There are so many places to see and so many things to in Cuba that planning a trip over to the jewel of the Caribbean could become a daunting experience. But we are here to help.
We spent two wonderful weeks visiting some of the most amazing places in Cuba, exploring the UNESCO Heritage Sites and sampling some of the best rum on the island. And it's time for us to share our top tips and help you plan your epic trip to the epic island.
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What to do in Cuba in a week?
To see the best of Cuba in one week, start with Havana. We are even tempted to say: spend a whole week there because Havana is one of the most incredible places to see in Cuba.
But if you want to explore the real Cuba beyond Havana, go to Vinales. See the tobacco plantations and the making of a Cuban cigar, mix with the locals and chill.
If you are after some relaxing time in Cuba, head to Varadero. The gorgeous Atlantic coastline is peppered with resorts where you could spend a couple of days enjoying fun activities or chilling on Varadero Beach.
These three places in Cuba are within easy reach of each other and can be accessed via the local Viazul bus or a local taxi. Alternatively, if you are flying to Varadero and looking to go on a day trip to Havana, you can pre-book a 1-way or round-trip shared minibus. Check here for more info.
Most of the hotels make trips from Havana to Varadero. Even if you are not staying at the hotel, you can still board the bus going to Varadero. Just check with the reception a day before to see if you can book your seat on the bus. That’s what we did.
You could try exploring other awesome and historic sites in Cuba like Trinidad, but since it's a pretty big island, venturing anywhere further away will take up too much of your time.
But if you can spare at least two weeks on the Caribbean island, here are the top 32 things to do in Cuba.
Top things to do in Havana
Havana is, of course, one of the best places to visit in Cuba. The crumbling, yet incredibly charming city that lives and breathes culture has a lot to offer.
But don't just explore Habana Vieja, the newly restored old town, venture into the local, run-down streets. After all, this is where real life happens. And don't worry, Havana is very safe. In fact, Cuba is one of the safest countries to visit.
The choice of things to do in Havana is massive. From joining the locals at the Malecon at sunset, visiting the Revolution Museum and sampling the best rums to riding the 1950s convertibles. You won’t be short of entertainment in this magnificent city.
1. Visit the Revolution Museum
You don’t want to miss this Cuban attraction. Learn all about the Cuban revolution in this brilliant and very biased museum.
2. Visit Revolution Square
See the Che Guevara Camilo Cienfuegos portraits steel wired on the building veneers.
3. Explore the Historical and Military Park
Here you’ll get to visit Che’s house and spot the giant Cristo de la Habana statue overlooking Havana.
4. Visit Castillo de la Real Fuerza
Learn about the real pirates of the Caribbean and enjoy excellent panoramic views across Havana.
5. Explore Havana with a local
Take a tour around the city with a local, see Havana through the eyes of an insider and learn all the best-kept secrets.
6. Enjoy Cuban rum and cocktails
Join the locals and sip mojitos in one of the bars in Havana. Prado No 12, a slim building on the corner of Prado and San Lazaro is a great spot for a tipple.
Also, for a touristy thing to do in Havana, pop into the famous La Bodequita (Empedrado Street) and El Floridita (Obispo Street) bars.
7. Tour Havana in a classic American Car
Touring around Havana in a convertible is not cheesy, it’s the ultimate thing to do in Cuba. Don’t miss it.
8. Join the locals on the Malecon
Walk the length of the Malecon, enjoy the sunset and feel the chill vibe.
9. Stay in a Casa Particular
When it comes to summarising the best of Cuba, it’s not the gorgeous coastlines, stunning scenery, and rich heritage that make the island so welcoming. It’s the Cuban people. They are friendly and warm and will make your stay a truly unique experience.
We highly recommend booking a room with the locals because staying in a casa particular is one of the topmost things to do in Cuba.
10. Go on a street art walk in Havana
Cubans love their art and Havana lives and breathes culture. Going on a guided art walk in the city could be one of those great things to do in Havana that didn’t really think of.
We had a blast exploring the city and have a full list of top things to do in Havana so be sure to check it out before you travel to Cuba.
