Havana – true to the socialist spirit – there are even many dogs sponsored by state institutions who have little tags around their neck telling you about their history, likes and dislikes! How cute right!
The answer for where to stay in Havana, the Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski La Habana, located in the historic heart of UNESCO-protected Old Havana, was only recently opened in 2017 and already is the premier hotel option in Havana and indeed all of Cuba. This is the first luxury 5* hotel to be built in Havana since the revolution and no expense has been spared in creating something truly special. The rooms are surprisingly affordable compared to their Western counter-parts but if a stay at the Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski La Habana is out of your budget you can enjoy the rooftop restaurant and bar with any purchase. The view is incredible across the entire city, but sadly the pool is only for guests. A one-of-a-kind experience and an unforgettable stay…
The best cocktail bar in Havana set on the most beautiful square in Havana – Azucar Lounge is perfect for people watching over a square you could mistake as Italy and enjoying the fabulously decadent cocktails (which you will be sharing on Instagram, trust me!). Giant daiquiris, perfect mojitos and interesting daily specials such as ginger martinis – Azucar Lounge is a popular haunt with those in the know and one of the few bar-only venues in all of Cuba. But hey, when you do one thing this good why would you even try do anything else!
Lobster may be one of the most expensive items on menus all over the world but in socialist Cuba it can often be found for a fraction of the price – and in the most unexpected locations. The best place to try is in the casa’s where the general price of a meal is 10 CUC no matter if you opt for chicken, beef or yes lobster. Just go with it and be sure to order it where ever you go, hopefully they don’t realize the terrible mistake they are making by selling it for so cheap too soon!
An activity in and of itself, Cuba sunsets are worth planning your day around and due to the tropical humidity they never, ever disappoint. Every day is different and you can find gorgeous oranges, vivid reds, purple and blue – oh and the occasional lightening storm. Best enjoyed with a cigar and cocktail in hand. Most towns offer a roof-top bar in their high end hotels but if you are not sure ask you guest house for advice or simply keep an eye out when you explore the town. Half the fun is finding your own unique angle and view.
Now you're all set and prepared to explore our big wide world, why not sort out everything else out all in one go? If necessary for your travel plans make sure you have brought proper travel insurance, protected your privacy by getting a secure VPN, compared all the top hotel booking sites to find just what you're after, reserved an unbeatable rental car price and - of course - booked the best flight deals!
Many budget travelers (including me) indulge in worldwide airport lounge access, so we can experience luxury while still slumming it in economy. Naturally, we would never leave home without a more a more general travel guide since we couldn’t possibly cover everything here!
Just add an adventurous attitude and plenty of smiles - they go a long way - and that about covers it all! Now go out, find your own path and don't forget to share your best inspiration stories with me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram...I'd love to hear from you!