The largest island in the Caribbean Sea, Cuba is a fascinating place to visit that boasts a rich history, heritage, and culture. Long shaped by communism, Castro, Che Guevara, and the Cold War, Cuba is now an increasingly popular destination with a rapidly expanding tourism industry.
Visitors to the island and its surrounding archipelagos will find beautiful beaches, breathtaking natural tourist attractions, crumbling forts, and gorgeous colonial towns. With iconic streetscapes full of pastel-colored buildings and classic old Cadillacs, Cuba’s capital of Havana is one of the most magical and atmospheric places and offers some of the best things to do in Cuba.
17. Punta Gorda, Cienfuegos
Home to gorgeous 1950s houses, the peninsula of Punta Gorda is one of the prettiest and most picturesque parts of Cienfuegos. Jutting out into the bay, the upscale neighborhood sports stunning seafront scenery, with fabulous views to be enjoyed over the surrounding sparkling waters.
It is most known, however, for the eclectic, elegant, and extravagant collection of palaces that line its waterfront. Built by wealthy Cubans, they lie amidst groves of gently waving palm trees, with the sky-blue Palacio Azul and magnificent Moorish style Palacio de Valle being the pick of the lot.
16. Colonial Camagüey
Set in the center of the country, Cuba’s third-largest city, Camaguey, boasts a heart-wrenchingly beautiful colonial centre. Rebuilt and redesigned as a maze to confuse attackers following the city’s sacking in the 17th century, its labyrinth of streets are a delight to explore.
Its pretty plazas and narrow winding streets are lined by charming pastel-colored buildings, with brilliant Baroque churches, excellent art galleries, and atmospheric restaurants and bars dotted about. It also exhibits astounding architecture, with colonial-era creations lying alongside more modern Art Deco and Art Nouveau edifices.
15. Alejandro de Humboldt National Park
Home to some of the most diverse, delightful, and dramatic landscapes in the Caribbean, Alejandro de Humboldt National Park is a nature lover’s dream. Named after the famous German naturalist, explorer, and scientist who visited the island in 1800, the park lies in the far east of the country and protects some fantastic flora and fauna.
Within its mountainous confines, you can find pristine forests, mangroves, and lagoons, with flocks of brightly colored birds flitting overhead. Wandering along the scenic hiking trails that snake through the untouched wilderness is the best way to see its endemic species and astonishing ecosystems up close.
14. Varadero Beach
One of the most popular and picturesque beaches in Cuba, Varadero’s blindingly bright white sands and turquoise waters make for a spectacular sight. Lined by upmarket hotels, restaurants, and resorts, the 20-kilometre-long beach has everything you could want from a holiday destination, with fine dining, nightlife, and entertainment options on offer.
Besides this, there is also some great shopping to be had, as well as sailing, swimming, and scuba diving. While it’s quite touristy and can get crowded due to its proximity to Havana, Varadero Beach and its sumptuous sun, sea and sand is a slice of paradise that shouldn’t be missed out on.
13. El Nicho Waterfalls
Set amid the Sierra del Escambray mountains of Cienfuegos Province, El Nicho is a stunning series of waterfalls that lie along the Hanabanilla River. Hidden among dense undergrowth with mountains rearing in the background, the sparkling falls and glimmering pools below really do look a treat.
Due to the outstanding beauty, El Nicho makes for a popular day trip from the city of Cienfuegos, with the road and trail to the falls just as scenic. Once you arrive, you can bask in the divine views, swim in the cool pools, and snap photo after photo of the splendid scenery.
12. Presidio Modelo
Now a museum, a national monument, a school, and a research center, it’s somewhat ironic that Presidio Modelo was designed to be a ‘model prison’. Erected between 1926 and 1928 by Cuba’s former dictator, Gerardo Machado, its five circular blocks are set on Isla de la Juventud, the second-largest of Cuba’s islands.
Both Fidel Castro and his brother Raul were held here in squalid conditions alongside countless other prominent political prisoners until it was closed in 1967. Visiting the dilapidated and decaying site makes for an eerie yet interesting experience as you wander around the old cells and learn about the former inmates’ lives.
11. Bay of Pigs
Contrary to its great renown and historical importance, the Bay of Pigs is actually a small, scenic, and secluded inlet that lies along Cuba’s southern coastline. Famed around the world for the failed American-backed invasion of 1961, it is now a popular tourist destination due to its beautiful beaches, interesting historic sights, and superb snorkeling and scuba diving.
While both Playa Larga and Playa Giron are perfect for lounging lazily on the beach, there are a couple of museums and monuments worth checking out documenting the events surrounding the Bay of Pigs invasion.
10. Cayo Saetia Island
Connected to the mainland by a small bridge, Cayo Saetia is a lovely little island home to a national park of the same name. Located in Holguin Province in the southeast of Cuba, the former government game reserve now protects exotic animals, with camels, zebras, and ostriches spotted alongside water buffalo and deer.
Lined by secluded coves and hidden beaches, the cay is covered in grassy plains, lush forests, and intriguing swamps. Visitors to Cayo Saetia can stay at its one resort and take jeep safaris to the bush or beach. Catamaran and helicopter tours are only available from the resort town of Guardalavaca.