Great things to do in Varadero
Varadero in Cuba is more than just a beach destination. And while we agree that one of the top things to do in Varadero includes being lazy on the beach, here are a couple of more things you can do.
11. Take a sea cruise to Cayo Blanco
Join a catamaran cruise and you’ll see yourself swimming and snorkelling in the turquoise waters of the Atlantic. With an open bar, lunch and relaxed atmosphere, it’s a dreamy thing to do in Cuba.
12. Explore Saturno Cave
For adventurous things to do in Varadero, you could explore Saturno Cave, a beautiful crystal-clear cenote located near Varadero. Bring your swimwear and enjoy the experience. You can scuba dive here too.
13. Spend some time in Reserva Ecológica Varahicacos
If rolling on a sandy beach isn’t your thing, the Reserva Ecológica Varahicacos housing an ancient burial cave is another great thing to do in Varadero.
Don on comfortable shoes and get exploring the natural wonders of the island. It’s a hidden gem.
Top things to do in Vinales
To discover the real Cuba, make your way to Vinales. Explore the tobacco plantations, smoke fat Cohiba and sip rum all the while sitting on the porch of a Cuban casa. Pure bliss.
Out of all the fun things to do in Cuba, nothing says "relax" better than Vinales. Surrounded by wonderful scenery and tobacco plantations, it is one of the most unique places to visit in Cuba. You can't afford to miss it.
It’s a true getaway. Here you will find interesting examples of colonial architecture, mostly wooden houses with porches.
In reality, Vinales, just like the rest of Cuba is all about the people. Your most treasured memories about Vinales will be the warmth of Cuban hospitality found here.
14. See the making of a Cuban cigar
Life in Vinales is a little different. The day-to-day life revolves around agriculture and, of course, production of the best tobacco not only in Cuba but in the world!
For this reason, visiting the tobacco plantations and seeing the making of the famous Cuban cigars will be one of the most amazing activities in Cuba.
15. See Mural de la Prehistoria
When exploring Vinales Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, don't miss out on the incredible Mural de la Prehistoria, a mural painted over one of the valley’s limestone outcrops. A charge applies to see it up close.
16. Go horse riding in Vinales
From horse riding through the hills to caving through some impressive grottos, Vinales offers a few fun and adventurous things to do in Cuba. Check with your casa host for the best possible option and go on an all-day horse ride.
17. Go caving in Vinales
Whether an avid climber, a beginner or just interested in climbing, you will love Vinales. It is a popular place for climbing due to the rich karst landscape. For an easier option, take a boat tour through the caves.
18. Enjoy the music scene in Vinales
Check out the High Street music scene and listen to live tunes bursting on the street. You can never have enough rum and music in Cuba!
The best things to do in Trinidad
If Havana is one of the most exciting places to see in Cuba, then Trinidad is one of a kind. It’s an outdoor museum. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1988, this cobbled-street picturesque place attracts masses of visitors every year.
Once upon a time, this Spanish colonial city was a prosperous centre of the island's sugar and the slave trade. As a result, Trinidad is still home to many grand colonial mansions and churches of exceptional beauty built from local fortunes.
Visiting colourful Trinidad should be on your things to see and do in Cuba list.
19. Explore Plaza Mayor in Trinidad
This breathtaking terracotta tiled roof city is compact and the centre is pedestrianised, making it easy to explore on foot. Just take any of the picturesque streets and it will eventually take you to the Plaza Mayor.
The neoclassical, pastel-yellow church, Iglesia Parroquial de la Santísima Trinidad, dominates the square.
Next to the church, you'll see the Palacio Brunet overlooking the main square, built back in 1812. The mansion now houses the beautiful Museo Romantico which still displays the Brunet family's belongings.
For a few convertible pesos, you can get to the 2nd floor and enjoy the panoramic views stretching to the lush Escambray mountains.
The biggest house, Palacio Cantero, is now the Museo Historico Municipal. While exploring the museum, be sure to step out into the beautiful courtyard.
Also, make sure you climb the dilapidated staircase for some fantastic views across Trinidad. Check the opening hours though, the tower closes pretty early.
