Cuba was one of our Caribbean stops when traveling across South and Central America. Because of a tight schedule, we rushed our road trip to 7 days across the island. In retrospect, we should have stayed a little longer to have time to actually relax and enjoy all the things to do in Cuba. If you’re wondering what to see in Cuba, the answer is simple: a trip back in time!
Still, this getaway was like no other in the world. Our choices of what to see in Cuba were quite a voyage into the past. The Caribbean island is full of picturesque surprises and there are plenty of things to do in Cuba! Read more about our trip between Vinales, Havana and Varadero .
5 Things Think about Before Booking
– One of the things to do in Cuba is definitely detoxing from your everyday reality! Wi-Fi is scarce and slow throughout the island, and more so in the countryside.
1 The Agency. Book your trip with a well-rated agency to get the perfect experience on what to see in Cuba. Keep in mind that cars in Cuba are pretty old, so you have to check their state. We traveled with Discover Vinales, a small agency that had just started to operate then but that was a great choice. W had the best guide and they truly customized our trip and gave us a local and authentic experience away from the crowds.
2. Research ahead. This is important on any trip, but it’s vital when deciding what to see in Cuba. It’s too easy to fall into tourist traps here. We even skipped a couple of proposals from our agency.
3. Bring cash. Due to local foreign exchange controls, it can be difficult to withdraw money in the countryside. American travelers: due to the long-running blockade, U.S. credit and debit cards do not work on the island. Also, travelers’ checks are famously a nuisance, so stick to cash when figuring out what to see in Cuba.
4. Visa. Be sure to read about what kind of visa you need and when and where you can get it. Some airports, like the one in Cancun, offer the option to get the Cuban visa there. This can also be arranged in advance; don’t wait until you are seconds from discovering what to see in Cuba.
5. Casa Particular. Since the ’90s, the Cuban government has encouraged private citizens to host travelers from all over the world. Staying at family homes is now a popular way for culture-loving visitors to get a glimpse of what to see in Cuba. Be sure to book a trustworthy family through your agency, as there are some unpleasant stories out there. Our hosts, Blanquita and Antonio, were amazing!
Things to do in Cuba: Our 4 Day Itinerary
We stayed in Cuba for 7 nights, but I’d recommend a longer visit to get to know what to see in Cuba. Our itinerary was as follows. 1 night in Havana (as arrived late). 1 night (2 days) in Vinales but here you can easily stay 2 to 3 nights, 2 nights in Varadero (was enough for me but here the length depends on the number of days you want to spend on the beach). Finally, we stayed 2 nights in Havana exploring this gem. I would recommend 3 to 4 nights in Havana, as most things to do in Cuba are in the city!
Traveling – How to Get There?
To get started on the many things to do in Cuba, get in from Havana airport. There are direct flights from multiple European cities, and a growing number of U.S. ones, too. You can also arrive from nearby Caribbean destinations like Cancun and prepare for what to see in Cuba.
From then on, book our preferred ride and get to driving. Remember Cuban cars are mostly from the 50’s or 80’s Soviet LADAs. A great choice is always going for a 1950’s American muscle car!
What to See in Cuba: 4 Days of Wonder!
Our two stops outside Havana offered broadly different experiences showcasing what to see in Cuba. Vinales gave us a glimpse of rural and authentic Cuba and the beautiful Cuban landscape, while Varadero was a modern beach oasis. So much to see in just one island!
The roads transported us to a simpler time, as we ran into oxen and horses on our voyage into what to see in Cuba. Another strange sight was the cars and tractors from decades past, tuned to look more colorful. Cubans love pouring their bright tropical sense of color into their cars! This picturesque look at the old roads was our first discovery among the many things to do in Cuba town Vinales.
First Stop: 2 Stunning Days in Vinales
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Vinales is a rural wonder among what to see in Cuba. A place of traditional agriculture and ancient natural caves, Vinales offers travelers a respite from western tribulations. We started our road trip in Havana where our guide picked us up at our hotel. The trip to Vinales takes about 3 hours by car but we did some stop along the way in a botanical garden and along the way to put at least 4 in your itinerary!
The Vinales Town
Ther are plenty of things to do in Cuba town Vinales and you can easily spend a couple of days here. A small town of a few thousand people, this is the heart of Cuban agriculture. In fact, Vinales was said to be Fidel Castro’s favorite place among all options of what to see in Cuba!
The meeting point of this little town is the square where you can hang out with locals while checking the social media happenings as it also is one of the wifi spots. There many small restaurants and a cute little street market where you can find a lot of beautiful handicrafts. Vinales’ traditional charm as the home of world-renowned Cuban cigars makes this village a gem of yore.
An unmissable experience of what to see in Cuba, a Casa Particular is a local family home that rents living space to visitors. Like a B&B, this offers the chance to mingle with locals and live as they do for a few days. Our hosts, Blanquita and Antonio, were both welcoming and sweet. We loved to experience the everyday life of rural Cuba with them!
The Vinales Valley
The most popular place is the UNESCO-protected Vinales valley, a must on the list of what to see in Cuba. A natural wonder with a magic view and landscape. Discover-Vinales offers various tours in this area, focusing on authentic and non-touristic experiences. Some other activities include horseback riding, birdwatching and photo tours! Could truly recommend the horse back riding and trekking as the landscape is truly magic!
