Havana is teeming with hole-in-the-wall restaurants, live music, and local handicraft shops, but there’s far more to Cuba than its capital city. Not venturing outside of Havana means missing out on pristine beaches, architectural gems, and off-the-grid cultural experiences—and you don’t even have to go far to take yourself a world away in Cuba. Whether it’s a beach, a cigar rolling lesson or just a change of scenery you’re looking for, there’s a day trip for you. When you’re ready to hit the road from Havana, here’s where to go.
Varadero is a resort town situated on the narrow Hicacos Peninsula about 80 miles east of Havana. Once a dry dock, Varadero became a vacation destination in 1887 when families first began building vacation homes there. Nowadays, Varadero is known for miles of white sandy beaches, all-inclusive resorts, and virgin cays. It’s a popular scuba diving and deep-sea fishing destination and home to a number of museums, some of which are housed in mansions seized after the Cuban revolution. Expect to spend around $100 each way to hire a car and driver for this day trip. Viazul bus rides between Havana and Varadero are around $3 each way.
Once a sleepy agricultural town, Airbnb has helped transform Vinales—110 miles west of Havana—into a popular tourist destination. In Vinales, the hum of city life is replaced by the sounds of farm life. Wifi is spotty, and instead of classic cars, horse-drawn carriages often transport visitors among sites. Vinales is all about coffee, cigars and guava rum. A typical day trip might include a visit to a coffee farm, cigar processing facility and a chance to sample a rare local brand of rum that’s made from guava. If you do decide to stay overnight, be sure to hit the outdoor dance club in the town’s main plaza. There’s nothing quite light dancing under a mirror ball in the shadows of a simple town church.
Trinidad is one of the best-preserved Spanish settlements in the Caribbean. Once a haven for pirates and slave smugglers, this central Cuban town at one point produced one-third of the country’s sugar. Many of its grand mansions were built with sugar money, but nowadays Trinidad’s main industries are tourism and tobacco processing. Trinidad is near both the Escambray Mountains and white sand beaches, making it particularly popular among ecotourists, divers and snorkelers. Combined with a nearby collection of dozens of old sugar mills, Trinidad is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Cienfuegos is on Cuba's southern coast about 160 miles from Havana. It’s known as the Pearl of the South, but its name translates to 100 fires. The city was settled by the French in the early 1800s and styled as a kind of resort town along the bay. Cienfuegos is known for its colonial architecture and a collection of eclectic mansions built in the 1920s. Its city center earned a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation in 2005. Cienfuegos can be a quick stop on a longer day trip to Trinidad or a day trip of its own. A quick ferry ride will take you to the 18th-century fortress Castillo de Jagua.
Playas del Este
This is a day trip you don't technically have to leave Havana to make. About a half-hour drive from central Havana, you'll find Playas del Este, a strip of several beaches on Havana's eastern edge. You can get there by bus, private taxi, or collectivo. Along this strip, Playa Bacuranao is known for its snorkeling and scuba diving. Playa Guanabo is known for its markets. Santa Maria del Mar is best equipped for tourists, offering easy to rent umbrellas, chairs, and watersports equipment.