20. Take a private tour in Trinidad
If you can spare a couple of hours and convertible pesos, you can take one of the guided tours which will take you around the main sites of Trinidad.
21. Take a steam train in Trinidad
Taking a steam train might not be on your mind when thinking about things to do in Cuba. But it will be a fun experience in Trinidad for sure.
The train will take you to the Unesco-protected Valley of the Sugar Mills. Here you’ll get to explore the Hacienda Iznaga with gorgeous panoramic views from its tower. Plus, you’ll have the chance to see the ruins of the saccharine empire.
22. Chill at Casa de Musica
It’s time to talk about the fun things to do in Cuba. And Trinidad is certainly one of the best places on this Caribbean island to enjoy the best of Cuba.
To have a chilled evening, head to the House of Music and join the crowds on the gargantuan staircase. This was our absolute favourite spot in Trinidad.
As you start approaching the square, you will hear the infectious Cuban rhythms from afar. It’s wonderful. Get your rum from the local shop and chill. Or, if you are brave enough, join the locals in the invigorating salsa dance.
23. Cycle to Ancon Beach
Venture outside Trinidad and get involved in unusual activities in Cuba. While cycling might not come up as one of the best things to do in Cuba, it sure is a fun exercise. So, spare a good chunk of your day and go cycling along the Caribbean Coast.
You can either rent a gearless bike at Las Ruinas del Teatro Brunet or Hostal El Oasis. Alternatively, you can ask at your casa. Your host will most likely know someone who rents bikes in the area.
The distance between Trinidad and Playa Ancon is around 12 km but there are many lovely beaches along the way. Bring along your swimwear! We stopped at every single beach and had a blast paddling in the warm waters of the Caribbean.
Be sure to pack some snacks and water and dress appropriately for this outdoor adventure. Apply plenty of sunscreen and wear a hat. We highly recommend wearing a long sleeve shirt too.
Or better, to avoid the blistering midday sun, leave Trinidad early in the morning or later in the afternoon. We left the city just before midday. What fools!
Best things to do in Cienfuegos
A little away from Trinidad, you will find yourself in classic Cienfuegos. This stunning French settlement will blow your mind. It’s anything but typical Cuba.
Situated on the Caribbean coast of southern-central Cuba and known as the Perl de la Sur, Cienfuegos is one of the most delightful places to visit in Cuba. Here’s what you can see and do here.
24. Admire the French Colonial architecture in Cienfuegos
There's nothing quite like it in the country as the urban historic centre of Cienfuegos. The splendid French colonial architecture surrounding the city centre is captivating. No wonder this exquisite part of the country became another Cuban UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005.
The longest in the country, Cienfuegos Boulevard houses some of the most magnificent architectural compositions you will come across in Cuba. A few to check out are the Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción Cathedral, the building dating back to 1869.
To the south of the park, stands the Nobel Palacio de Gobierno. It is, however, the Government Palace and there's no admission for the general public.
Have a chilled stroll through Jose Marti Square and lose yourself in the sea of the refined historical masterpieces. On the western part of the Parque Marti, check out the elegant Arco de Los Trabajadores (Arch of Triumph) dedicated to Cuban independence.
Next to it, on the other side of the street check out the blue tiered mansion, a former Palacio Ferrer, designed by the local architect Donato Pablo Carbonell and completed in 1918.
25. Visit Teatro Tomas Terry
The Italian style theatre on the northern side of Parque Jose Marti is one of three vernacular theatres in Cuba.
This national monument has won an Award of Conservation in 2008. Don't hesitate to pop in. For just a few CUC have a nose around the impressive 950-seat auditorium.
For a coffee break, make your way to the charming Teatro Cafe Terry wedged between Teatro Tomás Terry and Colegio San Lorenzo.
26. Stay in eclectic Punta Gorda
Located around 3 km away from the centre, Punta Gorda is an incredibly stunning part of Cienfuegos. Follow the Malecon sea wall and you will reach it in no time, otherwise, hale the iconic Bici taxi (a bike taxi).
Situated at the edge of the Bay of Cienfuegos, Punta Gorda is a refreshing upper-class neighbourhood by the waterfront. If you can, rent a room at the end of the peninsula so you can enjoy the gorgeous scenery any time you feel like it.
