From visiting the colourful capital of Havana, to relaxing on Varadero’s pristine beaches, and exploring quirky Trinidad, this Cuba itinerary is the perfect introduction to the country.
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So it looks like Cuba is well and truly open to to the world! For many years, the country was inaccessible to many, but things are changing… and fast! The fascinating Caribbean island is known for its colonial cities, white sandy beaches, tobacco plantations and revolutionaries like Che Guevara.
It’s somewhere you can spend your days drinking daiquiris, spotting dolphins, hiking through rainforests, visiting historic museums or salsa dancing with the locals. There really is something for everyone.
Cuban cities are diverse. From the hustle and bustle of old Havana to the cobbled streets and colourful Colonial houses of Trinidad, there’s plenty to fall in love with. Then there are the beaches. Prepare yourself for palm-fringed beaches with white powdery sand, leading to bright turquoise waters. Oh and don’t forget the island’s rugged rainforests, which hide a network of caves, cascading waterfalls and rare species of flora and fauna.
So, whether you fancy a laid-back beach break or want to explore some lively cities, you’ll find it all in Cuba.
Cuba Itinerary: 3 Days In Havana
Havana is Cuba’s vibrant capital, packed with colourful architecture, a cutting-edge arts scene and narrow streets which echo with rhythmic Cuban music.
If you’re visiting Cuba for the first time, then there are a few things you just have to do.
Drink mojitos and daiquiris in bars once frequented by Ernest Hemingway, take a Havana vintage car tour along the Malecón (the city’s seafront promenade) and enjoy a meal in Habana Vieja (the city’s old town).
Main squares are flanked with buildings displaying images of Che Guevara, traditional restaurants (also known as paladares) serve up delicious local cuisine and the city’s buzzing nightlife continues until the sun comes up.
If you plan to base yourself in Havana for the duration of your stay, there are plenty of places to visit in Cuba which are doable in a day.
As part of your Cuba itinerary you could take a day trip from Havana to Vinales, enjoying a spot of horseback riding past tobacco plantations, or spend a day in bustling Trinidad, a Colonial town with cobbled streets and bright coloured houses.
Read More: 24 Hours In Havana, Cuba
Cuba Itinerary: 3 Days In Varadero
Just over 2-hours drive from Havana is the popular beach resort of Varadero. It’s the perfect place to relax and unwind after a few days in the capital.
Although not as culturally rich as some Cuban towns and cities, it’s a great spot if you want to kick back and enjoy some beach time, shop for souvenirs or enjoy one of Cuba’s larger resorts.
If you fancy time away from the beach, you could head out on one of the hiking trails in Varahicacos Nature Reserve.
There are plenty of beach resorts in this area, with a few recognisable names including Melia, Iberostar and Barcelo. I’d avoid the Barcelo Solymar hotel like the plague, unless it’s changed dramatically since my trip! It was closer to Fawlty Towers than a fancy place for a holiday!
If you love getting out on the water, Varadero is a great place to visit. From snorkelling and sailing, to kite surfing and jet skiing, there’s plenty to keep you busy.
There are a few great day trips on offer too, including one from Varadero to Guamá – which includes a cruise along the Hatiguanico River, a chance to snorkel in the tropical waters at Punta Perdiz, and a trip to a traditional village to learn about indigenous Cubans.
If it’s lively nightlife you’re after, Varadero is a really fun town. I remember drinking, dancing and enjoying live music while I was there. There are even outdoor clubs where you can party under the stars!
While there are plenty of all-inclusive resorts in this area, I’d recommend getting out and about. Mix with the locals, get to know the culture, and check out some of the great bars and restaurants away from the other tourists.
If there’s a group of you travelling together you could split the 90 CUC taxi fare (approx. £70 / $90 USD) from Havana to Varadero. Or, if you’re travelling on a budget, you can travel from Havana to Varadero by public transport using the Viazul bus. A ticket costs around £8 or $10 USD.
Cuba Itinerary: 2 Days In Vinales
If you’re looking for dramatic scenery, then add Vinales to your Cuba itinerary. Located around 2.5 hours from Havana, it’s an area steeped in natural beauty, with beautiful hills, tobacco plantations and flat plains.
While it’s possible to take a day trip from Havana to Vinales, I’d recommend staying longer to immerse yourself in the area’s lush countryside – it’s a nice contrast from the hectic streets of Havana too! You could hire bikes and cycle through tobacco plantations, learn how to roll your own cigars or go horseback riding.
Interestingly, the area is also home to labyrinth cave networks and the Mural de la Prehistoria – a detailed mural painted on a rock face. If you stay in Vinales a while, no doubt you’ll catch one of the area’s spectacular sunsets over the limestone mountains.
