Those who travel to Cuba are usually left with the desire to repeat and there are many who finally does. The common language, the open character of its inhabitants, a culture of its own and different from all others, and important colonial heritage, make this place a treasure. To all this, we must add its exuberant nature, the crystalline Caribbean beaches, a nightlife like ours, and more affordable prices.
These are just some of the benefits of Cuba. If you are preparing for your first trip to the island, we leave you with a selection of 10 experiences that you can do on your vacation and that you should not miss on your visit.
1. Strolling around Havana
The capital of Cuba well deserves that you dedicate a couple of days to it. The Plaza de la Catedral, the cobbled streets that surround it, the mythical boardwalk, and a long list of colonial buildings that you can see in Havana will keep you busy.
Don’t forget to cross the canal to the other side of the bay to visit the colonial fortresses of San Carlos de la Cabaña and Los Tres Reyes del Morro. You will have to haggle a taxi or share a rickety bus with the Cubans as it is accessed through a tunnel under the water level. In San Carlos, every day at 9:00 p.m., the ceremony of the cannon shot is recreated to warn the ships of the closure of the Bay. It is carried out by several soldiers in period uniforms in front of the dim lights of Havana.
2. Go in search of classic cars
After the coming to power of Fidel Castro in 1959 and the subsequent US blockade, Cubans stopped importing vehicles. Added to this was the loss of purchasing power and the inability to buy a private vehicle within a communist state.
The result: the development of Cuban ingenuity and dexterity to keep true gems of the 50s on the roads with very limited means.
In Cuba, you can find classic taxis for short trips or even rent them for a couple of days to leave Havana. Or simply collect photographs of the hundreds that you will see parked around the city. In the interior of the island, you will find old trucks and vans that are worse cared for but with an undeniable flavor from the middle of the last century.
3. Go hiking in Viñales National Park
The mogotes are the symbol of the Viñales National Park in western Cuba. These are huge isolated blocks of limestone scattered throughout a valley of lush vegetation and tobacco plantations.
This park, in addition to numerous hiking trails, also has several caves that can be visited and some spectacular viewpoints. Tobacco plantations follow the traditional model and it will not be difficult for you to find someone to show you thoroughly for a tip.
4. Bathe in a Cuban cenote
The cenotes are ancient cavities currently flooded with the appearance of large wells of normally freshwater since they are supplied by underground rivers. It is only possible to find them in the Caribbean region, especially in Mexico but also in Cuba.
The only easily accessible Cuban cenote is La Cueva de Los Peces, on the south coast, between Havana and Cienfuegos. Being only 200 meters from the Caribbean Sea, its water is salty because it is the one who supplies it through a canal. The water is crystal clear and it is impressive to contemplate the depth of more than 50 meters under your body, surrounded by large colored fish.
Access is free, but paid parking, although if you don’t mind walking you can leave your car a few minutes from the entrance to save money. It has a restaurant with wooden tables and benches overlooking the water, at tourist prices but with acceptable food.
5. Discover the colonial past of Cienfuegos and Camagüey
Cienfuegos was laid out with wide, straight streets in the shape of a grid where neoclassical facades and art galleries abound. It was built on the shores of a huge bay whose only access is a narrow channel barely 500 meters wide guarded by the imposing Castle of Jagua.
On the contrary, Camagüey has a colonial historical center with an irregular layout, with cobbled streets and numerous churches and colonial buildings. It is known as the city of the Tinajones, huge clay containers where water was stored for the dry season that now adorn some parks.
6. Feel the paradise in a Cayo
Despite how bad it sounds in Spanish, a key is an idyllic place, a small and sandy island that barely rises above sea level, so they are usually connected by long bridges with the mainland.
Although the north of Cuba is invaded by all-inclusive resorts, there are still paradisiacal beaches far from tourism. If you want to avoid paying for a room in a resort, you can sleep in Morón and travel during the day into Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo. There are also many hotels but there are less crowded beaches such as Playa Los Pinos. Further east you can sleep in Jaronú and from there enter Cayo Cruz whose northern part remains unspoilt.
7. Dance under the stars in Trinidad
Trinidad preserves a beautiful old town. The cobbled streets are lined with gardens, tall palm trees, and brightly colored buildings. That’s not all, in the evening locals and visitors join in with live music in the open air.
Others chat on the steps or on the terraces of the bars while sipping a mojito or a daiquiri. It was the nightlife that we enjoyed the most, even above Havana, since we found it spontaneous and open.
8. Visit El Valle de los Ingenios and the Iznaga Tower
Just 15 minutes from Trinidad is the Valle de los Ingenios, made up of the sugar estates that brought together thousands of slaves in the 18th and 19th centuries. The best-preserved is undoubtedly the Manaca-Iznaga, with the farmhouse, the slave barracks, and an impressive 45-meter high watchtower that you can climb upon payment.
The tower, which is slightly inclined, allows a 360º view of several kilometers around and helped to control the work and the more than usual escape attempts in this way.
9. Go back to the past in the coffee plantations of Cuba
Located in the southeast of Cuba, near Santiago, they give the feeling of remaining anchored in the 19th century. There are about 170 plantations since coffee was the engine of the Cuban economy along with sugar, tobacco, and cocoa. In addition to the gigantic houses from where the workers were controlled, you will be able to see the different tools and irrigation systems of the time.
We opted to visit the Cafetal Isabelica and getting there became an adventure. The unpaved and twisty road can even be impassable in the last kilometer, which we had to complete on foot. The guided tour we enjoyed and the state of conservation of the house and the mill were worth it. Your hair will stand on end when you hear the working conditions they had there.
10. Feel yourself at the end of the World in Humboldt National Park
That is the feeling that the Humboldt National Park gave us an hour north of Baracoa, in the extreme east of Cuba. The road to get there is a hell of potholes but the overwhelming vegetation and the solitude that we enjoyed were worth it. Also on the way to get there, we found several beaches that we only had to share with wild pigs.