things to do in cuba

25 Best Things To Do in Cuba: A Local’s Ultimate Guide

Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean and has much more to offer than your typical Caribbean islands. Sure, you’ll find your fair share of stunning beaches – Cuba has some of the best beaches in the world! – and excellent resorts, but this paradise island has countless other unique destinations and activities to make for an unforgettable vacation.

If you’re looking for unique and unforgettable things to do in Cuba, you’re in the right place. This local guide has some of the best recommendations you’ll find – we know because these are the things we love and what we recommend to our friends and family visiting Cuba.

Get ready for an incredible trip to Cuba!

best things to do in cuba

Things To Do in Cuba

Our list of the best things to do in Cuba is extensive, ranging from Cuba bucket list items you can accomplish in many places around the island to visiting specific must-see places in Cuba you should plan your itinerary around.

On this list, we’ve included things to do from around the island, but you’ll find plenty of things to do in Havana. We have an extensive guide on the best things to do in Havana, but as Havana is such a major cultural and tourist center in Cuba, there are plenty of things to do in Havana that earn a spot on this list, too!

Whether you’re headed to the beach, planning a city break in Havana or Santiago, or something in between, this list of the best things to do in Cuba has something for you!

1. Explore Old Havana

There is no more fascinating area of Havana than its oldest neighborhood, Old Havana, home to beautiful but faded historic architecture, museums, cultural centers, fortresses, and grand plazas.

Unlike the historic centers of other cities in the Caribbean, Old Havana is unique in that people actually live here, and you’ll see real life happening around you as you walk the streets: children rushing to classes in their uniforms, fruit and vegetable markets, street vendors selling pastries.

People live, work, and study here, sometimes in buildings that are historical and interesting to visitors but are in desperate need of repair. Visit in a respectful way, and always ask before taking pictures of people.

Check out our guide to exploring Old Havana before visiting, but make sure you spend time getting lost. You’ll love seeing this neighborhood.

2. Hike El Yunque

El Yunque – or, the Anvil – is a unique tabletop mountain outside of Baracoa, Cuba that is mentioned even in Christopher Columbus’ diaries upon his first sightings of the island.

An important part of the “skyline” of the small, historic city of Baracoa, hiking El Yunque is one of the best hikes in Cuba, and a very popular excursion.

Not a technically challenging hike except for a short steep section before reaching the tabletop, the journey will take you through lush jungles, past waterfalls and swimming holes, and through small farms where local families have made businesses out of making (delicious!) homemade meals for hikers. It’s an excellent hike, worth traveling here for.

Read More: Baracoa, Cuba: Ultimate Traveler’s Guide

3. Try (Real!) Cuban Food

Don’t come to Cuba looking for a Cuban sandwich. Guess what? José had never even heard of a Cuban sandwich before getting to the U.S. This sandwich was created in southern Florida – whether Miami or Tampa is the true city of origin is a source of hot debate.

Don’t worry, there is plenty of delicious Cuban food here you’ll love. Here are some of the best dishes to try in Cuba.

  • Arroz con Frijoles (rice and beans)
  • Tostones (fried plantains)
  • Ropa Vieja (shredded beef)
  • Yuca con Mojo (yuca with garlicky sauce)
  • Congris (rice and beans, mixed)
  • Seafood dishes like shrimp, lobster, and arroz imperial (rice with seafood)

Note: Smart restaurant owners in Cuba have caught on to this whole “Cuban sandwich” thing, and now you can find a fair number of restaurants selling them. 

4. Dive with Sharks in Jardines de la Reina

If you’re looking for adventure travel rather than rest and relaxation, a visit to Jardines de la Reina is for you. Jardines de la Reina is known as one of the most pristine protected areas of the Caribbean Sea, home to unique corals, beautiful tropical fish, and countless sharks, some known to grow larger than anywhere else on Earth.

Diving with sharks is one of the most popular activities here, though experienced guides can also lead you to shark-free areas if you’d like a more relaxing dive. Wherever you plan to dive, be prepared for stunning underwater scenery, with canyons, caves, and unique formations wherever you look.

5. Visit Fábrica de Arte Cubano

You can’t visit Havana without visiting Fábrica de Arte Cubano. This mixed-use arts and performance space is simultaneously a fine arts gallery, concert hall, nightclub, movie theater, and cultural space in one, with a pop-up shop, restaurant, and five unique bars thrown in for good measure.

Open from Thursdays through Sundays, this space has a rotating group of exhibits and performances – every night of the week is different. It has hosted international performers, local celebrities, and even Michelle Obama, and was named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 Greatest Places in the World.

This is hands-down the place to be in Havana.

the best thing to do in cuba

6. Hike Pico Turquino

If you’re looking for an adventurous and unexpected excursion in Cuba, consider hiking Cuba’s highest peak: Pico Turquino. In the heart of the Sierra Maestra mountain range in southeast Cuba, expect lush jungles and stunning views to reward your efforts.

