Soak up the rich history, culture and beautiful beaches of this Caribbean paradise with our guide to the must-visit attractions of Cuba.
1. Trinidad, Cuba
Founded in 1514 by Diego Velaquez, Trinidad was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the city was a wealthy slave-trading centre and hub of sugar production and its wealthy landowners and merchants erected fine homes and mansions. The cobblestone streets lined with pastel coloured houses have barely changed since the colonial era; Trinidad feels like an attraction that time has passed by. Unlike most cities in Cuba, Trinidad sits on a hill and is cooled by near-constant breezes.
2. Zapata Peninsula, Cuba
Protected within a huge biosphere reserve, Cuba’s Zapata Peninsula is covered in swampland and forests teeming with wildlife. The coast, in turn, is lined with sandy beaches and coral reef, attracting scuba divers. Much of the population here works as carboneros, eking out a living making charcoal. The area is known for Bahia de Cochinos, site of the Bay of Pigs Invasion. Known locally as “La Victoria,” the event is commemorated in two museums.
3. Valle de Vinales, Cuba
The pine-clad mountains that begin a short distance west of Havana and run through northern Pinar del Rio province are a nature lover’s paradise of protected national parks sheltering endangered animals. The mountains grow more rugged westward, where dramatic rock formations called mogotes tower over lush valleys where tobacco plants thrive in the rich red soils and gentle climate. Centred on a village that itself is a National Historic Monument, the Valle de Vinales is rural Cuba at its most quintessential. Huge caverns beneath the mogotes provide a realm of possibilities for spelunkers.
4. Habana Vieja, Havana, Cuba
With almost 1,000 buildings of historic importance, this intimate quarter is perhaps the largest and most complete colonial complex in the Americas. Like a peopled “museum” full of animated street life, Old Havana boasts an astonishing wealth of castles, cathedrals, convents, palaces, and other important buildings spanning five centuries. An ongoing restoration program, now in its third decade, has transformed the finest structures into museums, hotels, restaurants, boutiques and trendy bars. Easily walkable, the cobbled plazas and the narrow, shaded streets of Habana Vieja exude colonial charm.
5. The Modern City, Havana, Cuba
Beyond Habana Vieja, Cuba’s lively, colourful metropolis of two million people is a major attraction for its architecturally significant districts in various stages of dilapidation. Radiating inland from the harbour and coastline like a Spanish fan, Havana emerges from compact 19th-century barrios into more spacious 20th-century municipios and post-Revolutionary working class suburbs. Functional apartment blocks give way to once-noble, upper-class districts full of Beaux Arts, Art Deco, and Modernist mansions, while concrete office blocks, government buildings and hotels from the 1950s lend the city a retro feel.
6. Jardines del Rey, Cuba
Rising from the sea along the north shore of Ciego de Avila and Camaguey provinces, this 450 kilometre long archipelago, known as the King’s Garden, contains hundreds of islands. Three of the major cays are linked to the mainland by causeways, although only Cayo Coco and neighbouring Cayo Guillermo have tourist facilities. Lined with white sand beaches melting into clear, warm turquoise waters, these twin isles are a popular attraction for package vacationers in Cuba. Flamingos wander the inshore lagoons while other birds inhabit a nature reserve.