Cuba is one of the Caribbean’s most fascinating destinations that’s filled with cultural treasures and unspoiled natural beauty. The island nation has the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the region thanks to its charming colonial cities, beautiful architecture, and unique topography.
A trip to Cuba will take you on a life-changing voyage that feels like you journeyed hundreds of years back in time. Although there are dozens of places to explore in Cuba, a select few are essential to grasp the culture and unmistakable charm it has offered travelers for centuries.
Start your Cuban adventure with these six essential destinations and find out why this Caribbean island is unlike any other in the world.
If the colorful buildings in Old Havana could talk, they’d share countless tales of Spanish conquistadors and the colonial era. Built in 1519, Havana quickly developed into one of the Caribbean’s strategic trading networks and witnessed a rapid expansion. Baroque and Neoclassical architecture surrounds its historic centre,
Strolling down Old Havana’s cobblestone alleyways lets you feel the heartbeat of Cuba and soak its fascinating heritage. Private balconies overlook spacious plazas where locals and tourists congregate. Casa del Conde Jaruco is one of Old Town’s star attractions with its gorgeous blend of Mudejar and Baroque architecture.
Don’t miss Castillo de la Real Fuerza, which guarded Havana Harbor against wayward threats when the city was under Spanish rule. The 18th century La Cabaña fortress is another impressive fortification that’s one of the largest in the Americas. Wander around Plaza de la Catedral to find more of Old Havana’s remarkable buildings like the Catedral de San Cristobal and the Museo de Arte Colonial.
No trip to Havana is complete without riding a vintage car or strolling along the Atlantic Coast. Built at the turn of the 20th century, the Malecon is a roughly 8 km roadway from Old Havana to the Vedado neighborhood. Waves crash against the seawall, and the promenade is a hub of activity amongst locals.
Day-dreaming pedestrians pose for photos along the concrete wall, fishermen cast their reels searching for the day’s catch, and lovers hold each other beneath Cuban sunsets against the horizon. Walking the Malecon from end to end gives you a glimpse of the local vibe, a remarkable view of historic buildings, and the refreshing sea breeze against your face.
The Morro Lighthouse hugs the shoreline on the opposite side of the bay and showcases Havana’s prowess during the colonial age. Spot the Monument to the Victims of the USS Maine, the iconic Hotel Nacional, and end the day with a Cuban cocktail at one of the Malecon’s seaside bars.
Varadero is a thin strip of land that’s home to white-sand beaches and crystal-clear waters. Lavish resorts and hotels adorn the 20 km Hicacos Peninsula, giving guests exclusive access to one of the Caribbean’s most beautiful coastlines. Tourists across the globe flock to Varadero for a tropical getaway and fun-filled water sports.
Fishing excursions and catamaran cruises let you explore the turquoise waters hugging the shores. Playful dolphins are a regular sight, and snorkeling beneath the surface reveals other colorful marine life.
Away from the sun-kissed beaches, Varadero is a nature lover’s playground with radiant gardens, caves, and hiking trails. Play a round of golf, visit an amusement park, or stop by one of the numerous museums and art galleries. Performance artists throughout Latin America participate in the annual World Music Festival, and brilliant chefs satisfy taste buds at the Varadero Gourmet Festival.
Viñales Valley is a nature lover’s paradise with its limestone cliffs, endemic animal species, hiking trails, and rock-climbing adventures. The fertile landscapes attract local farmers who grow tobacco and a wide range of fruits and vegetables. Karst-like mountains, called mogotes, rise from the valley floor, creating an unusual topography rarely seen elsewhere in the world.
The town of Viñales is a popular base to explore the region for several days and immerse yourself in the laid-back lifestyle. Stroll through local villages, visit a tobacco plantation, find hidden caves, discover prehistoric murals, and snap a photo at Mirador de los Jazmines to appreciate the beauty of the valley.
Located on the Jardines del Rey chain off the Cuban mainland, Cayo Coco is another storied beach destination. Noted for its white sands and tranquil lagoons, Cayo Coco lets you escape the city bustle and enjoy nature’s splendor.
With more than 20 km of pristine beaches, there’s plenty of space to sunbathe or take a refreshing dip in the sea. Playa Los Flamencos is the star attraction of the archipelago with its ritzy resorts and sparkling shoreline. Other popular beach hangouts to bask in the sunlight include Playa Pilar, Playa Larga, and Playa las Coloradas.
When you’re through sipping your mojito, go on a snorkeling or scuba diving adventure to discover the majestic coral reefs beneath the surface. On land, one of the largest colonies of pink flamingos in the Americas and other exotic species flock around Cayo Coco’s unspoiled habitat.
Don’t sleep on another one of Cuba’s enchanting cities that has earned status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The sleepy central Cuban town is in a time portal that transports visitors to the colonial age centuries ago.
Start your journey by strolling along the cobblestone streets of Plaza Mayor and staring at the architectural gems surrounding you. The Church of the Holy Trinity stands out due to its Neoclassical façade, beautiful altar, and a wooden statue of Christ. Climb the tower inside the Museo de Historia Municipal for a breathtaking snapshot of the city and its iconic bell tower.
Just outside of Trinidad, Playa Ancon offers a seaside getaway in the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea. Venture inland to Valle de los Ingenios or Topes de Collantes for an adventurous day of hiking, horseback riding, waterfalls, sugar cane fields, and forested mountains. Many Cuba tours from Trinidad take visitors to the old sugar mills that flourished at the height of the sugar trade.