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Best Places to Visit in Cuba, Top Attractions
Although still closed off to American tourists, Cuba is open to other world travelers eager to explore the rich culture and history of the island. Known for its legendary cigars, American vintage cars, stunning beaches, not to mention a few rum distilleries, Cuba clearly has a lot to offer visitors. When selecting the best places to visit in Cuba, be sure to embrace both the rural and the city experiences. The perfect trip to Cuba will include Havana, but it will also get off the beaten track and explore the incredible scenery and culture of the entire island. Cuba is truly a unique destination. The largest of the Caribbean Islands, Cuba will charm you with its charismatic vibe influenced by four centuries of African, Caribbean, and Spanish cultures. Everywhere you look there are reminders of its past integrated with the present. To help you immerse in Cuban culture, we’re going to share the best places to visit in Cuba to experience an authentic and unforgettable vacation. Colourful colonial buildings, vintage cars and old fashioned cocktail bars decorate the cities, and there are so many beautiful beaches to explore. Cuba also abounds in natural beauty. This vast island has more than 5,000 kilometers of coastline, much of it rimmed by dazzling beaches. Coral reefs glimmer in the turquoise waters, and Cuba's lush countryside and sublime islands have played host to presidents; provided refuge to revolutionaries; and inspired writers from around the world, Hemingway among them. With all this history and beauty, as well as superb diving and fishing, Cuba offers a depth and diversity few Caribbean islands can rival. Explore this captivating country with our list of the top attractions and places to visit in Cuba.
#1- PARQUE NACIONAL VINALES
The Vinales Valley is a fantastic area for hiking and cycling. Encircled by mountains and decorated with rocky outcrops, this UNESCO World Heritage Centre has a unique landscape. Yet it’s just a few hours from the noisy city of Havana. The mogotes, caves, and tobacco fields are all worth visiting, and a number of cool hanging restaurants will provide you with amazing views as you dine.
#2- CASTILLO DE SAN PEDRO DEL MORRO
An incredible fort that sits on top a 60-metre-high promontory, inviting you into Santiago Harbour. Located close to the city of Santiago de Cuba, it’s a must-visit for anyone staying there. The castle has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997, and has been well-preserved since its days of warding off pirates. Get up to the upper terrace to experience the mind-blowing views of Santiago’s coastline and the Sierra Maestra in the distance.
#3- PLAYA GIRON
Experience the breath-taking views at the Bay of Pigs (Bahia de Cochinos). This area is the famous site where the 1961 failed military invasion of Cuba took place. The U.S. State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) attempted to overthrow Fidel Castro, but were badly outnumbered by Castro’s troops. Today, the bay is visited for its beautiful beaches and magical underwater wildlife. It’s a diver’s paradise, and Playa Giron is one of the most well-known beache/village areas to visit.
#4- PARQUE HISTORICO MILITAR
Two of Havana’s famous fortresses are found inside the Parque Historico Militar. The Castillo de los Tres Reyes del Morro (also known as El Morro) and Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabana adorn the entrance to the bay and have been well-maintained since their erection in the 16th and 17th centuries. Built to defend the city from pirates, these battlements offer a great vantage point. Pack your camera and some comfortable shoes, and march to the top of the fort for stunning views overlooking the ocean and the city.
#5- SANTA CLARA
Dubbed Cuba’s most revolutionary city, this regional capital in central Cuba has deep historical links to Che Guevara. He liberated the city from the Batista regime in 1958 and the event is honoured by the mausoleum, bronze Guevara statue, and the Museo Histórico de la Revolución. Inside the museum, you will find numerous artefacts to commemorate his life. For hard-to-find free WiFi connection, pop to the central square.
#6- CAGUANES NATIONAL PARK
Located in the Yaguajay Municipality of the Sancti Spíritus Province along the north coast, this park is a great destination for ecotourism. Listed as a UNESCO site, the park consists of Caguanes Cay, Ciénaga Swamp, Guayaberasand, and the islets of Piedra Cays. With such a diverse and interesting landscape, Caguanes National Park is worth the trek from Havana.
#7- PARQUE JOSONE
This beautiful park in the resort town of Varadero is a pleasant escape from the tourist beaches. It’s well-maintained and features a number of amenities and attractions, making it an ideal meeting point for solo travellers or for families travelling with children. The peaceful park is home to colourful flower gardens, a small lake with rowing boats for hire, and a swimming pool that is safe for all ages. There’s also a café and restaurant for grabbing some lunch or for simply watching the world go by.
#8- CAYO SANTA MARIA
A UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, and also an up-and-coming travel destination that most tourists don’t know about yet. This island off the northern coast is home to the best wildlife in Cuba, including birds such as herons, cormorants, and a colony of pretty pink flamingos. Other reasons to come here are the gorgeous beaches and excellent water sports.
Get the best of central Cuba with a few nights in Trinidad. Walk the cobbled streets of the colonial Old Town, marvel at the many old buildings and neo-Baroque Plaza Mayor, discover the haunted mansion that houses the Museo Romántico, and learn about the Cuban sugar plantations at the Museo de Arquitectura Colonial. You’re worlds away from the tourist seaside resorts here. But for a beach escape, hire a bike and cycle to Playa Ancon. This thin ribbon of white sand beach is considered to be the finest sliver of sand in Cuba’s south coast.
Not too far from where Christopher Columbus first landed, this pretty little resort holds a special place in local history. In 1492, he proclaimed about the island, “The most beautiful land I have ever seen.” Visit all the beaches in the area, including Esmeralda and Pesquero, and you’ll understand why Christopher Columbus loved this place so much. Although rather sleepy and much quieter than other popular towns in Cuba, there are still some nice hotels and restaurants to choose from.
#11- CHORRO DE MAITA
Also close to Guardalavaca is an early colonial archaeological site called El Chorro de Maita. This unique attraction dates back to the early 16th Century and features excavated indigenous houses and an old cemetery. There are dozens of preserved human remains within this ancient settlement, making it a must-visit site for history lovers.
Baracoa is Cuba’s best kept secret. Set on the windy side of the Cuchillos del Toa Mountains, this is one of the island’s most isolated towns. It’s also the country’s oldest, making it a journey back in time to the Cuban coastline in its glory days. Other than the azure seas and wild beaches, there’s also an interesting mix of fertile forests and a semi-desert. This is a landscape like no other. No wonder Christopher Columbus sang its praises when he landed on the coastline in 1492, naming it the most beautiful place on earth.
#13- THE MALECON
Havana isn’t the sort of place you just pass through. This complex and colourful capital deserves your full attention and at least a week to see the sights. Backpackers who really want to get under the skin of this city stopover here for months on end. The Malecon is one of the spots where you’ll find many of these soul-searching travellers hanging out at sundown. A broad esplanade stretching 8km in length, it’s great for an after dinner stroll. Watch the classic cars whizz by, watch the fishermen seduce their evening catch, or simply watch the sunset.
#14- VARADERO BEACH
A hugely popular resort town, Varadero is great for families, couples or backpackers alike. It’s home to perhaps the most “touristy” strip in Cuba, but there are plenty of other things to see here. Classic car tours will give you some insight into how these vintage beauties got here in the first place, and there’s a fantastic nature trail by the Varahicacos Ecological Reserve. The entire peninsula (stretching 20km) is lined with all-inclusive hotels and managed beaches. For spas, golfing and nightlife, you simply can’t go wrong here.
A beautiful colonial town, with just as much wonder and excitement as the capital but with a slower pace of life. Things are a lot more relaxed in this UNESCO listed site, and the stunning colonial buildings and vintage cars make it a quintessentially Cuban experience.
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