places to visit in cuba
|

20 Best Places to Visit in Cuba: A Local’s Guide [2024]

Your trip to Cuba should be so much more than just tracing the well-worn tourist path. From hidden beaches and waterfalls to historic sites and energizing cities, you’ll find it all here. Cuba is a much more richly layered, multi-faceted destination than many other Caribbean islands.

We’re locals and have seen everything Cuba has to offer – and think that these are the best places to visit in Cuba that you just can’t miss. We’ve included everything from the best cities in Cuba to the best beaches that Cuba has to offer and narrowed them all down to help you find the perfect spots for your trip.

havana cuba

This post contains affiliate links that may reward me monetarily or otherwise when you use them to make qualifying purchases – at no cost to you. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. For more information, please read our disclosure policy.

Best Places To Visit in Cuba

As the largest island in the Caribbean, you’d be surprised to learn how large Cuba is – and how much it has to offer travelers. From soaring mountains and hidden jungle waterfalls to its well-known white-sand beaches with crystal-clear water, there are countless unforgettable places to visit in Cuba.

These are our favorite places to visit in Cuba – the ones we recommend that ALL travelers consider as they plan their Cuba itinerary, no matter how long they plan to spend in the country.

cuba hotels
Courtesy of Paseo 206

1. Havana

You can’t come to Cuba without visiting Havana. This is the beating heart of Cuba, filled with history, culture, art, and countless things to do and see that you just don’t want to miss.

While there are truly endless things to do in Havana, these are just some of the highlights that we recommend to all visitors:

  • Check out the Fábrica de Arte Cubano, a mixed-used arts and performance space beloved by everyone from Anthony Bourdain and Questlove to Michelle Obama. It was named one of Time Magazine’s World’s 100 Greatest Places.
  • Explore Old Havana
  • Walk the Malecón sea wall
  • Visit Clandestina and grab coffee and brunch at El Cafe, just around the corner
  • Learn about the Cuban Revolution at the Museo de la Revolución and Plaza de la Revolución 

Havana offers much more to its visitors than just the vintage car show on constant display in the streets that you may have in mind when visiting. If you spend a few days in Havana exploring the city, you’ll be able to do the best of the city. 

If you’re tempted to skip Havana and just fly right into Varadero (or another beach resort spot on the island) for your vacation, consider adding a day or two in Havana to your Cuba itinerary. You’ll fall in love with this fascinating city and its people. 

things to do in trinidad cuba
jeewee / Depositphotos

2. Trinidad

Trinidad is a popular “second city” for visitors to Cuba looking for more places to visit in Cuba beyond Havana – and is easily one of the best cities to visit in Cuba. While often overshadowed by Havana, Trinidad can easily stand on its own as an unforgettable destination in Cuba.

Trinidad is best known for its stunning historic center. With beautiful cobblestone streets, historic churches, and impressive colonial architecture, it’s truly impressive and well worth spending a few hours exploring – even if you’ve just been to Old Havana.

Trinidad is also a great base for exploring some of southern Cuba’s most impressive and memorable sites. To the east, the Valle de los Ingenios is the best place to learn more about Cuba’s important role as a sugar producer in the colonial days, and visitors can explore historic plantations in the lush valleys while learning about the history of the area.

You also won’t want to skip Playa Ancón, just a few minutes south of Trinidad and considered the nicest beach on Cuba’s southern coast.

best places to visit in cuba

3. Cayo Largo del Sur

Have you heard of this stunning beach destination in Cuba? Though Cayo Largo del Sur might not be the first destination you think of when considering where to hit the beach in Cuba, it’s one of the best places to visit in Cuba for a dreamy beach escape.

Cayo Largo del Sur is a skinny strip of an island (one of the thousands of tiny cays in Cuba) located off the southern coast of Cuba, close to Isla de la Juventud, best known for the pure white sand and crystal clear waters.

The beaches that line the southern and western edges of the island are easily among Cuba’s best – Playa Sirena on the west side of the island and Playa Blanca and Playa Larga are each better than the best.

