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Havana is the city everyone thinks about when they hear “Cuba.” This is where most brochure photos are taken featuring restored convertible cars rolling through the city against a backdrop of pastel colored buildings. And I admit that I loved visiting Havana. But to really experience Cuba it’s necessary to get out of the capital and explore some of the other cities and towns and learn about their rich history.
This is a round-up from experienced travelers about their favorite cities in Cuba. Some of these cities are actually bigger than Havana, while others are small villages. But each contributes to the culture of this fascinating Caribbean country. I hope you’ll be inspired to visit Cuba soon!
Make the most of your trip to Cuba with a guidebook from Lonely Planet.
Shared by Empty Nesters Hit The Road
Strolling the streets of Cuba’s third oldest city is a living history lesson. Trinidad was founded in 1514, and the old town is full of streets, plazas and houses dating back centuries. This is the best preserved colonial town in Cuba, and received the designation of a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.
Any trip to Trinidad should start in Plaza Mayor which has design elements from Spain, Germany, Italy, and the United States. As a result of the sugar cane industry, this was a very wealthy town, and no expense was spared in the development of its central square and surrounding homes.
Two of the buildings surrounding Plaza Mayor have been converted into small museums; Museo Romantico and Museo de Arquitectura. Nearby is the Museo Historico Municipal, formerly the home of a wealthy sugar cane plantation owner. All of these are worth a quick visit in order to learn more about the history of this region. If you want a terrific view of Trinidad, climb the bell tower of the history museum.
But the best part of a visit to Trinidad is just roaming the cobblestone streets. While many of these buildings are in need of further restoration, their original elegance is still visible. And while appreciating the historic houses and shops you may see a cowboy ride through town on a horse, or a boy guiding a donkey cart. Get up early to explore and you’ll be rewarded with plenty of photo opportunities.
Shared by My Adventures Across The World
Baracoa, in the province of Guantanamo, is one the few remaining hidden gems of Cuba. It's quite hard to reach as there is only one road that connects it to Santiago, known as La Farola, which winds through the mountains and forest for a scenic bus ride.
The city itself is pretty, though quite small. There are a couple of interesting museums and landmarks in town, but most travelers who make it all the way to Baracoa go there to enjoy the incredible nature that surrounds it. Indeed, this is a very tropical part of the country, which means that vegetation is lush, rivers are everywhere, and nature is pristine.
One of the things you have to do when visiting Baracoa is hike to El Yunque. This cone shaped mountain can be seen from various places in town. It's a strenuous hike. Indeed, despite being short, the area is very hot and humid, and the trail incredibly muddy and slippery (you will need very good hiking boots). You need a guide to make it to the top - one can be hired at the entrance of the park.
When in Baracoa, make sure to check out Rio Yumuri for a beautiful, less visited place. And if you want to spend a day at the beach, head to the picturesque playa Maguana. You can even swim to the coral reef from the shore.
Shared by Destinationless Travel
Viñales is one of the best places to visit in Cuba. Located 3-hours from Havana it is easily accessible and an ideal escape from the busy city. Viñales is a town in Cuba’s countryside famous for tobacco farms, horses, and rolling hills. It is the perfect place to visit if you want to see a different side of Cuba.
The most popular thing to do in Viñales is to visit a tobacco farm. Here you can tour the farm and see the different stages of the tobacco plant. Afterwards, it is common to learn how to roll a cigar and even roll your very own! When I was there, our guide taught us all about cigars and how to tell a quality from one that is essentially worthless (great knowledge to have while in Cuba!)
In Viñales you can also opt to horseback riding through the countryside stopping at viewpoint and lakes along the way. The town itself is also very beautiful and full of small colorful houses. The country-vibe is relaxed and makes you want to sit down on a street-side café, have a drink or a cup of coffee and just watch the world go by.
Staying in Havana? Take a day-trip to Viñales.
Shared by Bacon is Magic
One of the most popular side trips from Havana is Vinales, but many people drive past Las Terrazas never realizing they are bypassing one of the most interesting spots in Cuba. Not only was it the former home to Cuban coffee plantations, but now it is an eco-community that has a fantastic river to swim in, horseback riding through the mountains and ziplining. Accommodation ranges from budget friendly tents to a hotel with beautiful views.
It is so popular that half of all visitors are Cubans, so you can actually interact with locals and discover what Cubans do for fun in their own country.
