The Most Fantastic Things To Do Cuba: The Ultimate Guide
I love travelling to Latin America. I have a particular obsession for this amazing continent, and Cuba has always ranked very high on my bucket list. Although I have already been there, I would like to visit it again, because there are so many things to do in Cuba. Besides, I am of the opinion that Cuba is always better the second time around, when one knows what to expect based on their first hand experience rather than on the information they have gathered here and there on the web, from friends who have been there, and so on.
No matter how much I prepared myself before visiting Cuba, this incredible country took me by surprise. It has charmed me and infuriated ne at the same time. With my guide on what to do in Cuba, I aim to warn readers as much as possible on what they should expect, and on how to avoid some common traps tourists fall for, as well as to give a good idea of what are the places to visit in Cuba.
However, before getting into the actual things to do in Cuba and into the places to visit in Cuba, I shall provide some advice on how to prepare for the trip.
Things to do in Cuba: the ultimate guide for a trip to Cuba
Deciding when to go to Cuba:
The country can be visited in any season, but if I had to decide on when to go to Cuba again I would go between November and March, when temperatures are not as hot and there it rains less. This way, I will be sure to enjoy all the things to do in Cuba. The prices of flights don’t change much throughout the year. The average return flight from Europe to Cuba costs around 700 US dollars, depending on the carrier and on the town of departure. It costs around 350 US dollars to fly from Cancun.
Finding out what is needed in order to go to Cuba:
Along with a round trip ticket that proves one is leaving the country, all those travelling to Cuba will need to buy a good travel and health insurance – this is required by Cuban national laws – and a visa, known as tarjeta de turista, which is normally valid for 30 days but can be extended while in Cuba. This costs around 30 US dollars and can be bought through the Cuban consulate, or, better, through a good travel agent who should also be able to sell a good health insurance. In theory nobody can enter Cuba with a one way ticket. In practice, one may or may not be asked by immigration upon arrival, and since this is a possibility and one may be denied access once in Cuba, most airlines won’t allow passengers to fly unless they have a round trip ticket.
There are two currencies in Cuba: the CUC, or Peso Convertible, used by foreigners and by Cubans to buy certain specific things, and worth about one US dollar; and the MN, or Moneda Nacional, whose conversion rate is 25 to a CUC. Considering that the average salary for Cubans is 15 CUC per month, and that the average price of tourist accommodation in Cuba 20 CUC, I got a picture of why most locals aim to work in the tourism industry one way or another.
What to do in Cuba is pay by cash, pretty much anywhere. I managed to withdraw in most places, save for the occasional power cuts that at times left me stuck with no cash – it is good measure to withdraw cash the day before travelling, as otherwise one may get stuck in a place with no money for the bus ticket! Cards generated by US bank accounts are not accepted.
Security issues in Cuba:
This is a safe country to travel alone, as a single woman, or even with children. Criminality rates are low, save for the occasional theft of clothes and money from suitcases locked and left inside the room: I always counted my money and my items and wrote it down on my notebook. This way, in case I realised that something was missing, I could threaten to call the police: just threatening to do made it magically reappear.
Cuban men and women often commented on my good looks and even mildly harass me by insisting on dancing with me, offering me flowers, or inviting me for a drink (which I would inevitably have to pay: it is almost a custom that when someone invites a foreigner to something in Cuba, the person invited actually pays and most likely the guest is getting a commission for having taken the tourist to a specific bar or restaurant). Unless I really was willing to pay for them, I would just ignore them!
Getting online in Cuba:
Certainly, getting online is not among the the things to do in Cuba. I actually managed to forget all my social media accounts and my whatsapp when I was in Cuba. Internet is usually available at ETECSA centres but is so slow that I was better off without. I just warned my family and friends that I wasn’t going to be online while travelling, and if I needed to talk to them I would either call (I bought calling cards at ETECSA centres, to use at any phone) or send a regular text message. I took it as a chance to detox!
Wifi is now available in major Cuban cities, but the costs are so high, and the speed so low, that I would dare say that accessing the internet is not one of the things to do in Cuba.
Making reservations in Cuba:
In recent years, more and more people travel around with a tablet or small laptop, even if they are just going away for a short period of time. This way, they can take advantage of the free wifi at hostels to browse in search of accommodation for their next stop. None of this is really possible in Cuba, as there is hardly any wifi.
