The following is a brief summary of some of the most popular towns and cities in Cuba for Tourists.
Recommended For New Cuba Tourists
Havana – It’s the tourist capital. Filled with Cubans, it is also the economic center of Cuba. Cubans from across the country dream of coming to Havana to make money. It’s a hard life and the housing shortage and congestion in the city amplify the challenges. Havana has three main neighborhoods. Old Havana, Central Havana and Vedado. You can get a detailed summary of the interesting locations in each neighborhood by clicking on the following link. Most tourists stay in Old Havana. Coincidentally this is also the smallest neighborhood and one of the poorest. At the BestCubaGuide, we recommend visiting Old Havana, but reserving a casa particular apartment rental in Vedado, where you will find a more relaxed atmosphere and generally larger and nicer accommodations, away from the bustling tourist traps.
Vinales – Located 2 hours west of Havana. It is a small farm town and has a beautiful valley. You can take a horse ride through the valley. No cars are allowed into the valley. You can only go on horseback or on hike. There are caves too where you can explore and bathe. Walking in the valley is completely free. There are paths which local farmers use and you are welcome to explore them. Some caves have small admission prices to enter (usually less than 2 CUC per adult). In recent years Vinales has become very touristy, but most tourists stay in the town and not in the valley. The town is about 10 square city blocks large. Other than a small town square which fills with people in the evening, there are not many museums of tourist destinations. Vinales is really just about the valley and country living.
Trinidad – Located 4 hours east of Havana. This is the second more popular tourist town. It is expensive and packed with foreigners. But it is also beautiful. Many foreigners say Trinidad is their favorite place in Cuba. The town is surrounded by hills and valleys where hiking and horseback riding is popular. There is a beach (Playa Ancon) located about 7 km away from the town center and can be accessed by taxi, bus or bike. The town of Trinidad is one of the oldest and best preserved Cuban towns and is known for its architecture. Many of the homes have been restored to their former glory and offer guests beautiful, colonial accommodations, at a cheap price. more info on Trinidad can be found here at this link.
Varadero – Located 2 hours east of Havana, Varadero is the largest beach resort town in Cuba. It has hundreds of hotels and several shopping areas. The beach in Varadero is generally beautiful and stretches over 20 kms. Varadero has an international airport an tourists flock to this beach resort town from all over the world. Hotels vary in quality and price and most are generally considered to be at the lower end of the scale, compared to hotels in Mexico or other Caribbean destinations. This divergence in quality is usually reflected in the lower price. While there are native Cubans who live on the Varadero peninsula, Varadero is all about tourism and daily life in Varadero does not reflect actual daily life in Cuba.
Recommend For More Experienced Cuba Tourists
Holguin – In eastern Cuba. A beautiful, simple, small city. The city is known for its nice people and relaxed atmosphere. There are few tourists in Holguin, since it is a considerable distance from Havana. Given its location and the fact that it is in the center of the island, far from the sea, the city can get very hot during the summer. This city has many casas particulares, but generally does not have a well established tourist infrastructure. Hotels, shopping centers and supermarkets are few and far between. A good knowledge of Spanish is not necessary when exploring Holguin, but will be a huge help and save you a lot of money and time.
Santiago de Cuba – Located on the eastern tip of Cuba. This city was the former capital of Cuba and is the largest city in the east of the island. It’s a very hot city. It is large and not so clean. It is over 12 hours drive from Havana (almost 900km). Given its distance from Havana, and its size, some people say that it is the most “authentically Cuban” city left on the island. While tourism is still a big business in this city, it pales in comparison to other parts of Cuba. English is not spoken by many locals in Santiago. Outside the city is a large mountain range where Fidel Castro formed the basis for the Cuban revolution.
Baracoa – A tiny, coastal town a few hours east from Santiago. This was the first place where Christopher Columbus landed in Cuba. It is becoming more touristy, but since it is so far from Havana, it is relatively sheltered from foreigners. It rains every day in this town. It’s small (only one road in and one road out). A hurricane passed through the town in 2016 and heavily damaged the town. It is ok to visit now, but still not back to 100% yet.