Cuba has become an extremely popular tourist destination in recent years. For such a small island, it offers a wide variety of activities and landscapes. For this post I’ve teamed up with some other awesome travel bloggers to bring to you the ultimate Cuba bucket list, listing the 21 best things to do in Cuba. If you’re planning a trip to this beautiful Caribbean island, make sure to add some of these awesome activities to your Cuba travel plan.
- 1 Best things to do in Havana
- 2 Best things to do in Viñales
- 3 Best things to do in Santiago de Cuba
- 4 Best things to do in Trinidad
- 5 Best things to do in Santa Clara
- 6 Best things to do in the Bay of Pigs
- 7 Best things to do in Baracoa
- 8 Best things to do in Cienfuegos
- 9 Other top tips to have an awesome time in Cuba
Best things to do in Havana
Do a vintage car tour
I couldn’t start my Cuba bucket list with anything else. Everybody recognises photos of Cuba by the stereotypical vintage cars and colourful houses. In Havana you can rent a vintage car for the day, or if like me you’re hopeless at driving manual, you can do a 1-hour tour in a vintage car with a driver. The tour will take you to all the main landmarks of Havana, driving through all the different neighbourhoods and returning to your start point. The signs the drivers hold state the price of the tour is 50 CUC, but depending on how good your negotiation skills are, you can easily get this down. We bargained to 25 CUC and a different drop off point, which saves us a taxi fare too. You can easily find a vintage car tour anywhere around Havana, however to have the most choice both in terms of car colour and bargaining power I recommend searching for a car in Parque Central, near the Capitolio, as this is where most of them are parked.
Jonathan from Everybody Hates A Tourist has the perfect recommendation for the art lovers: “Cuba is filled with wonderful colors & great art. Both of these come together at a unique experience called Fusterlandia. Located in the Jaimanitas neighborhood just outside of central Havana, Fusterlandia is the creation of artist Jose Fuster, whose Casa de Fuster is completely covered in colorful ceramic tile mosaics. His work is reminiscent of Picasso & Gaudi. Over the years, Fuster has covered not only his house with his art, but also the surrounding neighborhood. It’s a beautiful place to explore, and you can even take home a piece of Fuster’s work as a souvenir. If you’re lucky, you may even get to meet him! Fusterlandia can be accessed from central Havana by taxi or tourist hop-on-hop-off bus. Be sure to leave plenty of time to walk around every inch of the complex & the surrounding neighborhood, as there are new details to be found everywhere you look.” Find out more about Jonathan’s trip to Fusterlandia here.
Join the winter Carnival in Havana
If you enjoy parties, make sure to check out the suggestion of Maria from 203challenges.com! “Carnivals that used to be so popular in the past have nowadays been harnassed by the Cuban authorities but nevertheless, some of them manage to survive even though not as massive and epic as before. If you travel to the Caribbean country at the beginning of January, make sure you are in Havana on January 6 for the Havana Carnival on Three Kings’ Day. Starting from the morning, this small-scale event tours the historical center of Havana with conga music echoing between the crumbling old houses. The celebrations are rooted back in the times when African slaves worked on the plantations but were sometimes also allowed to dance and play their music.
Tips: Follow the conga dancers on stilts and let the locals taking part in the procession show you the steps if you are not familiar with conga.”
Learn about the Cuban Revolution
Everybody knows about Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and the Cuban Revolution. However, learning about it in the capital where these historically important events happened is a whole different story. In Havana you can visit the Museo de la Revolución, which holds items and photos from the days before the revolution all the way up to the death of Che Guevara. It is a really interesting place to visit and learn about the events of those times, sometimes from a different angle than what we are commonly showed in Western media. One tip from me however, is to make sure you read up on the revolution before visiting the museum, since it doesn’t go into a lot of detail about the historical events, but more into the life of its protagonists. Having a basic knowledge of the main players and the order in which historical events happened will ensure your visit to Museo de la Revolución is more interesting and enjoyable.
