20 great things to see and do in Cuba

Partners Statues—Walt Disney & Mickey Mouse at Magic Kingdom (Photo by Lauren Bowman)
With soaring snow-capped mountains, dazzling waters and lush rainforest, the majesty of New Zealand's Fiordland National Park gives Norway some stiff competition. The jewel in this magical region in the island's southwest corner is Milford Sound, one of the 14 fiords. Rudyard Kipling was onto something when he called it the "eighth wonder of the world”.
Slide 1 of 21: Having already undergone one revolution, Cuba is now undergoing another, emerging as a coveted travel destination that combines soaring mountain landscapes and endless beaches with the steady thrum of music almost everywhere you turn in cities and towns with colonial pasts. Whether you want to drink like Hemingway or experience nine innings in a baseball-mad country, here are 20 great things to see and do in Cuba.
Slide 2 of 21: A UNESCO World Heritage Site, La Habana Vieja (Old Havana) is great to explore on foot, boasting carefully preserved squares, vintage cars, elaborate palaces, feats of architecture, historical fortresses and plazas where you can sip coffee and hang with the locals. Plaza de Armas, for example, has thrived as a local watering hole for more than 500 years.
Slide 3 of 21: Havana’s Necrópolis Cristóbal Colón is a national monument and one of the largest cemeteries in the Americas. Take a walk through Cuban history amid memorable religious iconography and marble statues spread over 57 hectares. Buy a map leading the way to the final resting places of all manner of artists, politicians, writers, revolutionaries and other notable figures.
Slide 4 of 21: In the mood for public art that features a riot of colours and inspired tile work? Then head over to the Jaimanitas district to what is unofficially known as Fusterlandia. Cuban artist José Fuster has turned his neighbourhood into a wild and creative destination, with homages to Picasso and Gaudí that include his own house, Taller-Estudio José Fuster.
Slide 5 of 21: This multi level stone fortress and UNESCO World Heritage Site occupies the rocky cliffs along the southeast coast of Cuba, where it has “guarded the entrance to Santiago de Cuba Bay since 1638,” according to the UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Its upper terrace offers views of the water and the beautiful Sierra Maestra mountains.
Slide 6 of 21: Housed in the former Presidential Palace, constructed between 1913 and 1920, Havana’s Museo de la Revolución commemorates the Cuban Revolution. Its interior was decorated by Tiffany's of New York, and its Salón de los Espejos was inspired by the original Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles.
Slide 7 of 21: Baracoa is worth a visit, and not just because it is the site of Cuba’s first settlement. It also happens to be a natural paradise, graced with a beautiful oyster-shaped bay, 10 rivers, lush vegetation, a UNESCO designated biosphere reserve and the iconic flat-topped mountain called El Yunque (the anvil). Rafting, boating, trips to the beach and a stop at the Alejandro de Humboldt National Park should definitely be on your itinerary.
Slide 8 of 21: This is the highest and longest mountain range in Cuba, stretching across three provinces and home to the Gran Parque Nacional Sierra Maestra and the Parque Nacional de Turquino—ideal destinations for hikers and nature lovers. The Sierra Maestra is also famous for being the hiding place from which Fidel Castro and his rebel followers waged guerilla warfare in the 1950s.
Slide 9 of 21: A number of limestone outcrops, or mogotes, are found in this flat valley, a great place for hiking, biking, climbing and horseback riding. The Mural de la Prehistoria, a 120-meter-long evolution-themed mural painted on the side of a cliff, was designed in 1961 by Leovigildo González Morillo, a follower of the Mexican artist Diego Rivera. According to Lonely Planet, it took four years and 18 people to complete.
Slide 10 of 21: With 21 kilometres (13 miles) of nearly uninterrupted beaches, Varadero is Cuba’s top beach resort and considered among the best in the Caribbean. With a population that includes Indigenous peoples and itinerant Taíno and Carib fishermen, Varadero saw its first hotel built in 1910, followed by U.S. industrial magnate Irénée Dupont’s Xanadú Mansion in 1928. Both helped to attract not only public figures, but also gangsters such as Al Capone.
Slide 11 of 21: Having already undergone one revolution, Cuba is now undergoing another, emerging as a coveted travel destination that combines soaring mountain landscapes and endless beaches with the steady thrum of music almost everywhere you turn in cities and towns with colonial pasts. Whether you want to drink like Hemingway or experience nine innings in a baseball-mad country, here are 20 great things to see and do in Cuba.
Slide 12 of 21: Nobel Prize winner Ernest Hemingway loved Cuba and actually met Fidel Castro at a fishing tournament. If you want to drink like “Papa” did, two of Hemingway’s favourite Havana hot spots still exist: La Bodeguita del Medio, where he developed his taste for mojitos, and La Floridita, where daiquiris are the drink of choice.
Slide 13 of 21: A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988, Trinidad is a perfectly preserved Spanish colonial town, with pastel coloured buildings and cobblestone streets that beg to be explored. Founded in 1514 by the Spanish conquistador Diego Velázquez de Cuéller, Trinidad made its early fortunes in the sugar trade.
Slide 14 of 21: To get a real taste of Cuba, you need to try its rum, which has been a local specialty for over four centuries. Enjoy it on the rocks or in signature drinks like the Cuba Libre (a rum and coke), cubanito, daiquiri and mojito. You can also embark on rum tours and tastings, including those organized by the famed Havana Club.
Slide 15 of 21: Music is part of Cuba’s DNA. The country’s best loved genres include son, salsa, rumba, bolero, nueva trova, jazz, timba and mixes of Cuban and American influences. Fans of Latin music can choose from a wide variety of music-focused travel tours.
Slide 16 of 21: In the past, the quality of Cuban food was hit or miss. That said, today you can have your pick from some delicious local dishes, including sticky fried plantains, frita (Cuban hamburger), elote (grilled corn on the cob rolled in cotija cheese) and ropa vieja (stewed shredded beef in tomato sauce).
Slide 17 of 21: According to the Atlantic Online, there’s truth to the running joke that “flying baseballs are the greatest pedestrian hazard in Havana.” Pickup games are common, to say the least. You can also join 55,000 or so baseball fanatics at the Estadio Latinoamericano for some sweet Cuban coffee and matchups between Cuba’s numerous teams.
Slide 18 of 21: Amateur boxing is widely popular in Cuba (professional boxing was banned in 1961), and its pugilists have achieved the highest international gold medal count in the sport. You can see young boxers train at the Rafael Trejo Boxing Gym on Cuba Street in Havana. It’s free to watch, though money contributions are encouraged.
Slide 19 of 21: Cuba is famous for its cigars, and even non-smokers may be tempted to have a puff when visiting. Hotel Conde de Villanueva, for example, is the site of a well-known cigar shop called La Casa del Habano. Every year, Havana hosts a cigar festival that includes events such as tours and lectures.
Slide 20 of 21: Far from Havana, Santiago de Cuba sways to its own salsa beat and acts as the country’s cultural capital. It is the birthplace of son and bolero, as well as many famous musicians. It’s also the hometown of José María Heredia, one of Cuba’s most well known poets. As well, Don Facundo Bacardí built his first-ever rum factory here.
Slide 21 of 21: The historical city of Camaguey lies in the middle of cattle country, boasting irregularly designed streets that were originally intended to bewilder pirates. At the centre of town lie colonial plazas, cobblestone streets, and ancient churches and convents. Oversized jars called tinajones have become the city’s trademark.

