Not sure where to go? Take a quick look at the highlights of each destination below.
Dance, theatre, museums, history, architecture, nightlife, beaches – the Caribbean’s largest and most cosmopolitan city really does have it all. Take in a dazzling floorshow at the famous Tropicana nightclub, cruise along the picturesque Malecón Seawall Drive for unrivalled views of the city and the sea, or stroll through the heart of Vieja Habana [Old Havana] to explore architectural and historic landmarks such as Cathedral Square and the Presidential Palace. Experience the magic that has inspired renowned writers from Ernest Hemingway to Federico Garcia Lorca, right here in Cuba’s legendary capital.
Pinar del Río
Pinar del Río is Cuba’s westernmost province, and home to two of the country’s six UNESCO-recognized biospheres – the endemically rich Sierra del Rosario and Península de Guanahacabibes Biosphere Reserves. The region is famous for fertile tobacco fields and a breathtaking array of natural assets. Wonderfully secluded beaches provide access to pristine corals, underwater caves and canyons, and vibrant marine life. High in the mountains, Cuba’s first sustainable resort community, Las Terrazas, is a mecca for ecotourists.
Stretching along the idyllic Hicacos Peninsula on the north coast of Matanzas Province, Varadero is the prime sun-and-sand destination in Cuba, with some of the most spectacular beaches in the Caribbean.
A mere two-hour drive from Havana, Varadero is also day-trip close to the Zapata Peninsula, famous for its rich history and ecotourism opportunities, as well as to the provincial capital of Matanzas, known as the “Athens of Cuba.”
This area has something for everyone, with its broad range of resorts sprinkled along glistening, sun-soaked beaches, lapped by the warm, azure waters of the Atlantic. It’s the perfect spot for scuba diving, snorkeling, sailing and even swimming with the dolphins.
With its French heritage, the city of Cienfuegos is an architectural jewel, boasting beautifully preserved neoclassical buildings richly deserving of their UNESCO World Heritage designation. It’s hard to imagine a more idyllic destination: the so-called ‘Pearl of the South’ is poised on one of Cuba’s best natural harbours, perfect for fishing, diving and sailing.
Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1988, Trinidad de Cuba is a colonial gem in a spectacular tropical setting. This lively “museum city” lies on the southern coast of Sancti Spíritus Province, poised between the warm Caribbean Sea and rugged Escambray Mountains. The region offers some of island’s best hiking trails, while the beautiful white-sand beaches along the Ancón Peninsula attract divers and day-dreamers alike.
Jardines del Rey
Gorgeous Jardines del Rey is an archipelago comprised of hundreds of tiny islands, including the major sun-and-sand destinations, Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo. Sprinkled along Cuba’s north coast, the keys are part of the province of Ciego de Ávila. The area is renowned for its spectacular beaches of fine white sand, caressed by the clear, blue-green water of the Atlantic. Here, the coral reefs offer great biological richness and a diversity of marine species – a paradise for divers. The serene waters are also perfect for deep-sea fishing, which Ernest Hemingway famously spent much of his time doing off the coast of Cayo Guillermo.
It’s easy to see why Christopher Columbus declared Holguín “the most beautiful land human eyes have ever seen” when he arrived here in 1492. The province’s north coast is a dazzling vista of white-sand beaches lapped by turquoise waters, against a backdrop of rolling green hills and lush tropical forests. Inland, there are museums, cathedrals and other cultural attractions to explore in the provincial capital of Holguín. Don’t miss the charming coastal town Gibara, home of the new International Low-Budget Film Festival, or the archeological discoveries in and around the town of Banes.
Santiago de Cuba
Warm and hospitable, nestled between the towering Sierra Maestra mountains and the Caribbean Sea near the southeastern tip of the island, Santiago de Cuba is the second largest – and “most Caribbean” – city in Cuba.
Santiago has a particularly rich history and distinct cultural heritage, which has flavoured its art, its architecture and even its language. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the city’s vibrant music scene: virtually every Cuban genre from bolero to son was born here. Colourful festivals, such as the famous Carnaval, showcase the region’s fantastic sense of rhythm and dance.