In Havana you can also visit Plaza de la Revolución, where many political rallies often take place. The plaza is both the site of many important government buildings and cultural institutions, but also a symbolic site and memorial for the revolution. The facades of the Ministries of Interior and Communications feature steel memorials to Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos, deceased heroes of the Cuban Revolution.
Explore the colonial plazas of Havana
For the history afecionados check out the advice of Talek from Travels with Talek on how to explore Habana Vieja: “One of the best ways to experience La Vieja Habana or Old Havana, is to stroll through four of its colonial plazas. The Plaza de la Cathedral is a magnificent colonial square with the Cathedral at its center. It is ringed by arches typical of the 18th century Spanish architecture. Right off one of the streets is the iconic bar, La Bodeguita del Medio, where Hemingway drank mojitos into the night. The mojitos are rumored to have been invented here. Down another street is the paladar or private enterprise restaurant, Doña Eufemia. Go there for authentic and delicious Cuban food. Next head to Plaza de Armas to visit some of Havana’s best museums and wander through the extensive flea markets in the shade of flowering tropical trees. Hunt for books, posters, colonial coins or revolutionary chic merchandise. An impromptu dance is likely to break out almost anywhere in this lively square. Plaza Vieja merits special attention. It is interspersed with intriguing works of modern art. In the center stands a graceful fountain. Surrounding the square are lively restaurants each with dedicated musicians playing the Cuban classics as well as modern, catchy tunes. Cap off the day at the music venues and historic bars on the periphery of Plaza de San Francisco. This is one of the original colonial plazas of Havana. With its cobblestone streets, brooding church – now a museum – and contemporary art galleries, you’ll want to linger. Havana grows on you. It seduces slowly but surely. There is so much to this wonderful place but these four plazas are a good start.”
If you’re into art, Jennifer of The Rainbow Route has just the place for you! “Havana is a city with character that reaches far beyond classic cars and crumbling architecture. Because of Cuba’s political situation, this island has a strong community bond. The neighbourhoods of Havana are a great place to witness how people can come together to completely transform their environment and their lives. Muraleando is one such project that saw the coming together of an entire neighbourhood. An abandoned water tower, which had become a massive pile of trash, was cleaned up by members of the community and turned into an art space. Found objects became works of art along the streets and in the tower. As its name suggests, Muraleando also boasts many murals. Residents of the neighbourhood were invited to contribute and visitors can wander the streets checking out all the different art.”
Best things to do in Viñales
Horse riding in the valley of Viñales
The valley of Viñales is a popular destination for anyone wanting to get out of the towns and exploring the nature Cuba has to offer. The valley of Viñales is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the home to tobacco plantations of Cuba’s famous cigars. The valley is huge and it’s unlikely you’ll be able to see it all on foot, however on horse you stand better chances. We were there at the end of the rainy season so large parts of the trails were covered in mud and water, it got pretty messy adventuring there on horse (for a newbie like me anyway) if we’d been on foot I doubt my clothes would ever have come clean of the mud!
Horse riding tours cost 5 CUC per hour, and usually last between 3-5 hours. We wanted to get the most out of it and see as much as possible so we did the full 5 hours. In a morning we covered a lot of the valley, doing stops at the tobacco farms, at the Mural de la Prehistoria, a lake with a coffee shop, and got the opportunity to hear from local farmers about the fruit and products the grow. The horses are trained so even if you’re not very good at it or have never been horse riding before (as was my case) it’s an easy and fun experience.
Hiking in Viñales
If you don’t enjoy horse riding, Teresa from Brogan Abroad has the perfect alternative for you! “The Viñales Valley has some of the best hiking trails in Cuba, and some of the most spectacular landscapes in the country. With its unique karstic outcrops, called ‘mogotes’, and the surrounding tobacco and sugar cane plantations, it is easy to see why it is the second most visited area in Cuba.
