7 Cuban Experiences You Can’t Miss Out on
CUBANIA’S TOP 7 THINGS TO DO IN CUBA
Almost as big as England, Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean. Stretching from scenic Cabo de San Antonio in the west to wild Punto Maisi in the east, Cuba’s long shape is often compared to that of a caiman (a small alligator). Not only is Cuba vast, it boasts incredible geographical variety as well as a fascinating history and unique cultural mix. With an entire alligator to explore, it’s a shame the majority of visitors to the island only get as far as Havana and Varadero. Cubania encourages travellers to see as much of the island as possible, and to help, we’ve compiled a list of our top 7 Cuban experiences. Why 7? Because this year we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the city of Havana, one of Cuba’s 7 original settlements. Shouldn’t we also mention Havana Club’s Añejo 7 años, one of Cuba’s favourite sipping rums? Anyway, 7 it is, so here goes:
ROLL A CIGAR IN VIÑALES
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Viñales is at the top of most travellers’ lists when they decide to visit Cuba. Few who visit the valley’s prehistoric landscapes leave without marvelling at the sight of neat yet rugged tobacco fields snuggled against the area’s iconic limestone mogotes. Despite increased tourism over the last decade, Viñales retains its friendly village feel and offers an intimate insight into rural life in the tobacco-growing province of Pinar del Rio. In Viñales you can practice a variety of outdoor activities including caving, climbing, horse-riding, trekking, biking and zip-lining. We think the best way to capture the essence of Viñales is by visiting a local tobacco farm: learn about the process of tobacco growing and gain a whole new appreciation for Cuba’s reputation for world-class cigars. After learning from a seasoned expert, try your hand at rolling a cigar.
Dance Salsa in Trinidad
Second on most travellers’ lists is un-missable Trinidad, a perfectly preserved colonial town in Cuba’s Sancti Spiritus province. Trinidad’s town centre looks very much as it did two hundred years ago: Its cobbled streets are lined with colourful colonial buildings and its quiet squares are surrounded by grand cathedrals and mansions. Once a bustling market town made wealthy by sugar plantations, nowadays Trinidad is a sleepy place known best for its beautiful architecture. Located between the Sierra del Escambray and the Caribbean coast, a stay in Trinidad means you can mix culture, trekking and relaxing on the beach. At night Trinidad’s main square comes alive with music and dancing and the friendly and welcoming vibes of the locals make this the best place to learn to dance salsa in Cuba. If you want to learn more about dance culture in Cuba, check out our article on different Cuban dance styles.
Stay in a Casa Particular in Playa Larga
As its name would suggest, Playa Larga is a long white-sand beach on Cuba’s southern coast. Its fine white sands, clear waters and excellent snorkelling make Playa Larga the perfect place to relax and unwind. Stay in a waterfront casa particular and enjoy a sustainable alternative to an all-inclusive beach holiday. Casas particulares are small B&Bs run by local families offering you a first-hand insight into life in a Cuban home. Casa particular hosts are typically warm and hospitable and keen to share their local knowledge with their guests. Beyond the beach, Playa Larga is renowned in Cuba for being one of the landing points during the Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961 and nearby at Playa Giron you can visit a museum dedicated to the failed Cold War operation. Playa Larga is also a great base for visiting the Zapata peninsula, a national park and UNESCO biosphere reserve teeming with endemic wildlife such as crocodiles, hummingbirds and flamingos. To book your dream casa in Playa Larga, get in touch.
Visit Revolutionary Landmarks in Eastern Cuba
When Fidel Castro and Che Guevara came by boat to Cuba from Mexico they landed not in Havana, but Granma, one of Cuba’s eastern-most provinces. The young revolutionaries rallied support amongst disenfranchised rural labourers and began a guerrilla war from eastern Cuba’s wild mountain ranges. Cuba is proud of its revolutionary history and this part of the island in particular is sprinkled with monuments to the Cuban Revolution. Visit Fidel Castro’s tomb in Santiago, where the changing of the guards takes place every 30 minutes! In the same cemetery you’ll find the tomb of Jose Marti, one of Cuba’s national heroes and the brains behind its independence movement. Nearby head into the beautiful Sierra Maestra and trek to Che and Fidel’s mountain hideout. On your way back west stop in the bustling university-town of Santa Clara to visit Che Guevara’s mausoleum. If you’re interested in Cuban history, why not have a look at some of our cultural tours?
Drink a Perfect Mojito in Old Havana
If there’s one thing Cubans know how to do well it’s a mojito. Have your first in el Patio on the Plaza de la Catedral and admire one of the city’s finest cathedrals. You might like to sip your second whilst contemplating the view across Old Havana from the rooftop bar at Ambos Mundos, the hotel where Ernest Hemingway used to stay for extended periods. By your third mojito you should be in the mood for some music, so head to a bar on Obispo and enjoy some live son. If you are still conscious by the time you reach your fourth mojito you should probably eat something, so why not try one of Havana’s trendy new paladars like Lamparilla 361. Your fifth mojito isn’t advisable, but when they’re this good who can resist? Dance it off at Cero Habana, one of Old Havana’s only late-night venues on Aguiar between Tejadillo and Empedrado. For more inspiration check out our article on Cuban cocktails.
Bike through Rural Cuba
Few people regret getting on a bike in Cuba. It doesn’t get much better than gliding down a country road, greeting guajiros as they sidle past with their oxen and stopping for shade under a ripe mango tree with a view. Cycling gets you off the beaten track and shows you a whole new side to Cuba, not to mention some of its most dramatic landscapes. Cycling is a major form of transport for many Cubans and an increasingly popular professional sport, so you’ll find you’re not the only cyclist on the road. Despite the noise of tired old motors on Soviet tractors and vintage cars, Cuban roads are quiet and cyclist-friendly, even the motorways! Cycling also gives you the chance to contribute to rural economies by stopping for lunch in family-run restaurants and buying fruit and snacks from locals. Cubania offers a range of different cycling tours with varying activity levels, read more about them on our website.
Tour Havana in a Vintage Car
It would be a shame to visit Cuba and not take a spin in one of its iconic American cars. Cuba is renowned for being a mecca of vintage cars and even those who have no interest in motors whatsoever will be blown away by the country’s collection of geriatric vehicles. Most of them congregate around Parque Central in Old Havana, lovingly tended to by drivers who have had them in their families for generations. From Fords to Chevrolets, bright Yellow to spotty, there is a classic car to suit everyone. Most people opt for an hour’s drive, long enough to get out of Old Havana and visit Plaza de la Revolución, Colon Cemetery and the magical Bosque de Habana (Havana forest). It’s not just tourists who ride around in classic cars – Cuban brides traditionally take a ride on their wedding day, their magnificent dresses billowing across the bonnet. So don’t be shy, have a spin in a national icon!
Get some useful info and insights we've picked up over the 15+ years of running tours on the island. The tips you will find in this guide:
- Local language
- Cycling & Trekking
- Money & Costs
- Hotel & Facilities