While it may be a bit harder to reach Cayo Largo del Sur than the beaches in Guardalavaca and Cuba’s northern cays, don’t count it out – for in-the-know travelers, this is one of the best places to visit in Cuba for a beach vacation.

Read More: Cayo Largo del Sur: Ultimate Traveler’s Guide

Travel Essential

Don’t think about traveling to Cuba without a good VPN (Virtual Private Network). Using a VPN while connecting to the internet is an easy way to keep your personal information safe from hackers and trackers. We’ve used NordVPN for years and couldn’t recommend it more – it’s a must for safety online, especially in Cuba. 

jardines de la reina cuba

4. Jardines de la Reina

If you’re a diver, you’ve almost certainly heard of Jardines de la Reina. Known as one of the most protected areas of the Caribbean Sea, this national park to the south of Cuba is known as a haven for unique corals, beautiful tropical fish, undersea landscapes like caves and canyons, and several varieties of sharks.

Not a professional diver? Jardines de la Reina still has a lot to offer visitors of all levels of dive experience – and even those not interested in diving at all. The area is also beloved for its sport fishing – it was one of Fidel Castro’s favorite fishing spots in Cuba – though it is exclusively a catch-and-release area.

The tiny cays throughout the area are home to mangroves and tiny hidden beaches that make for a great few hours of rest and relaxation among pristine nature. If you venture to this stunning area of Cuba, you’re in for a treat.

Read More: Jardines de la Reina: A Traveler’s Guide

resorts in varadero cuba

5. Varadero

Voted year after year as one of TripAdvisor’s Best Beaches in the World, Varadero is a stunning white-sand beach just two hours east of Havana, and an easy choice for one of the best places to visit in Cuba for a beach getaway.

If you’re looking for somewhere off the beaten path, Varadero is not it; this is by far Cuba’s most popular beach destination, both with international travelers and Cubans looking for a beach escape. However, Varadero is also the most convenient place for a beach getaway in Cuba.

While there are endless resorts in Varadero to choose from, the 16 km of white-sand beach that runs the length of this unique peninsula is easily accessible and public, meaning that even on the busiest beach day, you’ll be able to find a space for some peace and quiet if that’s what you’re looking for.

If you’re looking for more excitement, choose a spot near the restaurants and bars near the beach. Or, even get a day pass at a hotel to make the most of the activities and amenities here. Things to do in Varadero include snorkeling and diving, or a bit further inland, you can explore caves with underground swimming holes. You’ll be surprised how much Varadero has to offer.

fabrica de arte cubano

6. Fábrica de Arte Cubano

You don’t have to take our word for how cool Havana’s buzziest evening spot is Fábrica de Arte Cubano is so cool that it was named one of the best places in the world by Time Magazine in 2019.

This mixed-use art space was revolutionary when it first opened its doors a decade ago, and it still is. It combines fine art installations with live performances and shows ranging from documentary screenings and dance classes to live music and DJ sets, all while offering spaces for dancing, eating, and multiple bars and lounge spaces.

If its accolades in Time Magazine weren’t enough to convince you that a visit to Fábrica de Arte Cubano is one of the best things to do in Havana, the space’s famous fans range from Michelle Obama and Anthony Bourdain to Questlove and Cuban stars like Cimafunk.

Fábrica de Arte Cubano is open from Thursday through Sunday every week, starting at 8 PM. However, it closes for brief seasons every three months to change over the art installations and remake the space, just as a traditional gallery would. Make sure to check out their schedule online before you visit.

vinales valley

7. Viñales

While the stunning Valley of Viñales is a favorite day trip from Havana, don’t limit yourself to just a few hours in one of the most incredible places to visit in Cuba. One of the most stunning natural spots in the interior of Cuba, Viñales is a must-visit destination for any traveler in Cuba.

Viñales is best known for its impressive limestone “karsts,” jutting out from the ground like sheer-faced mountains, giving the lush valleys an impressive and completely unique to anything you’ve seen.

