There are countless unforgettable places to visit in Cuba. “Discover Cuba first and then the rest” says a popular saying on the island. Earlier it was used as a slogan by a travel agency that promoted national tourism, though it transcended and became used in different context. Today many people hardly remember its origin, but all Cubans know it.
Although it is considered as a solution to economic issues, tourism remains a controversial topic. That is why, this popular saying is repeated with some irony. It’s a fact that for many Cubans going abroad and discovering new places isn’t even a dream, it’s unrealizable. But those of us who have had the privilege of making it happen, today we can guide those who want to visit this wonderful island, pride of all Cubans. That is what I intend to do in this article.
Places to visit in Cuba. I can tell you about places well known by tourists, the ones you should know when you prepare your first trip to beautiful Cuba. Nevertheless, in this post I will also tell you about other sites, not so popular and easily found in tour guides, but equally interesting and amazing. Each of these places has its magic.
When you leaf through any tour guide you will find many recommended places. I’ll mention the most significant ones:
1. Discover the capital of Cuba - What to see in Havana
Among the places to visit in Cuba on your first trip, Havana is high on the list. It has been the capital of the republic for many years. Although hardly anyone knows that for some time Cuba had another capital, but this is a subject for another article. Undoubtedly, Havana has its magic, contained between the majesty of the 50’s and the inevitable deterioration caused by a passage of time. Old Havana is a very peculiar neighborhood within this cosmopolitan Caribbean capital. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1982. Within the city, you will see many distinctive buildings, well preserved and reconstructed, worthy of being photographed. Havana has also a vivid nightlife as it has many nightclubs, bars and restaurants. This beautiful city is known for its boardwalk of several kilometers, malecón where there’s a very peculiar atmosphere every night.
In Havana, you can find strictly touristic places, such as the well-known Bodeguita del Medio or El Floridita, and others that are less common and less crowded: the beaches east of Havana in Guanabo known as “Playas del Este”, Museum of the Revolution, Museum of Fine Arts, among others.
Throughout the city there are so many wonders to discover that no matter the number of days you’re planning to spend, it will never seem enough. Travelers who have already visited Havana tell interesting stories about this city. I recommend you take a look at these blogs: [1, 2, 3].
2. Places to visit in Cuba - The Viñales Valley, adventures and mountains
Among some of the most romantic places to visit in Cuba is the Viñales Valley, was approved in 1999 as one of the National Parks of Cuba. In December of the same year it was declared Natural Heritage by UNESCO. There, you will surely be marveled at a unique geography of the region. This place is a true masterpiece of nature with its gigantic mogotes, mountainous formations, unique on the island. There you’ll find caves and crystalline rivers that can be traveled on horseback, with guides who sing tunes and guide you wisely during the trip, allowing you to learn about the life of the local countrymen. You will have at your disposal unique fauna, rivers and caves, cave paintings, tobacco and rum. The whole trip is prepared for tourists, with guides, private homestays or hotels to enjoy a pleasant stay and make your journey unforgettable.
3. Places to visit in Cuba – Trinidad: Trip to the past
One of the top places to visit in Cuba is undoubtedly the unique colonial city Trinidad, which was founded 500 years and it’s still well-kept. This city, although very touristy, definitely is a must-see. Cobbled streets and houses of adobe of more than 200 years and old churches. It is one of the first towns founded by the Spaniards upon their arrival to the island. In 1988, it was inscribed on List of World Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO next to El Valle de los Ingenios (an area where the sugar industry prospered with the arrival of Iznaga, Borrell and Brunet families towards the middle of the 19th century).
Among the most emblematic places is Valle de los Ingenios, La Torre Iznaga with its original house of the landlord, its sugar mill and coffee mills. This is the perfect place to buy handicrafts and objects made from typical Cuban Yarey or paintings of excellent painters with landscapes and Cuban traditions.
Trinidad is characterized by a good service, bars, delicious Cuban food, places for dancing with Cuban music and traditions. As if it was not enough you can also enjoy the proximity of the beaches characterized by its transparent and warm waters, such as Playa Ancón or la Boca.
Ah, when you are in the city you must try canchánchara, a typical Cuban cocktail, made with coconut water, rum and honey. It’s served in clay jars especially made for this purpose.
4. Places to visit in Cuba - Santa Clara, the city of Che
Another place to visit in Cuba is Santa Clara, better known as “The City of Che” as there’s the Che Guevara Mausoleum, a memorial of the controversial commander of the Cuban revolution, Che Guevara. It houses his remains and those of other fellow guerrillas combatants who died with him in Bolivia. Undoubtedly, Santa Clara is a city full of history where you can also visit important cultural and scientific centers. It is the center of the island so it turns out to be the best starting point to travel to many interesting places. Just 50 km north or south you can reach beautiful beaches. Just 30 km away there is an artificial lake, the Hanabanilla dam, which can be visited from Santa Clara and where boat trips, fishing, Creole food, mountain trails and nature observation can be done.
The cultural center “El Mejunje” is an emblematic site where troubadours, rockers, children, young people and adults meet, regardless of gender or sexual preferences, listening to the music from the Prodigious Decade, small format groupings and of different genres. There is also a theater for kids, a café and handicrafts. It is a place visited by almost all who pass through the city. The decor is unusual, as the building is basically in ruins. On the walls, you can read jokes and quotes, the benches are very rustic, but above all, the atmosphere is unique!
Away from the city in the very same province of Villa Clara you can visit these places among others:
- Remedios: Located only 40 minutes by car from Santa Clara. This city is also one of the oldest settlements on the island. It preserves the streets in the form of a labyrinth to avoid the easy entrance of corsairs and pirates who were arriving at the island in search of food and drinks, plundering the places they passed. The city still lives the traditions of parrandas, a festivity of religious origin that is celebrated every year on December 24th.
- Cayo de la Herradura (in the north of Villa Clara): You’ll get there traveling 50 km to the north of Santa Clara until the access to the keys, where there is sort of a passport control. Then you have to ride around 40 km more through a stone built embankment, which join different keys and avoid the sea from crossing. In few words, the beaches are dreamy, have transparent blue waters, extensive white sands and a magical tourist infrastructure.
These are just some of the places worth visiting on your first trip to Cuba, which happen to be the most common sites to see in Cuba. But there are also many other equally or even more interesting places that we will cover in the second part of this article.