As an enthusiast photographer, Cuba was the country that I always wanted to visit. Every time I was reading something about Cuba, I had that “I want to go there” feeling. This country has a unique vintage atmosphere that you can not find anywhere else. The reality is that not much happened or changed in this country since the 60’s. The old cars can still be seen on the streets, the colonial architecture was not replaced by sky scrapers and the Cubans are still drinking rum, smoking cigars and dancing salsa. The international embargo affected the globalisation of this country and preserved its character and culture.
This itinerary can be easily done by bus and it covers the main cities in NW Cuba. If you plan to rent a car, you can probably visit some other beautiful destination not covered well by bus. For trips longer than two weeks, I also recommend visiting Camaguey, Santiago de Cuba and Baracoa.
If you only have two weeks, you probably won’t go further east of Trinidad. This gives you a few days in the biggest cities: Havana, Trinidad, Santa Clara and Vinales.
Havana – 3 days
Havana is beautiful city and there are plenty of things to do. Habana Vieja (Old Havana) is an UNESCO World Heritage Site and is probably the most touristic area. You can spend an entire day there just by walking on the streets, enjoying the live music and drinking mojitos. You will be amazed by the old colonial architecture with colourful buildings, large squares and the old cars passing by.
Except for the top attractions that you are probably going to see anyway, I really recommend going to the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana (The National Museum of Fine Arts of Havana). This is one of the most interesting museums I’ve ever visited where you can find art from the most famous Cuban and international artists.
Another place that is worth visiting if you are around is Callejón de Hamel, a small street full of art installations, graffiti and performances.
- Where to stay: If you are on a budget, Cuba Backpackers hostel or Enzo’s hostel are good options. You can read more about these in my Cuba backpacking tips post.
- What to do: Walk around Habana Vieja, visit Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Revolution museum, drink mojito
- Where to eat: If you are staying near Stadio Latinamericano, try Restaurant Aqui, you can find the address here
- Warnings and tips: Don’t fall for the “Cheap cigars scam”, buy them from a licensed shop. Also, be careful not to pay with CUC instead of CUP.
Trinidad – 3-4 days
From Havana you can take a Viazul bus directly to Trinidad, another UNESCO World Heritage site. This is the place where you probably want to learn salsa. The main square in front of the Cathedral is where everyone gathers during the evening to listen to live music, drink mojito and dance salsa. There are many salsa schools in Trinidad that can offer cheap lessons to tourists.
Trinidad is also not too far from the Caribbean Sea. You can rent a bicycle and go to La boca and then to Playa Ancon. It is probably around one hour ride each way, but it is worth it if you want to enjoy a day at the beach and see the countryside.
Another activity that you can do in Trinidad is horseback riding. You will find the cowboys in the main touristic areas trying to sell you horse riding. I went on a ride to a waterfall early morning and it totally paid off. My horse was quite lazy, but after two hours or riding through the hills and forest I arrived at the waterfall. It was there by myself enjoying the fresh water.
- Where to stay: There are plenty of Casa particulares in Trinidad, but I can not recommend a specific one. The closer to the Cathedral, the better, since that is the main touristic area.
- What to do: Horseback riding, cycling to the beach, salsa lessons
- Where to eat: Trinidad is a city with plenty of restaurants and you won’t have a problem finding one. Recommended to book for dinner since some popular ones might be full.
- Warnings and tips: If you want to have a drink on the stairs at Plaza Mayor, don’t buy them from the first bars you see. If you walk one minute down the street you can get a good mojito for only 1.5 CUC instead of 4CUC.
Santa Clara – 2 days
Santa Clara is all about Che Guevara and the revolution. The Che Guevara mausoleum is probably the biggest attraction, followed by the famous statue of Che with miniature sculptures from his motorcycle diaries. Another thing to see is the museum with the reconstruction of the Santa Clara battle, where Che and his troops derailed a train and destroyed the rail track with a bulldozer.
- What to do: The mausoleum and the statue of Che Guevara. Try to find all the sculpted miniatures
- Where to go out: Cafe-Museo Revolucion, near the statue. A coffee shop with original pictures and documents from the revolution. If you like to party, Centro Cultural El Mejunje is an open air party place where all the students hangout.
- Warnings and tips:If you are going to El Mejunje, I think you can bring in your own drinks. It looked like we were the only ones buying from the bar.
Vinales – 3 days
Tobacco plantations, mountains, beautiful landscapes and small city that you can visit by foot. Very busy during the day, a bit quiet during the night. The place to learn how cuban cigars are made.
- What to do: Visit a tobacco plantation, do various hikes, chill
- Where to go out: Casa de la Musica is a good place to enjoy some live music and dance salsa.
- Warnings and tips: I recommend visiting Vinales at the end of your trip. Considering the availability of Viazul buses, it’s better to be somewhere close to the airport. You can even go directly from Vinales to the airport if you have a late flight.
Extra: Varadero, Cienfuegos, Caibarien
If you still have some days left in your trip you can visit one these other destinations, depending on your taste:
- Varadero: The most touristic seaside resort in Cuba. A lot of hotels, tourists and nightlife. I didn’t visit it since it doesn’t seem to offer an authentic experience.
- Caibarien: Caibarien or Remedios can be your layover if you want to visit the cayos. Don’t miss the “famous” crab statue at the entrance to Caibarien
- Cienfuegos: Also called The pearl of the south, Cienfuegos is another UNESCO World Heritage site because of its architecture. Not much to do in the city other than walking around.