Make sure to get a sunrise view over the valley with breakfast and Cuban coffee at Balcón del Valle; the morning haze lifts over the valley to reveal the stunning view of the unique landscape.

Other than being beautiful, Viñales is also known for being home to Cuba’s best tobacco plantations, so a visit to these family-owned farms to learn about one of Cuba’s most famous exports is a must. You can explore the farms on horseback or by hiking through the valley – it is one of the best destinations for hiking in Cuba.

things to do in cayo guillermo
vvital / Shutterstock

8. Cayo Coco

Cuba’s northern central coast is rimmed with stunning white-sand cays, many of which are famous for their resorts and pristine beaches. While you’ll have your choice of fantastic beach destinations in this area of central Cuba, one of the best places to visit in Cuba in this amazing region is Cayo Coco.

This tiny white sand cay is one of the most underrated Caribbean islands, though it’s a popular destination for those looking for a beach resort stay. It is easily accessible from its own Jardines del Rey Airport or from the nearby provincial capital city of Ciego de Ávila. Whether traveling by bus, shared taxi, or plane, you’ll have your choice of transport options.

Stick around in Cayo Coco for the duration of your stay at one of the best resorts in Cuba, or head to neighboring Cayo Guillermo for an even more varied vacation. It’s just as beautiful and home to one of the most impressive beaches in Cuba: Playa Pilar.

guardalavaca
wellsie82 / Depositphotos

9. Guardalavaca

Would it surprise you to learn that the province of Holguin is one of the most popular places to visit in Cuba? Home to the stunning beaches of Guardalavaca and other white-sand spots like Playa Pesquero and Playa Esmeraldas, this area boasts some of the best beaches in Cuba and more stunning resorts than you can count.

Just about an hour from the province’s capital city of Holguin, Guardalavaca is the most popular beach city in the area. Whether you’re staying at one of the nearby resorts or a budget-friendly apartment or beach house rental closer to town, you’ll likely travel through this small and accessible city, which has all the amenities you’ll need for an easy trip.

While Cuba’s northern cays generally are too expensive for backpackers or budget travelers, Guardalavaca and its nearby beaches can be a bit more of a budget option without sacrificing the stunning and relaxing beach experience you’re looking for.

topes de collantes

10. Topes de Collantes

Located in the Escambray Mountains along Cuba’s southern coast, Parque Natural Topes de Collantes, or simply, Topes de Collantes, is one of the best places to visit in Cuba for nature lovers. Packed with impressive hiking trails, plunging waterfalls, and even hidden coffee plantations, travelers come traveling from across the island just to experience it.

Topes de Collantes sits nearly equidistant between the cities of Cienfuegos and Trinidad, making it a popular day trip destination for travelers staying in both cities. Exploring by horseback or on foot are both popular ways to experience the park, including the most popular attraction: the famous El Nicho Waterfall and its crystal-clear swimming hole.

Whether you’re looking for a full-day excursion or just a quick half-day trip to the area, you’ll be happy you added Topes de Collantes to your Cuba itinerary.

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.

baracoa cuba

11. Baracoa

Known as the “First City” of Cuba, tiny Baracoa in Cuba’s far east is a stunning spot, boasting plenty to draw visitors to this relatively remote spot.

With a charming historical town, great beaches, and lush, mountainous surroundings so beautiful Christopher Columbus wrote about them in his journals, Baracoa is an unforgettable travel destination.

Would you believe that Baracoa was only accessible to the rest of Cuba after the Cuban Revolution when a road was built to the town from Santiago de Cuba in the 1960s? Until then, the historic city was only accessible by boat, the dense jungles impenetrable.

One of the most popular things to do in Baracoa for visitors is hiking El Yunque; this anvil-shaped table mountain is a distinctive feature of the area’s “skyline” and makes for a great day trip to appreciate the lush jungles around the city. It’s one of the best destinations in Cuba for hiking.

alejandro de humboldt national park

12. Alejandro de Humboldt National Park

Just outside of Baracoa, no trip to the area is complete without a visit to the impressive Alejandro de Humboldt National Park, considered by UNESCO as “one of the most biologically diverse tropical island sites on earth.”

