Trinidad de Cuba — Photo courtesy of istock/SmolinaMarianna
So you want to go to Cuba? Ride in a classic car, drink some rum, smoke a fat cigar? Humblebrag via Instagram that you went to Cuba before it really blew up? Well, you can accomplish all that in Havana.
But if you want to discover the best Cuba has to offer, you'll need to leave the capital. Outside of Havana, you'll discover the island's most amazing beaches, art and architecture. Here are 10 other places you should go in Cuba:
This colonial town looks like it hasn’t changed much since, well colonial times, right down to the rows of every-colored buildings and the horse-drawn carriages clomping down cobblestone streets. All you need to enjoy this picturesque town is a comfortable pair of shoes and a camera, but the beautiful beaches and gushing waterfalls just outside of town could keep you here for a few days.
Protip: Climb up the hill to “la cueva" and spend the night dancing below the stalactites at this night club in a cave. Get there before midnight, when the music transitions from latin beats to aggressive EDM.
Baracoa A small village not to be missed in Cuba, especially as it's pretty much the only place you'll find chocolate! #baracoa #cuba #travel #travelling #village #rainforest #sea #landscape #gopro #nature #beauty #elyunque #mustsee #traveltips #discover #cuba2day #beautifuldestinations #draperdiscovers
The journey to the far eastern tip of Cuba is not for the faint of heart, but the intrepid souls willing to take the arduous path to Cuba’s first city will be rewarded with rugged beaches, some of the best food on the island and just the right amount of isolation.
Protip: Make sure you eat the cucurucho – a mouth-watering mixture of coconut, honey, mango and banana wrapped in a palm leaf – from the street vendors.
This coastal city has been referred to as the Paris of the South, and not just because of its French roots. The so-called Pearl of the South is littered with parks and art galleries, and has architecture so grand it earned Unesco World Heritage status in 2005.
Protip: Go see a cabaret show at Tropisur for a hint of the glitz and glam of pre-revolution Cuba.
Just outside of Cienfuegos, Rancho Luna doesn’t quite have the crystal clear sea or the flour-fine sand of Varadero or Guardalavaca, but it gives you the option to stay with locals at casas particulares, has some of the best and cheapest diving in Cuba, and has large swathes of sand completely devoid of other humans.
Protip: Book activities like diving at the resort for discounts, but stay at a casa particular, where the accommodations are more humble, but the food is infinitely better.
An aerial view of Viñales — Photo courtesy of istock/USO
Nestled in the Sierra de los Órganos mountains and surrounded by majestic limestone cliffs, this valley of palm trees and tobacco farms might just be the most beautiful place in Cuba. But that also means you’ll be sharing the valley with hordes of tourists coming in for trekking, horse-back riding, rock climbing, or just a taste of the good life.
Protip: Skip the overpriced cigar factories of Havana and buy your tobacco from a local farm for a fraction of the price. You can even watch the farmer roll your cigars for you.
Santa Clara is best known as the location of the last battle of Che Guevara’s revolution. But that rebellious spirit lives on, and this college town is the home of a hip population of students and young Cubans who push the envelope of Cuban art, music and culture.
Protip: Spend a few hours people watching at Parque Vidal, the hub of Santa Clara's social activity and bullet hole-scarred site of a battle between Guevara and Fulgencio Batista.
Cuba’s mega resort has often been compared to Cancun, and not just because of the package tourists, all-inclusive hotels and unoriginal entertainment – but because of the 12-mile stretch of powder white sand and perfect azure sea.
Protip: Leave the resort and head to the beaches in the center of the city. They're plenty beautiful and far less crowded.
Cuba’s other resort is a stretch of towering hotels and postcard-perfect beaches about 30 miles outside of Holguin. Guardalavaca has a bit more local flavor than Varadero, for those who don’t want to feel too much like a package tourist.
Protip: This is the spot for scuba diving. It's got some of the richest waters and healthiest coral reef in the country, and is possibly the only place in Cuba where you can go cave diving.
Santiago de Cuba
Santiago is not only Cuba’s Afro-Caribbean heart, but also the island’s cultural capital. A little smaller, a little more chaotic and a little more alive than Havana, the birthplace of nearly all of the island’s music is the Cuba of your imagination, where locals move to the beat of the city’s drummers.
Protip: Head to Santiago for Manana Cuba, a festival that features the most respected Afro-Cuban artists and international musicians (this year artists like Nicolas Jaar and Quantic performed).
La Isla de la Juventud
Baracoa not far enough off the grid for you? La Isla is so far from the beaten path, the only way to get to this slice of land south of the main island is by three-hour boat or by plane (if you’re lucky enough to catch one). But visitors to this unique section of Cuba are rewarded with untarnished beaches, rich waters filled with pelagic fish, and tales of pirates and sunken treasure.
Protip: Book your trip as far in advance as possible, as schedules can be erratic and transportation difficult to find last minute.