The hike is moderately strenuous and doesn’t require any special gear, acclimatization, or training, so as long as you’re reasonably fit and active, it’s well within your reach.

The summit also includes an optional visit to the Comandancia de la Plata, one of Cuba’s most important revolutionary sites. This was the location of the guerrilla camp used by Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and their band of revolutionaries, from which they launched the first attacks against the Cuban government that launched the Cuban Revolution.

Today, visitors on their way to the summit of the peak can visit the site of the evolutionary radio station, field hospital, barracks, and even Fidel’s private camp office. It’s a fascinating stop on the way up to the summit.

7. See the Mogotes in Viñales

More than just a great day trip escape from Havana, Viñales is a top place to visit in Cuba. I’ll be honest; when I visited for the first time, I fully expected it to be overrated – I was SO wrong.

Viñales is stunning; its limestone “mountains” called mogotes soaring up from otherwise flat ground make this valley look almost otherwordly, leaving a lasting impression. Visiting just to bask in the beauty is more than enough of a reason.

However, Vinales also has so much to see and do. Horseback ride through the valleys, visit tobacco plantations, learn about the art of making cigars, and explore caves with underground lakes and rivers.

You’ll love Viñales. A visit is one of the best things to do in Cuba.

Read More: Ultimate Travel Guide to Viñales, Cuba

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. 

8. Stroll the Colonial Streets of Trinidad

As a historic city in Cuba filled with colonial architecture, Trinidad is overshadowed by Old Havana in the number of visitors but not in beauty. Trinidad is known for having the best-preserved and most extensive colonial center in the Caribbean. It’s a gem far too few travelers in the Caribbean visit.

While specific sites in the historic center are worth seeing – particularly the Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco de Asis with its stunning mountain views from the rooftop, there is a simple and special joy in exploring the historic city streets.

Much of the old town is pedestrian-only, making it perfect for strolling, exploring, and getting lost. It’s the very best thing to do in Trinidad, though there is enough here to keep you busy for at least three or four days easily.

Read More: Ultimate Travel Guide to Trinidad, Cuba

9. Soak Up the Sun in Varadero

Cuba’s favorite beach getaway, both for international travelers and Cubans, is Varadero.

The convenience of Varadero – just two hours east of Havana – and its bevy of restaurants, bars, rental apartments and houses, and resorts – makes it a great, easy spot to enjoy one of the World’s best stretches of white sand.

Varadero is by no means off the beaten path, so if you’re looking for a hidden gem, consider Cayo Jutias near Viñales, Cayo Saetia in Holguin or the beaches near Playa Girón. However, if you’re looking for some rest and relaxation, clear waters, and white sand, Varadero awaits.

Read More: Ultimate Travel Guide to Varadero, Cuba

best things to do in cuba

10. Visit Cuba’s Pristine Cayos

Some of Cuba’s most popular destinations aren’t actually on the Cuban mainland – they’re the tiny cays (cayos) that rim most of the island, sitting just offshore. While each cay is unique, they’re generally known for having Cuba’s most famous and luxurious resorts, and are home to the island’s best beaches.

These are some of the most popular cays for visitors to Cuba:

  • Cayo Coco: Located off Cuba’s north central shore, Cayo Coco is famous for white sand beaches and stunning resorts.
  • Cayo Guillermo: Connected to Cayo Coco by a causeway, Cayo Guillermo has more family-friend resorts and similarly stunning beaches.
  • Cayo Jutias: This natural, rugged cay near Viñales has stunning beaches but no accommodations. Most visitors make a day trip from Vinales, but wild camping is permitted for an adventurous stay. 
  • Cayo Largo del Sur: One of the most distant cays, Cayo Largo is known for having three of Cuba’s most beautiful beaches. This cay sits to the east of Isla de la Juventud and south of the mainland. 

Read More: The Cays of Cuba: Ultimate Guide

11. Ride in a Vintage American Car

Would it be a trip to Cuba without taking a ride in a vintage car? While you’ll see vintage cars everywhere you look, the most impressive convertible models are usually used for giving car tours of the country’s major cities. 

If you’re planning on taking a ride in a vintage American car while in Havana, I recommend making this one of the first things you do in Havana. These rides are a great introduction to the city, and will take you around to some of the city’s most impressive spots, like the Plaza de la Revolución and along the Malecón.

You can book online ahead of time, which saves you cash you’d need to carry to Cuba, and the hassle of negotiating a price with a driver. I’d certainly recommend booking ahead of time!