The park is massive, and visitors must enter with a guide, though this is the best way to see the very best of this massive and unique area. You’ll get the chance to see animals, insects, and tons of flora and fauna endemic to Cuba while enjoying stunning vistas wherever you look.

Excursions from Baracoa are one of the most popular ways to visit the park, though dedicated multi-day tours from other parts of Cuba are available as well. 

Read More: Best Time to Visit Cuba: Month-by-Month Breakdown

cayo santa maria cuba
Courtesy of Royalton Cayo Santa Maria

13. Cayo Santa Maria

Untouched, lush forests blanket the tiny islet of Cayo Santa Maria along Cuba’s northern shore, stretching until they reach some of the most pristine white sand beaches in the entire Caribbean. Long overshadowed by Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo, Cayo Santa Maria is finally coming into its own, now boasting some of the best resorts in Cuba.

There isn’t much to do in Cayo Santa Maria, but to be honest, that’s the whole point of a visit. Stretch out on nearly-empty sand with a tropical drink in hand and enjoy some of the most beautiful corners of Cuba.

Cayo Santa Maria is about a five-hour drive from Havana or just over an hour and a half away from the city of Santa Clara, which receives flights from Havana and a few key international destinations.

pico turquino

14. Pico Turquino

When you think of visiting a Caribbean island, you probably don’t think of climbing mountains. However, climbing Pico Turquino – the highest point in Cuba – is a great, unique addition to a Cuba itinerary for the avid hiker.

Covered with lush jungles, trekkers will enjoy spectacular views along the way to the summit. The hike is moderately difficult, and though steep and potentially muddy at parts, Pico Turquino is not a technically challenging climb.

Hikers climbing Pico Turquino from the trails to the north of the mountain can stop off at the Comandancia de la Plata, one of the most important places to visit in Cuba to learn about the country’s revolutionary history. This mountain camp of Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and other revolutionaries was used as a base from which to launch early attacks on the Cuban government.

Visitors can see the radio station revolutionaries used to broadcast their messages across the island, Che Guevara’s field hospital (he was a trained doctor!), and barracks. It’s a fascinating break from this unique hike.

Read More: Pico Turquino + the Best Hiking Destinations in Cuba

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.

santiago cuba

15. Santiago de Cuba

As the lively eastern capital of Cuba, Santiago de Cuba is a vibrant city with historic architecture and plenty of unique cultural events and is home to many of Cuba’s world-famous musical traditions.

Make sure to visit the colonial fortress Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca, lauded by UNESCO as “the most complete, best-preserved example of Spanish-American military architecture.” The architecture is impressive, and the ocean views from the top of the fortress are stunning

The city is also home to many Afro-Cuban religious traditions and celebrations from santería. This religious tradition syncretized the Catholic religion of Spanish colonizers with African religions brought over with enslaved peoples. It is widely practiced across the island, though it’s particularly popular in Santiago.

If you’re interested in learning more about these traditions, Santiago de Cuba is the place to visit. You can see countless activities and events celebrating these traditions, including the famous Carnival of Santiago de Cuba.

cienaga de zapata

16. Ciénaga de Zapata

For those looking for a unique experience while visiting Cuba, consider adding a trip to Ciénaga de Zapata to your itinerary. Located along Cuba’s southern coast, this protected natural area is home to countless species of flora and fauna, many of which are endemic to Cuba.

Visitors can enjoy hiking, kayaking, and exploring mangrove forests, as well as spotting birds, Cuban crocodiles, flamingos, going kayaking with manatees, and more. The area is home to a wildlife refuge and other unique protected areas.

Most visitors also take advantage of a trip to nearby southern coast beaches or head onward to Cienfuegos or Trinidad.

