With its compelling history, unique culture and mile upon mile of dreamy Caribbean coastline, Cuba is a joy to discover.
Culture, coast and countyside add up to make Cuba a fantastic holiday destination ripe for discovery. Havana is an intoxicating city so allow plenty of time to immerse yourself in the culture... Soak up the captivating atmosphere as you stroll the historic district of "Habana Vieja" where life spills out into the streets and the pulse of Cuban beats is never far away. Take a spin in a vintage car, dine with the locals and learn to dance the salsa before joining the habaneros on a sunset promenade along the Malecón. From here there are plenty of great destinations a short hop away, and options include Caribbean beaches, hilly hiking trails, hidden valleys and colonial gems. Stay in the best Casas Particulares (Cuban B&Bs) where the welcoming owners are full of fantastic local tips and secrets... make sure to ask them what they'd recommend and before you know it you'll be relaxing on the islands most beautiful beaches and sipping cocktails in the best local bar.
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Top things to do in Cuba
There are many wonderful experiences to be had in this Caribbean nation. For further inspiration take a look at the trip ideas put together by our trusted local experts, but in the meantime here are our top things to do in Cuba.
Dive the Cuban coastline
Cuba should be top of the list for scuba divers and snorkelers. Crystal clear Caribbean waters shelter thriving reefs and fascinating wrecks. The island boasts nearly 6,000 kilometres of coastline scattered with bays, coves and beaches, some with tourist facilities, others untouched, and many with pristine dive sites to discover.
Explore Old Havana
Managing to be simultaneously laid back and pulsing with energy, Havana is a unique and captivating city. The old quarter, "Habana Vieja", is a masterpiece of artful dilapidation – street photographers will be in their element here. Spend some time in the bars and cafes, where you’ll meet an exuberant crowd of locals, stroll the waterfront Malecón, visit the many museums, then kick back with a mojito and watch the world go by.
Adventures in the Viñales Valley
Tucked in among the humpback hills of the western province of Pinar del Rio, the Viñales Valley is an oasis of greenery defined by the abrupt hillsides that surround it. The town itself makes a characterful base from which to explore. From here you can take gentle hikes, go rock-climbing or visit the region’s caves and underground waterways.
Embrace the Cuban clichés
Predictable though it might be, getting first-hand experience of two Cuban icons while in situ should not be missed. Firstly, visit a tobacco farm to try an authentic cigar right where it was crafted, avoiding the cheaper versions sold on every street corner. Secondly, hail a cab or take a taxi on a city tour. Even common or garden taxis in Cuba are often bright and larger-than-life 1950s American classics – a feeling and photo opportunity not to be missed.
Lesser-known things to do in Cuba
While there are many well-known things to do in Cuba, what about the lesser-known highlights? Our local experts have shared some of their top tips for where to go and what to do if you fancy a bit of an alternative Cuban adventure.
In praise of tranquillity
Just west of Havana the tranquil Las Terrazas Nature Reserve and Eco-village provides a peaceful antidote to the buzzing city streets. Here you can follow woodland trails, eat sweet bananas fresh from the tree, spot Cuba’s colourful birdlife and plunge into refreshing river pools.
A literary tour
Ernest Hemingway wrote many of his most famous novels while living in Cuba, including The Old Man and the Sea. Pick up a copy and take yourself on a tour of Hemingway’s Havana, stopping off for Daiquiris at his favourite haunts - La Floridita, Bodeguita del Medio and the Hotel Ambos Mundos. You can also visit his former home, Finca Vigía, now a museum and located in the outskirts of the city.
Drink a real mojito
There are mojitos, then there are mojitos. In Cuba you’ll enjoy the second type: the real deal. When bar staff from the US headed to Cuba during Prohibition, they brought cocktail culture with them to find local bartenders already mixing quality local rum with fresh fruit juices. A bit of finessing and a few decades of drinking later and voila, the mojito stands the test of time as the quintessential Cuban cocktail. Hemingway lapped them up at El Floridita…
When is the best time to go to Cuba?