20 great things to see and do in Cuba

Having already undergone one revolution, Cuba is now undergoing another, emerging as a coveted travel destination that combines soaring mountain landscapes and endless beaches with the steady thrum of music almost everywhere you turn in cities and towns with colonial pasts. Whether you want to drink like Hemingway or experience nine innings in a baseball-mad country, here are 20 great things to see and do in Cuba.

Old Town, Havana

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, La Habana Vieja (Old Havana) is great to explore on foot, boasting carefully preserved squares, vintage cars, elaborate palaces, feats of architecture, historical fortresses and plazas where you can sip coffee and hang with the locals. Plaza de Armas, for example, has thrived as a local watering hole for more than 500 years.

Necrópolis Cristóbal Colón

Havana’s Necrópolis Cristóbal Colón is a national monument and one of the largest cemeteries in the Americas. Take a walk through Cuban history amid memorable religious iconography and marble statues spread over 57 hectares. Buy a map leading the way to the final resting places of all manner of artists, politicians, writers, revolutionaries and other notable figures.

Fusterlandia

In the mood for public art that features a riot of colours and inspired tile work? Then head over to the Jaimanitas district to what is unofficially known as Fusterlandia. Cuban artist José Fuster has turned his neighbourhood into a wild and creative destination, with homages to Picasso and Gaudí that include his own house, Taller-Estudio José Fuster.

San Pedro de la Roca Castle

This multi level stone fortress and UNESCO World Heritage Site occupies the rocky cliffs along the southeast coast of Cuba, where it has “guarded the entrance to Santiago de Cuba Bay since 1638,” according to the UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Its upper terrace offers views of the water and the beautiful Sierra Maestra mountains.

Museo de la Revolución

Housed in the former Presidential Palace, constructed between 1913 and 1920, Havana’s Museo de la Revolución commemorates the Cuban Revolution. Its interior was decorated by Tiffany’s of New York, and its Salón de los Espejos was inspired by the original Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles.