This eclectic suburb houses some of the most wonderful and eye-catchy buildings like the sky-blue Palacio Azul (1921) and the one thousand and one nights like Arabian Palacio de Valle. The latter, built in 1917, houses a luxury restaurant with a terrace bar.
27. Dance Salsa at Cienfuegos Club
Cienfuegos Club might come across as a sports-bar-like place for western travellers, but it offers fantastic views across the marina. At least check out the domed building painted in white & green, the colours of the Cienfuegos baseball team.
To get those old bones moving and experience the true Cuban spirit, come back here later in the day. Have a drink and dance your night away as the sun sets into the Bay of Cienfuegos.
28. Relax at Marlin Marina
While wandering around Cienfuegos Club, pop into the marina for a refreshing sea breeze. The place is absolutely stunning. Book a boat tour around the bay or arrange a deep-sea fishing trip through Cubatur/Cubanacán. Alternatively, check out other operators in the nearby Jaguar Hotel.
Fun things to do in Cayo Guillermo
Cayo Guillermo will spoil you rotten with its coastline so much that you will not want to leave. This delightful stretch of sand is located on the northern coast between the Bay of Dogs and the Atlantic Ocean.
After roaming the dusty Cuban cities, you will thank us later for sharing with you our top place to see in Cuba.
In our opinion, Cayo Guillermo represents a much better value than Varadero. If we had not made the effort to travel all the way to the Atlantic Ocean, we wouldn't have known what a gem we nearly missed.
29. Spend a day at Playa Pilar
This 500-meter-long finer-than-fine sand beach is an absolute star of the northern coast. Spare at least a day to fully appreciate the beauty of this hidden gem.
Before you hit the beach, make sure you pack some snacks and water with you. Food-wise, there's only one restaurant perched in the dunes. Next door you will find a bar-shack jammed with all sorts of lovely Caribbean rum.
There are 4 hop-on-hop-off buses per day, going between the resorts and stopping at Playa Pilar.
30. Enjoy Mojitos and fat Cuban cigars on the beach
We couldn't get enough of minty drinks at the Iberostar Daiquiri resort. The bar staff were incredibly hard-working and entertaining, making the best mojitos we've ever tasted!
Don't do this if you have any health issues, but you if you can, don't leave the island without inhaling at least one puff of Cohiba. It's one of the most fun things to do in Cuba.
Good quality cigars will be available at your resort shop. We bought one for around $8 and shared it while enjoying the sound of waves of the Atlantic Ocean.
31. Sail the Jardines Del Rey Archipelago
We really recommend a catamaran trip around the Jardines Del Rey archipelago. You will most likely see agents at the resort/hotel reception selling various sailing trips.
For around $80, catamaran trips include pick up and drop off at your resort, snorkelling equipment, lunch, bottomless-rum bar and a couple of swimming stops. Otherwise, check the Marina at Cayo Guillermo directly for more options.
32. Snorkel and Dive in Jardines del Rey
If you are looking for adventurous things to do in Cuba, check out the snorkelling and diving options in the magnificent Jardines del Rey archipelago.
Located just off the northern coast of Cuba, this spectacular 200-kilometre-long coral reef is well known amid water enthusiasts.
How to get to Cayo Guillermo
Your best bet to get to this piece of paradise is to rent a car or hire a local taxi. If you are going to hire a taxi, we suggest asking for advice at your casa.
Cubans are extremely resourceful and will probably know someone local who can take you all the way to Cayo Guillermo for a negotiable price. It's better this way because the pennies go to the locals' pockets.
Our journey from Trinidad took us around 3.5 hours at a hefty $120 USD. If you choose an official government taxi it will cost you much more. Of course, be cautious, if you don't have a good feeling about the driver, don't get into the car, but in general, Cubans are very trustworthy. To minimize the costs, if possible, share a cab.
You might also want to arrange a pickup from the resort with the same driver. We made arrangements with our driver to pick us up 3 days later and take us back to Havana. It took us around 7 hours at a cost of over $200 USD.
Again, check at your resort if anyone else is going back to Havana on the same day. Try leaving a message at the reception asking for taxi buddies.