If staying at hotels, the best thing to do in Cuba is to arrange all bookings before traveling so as to avoid the hassle of having to look for (unreliable) internet. There’s decent hotels in pretty much the entire island and the list of those that are listing themselves on booking engines such as Booking.com is growing.
Travellers who aren’t staying at hotels are then left wandering what to do in Cuba when it comes to bookings. The simple answer is: hardly anything! As most people are likely land in Havana after a long flight (besides, this is one of the places to visit in Cuba), I also did. So I just made sure to research on a casa particular (a private home) there, got a suggestion from a friend or acquaintance who had been there already, searched on the web ie on tripadvisor (some casas are listed), then sent an email or tested my Spanish and made a phone call.
Indeed, Cubans mostly work via phone, and most casas won’t have an email address that can be used to contact them. In case they did, I had to be patient until they replied – and remember that internet in Cuba is not to be taken for granted. Owners of casas particulares have an interest in accommodating their clients, and they would usually say that yes, they had availability when in fact they didn’t. I did not despair: if I couldn’t stay at their casa, they would take me to that of a friend or a relative nearby, which would be just as nice.
Owners would normally ask me about my future plans so that they could suggest a good casa for my next stop – they know people running casas particulares all over the country. They were glad to make the phone call and the booking for me. And if, for whatever reason, I had no reservations at all, the minute I got off the bus at the station, I was literally surrounded by owners offering to rent a room. This is what happened to me in Baracoa.
Where to stay in Cuba:
This is the one place in the world where cheaper accommodation is actually better! If looking for the best places to stay in Cuba, it is good to know that the best accommodation in Cuba are casas particulares, which are private homes where the owners rent up to three rooms to travellers and for a small additional price also provide really good meals. Casas particulares are way more personable than hotels, they allow to actually experience a bit of the Cuban lifestyle (I remember seeing friends and relatives going in and out of the house, and meet so many!); they are clean, and they are way cheaper than hotels.
Owners of casas particulares are always keen to provide information – some of them are literally living encyclopedias on the country, as they often are university professors! – on things to do in Cuba, places to visit in Cuba, on where to eat, and they will arrange transportation and laundry. Besides, they are the best persons to warn their guests about scams.
Some casas are beautiful colonial buildings. Rooms in casas particulares are usually private doubles, with a private bathroom. The price stated is per room, meaning that if travelling with a friend will imply considerable savings. Meals are not included but the owners are usually great cooks who will be very keen to prepare some of their best recipes (lovely breakfast, packed lunches and incredibly good dinners), waiting on their guest keenly to receive praise for their culinary abilities.
Prices of rooms vary between 15 and 30 CUC – so between 7.5 and 15 CUC per person. Rooms are more expensive in Havana, Trinidad and Santiago (around 30 CUC for a good casa), and cheaper in other locations (2O to 25 CUC in Viñales, up to 25 CUC in Baracoa, up to 20 CUC in Cienfuegos).
If staying at casas particulares is what to do in Cuba to get closer to the local culture, hotels are a good alternative and they have the plus side of allowing online reservations through sites such as Booking.com.
Eating and drinking in Cuba:
Food in Cuba is cheap and good. The best food is found at casas particulares and paladares (privately run restaurants), where a full meal costs between 5 and 12 CUC (where for 12 CUC I could actually eat lobster, which is one of the things to do in Cuba!). Street food is tasty: I could get pizza from the “holes in the wall” for just 20 MN, as well as sandwiches, ice cream, churros, potato chips, etc. The other option for me was eating at State owned restaurants, but food there is boring, and has that bland taste that food in school cafeterias or hospitals do. Paladares give huge portions that I could easily share.
Beef is not common, while pork, fish, shrimps or lobster (oh that’s too bad!) and chicken, and at times even lamb are available. They are usually accompanied by tostones (fried plantain croquettes), rice, beans (congris), and a season salad. The tastiest food in Cuba is in Baracoa: eating shrimps, octopus and lobster in coconut sauce is what to do in Cuba! Drinks are good too: Cubans all have their own special recipe for mojitos and piña coladas, but whichever one I tried, I did love it.
