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Top 5 Cities to Visit in Cuba

By: Sarah Cherres

Wednesday February 26th, 2020

Cuba is a country full of flavor and color in the form of beautiful views, friendly locals, and delicious cuisine, combined with an exciting past and many historical sites. Although Havana tends to be the city that comes to mind first when Cuba is the subject, there are several other cities also worthy of exploration and awe. Cuba is also home to seven Cultural and two Natural World Heritage sites, as recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). In this blog, let’s go over the top 5 cities to visit in Cuba, which highlights to keep in mind for each, complete with accommodation options and other travel tips to make the experience enjoyable and easy for travelers.

Havana | Flight time from Miami: Approx. 1hr 15min

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Based on current laws to travel to Cuba, all U.S. travelers must enter Cuba through José Martí International Airport in Havana. The Cuban capital has been a longtime popular travel destination. The City of Havana recently celebrated its 500th Anniversary of Foundation, a distinction not yet available to many cities in the Americas. As such, it is rich in history. It is also the largest city in Cuba and holds the country’s main port. Get to know some of the many landmarks in Havana, such as:

  • The Capitolio
  • The plazas in La Habana
  • Colon Cemetery, also called Necropolis
  • The Port and Malecón de la Habana
  • The Túnel de la Habana
  • The Morro-Cabana Complex
  • Hemingway’s House and his boat, Pilar
  • La Bodeguita del Medio, home of the Mojito
  • El Floridita Restaurant & Cocktail Bar, home of the Daiquirí

Dining options are also plentiful. From traditional restaurants like Doña Eutimia in Plaza de La Catedral to Café Ajiaco in the outskirts of the city. Modern Cuban cuisine and fusion options are also available with downtown Havana views. Some noteworthy spots to consider are Paladar Café Laurent or El Cocinero.

To enjoy all the landmarks in Havana, you may want to consider excursions such as Havana Highlights, A Walk Through Old Colonial Havana, A Ride Through Havana in American Classic Cars, and An Evening Stroll Through the Historic Center of Havana. To learn more about American author Ernest Hemingway, you may want to consider Following Hemingway’s Steps in Havana. This 3.5-hour tour includes areas of Havana, as well as a visit to Finca Vijía, Hemingway’s home for many years in Cuba.

For hotel accommodations, there is an extensive menu of options to accommodate different price points and desired locations. Some of the most famous ones are the Meliá Cohiba in the area of Vedado, the Hotel Nacional with breathtaking views of the Malecón, the Iberostar Parque Central, and the Hotel Saratoga in the 5-star category. The latter is famous for celebrities who have stayed there, such as Beyoncé and Jay-Z.

Viñales | Distance from Havana: Approx. 2.5 hours by Car

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This small town is in Western Cuba, within the Pinar del Río Province. The area was once home to remnants of the Taíno population, a group known to be early native inhabitants on the Island. Today, it is a developing destination city, popular for eco-friendly activities that include hiking, flora and fauna watching, walking, and cycling.

Some of the landmarks to visit in Viñales are:

  • The Valley of Viñales – A UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • The Indian Cave
  • The Cow Cave
  • The Viñales Botanical Garden
  • The Prehistoric Mural
  • The Sacred Heart of Jesus Church

Viñales is part of all-inclusive, fun, and educational programs such as the delicious Yuca and Mojito Tour. This itinerary is ideal for food lovers and travelers who enjoy sampling local gastronomy. For an independent travel experience, you may want to consider the neighboring Hotel Pinar del Río, which is also close to tobacco plantations and nautical activities in the area.

Varadero | Distance from Havana: Approx. 2 hours by Car

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Varadero is a beach resort and spa town located within the Province of Matanzas in Cuba, approximately two hours east of Havana. It is also known as Playa Azul or Blue Beach. The town’s crystalline blue waters can be seen from above when flying over the Island. Varadero offers many points of interest, such as:

  • The Icacos Peninsula
  • The Delfinario / Dolphinarium
  • The Varahicacos Ecological Reserve
  • The Xanadu Mansion
  • The Museo Municipal / Municipal Museum

Stops in Varadero are part of many excursions and all-inclusive programs. One option is the Afro-Cuban Cultural Immersion Tour. This 5-day/4-night program will have you visiting Varadero on day three of the itinerary. It is also part of the Cigar and Rum Tour, a curated experience for travelers with interest in cigar and rum, which happens every year in sync with the International Habanos Festival. Varadero is also a daytime stop in the Morua-Maceo Project, a program that aims to build, strengthen, and showcase the Cuban-African diaspora throughout the Island.

