Cuba is the largest Caribbean island with a rich history, beautiful architecture and a time-warp feel. You’ll think you’ve stepped into a 1920’s film set, with vintage cars and colonial Spanish architecture. As well as an enchanting atmosphere, there are also many things to do in Cuba to attract visitors.
If Cuba is near the top of your bucket list, there’s a very high possibility of dramatic change in the next decade. So make plans to visit before the country changes drastically.
- 1 Is Cuba safe?
- 2 How to get to Cuba
- 3 Where to stay in Cuba
- 4 10 Things to do in Cuba
- 4.1 Havana
- 4.2 Santiago de Cuba
- 4.3 Trinidad
Is Cuba safe?
Cuba is safer than many other countries to visit but look out for petty thieves in the tourist areas and it’s not uncommon for your luggage to be rummaged through in your hotel room.
Havana is safe and easy to get around on your own but if you feel more comfortable with a guide, it’s not difficult to find a local who can show you the ropes.
How to get to Cuba
Of Cuba’s 10 international airports, the two most commonly used by international travellers are Aeropuerto Internacional José Martí in Havana and Juan Gualberto Gómez International Airport in Varadero.
You can fly from the USA to Cuba but new laws passed on 5 June 2019 could mean that some airlines might stop flying to Cuba in the future. The recent laws have also impacted the cruising industry. American cruise ships have been banned from docking in Cuba, which also limits your choices if you want the experience of cruising to Cuba.
A number of airlines fly to Cuba from Canada, departing from Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver along with other Canadian cities so it might make sense to combine your Cuban holiday with a trip to see landmarks in Canada.
There are also flights to Cuba from Europe.
Where to stay in Cuba
Luxury hotels in Cuba
There are a few very lovely historic hotels in Cuba, such as Hotel La Union in Cienfuegos built in 1869.
Cuba has many small locally run casa particulares, which are private rooms in local homes.
Booking a Casa Particulares is the cheapest way to travel around Cuba and it will also give you the chance to see how the locals live.
10 Things to do in Cuba
1- Drink at Ernest Hemingway’s bars
Ernest Hemingway’s favourite bars and the writer’s home are a delight to explore.
Hemingway’s two favourite watering holes in Havana were La Floridita and La Bodeguita del Medio.
There’s a plaque hanging in La Floridita with a quote signed by Hemingway that says: “My mojito in the Bodeguita del Medio and my daiquiri in the Floridita.”
2- Admire El Capitolio
Cuba has many UNESCO World Heritage buildings, including the grand Capitolio building, which was modelled after the one in Washington DC.
“El Capitolio” is an eye-catching grand building towering over Old Havana but Fidel Castro viewed this lovely building as a despised symbol of western decadence and capitalism.
In 1959, Castro sacked the Congress and emptied the grand marble and granite halls of El Capitolo and turned it into the headquarters of the ministry of science.
3- Wander the streets of Havana
The streets of Havana are music to the eyes, filled with movement and colour.
Cubans are friendly and easy to strike up a conversation with (although it helps if you speak a little Spanish!).
You’ll get a good insight into life in Cuba as most people are willing to chat about the issues and problems the country faces.
Fortune tellers sit on street corners, old Cuban men peddle their wares and old America cars line the streets.
Don’t start any discussions about politics or you will quickly find yourself in a heated argument.
4- Ride an Old Car
As a result of import laws and embargoes, the streets of Havana are littered with old American classic cars.
These merican classic cars are everywhere and many operate as taxis, however, if you’re really into old cars take a tour in a well-kept model owned by a vintage car enthusiast.
If you are keen on pre-1960 cars, Havana is your dream destination.
5- Go on a tour of the murals
A mural of Marxist revolutionary, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, on the streets of Old Havana. He was a major figure in the Cuban Revolution.
A three CUP banknote with the image of Che Guevara and his signature.
Che was a former President of the Central Bank of Cuba.
6- Smoke a Cuban cigar
Coffee-drinking, cigar-smoking and rum-tasting sessions are a must-do while visiting Havana.
Pictured above is a popular local brand of cigar.
Even if you don’t smoke cigars, trying a Cuban Cigar is something you have to do while in Cuba.
The best place to buy a real Cuban cigar is to purchase one from a hotel or a state-run cigar shop and not from street touts.
There are many brands of Cuban Cigars, including the sought after Cohiba Cigars.
7- Visit the Museo de la Revolucion in Havana
A tank on display outside the Museo de la Revolucion in Havana.
Fighter jets and tanks used in the revolution displayed at the Museo de la Revolucion in Havana.
8- See the Catedral de San Cristobal
Another attraction in Cuba is the grand Cathedral de San Cristobal.
Located in Plaza de la Catedral, Havana, the cathedral is an architectural delight and a historic gem.
Santiago de Cuba
Santiago de Cuba is geographically closer to Haiti than Havana and has a unique Afro-Caribbean culture.
The city was where the roots of the Cuban Revolution germinated and the locals a proud about this fact.
It’s Cuba’s second-largest city and a destination where you can experience Cuba’s music and culture.
A fantastic time to visit is during Carnaval de Santiago de Cuba.
10- Visit Fidel Castro’s Grave
The Santa Ifigenia Cemetery in Santiago de Cuba is a key attraction if you’re interested in the Cuban revolution.
Not only will you find the grave of Fidel Castro, but it’s also the final resting place of Jose Marti, who was a key figure in the fight for independence from Spain.
By Andy Yee
11- Explore UNESCO World Heritage Trinidad
Trinidad is a very beautiful city and a UNESCO World Heritage site and should not be missed.
The streets of Trinidad are paved with cobblestones and have a unique colonial charm.
Trinidad looks like it has been stuck in time since the 1850s.
About six hours by bus from Havana, and 12 hours overnight from Santiago de Cuba, Trinidad is an appropriate stopover when travelling between the two places.
That is unless you want to try and endure the 16-hour journey from Havana to Santiago in one hit.
It’s evident that the town relies heavily on tourism as its main source of income.
Straight off the buses at 6 am in the morning, the touts for Casas (rooms for rent) are as unrelenting as the summer sun here.
When I’m ready to explore, after a cooked breakfast and fresh Cuban coffee, the hotel receptionist gives me a map, and circles 1/5th of it and says “everything is here”.
And that’s pretty much how it is.
Trinidad Cuba is small, beautiful and quaint.
There are grand buildings in the Plaza Mayor, with its picturesque cobbled streets.
The two draw cards to this area are the Santisima Trinidad Cathedral and the Convento de San Francisco church.
The latter also houses an impressive museum.
12- Watch the Sunset From The Trinidad Belltower
Walking around town, you get a sense of how colourful the town is with the vibrant pastel-painted houses.
From the bell tower of the Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco, you really do see an amazing view.
As the sun sets over the mountains, it’s one of the prettiest views in all of Cuba.
There are a few vintage cars making their way around town but as the town is pretty small; the majority of people walk or ride bikes to where they need to be.
Trinidad is very much a small town that depends on tourism to survive, so don’t be surprised by the number of touts that you might have to deal with.
13- Explore Playa Ancon
A short distance from Trinidad is the pristine white sand of the Playa Ancon, which you can hire a bicycle for the day to travel to.
Take the scenic route to Ancon via another beach La Boca.
There are also a few little smaller beaches along this road but you really do want to check out the view of the Caribbean Sea at Ancon.
There are a few resort hotels along the strip of Ancon, as well as a few amenities and restaurants also from some of the enterprising locals.
For more attractions in Trinidad, here’s a great Trinidad guide packed with everything you need to know.