Cuba is so much more than just Havana! Far too few visitors to Cuba make it past the capital city on their way to the country’s white-sand beaches, skipping some of the beautiful cities in Cuba with so much to offer travelers.
In our guide to these ten best cities in Cuba for travelers, we’ll share the best spots to visit around the country. From historic capitals and bustling cities to small cities near national parks for a taste of rural Cuba, we’re sharing the best of the country for your perfect trip to Cuba.
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10 Unmissable Cities in Cuba
Of course, at Home to Havana, we’re biased to say that Havana is the very best city in Cuba to visit. We truly believe it, and plenty of travelers and Cubans alike will agree – from art and cultural events to historic monuments and neighborhoods, day trips, and much more, a visit to Havana is a must.
There is nothing like exploring the city’s historic streets, visiting the beautiful plazas, cruising through the city in a vintage American car, and taking in the hustle and bustle of the city.
Make no mistake, Havana isn’t “stuck in the past.” We don’t say that here, and we certainly don’t think it – this idea does a massive disservice to Cubans. Havana is full of energy, spirit, pride, and beauty, and you’ll fall in love with it quickly.
Check out our guide to the best things to do in Havana for countless more activities and destinations to visit here, but these are just a few of the highlights Havana has to offer:
- Fábrica de Arte Cubano, Havana’s art, culture, and nightlife hotspot in one
- Malecón, Havana’s famous seawall and the best place to enjoy a sunset
- Old Havana – you’ll need a few hours to explore!
- Ice cream at Coppelia
Havana is great, but remember, Cuba is so much more than just Havana. Make sure you give the other great cities in Cuba a chance if your itinerary allows for it!
After Havana and some of the beach towns along Cuba’s coast, Trinidad is probably one of the most visited cities in Cuba for travelers.
It’s easy to see why: this stunning and historic city is filled with well-preserved colonial architecture and original cobblestone streets that ooze charm, just a few of the things to see and do in Trinidad.
In addition to exploring Trinidad’s gorgeous colonial center, you can venture outside the city to the Valle de los Ingenios, and UNESCO World Heritage Center, to learn more about how the sugar plantations in this region helped grow Cuba’s wealth and importance during the colonial period and beyond.
Alternatively, check out the beautiful Topes de Collantes National Reserve, where you can hike to beautiful waterfalls and visit ranches, lookout points over the mountains and city, and even an art museum.
Trinidad is also a great spot to enjoy the beach! Playa Ancón, considered by many to be the nicest beach on Cuba’s southern coast, is just 15 minutes from one of the most enchanting cities in Cuba – what a dream!
Read More: Ultimate Guide to Trinidad, Cuba
3. Santiago de Cuba
Known as Cuba’s capital of the East, Santiago de Cuba is the second-largest city in Cuba. This unique, thriving city is the home to many of Cuba’s musical traditions, Afro-Cuban culture, and the most thriving carnival celebration in Cuba.
Santiago de Cuba is one of the best places to visit in Cuba to learn more about Cuban culture. If you can visit during Santiago de Cuba’s July carnival celebrations, you’re in for a real treat, but if not, a visit to this beautiful city is still worthwhile.
You’ll see the Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca, an impressive Spanish fortress with gorgeous views of the city and ocean, plus the city’s charming historic center. Don’t miss the opportunity to learn Cuba’s many dance traditions while visiting Santiago, one of the best, if too infrequently-visited, cities in Cuba.
Read More: Santiago de Cuba: Ultimate Travel Guide
What to Pack for Cuba
Check out our Ultimate Cuba Packing List to help you pack for your trip – we’re sharing exactly what to bring to Cuba and what we never travel without.
Cuba’s most famous and popular beach town, Varadero is a fantastic place to take advantage of the white sand and crystal clear water that Cuba is so well known for relaxing on one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
With a great variety of guesthouses, private rentals, and resorts in Varadero, plus frequent buses from around the island, Varadero is the perfect destination for travelers looking for an easy and convenient beach escape in Cuba.
Varadero isn’t much of a city – it’s more of a busy beach town spread along the length of the Hicacos Peninsula along Cuba’s northern coast. Its long, thin shape means over 16 kilometers of pristine beach run the length of the peninsula, and most of the restaurants, bars, and places to stay are concentrated on a few main streets.
Varadero isn’t off the beaten path by any means, but the beach is long enough that you’ll find a quiet corner if you’re looking for one. The amenities the town offers are fantastic and make travel here a breeze.
Plus, there are tons of things to do in Varadero to keep you and your travel companions happy for days.
While prices for accommodations, food, and other basics are more expensive in Varadero than in other areas of Cuba, the easy accessibility of Varadero from Havana and other parts of Cuba is convenient. It also means that Varadero tends to offer a much more affordable beach getaway than more far-flung cays and hidden beaches in other areas of Cuba.
Read More: Ultimate Travel Guide to Varadero, Cuba
5. Playa Girón
You might be surprised to see Playa Girón on the list of must-visit cities in Cuba – it isn’t generally considered a major destination for travelers visiting Cuba. But it should be!
Located on Cuba’s southern coast, Playa Girón sits at the entrance of the Bahia de los Cochinos – the Bay of Pigs. Yes, this is the site of the failed U.S. invasion of Cuba following the Cuban Revolution. However, a visit to this area isn’t so much a historic one, but one to discover off-the-beaten-path beaches and swimming holes in a beautiful corner of Cuba.
Visitors can enjoy swimming at the lovely Caleta Buena or nearby Playa Larga beaches. Alternatively, the Cueva de los Peces, a massive sinkhole similar to Mexico’s famous cenotes and filled with fish, is a lovely swimming hole without a beach.
