Here are our top picks of places to check out in Cuba. For some ideas about backpacking in Cuba read our article Backpacking Cuba on a Budget.
This often forgotten town lies a few hours from Havana and only 30mins from the famed beaches of Varadero. It is very quiet on the tourist front which means great value casas can be found from just 12CUC per night. The town is easy to walk around and, although a little run down, is charming and relaxed. Getting to the stunning beaches in Varadero is a 2CUC pp collectivo taxi or a 50c chicken bus ride. For an unforgettable adventure and gorgeous views take the Hershey’s train to Havana. Costs 2.80CUC and takes anywhere from 4-7 hours! But just sit back, relax and enjoy the scenery, local conversation and the glimpse of local life as you stop outside houses and tiny villages.
2. Santa Clara
This city is home to Che Guevara’s mausoleum and was the final battle ground of the Cuban Revolution. Around the mausoleum is an excellent museum and statue dedicated to Che. The city is one to wander and has a lovely town square surrounded by a theatre, library and hotel which still shows bullet holes from the battles that took place there.
Top picks of Santa Clara, besides Revolution Square, are the lookout point located to the East of the city centre and Revolution Café. This great little place has amazing smoothies, coffees and sandwiches all surrounded a museum-like set up of Revolution paraphernalia. Head to El Gabernero (Calle Indepencia) for cheap, decent food at in a beautiful old colonial house.
The valley of Vinales is one of the most picturesque places I have ever been. Unfortunately it was so hot while we were there that hiking any other time that very early morning was impossible. But we did do a horse trek through the valley to a cave, a coffee plantation and a tobacco farm. For a great free experience take a short walk (about 15mins) past the town’s baseball stadium to the ranch of Raul Reyes. Raul grows everything from coffee to pineapples to tobacco. He sells plastic bottles filled with his coffee beans as well as cigars and fresh juices for very reasonable prices.
From his place you can walk to a lookout point and a cave, just ask him for directions. In the town, Olive restaurant is the pick of the bunch. Delicious food (Western) at slightly above average prices. Get in early as there is usually a queue.
4. Playa Jutias
This beautiful stretch of beach is most easily reached by day trip from Vinales. It’s about an hour along a very bumpy road but it’s well worth it. We paid 15CUC each for a round trip in a collectivo which seemed to be the going rate but I’m you could negotiate with a taxi driver or get a group together to make it cheaper.
The beach is quite small but there is nothing in the area so the only people on the beach are the few tourists from Vinales and a smattering of locals. We easily found a shaded spot to ourselves by walking a bit further along the beach. Beautiful clear water, white sand and a relaxed atmosphere. The perfect beach day.
5. Old Town Havana
Last but certainly not least is the Old Town area of Havana. While this area is busy with tourists and touts there is no denying its beauty and charm. You could spend hours wandering through the streets, coming across stunning squares, churches and buildings. There are plenty of great places to eat at varying prices. We loved Café O’Reilly for an affordable breakfast and freshly roasted coffee. O’Reilly 304 is worth splashing out on, the food is delicious and very different to what you will find throughout the rest of Cuba.