Top Five Spots to Visit in Cuba

 

The top destinations you must visit on your next stop in Cuba.

1. HAVANA

There are plenty of things to keep you entertained in Havana. Firstly, do not go out for breakfast, not only will you spend most of the morning searching for a cafe but the 5 CUC breakfast served at your Casa Particular will beat any meal you find out. Caribbean fruits,bread, omelettes, yoghurts, fresh guava juice and filter coffee will have you ready to last the day. This is very important given it is difficult to find places to purchase food - a Cuban trait you’ll come to realise very quickly.

Begin your day by catching a cyclo-taxi from your Casa Particular down to Le Melécon. Wander along the eight-kilometre seaside walkway and take in the views of the Gulf of Mexico. Head towards Morro Castle and you’ll soon find yourself among the colourful and vibrant buildings of Habana Vieja, Spanish for Old Havana. For me, this is was the most sobering part of Cuba. Decrepit old buildings, locals’ street-front windows are convenience stores and rum and cigarettes are easier to find than water. Havana has to one of the best cities to people watch, and your front doorstep has the best seat. 

The Grand Place is the perfect stop for a Cristal, the beloved local beer or a coconut ice-cream from a vibrant little yellow cart. If you’re opting for coffee then Cafe O’Reilly is the place. Not only is it the best but it’s one of very few coffee houses where they actually know what they are doing. 

Insider tip: Don’t bother with the Havana City ‘Hop-O-Hop-Off’ Bus. It’ll take you to the polished outskirts of the city where there is very little to see, breezing past landmarks on the way. You’re better to barter for a taxi to take you to Revolution Plaza. 

We will be honest with you, given the economic and social situation in Cuba, food and goods are not readily accessible. Therefore you can often spend a long time wandering around trying to find something to eat. For dinner, try one of these inner-city spots for a good meal Castas & Tal, La Guarida and the best rotisserie chicken on the corner of Oficios and Santa Clara in Habana Vieja.

Continue your evening with a drink or three at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, established in 1930, the outdoor bar makes some of the best Cuba Libres and Piña Coladas in town. Oh, and Beyonce and Jay-Z stayed her during their controversial visit in 2013. Live music is accompanied by a stunning view of the gulf - palm trees and all. Finish your night by visiting one of Havana’s top jazz clubs - a must-do when in Cuba. 

2. VIÑALES

Viñales ended up being one of the highlights of our visit to Cuba.This small and humble countryside town provided to be the party hotspot encapsulating touristic adventure, amazing beaches and stunning views of the limestone mountains. As always in Cuba, a Casa Particular will be your option of accommodation. We found ourselves with the best hosts of our trip, Yaneisy y Yoel. From on-tap Piña Coladas to clean, beautiful rooms and a rooftop deck to die for - you don’t need to look any further than here. Well, that is if you manage to book yourself in ahead of the other tourists. 

Viñales has plenty to keep you busy, from escaping out to Cayo Jutias, known for being one of the best east coast beaches in Cuba, to cycling to prehistoric mountain murals, to horse treks, cigar rolling and rum farms. There is little reason to stay bored. For a little rural town in the middle of the Cuba, Viñales has plenty to keep you busy for a four-day visit. The greatest thing about staying in a Casa Particular is that your host acts as your own personal concierge. Want to go horse trekking through the Viñales mountains? They know a guy. Need a ride to your need destination? They also know a guy (who won’t overcharge you). Need a bike to explore or a recommendation on what to see? They’ve got it sorted. Need breakfast, lunch or dinner? They’ve got you. It’s five-star treatment, minus the five-star interiors, they’re a bit more humble and a bit more sixties. They have been embargoed since 1960 remember.

If you want the insider's word on what the best thing to do in Viñales, it's to find yourself a Casa with a roof top deck, a view of the completely obscure and astounding Viñales mountains. Occupy your right hand with a homemade Cuba Libre or a Cristal beer and the left with a freshly rolled cigar from the local man up the road. That’s it. Simple, classic Cuban living. There is something refreshingly beautiful about the simplicity of the lives these Cubans live. Viñales the closest feeling we had to somewhat living in their little bubble of the world. A Viñales sunset is one you’ll never forget. Just add some Reggaeton beats in the background to complete. 