Travel Insurance

Cuba requires that all travelers have proof of a comprehensive travel insurance policy in order to enter the country. Check out our guide to travel insurance for Cuba for more details. We recommend these brands for Cuba travel insurance:

  • Visitors Coverage: Coverage for Cuba travel available to citizens of all countries, though not currently available to residents of New York and Maryland in the United States.
  • Insubuy: Coverage for Cuba travel available to citizens of all countries and states of the United States.
playa giron
pxhidalgo / Depositphotos

17. Playa Girón

If you’ve never heard of Playa Girón, maybe you’ll recognize it by its other name – Bahia de los Cochinos, or in English, Bay of Pigs. Despite its unique and dark place in Cuba’s history, this coastal town has plenty to offer travelers to earn it a spot among the best places to visit in Cuba.

If you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-path spot with cool, hidden swimming holes, plenty of opportunities to connect with locals, and well located to reach other awesome destinations in Cuba, Playa Girón is one of the best cities in Cuba for you.

Located on Cuba’s southern coast, Playa Girón is also excellent to pair with a trip to Ciénaga de Zapata. It is home to stunningly clear water, unique beaches and swimming holes, and charming, affordable accommodations. Make sure to check out Caleta Buena for great snorkeling among caves – though admission to the area is ticketed, lunch, beverages, and access to facilities are included.

cienfuegos cuba

18. Cienfuegos

If you can’t get enough of the charming historic architecture you’ll find across Cuba, consider visiting Cienfuegos in central Cuba. This historic city has plenty of fine examples of stunning colonial architecture while maintaining a laid-back and relaxed vibe you won’t find in Havana and Trinidad‘s busier and more touristed destinations.

Cienfuegos is also a great destination from which to explore the nearby Escambray mountains, home to lush jungles with coffee plantations and stunning waterfall hikes like the famous El Nicho.

Easily combined with a trip to Trinidad, Ciénaga de Zapata, or Playa Girón, this lovely city is an easy choice when considering the best places to visit in Cuba.

playa pilar
BastianLinder / Depositphotos

19. Playa Pilar

There are plenty of gorgeous beaches in Cuba worth visiting, but few are as special as Playa Pilar. Regarded as one of the best beaches in the world, this white sand stunner is even dreamier than the beaches you see on postcards.

Playa Pilar is perched on Cayo Guillermo, one of Cuba’s countless northern cays located in the Jardines del Rey area. While a few resorts dot the shores of the beach – including some of the best resorts in Cuba – it feels untouched, pristine, and uncrowded, adding even more to its intrigue and beauty.

Playa Pilar was famously immortalized in Ernest Hemingway’s book Islands in the Stream, and monuments to the writer are found all around the island. In fact, this particularly stunning beach was even named Pilar in honor of Hemingway’s boat.

Where To Stay in Playa Pilar: Cayo Guillermo Resort Kempinski

isla de la juventud
kmiragaya / Depositphotos

20. Isla de la Juventud

The largest of the islands that sit offshore from the Cuban mainland, Isla de la Juventud – in English, the Isle of Youth – is a little-visited but totally unique destination in Cuba. Accessible via flights from Havana to the island’s capital of Nueva Gerona or via a ferry from Batabanó, it can be a bit of a hassle to reach but is well worth the journey.

If you think Cuba feels like a trip back in time, it has nothing on Isla de la Juventud. Zip down beachfront roads in vintage cars, stroll peacefully through historic plazas, and sip coffee at corner cafes. The laidback feel of the island is like none other, making it the ultimate destination for an unplugged vacation.

There’s little traditional tourism infrastructure here, though the smattering of charming casa particular guest houses makes a for memorable accommodation experience. Stick to Nueva Gerona; there’s very little elsewhere on the island.

Carley Rojas Avila

Carley Rojas Avila is a bilingual travel writer, editor, content marketer, and the founder of the digital travel publications Home to Havana and Explorers Away. She is a serial expat and traveler, having visited 40+ countries and counting. Carley has written for publications like Travel + Leisure, MSN, Associated Press, Weather Channel, Wealth of Geeks, and more. Find her front row at a Bad Bunny concert, befriending street cats, and taste-testing every pizza in Havana.