Cuba! So many stories have been written and told about this country. It’s a country, full with history and culture. You have to visit the island yourself and simply can’t skip it! My job has allowed me to visit Cuba several times. I have seen the most beautiful places, met countless people, produced stories and reports, and was able to see the developments up close. Cuba is a country that never fails to leave an impression. Here’s a list of my favorite things to do and see while visiting Cuba.
The best places to visit in Cuba
1. Valle de Viñales
This is hands down, one of the most enchanting regions of Cuba. Expect fantastic views of typical mogotes ( better knows as limestone hills), thousands of flowers, and old, abandoned sugar cane plantations that stem from a time when Cuba was still one of the foremost exporters of sugar. Visiting this region feels like traveling back in time. Whether you prefer hiking or horseback riding, planning a trip around this stunning region is highly recommended.
Expect to encounter oxen plowing the land, Cuban cowboys galloping right past you, many tobacco plantations and the occasional farmer, who will undoubtedly invite you in to enjoy a glass of rum and a hand-rolled cigar over great conversation. The people are never in a rush; you’ll find them sitting by the side of the road for a while, open to whatever the next hour may bring. Viñales is a peaceful place where you’ll find yourself fully immersed in the present. But if you’re looking for more action, why not visit a tobacco plantation and try your hand at rolling a couple of cigars?
2. The most charming restaurant in Havana – La Guarida
Cuba isn’t known for its cuisine or Michelin star restaurants. It has simply not yet arrived at the stage of large-scale development, which means private enterprises –and many ingredients– are rare. But one restaurant in particular is worth a visit when you’re in Havana: La Guarida. It’s without a doubt the most charming restaurant of Havana.
After entering the courtyard, and walking up the staircase, you’ll find yourself in an abandoned and dilapidated, yet somehow enchanting building. Its colonial architecture makes for such a unique, photogenic place. When you reach the top floor, you’ll find one of the most popular bars in Havana. Try to get a table on the beautiful roof terrace and enjoy a romantic evening under the starry sky.
3. Cycle through Havana
As someone from the Netherlands, I can’t help but want to get on a bike wherever I am. Fortunately, Havana’s neighborhoods are great for cycling. Enjoy the fresh air on the Malécon, the boulevard that separates the city from the sea. Don’t forget to check out the famous Hotel Nacional, where Al Capone and his men gathered, and the historic Plaza De La Revolución, famous for Fidel’s speeches. Whether you’re on an organized tour or going on your own, you’ll be amazed by the grandeur and diversity of this city.
4. Find your spot on the Malécon
The Malécon is the promenade that runs from the colonial center of Havana Vieja into the Miramar district. As soon as the temperature drops, it becomes the meeting place for the Habaneros to drink, flirt, and stroll. Find a spot to hang out among the Cubans, and you will have made a group of new friends before you know it.
Tip: You can also take a cab to get to the other side of the water and enjoy the sunset and its glow on Old Havana. Afterwards, follow the locals and head towards El Morro, the old fortress, where every day at 9 PM sharp a cannon shot is fired.
5. Visit La Fabrica de Arte Cubano & have dinner at El Cocinero
La fabrica del arte Cubano is one of my favorite places in Havana to go out, meet local people, get inspired by art and have a nice meal and drink. It’s a place that equals development and the new Havana. This old peanut oil mill from the 1930s, located in the Vedado district, has been transformed into a true nightlife hotspot. Directly under its chimney, you will find the trendy rooftop restaurant El Cocinero, which offers an amazing view over the city
Be sure to join the Habaneros, who gather at night to check out the latest works by Cuban artists and fashion designers. Walk through the maze of corridors and discover hidden cinemas, salsa halls, light art installations, terraces, exhibition spaces, boutiques, courtyards and hair salons. Feeling thirsty? There’s a cocktail bar on every corner.
6. Spend the night in the casas particulares
In Cuba, renting private accommodation or homestays has been common usage long before the rise of AirBnB. You can book a room or appartment in one of the many casas particulares. Like your privacy? No problem. There are plenty of private accommodations to book. But if you’re looking for more social interaction, I’d highly recommend renting a room in a family home, and enjoying many delicious, home-cooked meals served by your friendly hosts.
7. Dance the Salsa in Trinidad
Music and dancing is part of Cuban culture, a fact which you’ll discover during any Cuban night on the stairs at the central square of Trinidad, La Casa de la Musica. This site doesn’t look very special during the day, but at night, it’s where dance is celebrated. Expect live music until the early morning!
It doesn’t matter if you’re young or old: everyone dances with everyone. The best thing about it: you won’t be stuck with just the one dance partner, because everyone changes dance partners at the start of every new song. It’s the perfect way to quietly walk around and find someone you’d like to share a dance with. You will absolutely love the beauty and atmosphere. Get ready to feel like you are in a dance movie!
8. In the footsteps of Fidel Castro & Che Guevara
This place above all left a lasting impression on me. A brisk walk through the Sierra Maestra Mountains will take you to Fidel Castro’s old headquarters, where he, Che Guevara, and a group of revolutionaries retreated after their defeat in the 1950s to prepare for the revolution.
The best spot for your overnight stay is located at the edge of the Sierra Maestra area. When you leave for Santo Domingo the next day, a jeep will drive you up a very steep road to the start of your hike. A two-hour hike will bring you through Sierra Maestra’s green peaks and the mountains to this historical site.
Among the vegetated vegetation, you will find a couple of tiny huts. Such as the hut where Fidel and his wife Celia stayed, Che Guevara’s hut, the kitchen, and Radio Rebelde, the local radio station. Of course, you could visit one of the museums in Havana to see images of the Cuban revolution, but here is where you’ll come face to face with its history and stories. And since it requires quite a hike to get there, you won’t see many other visitors.
9. Che Guevara in Santa Clara
Che has become a true icon and his image is shown all across South America. Although Fidel is considered the face of the revolution in most of Cuba, in Santa Clara, it’s all about Che. This is the place where Ernesto Che Guevara and 18 fellow guerillas ensured an important victory over the Batista army and intercepted a train that contained numerous weapons. Its train wagons have been turned into a small museum. In Santa Clara, you will also find an impressive statue of Che, the mausoleum where his bones are buried and a museum dedicated to his life and the revolution. Be sure to pay this place a visit, even if it’s just for that one photo of you and Che!
Do you want to read more about countries in this region? Check out the articles about Mexico and Central America.
This post is also available in: Nederlands (Dutch)