Playa Girón is also a great base from which to explore one of Cuba’s most fascinating natural areas, the Ciénaga de Zapata. This is one of Cuba’s most interesting and unique national parks, currently awaiting UNESCO World Heritage status.
The park is filled with unique ecosystems like mangrove forests, reefs, tiny cays, swamplands, and much more, and the area is home to countless species of flora and fauna you won’t find elsewhere.
Ciénaga de Zapata is also a fantastic area for hiking, biking, and kayaking through the unique landscape and is considered one of the best spots for hiking in Cuba.
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One of the most popular day trips from Havana, the small town of Viñales is much better experienced with a least a full day – or two! – to appreciate the natural beauty of one of the most unique areas of Cuba.
While the small town of Viñales doesn’t have much to offer itself other than a taste of life in the Cuban countryside, the real draw for travelers is the Valle de Viñales, or Viñales Valley. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is renowned for its unique limestone “karsts,” which look like towering islands popping out from otherwise flat land.
These karsts are known as “mogotes” and make for incredible views wherever you turn. Make sure to enjoy breakfast or even an evening drink at sunset at Balcón del Valle, which has the most stunning views overlooking the valley.
Among the mogotes you’ll find countless caves, beautiful countryside, stunning lookouts, and more. You can follow popular hiking paths through the natural park with a guide, or by exploring on your own. Viñales is easily one of the best destinations for hiking in Cuba.
Another major draw to Viñales? This is one of the best areas of Cuba for tobacco production, and a visit to a tobacco farm is one of the best things to do in Cuba.
You’ll have the opportunity to meet with farmers, and learn about production, how cigars are created, and the Cuban government’s role in the process. It’s an unforgettable experience in one of the most beautiful cities in Cuba.
Located along Cuba’s southern coast, the lovely, relaxed city of Cienfuegos is a great spot to visit on your Cuba travel adventure. With its location between Havana, Ciénaga de Zapata, and Trinidad, Cienfuegos is an easy addition to any itinerary and has plenty to offer travelers.
Cienfuegos is known for having a lovely historic center filled with one of the highest concentrations of neoclassical architecture in the Caribbean, making it one of Cuba’s many UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Make sure to visit the stunning Palacio Ferrer and Palacio del Valle, among some of the most impressive palaces in Cuba and just one of the architectural features that make this one of the most memorable cities in Cuba. This is among the best things to do in Cienfuegos.
From visiting the city’s stunning cathedral and Spanish fortress to countless museums, parks, plazas, and even a malecón sea wall, you’ll never get bored in Cienfuegos, whether you stay for just a day or more than a week.
Read More: Cienfuegos, Cuba: Ultimate Traveler’s Guide
Would you be surprised to learn that Holguin is one of the most visited areas of Cuba? Home to some of the most beautiful beaches in Cuba, including Playa Pesquero, Playa Esmeralda, and Guardalavaca, the province of Holguin is a great spot to enjoy the sun and sand that makes Cuba a top vacation destination.
The city of Holguin, the capital of the province of the same name, is one of Cuba’s liveliest and a great place to start a trip around this area.
While the city itself isn’t overloaded with attractions, you’ll enjoy exploring the charming historic center of Holguin. It’s like a smaller version of Old Havana, with just a tiny fraction of the tourists.
One of the most important cities in Cuba, Holguin is a hidden gem that very few tourists get to experience firsthand, which is a true shame! It’s a great place to spend a day or two before heading to the world-class beaches dotting the rest of the province.
Read More: Holguin, Cuba: Ultimate Travel Guide
9. Santa Clara
Located in the very center of Cuba, Santa Clara is one of the moderate-sized cities in Cuba that doesn’t have the beaches or extensive historic center that attract countless tourists, like other cities on this list do.
However, Santa Clara is home to one of the most important monuments of the Cuban Revolution, which attracts plenty of history buffs: the Mausoleum of Che Guevara.
The Mausoleum of Che Guevara is a popular destination for Cuban and international travelers alike. In addition to seeing the mausoleum itself, you’ll find a small display of photographs and personal items that belonged to Che, including his rifle.
Santa Clara is also within a few hours of some of Cuba’s most beautiful northern cays, particularly Cayo Santa Maria, which is home to some of the best beaches in Cuba. Combine a visit to Che’s Mausoleum with a trip to a stunning beach for a unique combination of activities.
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It’s easy to see why the small city of Baracoa is one of the most popular places to visit in Cuba on the island’s eastern side: this small town is a colonial gem filled with historic architecture, beautiful beaches, and surrounded by lush jungle.
A visit to Baracoa is the perfect escape to escape the hustle and bustle of Cuba’s larger cities while enjoying one of the most unique corners of the island.
One of the highlights of visiting Baracoa includes hiking El Yunque, a unique anvil-shaped tabletop mountain, the most unique part of Baracoa‘s “skyline.” Guided excursions will take you through the jungle and along rivers with swimming holes, through unique ecosystems, and even to remote villages where locals cook for travelers from their kitchens.
If you’re not looking for a hike, per se, consider visiting nearby Alejandro de Humboldt National Park, home to some of Cuba’s most diverse areas and ecosystems. It’s a perfect place to spot unique flora and fauna with an expert guide.
Read More: Baracoa, Cuba: Ultimate Travel Guide
Best Cuban Cities
More than most other Caribbean islands, Cuba offers a fascinating mix of diverse and historically important cities that offer travel experiences to rival that of its famous beaches. Whether you’re looking to see the sights in Havana or get off the beaten path in Holguin and Santa Clara, you’re in for an unforgettable experience in the cities of Cuba.