When we think of the Caribbean islands we think of the perfect tropical weather, white sand beaches, crystal clear turquoise waters, hidden coves, drool-inducing Mediterranean cuisine and vibrant nightlife with local music filling the air.
Cuba, being the largest of the Caribbean islands, means all of the above, supersized.
But Cuba isn’t just another one of the islands in Caribbean. There are many facets unique to this island paradise.
While the casual traveler will have more than enough to see and do, we want to show the very best Cuba has to offer. Here is our list of the top 10 things to do in Cuba, including its top attractions, hidden gems and traveler-voted favourites.
Check out: Cuba Travel Guide • Plan Your Trip to Cuba
- Soak Up Some Sun at a Varadero Beach
- Scuba Dive at Jardines de la Reina
- Snorkel at Maria la Gorda
- Hike the Valle de Viñales Trails
- Hire a Vintage Car & Go for a Drive
- Light Up a Cuban Cigar at La Casa del Habano
- Visit a Tobacco Farm
- The Best Museums in Cuba
- Go Salsa Dancing at Centro Cultural Polo Montañez
- Swim With Dolphins at Bahia de Naranjo Nature Park
Top-Rated Things to Do in Cuba
With its distinctly African and Spanish roots, Cuba boasts a rich history which is evident in its architecture and local culture and a casual walk through its cobblestone streets will take you back in time.
These Cuban tourist attractions bring people from all over the world.
#1. Soak Up Some Sun at a Varadero Beach
Varadero is the hub of beach hotels and resorts, and for good reason. Just like animals gather around the best watering holes, tourists choose to stay around Varadero for its gorgeous stretch of beach.
Powdery white sand and emerald water stretches for 13 miles on the peninsula, making it the longest stretch of beach property in the Caribbean!
For a quieter beach experience one would venture further north, but Varadero is a tourist attraction for the extras surrounding this area; it is literally buzzing with life.
After a day of soaking up the sun you can enjoy golfing, hiking, deep sea diving or fishing. Beach bars are plentiful so you won’t have to hobble far to whet your whistle, and if you need to travel a little further you can always rent a scooter with a goofy looking helmet to cruise around Varadero.
Best for: Water lovers look for some extra activities. Time to spend here: All day.
#2. Scuba Dive at Jardines de la Reina
Also known as “Gardens of the Queen”, Jardines de la Reina stretches for 93 miles along Cuba’s coast and is renowned by divers as one of the best diving spots in the world, for a few reasons.
The area has been designated a marine reserve by the Cuban government, which means poaching is illegal and excessive fishing in the area is not allowed. This has led to rich marine life and preserved coral for miles on end. In fact, only a few hundred divers are allowed here each year.
The proliferation of marine life means you are highly likely to spot Eagle Rays, Giant Barracuda, French Angels, big Hogfish and lots more. Since 100 of the world’s 500 shark species are found in Cuba, you’re sure to run into (swim into) some large jaws with triangular razor sharp teeth.
You will need to hop onto a liveaboard (boat that takes divers out to sea) to reach the best diving spot, but there are plenty available for tourists.
Neighbourhood: In the provinces of Camagüey and Ciego de Ávila.
Hours of operation: Subject to the operating hours of the liveaboard you choose to hire.
Best for: Marine lovers, diving enthusiasts.
Time to spend here: The maximum recommended time for diving is 3.5 hours total with around 30-40 minutes per dive depending on depth. Please follow the recommendations of your dive instructor or senior diver.
#3. Snorkel at Maria la Gorda
While coral reefs have been declining over the past few years, Cuba still has the best and most well preserved marine ecosystems in the Caribbean due the marine life preservation laws in place.
You could probably throw a stone and hit 10 great snorkelling spots in Cuba, but we’ve picked Maria la Gorda since it is the least populated by tourists; this translates to better preserved coral.
Apart from the usual marine life snorkelers hope to see, such as different types of reef fish, sharks, murrains, rays and also interesting black corals you will also find caves and historical shipwrecks at this location.
Neighbourhood: Pinar del Rio province, western Cuba.
Hours of operation: N/A
Best for: Snorkelling enthusiasts, lovers of marine life.
Time to spend here: Morning to sunset.
#4. Hike the Valle de Viñales Trails
For a long time, Cuba’s countryside was a heavily restricted area, but thankfully tourists now have access and it has opened up a whole new side of Cuba. Instead of a one-dimensional “beach holiday” you can now also enjoy mist shrouded mountains and sweeping valleys on the same island.
Valle de Viñales is in the Viñales National Park. Tourists usually go here to see the tobacco plantations and countryside but few explore the hiking trails, which are some of the best. There are few hiking trails here and you can mix and match the length to suit your fitness levels, but the area is filled with “mogotes” (steep-sided hills shaped like towers) and hidden caves for you to discover.
Being in the open countryside there is little shade, so be sure to carry enough water, use sunblock and wear a hat to shield your face.
Neighbourhood: Pinar del Rio province, western Cuba.
Hours of operation: The Park is open 24 hours but you will need a tour guide to accompany you. There are cheap B&B’s in the area if you want to stay overnight to really enjoy the countryside.
Best for: Nature lovers, amateur to experienced hikers.
Time to spend here: 2-3 hours depending on your fitness level (including time to stop and rest, take photos or enjoy the scenery).
#5. Hire a Vintage Car & Go for a Drive
While you have more chances of spotting a comet than seeing a vintage car in your city or neighbourhood, Cuba is a living museum for restored classic cars!