Haggling and avoiding scams in Cuba:
With the exception of restaurants, casas particulares, or tourist buses like Viazul, everything else in Cuba should be haggled, especially taxis. I was hardly able to take a step without jineteros (a word used to refer to an intermediary, that will normally get a commission for taking tourists to a specific casa, paladar, or getting a specific taxi) following me around. They would state a price for the taxi that they would find, but I knew that the actual price I should pay was much cheaper and I haggled till I could get to a price I considered reasonable.
Jineteros compete so much for clients that, if they found out I was going to a casa particular that is not the one they recommended, they may even tell me that the owner had died and the casa had been closed. They would do anything to make me believe that the bus I needed to take was already full and that I was better off taking a taxi. And, sure enough, the price they would indicate for the taxi they offered me was much higher than what I should actually pay.
While I wasn’t be able to haggle the prices of state owned taxis, I certainly did so for taxis particulares. For long distance taxis, my trick was to first find out how much a bus ticket would cost me. If the price of the taxi is only 1 or 2 dollars more of what the bus would be, per person, it is definitely worth opting for the taxi – it is much faster, it won’t stop randomly to allow the driver to say hello to his family or drop his groceries at home (yes, they do so!).
So for example, if I knew that the bus from Viñales (which is one of the places to visit in Cuba) to Las Terrazas (which, on the other hand, I don’t particularly recommend) costs 8 CUC per person, and the jinetero offered a taxi ride for 80 CUC for the same distance, I offered to pay no more than 20 or 25 CUC. The same went for short distance taxis: it is good measure to ask the owner of the casa particular how much taxis around town should cost. And if I found that the jinetero was refusing to go down on the price, I just walked. Yes! I started walking and they would come running after me, agreeing to take me to my destination for a reasonable price.
In the case of long distance rides, I tried to gather a group of other travellers (I would find them at the bus station, asking information on bus times!) to share the expenses of a taxi – ie when travelling Camaguey to Trinidad (another one of the places to visit in Cuba), the taxi would cost 80 CUC for a ride of about 4 hours, but I managed to squeeze 4 persons in the car, so the taxi only ended up being 20 CUC per person and way more convenient than taking the only Viazul bus, which left at 2 am.
Places to visit in Cuba
I didn’t have to think hard when deciding where to go in Cuba. It is such a beautiful country, there are so many places to visit in Cuba, that I could have easily spent a month travelling and still feel like there was more to see. I boarded my return flight with the feeling that there are so many things to do in Cuba, that I hoped to go back again in the future, to explore more of it.
Keeping in mind that there are so many places to visit in Cuba, I will highlight where to go in Cuba when having limited time – these are my favourite picks, but as I have said, there are so many more to see!
Havana, in the Artemisa and Mayabeque province, is where most flights are going to land, making it the first place to visit in Cuba. There are so many things to do in Havana, that one can easily spend 10 days wandering around. I recommend spending at least 2 full days, a good measure in order to get over the jet lag and get acquainted with the local culture. I am sure nobody needs reminding, but perhaps I shall highlight why I think Havana is one of the places to visit in Cuba.
Havana is a city of paradox: right next to the recently restored Capitol building, there are apartment buildings that are either falling apart or must have been lined up for restoration such a long time ago that the scaffolding is completely covered in ivy.
This is where vintage cars line up at the traffic lights – and it is fun to take a tour of Havana in a classic vintage car; motorbikes still have sidecars; and bicitaxi drivers laze about sending text messages.
Among the things to do in Havana, there is visiting one of its many museums and historic buildings; going to one of its lively bars and listen to some live music (I love jazz, and I was delighted in knowing that the Festival Internacional de Jazz takes place in February, right when I was visiting).
One of the best things to do in Havana is attending the ceremony of “el cañonazo de las nueve” in Havana. It takes place each night at 9 pm, in the fortress of La Cabaña, which was completed by 1774 and made Havana the most fortified city in the “new world”. During the cerimony, soldiers dressed in the traditional costums of the 18th century, shoot the cannon as a warning to close the doors of the walls surrounding the city, in order to protect it by the pirates and by the army of enemy countries. The show is interesting, and the entrance ticket will also include a drink, which I sipped while you enjoy a beautiful view of Havana at night or wander about the various museums and art exhibition inside the fortress. A taxi to get there from the centre should cost around 3 CUC.