12. Walk in Ernest Hemingway’s Shoes

Cuba is famous for being a second home to Ernest Hemingway, and the inspiration for much of his work. Today, visitors to Havana can take a guided Hemingway tour, or follow in his footsteps by visiting some of his favorite spots around Cuba:

  • El Floridita: This famous Old Havana bar memorializes Hemingway with a large bronze statue at the bar; he was known to down several at a time at this very corner of the bar.
  • Cayo Guillermo: This beautiful cay along Cuba’s north coast inspired the writer’s posthumous novel, Islands in the Steam. On the bridge onto Cayo Guillermo, you’ll see a Hemingway statue welcoming visitors, and the island’s most beautiful beach – Playa Pilar – is named after his yacht.
  • Hotel Ambos Mundos: This Old Havana hotel was Hemingway’s home away from home before he purchased his estate outside Havana. Today visitors can check out the small museum in this Old Havana hotel dedicated to the author in room 511, where Hemingway stayed.
  • Casa Vigía: Hemingway’s estate outside of Havana is a popular destination and an easy spot to visit from the city. It is kept in much of its state in which the writer left it, with countless personal items on display. 

13. Stay in a Casa Particular

Before renting on Airbnb became a popular way to travel, Cuba did it first.

Called “casas particulares,” these “private homes” have long been the best place to stay in Cuba. Just like on Airbnb, you can find everything from a spare bedroom to a sprawling mansion with a private pool for rent – often significantly cheaper than the prices of a hotel.

The best part? You’ll often get a much more local, authentic experience than you would in a hotel. You’re also supporting local Cubans, many of whom make their livelihoods with these rentals. 

Check out our guides to some of Cuba’s best casas particulares here:

14. Hike Waterfalls in Topes de Collantes

Cuba is filled with fantastic places to get off the beaten path and hike through the stunning interior of the country. One of the best spots to explore on foot is the stunning Topes de Collantes area in the Escambray mountains just west of Trinidad.

Home to countless waterfall hikes like El Nicho, Salto de Caburní, and Vegas Grande, this is a great place to escape for a day trip to an impressive natural spot.

Make sure to bring your bathing suit – swimming beneath the waterfalls is highly encouraged!

15. Explore Cuba’s Caves

A surprising number of destinations in Cuba are well known for having impressive caves systems, which make for unique day trips, and a great excursion to cool off on a hot day.

Among the mogotes of Viñales, you’ll find countless caves. A particularly impressive example is the Cueva del Indio, an important site for the indigenous peoples who lived in the area. While there are plenty of caves worth visiting in Vinales, this one is interesting in that you can take a speedboat inside the underground river in the cave for quite a distance.

From Varadero, you can plan an excursion to the Cueva de Saturnio or Cueva de Bellamar, both quite close to central Varadero and easily visited in a day trip. You can even swim here!

Travel Essential

Don’t head out on your adventure without comprehensive travel insurance! Good travel insurance may cover lost or stolen gear, medical emergencies, delayed or canceled flights, and more. Check out the policies available from World Nomads or compare plans using Visitors Coverage.

16. Take in the View from the Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca

Located in Santiago de Cuba, the island’s eastern capital and second-largest city, the historic Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca is an impressive Spanish fortress you can’t skip. It’s lauded by UNESCO as “the most complete, best-preserved example of Spanish-American military architecture.” 

A visit to the fortress is impressive, but the view over the ocean, bay, and surrounding beaches is another highlight that makes the visit even more scenic. 

Read More: Santiago de Cuba: Ultimate Traveler’s Guide

17. Learn to Dance Salsa

Cuba is, of course, the best place to learn how to dance salsa. You’ll find dance schools in most cities in Cuba, and lessons are a popular activity no matter where you’re traveling.

I don’t have specific class recommendations for all cities in Cuba. However, if you’re traveling in Havana, Civitatis has excellent salsa classes I recommend for travelers on a quick Havana itinerary.

If you want more than just a single class or want to learn the bachata, rumba, or countless other dance styles, look into options for a series of classes at the much-loved Salsabor dance school in Havana.

18. Take a Free Walking Tour

How could you get any better than free? Civitatis is an excellent tour company from Spain that offers free walking tours in cities around Cuba. Experienced, thorough guides lead these tours, so make sure to tip if you enjoy the tour!

Here are some of the most popular free tours in Cuba:

the best things to do in cuba

19. Visit the Countryside

A visit to Cuba just doesn’t feel complete if you stick to the major cities and coastal resort towns. Though these places have so much to offer, a visit to the countryside offers a whole new perspective on Cuba.

In Havana, you’ll find excursions to nearby farms for home cooking and to learn about Cuban agriculture – take advantage of these and prepare for the best Cuban food you’ll ever try. You’ll also find unique accommodations in the countryside where you’ll be immersed; we love MogoteArt if you’re looking for a countryside retreat.

One of the most accessible spots for visitors to visit in the Cuban countryside is Viñales. Though you’ll see that the town of Viñales has a fair amount of resources and business to cater to travelers visiting the national park, it’s an easily accessible countryside town well worth visiting.