Baracoa

Baracoa is worth a visit, and not just because it is the site of Cuba’s first settlement. It also happens to be a natural paradise, graced with a beautiful oyster-shaped bay, 10 rivers, lush vegetation, a UNESCO designated biosphere reserve and the iconic flat-topped mountain called El Yunque (the anvil). Rafting, boating, trips to the beach and a stop at the Alejandro de Humboldt National Park should definitely be on your itinerary.

Sierra Maestra

This is the highest and longest mountain range in Cuba, stretching across three provinces and home to the Gran Parque Nacional Sierra Maestra and the Parque Nacional de Turquino—ideal destinations for hikers and nature lovers. The Sierra Maestra is also famous for being the hiding place from which Fidel Castro and his rebel followers waged guerilla warfare in the 1950s.

The Viñales Valley

A number of limestone outcrops, or mogotes, are found in this flat valley, a great place for hiking, biking, climbing and horseback riding. The Mural de la Prehistoria, a 120-meter-long evolution-themed mural painted on the side of a cliff, was designed in 1961 by Leovigildo González Morillo, a follower of the Mexican artist Diego Rivera. According to Lonely Planet, it took four years and 18 people to complete.

Varadero

With 21 kilometres (13 miles) of nearly uninterrupted beaches, Varadero is Cuba’s top beach resort and considered among the best in the Caribbean. With a population that includes Indigenous peoples and itinerant Taíno and Carib fishermen, Varadero saw its first hotel built in 1910, followed by U.S. industrial magnate Irénée Dupont’s Xanadú Mansion in 1928. Both helped to attract not only public figures, but also gangsters such as Al Capone.

Cayos Coco and Guillermo

As described by Frommer’s, “these tiny cays off the north coast [are] separated from the Cuban mainland by a long manmade causeway[,] tucked into shallow waters that flow into the Atlantic.” Ideal for diving and other watersports, this remote location offers pristine beaches such as Playa Pilar at the western tip of Guillermo.

Hemingway’s Favourite Bars

Nobel Prize winner Ernest Hemingway loved Cuba and actually met Fidel Castro at a fishing tournament. If you want to drink like “Papa” did, two of Hemingway’s favourite Havana hot spots still exist: La Bodeguita del Medio, where he developed his taste for mojitos, and La Floridita, where daiquiris are the drink of choice.

Trinidad

A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988, Trinidad is a perfectly preserved Spanish colonial town, with pastel coloured buildings and cobblestone streets that beg to be explored. Founded in 1514 by the Spanish conquistador Diego Velázquez de Cuéller, Trinidad made its early fortunes in the sugar trade.

Rum Tastings and Tours

To get a real taste of Cuba, you need to try its rum, which has been a local specialty for over four centuries. Enjoy it on the rocks or in signature drinks like the Cuba Libre (a rum and coke), cubanito, daiquiri and mojito. You can also embark on rum tours and tastings, including those organized by the famed Havana Club.

Music Everywhere

Music is part of Cuba’s DNA. The country’s best loved genres include son, salsa, rumba, bolero, nueva trova, jazz, timba and mixes of Cuban and American influences. Fans of Latin music can choose from a wide variety of music-focused travel tours.

Cuban Cuisine

In the past, the quality of Cuban food was hit or miss. That said, today you can have your pick from some delicious local dishes, including sticky fried plantains, frita (Cuban hamburger), elote (grilled corn on the cob rolled in cotija cheese) and ropa vieja (stewed shredded beef in tomato sauce).

Baseball

According to the Atlantic Online, there’s truth to the running joke that “flying baseballs are the greatest pedestrian hazard in Havana.” Pickup games are common, to say the least. You can also join 55,000 or so baseball fanatics at the Estadio Latinoamericano for some sweet Cuban coffee and matchups between Cuba’s numerous teams.

Boxing

Amateur boxing is widely popular in Cuba (professional boxing was banned in 1961), and its pugilists have achieved the highest international gold medal count in the sport. You can see young boxers train at the Rafael Trejo Boxing Gym on Cuba Street in Havana. It’s free to watch, though money contributions are encouraged.

Cuban Cigars

Cuba is famous for its cigars, and even non-smokers may be tempted to have a puff when visiting. Hotel Conde de Villanueva, for example, is the site of a well-known cigar shop called La Casa del Habano. Every year, Havana hosts a cigar festival that includes events such as tours and lectures.

Santiago de Cuba

Far from Havana, Santiago de Cuba sways to its own salsa beat and acts as the country’s cultural capital. It is the birthplace of son and bolero, as well as many famous musicians. It’s also the hometown of José María Heredia, one of Cuba’s most well known poets. As well, Don Facundo Bacardí built his first-ever rum factory here.

Camaguey

The historical city of Camaguey lies in the middle of cattle country, boasting irregularly designed streets that were originally intended to bewilder pirates. At the centre of town lie colonial plazas, cobblestone streets, and ancient churches and convents. Oversized jars called tinajones have become the city’s trademark.

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