You can hike independently, get a local guide or join a tour group. Even though you can easily follow the hiking trails, I hired a local guide – someone who knew the area well and could tell me a little bit about the community, the fauna and flora, as well as lots of little stories about the caves that can be found inside the ‘mogotes’. We also stopped at a sugar cane plantation to chat to some of the farmers, who invited us to try some of their sugar cane syrup, served inside a pomelo-like fruit. It was absolutely delicious!”
Learn how to roll cigars in the tobacco plantations
Viñales is home to the vast majority of the tobacco plantations in Cuba. This is where the magic happens and the famous Cuban cigars are born. The local farmers have to sell 90% of the tobacco leaves they produce to the government and they get to keep a 10% for personal use and selling to tourists. On a tour of the valley of Viñales they will usually take you to visit also a tobacco farm, where a local farmer will talk you through the cultivation process. They also showed us how cigars are rolled and offered us a cigar to smoke. Here I bought a pack of 10 cigars for 30 CUC, these are cheaper than the ones sold in the official shops in Havana as they are not allowed to brand them. If you have any friends or family that smoke, this is the perfect present to take home to them!
Best things to do in Santiago de Cuba
For the party lovers, Max & Oksana from Drink Tea & Travel have just the event for you! “One of the most unique things to do in Cuba is to attend the biggest Carnaval in the Caribbean that takes place in Santiago de Cuba in mid-July. The dates for the Carnival vary every year, so it’s important to do your research ahead of time to line up your travel dates accordingly.
Carnaval de Santiago de Cuba dates back to the end of 17th century when it used to be connected to the end of the harvest season or the beginning of the pre-Lenten season. Today, the Carnaval represents a time for Cubans to gather with family and friends. The Carnaval is an explosion of colour and sound, featuring dozens of floats, dancers, performers and conga lines.
If you are planning to attend the Carnaval, make sure you book your bus tickets and accommodation in advance. It’s a popular event not only with tourists but also with locals, so tickets for the busses sell out early. Tickets to the Carnaval can be purchased on the day.”
Best things to do in Trinidad
Explore the colourful streets of Trinidad
If you love coloured colonial houses, Hannah and Adam from Getting Stamped have just the place for you! “Cuba is an amazing place with a ton of things to do. Our personal favorite place in Cuba is Trinidad. Trinidad is Cuba‘s best-preserved colonial town and the old part of town is a UNESCO heritage site as of 1988. When in Trinidad, head up to the very top of the tower inside the Historical Museum. It’s free to enter and here you’ll have the best views of the city. The town is full of gorgeous bright colored buildings and cobblestone streets. It’s a great place to get lost with your camera. There are tons of things to do around the area and beaches that you could easily spend a few nights here, we suggest 3 nights. You can easily catch a bus from Havana here or drive yourself, we rented a car and drove ourselves around.”
Visit Playa Ancon
For the beach lovers, Gemma of Two Scots Abroad has just the place for you! “What could be lovelier than the pastel coloured Colonial buildings and sunsets over Plaza Mayor in Trinidad? A postcard perfect beach close to the town! Hire bikes, hop on the bus or hitch a ride to Playa Ancon where you can sip cocktails from coconuts, laze on the white sand beach or swim in the turquoise waters. Warning: the sun is hot so lather on the factor 50 and wear a hat, especially if you decide to take the cycling option.”
Swim in the waterfalls of the Topes de Collantes National Park
Close to Trinidad is the beautiful Topes de Collantes National Park. After my first experience horse riding in Viñales I was basically a pro, so we decided to do a horse riding tour also from Trinidad of the Topes de Collantes National Park. After a few hours of horse riding in this beautiful nature reserve we reached a small waterfall with crystal clear water where we could swim. After being in the sun for so long, it was just what we needed!
