It’s now a lot easier for travellers to visit Cuba than it has been in the past, so it’s no wonder tourist numbers have been steadily rising over the past few years. But the sudden increase in holidays to Cuba – and the ease in which you can travel there – has presented a number of other problems. Namely: where exactly do you visit, in a country as large as Cuba, and largely unvisited by foreign tourists?
Not to worry, because we’ve rounded up the absolute best, top 37 things you have to try and do while you’re there. Enjoy.
Escape to Guantanamo Bay
Sure, it’s notorious for the US base that was here, but Guantanamo Bay is still a pretty spectacular place to visit. With cultural diversity, beautiful waters, countless beach bars, and enough shelter to protect from any hurricane that might come your way, it’s pretty much a perfect little spot to relax in.
Take a road trip in a classic 1950s car
One of the things Havana is most famous for is those classic, vintage cars that line the streets of the city. So, it’s no wonder that going for a cruise in an open-top ‘50s car is a pretty easy thing to do around the streets of Havana – plus it’s a great way to take in the sights.
Hike through the Sierra Maestra
These dramatically beautiful mountains cascade to the Caribbean Sea before rising in steep bulwarks and rocky promontories from Cape Cruz all the way down to Guantanamo River. Once the home of revolutionaries such as Fidel Castro, and Che, today visitors can embark on single or multi-day hikes hoping to catch a glimpse of the secret headquarters of those very same rebels.
Hike to the highest point of the island: Pico Turquino
One of the best activities in Cuba is hands down hiking to the highest point in the country. Standing at an impressive 1974 metres, Pico Turquino is the ultimate Cuban challenge for any outdoor adventurers and anyone who’s just a bit bored of salsa dancing (is that possible?).
Ride a bull
If you’re doing a proper road trip of Cuba, you’ll probably get a lot of opportunities to go horse riding. However, where possible, always ride a bull instead of a horse. It’s definitely more traditionally Cuban, and there’s nothing like going on a tour through the tobacco fields on the back of a bull.
Try water sports in Trinidad de Cuba
The Caribbean beaches that dot the Cuban coastline make for great water sporting. Serious, whether you enjoy snorkelling, diving, underwater sightseeing, you name it and there’s a beach that’s perfect for it. One of the best is Casilda Bay near Trinidad, where the beautifully clear waters offer excellent snorkelling and diving opportunities.
Cuba is so sleepy that once you’re out of the main city, the chances of you hitting a car are minimal – making it perfect to get out and explore on a bike. As long as you avoid the stray dogs sleeping on the side of the road, you’re golden, and safe to enjoy the vast swathes of green rolling hills in the Cuban countryside.
Take a morning swim on Cayo Coco
There’s nothing quite like taking a morning swim to watch the sunrise as it casts its rays across the turquoise bays of Cayo Coco – well worth the early morning wake up call. The early morning light will turn everything cotton-candy coloured, with schools of multi-coloured fish whizzing underfoot.
Swim in a cenote
A cenote is a natural pit or sinkhole, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath. In Cuba, this means a naturally formed swimming pool, perfect for cooling down in that hot Cuban sun.
Swim in Vegas Grande waterfall
Cuba is full of impressive waterfalls, especially in Topes de Collantes, and especially the Vegas Grande waterfall. You can get to it from Trinidad by horses or a 4×4, and tours can be arranged with locals in town.
Climb the bell tower of the Trinidad church
Sometimes, endless white-sand beaches and clear warm water can get a bit boring. Sometimes. But that’s fine because there’s always other stuff to fill your time, such as climbing the bell tower of the Trinidad church, where you’ll find incredible views over the town and surrounding landscapes. The church and convent, known locally as the Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco, are home to the Museum of the Fight against Bandits, the counter-revolution forces that would hide in the mountains nearby and fought against Fidel Castro’s government.
Surf the cuban coastline
Sure, Cuba’s more well known for its snorkelling or diving opportunities, but it’s a pretty good spot to go surfing as well. Head to the east coast for the most consistently good waves to surf, where the tropical lows create pretty neat swells during the latter part of the year. Any other time and you want to visit the north of the island.
Sail around the island of Cuba
Right back to when the Spanish first arrived in the 16th century, it’s clear that sailing as always popular in and around Cuba. Today, that tradition continues, and there are some 20 marinas or nautical centres dotted around the island. Grab a boat, charter it around the entire Cuban coastline if you fancy.
Stay with a cuban family in a Casa Particular
If you really want to experience the true Cuban lifestyle and culture, then you need to stay in a casa particular with a proper Cuban family. Essentially just a privately-run bed and breakfast, no two casas are ever the same, and they all offer the one thing a hotel never could: a glimpse into the real, day to day Cuban lifestyle.
Smoke a cuban cigar
Whether you’re a smoker or not, there’s no denying that Cubans make the best cigars in the world – and you just have to try one, even if it’s just to tick it off your bucket list. The best ones, as in, the absolute best of the best, come straight from a tobacco farm.
Have a religious experience in Sancti Spiritus
Right on the doorstep of Trinidad, but often overlooked and overshadowed, is the charming Sancti Spiritus. Founded by Diego Velazquez in 1514, the city was embellished with elegant 17th and 18th-century mansions that still remain appealingly authentic.
Take a salsa lesson in Havana
For Cubans, knowing how to salsa is as simple as knowing how to walk – it just comes naturally to them. They’re not snobby about it though; dancing in Cuba is about coming together, so what’s a better way to experience this community and culture than with a salsa lesson in the capital?
Get close to history at the Christopher Columbus Cemetery
An odd one, sure, but just like Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, the Christopher Columbus Cemetery is not one to miss. Known locally as Cemetario de Colon, the eclectic mix of tombs are beautiful in their morbidity.