The Eco Tourism
The traditional way of life here has made Vinales a focus of ecotourism. It’s growingly popular with the people who want to know what to see in Cuba by leaving the traditional touristic spots. We had a long and very relaxing stop at the organic local farm Caza de Confianza . The food here was truly delicious, a culinary experience into the Cuban food culture. Organic vegetable dishes, all from the farm and the best Pina Colada I have ever had and what can be better than to enjoy the food watching the beautiful Vinales landscape. I loved to explore their garden to see what was growing there!
The Cigars & Local Farms
To get glimpse into the time-consuming process of cigars is a must. We visited both the factory in Vinales town and a local farm.. I recommend adding a local tobacco farm to your list of what to see in Cuba, as it’s once again a journey back in time. Here, you learn all about the process, which takes a total of two years to complete. Seeing every step performed manually and carefully is a reminder of why Cuban cigars are so famous and expensive. In all, it’s a fascinating glance into the life of the Cuban farmer.
Some Adventure among the Treetops!
Another fantastic activity on your Vinales to-do list should be going through a Zip Line. While unexpected, this “flight” through the fields was a lovely little adventure. And, my, it was quite a view we didn’t have on our list of what to see in Cuba!
Second Stop: 2 Days @ the Varadero Beach
The island’s all-around vintage air will shock you, but Varadero is a surprise for the exact opposite reason. Our road trip showed us a traditional country stuck in the past… everywhere but in Varadero.
Over the years, the Varadero beach has been many things, although always on the list of what to see in Cuba. In the late 19th century and the early years of the 20th, it was a popular vacation spot. Locals and foreigners alike swarmed to the coast to enjoy the beach, as the rich and powerful built beautiful villas. Considered an elite area of the island, the face of Varadero changed in the first few decades of the Revolution. At that time, Varadero was turned into an important cultural hub: many of the old mansions were turned into museums.
Varadero took its current form, as a major Caribbean resort town, in the 1990s, turning into an essential spot of what to see in Cuba. At that time, there were a lot of changes in the country, as Cuba expanded further to receive more guests. The government then opened its doors to foreign investment once more, and multinational hotel chains made their way in. Now, the vast Varadero beach is full of international all-inclusive resorts, without a single boutique hotel in sight!
This is a place to relax and enjoy what to see in Cuba – many of the guests probably won’t even leave the resort!
Royalton Hicacos Varadero Resort
A huge hotel of over 400 rooms, the Royalton Hicacos Varadero Resort offers a great break from what to see in Cuba. The design is inspired by the Cuban love of color, and there are a lot of canals and bridges here. This resort feels cosy despite its size, a feat for a place with multiple restaurants, pools and a nightclub. Not a boutique hotel but still I would recommend this resort for a couple of days by the beach! January is probably a good time to visit as it was far from fully booked when we were there!
Things to do in Cuba Resort Town Varadero
As one of the biggest resort towns in the Caribbean, Varadero beach is the place among things to do in Cuba. The bright, turquoise water and white sand is a rest to the soul, even in such a touristic place. In high season Varadero can be really crowded, but the long beach stretch always allows for a quiet spot somewhere. Keep in mind that the Caribbean is warm all year, so you can enjoy what to see in Cuba when the beach is quieter.
If you’re feeling adventurous, there are a few interesting things to do in Cuba town Varadero outside the resorts. Parque Josone, in the cub middle of the village, is a great place to get in touch with the local vibe! Here, there are a lot of birds, vendors of different kinds and even camel rides for kids. It’s a great place for nature lovers, thanks to its numerous botanical gardens, flamingos, macaws and lakes. It’s also the most romantic place in Varadero: it was created by a couple celebrating its silver wedding anniversary!
The remains of the town’s past as a cultural hub are mostly gone, but some places stand among the incredible things to do in Cuba. The most iconic of them is Villa DuPont, now the Varadero Golf Club, a repurposed 1920’s villa. While the 18-hole golf course, the biggest in Cuba, is splendid, the most impressive is the mansion. Built as a summer house for early 20th century American tycoon Irénée du Pont I, this is a luxurious oasis. The decoration includes oil paintings, bronze candelabra, Italian marble floors, and mahogany furniture. It has some high-end restaurants and bars, in a mix of styles: a treat to the eyes and taste buds. There are even a few gorgeous guest rooms to enjoy life after visiting what to see in Cuba.
More adventurous travelers might want to consider going for the “Seafari” Cayo Blanco. A boat trip among other things, this activity has a lot of possibilities of what to see in Cuba. You can snorkel around the coral reef, swim with the dolphins or even see a dolphin show. Earth-bound visitors also might love the Bellamar caves. The oldest of all things to do in Cuba, it’s been open for visitors since the 1860s. The caves are huge and impressive, a must what to see in Cuba!
Our trip into what to see in Cuba will stay in your memories forever! Vinales, Varadero, and Havana all offer unique, yet different experiences and still this country has so much more to see. We will for sure be back here to experience more things to do in Cuba!
To help you make the most of your trip check out my Havana Travel Guide, Havana Restaurant Review, and Havana Hotel Review. If you’re someone that prefers the countryside to the city then why not take a Cuban countryside and beach road trip!
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