Foodies will enjoy the restaurant scene here, with lots of great local joints serving Cuban classics at very reasonable prices. It’s also relatively cheap to travel from Havana to Vinales by bus (around £9 / $12 USD), plus guest houses cater to budget travellers, so you’ll have no trouble if you can’t afford the more expensive touristy regions of Cuba.
Cuba Itinerary: 2 Days In Trinidad
Don’t forget to add historic Trinidad to your Cuba itinerary. This charming town was once famous for its sugar cane mills and has some of the most beautiful colonial architecture on the island.
A great way to immerse yourself in Cuban life in Trinidad is to stay in a casa particular. These local home stays are cheaper than many hotels, and offer a traditional and relaxed introduction to the area. Bonus – you can brush up on your Spanish with the hosts! You can take a look at some of the options on offer here. Prices start from around £8 / $10 USD per night, so it’s a great option if you’re visiting Cuba on a budget.
If you are only staying few days in Trinidad, head to the top of the church bell tower for the best views. There’s also a museum showcasing artefacts from the revolution in the church.
If you’re keen on having some beach time then Playa Ancon is only 15 minutes away, and boasts white sands and clear waters perfect for swimming and snorkelling.
Adventure lovers will enjoy a rainforest trek where you’ll be able to see the area’s waterfalls or take a swim at Topes de Collantes National Park. After dark, hang out with the locals in one of the town’s restaurants or enjoy some Cuban music at one of the lively bars.
Cuba Itinerary: 2 Days In Santiago De Cuba
Located on the eastern shores of the island, Santiago de Cuba is Cuba’s second largest city. Known as the birthplace of the Cuban Revolution it’s a popular stop for history lovers, as there are plenty of museums and fortresses to check out.
The beating heart of the city is Parque Cespedes, a tree-lined main square and popular meeting spot. It’s THE people watching spot, so grab a coffee, enjoy some live music or, if you’ve not got two left feet like me, you could even get up and have a dance!
Alternatively, delve into history at Plaza de la Revolucion, where Castro delivered his speeches. Then explore Cuartel Moncada where Che Guevara, Fidel and Raul Castro stormed the building to seize weapons, signalling the start of the Cuban Revolution.
If you time your visit to Santiago de Cuba for mid-late July, you’ll experience the biggest and best carnival in Cuba! With brightly decorated floats, food stalls and a real party atmosphere, this is one celebration not to be missed!
If you are heading to the capital Havana afterwards to continue your holiday, you’ll get 2 festivals for the price of 1, as Havana’s lively carnival begins in early August.
Cuba Itinerary: 2 days In Cayo Coco / Jardines Del Rey Or Jardines De La Reina
I’ve added these in as they’re amazing additions to your Cuba itinerary. However, bear in mind they’re a little harder to reach than the other options so far!
Cayo Coco is a tropical island in the Jardines del Rey archipelago (north of the mainland) and a great place to soak up the Caribbean sunshine on soft white sands, spot flamingos and dolphins in their natural habitats.
The area is pretty touristy, with several big hotel resorts, so while it’s not a great destination for a flavour of authentic Cuba, it’s a great option if you’re looking for a relaxing break! If you’re into scuba diving, this is one of the best places in Cuba for tropical marine life.
If you’re looking for an adrenaline fix, head to Jardines de la Reina (a different archipelago off the southwest coast). Here you can spot Caribbean reef sharks and silky sharks, plus there are plenty of dive tours available for all levels of expertise. Don’t forget a GoPro or underwater camera!
There’s no easy transport to get to either of these archipelago, so you’ll need to research routes using taxis and boats. For Cayo Coco, there’s a causeway, so taxis can reach the island. For Jardines de la Reina, you’ll need to catch a boat from the port of Jucaro.
When Is The Best Time To Visit Cuba?
If you want warm days, sunshine and blue skies, then the best time to visit Cuba is between December and May. These are also great months for diving, as visibility is clear and sea conditions are calm. However, hotels and flights tend to be more expensive during peak season, so be sure to book accommodations and travel in advance to save money.
When Can You Miss The Crowds In Cuba?
If you don’t mind a little rain as you tour the island and want to benefit from a few cheap hotel deals in Cuba, time your trip for between June and October. You might not see blue skies every single day, but areas like Vinales and Topes de Collantes are lush when it’s rainy, plus you could enjoy the carnivals in Santiago de Cuba and Havana too.
I hope this Cuba travel itinerary has given you lots of ideas for your holiday on the island. If you’re heading to Havana, make sure you read my guide to spending 24 Hours In Havana, Cuba.
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