Stroll down the Havana Malecon
Often compared to the strip in Vegas, the Malecón is a vibing place from sunset all the way until sunrise. Stretching for 5 miles along the coast, Havana’s seawall is full of musicians, gallivanting teenagers, street vendors and more, all looking for a place to drink rum and party.
Wonder at the art work in the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes
If you want to see some fantastic Cuban masterpieces chronicling the various artistic periods of the island and its people, then the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes is the place to go. The museum holds everything from the psychological portraiture of Federico Beltran Masses to the politically infused paintings of Guillermo Collazo, and modern sculpture by the likes of Rita Longa.
Go on a Havana city tour
Have a look around for the perfect classic car to get those pics for the ‘gram, and then hop in and take an hour’s tour around Havana with your tour guide. Plus, if you ask the driver to drop you off in a different part of the city, it’s basically a free taxi ride as well.
Watch the crabs cross the road
Sounds weird but stay with me on this one. Near the Bay of Pigs, if you time your trip right, you’ll get to see thousands of crabs emerging from the forest that lines the roads, all making their way to the nearby sea.
Learn how to roll a cuban cigar
Sure, anyone can buy a cigar and take a picture with it. But not everyone can roll a cigar from scratch. The country is famous for its cigars, thanks to the quality of tobacco grown in the countryside. It’s this same tobacco that’s transported to the factories in Havana, where you can join a tour that includes learning how to roll your own.
Watch the sunset from El Morro
The sunset is pretty no matter where you are, but it’s especially pretty when you’re watching it from a 16th-century fortress that was once a prison. Sure, doesn’t sound great, but El Morro now doubles as an excellent vantage point where you can catch the really spectacular Atlantic sunsets. Plus, every night at 9 pm, a ceremonial cannon is fired from the walls.
Visit Ernest Hemingway’s house
Since he died in 1961, Ernest Hemingway’s house in Finca Vigía has been turned into a museum, and the white colonial Havana home has been preserved exactly how it was when Hemingway himself last saw it. Not surprising, since he wrote most of For Whom the Bell Tolls within these very walls. Pretty big deal.
Visit the Valley of the Sugar Mills
Otherwise known as the Valle de Los Ingenios, the Valley of the Sugar Mills is yet another UNESCO World Heritage site, just a short drive away from Trinidad. Here, the beautiful green valleys were once the site of Cuba’s bustling and profitable sugar production (mostly as a result of slave labour), and the sugar mills now are crumbling ruins that are fading fast into the countryside.
Visit the tobacco fields in rural Cuba
The majority of Cuban tobacco is grown in the valley surrounding Viñales, in western Cuba, and it’s the perfect place to see rural, traditional Cuba in full swing. Plus, there’s also the chance to go hiking and explore some caves while you’re there.
Go to Barrio Chino in Havana
Surprisingly, yes, there is a china town in Havana. Known as Barrio Chino, it’s not actually home to any Chinese people anymore, although there was once a huge Chinese community in Cuba. Now, all that remains are some ancient buildings and about two blocks of Chinese restaurants. But definitely still worth a look.
Food & Drink
Try a real cuban mojito
You haven’t tried a mojito until you’ve had a Cuban mojito, made with proper rum. You can literally taste the Cuban culture in every glass.
Drink local rum
Unsurprisingly, there’s a lot of good rum that can be found in Cuba. Chances are you’ve probably already tried Havana Club rum, which is served in most of the bars in Cuba (and around the rest of the world), so if you want to really experience Cuba, try drinking rum out of a box. Seriously, you can get rum out of a juice box looking carton from any walk-up window café or shop in the cities – and it’ll only cost you 50 cents.
Test out the famously delicious street food
Cuba is definitely somewhere you go to support local businesses. Just as you would – or should – stay in a casa particular, you should also eat at small, local restaurants. And the best ones can be found along the side of the street in food trucks.
Eat dinner at La Guarida
For anyone who’s seen the Academy Award-nominated period film Fresa y Chocolate, this one’s for you. One of the best films to ever come from Cuba, La Guarida is a restaurant in Central Havana that served as the setting for most of the film. Plus, it serves up some amazing food.
Try the daiquiris at El Floridita
I doubt you’re going to Cuba and not having a daiquiri, but you might as well go all out and try one at El Floridita in Old Havana. Known locally as the home of the daiquiri, it was actually invented right here back in the 1930s. plus, this bar was one of Hemingway’s favourites, and you can order his signature drink: “The Papa Hemingway”, which is double rum and none of the sugar.
Have a meal in a local cuban cafeteria
Just like eating from a street food van, a local Cuban cafeteria is also a must-visit if you want some amazingly authentic Cuban food. Completely different from the tourist restaurants, the Cuban cafeterias are very much loved it or hate it. But still worth trying.
Discover the next Buena Vista social club
Music is a fundamental part of the Cuban lifestyle, and it doesn’t take a lot of effort to unearth an authentic music experience in any of the big cities. Ask around at the local bars and cafes, and before long you’ll find yourself in an up and coming bar, dancing like a local to Afro-Cuban rumba.
Dance in the street
It’s definitely not something you’d see walking down the streets of the UK, but dancing in the streets in Cuba is a pretty commonplace thing to do. Spontaneous live music happens literally all the time, and Cubans will never pass up an opportunity to dance.
Enjoy cabaret at the Tropicana Club
The Tropicana Club has been going since the 1930s, and the nightly cabaret shows have always been a staple. Found in western Havana, this little joint is the place in Cuba for bombastic dance shows, music nights, and pretty much anything that involves showgirls covered in peacock feathers and sequins.
There’s a lot to do in Cuba for sure, but with our handy little guide of the 37 things you absolutely have to do while you’re there. Sounds like a hefty list, but once you get started, you’ll never want it to end – just like your holiday.