Cuba offers so much more than its heady capital Havana famed for its hand rolled cigars, revolutionary slogans and vintage cars. Consider, heading off the beaten track to Santiago de Cuba the country's cultural showpiece or to Trinidad, with its colourful colonial buildings, cobble stone streets and balmy beaches. Below we've list the best places to visit in Cuba, some familiar, some new. We hope you'll love them too.
The vivacious and intoxicating capital of Cuba appears to be stuck in a 1950s time warp – vintage American cars cruise colonial cobblestone streets past with the crumbling facades of pastel-coloured buildings providing the backdrop. Here you’ll find impressive colonial monuments, a thriving modern Latino culture, revolutionary slogans painted on walls and along with a dramatic coastline that fronts white sand beaches and crystalline blue waters, it’s a city that appeals to all the senses. Discover some of Cuba’s best cigars at Havana’s oldest cigar factory, get a handle on the country’s turbulent history at the Museo de la Revolución or simply hang out at one of the public squares and be entertained by lively street performers.
If you came to Cuba with the expectation of colourful colonial buildings, cool plazas, and cobble stone streets, Trinidad has it all. Absorb the town’s authentic Cuban charm by ducking into one of its many museums, tour the nearby Valley of the Sugar Mills or simply grab a coffee and people watch as local pensioners lounge in their favourite chair outside traditional ration shops, and youngsters banter and soak up the sun on the pristine Ancona beach. Located in the province of Sancti Spiritu in central Cuba, the town retains much of its original charm and character, and is a treasure trove of colonial architecture, a fact that was recognised in 1988 when the town was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with the Valley of the Sugar Mills.
The picturesque town of Vinales, adored for its unhurried pace of life, is located in the verdant Vinales Valley in the heart of Cuba’s prime tobacco-growing region. Surrounded by irregularly shaped karst hill formations that are brought to vivid life at sunrise and sunset, it’s not difficult to see why Vinales is supposedly Castro’s favourite place. The town itself is characterised by colourful houses with immaculate porches and more often than not creaking rocking chairs out front where friendly locals watch the world go by and shout their welcomes. The surrounding countryside is perfect for bicycle rides, hiking and rock climbing with a number of caves worth exploring though no trip to Vinales would be complete without a visit to a local tobacco farm to learn how to roll an authentic cigar.
Located on the eastern half of Cuba’s island, Santiago de Cuba is the country’s second largest city and a scintillating cultural showpiece. Top rate museums document various episodes from Cuba’s turbulent past whilst grand old architecture stands testament as the stage for many of these same episodes. The grandiose Santa Ifigenia cemetery is now the resting place for many of the city’s very own revolutionaries and Santiago has also produced its fair share of the country’s best contemporary musicians. In fact, the sensuous streets of Santiago are no doubt home to every genre of Cuban music available and the cosmopolitan city has a very distinct feel to it with a variety of cultural influences, namely Caribbean as it’s home to the country’s largest Afro-Caribbean population. Every July carnival celebrations showcase this colourful mix of people with infectious drum rhythms and dance.
Perched on the far eastern tip of Cuba, the tiny coastal town of Baracoa is perhaps one of the most picturesque places in the country. Enveloped by lush tropical vegetation with many rivers leading to a beautiful bay on the Atlantic, the town has enjoyed years of relative solitude and up until 1964 the only way to reach Baracoa was via the sea. Its remoteness has not meant a lack of history though and the town retains a rich heritage as one of the oldest colonial cities in the Americas. Originally a small fishing and farming village, today Baracoa offers the intrepid traveller plenty of things to see and do with hiking, white-water rafting and boating all on the menu. There’s even an UNESCO Biosphere Reserve that protects one of the world’s last untouched rainforests and plenty of tranquil beaches to simply relax and enjoy this wonderful town at leisure.
In the most central region of the country, the thriving university city of Santa Clara was once at the heart of the Cuban Revolution; it was here that guerrilla leader Che Guevara led his troops into the final battle of the revolution, resulting in the overthrow of Dictator Fulgencio Batista and the start of a new era. Bohemian student cafes juxtapose with handsome colonial buildings and ghostly reminders of the city’s complex history. Visit the Che Guevara Monument and Mausoleum, a memorial to those who gave their lives to the revolution and the location of the revolutionary theorist’s remains. Travellers can also visit the Monumento a la Toma del Tren Blindado, the site where a military train carrying supplies was derailed during the historic battle.