Top 9 Things to Do in Cuba

The skyline of Trinidad, Cuba

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While Cuba is known for its historical architecture, vintage cars, and white sand beaches, adventure also awaits around every corner. Water sports like snorkeling, scuba diving, and surfing are favorite visitor activities in this Caribbean destination. On land, you can explore caves, hike through tropical forests and up mountains, and bike all over the island. Then, engage in some culture and natural history while you're at it, with a trip to Old Havana, or a wildlife tour through a national park. This bucket-list destination offers something for everyone, complete with a look into the country's unique culture, history, and charm.

01 of 09

Visit Old Havana

Vintage cars parked along a street in Havana

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Old Havana, Havana, Cuba

Walking the narrow streets of Old Havana makes you feel like you've stepped back in time, with its Baroque-style architecture and vintage cars. Consisting of four squares (Plaza Vieja, San Francisco Square, Plaza de la Catedral, and Plaza de Armas), this neighborhood boasts gothic cathedrals, culturally rich museums, streetside cafes, and authentic restaurants. Don't miss the Museum of the Revolution, once the site of a failed 1957 assassination attempt on Batista. The museum details the history of Cuba, complete with revolutionary costumes on display. El Capitolio, a replica of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C, is now the home of Cuba's parliament and worth a visit. And don't forget to have a mojito in the drink's birthplace, the famed restaurant bar, Bodeguita del Medio. 

02 of 09

See the Sea Turtles on Cayo Largo del Sur

White sand beach in Cayo Largo del Sur, Cuba

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Cayo Largo del Sur, Cuba

Off the southern coast of Cuba sits the resort island of Cayo Largo del Sur, known for its long, white-sand beaches and sea turtle population. From April to September, the beaches of Cayo Largo become a nesting site for hundreds of sea turtles, including species like the Loggerhead Turtle, the Hawksbill Turtle, and the Green Turtle. During the night, female sea turtles come ashore to lay their eggs (sometimes even on hotel beaches), dig a nest to bury them, and then return to the sea. A visit to Centro de Rescate de Tortugas Marinas (the Sea Turtle Rescue Center) will educate you on the rescue efforts of the declining sea turtle population, as well as give you a sneak peek at their everyday efforts. The most popular activity to witness and take part in is the release of baby sea turtles to the sea.

03 of 09

Climb Pico Turquino

Cuba Pico Turquino trail
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Pico Turquino, Cuba

If you're looking to stretch your legs after a long plane ride, take a hike up Pico Turquino to take in the cloud forest's beauty. Encounter endangered animals along the way, as well as wild orchids and giant ferns. This mountain is the tallest peak on the island, with an elevation of 1,974 meters (6,476 feet) above sea level. The routes to the top take about two to three days to complete, depending on your fitness level and hiking speed. The preferred route at Santo Domingo (with the trailhead located at Alto de Naranjo) finishes at Las Cuevas and features a gradual ascent, showy views, and huts along the way. You can climb the mountain any time of the year, but for the best experience, go during the dry season of October through May, when the temperature and humidity are more moderate.

04 of 09

Surf the Coastline

Rear View Of Man Surfing On Sea Against Sky
Juan Carlos Perez Nieves / EyeEm / Getty Images

Cuba isn't considered a popular surfing destination, as it has a short consistent swell window, with surf breaks found only at river mouths or on sharp, rocky reefs. Still, the most consistent surfing experience can be found along the country's eastern seaboard, where tropical lows create fickle swell from August through mid-November. Better conditions can be found on the north side of the island from December to March. The surf scene in Cuba is relatively small, but it is growing quickly, and often, you can have a "mysto" spot to yourself. Plus, the "underground" nature of the surf culture here gives it a "cool factor" that is tough to top.

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05 of 09

Take a Cycling Tour

Two people riding bikes along a dirt road in cuba

Linda L. Baker / Getty Images

Biking the island of Cuba offers a great way to explore the country's natural beauty, as bikes are a popular mode of transportation here, among both locals and foreign visitors. It's also a wonderful activity to do if you want to interact with the locals. Travel companies, like Canadian-based G Adventures, offer eight-day cycling itineraries that start in Havana and take you by sites like the Garden Province of Pinar del Río, the historic Cueva de los Portales (once used by Che Guevara), and pristine beaches on the Ancón peninsula coastline.

06 of 09

Explore a Cave

saturno cave, cuba
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Cuba is home to several extensive cave systems, some of which are contained and protected inside national parks, like the 79 seaside caves in Caguanes National Park. Visitors who choose to explore these caves will see a unique side of Cuba that not everyone chooses to experience. The Viñales Valley has some of the best spelunking opportunities on the island, with Gran Caverna de Santo Tomás standing out for both its size (It's 46 kilometers long!) and its giant opening. Visitors are provided headlamps and are allowed to access the first kilometer of the cave on a guided tour that features bats, stalagmites and stalactites, underground pools, and a replica of an ancient indigenous mural.

07 of 09

Go Snorkeling or Scuba Diving

Coral reef near Cayo Largo
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Cuba has a reputation as a snorkeling mecca, with its giant coral reefs and diverse array of sea life. The Bay of Pigs, once the infamous sight of a failed U.S. invasion, is now a park that contains the Caribbean’s largest wetland ecosystem. The most popular snorkeling spots are Playa Larga and Caleta Buena, known for their turquoise water, bright and colorful fish, and underwater caves.

If you want to go deeper, the scuba diving scene in Cuba is top-notch, as well. Don't miss the spectacular Jardines de la Reina, a remote archipelago in the southern part of the country that remains virtually untouched by humans. Plan well in advance if you'd like to sneak this dive onto your itinerary, as only one dive center, Avalon Cuban Diving Centers, has access to this sacred spot and only 1,200 people are allowed to visit in any given year, making a reservation hard to come by.

08 of 09

View Wildlife at Parque Nacional Alejandro de Humboldt

Memorial in Parque Nacional Alejandro de Humboldt.
Holger Leue / Getty Images

Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001, the famous Parque Nacional Alejandro de Humboldt is a true paradise for wildlife lovers. Named after the famous explorer, Alexander von Humbolt, this park consists of the largest and best-conserved forested mountain ecosystem in the Caribbean. It is home to 16 species of endemic plants, as well as an array of parrots, hummingbirds, lizards, and the rare Cuban solenodon. Thickly forested and featuring numerous rivers, the park is known as the most humid place on the island. If you visit, dress appropriately and bring plenty of water, as hiking can be uncomfortable during the hottest days of the year.

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09 of 09

Take a Sailing Adventure

Idyllic Tropical Sand Beach, Cayo Coco, Cuba
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Cuba has long been a sailing destination, dating back to the 15th century when the Spanish first arrived here. Today, that nautical tradition continues, with massive cruise ships making stops at the country's ports of call. For a truly adventurous sailing experience, leave the big ships behind, and charter a boat from one of the 20 marinas or nautical centers located around the island. Then, set out to explore the Cuban coastline, as well as some of the archipelago's cays and islets. If you prefer to leave the sailing details to someone else, book a trip with a tour company, like Dream Yacht Charter. Their fleet of catamarans will take you to Cuba's famed cities, in addition to white-sand beaches and remote snorkeling spots.

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Top 9 Things to Do in Cuba