If You Like
When it comes to sugar-sand beaches and deep blue waters, many people think of the islands that surround Cuba—the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, and Cayman Islands. But Cuba has plenty of dazzling strands that rival that of its neighbors', giving beach lovers plenty of spots to enjoy beautiful Caribbean sand and surf.
Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo. The white-sand beaches and turquoise sea of these two islands make them major destinations. They're also near an array of fishing and diving spots and are home to an abundance of birds.
Cayo Santa María. The 30-mile (50-km) causeway linking mainland Cuba to Cayo Santa María is spectacular in its own right, with sweeping views of turquoise water and mangroves. Several all-inclusive resorts provide worry-free lounging on the beach.
Cojímar. Ernest Hemingway loved this seaside village on the eastern outskirts of Havana. Come and admire the location that inspired The Old Man and the Sea and the site where the author docked his boat, Pilar, and enjoy a seafood lunch at La Terraza, Hemingway’s favorite.
Playa Ancón. South of Trinidad, Playa Ancón offers colorful coral beds tailor-made for snorkeling and scuba diving. Above water, sugar-sand beaches and several all-inclusive hotels allow easy relaxation beneath graceful palm trees.
Varadero. East of Havana, Varadero inhabits the skinny, sandy Hicacos Peninsula, Cuba’s answer to Cancún. Dozens of tourist-class hotels and restaurants will keep you well-fed and comfortable, and you’ll have your fill of activities such as swimming, sunbathing, snorkeling, and shipwreck diving.
Your Cuban journey will be accompanied by a veritable soundtrack of island music. There are countless genres, from classical to Latin jazz to such hybrids of European and African sounds as salsa, timba, conga, rumba, bolero, son, danzón, guajira, mambo, and nueva and vieja trova. Cover charges are cheap, except in Havana's Tropicana. The only “admission” Cuba’s ubiquitous street musicians ask for is a small contribution to the cause.
Café Cantante Benny Moré, Cienfuegos. Benny Moré and his melodious tenor voice are no longer with us, but the spirit of Central Cuba’s most famous singer lives on. Moré popularized the guitar and percussion son; those who inherited his mantle continue that tradition at this small nightspot.
Casa de la Trova, Santiago de Cuba. Santiago’s is the most famous, but many cities have their requisite venue showcasing trova, a uniquely Cuban genre of guitar-accompanied folk music blending poetry with a little bit of protest.
Cuban National Symphony, Havana. The performers in the capital’s Amadeo Roldán concert hall may be young and casually attired (white shirts and black bow ties as opposed to white tie and tails), but these professional, well-directed musicians open their hearts and truly communicate with music.
Tropicana, Havana. Sequined, feathered dancers and Cuban-style big-band music at the island’s most famous cabaret evoke a bygone era when Lucy met Ricky Ricardo. It’s arguably Cuba’s most touristy thing to do, but the place packs 'em in night after night.
Journey beyond Cuba's cities and resorts, and you’ll find vast tracts of unspoiled land on this, the largest Caribbean island.
Caleta Buena, Playa Girón. Cuba’s natural attractions don’t stop at the shoreline. East of Playa Girón is this exquisite limestone cenote (sinkhole) and coral cove. It’s a beautiful site for experienced divers.
Parque Nacional Ciénaga de Zapata. The Caribbean’s largest wetland makes for Cuba’s premier birding site. This park in Western Cuba shelters 21 native and around 170 migratory species. Accommodations are sparse here; Varadero tour operators can fix you up with a day trip.
Parque Nacional Turquino. A short hike through the vegetation of this national park in the Sierra Maestra range brings you to Castro's camp and headquarters during the Revolution. You’ll see why this remote locale made such a strategic command post.
Topes de Collantes. Just outside Trinidad loom the Sierra del Escambray, whose cool pine forests might make you think you’ve been transported to Minnesota from tropical Cuba. Hiking is superb here. Lack of good accommodations means the park is best visited on a day tour from Trinidad.
Valle de Viñales. Limestone hillocks (mogotes) punctuate the landscape in this fertile valley in Western Cuba. The panorama is, in a word, fabulous. The deep red soil is rich here, making this the island’s prime tobacco-cultivating region, too.
Cuba’s socialist government came to power with the stated goal of building a new revolutionary society, but it didn’t ignore the country’s rich history, and you shouldn’t either.
Basílica del Cobre, Santiago de Cuba. This may be an officially atheist country, but Cubans respect and revere their patron saint, Our Lady of Charity, to whom they attribute all manner of good fortune, present and past. Her image is housed here in a 1926 countryside basilica.
Castillo de Jagua, Cienfuegos. Set above the Bahía de Cienfuegos, this fort was built in 1745 to discourage pirates from trading with locals. It has been refurbished (even the drawbridge works), and has a historical museum, a bar, and a restaurant.
Castillo de San Carlos de la Cabaña, Havana. Every night at 9 sharp, the ceremony of the cannon draws Cubans and visitors alike to this fort. Follow this not-to-miss event with dinner at one of the restaurants in the Morro fortress area.
Mausoleo y Museo Ernesto “Che” Guevara, Santa Clara. “El Che” is entombed here at the country’s most famous revolutionary sight. The hushed reverence shown by visitors demonstrates evidence of Cubans’ respect for this iconic figure.
Plaza de San Juan de Dios, Camagüey. This splendid cobbled square—surrounded by 18th- and 19th-century buildings—anchors the historic district of Cuba's third largest city, Trinidad. No other Cuban city oozes history quite the way Trinidad does. The streets, with their brightly pastel-painted 19th-century buildings, are the sight here. Wander and soak up the past.