The best time to go to Cuba is from November to April. This is when you will find the driest climate with balmy temperatures typically hovering in the late 20°Cs at the warmest part of the day. As the best period climate wise throughout the islands, it is correspondingly busy, so it is best to plan as far in advance as you can. May to July sees similar temperatures, but ushers in the early part of the wet season so you can expect to see a few more rainy days. However, the showers do not usually last and should not limit your options. August to October is low season - the wettest and most humid months. There is also an increased risk of tropical storms and hurricanes during this period, though Cuba is very much a year round destination.
Interesting facts about Cuba
Cuba is a fascinating country. But did you know any of our top three facts about it?
- Cuba’s literacy rate is one of the highest in the world at 99.8%.
- Cuba is home to the world’s smallest bird. The tiny Bee Hummingbird grows to just two inches long – blink and you’ll miss it!
- Cuba has universal health care and the highest doctor to patient ratio in the world.
Insider tips from our trusted local experts
Being local, our experts have an extensive knowledge of the secrets to experiencing the 'real' Cuba. Here are a few of their top tips - ask them for other recommendations when you enquire to ensure you have the most in-depth experience whilst on holiday!
Swim in a cenote…
With Cuba’s somewhat sultry climate, adventurous treks can leave you steamed up and in need of a dip. For the ultimate wild swimming experience, include a cenote or two on your route. These natural sinkholes are found in limestone regions and are created when a localised section of the bedrock collapses, exposing the groundwater below. Temptingly blue and 100% refreshing, the Zapata Peninsula is a great spot for a sneaky cenote swim.
To change money in country, avoid US and Aussie dollars. Instead take GBP or Euros as these give the best exchange rate. On the cash-card front, MasterCard (being American) can be more problematic than Visa, which tends to meet with more success. Checking to see if you bank has American alliances – and letting them know you’re Cuba bound – can also help. Unexpectedly having no access to funds is not a good holiday look.
Book in advance…
Though flying by the seat of your pants can work, booking key tours, experiences and accommodation in advance pays huge dividends. This is especially true because Internet and online map access isn’t always as readily available as you’d like. Entrusting things to our handpicked, in-country experts who know Cuba inside out maximizes your time to enjoy this totally unique country. There’s a time and place for haggling, and 4am after a tiring trans-Atlantic flight isn’t it.
What to read before you go to Cuba
If you're looking for something to get you in the mood before you set off on your travels to Cuba, we've gathered a list of our favourite books to inspire you.
'Waiting for Snow in Havana' by Carlos Eire
Sub-titled ‘Confessions of a Cuban Boy’, this award-winning autobiographical work describes the author's experiences as part of Operation Peter Pan, the post-revolution exodus of more than 14,000 unaccompanied children from Cuba to the United States (1960 to 1962). Batista is replaced with Castro, a cigar-smoking guerrilla, and playful childhood shouts are replaced by firing squad shots. Called both an ode to paradise and an exorcism, this evocative book transports you to the core of a pivotal moment in Cuba’s recent history.
'Trading with the Enemy' by Tom Miller
This pulsating portrait of a nation was crafted by an American granted unprecedented access to travel throughout Castro’s Cuba – one of the world’s five remaining communist countries. Roaming the rural regions, coasts and towns, Miller met a colourful cross-section of society, from the sparkling literati to cane cutters and cigar rollers and following in the footsteps of Graham Greene, José Marti, Ernest Hemingway. An intelligent and well-informed adventure (with some good Castro jokes thrown in).
'Dreaming in Cuban' by Cristina Garcia
Garcia’s expansive and impressive first novel was a finalist for the National Book Award. Veering between the USA and Cuba, it wraps readers up in the lives of three generations of one family, divided in many senses by the Cuban Revolution. Lyrically languid, protagonist Celia’s story mirrors Cuba’s own magical realism and deftly juxtaposes beauty with poverty, idealism with corruption.
'Buena Vista Social Club' by Wim Wenders (DVD, 1999)
Wim Wenders’ much-lauded documentary follows fabled guitarist Ry Cooder and his son, Joachim, on a journey to record an album by assembling a group of Cuba’s finest musicians. Interviewed and featured in the footage are pianist Rubén González and singer Ibrahim Ferrer. Following the runaway global success of the film, the ensemble eventually travels to stage a series of sell-out performances in the States.
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