Cuban cigars and vintage cars, charismatic cities and Havana Club rum. This former Spanish colony of African, European and Caribbean heritage has been infused with music, shaken with slavery and flavoured with revolutionary spirit. So trek past the tobacco farms, hike in the hills and sleep in a hacienda, or stretch out on the sand, salsa in Santiago and tap your toes in Trinidad.
Cuba’s romantic capital will sweep you off your feet, light your cigar and drive you around in a vintage car. A Spanish colonial city with a fascinating history, Havana has witnessed Spanish slavery, mafia mobs and the Cuban Revolution – to understand more, take a walk through the harbourside old town, visit the magnificent Museo de la Revolucion and stand in Revolution Square to see Che Guevara’s iconic image.
Take an evening stroll along Prado street for the cafes, street life and bars, or bring a bottle and join the locals at the El Malecon sea wall for weekend drinks by the water. Tour a cigar factory or enter the Havana Club rum factory, and look forward to live music, salsa dancing and late night cabaret.
Immerse yourself in the historic cities of central Cuba, starting with elegant Cienfuegos on the southern coast. Founded by the French, Cuba’s ‘Pearl of the South’ is best known for its 18th century fortress, beautiful beaches and botanical gardens. Travel east to the Spanish town of Trinidad. Funded by the sugar and slave trade, Trinidad’s streets are lined with restored colonial buildings, and arriving here feels like stepping into a bygone era.
North of Trinidad is the large and lively city of Santa Clara, home to some of Cuba’s most important landmarks. Take a horse-cart to Che’s mausoleum, then visit the spot where he ripped up a railway line and changed the course of Cuban history. Catch a baseball game with the city’s top team, visit during one of the famous festivals, or sit out on the street with a glass of rum and listen to live music.
Cuba’s westernmost province, Pinar del Rio is a region of fertile valleys and iconic limestone hills known locally as ‘mogotes.’ The beaches are secluded and its main town is the home of Isabela Cigars but the real appeal of Pinar del Rio is its authentic rural landscapes and some of the best scuba spots in the Caribbean – the barrier reef near Maria la Gorda is particularly colourful.
For many, the province’s beautiful Vinales valley represents ‘real’ Cuba: serene and luxuriant with a gentle pace of life, it’s rumoured to be Castro’s favourite place. Beneath its mogote hills, oxen plough the red soil of Cuba’s best tobacco farms, which you can visit with the help of locals. Motorbike rides and horseback adventures are a great way to take it all in, or you could explore the extensive cave systems and soak up the culture in sleepy Vinales village.
Cradled by Cuba’s largest mountain range and set beside a bay, Santiago de Cuba is the country’s second city. Walk through the streets where Fidel Castro launched his revolution, then tour the historic core and visit El Morro castle. A creative city with Afro-Caribbean culture and musical roots, join the locals and strum a guitar, sway to salsa and listen to live bands.
Further east is Baracoa, the island’s oldest Spanish city and original capital. Lined with pastel-coloured houses it’s popular with independent travellers but too far-flung for mainstream tourists. The crumbling cathedral and revolutionary murals are easy to navigate on foot but the real draw is the surrounding countryside – climb to flat-topped peak of El Yunque mountain, take a boat trip through the rainforest or feel the spray of the Caribbean’s tallest waterfall.