3. VARADERO

We will tell you now that visiting Varadero is for one purpose and one purpose only - the beach. Situated on the Hicacos Peninsula, between the Bay of Cárdenas and the Straits of Florida, this is known as the resort spot of Cuba. It is interesting because the town itself is nothing special. In fact, it is simply a long road with touristic shops, convenience stores (if you can justify calling them that) and people out trying to lure you into their restaurant. 

Oh, but the beach. Stepping out onto the white sands of Varadero’s hot spot gives you all the feels you should get when in the Caribbean. It’s like you have been torn from your desk at 3pm on Monday and gracefully placed into a heaven-like abode. There are beachside cocktails and beers, the water is the perfect colour, the sand is delicate, the sun is shining and the views provide for your most Insta-worthy shot yet. I guess you could say we were obsessed. 

Coco-Taxis are the best option to get around and as Varadero’s strip of road stretches alongside its white-sand beach for twenty kilometres. Again, you should opt to eat at your Casa and experience quality Cuban food. If you are desperate to get out then you must book ahead by visiting the restaurant the day before (there is no such thing as internet booking here). Salsa Suárez is supposed to be the best in town and Waco’s Club is good for a drink or two post your beach day. 

For Australians and New Zealanders, Cuba tanning will be your new best friend. You’ll find yourself bronzed, not burnt, in a matter of forty minutes. No sun damage, just a souvenir that you touched down in the Caribbean for a few days. 

4. LAS TERRAZAS

Las Terrazas is a somewhat an off-the-grid spot for Cuban tourists.The quaint community was established as a Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation in 1984. It’s one of the purest and untouched parts in all of Cuba making it your wonderland for hiking, swim and being encapsulated in Cuba’s natural beauty. 

Ditch your usual homestay accommodation for tree-hut inspired accommodation nestled in the Baños del San Juan. Equipped with power, lighting and a fan, these Tarzan-like abodes make for the ultimate ‘be-at-one-with-nature’ experience. Wake in the morning for a dip in the idyllic baños before exploring the surrounding nature. 

Grab a guided tour wandering through the El Tabulate mountain to learn about the history of Las Terrazas. Visit the remains of San Ildefonso and El Contento French coffee farms which date from the first half of the XIX Century stopping for a Cuban coffee and panoramic views along the way. 

Nights are spent talking, eating and indulging in the surrounding nature, somewhat like a Caribbean jungle.

5. TRINIDAD

Trinidad has to be Havana's biggest competitor when it comes to the colourful walls, paved streets and Cuban ambience all tourists look for when touching down on the island. Nestled in the Sancti Spíritus Province, you'll find yourself lost among the winding streets of colour, paint-peeling walls and friendly locals. 

Trinidad is approximately four hours from Havana but it is likely to take you longer depending on your mode of transport and whether you break down (yes it is a very real reality). We'd suggest staying at least two to three nights in Trinidad to explore the town and its surrounding can offer. 

Spend an afternoon cycling from the centre of Trinidad to the south to the white sands of Ancón. Plant yourself underneath one of the many umbrellas and purchase a Cristal or Cuba Libre from one of the beachside bars to last the afternoon sun. If you're feeling more adventurous opt for a hike to Topes de Collantes Natural Park home to one of Cuba’s best waterfalls or visit a nearby Tobacco field to discover Cuban cigars.

Plaza Mayor is the heart and soul of Trinidad. It is, unfortunately, packed with tourists but it doesn't take away from the Caribbean vibe you'll find yourself lost in as soon as you arrive. Bars, old churches and museums encase the plaza but not too much, so you still get an incredible view of the Cuban sunset every evening. Located right in the heart of Plaza Mayor is the sound of Cuba, Casa de la Musica. A live band plays every evening while tourists and locals sit at bars, perch on the steps next to the cathedral and soak in the music while getting their daily dose of Wifi and mojitos.

Post cocktail and salsa dance at Plaza Mayor you should find yourself on the steps of La Redaccion restaurant. This was by far the best restaurant we ate in the whole of Cuba! From Cuban dishes to Western food, the service is great and the vibe but you will want to book in advance to avoid a forty minute wait. The bathroom is a masterpiece in itself and the live music is a great addition to the meal. 

You'll find yourself missing the paved steets, rundown buildings and colourful ambience of Trinidad once you leave. It's no trouble though, you know you'll be back soon.

Tessa Stockdale