Other things to do in Havana include a visit to the Museo de la Revolucion in Havana, which definitely gave me a good understanding of the Cuban revolution; a walking tour of Havana Vieja which took me to the Plaza de la Catedral, Plaza de Armas with its book market, Plaza Vieja and the Real Fabrica de Tabacos Partagas. Callejon de Hamel is a good example of street art in Havana.
One of the things to do in Havana is a sunset walk on El Malecon – 8 km of paved road along the sea, where the ocean waves splash and local go to relax and flirt after a day of work. Along the Malecon, the Hotel Nacional is a beautiful neoclassic/art decò building which became famous in 1933 when, after the military coup of Fulgencio Batista, 300 army officers took refuge there hoping to receive the assistance of the US embassy. In 1946, Hotel Nacional hosted the biggest mafia convention of North America. Now, it is just a beautiful building with a stunning view of the Malecon, which I did enjoy while sipping a good mojito.
I also recommend getting to the Vedado, a residential area packed with incredible colonial homes and full of parks and gardens.
Finally, when I was looking for things to do in Havana at night, I made sure to go to La Bodeguita del Medio to have a mojito and to Floridita to have a daiquiri. Sure, they are definitely not the best mojitos and daiquiris in Cuba, but they are cool places to visit and if I was lucky there was even some live music.
Where to stay in Havana
As I have already said with regards to accommodation, one should not give too much thought on where to stay in Cuba: casas particulares are the best places to stay in Cuba. If looking for where to stay in Havana, I particularly recommend Casa Particular Abalidia in Vedado, in calle 15, between E and F. Felix and Lidia are wonderful hosts. Lidia is incredibly sweet, but never pushy. She is a great cook and her breakfast is perhaps the best I’ve had in Cuba. Her lobster dinners and congrì rice are memorable. Felix is a university professor, he loves anything Italian and knows a lot about Cuban history.
The house is a beautiful colonial building, with a nice patio at the back. Only two rooms are rented to guests. Felix regularly checks his email and I found that if I could not get in touch him, I could communicate with his Italian friend in Rome who is regularly in touch with him via phone and can make the reservations. The email is firstname.lastname@example.org; the Italian contact is Lucia Nardi, email@example.com. A little bonus? Abalidia arranged a ride from the airport for me. I was picked up by Felix’ friends, who has a beautiful Ford 1956.
Having said that, there are some decent hotel alternatives. If one of the coolest things to do in Havana is staying in Havana Vieja, the Iberostar Parque Central is a great option.
Santiago de Cuba
Santiago, in the Santiago de Cuba province, is where to go in Cuba for a truly Caribbean atmosphere. There are regular Cubana de Aviacion flights connecting La Havana to Santiago de Cuba, at the South of the Country, or it is possible to get there via a 16 hours bus ride with Viazul. This is the second largest city in Cuba, perhaps the hottest one and, according to the Lonely Planet (which I do not dare contradict on this!), a city of tricks and trouble that may make visitors want to run away as fast as possible (that was my case!). It is also a cultural capital interesting for its music, architecture, literature, people and politics.
There are many things do to in Santiago and right outside the city. The Parque Céspedes is a must see, for it is lively, musical and surrounded by historic buildings and museums. Not far from it, one of the places to visit in Cuba is in Calle Eredia, and it is the Casa de la Trova, considered a sanctuary of traditional music hosting artists such as Eliades Ochoa, who became famous thanks to Buena Vista Social Club.
When I was looking for where to go in Cuba on a day trip from Santiago, I went to visit to La Gran Piedra, a mountain range whose climate is pleasantly cooler than that of Santiago and where I also found some old bust still functioning coffee plantations – a tour of a coffee plantation (with a taste of the amazing, strong, dark coffee) is one of the things to do in Cuba! Cafetal la Isabelica is not far from the peak of La Gran Piedra, which I could reach by climbing the 459 steps and from where I could admire a splendid view of the Caribbean sea.
At a distance of about 20 km from Santiago, the Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Cobre is one of the places to visit in Cuba. The road taking me there was stunning, and inside I could spot the tiny statue of the Virgen de la Caridad, which according to legend was found floating on the waves in the Bahia de Nipe in 1612.
