Things To Do in Cuba
Cuba’s got something for everyone, from colonial and revolutionary history to idyllic beaches and lush nature reserves. Mix all of this in with infectious music and mouth-watering cocktails and you’ll find Cuba’s the kind of place it’s hard to leave. Whether you’re into arts and history, the great outdoors or simply sitting on a balcony and watching the world go by, doing things The Cuban Way means getting under the skin of this magical island at your own pace.
Cuba has so much to offer, it’s hard to know how best to spend your time. Luckily for you, Cubania Travel have taken the time to compile a list of activities and locations you can’t miss out on. For the sake of sparing you unpleasant surprises, we’ve also put together some info on what not to do when travelling to Cuba.
Popular things To-Do:
- Explore the Capital in a classic American car
Its colonial architecture, vintage cars and make-do-and-mend culture have given Cuba a reputation for being stuck in time. One of the best ways to experience this living time-warp is from the backseat of a vintage motor: take a personalised tour in one of these iconic vehicles and feel the years shed around you.
- Try real Cuban cigars
Cuba is a world-famous manufacturer of cigars and they are a popular choice for souvenirs (they are compact too!) You can find cigars priced from CUC 1 (US$1) for a basic brand to CUC 100 (US$100) for a limited edition smoke. The classic brands are Cohiba, Romeo y Julieta and Partagás.
- Visit tobacco farms in Viñales
The valley of Viñales’ jurassic landscape is one of Cuba’s finest and it’s not hard to see why it’s a unesco world heritage site. It’s also a key player in two of Cuba’s major industries: tourism and tobacco. Viñales is home to Cuba’s (and possibly the world’s) best tobacco, we highly recommend visiting one of the farms in the area to learn a little about the tobacco-growing process. On these picturesque tobacco plantations you can see Cuban cigars being rolled by hand and even have a go yourself!
- Enjoy a relaxing day on an idyllic beach
Want to know which beaches to visit in Cuba? Check out our article on beaches in Cuba.
- Dance salsa like a local
Along with rum, cigars and old cars, Salsa is one of the things people instantly connect with Cuba. Through the years Cuba has produced and developed a variety of enticing music and dance styles, but salsa is still the most popular. You would be hard pressed to find a Cuban who doesn’t dance salsa and even harder pressed to find one who doesn’t want to dance with you!If you want to know more about Cuban dance culture you can read all about it here.
Cultural & sightseeing
There’s beautiful architecture everywhere you go in Cuba but there are a few buildings you shouldn’t miss.
- Hotel Nacional (Havana)
One of Havana’s historic gems, the Hotel Nacional was opened in 1930 and has since welcomed countless celebrities, from Frank Sinatra to Vladimir Putin. Centrally located between bustling Centro Habana and chic Vedado, the Hotel Nacional was built on Havana’s old headland and so enjoys an unrivalled view of the coast. Grab a cocktail in the hotel gardens and enjoy a real Havana sunset.
- Revolution Museum (Havana)
Wise up on Revolutionary Cuban history at the Revolution Museum, located in the city’s former presidential palace, a splendid example of neoclassical architecture.
- Plaza Mayor (Trinidad)
Trinidad is well-known amongst travellers for being a UNESCO World Heritage site and a kind of living museum of colonial life on the island. Perhaps the most picturesque part of Trinidad is its main square, Plaza Mayor, home to the town’s Museo Histórico Municipal, a beautiful colonial mansion brimming with antiques and frescoes.
- Walk through Old Havana
You’ve probably seen photos of Old Havana’s colourful façades and photogenic inhabitants, but you haven’t heard the sound of son drifting from bars and cafes or smelt the freshly ground coffee. Old Havana is a feast for the senses and its cobbled streets are best explored on foot.
If you want to see what else Havana has to offer, try one of our cycling tours for a panoramic journey through the city.
Eating & Drinking in Cuba
Food is a very important part of Cuban culture and the thing most Cubans miss when they leave the island. New restaurants, bars and cafes are popping all the time and Cuba is quickly becoming a foodie destination. To help you discover the best of Cuban cuisine we have complied a list of the most popular things to eat and drink in Cuba.
Since it first came to the island with Spanish colonists, Cuba has been just wild about sugar. We’ve got a whole article about sweet treats on the island here. It never takes long to find a dulceria (a bakery) in Cuba, and here is a list of what you should eat inside one: Pan de Gloria (a Cuban cinnamon bun), señoritas (chocolate and marshmallow pastries as opposed to young women), homemade pay (pie, usually filled with coconut, pineapple or guava), sweet coconut and guava patties.
