Wellp. Since soon pretty much anyone is going to be able to go to Cuba now that flights are open and talk of a ferry is happening, you might want to avoid the mobs of tourists in Havana, where most of the touristic activities take place.
Havana is great and all to experience, but you’ll see what I mean when you get to Havana Vieja and there are double decker tour busses shuttling people around. Plus they play up the whole “old 1950’s classic car” thing and over charge the crap out of tourists in that area. It’s still worth it for the pictures though, so don’t be ashamed to whip out those selfie sticks!
But if you’re staying in Havana and want to see some other awesome areas of Cuba that are nearby, these are the places I’d recommend!
1. Spend the Day in Varadero
Varadero is really pretty…and really touristy
Varadero is one of Cuba’s most popular beaches, and when you see it you’ll understand why. It’s where the many photos of white beaches with clear-blue waters are taken, and where the prestigious beach resorts are all clustered. It’s about 2 hours from Havana but you can hire a driver for the day for around $50 to take you there, watch your stuff while you swim, show you where to eat, and bring you back.
If you can get there early enough, there are also some really cool cave expeditions in the area that you can explore on a boat tour.
2. Take the Tourist Bus to Santa Maria Beach
Not bad for a 5 CUC, 25 minute ride from Havana!
I hate looking like a tourist, but one thing I will never deny is that tourist buses are a great way to get cheap transportation! The main tourist bus is called “Habana Bus Tour” and leaves from Parque Central in Havana Vieja.
Get on the one that takes you to Santa Maria Beach, just twenty-five minutes away from Havana, for only 5 CUC! You can grab drinks and lunch there, then just hop back on later to get a ride back on the bus.
3. See the Tobacco Plantations in Viñales
How they hang the tobacco leaves to get them ready for cigar rolling, Photo via Flickr
You know you want a token Cuban tobacco plantation picture. Good news, you can take as many as many selfies with tobacco leaves as you want in Viñales! It’s said to be one of Fidel Castro‘s favorite places in Cuba, so don’t be surprised if you see the former dictator there smoking a stogie. JK. Kind of.
4. Go On a Tour of the Viñales Caves
There are even little restaurants and bars in the caves in Viñales! Image via chocolate-fish.net
Who doesn’t love exploring coastal caves in Cuba? Well, besides people with a phobia of bats…but you can at least go in one of the caves that have been converted into a restaurant or bar! For the more adventurous types, there are some pretty cool cave excursions that you can hike to, swim to, or boat through, and definitely worth the stop if you’re already heading to Viñales. I think it’s about an hour or two from Havana, so you’ll probably have to hire a driver for the day, but it’s definitely worth it.
5. Explore the Jungles in Pinar del Rio
Make sure you take a driver…
Just past Viñales are the beautiful, lush, tropical jungles of Pinar del Rio. It’s not really a touristy area so be very careful, and go with a guide or driver if you can. Don’t be surprised if you get strange looks from the locals…as you can imagine, seeing well-kempt tourists when you live in a jungle might not exactly be enthralling.
6. Experience the History of Cienfuegos
The main areas are very charming and nicely re-done. Photo via Flickr
In case you didn’t already know, Cienfuegos is the historical site where the Revoluntionary leaders began their takeover. The town is still in its historically preserved state, with many charming streets that have been beautifully restored, but also many in the deteriorating state like you’ll see in Havana.
I actually have family still living in Cienfuegos from my father’s side, but my mother advised me not to venture all the way there because of the painful site of the crumbling homes that they live in.
7. Visit Cuba’s #1 Luxury Destination – Cayo Coco
Cayo Coco will soon be a massive luxury resort.
If you go to Cayo Coco, I will probably cry from jealousy, but you should still do it anyway and maybe send me a postcard or Snapchat or something. I heard about Cayo Coco from my aunt in Miami who is a travel agent, and connoseuer of all things fabulous.
It is a little island off the northeastern coast of Cuba that is currently being built up to be the most expensive luxury resort in all of Cuba. It is surrounded by waters even more tropical and breathtaking than Varadero, and near one of the most amazing coral reefs in the Carribean.
I’m pretty sure you have to take a small plane there though from Havana, or drive then take a boat to it, so you might want to look into that first.
8. Time Travel in the Tiny Town of Santiago de las Vegas
The parque where my grandmother and her friends used to go to “meet boys” in Santiago de las Vegas
You can only go here if you tell me first. This is the tiny town where my grandparents grew up and where a few of my cousins still live! It’s nothing like anything you’ll see in Havana, or any of the beach towns, because it’s just an authentic local town that is untouched by tourists.
There’s a really cool old bookstore when you first drive in, and two parks with historical monuments (one is actually my great-great uncle, Juan Delgado Gonzalez!). You’ll see many young people walking around, who live in the tiny, shanty homes that were likely built in the late 1800’s, like my cousin’s!
You’ll also notice that there are still a few horse-drawn carriages, and not the kind for tourists’ amusement. Cars are not abundant in this area and many of the Cubans living there don’t frequently get to leave.
9. Have Fun in Santa Fe
Would not mind going to jail on this island.
My 93 year old grandfather swears that he would move back to Cuba and get a house in Santa Fe if he could…so you know it must be a pretty awesome area! It’s actually an island, and I’m pretty sure it used to be a jail…but it’s still an island in the Caribbean which means it’s automatically going to be gorgeous.
10. Stop by Matanzas and Guanabo’s Beaches
Yeah…not a terrible stop…
These are two other beaches that my grandfather reccommended, and they aren’t too far from Havana. They are actually in between Santa Maria and Varadero, so if you have plans to go to either, try to stop by Matanzas or Guanabo as well.
Matanzas is actually considered a town that has been heavily rebuilt, so after you’re done at the beach, take a stroll around the local neigborhoods to see a more modern approach to life.
Alyssa is a full time solo adventure traveler who turned her love for traveling and writing into a self-made career as a travel blogger and social media influencer. She's been to 70 countries and 6 continents so far, as well as all 7 New World Wonders, and 7 Wonders of Nature. Alyssa believes she has mastered the art of chasing waterfalls, traveling solo, packing light, wine drinking, and making budget-traveling look good. Curious to know how she started this career? Check out the About section above!