When I visited Santi.ago, I stayed at Casa Colonial Maruchi. Ms Maruchi has a fabulous casa particular in Hartmann 357, between General Portuondo and Maximo Gomez. This is perhaps one of the best places to stay in Cuba: the house is simply a safe haven from the noise and pollution of Santiago! Maruchi is among the few Cubans using the internet for business, and I could book a room by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Maruchi is a santera, a representative of “santeria”, a syncretic religion hiding its african roots under catholic symbolism. The name is due to the colonizers joked about the African slaves’ way to pray to the saints. I never asked Maruchi about it though: I just appreciated the aura around her and her beautiful home.
Although staying in casas particulares is one of the most fun things to do in Cuba, including in Santiago, a good alternative to Casa Maruchi is the Melia Santiago Hotel, which has the advantage that it can be easily booked online.
Baracoa, in the Guantanamo Province at the South West tip of the island, is likely to be among the places to visit in Cuba that people haven’t heard of. The good thing about it, however, is that once visited, it is remembered forever. One of the hidden gems of the country, it is not on everybody’s list of where to go in Cuba, because it is pretty much isolated from the rest of the country: La Farola (the lighthouse road), is the only road connecting Baracoa to Santiago de Cuba and the rest of the country. Built in 1964 thanks to Fidel Castro, the view from it while you cross the hills and the forest on the bus ride is spectacular.
There is a daily 5 hours Viazul bus connecting Santiago to Baracoa (another one of the places to visit in Cuba, but not among my favourites). Travellers are better off making the bus reservations (it literally is just a matter of minutes, done by putting the name on the list of passengers) one day before leaving, directly at the bus station. It will leave passengers at the only station in Baracoa, from which there normally isn’t any problem reaching a casa particular.
Baracoa is really small and it really can be visited in a couple of hours. It is pretty, if only a bit beaten up by the weather – this is the wettest region in the country, and it rains every day here. As in any proper Cuban city, there are see lots of murales of Che Guevara and other revolution heroes.
Around Baracoa there are some of the best places to visit in Cuba. Known in Cuba as the city of the 29 rivers, wherever I went I would have to cross one. A cayuca would take me across the Rio Toa, whose waters are so clean that all I wanted to do was to swim in there. A cayuca is what I also used to cross the river on the way to El Yunque, which is where to go in Cuba if looking for a unique hike. This is a mysterious mountain that can be seen from Baracoa. I needed to hire a guide for the hike, and wear proper hiking boots as the terrain is muddy and very slippery due to the frequent rains. I also wore a swimsuit as at the end of the hike I had a chance to go to some very beautiful waterfalls with some lovely natural pools.
Surely, one of the things to do in Cuba is enjoying a proper day at the beach. Playa Maguana is one of the best beaches in Cuba, and it is not far from Baracoa. Picture a long, white, sandy beach and the coral reef that can be reached just by swimming! Finally, a lovely bike ride along the coast took me to the Boca de Yumurì, where I rented a pedal boat to explore the river. They also do guided tours of Yumurì.
Foodies will be glad to know that Baracoa is the gourmet capital of Cuba. Food here is simply heavenly and I made it a point not to leave without having tried shrimps or octopus in coconut sauce, best if eaten at Nilson’s Paladar, in Flor Combret 143 (he also rents out some rooms).
A good casa particular in Baracoa is Casa Colonial Gustavo y Yalina, in Flor Combret 125, phone number 0053 21 64 25 36: a nice colonial house with very big rooms facing an internal yard. Yalina is a sweet and helpful lady and her lobster in coconut sauce is delicious. Alternatively, Hotel El Castillo is just 5 minutes from the centre and has a lovely pool (and the bar does delicious cocktails).
Camagüey, in the Province of Camagüey, is a labyrinth. Some people love it, other hate it. I must say I did not totally love it, but I can see why some would. It simply is a unique city, and it is where to go in Cuba to see something completely different. It was built in a medina style to keep away attackers who would get lost, and lost I got, no matter how good at reading a map I can be. Camagüey city centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2008, it is packed with art parlour and lovely tiny alleys. It is crowded and at times messy, but interesting nonetheless.