Varadero is also the site of the World Music Festival and the Varadero Gourmet Festival. Both events are well attended and gather crowds from all over the world. Accommodation options for visitors are several, many of them along beautiful sandy beaches, with top amenities and even white-glove service.

Among the many options to consider is the 5-star Iberostar Varadero Hotel, a property favored for events and family holidays. Other all-inclusive hotels are the Be Live Experience Varadero Hotel and the Be Live Experience Turquesa Hotel, both 4-star hotels. Adults-only accommodations are also available. One option is the Roc Barlovento Hotel. If you are looking instead for a place the whole family can enjoy, you may also want to consider the Roc Arenas Doradas Hotel. Make sure to review the many hotel options available in Varadero.

Trinidad | Distance from Havana: Approx. 4 hours by Car

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Trinidad is a Cuban city located in central Cuba, within the Province of Sancti Spiritus. Trinidad has also been recognized by the UNESCO as a city museum for sugar production, along with the nearby Valle de Los Ingenios. Both locations have also been designated as National Monuments by the Cuban nation.

Points of interest in the city of Trinidad include:

  • Plaza Mayor
  • El Cubano Natural Park
  • Colonial Architecture Museum
  • Church of the Holy Trinity
  • Palacio Brunet and Palacio Cantero

An experienced agency, such as OnCuba Travel, can help you plan a visit to Trinidad, complete with transfer services, meals, points of interest, and hotel accommodations. Options for accommodations in Trinidad include The Iberostar Gran Trinidad Hotel. This hotel offers a 5-star experience in a 16th-century setting. It is complete with turndown service, a pillow menu, and other luxury amenities.

Santiago de Cuba | Distance from Havana: Approx. 11.25 hours by Car

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Santiago de Cuba was the original capital of Cuba. Today, it is the second most important and second-largest city in Cuba, a must-see for the more experienced traveler. Santiago de Cuba is also the grounds for many landmarks, such as:

  • Castillo de San Pedro de La Roca / The San Pedro de la Roca Castle
  • La Gran Piedra / The Big Rock – A giant volcanic rock
  • Santa Ifigenia Cemetery
  • Céspedes Park
  • Our Lady of the Assumption Cathedral

This city is also known for being the birthplace of the Bacardi brand, founded in 1862 by Facundo Bacardi Masso. The Carnaval de Santiago de Cuba is also one of the most famous on the Island. The tradition dates to the 17th century. It is a significant public celebration with costumes, music, and parades.

Hotels to consider in Santiago de Cuba include the Meliá Santiago de Cuba, a 5-star hotel ideal for business or leisure travelers. The Iberostar Imperial Hotel and The Iberostar Casa Grande Hotel are also terrific 4-star hotels in Santiago. He Iberostar Casa Grande Hotel also enjoys a privileged location, right across from Céspedes Park.

Accommodations in Cuba

Cuba offers many accommodation options. Hotels range from 5-star properties with premier service to standard hotels that provide a clean and safe place to stay with basic amenities. Other options also include Casas Particulares or private homes. These are independently operated private homes that offer single room accommodations to entire apartments, and local other arrangements. Many of them offer a daily breakfast service and additional amenities for a fee. The experts at OnCuba Travel can assist you and your travel partners in selecting the best options in line with your itinerary and budget.

Car Rentals in Cuba

With so many things to see and places to visit, you may want to consider renting a car in Cuba. Options are available for economy, standard, and standard plus. OnCuba Travel can facilitate this process for you. They liaise with trusted local agencies, saving you time and effort by pairing you with a qualified car rental in Cuba. You can choose to pick up the car rental at José Martí International Airport or the OnCuba Travel office in Havana.

All-Inclusive Programs & Excursions

One of the best ways to explore Cuba is with curated programs or excursions. Many of these experiences offer local travel guides, which make it easier to learn about the history of each stop in the itinerary. Another advantage of booking all-inclusive programs and excursions is that many of them offer transportation to and from an area of interest. Several tours also include meals at the destinations, which facilitate the planning process.

Legal Travel to Cuba for U.S. Citizens

It is still possible for U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba legally. Necessary documents include a visa/tourist card, one of the 11 approved reasons for travel, a valid U.S. passport, and a full itinerary with details of the stay. A professional travel agency specializing in Cuba, such as OnCuba Travel, can quickly help travelers navigate the requirements, compile the documentation, and facilitate certain documents, like the visas. Their team can also assist you in preparing a daily agenda in Cuba and providing travel tips to help you make the most of your stay.