Cuban cuisine is a mix of Spanish and Afro-Caribbean (Creole) traditions, but Italian food is also hugely popular. The classic dishes you can’t avoid in Cuba are rice and beans, pork, fried plantain, yucca (cassava) and chicken. At breakfast you’ll find plenty of exotic fruit such as mango, pineapple, guava and papaya. Vegetarians and Vegans may find limited options in Cuba, but awareness of vegetarian diets is growing and menus are slowly broadening their horizons.Have a look at our top meals list for some inspiration: grilled seafood (oh so fresh and oh so delicious), roast pork (no Cuban celebration is complete without a pig on a spit), Congris (black beans with rice), ajiaco (a traditional vegetable soup – one for the vegetarians), croquetas (you can get these filled with meat, fish or cheese – yum), stuffed plantain, yuca con mojo (boiled yucca sprinkled with fried garlic and oil), we could go on…
Mojito! There’s also Cuba Libre, Daiquiri, Canchanchara, Ron Collins, Caipirissima…the list of delicious cocktails is endless! Teetotalers can enjoy fresh tropical fruit juices and limonada frappe. See our article on Cuban cocktails for more details.
- Tip: While travelling through Cuba we recommend private accommodation or casas particulares; most people love the opportunity this gives to stay in a local home and do things the Cuban way. Casa particular hosts give a warm welcome and are often the ones who will cook you the best traditional food of your trip.
Active leisure in Cuba
There’s more to this Caribbean island than just all-inclusive hotels and beautiful beaches: with Cubania you can explore off-the-beaten-track Cuba on an active holiday. Check out our active Cuba bucket list:
- Bike through Cuba
A highlight for anyone interested in active travel would be cycling through Cuba. We provide bike tours for every fitness level and also offer e-bike tours which are easy and fun. Exploring Cuba by bike takes you to places you would never see on a tourbus and allows you to experience the Cuban pace of life (many locals use bikes as their main form of transport).
- Zip Line
Las Terrazas’ famous zip line is great fun for both children and adults! This attraction offers an adrenaline-fuelled panoramic view of Las Terrazas, a sustainable community surrounded by spectacular landscapes.
Horses are still a common form of transport in Cuba and can even be spotted pulling carts in central Havana. In rural areas horse-riding is available for travellers and we include excursions on horseback on some of our tours – check them out here.
Trekking in Cuba has many rewards, including the chance to see wild orchids or miniature hummingbirds up-close. Cuba boasts ten national parks and biosphere reserves, many of which may only be explored on foot and in the company of a knowledgeable local guide. Trekking offers an opportunity to really absorb Cuba’s lush landscapes and teeming wildlife as well as the chance to visit remote communities only accessible by foot.
Cubania offers an 8-day trekking trip which includes walks through western Cuba’s beautiful biosphere reserves and national parks. To browse this and our other active tours visit our website.
Kayaking is one of Cuba’s fastest growing outdoor activities and a great way to see the island from another perspective. Try your paddling skills with Cubania in the Bay of Pigs, the Bay of Cienfuegos, lake Hanabanilla, the Caribbean sea or the river Guaurabo. Check out our tours including kayaking here.
Things you shouldn’t do when travelling in Cuba:
As with any destination, there are some things you should keep in mind before you set off:
- Hope for a good internet connection
To keep a long story short, there is internet on the island but it’s not available with the ease and speed you’re used to at home. For this reason some travellers like to think of their time in Cuba as an internet detox and fully embrace the Cuban Way of life.
If you are travelling without a guide we highly recommend downloading Maps.me, an offline map that you’ll find really helpful in navigating the island.
If you’re going to be using PayPal, Air B&B or any other US-affiliated website you’ll need a VPN to use these in Cuba.
For more details about the internet in Cuba, check out our article connection in Cuba.
- Expect to pay on card
When travelling to Cuba we recommend bringing cash to exchange, particularly Euros. Cuba is a cash economy and you will rarely be able to pay for services with your bank card. The exchange rate in Cuba is the same at all state banks and Cadecas (exchange houses), so you may as well exchange your money as soon as you arrive at the airport.
Please note, if you are going to be taking money out of an ATM in Cuba make sure you inform your bank before you travel.
- Bring USD to Cuba
Even though the Cuban Convertible Peso – CUC – has the same value as the US dollar, the Cuban government doesn’t exchange USD to CUC at 1:1. They charge a penalty of around 10% on USD, so for every US dollar you will be given 88 cents of a CUC. Bring Euros or Pounds to avoid losing out.
- Forget bug spray and suncream
Both of these items are essential for your trip to Cuba and can be hard to come by on the island. We recommend purchasing eco-friendly products so as to decrease your effect on Cuba’s fragile eco-system.
If you have any questions, we’re always happy to chat. Contact us through our website and get your Cuban experience started!