Cuba is the largest Caribbean island, and it offers a heady mix of 1950s tradition with modern tourism. It offers the perfect digital detox, because Internet access is almost non-existent, while the Caribbean weather means that you can enjoy the stunning beaches that the island has to offer. The communist state also has a rich and colourful history, from Che Guevara’s revolutionary movement to the Cuban Missile Crisis in the early 1960s. Enjoy a carnival atmosphere, visit historical sites, and see how the country is changing in the modern era. Below are 10 of the many potential activities that you can enjoy during a stay in Cuba.
1 – Colonial Trinidad
Those looking for a slice of Cuban cultural history need look no further than traditional Trinidad. Located in the region of Sancti Spiritus, Trinidad is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Little has changed in the former sugar town since the 1850s and visitors can see colonial homes, visit the local countryside, and enjoy local live music. Once a centre for local slave trade, Trinidad now caters primarily to tourists with cafes, coffee shops, art galleries, craft shops, and numerous casa particulares and private restaurants.
2 – La Habana Vieja (Old Havana)
Le Habana Vieja, or Old Havana, is the most historical and traditional region in Havana. Cobbled streets, leafy courtyards, and vintage American cars line the streets of Le Habana Vieja and this is another great area to choose if you are looking to stay in a casa particular. You should allow at least two full days to fully explore everything that Old Havana has to offer. Plaza Vieja has been restored to offer visitors a stunning look at how Havana used to look, and you should take the time to stop and enjoy a drink of local rum while basking in the sun.
3 – Partagas Cigar Factory
Like many of the cigar factory and other heritage based tours on offer in Cuba, you need to buy tickets to the Partagas cigar factory tour from a hotel or a tourist desk, because the tickets aren’t for sale at the factory itself. Once you have a ticket, you can discover the whole process involved in growing the tobacco and how the Habana cigars are made. You can also buy samples of these globally renowned cigars from the factory shop.
Avoid buying cigars from sellers on the street. These are usually fake and you won’t enjoy an authentic Habana cigar.
4 – Che Guevara Memorial
Cuba is a country whose history is filled with tales of revolution and revolutionary heroes, with Che Guevara the most famous of all. The island is unsurprisingly heavily geared towards showing off local sites and spots that played a relevant part in his life and his work. The Che Guevara Memorial includes a giant bronze statue of Guevara himself and, if you’re willing to hike, you can visit the rebel army HQ in the Sierra Maestra where Guevara ran the infirmary. His mausoleum is located in Santa Clara where there is also a Che Guevara themed museum.
5 – Classic 1950s Taxis
Although relationships have been strained, to say the least, between the US and Cuba, there is considerable evidence of US influences all over the island. Many of the taxis in Havana are classic 1950s cars, including Chevys and Cadillacs. You can also hire a convertible vintage car, although you should book in advance in order to ensure that you don’t miss out on this opportunity. Even the colectivo taxis, which operate like small buses by taking predefined routes and filling their seats with locals and tourists, tend to be vintage cars.
6 – Stay In A Casa Particular
If you want to enjoy an authentic Cuban experience, then you should avoid the main hotels and, instead, stay in a casa particular. These are private residences, and you are usually able to hire a room or even an apartment owned and run by local Cubans. Not only can you choose from a great variety of cities, towns, and rural areas, but you can also get to know the family you stay with and you can even enjoy meals with your hosts, typically for a little extra payment.
Tipping is commonplace in Cuba. If you’re not comfortable leaving a monetary tip for your hosts, consider leaving items like toothpaste.
7 – Remedios Fireworks Competition
Christmas in Cuba is unique. Not only can you enjoy great weather, potentially spending Christmas Day on the beach, but you can also enjoy arguably one of the best and biggest fireworks competitions in the world. The Parrandas de Remedios is actually one of many parrandas, or carnivals, that take place throughout the year but is perhaps the largest and most spectacular of them all. If you are staying in Cuba around Christmas time then it is definitely worth making the trip to Remedios.
8 – La Cabana Fortress
La Cabana Fortress in Havana is not only an incredible focal backdrop for any time spent in the city, but it is also an attraction in its own rights. During the day, you can visit the fortress to enjoy views across the city and the sea. At night, it is home to a military re-enactment that is certainly worth visiting if you are interested in the history of the country or in military history, in general.
9 – Zapata Swamps
Cuba is actually quite devoid of local fauna, except for hundreds of breeds of birds including several endangered and rare species. The Zapata swamps are arguably one of the few places where you can enjoy looking at indigenous species. More than 250 of the country’s species of birds can be seen here, along with crocodiles and manatees. A lot of work has been conducted to try and reintroduce rare and endangered species into the area, and you can even see the world’s smallest bird, the zunzuncito or bee hummingbird. You can even see flocks of Flamingos here as well.
10 – Eat At A Paladar
Traditional Cuban food does not offer much to write home about. It is quite bland, and until recently you could only eat in state run restaurants offering just this local cuisine. However, the rules have been relaxed and visitors can choose from a large variety of Paladars, or private restaurants. Some restaurants offer local food, others offer a combination of Russian, Iranian, and world food. Many offer local rum, which seems to be a staple part of the diet, and even more provide quirky entertainment and fun.
Cuba is a unique island, offering a unique blend of everything from vibrant nightlife and a carnival attitude to a rich, and somewhat dark, history. To visit the country, you do need to have a Cuban visit visa. Get your visa from Cubacenter.com and ensure that you keep hold of it because you will need to present it when you come to leave the country too.