20. Drink Cuban Coffee

The famous Cuban coffee is strong, sweet espresso with a foamy top, a delicious treat you’ll be offered whenever visiting a Cuban home, maybe if you’re staying in a casa particular and meeting your host.

For true Cuban coffee, look for tiny local storefronts where locals sell tiny cups of this strong coffee for a few pesos. This is how Cubans drink it, and trying Cuban coffee is a must on any visit to Cuba.

Looking for the best places to drink coffee in Havana? Check out our guide to our favorite cafes in Havana and brunch spots in Havana.

21. Enjoy a Havana Sunset on the Malecón

There is nothing like a Havana sunset. The colors are spectacular, and watching the sunset seated on top of Havana’s famous Malecón sea wall is one of the best free things to do in Havana.

If you’re looking for another beautiful spot to watch the sunset in Havana, take a bus or taxi through the tunnel across the Havana harbor and to the Cristo de la Habana. Alternatively, take the Lanchita de Regla ferry across the harbor to the hill below the statue. The ferry costs just a few pesos and departs from Old Havana, at the dock across from the Russian Orthodox Church.

This Christ statue guards the Havana harbor, and its platform on the hill provides a spectacular spot overlooking Old Havana, the ocean, and the entire Malecón. This is our favorite spot to watch the sunset, so don’t tell too many others – we don’t want the secret getting out!

best things to do in cuba

22. Visit the Sierra del Rosario

The Sierra del Rosario mountain range in the province of Pinar del Rio is a unique protected biosphere, home to endemic flora and fauna in the stunning and lush tropical forest that makes for an unforgettable trip.

Within the Sierra del Rosario you’ll find Soroa, a popular destination for hiking in Cuba, and home to a beautiful orchid garden and stunning waterfall hikes.

Just an hour from Havana, it’s a popular and easy day trip escape from the city. If you’re looking to spend a bit more time here than you’d be able to on a day trip from Havana, consider stopping on the way to an overnight in Viñales.

23. Learn About the Cuban Revolution

Just stepping foot in Cuba is a lesson in the Cuban Revolution; you’ll see revolutionary imagery everywhere, from billboards and posters to major monuments. However, learning more about the Revolution in some of these places is an excellent way to get even more of the backstory.

Museo de la Revolución

The former presidential palace is now the Museum of the Revolution, where you’ll learn so much about the history of the Revolution, plus personal artifacts and more. Behind the building, you’ll see cars driven by Fidel, and a replica of the boat he used to arrive in Cuba from exile in Mexico at the start of the Revolution.

Be aware that the exhibits are all in Spanish, so consider visiting with a guide, or downloading Google Translate with its image translation feature if you can’t understand Spanish.

Plaza de la Revolución

Located in the heart of Havana, the Plaza de la Revolución is where Fidel gave many of his famous speeches in front of the monument of Cuban independence leader José Martí. You’ll see images of Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos (another important revolutionary) on the buildings facing the square.

This is an obligatory stop on any ride through Havana in a vintage American car, so you’re sure to visit if you plan to ride through the city in style.

Comandancia de la Plata

If you’re headed up Pico Turquino in the Sierra Maestra mountains, make sure to stop at Comandancia de la Plata, the guerrilla camp where Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and their band of revolutionaries camped out as they launched their first attacks.

You’ll see their field hospital, barracks, and more – it’s a fascinating stop.

The Mausoleum of Che Guevara

In the central Cuban city of Santa Clara, travelers can visit Che Guevara’s tomb, a major destination for those interested in the Revolution.

24. Spot Unique Wildlife in Ciénaga de Zapata

One of the most unique natural spots in Cuba is Ciénaga de Zapata on the southern coast of Cuba. Known for being one of the country’s best areas to witness wildlife, Ciénaga de Zapata is home to over 900 species of plants and over 175 species of birds (many of which are only found in Cuba – some are found only in this park!).

Here you’ll see the world’s smallest bird, flamingos, Cuban crocodiles, and much more – and there are some great hikes to see it all.

A trip to this part of Cuba – one of the best places to visit in Cuba! – is perfect to combine with a trip to Playa Girón, where you can swim at off-the-beaten-path beaches and unique swimming holes similar to Mexico’s famous cenotes.

25. Dance the Night Away at the Tropicana

Havana’s Tropicana has been the stage for some of the most important and historic performances in Cuba, with everyone from Celia Cruz to Frank Sinatra, Joséphine Baker, and Nat King Cole gracing the stage.

For an unforgettable night in Havana, head to the Tropicana for a cabaret show with incredible live music, dancers with elaborate costumes, food, and drinks. It’s a great time, and you’ll feel the immense history of this cultural institution the second you step through the doors.