Alternatively, you can fly directly into the Jardines del Rey Airport located on Cayo Coco. Check with your resort if they can arrange a transfer which takes around 45 minutes depending on the stops.
Where to stay in Cuba
Casa Rolando y Marisol (La Casa del Chef), Havana
This lovely casa is located in Habana Vieja, very close to the Malecon and the alluring Plaza de San Francisco. The best thing about this place was the welcoming atmosphere and the hosts. Both Rolando and Marisol were extremely friendly and accommodating.
Casa Ellios Ramos, Trinidad
Ellios casa is a beautiful colonial house complete with beautiful rooms and spotlessly clean bathrooms. After exploring the casa, we suggest booking a room on the second floor overlooking the street.
Casa Ariel y Maykelis, Vinales
For a complete experience in Vinales, stay in Casa Ariel y Maykelis. It has an amazing veranda with a beautiful view where you can enjoy a tasty breakfast and dinner or chill out on one of the rocking chairs after a day of explorations.
Villa Lagarto, Punta Gorda, Cienfuegos
A fabulous place to spend a couple of luxurious days in Cienfuegos upper-class neighbourhood, Punta Gorda.
The food, although not the cheapest is great and pina colada here is fabulous. Pair it with a rocking chair and stunning views over Cienfuegos Bay and you've made yourself some pretty unforgettable memories.
Iberostar Daiquiri, Cayo Guillermo
This all-inclusive resort is great for anyone, especially couples. At $100 per night per room, it was the perfect finale to our Cuban adventure. More so the food and drinks were excellent. Check prices here.
Things to know before you visit Cuba
Visa and proof of departure flight are required for all nationals. If you are planning to travel to Cuba as a tourist, you will need to obtain a tourist card at your country's Cuban Embassy.
Custom Declaration Form
On arrival don't forget to pick up a Customs Declaration Form as soon as you cross the border. We totally missed the desk with the cards and had to come back to fill it out.
Currency exchange and ATMs
There are 2 exchange bureaus as soon as you leave the airport. However, they can run out of cash and close the office right in front of you. It happened to us. To avoid the hassle, make your way to the second floor of the departures terminal where you will find an ATM.
Getting cash out of the ATM's is not usually a problem anywhere in Cuba, however, sometimes they can be out of order. In this case, to withdraw money, go into the bank, but make sure you have your passport with you.
You are not required to pay the departure tax at the airport anymore. It's now included in your airline fair, however, we still paid an extra 25 CUC at the check-in desk. You might want to have some spare cash just in case.
If you really want to understand Cuba, you should read Cuba: A New History, the book by Richard Gott. It's very factual but necessary to understand the historical events that happened in the country and why they happened. It goes a long way in explaining the current state of the country.
Getting around Cuba
Buses. Viazul will be your main transport mode in Cuba. This national bus company is actually very efficient, reliable and comfortable. The prices are very reasonable too, but you will need to purchase your tickets at the bus station in advance.
We recommend buying tickets at least a day before your trip. But most importantly, don't forget your passport, otherwise, you won't be travelling anywhere.
An alternative option is to book transfer buses at a hotel, even if you are not staying in one. We booked a transfer bus from Havana to Varadero for around $25 each. We simply walked into a hotel and booked it at the reception. All we had to do the next day is to show on time.
Railway. Booking yourself onto a train could be one of the most bonkers things to do in Cuba. But if you are prepared to spend over 10 hours on board from Havana to Cienfuegos, go for it. For up-to-date information check the excellent seat61.com rail website.
Road. Road journeys can be extremely fun and time-saving if you know where you are going. However, bear in mind that the road signposting is not great. The road can also end suddenly, without any warning as it happens in wonderful Cuba.
It's easy to rent a 1950s convertible on the island. It will cost you over $100 per day but remember that they break easily too.
On our way from Cayo Guillermo back to Havana our taxi lost the fourth gear... What we saw under the bonnet was incredible. We found the air filter tied up to the rest of the engine with a shoelace!
Eventually, we switched cars somewhere in the middle of nowhere. You've got to love Cuba!