With all the changes in the last few years, people are clamoring to visit the vibrant country of Cuba now that it’s open to us. But with a country so unknown, it’s hard to know where to start and what to see. I’ve laid out a few things to know and do as you plan your trip to Cuba so you know you’re getting the most ideal experience. Keep in mind, however, that there’s no possible way to see all Cuba has to offer in just one visit.
We’ll start with some general points and then move to specific locations on the big island!
1. Stay in Private Homes
Most places you visit, the more expensive it is, the better-quality experience you’re guaranteed. Well, not so for Cuba. You really aren’t getting much for the expense you pay for government-owned hotels. You’re far better off staying in private homes that board. Hosts are almost always happy to have visitors and willing to advise on what to do locally. And they’ll even cook for you for a small extra fee! All around, it’s a much more authentic experience.
2. Eat at Privately-Owned Restaurants
This is similar to the concept of private homes. You’ll come across some big, government-owned restaurants, but all you’ll get there is an overpriced, bland meal. It’s those privately-owned restaurants that guarantee a flavorful Cuban meal for a fair price.
3. Bike around Vinales Valley
A beautiful indentation amongst the mountains on the western end of Cuba, the landscape of Vinales Valley is breathtaking, and the valley is full of quaint farms and villages. Take a day to rent a bike and make your way around the valley, stopping in towns and enjoying local views, food, and music!
Havana is one of the most classic places to visit in Cuba. It’s full of colorful vintage cars, jazz, and a unique energy. Some of the things you’ll want to check out here are the following:
4. Museums and Historic Buildings
Being such a primary location in Cuba, Havana is the best place to take in the history. Make a visit to the National Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of the Revolution, the Rum Museum, and many more!
5. The ceremony of “El Cañonazo e las Nueve”
Make sure you’re there by 9 pm to watch the shooting an ancient cannon to signal the closing of the city gates and the bay, a daily ritual that’s continued from colonial times.
Santiago is a more Caribbean location on the island; it’s famous for the literature, architect, and music of its culture. Some things you’d want to check into here are:
6. Casa de la Trova for Music
Get in your musical experience at this open-air house of music, a tradition begun by traveling musicians in the 19th century. The area has a fun vibe and lots of good drinks.
7. A Mountain Day Trip to La Gran Piedra
Gran Piedra, or Big Rock, takes you 459 stone steps to the summit where you have a beautiful and, literally, breathtaking view of the Caribbean. Some even say that, at night, you can see the lights of Jamaica!
8. Tour a Coffee Plantation
If you’re a coffee drinker, you probably already know that Cuba has really got this coffee thing down. Maybe you can learn a thing or two – or just get a delicious cup – by taking a tour at one of the numerous plantations you’ll find around here! There’s nothing like getting it straight from the source.
9. Hike El Yunque in Baracoa
A unique sight due to its flat top, El Yunque is definitely worth the climb!
And on the south side of Cuba?! There is Cienfuegos.
10. Visit Cienfuegos
On the south side of Cuba, the city of Cienfuegos has much to offer and a different experience from the rest of the island as it is the newest settlement. In fact, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is full of French architecture and botanical gardens. Take a drive to the historic Bay of Pigs and dive in!