Cuba uncovered: 10 essential things to see and do

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Nestled in the heart of the Caribbean, Cuba is a land of vibrant culture, historical significance and breathtaking landscapes. Its rich history, colorful architecture, captivating music and warm-hearted locals make it a must-visit destination for travelers seeking an authentic and immersive experience. Whether you’re drawn to its colonial cities, pristine beaches or its rhythmic music and dance, there are many things to do in Cuba.

A group of men playing guitars on a cobblestone street.
Photo Credit: Pixabay.

1. Havana — the timeless capital city

Havana, Cuba’s vibrant capital, is a kaleidoscope of history, architecture and culture. Start by exploring the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Old Havana. Wander through its cobbled streets to witness colonial-era buildings, iconic squares like Plaza de la Catedral and the majestic fortresses that guarded the city. Don’t miss the chance to experience the city’s unique energy through the lively music emanating from its streets and the classic cars that define its charm.

A blue car is parked in front of the capitol building in havana.
Photo Credit: Pixabay.

2. Viñales Valley — nature’s masterpiece

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Viñales Valley is a testament to Cuba’s natural beauty. The region is known for its unique limestone formations called mogotes, vibrant tobacco fields and an extensive network of caves. Visitors can explore the valley on horseback, hike through its trails or even venture into the mysterious cave systems, discovering an untouched side of Cuba’s natural allure.

3. Trinidad — colonial gem

Trinidad, another UNESCO-listed city, is a perfectly preserved colonial town frozen in time and a must for those looking for historical things to do in Cuba. Cobblestone streets, pastel-colored houses and the tranquil atmosphere transport visitors back to the 18th and 19th centuries. Take a stroll through its historic center, visit Plaza Mayor and immerse yourself in its rich cultural heritage, including the vibrant art and music scene.

An aerial view of a town with palm trees and a clock tower.
Photo Credit: Pixabay.

4. Varadero — pristine beach paradise

For those seeking sun, sand and relaxation on your list of things to do in Cuba, Varadero is the ultimate destination. This famous beach resort town boasts miles of powdery white sand and crystal-clear waters. Whether you’re into lounging on the beach, water sports or exploring nearby caves and ecological reserves, Varadero offers an array of activities for a rejuvenating beach escape.

A blue walkway leading to a beach with palm trees.
Photo Credit: Pixabay.

5. Cienfuegos — the Pearl of the South

Known as the Pearl of the South, Cienfuegos is renowned for its French-inspired architecture and UNESCO-designated historic center. Admire the elegant buildings lining the main square, Parque Jose Marti, explore the tranquil bay and visit the stunning Palacio de Valle, a breathtaking architectural gem showcasing a fusion of various styles.

6. Santiago de Cuba — cultural capital

Santiago de Cuba, the country’s second-largest city, is a melting pot of cultures and the birthplace of many Afro-Cuban music and dance styles. Delve into the roots of Cuban music at Casa de la Trova, visit the Moncada Barracks and pay homage at the final resting place of Fidel Castro in the Santa Ifigenia Cemetery. The city’s Afro-Cuban heritage and vibrant street life make it an unforgettable stop.

7. Malecón — the soul of Havana

The Malecón, Havana’s iconic sea drive, is more than just a stretch of roadway along the city’s coast — it’s the pulse of the Cuban capital. This iconic and picturesque esplanade stretches for over seven kilometers, hugging the shores of the Caribbean Sea. As the sun dips below the horizon, the Malecón transforms into a gathering place, where locals and visitors alike converge to revel in the breathtaking sunsets, the rhythmic crash of the waves against the seawall and the melodies of street musicians. 

A group of people standing on a pier with fishing poles.
Photo Credit: Pixabay.

This atmospheric boardwalk is not merely a road but a living, breathing representation of Cuba’s spirit. It’s a place where people come to socialize, fish, play music and simply experience the essence of Havana’s vibrant culture, making it an essential stop on your list of things to do in Cuba for anyone seeking to truly immerse themselves in the heart and soul of this captivating city.

8. Bay of Pigs — historical Insights

The Bay of Pigs holds historical significance as the site of the failed 1961 invasion, which marked a pivotal moment in Cold War history. Today, it’s a place for diving enthusiasts to explore coral reefs, underwater caves and diverse marine life. The Museo Giron provides a deep dive into the historical events that unfolded there.

9. Cuban Cuisine — a gastronomic delight

Cuban cuisine is a delightful fusion of Spanish, African and Caribbean influences. Staples like black beans, rice and plantains form the base of many dishes. Classic meals include “ropa vieja, a savory shredded beef stew, and “moros y cristianos,” a delicious blend of black beans and rice. 

The Cuban sandwich, a delectable combination of roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard pressed between Cuban bread, is a must-try. To round off a meal, indulge in a strong and sweet Cuban coffee or savor a refreshing mojito — a drink made with rum, mint, sugar, lime and soda water. 

“The Spanish influence is prevalent in most dishes, as a direct result of the colonization of Cuba by this country years ago. Mojitos tend to be the drink of choice!”

—  Kiki,  The Blonde Abroad

10. Music and Dance — rhythms of Cuba

No visit to Cuba is complete without experiencing its vibrant music and dance. From the pulsating beats of salsa to the smooth sounds of son cubano, immerse yourself in the rhythms that define Cuban culture. Join a dance class, catch a live music performance and let the infectious energy of Cuban music move you.

A man wearing a hat and sunglasses is playing a guitar.
Photo Credit: Pixabay.

Cuba is a treasure trove of experiences, offering a blend of history, culture, natural beauty and lively spirit. From the vibrant streets of Havana to the tranquil valleys of Viñales and the historical depth of Trinidad, each corner of this island nation tells a unique story. It’s a place that captures the hearts of all who visit, leaving an imprint that lingers long after departure. So, pack your bags, immerse yourself in the Cuban way of life and prepare for an unforgettable journey through this enigmatic Caribbean gem.

Angela is the creator behind Another Rum Punch and currently lives in Saint Lucia. She is also the owner of Pawsome Recipes, spoiling her island dogs with homemade dog food and treat recipes.

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