9. Classic American cars
Once one of the largest importers of American cars in the Americas, the Cuban Revolution of 1959 and the subsequent embargo and Cold War saw not a single screw or spare part cross the Florida Strait. As they were essential for everyday transportation, Cubans ingeniously kept their old cars running, repairing them with whatever they had on hand.
To this day, thousands of classic American cars can still be seen around the island. Taking a tour around Havana in one is a quintessential Cuban experience. These colorful vintage cars from the 40s and 50s make for some fabulous photos, and Havana’s stunning streetscapes just wouldn’t be the same without them.
8. Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca
Perched atop a rocky outcrop, Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca lies on the outskirts of Santiago de Cuba, overlooking and guarding the entrance to its bay. Completed in 1700 after decades of work, the imposing fortress and its large bulwarks and citadel were designed to protect the nearby city from pirates and freebooters.
From its towering walls and turrets, which are still dotted with age-old cannons looking out to sea, visitors can enjoy commanding views over the surrounding area. Now a popular tourist destination, Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca is widely considered to be one of the best and most well-preserved examples of Spanish-American military architecture in the Caribbean.
7. Havana’s Malecón
Stretching for seven kilometers along Havana’s gorgeous seafront, the Malecon is one of the city’s standout sights. Bustling with life, the busy promenade and boulevard passes several different neighborhoods. Delightful yet decaying old buildings and classic Cadillacs and Chevrolets are wherever you look.
A popular place to meet for locals and tourists, the Malecon has a magical and romantic air, particularly at sunset when its fading facades are bathed in the soft light. Housed in its charming Neoclassical and Art Deco buildings are lively bars and cafes, while fishermen, families, and street entertainers congregate along the waterfront.
6. Playa Paraiso
Surrounded by the shimmering waters of the Caribbean Sea, the small resort island of Cayo Largo del Sur is home to one of Cuba’s most spectacular sights: Playa Paraiso. Blessed with blindingly bright white sands and sparkling turquoise waters, it regularly features among the most beautiful beaches in the world.
Delightfully untouched and undeveloped, its sun-kissed sands are perfect for lounging on, with swimming and snorkeling to be enjoyed in its warm waters. In addition to its scattering of bars, restaurants, and hotels, visitors can also stop by the gorgeous Playa Sirena which lies nearby.
5. Trinidad Old Town
Set in Sancti Spiritus in central Cuba, the small city of Trinidad boasts one of the most popular, pleasant, and picturesque old towns in the country. Located just inland from the Caribbean coastline, with rolling hills lying all around, its mesmerizing mess of cobbled streets are lined by colorful colonial buildings, artisanal workshops, and Baroque churches.
Fascinating to explore, the historic center has a lively yet laidback feel, with salsa music ringing out from every corner. Besides basking in the ambience and visiting the handful of museums, visitors to Trinidad can take a trip to the nearby Playa Ancon and the mountains and waterfalls of the Sierra del Escambray.
4. Alejandro Robaina Tobacco Plantation
While Cuba is famed around the world for its cigars, it’s the Alejandro Robaina Tobacco Plantation that is considered to produce the best tobacco. Named after its former owner, who was dubbed the ‘Godfather of Cuban tobacco’, the plantation and its fertile fields lie in Pinar del Rio province in the extreme west of the island.
Visiting the scenic and secluded farm is a great way to learn everything there is to know about Cuba’s most famous export, with tours showing you how plants are cultivated and cigars produced. Before heading off, it’s worth buying some Vegas Robaina as a memento.
3. Viñales Valley
Nestled among the soaring Sierra de los Organos mountain range, the lush and fertile Vilanes Valley is home to some of Cuba’s most delightful and dramatic landscapes. Located in Pinar del Rio province, the valley’s picturesque farmland and national park are lovely to hike, cycle, or horseback ride around.
Cave exploring and rock climbing are also popular due to the magnificent mogote rock formations and limestone cliffs that dot the region. Interspersed among its charming countryside and numerous natural wonders are scenic and secluded villages and farms where visitors can stay.
2. Habana Vieja
The historic heart of Cuba’s capital, Habana Vieja – or ‘Old Havana’ – boasts lots of lovely architecture and is the center of life in the city. Founded all the way back in 1519 by the Spanish, Old Havana is a delight to the senses, with new sights, sounds, and smells wherever you go. While some parts are well-preserved and freshly painted, others feature fading facades and crumbling colonial buildings.
Dotted about are lots of interesting and impressive sights, with the superb Catedral de San Cristobal, the iconic National Capitol, and terrific Museum of the Revolution counting among its highlights.
In addition to this, its ancient streets and pretty plazas have plenty of atmospheric restaurants and bars for visitors to check out, as well as a number of imposing forts and fortifications.
1. Jardines del Rey
Home to some of the most stunning scenery in the country, the Jardines del Rey are a sublime string of islands that lie just off the northern coast of Cuba. Encompassing numerous cays and islands, the archipelago stretches over 200 kilometers in length, with sparkling waters and colorful coral reefs lying all around.
For the most part untouched and undeveloped, the islands are a very popular tourist destination due to their beautiful beaches, pristine nature, and abundant marine life. As they are home to the most hotels and resorts, as well as some of the most breathtaking beaches, both Cayo Guillermo and Cayo Coco attract the most visitors; even Ernest Hemingway once vacationed here!