Cuba is the largest Caribbean island, situated within 100 miles of Florida. American visitors still find it difficult to visit the country. However, its attractions are open to citizens of all other nations.
A stunning island with a fascinating past, Cuba is still a socialist, one-party state. This means you might encounter a lot of bureaucracy, even when carrying out everyday tasks. You’ll be surprised – and charmed – by its 1950s buildings, salsa culture, and fledgling private businesses.
If you are planning a trip, be sure to schedule urban and provincial activities. Here are the best places to visit:
Havana is Cuba’s capital city and therefore deserves a top spot on any list of Cuban attractions. It serves as the primary transportation hub for the island. Therefore, almost all visitors will spend at least a few hours here.
In Havana, you can:
- Watch workers roll cigars the traditional way in a local factory
- Check out the diverse nightlife
- Explore the Old Town, and take in the colonial architecture
- Visit distilleries and sample Cuban rum
- Visit the Cathedral Havana
Jardines del Rey
To the north of the island, you will find Jardines del Rey, a stunning archipelago. Also known as the Garden of Kings, it’s linked to the mainland via a series of bridges.
When exploring Jardines del Rey, you can:
- Walk around the Cayo Romano, Cayo Coco, Cayo Paredon Grande, and Cayo Guillermo islands
- Take in the unspoilt natural beauty of the area
- Sunbathe on Playa Pilar beach
Back in 1492, Christopher Columbus arrived on Cuba via Baracoa. Located on the eastern coast, this remote city offers a quiet, restful charm with a French influence.
If you visit Baracoa, you should:
- Take a walk in the mountains surrounding the village
- Explore the unspoilt local forests
- Learn more about Cuba’s indigenous people and their culture by visiting the Museo Arqueologico la Cueva Del Paraiso
- Soak up the local culture by spending a few hours in the Parque Independencia, square in the center of the town
Cienfuegos is a Cuban province with plenty of attractions. Home to Cienfuegos City, also known as the Pearl of the South, it is a diverse and vibrant area. From picturesque botanical gardens to beaches, Cienfuegos is endlessly fascinating.
When visiting the province, be sure to:
- Appreciate the mid-century architecture on the Punta Gorda peninsula
- Visit the history museum in the town of Pueblo Nuevo
- Take a stroll around the local botanical gardens
- Take a ferry to the Castillo de Jagua, a 17th-century Spanish fortress located in Jagua Bay
If you love classic Caribbean beaches, be sure to visit Varadero. Although it is a busy resort, the 12 miles of sandy beaches are largely undeveloped.
When hitting the beaches of Varadero, you should:
- Take advantage of the chance to go diving and see the ocean life
- Grab a cheap drink from a beach bar
- Visit some of the nearby museums to get a glimpse into the area’s history
- Cool off and have a mini adventure in the Saturno Cave
This colonial settlement is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A colorful 16th-century town that remains largely unspoilt, Trinidad is extremely popular with tourists. There are hundreds of cafes, shops, dance schools, and art stalls that cater to a visitor’s every desire.
If you are visiting Trinidad, you should:
- Take in the leisurely pace of life; here, farmers still travel on horseback
- Visit the Plaza Mayor, a historic town square with numerous shops and restaurants
- Explore a collection of 19th-century artefacts at Museo Romántico, which translates in English as “the Museum of Romanticism”
- Walk around the Lucha Contra Bandidos, or the Museum of the War Against the Bandits, just off the Plaza Mayor
This town may be small, but it has still had a big influence on Cuba as a whole. It is known primarily for its tobacco, with major brands using plants from this region. It’s situated around three hours from Havana.
When in Viñales, be sure to:
- Take a hike through tobacco plantations
- Visit the national park situated in Viñales Valley
- Go caving – the famous Cuevas del Indio is nearby
- Practice rolling cigars the Cuban way
Santiago de Cuba
This city is located in the eastern area of the island. It is a popular tourist spot, renowned for its romantic architecture. After Havana, it is the largest city in Cuba. It was founded as a settlement by Spanish explorers in 1515 on the shores of the Caribbean Sea. It is now the capital of the Santiago de Cuba Province.
Here are the best things to do when visiting the city:
- Explore the Castle of San Pedro del Morro, a well-preserved 17th-century military fortress
- Admire La Gran Piedra, a huge stone mass positioned on top of a nearby mountain
- Visit the Santuario de Nuestra Señora de la Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, a popular place of worship and religious significance
- Pay your respects at the Santa Ifigenia Cemetery, the final resting place of numerous famous Cubans
Maria la Gorda
This modest town is situated on the western coast of Cuba. It does not boast many tourist attractions, and it still has a relatively undeveloped infrastructure. However, it has one major appeal – it’s a prime spot for scuba diving. There is a single hotel, only two restaurants, and one shop.
If you want to visit Maria la Gorda, you should:
- Consider an all-inclusive package that provides you with accommodation, food, and diving instruction
- Go snorkelling if a diving excursion doesn’t appeal to you
- Explore as many of the town’s 32 dive sites as possible. You’ll see shipwrecks, coral reefs, and numerous tropical fish
- Take a hike through the scenic landscapes that surround the town
Cuba leaves a lasting impression on tourists. You will carry memories of your trip for years to come. Cuban hospitality is unique; if you stay with a host family, they will make you feel truly welcome. Why not send a thank you letter once you get home? Visit The Word Point for a perfect translation.
Whether you want to relax on the beach or take in a lively city scene, this island makes for a perfect Caribbean vacation.
Pauline speaks Portuguese, English, Spanish and Italian. She travelled the world to immerse herself in the new cultures and learn languages. Today she is proud to be a voting member of the American Translators Association and an active participant of the Leadership Council of its Portuguese Language Division.