Cuba is full of history and is very much known as the pearl of the Antilles and is the largest island in the Caribbean. It’s not normally known for its holiday qualities, but as of late, more tourists flocking to see its vintage cars from the 50’s and white sand beaches.
For many, Cuba reminds them of dramatic revolutions and communism with a strong focus on Che Guevara and Castro which have become the face of the country. Then on the flip side there is the historic Old Havana, which is bursting with age-stained Baroque builds and magnificent palazzos, filled with the sounds of lively jazz and cabaret after dark.
If you are planning a visit, then be sure to check out these unmissable things to do in Cuba:
1. Wander the streets of Old Havana
Also, known as La Habana Vieja this is a UNESCO-attested district which occupies the heart of the capital and is unquestionably one of the most authentic places in the Americas. It is a beautiful enclave of Spain in the Caribbean with prominent architecture showcasing rows of dilapidated baroque townhouses and Andalusian-style walkways.
Whilst the area looks poor and rundown, it has its own unique charm with stained with age facades, creating a genuine feel about it. Nothing has been glossed over for tourists and they welcome you into their little hidden tequila cantinas and soukous rumba bars. The squares themselves, such as central Plaza de Armas and Plaza de la Catedral are embellished with magnificent historical churches and neo-classical palaces.
Be sure to look out for the fortifications which are dominated by a trip of Fortaleza that tower over the urban canals with bulwarks and incredible cannon holes which date back to the 17th & 18th centuries.
2. Learn how to roll your own cigar
You can’t not go to Cuba and learn to roll your own cigar (or at least witness how they are made) seeing as this is pretty much what they are most famous for. Through this unique experience with the locals you will learn that the fine grade tobacco comes from the holdings in the nearby Cuban countryside and is then transported into Havana to the factories known as Habanos.
This is where they are then rolled out by experts and places delicately into a decorative cigar boxes and shipped off all around the world. If you get the chance, definitely join an organised tour to have a look around the Habanos, enjoy the fragrant smells and even get to try rolling your own. Or if you’re not that great at it – just buy your own box as a souvenir.
One of the best factories is the Partagos factory and entry only costs 10 CUC which is around £8.
3. Head to the beach
After a few days of exploring the cities, Plazas and cigar factories its’ definitely time for a break, and where better to do that? The beach! One of the best beaches in Cuba is the Caya Coco which while touristy, is still absolutely incredible.
Its adorned with pristine soft white sand, warm clear blue shallow water and plenty of vibrant and colourful marine life to remind you of paradise. With the sun beating down on you, it’s a great place to catch a tan and with plenty of luxury resorts with beachfront infinity pools and manicured gardens of palm trees, why not treat yourself.
Or if you want to keep it cheap, jump on one the local buses, throw down your towel and just enjoy a day in the sun. Remember to bring your sunblock, snorkel gear and plenty of water.
4. Explore the city in a vintage car
While this may seem quite touristy, it’s such a fun and unique way to get around the city and see its many attractions, colonial buildings and sights. You will get to cruise around Havana in an open top 50’s relic and immerse yourself like one of the locals.
With so many brightly coloured cars and models to choose from you will be spoilt for choice. You can either hire your own car for the day or you can hire a driver to do all the hard work for you leaving you free to relax, take photos and find hidden gems that tourists don’t know about.
Make sure your driver takes you along the atmospheric Malecon taking in the beautiful coastal landscapes and there are even a few spots along the way to do some cliff jumping so be sure to have your swimwear handy.
5. Stroll the Havana Malecon
This is a huge 7km bustling promenade and coastline which is a veritable symbol of the city which gained its popularity from its pastel coloured buildings of pinks, yellows and blues with splashes of Spanish influences and Art Deco styles.
It’s a place where tanned leather-faced locals puff cigars the size of plantains, where Cadillacs bounce and bump over the uneven roads, where gloved boxers spar with the tropical airs and street entertainers amalgamate with lovers amidst the salty sea breezes that roll in from Florida and the Key West straits to the north.
With so many hidden alleyways, nooks and crannies you will definitely be kept on your toes exploring this area of Havana with plenty of photographic opportunities to keep you busy for most of the day. This is the true Cuba and quite simply should not to be missed.
6. Party in Santiago De Cuba
While Havana gets most of the popularity, a close second (and one that gets overlooked a lot) is the city of Santiago. With a relaxed and laid back atmosphere during the day and an active nightlife, this will certainly be popular with those who wish to get away from hustle and bustle of city life.
Take some leisurely strolls around Cespedes Park which is in the centre of the city and is flanked by a majestic Cathedral Church offering some spectacular views. The nearby Revolution Square is filled with history and also makes for some great photos.
For day and evening parties check out the Tropicana Santiago and the Casa de la Trova. The morning after the night before is a great time to visit Turquino National Park and climb Cuba’s highest peak up into the Sierra Mastra Mountains where the views will literally take your breath away as you take in the surrounding landscapes.
7. Hang out at the Che Guevara Mausoleum
Last but certainly not least is a visit to the final resting place of Che Guevara and 29 of his fellow revolutionaries which is marked with a great bronze statue of the man, and also includes a fascinating selection of exhibits that showcase his gun, binoculars, water bottle, countless photos and various architectural artworks intended to mirror the character of the radical himself.
It is in the heart of the island, between the streets of the attractive Santa Clara (the site of one of the most pivotal battles in the Cuban Revolution incidentally), and the great marble mausoleum to unquestionably the country’s most iconic son stands tall and proud.
Plan your trip to Cuba.
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