When you hear about Cuba, you probably think of Havana and its old historic center and waterfront, the well-kept convertibles from the 1950s, the Cuban cigars, and its delicious food. But, do you think beyond Havana? As the capital and one of the most developed cities in the country, it is normal for Havana to get all the attention, but there are many other places worth visiting in order to get the real taste of what Cuba is. Here are six other spots in Cuba you shouldn’t miss on your trip.
Viñales is a small countryside town west of Havana, and even though it is just two hours away from the capital city, it feels like a different world. Viñales is so slow paced, people trot up and down the street on their horses, cigar-chewing guajiros drive their oxen and plow through the rust colored tobacco fields, farmers tend to their crops and workers sit in sheds and farms drying and rolling the famous Cuban tobacco.
Viñales is said to be one of the most beautiful destinations in Cuba. Karstic mountains, known as mogotes, make a unique landscape around the town of Viñales. The incredible landscapes make for an excellent excuse to go out on a horseback ride, swimming in the lake, hiking, and spend time outside, in general.
Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo
Even though Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo are referred to as “beautiful all-inclusive resort islands,” they have an interesting history behind them.
Cayo Coco used to be a hideout for buccaneers in the early colonial period. Later it served as home to a small settlement of fisherman and charcoal producers until it was later replaced by resorts in the 1990s. These cayos have some of the most beautiful beaches in Cuba, and Playa Pilar in Cayo Guillermo is said to have been Fidel’s favorite beach in the country.
Additionally, Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo provided settings for Ernest Hemingway's islands In “The Stream” and “The Old Man and the Sea.”
Trinidad is one of the best-preserved colonial towns in Cuba. In fact, back in 2014, it turned 500 years old, making it one of the oldest, best-preserved cities in the Caribbean. The city feels like an open-air museum with its wide range of colonial buildings ranging from the 16th century to more modern elements. Many of its streets are still paved with cobblestones and lined with pastel colored buildings decorated with wrought-iron grilles and delicate terracotta tiled roofs.
Do not to miss the views from both of the major towers in the city; the one from the Museo Histórico Municipal and the one from the Convent of Saint Francis of Assisi. Getting that view from up there will show you the beauty of both the city and its natural setting.
Beyond the historic city, you can also visit Topes de Collantes, which is one of Cuba’s premier ecotourism centers and an excellent hiking area.
Santiago de Cuba
Santiago de Cuba is known for its hospitable, jovial people and its rich historical heritage.
This city is the birthplace of many musical genres including son, trova, bolero, guaracha, and conga, among others African and Caribbean origin.
Beyond music, Santiago also is home to two exquisite UNESCO World Heritage Sites: San Pedro de la Roca Castle (El Morro) and the Isabelica Coffee Plantation Museum. Of great importance to Cuban history is José Martí, one of the key figures of Cuba’s independence and a national hero. He is buried at the cemetery of Santa Iphigenia, a National Monument since 1979. You can also visit the July 26 Historical Museum and Siboney Farm, where the insurrection headed by Fidel that led to the triumph of the Revolution on January 1st, 1959 happened.
Holguin, known as the City of Parks due to its beautiful plazas and parks, is currently Cuba's fourth largest city. Back when Columbus first set foot here, he called the area the most beautiful land his eyes had ever seen. Today, the surrounding area outside the city hasn't changed much from what he saw.
While the beaches in Holguin are relatively short in length, they have some of the finest sand you’ll find in Cuba. Playa Pesquero is the longest beach in the area and is just one kilometer in length, but it is a good beach for snorkeling, as is Playa Esmeralda.
Varadero is known as Cuba's top beach destination. This 20-kilometer-long peninsula is famous for its powdery sands and crystal clear waters. But, different from the other places mentioned, Varadero has been famous among celebrities since the 1920’s, and today it is often crowded with tourists and locals alike. If you’re looking for vibrant scenery by the beach, then this is the place to go.
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