But how did these sexy chunks of metal end up in such abundance in Cuba?
American cars were being imported into Cuba for about 50 years but in the early 20th century Castro banned the import of American cars and parts, which meant the locals had to find ways to keep these gems running.
There are now about 60,000 of these family heirlooms passed down through the generations.
Owning and restoring a vintage car requires a great deal of luck to find one, and a great deal of money to restore it. Chances are you’ll probably never own one in your lifetime, but in Cuba you can be driven around in one! Imagine cruising through Old Havana in a hot pink 1950 Cadillac Eldorado! You will find vintage car tours all over Cuba that you can hire.
You cannot rent a vintage car to drive by yourself as locals are not permitted to rent their cars to foreigners.
Neighbourhood: All over Cuba, but mainly in Havana.
Hours of operation: Dependent on your tour driver, usually no set hours since you can hire them as taxis as well.
Best for: Car fanatics.
Time to spend here: Tours are usually 1-2 hours.
#6. Light Up a Cuban Cigar at La Casa del Habano
Cuba is as synonymous with cigars as Google is for searching the internet.
Even if you’re not a cigar smoker, you cannot go to Cuba and not buy a cigar, even if just for the nostalgic appeal of reliving your favourite movie scene.
Havana is the place for authentic Cuban cigars, and La Casa del Habano is the most highly rated by travellers.
Here you will find a bar and seating, as well as several decorated rooms, each of them comfortably decorated to relax and enjoy your cigar with a cup of Cuban coffee served on tobacco leaves. It’s also the only cigar store in Havana with a full-service restaurant.
There are 96 wooden lockers where clients can store their cigars to allow them to age, if you want to retrieve them on your next trip.
Hours of operation: 5pm - 3am.
Best for: Cigar smokers.
Time to spend here: Around 2 hours if you want to get some food as well. Cigar smokers could easily spend the whole evening here.
#7. Visit a Tobacco Farm
One of Cuba’s main exports is tobacco, and there’s no better way to immerse yourself in Cuban culture and heritage than to visit a tobacco farm to see how it’s all done.
Not only will you be given a tour of the farm to see the whole process, but you will also be given a chance to try your hand at rolling a cigar; not as easy as you think!
The good news is that one of the best tobacco farms for tourists to visit is in Viñales, the same place we recommended for hiking. That means you can make a full day trip to Viñales to see the tobacco farm and take a hike (not in the bad sense).
Neighbourhood: Pinar del Rio province, western Cuba.
Hours of operation: Morning to 5pm.
Best for: Cigar lovers, the curious, those wanting to immerse in local culture.
Time to spend here: 2-3 hours. A full day if you’re going to do the hike as well.
#8. The Best Museums in Cuba
It would be difficult to pick one museum as the best since there are different types of museums; art, history etc. Instead here’s a quick list of the 5 best museums in different categories so you pick the one that interests you:
- National Museum of Fine Art: For local art; painting sculptures and engravings that display Cuban culture and history - located in Old Havana.
- Museum of the Revolution: the artifacts commemorate Cuba’s struggle against the Fulgencio Batista dictatorship and the revolution led by Fidel Castro - located in Havana.
- Museum of the City: Completing the history of Cuba’s revolution, it continues into the colonial period and Cuba’s struggle for independence - located in Old Havana.
- Finca Vigía: The country house where American author Ernest Hemingway lived in the 1930’s. It contains a collection of his personal items, including over 9000 books - located in Havana.
- Napoleon Museum: As the name suggests, it contains objects linked to the life of this French Emperor, including weapons, military equipment, furniture, coins, and Napoleon’s telescope and death mask - located in Vedado.
#9. Go Salsa Dancing at Centro Cultural Polo Montañez
Salsa is the Spanish word for “sauce” and originated in Cuba in the 1900s by combining Cuban Son and Afro-Cuban Rumba.
Travellers have voted Centro Cultural Polo Montañez as the best place to salsa dance in Cuba!
It is mostly open-air live music with cabaret shows but patrons can join in on the dance floor. The locals there are great salsa dancers and won’t mind teaching you some moves to get you going. Drinks are quite cheap here as well, if you prefer to just sip on a cocktail and enjoy the show.
Neighbourhood: Vinales, near the church.
Hours of operation: Opens 9pm, shows start from 10pm.
Best for: Salsa dancers of all levels.
Time to spend here: All night!
#10. Swim With Dolphins at Bahia de Naranjo Nature Park
Sounds like a once in a lifetime experience, and it is.
At Bahia de Naranjo Nature Park, not only do you get to enjoy the park itself, but you can watch dolphin and sea lion shows before you and the kids actually get in the water with these amazing creatures (it’s a short boat ride from the park to the dolphin area). Group bookings for 10+ people are available making it perfect for families or large groups.
You can have photos or videos done of your time with the dolphins and you can request a digital copy of your photos and videos, which is cheaper than print copies. To top it all off, you can end the day with a lobster dinner available on site.
Category: Swimming with dolphins, nature park.
Hours of operation: Depends on booking.
Best for: Families with children, groups of friends.
Time to spend here: 2 hours. If you choose to swim with the dolphins, 3 hours.
These are the top 10 best things to do in Cuba and the best places to do them at. If you manage to get even half of them done, you will have plenty of campfire stories to tell back home. Now let’s see who can check all 10 off!