Camagüey can be reached with the bus that leaves Santiago at 7:30 pm, and only gets there at 2 am, to then continue to Trinidad. Not a very convenient time to arrive there, nor to leave town to go to Trinidad (this is when bargaining a taxi and trying to find other people to share the expenses may be a good idea), really. But I stayed at Casa de Caridad, and the owner made sure to arrange a taxi to take me home.
This is one of the best places to stay in town, located in Oscar Primelles 310A between Bartolomé Masò and Padre Olallo (0053 32 29 15 54). The huge house has very high ceilings, antique (but perfectly functioning) bathrooms, a lovely garden at the back, and the most motherly owner: she took good care of me when the heat of the city hit me, but would also tell me off if she thought I was doing something not recommendable, and needless to say she is an excellent cook.
Trinidad, in the province of Sancti Spiritus, is perhaps the most touristic destination in the country (aside from all-inclusive resorts of Varadero), and it definitely is among the places to visit in Cuba. A beautiful city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a very well preserved example of a colonial city, it gives visitors an overall impression that time there has stopped in the 19th century. It used to be the commercial heart of Cuba, where huge wealth was accumulated. No cars can get into the city centre (just donkeys and horse carriages), so I could happily wander around the many artesania shops and painters’ studios.
There are many things to do in Trinidad, which is packed with museums and places of interest. Even just a walk would take me through pretty cobbled streets, colonial buildings so well preserved that some even have original furnishings, and balconies covered in colourful bouganvillea.
Among the things to do in Trinidad is dancing salsa, listening to the music that is played at pretty much every corner, and in the evening right on staircase next to the cathedral.
The surroundings of Trinidad are packed with sites of historical and natural interest. When I was wondering about where to go in Cuba to get a better understanding of the history of slavery, I headed to Valle de los Ingenios. I visited the Manaca Iznaga, a former sugar cane plantation whose owner, Pedro Iznaga, was one of the richest men in Cuba thanks to the slave trade. The 44 meters high tower was an observation point to check on the slaves. There are more, smaller and less touristic sites too and I was lucky to have a good guide that took me there.
I am into hiking, and found Topes de Collantes is where to go in Cuba. The heat, the humidity, the thick vegetation make it for a rather tiring hike, but I could refresh with a swim in the freezing Salto de Caburnì natural pools.
Some of the best beaches in Cuba are near Trinidad. Playa Ancon is among them and can be easily reached by a taxi ride that should not cost more than 5 CUC.
There are hundreds of casas particulares in Trinidad, but getting there early during the day was a good thing to do since I did not have any reservations. I eventually found a casa in Callejon de Peña, at the back of a beautiful jewelry shop. Prices are roughly around 30 CUC for a double room. Alternatively, the Iberostar Grand Hotel is a good option.
A meal in a good restaurant (there are many) is about 25 CUC (a splurge compared to the rest of the country, but this is the most touristic destination in Cuba). I really liked Paladar Sol y Son, in Simon Bolivar 283 between Frank Pais and Jose Marti. Yes, it is touristy, but it looks like a museum, and the food is tasty. The traditional cocktail is canchanchara, made with aguardiente, rum, honey and lime and served in traditional earthenware.
Cienfuegos, in the Province of Cienfuegos, is close to Trinidad. There are 6 buses per day connecting the two cities in little over one hour. It is at about 6 hours from Havana and 7 from Vinales (there are daily direct buses). I loved it, and will gladly recommend it among the places to visit in Cuba. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site, so relaxed and breezy, and there are so few jineteros here, that I could have a good break from the frenzy of the rest of the country.
Cienfuegos was founded in 1819, right by the sea, which can be admired from El Malecon or from Punta Gorda. Not too far from the city, the botanical gardens are perfect for a chilling afternoon walk and for observing various plants, including various kinds of bamboos.
What’s best, Cienfuegos it is great starting point for many more places to visit in Cuba. Cienaga de Zapata is a huge fen that homes some of the most varied ecosystems in the country. There are different kinds of vegetation, various species of birds and rectiles, including criadero de cocodrilos.
