A few years later, I am still reminiscing about my Cuban adventure. Cuba was something else: different, fun, unique, and absolutely gorgeous! There are so many awesome things to do there and I truly recommend you visit this beautiful island as soon as you get the chance because Cuban culture and style of life is something everyone should get a taste of at least once in their life.
Filled with nostalgia over summer and charming destinations, I decided to write my 10 personal favorites on the island for when you plan your trip to Cuba.
Go exploring the old capital of Cuba right away because Havana is not just a regular capital city. It’s a city like no other with a wonderful Cuban sense to it.
Visit Plaza de la Revolución with a huge Che Guevara face all over it.
Find a store with real Cuban cigars or a bar with the best mojito in all town. Been there, done that!
Stroll the streets, see vegetable and fruit stalls, and children playing with plastic bottles. Peep into Cuban homes with the old television boxes. Feel the beat of Cuba.
Many Cubans don’t have a car; they usually walk or bike. The cars in Cuba are crazy, though! Old fashioned, beautiful and broken. Take a taxi for an adventure!
Note that there’s not many shops or grocery stores in the capital, I had a hard time finding a bakery to buy bread for dinner.
2. CRIADERO DE CROCODILOS (PLAYA LARGA)
Visit a crocodile farm when in Cuba. I saw a crocodile farm close to Playa Larga and Bay of Pigs. On Criadero de Crocodilos, you can not only observe and feed the crocodiles but also pet them!
There are two, almost extinct, species of crocodile living on Criadero de Crocodilos: the Cuban crocodile and the American crocodile. You can take a tour and walk by the swamps to get an immediate look at these evasive animals.
3. SANTA CLARA
Santa Clara is a lively city full of fun vehicles such as carriages and tractors besides old cars and bikes. Walk around, sit down on the bench and catch a glimpse of Cuban life.
See Che Guevara’s monument and his museum if you’re just a tad interested in history. I found the museum very intriguing as it tells the story of his life and shows how Che Guevara revolutionized Cuba.
We drove to Cienfuegos in the evening and were absolutely thrilled about their night life. You can hear Cuban music in every street or corner of the city.
Cuban cities truly become alive in the evening when Cubans leave their homes to sing and dance to the music. We even joined the locals and danced some salsa.
5. VIÑALES VALLEY
Viñales has such a breathtaking and unique countryside that it undoubtedly ranks at the top of this list.
I stayed in a panoramic hotel with a pool and beautiful views of the authentic mogotes. Relax surrounded by the peaceful nature and breathe in the Cuban air.
In the valley of Viñales, visit tobacco and coffee plantations. We opted to go horseback riding through the valley and it was definitely one of the best decisions. Horseback riding is fun, it’s handy to see different parts of the valley, and horses can carry you where your feet might couldn’t. In one word: brilliant! We made a stop at a tobacco plantation along the way and our guide showed us around.
Our guide :)
Fresh coffee straight from the tree
Don’t forget to see the pretty but tiny town of Viñales.
Tip: there are great beaches around not too far from Viñales.
6. SANTIAGO DE CUBA
Visit the capital of the southeastern part of the island – Santiago de Cuba. We met a local guide that offered us a tour for 10 EUR. We accepted the offer as we thought it fun to have the local guide us through the town.
We walked the tourist route to the house of Fidel Castro and then to some side streets that offered a great view of the city. We could see some slum-like neighborhoods, which are a part of Santiago de Cuba, too.
Especially in Santiago de Cuba, although in other parts of Cuba as well, I got the sense how much Cubans want to talk to tourists and how much they hope to leave Cuba with a woman. Many are calling out to young women in the form of catcalling or whistling. You just have to take that as a part of their culture and lives, I suppose.
We also found a great dinner place on the rooftop restaurant in Santiago de Cuba where we had lobster with sweet banana chips. Yummy!
After dinner, we decided to go to a salsa club with live music and it soon filled up with dancing Cubans. A few asked me to dance, and I did! I could hardly follow the steps though! Thank god for a few salsa lessons that I had taken before.
The last stop before bed was the rooftop of the hotel where we ordered Piña Coladas and had a perfect ending to our day in Santiago.
The beautiful town of Trinidad is like heaven on Earth – well, at least for instagrammers! It is definitely the most colorful town I’ve ever been to; the facades are so charming as one house completes the other.
This unique city offers countless opportunities for amazing pictures. With every house a different shade, all have romantic white bars on the windows.
Look out for scholars in uniforms; each level in school has a different color, for example, high school students wear brown uniforms.
A funny thing happened in Trinindad, too; as we were looking for an empty parking spot, a local offered us to park on the sidewalk only for him to guide our car for 1 CUC. As odd as it seemed we just went with it and believe me, the car and the Cuban man were still there hours later when we decided to drive back to the hotel.
Camagüey is in a way different from other parts of Cuba. The city is not packed with tourists and so seems more authentic. There were a few shops with clothes and even a pharmacy, which were not to be seen anywhere else on Cuba – at least we didn’t see it!
Take a walk and get lost in the maze of streets. Camagüey has many charming plazas and churches, stroll the town and see for yourself! This is the perfect place to aimlessly wander and get a sense of a conventional Cuban city.
9. EL NICHO
Fancy cooling down?
Visit El Nicho, a gorgeous natural reserve with crystal clear blue waters and wild Cuban vegetation. You can find it in the heart of Cuba, quite close to Santa Clara.
Enjoy the beautiful nature surrounding you and rest your mind. Hike through the woods and by the waters for a grand and unique experience.
Be sure to check in which water pools you’re allowed to swim and which are off limits. Respect the wonderful nature by respecting the rules.
For me, El Nicho was truly special and I still get tingles in my stomach when I think of its beauty.
Full of grand hotels by the sea, packed with palm trees and pools, Varadero is the part of Cuba for conventional tourists. This is where you can find the beautiful and famous paradise beach. Enjoy the hot Caribbean Sea and sunbathe under the palm trees.
Making the most out of Varadero tourist offers, I visited a couple of night shows, had fresh coconut milk, and relaxed by the pool. My dad participated in one of their shows and won the Havana Club rum, yay!
I also treated myself to a great mani pedi here almost for free!
I hope you enjoyed this travel guide. Have you ever been to Cuba? Let me know in the comments below what was your favorite place on the island!