This lively city has a nature-loving side too. To the east lies the Baconao Biosphere Reserve, home to La Gran Piedra [The Big Rock], part of Cuba’s most bio-diverse mountain range. To the west, you’ll find the mighty Sierra Maestra mountains and the two highest peaks on the island, as well as El Saltón, a mountain resort that is a haven for eco-tourists.
Beautiful Baracoa, nestled on the northeastern coast of Guantánamo Province, became the country’s first capital in 1511, and is the oldest colonial city in the Americas. The region contains one of the last remaining virgin rainforests in the Caribbean (the protected Parque Nacional Alejandro de Humboldt), as well as both the wettest and driest terrain on the island. A local landmark is the flat-topped El Yunque mountain – perfect for climbing – which stands guard over Baracoa.
Cayo Largo is little key perched on the easternmost tip of the Archipiélago de los Canarreos off Cuba’s southern coast. The narrow limestone island has 24 km of sugar-white beaches, lush mangroves and abundant wildlife, including turtles (which nest on the secluded beaches in summer) and iguanas. Cayo Largo, along with the nearby Isla de la Juventud, boasts some of the world’s best scuba diving thanks to its unspoiled seabed, calm clear waters and rich diversity of coral and marine life.
Come to Villa Clara to relax on the beaches lining the islets off its northern coast, explore the diverse flora and fauna protected by the Buenavista Biosphere Reserve, or wander through museums devoted to Ernesto Che Guevara. The legendary revolutionary’s remains are housed in a mausoleum in the provincial capital, Santa Clara.
Peninsula de Zapata
Explore the Caribbean’s largest wetlands on the Zapata Peninsula, in southern Matanzas Province. The peninsula is protected by a UNESCO-recognized biosphere, home to rare crocodiles as well as endemic and endangered bird species. An abundance of undersea caves and colourful coral in the Bahía de Cochinos [Bay of Pigs] provides the perfect setting for scuba divers and snorkelers. Fly-fishers are drawn to the area’s Las Salinas Fauna Refuge, which is also densely populated with stunning pink flamingos.
Stunning Santa Lucía is one of Cuba’s prime destinations for sun, sand and spectacular diving. The beachside resort community, situated 112 km north of Camagüey City, stretches along the world’s second-longest coral reef. Sheltered from strong Atlantic currents, the calm, clear waters are perfect for underwater exploration. Santa Lucía’s 21-km beach rivals Varadero as Cuba’s longest, and is lined with a range of well-equipped hotels and resorts.
Camagüey is Cuba’s largest province, sandwiched between Ciego de Ávila and Las Tunas. The provincial capital, also called Camagüey, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008, thanks to its large and wonderfully preserved city centre, which dates back to 1528. The city has two symbols: its churches and the large earthenware jars [tinajones], once used to collect rainwater. Explore the winding maze of narrow streets, designed to confuse invading pirates. The province boasts a stunning beach community, Santa Lucia, on its Atlantic coast.
Friendly Las Tunas is known for its rural culture, rodeos and Cuba’s biggest campesino music festival. Situated between Camagüey, Holguín and Granma, with 265 km of irregular coast on Cuba’s north and south shores, it has a lovely 10-km stretch of white sand at Covarrubias Beach on the Atlantic. The province’s capital city of Las Tunas is known as the “City of Sculptures” because of the fanciful sculptures decorating its streets.
Granma is one of Cuba’s most fascinating provinces. Located along the Caribbean coast, it lays claim to two national parks that both history lovers and nature lovers will want to explore: the magnificent Gran Parque Nacional Sierra Maestra, where Fidel Castro famously set up his rebel command post; and the Parque Nacional Desembarco del Granma, the site of his landing in Cuba, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Granma’s capital city, Bayamo, is the country’s second-oldest settlement and the birthplace of Cuba’s national anthem.