1 / VISIT OLD HAVANA
No visit to Cuba would be complete without a visit to Old Havana, period. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city-center packs History, beauty & culture.
So make sure to spend at least 1 whole day (and more if you have time) exploring Old Havana before you move on to other places.
2 / ENJOY SWEEPING VIEWS OF VINALES
Viñales is a cute little town west of Havana in the Pinar del Rio Province. Despite the fact it is rather small, it attracts a whole lot of travellers and it is very obvious when you get there that these people live off tourism.
The village is surrounded by overwhelmingly beautiful nature, karstic landscape & tobacco plantations. The Viñales valley is another UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There are many trails for you to go on foot or by horseback. But what really makes this list are the views from Mirador del Valle and the Jazmines hotel (a little bit more uphill), where you get to take all of that in, at once.
3 / TRINIDAD
Yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site, Trinidad is a town located in the Sancti Spiritu Province, in central Cuba.
This was a personal favourite. I liked the architecture, that was quite different, with smaller pastel coloured houses and I liked the atmosphere, a little more relaxed towards tourists, in my opinion.
Other than the lovely town, viewpoints and great nightlife, don’t miss the Valle de los Ingenios or Valley of the Sugar mills (also UNESCO), and the Topes de Collantes National Park where you can hike, go horseback riding, go climbing and visit waterfalls.
4 / TRAVEL BY 50’S CLASSIC CARS
Ok, so it’s not like you could avoid this one anyway, since most taxis in Havana and everywhere else are classic American cars. In fact, Cuba is sometimes called a rolling car museum, rightfully so. But it still gets a spot on the list because it really is a one-of-a-kind experience of Cuba.
When you get a taxi ride, you’ll notice the cars themselves are somewhat falling apart, but, hey… Some of them have been around for over 50 years. So don’t you expect a ride in a perfectly preserved or brand new Chevrolet. Those are waiting in front of the best hotels and high-end malls.
5 / GO TO THE BEACH
Cuba boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. White sand and turquoise water are never far away. Just take your pick.
The top beaches are located on islands like Cayo Largo or Cayo Coco. Accessible by road, Cayo Jutias, Cayo Levisa and the world-famous Varadero also have incredibly beautiful beaches.
If you’re on a budget, try the Playas del Este east of Havana. They are less crowded than Varadero, low-key, and offer way cheaper accommodation and restaurants.
6 / TRY A CIGAR
If you’re a cigar aficionado, you already know that Cubans are some of the finest in the world, and you’re looking forward to indulging and purchasing boxes to bring home with you. But even if you don’t smoke, I would recommend trying one.
I don’t smoke cigarettes. Don’t like the taste, don’t like the smell. Nevertheless I was very curious to have my first cigar in Cuba. After all, if I was ever going to try one, it had to be there. I actually really enjoyed it, especially when they dip the end in that mixture of orange blossom and honey.
Of course, I would never be able to smoke a whole cigar by myself, and always shared one with several people, but sharing a cigar among friends was part of the appeal.
There are different qualities and sizes, several factories and official shops that you can visit in Havana, and tobacco farms in Viñales (where you can also purchase some fresh cigars). They teach you how to cut, light & smoke them properly. Just a couple of spoilers : You’re not supposed to inhale the smoke, and tapping off the ashes is considered a crime.
If even the idea of trying a cigar is insufferable, then bring some home for your friends and relatives, they will appreciate, believe me.
7 / HAVE SOME RUM
Had to place this one after the cigar, didn’t I. Now, I’m not saying you should get wasted every night, far from it, but you are in Cuba after all, the land of Rum. And boy do they make good Rum ! Just ask Hemingway. Well, you can’t. But you catch my drift.
I think we should always try what is actually being produced in the country. Going by that, if you are in Cuba, you should have cigars, coffee, rum and sugar. What ? That makes for a pretty healthy diet…
Talking about rum and sugar, if you’re not a purist who likes to drink their 7-year-old rum pure and warm, you’ll have plenty of cocktails to choose from. And of course, they all have rum in it. The Mojito is always the most commonly ordered cocktail in Cuba, if not in the world but many more cocktails were invented in Cuba, from the Cuba Libre to all the Daiquiris and the Piña Colada.
The cocktails themselves aren’t necessarily better than at your local bar. It just depends where you get them from. Some are disgusting, and some are to die for. Prices for a cocktail go from 1 & up to 6 CUC (you can almost translate that to dollars/euros), depending on where you get it, from street vendors to luxurious hotel bars. Just remember that more expensive isn’t always better.
The Rum itself is widely exported but there are so many different brands and kinds over there and bottles do come cheaper than in other countries. As a rule, the colour changes depending on how old the elixir is – from crystal clear (1 year) to dark brown (7 years), and the price depending on how good.
8 / GO DANCING AT LAS CUEVAS
Actually this one could just have been GO DANCING. Cubans love to dance, and especially love to dance with a partner. So be prepared, for if the music is good, they’ll grab anyone, anywhere, and start busting moves. You can take salsa lessons to make sure you do it right, but they will throw you off anyway. My advice is to just go with it, try to follow them, and enjoy yourself.
The caves, as commonly referred to by cubans, is a club located in Trinidad, actually named Disco Ayala. But everyone calls it the caves because, well… the club is inside a grotto. That’s right, a real grotto guys ! With stalactites dripping down on you while you’re dancing. If THAT is not exciting enough for you, remember you’ll have the added bonus of much cooler temperatures once you are inside. No need for aircon in there.
You will need to climb up a small hill to get to the entrance. Be safe and bring a light with you, the trail can be slippery if it rained before and is most definitely not a piece of cake when you are wearing heels and it’s pitch-dark at night. But the effort is well worth it, and you’ll be happy you went.
9 / MARVEL & PARTY at F.A.C.
F.A.C. or Fábrica de Arte Cubano (Cuban Art Factory – It’s a stretch, right?) is, as they advertise themselves, where all the arts are gathered in one place. And that place is an old factory (there you go, another stretch) located in Vedado, Havana.
It is a pretty special place to be in Havana because it combines a real art museum with exhibitions, cinema projections, and special events with great nightlife. There are several bars and dance floors to choose from, a huge concert and event hall aswell as cool outdoor spaces.
The building is huge and so are the lines if you come to party at night. It is a lot more chill during the day. My advice is to arrive before 10pm or after 1am, as not only the queue gets insane but at a certain point, they do not let anyone in anymore, and then allow some people back in after 1 or 2 am.
Check their website to find out exactly what is happening when : F.A.C.
To get there from Old or Centro Habana, take a taxi and bargain the price before you get in.
10 / GO HORSEBACK RIDING
Horseback riding is cheap and commonly available all around Cuba. You can go for a couple of hours or the whole day, it is up to you. Some of the best places to go horseback riding would be around Viñales & Trinidad, among others.
It’s a great physical activity (it sure looks easy, but turns out to be a bit of a workout for a newbie) that also allows you to surround yourself with all the lush nature the island has to offer.