There are plenty of food options, from a snack bar to a fantastic cafe with iced coffee and lots of little restaurants along the hills. The most interesting for me is El Romero in the heart of the community. It is a vegetarian restaurant, which is unusual for Cuba, but it also is partially powered by solar energy. The restaurant also keeps its own bees, composts and tries to buy its ingredients as close to the restaurant as possible. It is one of the most eco conscious restaurants in the country.
Las Terrazas is a great trip for those who want to unwind and stay in nature. For others who have less time it is a great day trip as it's less than an hour from Havana.
Santiago de Cuba
Shared by Travels With Talek
Santiago de Cuba, the island’s second city after Havana, sits majestically on a beautiful bay surrounded by soaring mountains. It is an example of a colonial town at its best, with winding, cobblestone streets, white-washed, red tiled houses and tropical gardens
To get a good feel for Santiago, start at Cespedes Park in the center of the city. There you can visit the Our Lady of the Assumption Cathedral. Dating from 1522, this church has been recently renovated. Climb to the top of the right cupola where you will be rewarded with a spectacular view of the city.
Also on Cespedes Park is the oldest standing house in Cuba, the Casa Velasquez. This was the home of Diego de Velasquez, the first Spanish governor of Cuba. It is now a remarkable museum displaying period furnishings.
About 30 minutes outside of town is the Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca, more commonly known as El Morro, a massive 17th-century fort built to protect the key city of Santiago from pirates. It is the best-preserved example of Spanish-America military architecture.
Explore the final resting place of Cuba's notables as you stroll the marble walkways of the Santa Efigenia Cemetery.
Santiago is definitely one of the best places to visit in Cuba!
Shared by Layer Culture
When looking for things to do in Cuba, Varadero should definitely be on your list. For years it has been popular with many famous people including Al Capone. Like many islands in the Caribbean, rum is sold on most streets. With Cuba being the producer of many fine Rums, you may want to visit Casa de Ron, House of Rum in English, to sample one of the many Rums that have been produced on the Island and sold in this store. You can also pick up some top-notch souvenirs in the market at Gran Parque de la Artesania, expect to find collectables like carved wooden figurines, jewellery made from coral and well-crafted bongos.
Other than just been a famous beach town with exceptional rum and souvenirs, though, you’ll find other interesting things to do like visiting an ancient burial cave, scuba diving and various other water sports that you’ll enjoy. So, while planning a trip to Cuba don’t miss out on Varadero. From here you may want to head out towards Matanzas for another dose of Cuban culture.
Spend the day cruising from Varadero to Cayo Blanco.
Shared by Travel For Life Now
If you want to get to know Cuba, you have to go to Santa Clara for historical and cultural experiences. From the Che Memorial and Mausoleum to El Menuje, one of the official LGBTQ cultural centers in the country, Santa Clara is a small city with much to see and do. The Battle of Santa Clara, led by Che Guevara, was a turning point in the Cuban revolution and an important historical site. You should go see the Che Memorial and Mausoleum for more about Che.
Located in the center of the city, the Monumento a la Toma del Tren Blindado is also a must-do. This is the spot where Che and his men used a bulldozer to derail a train full of General Batista’s soldiers. A few blocks away is the Revolution Café which is full of Che and Cuban memorabilia (and a good place for a cup of coffee). On the cultural side, El Menuje, founded in 1991, is one of the official LGBTQ+ organizations. It is a cultural center for the whole community and has drag shows, cultural, theater and other events. One of Cuba’s international airports is located in Santa Clara so it is easy to begin or end your trip in the city.
Shared by Ojos Extranjeros
About two and a half hours out of Havana is the charming province of Cienfuegos. Often referred to as the pearl of the south, the city of Cienfuegos has amazing history and architecture due to not only the Spanish but also French influences that had settled here. In fact, the city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to the stunning architecture, which can be admired alongside Marti Park, a park dedicated to Cuba’s founding father, Jose Marti. Walking around the city, you’ll see (and hear) tributes to one of their most famous residents, Cuban singer Benny More, with music pouring out of every building in town.
A visit to Cienfuegos wouldn’t be complete without admiring the beautiful beach - Rancho Luna. Spend a relaxing day by the shore and order lunch and some of the best mojitos found on the island!
However, the biggest must-do in Cienfuegos is a trip to El Nicho National Park. Entry will cost you about 10 CUC, where you will be able to freely explore all of the freshwater pools and stunning waterfalls in the park. Visits are limited to about 2 hours, which is plenty of time to hike, swim, and even grab lunch. El Nicho is a prime example of the natural diversity Cuba has to offer.
Check-out these Get Your Guide tours in Cienfuegos.