Climb the bell tower of the Trinidad church
If you didn’t get enough of the beaches, waterfalls and colourful streets of Trinidad you can adventure up the local church bell tower for incredible views over the town and surrounding landscapes. The Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco is house to the Museum of the Fight against Bandits, the counter-revolution forces that were hiding in the mountains nearby and were fighting Fidel Castro’s government. Entry costs 1 CUC and will give you access to both the museum and the church bell tower. From here you can get stunning 360° views all over Trinidad and the surrounding countryside.
Best things to do in Santa Clara
Visit the Che Guevara Mausoleum in Santa Clara
If you’re interested in Cuba’s history, you need to check out the suggestion of Rohan from Travels Of A Bookpacker! “The Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara mausoleum in Santa Clara is a must visit for any Che fans or visitors interested in Cuban history. Che Guevara is an icon of modern Cuba and is portrayed on the 3 (local) peso note and coin. His mausoleum includes a museum dedicated to his life displaying artefacts from his youth and his campaigns through South and Central America. There are good collections of photographs from throughout his life. The burial room is filled with memorials to those that fought and died alongside Che. Entrance is free and it is best to go early before the tours arrive.
The exterior of the museum and mausoleum is also impressive. Marked by a huge statue of Che himself along with quotes and images from his campaign. To continue your experience head to Cafe Museo Revolucion in Santa Clara town, an adorable little cafe in the owner’s front room. The cafe is filled with original items from the Cuban revolution including original photos and bank notes signed when Che Guevara was president of the national bank.” Read more about Rohan’s Cuba trip here.
Best things to do in the Bay of Pigs
Snorkel or Dive in the Bay of Pigs
If you enjoy snorkelling or scuba diving you will want to check out the recommendation of Sarah by ASocialNomad; “The historic site of the failed US invasion of Cuba has supremely clear water, a great variety of marine life and some of the cheapest diving available anywhere. The diving in the Bay of Pigs is shore-based, you literally walk in from the shore.
Make your base in Playa Giron and book your diving with your Casa Particular when you arrive. There is no need to book ahead. The dive bus will collect you in the morning from your Casa, you’ll get fitted for your dive gear, pay your fees and load back up. A single dive will cost 25 CUC (US$25), two dives cost 50 CUC. If you’re a beginner and want a trial, you just pay an extra 10 CUC on top of the dive fees. Snorkellers pay 3 CUC.
After you’ve tested the water, The nearby Coco Beach has shade, fresh coconut (and rum) vendors and of course the obligatory Classic American Car too. Snorkelling or Diving the Bay of Pigs won’t break the bank and is a superb way to experience the waters and history of Cuba.”
Best things to do in Baracoa
Do a cacao tour in Baracoa
For the foodies reading this, Max from Dame Cacao has the perfect tip for you! “Little-known unless you’re a chocoholic like me, Baracoa is the oldest city in Cuba and the furthest you can get from Havana. Its main exports are coconuts and cacao, and on the (government-run) Yumuri Tour in Baracoa, we got our fill of both. Although we found biking around the city to be rewarding as well, the $20USD tour took us to places we couldn’t have traveled to alone. We visited a cacao plantation and sampled sweets made by the farmer, boated down the Yumuri River, and were the only ones on the most beautiful beach I’ve ever been to.
On top of all that, our guide was immensely informative and helpful. When we were hungry, she was sure to take us to her friends’ places instead of the insufferable government restaurants. If you’re already sold on the idea, just remember to check the weather for potential rain, and book your spot the day before. It’s an 8-hour tour, so bring sneakers, sunscreen, and a swimsuit, and prepare for a memorable peek beyond Baracoa.” Read more about her chocolate adventure in Baracoa here.
Hike the El Yunque in Baracoa
If you want to go off the beaten track, to corners of Cuba that are still not too touristy, you will love the suggestion of Claudia form My Adventures Across The World! “Not many people who visit Cuba make it down to Baracoa: this small city in the province of Guantanamo is rather isolated, at around 5 hours drive from Santiago. It is a real pity, as the whole area has a lot to offer in terms of nature, beaches, culture and even cuisine. One of the most fun things to do there is hiking the mighty El Yunque. Everyone who goes to Baracoa does it – it is considered a rite of passage.