From Cienfuegos I also visited the famous Bahia de Cochinos (Bay of the Pigs), definitely where to go in Cuba since I like sea with crystal clear waters and wanted to see some amazing coral reef. It is a good spot for diving too. From here, the Kennedy administration memorably failed to invade Cuba in 1961. Not far from it, Caleta Buena is lovely cove perfect for snorkeling. There is an entrance fee, but this includes sunbeds and all you can drink cocktails.
I was wondering where to go in Cuba to see some spectacular natural pools. So I went to El Nicho, a series of beautiful waterfalls on the Rio Hanabanilla. There is a a hiking trail, natural pools where I could jump in and caves. The water is cold, but so inviting! There are various pools, the less crowded ones are on the left side of the street that separates the two sides.
Casa de Olga and Eugenio, in Avenida 50 n. 4109, between Calle 41 and 43 in Cienfuegos is one of the best places to stay in Cuba. A lovely family, and a relaxed atmosphere, topped off by very good value for money (only 15 CUC per room). It is lvery close to the centre of town and the bus station. Eugenio speaks a bit of English, and always made sure to protect me from any scams and put me in touch with good local guides and drivers.
Las Mamparas, in Calle 37 n. 4004, is a very good paladar in Cienfuegos, popular among the locals too, so I may have to wait to be seated. A huge meal costed about 6 CUC (drinks included). Restaurante Dona Nora in Calle 37 has a lovely balcony overlooking the Prado and prices are good too.
Valle de Viñales
Valle de Viñales, in the Province of Pinar del Rio, is one of the places to visit in Cuba: so wonderful that I was glad to have left as the cherry on the cake of my trip to Cuba. It is one of the most wonderful places I have ever seen, a great mix of a pretty yet tiny town, lovely country side, not too far beaches which are among the best beaches in Cuba, tobacco and coffee plantations.
The main street has a cultural centre facing the main square, a small artesania market with lots of street food stalls (fried potatoes, churros, handbaked pizza, and a piña colada stall right by the front of a house, baring a sign stating “aqui todo natural”, that makes the best piña colada I have ever tried), and a few side streets which connect to the hills and countryside around. It is pleasant to walk around: life is slow paced here.
There is an information desk right by the Viazul bus stop, where I asked information on things to do in Cuba too, and also book a lot of excursions and even salsa lessons.
Whichever mode of explorations of the valley, it is enjoyable. Some prefer to hike it, others to go horse riding. I biked around, and I found it a great way to get closer look to the mogotes, isolated steep-sided residual hills generally having a rounded, tower-like shape and surrounded by nearly flat alluvial plains. The Mural de la Prehistoria, meant to portray world history up until the age of humans on a rock wall, is also seen during the ride.
Viñales is where to go in Cuba in order to visit a tobacco plantation and observe how artesanal cigars are made.
My bike tour also took me to Los Aquaticos, although I had to leave the bike at some point and hike up there to reach a tiny community of people who believe in the healing power of water. The view of the Valley from Los Aquaticos is breathtaking.
The final stop was at the Hotel Los Jazmines, where the public terrace has an incredible view of the valley and mogotes.
It is possible to book guided tour of Vinales Valley starting from Havana.
Cayo Jutias is one of the best beaches in Cuba and can be reached from Viñales. It is a long, white and sandy beach, with mangrovias growing wildly on it, reached through a lovely road that goes through a pedraplen (embankment). It is the perfect place to relax and snorkel or even dive.
Snorkeling expeditions cost about 12 CUC and include all the necessary gears and a guide. There often are fishermen here offering to catch and cook lobster too.
There are many casas particulares in Viñales. I liked at Casa Dovales, of Dr. Aracelys Dovales Corrales, in Adela Azcuy n. 2. tel 0053 48 696 669. The room was nice and clean; the lovely owner regularly saved me from being ripped off and she cooked amazing dinners for me.
Despite being a small place, nightlife is lively in Viñales. There are a few bars around the main square and on the main street; some with salsa music. Centro Cultural Polo Montañez has a weekly “festa del campesino” (peasant’s party), during which locals participate in an improvisation singing game, with less than good results, but guaranteeing all a good laugh to locals and tourists assisting.
All that is left to do now is deciding when to go to Cuba. To find out more, click here.
If you need assistance in creating your personalised itinerary in Cuba you can contact me in private through the contact form.