FFrom classic car rides around Havana to the tobacco farms of Viñales and Fidel’s mountaintop Rebel HQ, a trip to Cuba is always going to be revolutionary…
1: See the Sights of Havana from a Classic Car
Old America Car in Havana, Cuba – Image by Javier Gonzalez Leyva
Everyone does it, but there’s a good reason why: experiencing Havana from the back of a classic car is just one of those unmissable, incredibly pleasurable travel experiences. At times, Havana’s streets resemble an automotive museum, as relics from the 1950s (Flame red Cadillacs, bright pink Chevrolets, bubble-gum Oldsmobiles) rumble through traffic. As well as the obvious visual appeal, these cars serve an everyday purpose for many: some are filled with travellers on guided city tours, others packed with Cubans hitching a ride to work, many put to use as characterful taxis. Havana itself is deceptively large, with a lot of its major attractions spread out, so besides the experience of the car itself, a tour is an excellent way to see the city.
2: Feel the Music in Santiago de Cuba
Street musicians in Santiago de Cuba – Image by Maurizio de Mattei
Cuba is a country that comes with a soundtrack. Thumping rumba beats and infectious son rhythms seem to spill from every bar, house window and radio. There’s often a live band playing in a bar, or a solo busker serenading all who’ll listen.
Music is everywhere. To understand the significance that music holds in Cuban social life, a visit to Santiago’s Casa de la Trova is a must. These state-run venues focus on traditional folk music, with Casa de la Trova being one of, if not the, best on the island.
3: Hike in the Footsteps of Revolutionaries
National Park of La Gran Piedra, Sierra Maestra Mountains – Image by Anna ART
After a failed assault on government forces in December 1956, Fidel Castro and his band of loyal followers, including Che Guevara, sought refuge in Sierra Maestra Mountains of Granma. It was here their guerrilla revolution took shape: the Castros would broadcast anti-government messages via pirate radio and unite a country in Revolution. Batista’s forces never found Fidel’s rebel base, but you can hike the 4km from Alto del Naranjo to the Comandancia de la Plata, the rebel HQ, including Fidel’s House, in the forested mountains of Gran Parque Nacional Sierra Maestra.
For information on more things to do in Cuba, contact us for a free travel consultation.
4: Visit a Tobacco Farm in Viñales
Vineales Tobacco Region, Cuba – Image by Agatha Kadar
The Pinar del Rio region in Cuba’s far west is said to grow the finest tobacco in the country, and, as any farmer here will tell you, that means it’s the best in the world.
Visit a farm here and learn how traditional agricultural techniques are applied to cultivate the tobacco. Ox-drawn carts plough the fields and wooden, straw-topped sheds are used to dry huge bunches of light brown tobacco leaves. Viñales is also home to a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Viñales Valley. A serene setting of huge limestone mogotes and lush forest, the landscape is equal parts inspiring and surreal, and was said to be Fidel Castro’s favourite place in Cuba. It’s also popular with rock climbers and hikers.
5: Step back in Time in Trinidad’s Old Town
View of Trinidad, Cuba – Image by RphStock
It’s often said that Cuba is stuck in the 1950s, but traipse through the old town of Trinidad and you’ll swear you’ve gone back further. Built on a wealth of 19th-century sugar money, its brightly painted colonial mansions, grand neoclassical churches and cobbled streets show off time-warped Cuba at its most elegant.
Despite the city’s history being the biggest draw, Trinidad is anything but stuffy and boring. The rumba tunes of its Casa de la Musica spill out onto the Plaza Mayor, where bars sell cheap mojitos in plastic cups. It’s also home to Cuba’s most unique night club, Disco Ayala, the former hideout of a notorious murderer, which is housed inside a cave.
6: Stroll along Havana’s Malecón at Sunset
Sunset Stroll on the Malecon in Havana, Cuba – Image by Filipe Frazao
As the sun sets over Havana, join the locals for a stroll along Havana’s famous seafront promenade, the Malecón. Watch the sun-bleached facades of crumbling colonial buildings turn pink in the evening light, as fishermen set out to catch dinner and Cubans, young and old, go out to mix, flirt and socialise.
Almost five miles in length, the Malecón stretches from Habana Vieja, the old town, to Miramar in the city’s far west. Grab a bottle of rum, find a perch and enjoy the show.
If you are curious about things to do in Cuba, contact us for more information and a free travel consultation.
7: Take the Cumanayagua Road to El Nicho
Waterfalls at El Nicho, Cienfuegos, Cuba – Image by PPart
Roughly halfway between Cienfuegos and Trinidad, the clear, cool water of the El Nicho Falls makes for a refreshing stop between the two exciting cities. A short hiking route takes you up to a mirador (viewpoint), which looks out over forest-covered mountains and the verdant valleys of central Cuba.
The scenic road of Cumanayagua is itself legendary for its twists and turns, so much so that a saying “You have as many curves as the road to Cumanayagua” is seen as a cheeky Cuban compliment for women of the area.
8: Discover your Favourite Cuban beach
Beach Hut on Cayo Coco, Cuba – Image by Sarkasch
There really is a beach for all tastes in Cuba. Varadero, an hour from Havana, is a classic resort town. Cayo Coco, famed for its pink flamingos and coral reefs, inspired Hemingway with its beauty, while Playa Sirena on Cayo Largo and Playas La Salinas on Cayo las Brujas are the type of startlingly white beaches you dream of when booking a Caribbean holiday. Playa Ancon near Trinidad is an excellent base for snorkelling trips to the nearby reefs. The list goes on… Part of the fun is discovering your own favourite.
9: Diving into Cuba’s Cayos
Reef Sharks in Jardines de la Reina Marine Park – Image by WildestAnimal
The Cuban government has gone to great lengths to protect the coral reefs that surround the island and its cayos (cayes). Combined with naturally clear waters, this makes for some of the best diving in the Caribbean.
For sharks, Jardines de la Reina, might be the Holy Grail, with huge tropical fish and beautiful reefs attracting hammerhead, mako, nurse sharks and more.
Off Cuba’s south coast, Isla Juventud and nearby Cayo Largo form part of a marine reserve, drawing huge groupers, stingrays, turtles and a whole host of colourful fish.
Meanwhile, the resort town of Varadero is excellent for wrecks, with old Soviet ships dotted about the ocean floor.
10: Go out to the Ball Game
Cuban Postage Stamp – Image by Boris15
By far the most popular sport in Cuba, baseball borders on religion for some, especially when the national team lace up their cleats for a match.
For the biggest games, visit Estadio Latinoamericano in Havana, home to Industriales, or Estadio Guillermón Moncada in Santiago de Cuba, for the city’s team, which bears the same name. In smaller cities and towns like Trinidad and Cienfuegos, games are much more intimate affairs but all matches share the same friendly, communal atmosphere. Just make sure you’re cheering for the right team.
The season runs from November to May, but, like many things in Cuba, attending a game isn’t always simple. To find out about a game, ask us.
For more ideas on things to do in Cuba contact us for further information and a free travel consultation.
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Joey Tyson is a travel and copywriter whose work has been featured in Travel Weekly, TravelSupermarket.com, Telegraph Travel, The London Economic, Woman’s Own Magazine, Monarch, and the World Travel and Tourism Council, among others. He specialises in adventure travel.
Follow him on twitter @JoeyTyson27