El Yunque has the shape of a mountain whose top has been chopped off. It is visible from Baracoa, in the distance. The hike is quite challenging as the vegetation is very thick, the temperatures quite hot (this area is 100% Caribe) and the regular rain and humidity make the terrain very muddy and slippery. Park regulations require a guide for the entire trail, as it is easy to get lost. The first part of the hike is along a small dirt road. After about 45 minutes it is necessary to cross the river (either on foot or on a traditional boat). As there are houses scattered around, it is not uncommon to spot locals washing clothes in the river. Once the river has been crossed, the path dives in the thick forest and goes all the way to the top. On the way back, it is possible to stop at some beautiful waterfalls and swim in the incredibly clear and refreshing river. Hiking boots are a must, and if available also use a walking stick. Carry lots of water as there are no shops along the way.”
Best things to do in Cienfuegos
See Flamingos at Laguna Guanaroca
Claire from Tales of a Backpacker has just the suggestion for the animal lovers out there; “Laguna Guanaroca was a peaceful paradise, a world away from the hustle and bustle of Cuba’s towns. Close to Cienfuegos, you can take a guided tour of the lake, which is a protected natural area. You begin by walking through an orchard of güira trees (whose fruit is used to make maracas), and can spot various species of plants and birds, before taking a small rowing boat around the lake. Out on the lake was beautifully quiet, the only sounds came from birdsong and the soft strokes of our guide’s paddles as he rowed through the water. When we came closer to the flock of flamingos, we got out of the boats into the ankle-deep water, so we could get closer without disturbing the birds. They honked to each other, their long necks and spindly legs oddly graceful as they searched for food in the mud.
You can arrange tours here from Cienfuegos or take a bus or taxi to the entrance and join the next available tour. The entrance to the lake costs 10 CUC and includes the boat trip.” Find out more about Claire’s adventures in Cienfuegos here.
Other top tips to have an awesome time in Cuba
Don’t get scammed!
Unfortunately this happens everywhere, not just in Cuba. Wherever there is a large influx of tourism, there will be people trying to make the most of it. However one thing I want to emphasise is that Cuba is a very safe country. The penalties for crime are very harsh, which means the criminality rate is very low. I was travelling only with one other girls, and while some locals often pestered us to buy their inflated services we never felt unsafe. The most common tourist scams are when someone tells you how lucky you are to be in “insert generic Cuban town name” on “insert specific date” since the annual cigar or salsa festival is on today and they can take you there. You follow, pay an entry fee to this festival location, get sold overpriced food and drink, and poor quality cigars. The best way to avoid these, is to simply walk ahead when someone tries to invite you somewhere in the streets. If you want more advice on how to not get scammed check out my popular Cuban tourist scams and how to avoid them guide.
Ditch the hotels, stay in “casa particulares”
Hotels in Cuba are over priced for the value you get. There are also not that many of them, especially in the smaller towns, so they aren’t as well located as the houses of local people. Instead, stay in a “casa particulares”, a local’s home, for a real Cuban experience. When the island opened up to tourism people were allowed to rent their spare rooms, helping many people make an extra income. Every “casa particulares” has to be registered with the government and is perfectly safe. Hosts are also really welcoming and will go the extra mile to make you feel at home, with tasty breakfasts and useful advice on their town. We also found it very easy to book tours or taxis since our hosts always offered to do it for us and at a cheaper price than what we would have found in the streets. We booked all our “casa particulares” on AirBnb (get 35 EUR off your next booking here)!
Have you been to Cuba before? Is this Cuba bucket list missing other awesome activities? Let me know in the comments below! This beautiful Caribbean island has much to offer, I tried capturing as much as possible of it in this list of 20+ best things to do in Cuba to help you have an awesome time there. My final tip is to simply have a blast, Cuba is great fun and a great destination for any type of traveller!