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First Timer’s Guide to Cuba

DISCOVER THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN CUBA

It’s no secret that Canadians love a vacation to Cuba, the Caribbean island known for its friendly people, complex history, rhythmic soundtrack, and world-class beaches. Never been? We’ve got you! Check out our helpful guide on the best places to visit in Cuba and what to see and do beyond your choice of all-inclusive resort.

Varadero: resort-lined peninsula

Varadero

1. Enjoy peninsula perfection

Beach haven Varadero profits from its prime location along the Hicacos Peninsula, bordered by the white-sand shoreline that makes it a legendary vacation destination. This also makes Varadero the ideal spot for swimming, snorkelling and any water sport you might want to try off Cuba’s northern coast.

2. Cool down in a cave

Beaches aren’t the only draw around Varadero, so are… dark, sun-less caves? That’s right! In the Varahicacos Ecological Reserve (a diverse park with great hiking trails!), you’ll find the Cueva de Ambrosio, a small cave with indigenous paintings on its walls. The reserve is also home to the Cueva de Musulmanes, named as such, because smugglers nicknamed Los Musulmanes used to hide here. Look out for fossils and a prehistoric skeleton!

3. Visit Varadero’s past

It’s no secret that Cuba once was a tropical playground for the rich and famous. One of these was American entrepreneur Alfred Irénée du Pont who built a vacation home for his retirement on the peninsula. Built in 1927, his Xanadú Mansion, now a golf club, is open for visits and features a restaurant with sweeping sea views.

Havana: Cuban culture at its finest

Havana

1. Discover historic landmarks

Much of Cuba’s history has revolved around its fiery capital. Beyond spotting the countless vintage cars, you will not run out of historic sites to visit, from Spanish-era fortresses and churches, like the Castillo de la Real Fuerza, to revolutionary landmarks like the Plaza de la Revolución. Check out our full rundown here.

2. Shimmy through the streets

As the capital, Havana is also the best place to experience spirited Cuban culture. Don’t miss catching live music at iconic venues like the La Zorra y el Cuervo, Fábrica de Arte Cubano, La Bombilla Verde, Bar Monserrate, and Callejón de Hamel for outdoor rhythms. For visual art, check out Fusterlandia, artist José Fuster’s explosive outdoor art installation!

3. Dig into local cuisine

Hungry? You should be if you’re swinging by Havana! The city’s iconic colonial architecture hides a variety of privately-owned restaurants called paladares. La Guarida, Doña Eutimia and San Cristobal are some of the most famous. Don’t forget liquid libations! Nip into La Bodeguita del Medio for their famous mojitos or opt for a hot brew (Cubans love their coffee!) at charming Café O’Reilly or the trendy Belview ArtCafé.

Cayo Santa María: off-the-beaten-path, secluded beaches

Santa Clara

1. Explore the wild

With no cities or permanent residents, Cayo Santa María is all about stellar beaches and pristine tropical landscapes. Part of the UNESCO-listed Buenavista Biosphere Reserve, it showcases Cuban flora and fauna in its Refugio de Fauna, where you can look out for local wildlife (like Cuba’s national bird the Tocororro) and hike to secluded beaches.

2. Delve beneath the waves

As part of the Jardines del Rey archipelago, Cayo Santa María is a great gateway to the area’s fantastic diving sites. Colourful coral can be found just below the turquoise waters, stretching for kilometres around the cluster of islands that make up the archipelago. Look out for a wealth of marine life amid some of the best-preserved coral reef of the Caribbean!

3. Check out Santa Clara

Nearby on the mainland, Santa Clara serves as a perfect day trip from your beach resort in Cayo Santa María. Santa Clara is famous for its strong historic ties to the Cuban Revolution; this is where iconic revolutionary Che Guevara won the final battle against President Batista. Visit the Che Guevara Mausoleum and Monument to pay homage to one of the country’s most legendary heroes!

Cayo Coco & Cayo Guillermo: a Cuban island dream team

Cuba Flamingos

1. Walk in literary footsteps

It doesn’t take much time here to figure out why Cayo Guillermo was beloved by literary great Ernest Hemingway. He even wrote The Old Man and the Sea and Islands in the Stream here! Spot various versions of the writer along the causeway to Cayo Guillermo, which is decked with Hemingway statues, before settling into the sparkling sands of Playa Pilar, named after Hemingway’s boat!

2. On bird watch

While your eyes graze a horizon blessed by sun and sea, keep a look out for some of the 150 species of birds that grace the skies around Cayo Coco! The area also welcomes one of the largest concentrations of pink flamingoes in the Caribbean—find them sun-tanning around the beaches of Cayo Coco or near the causeway leading to Cayo Guillermo.

3. Cruise the open sea

Considering these two beautiful Cuban destinations are part of an archipelago, a boat trip lets you zip from Cayo Coco or Cayo Guillermo to the other islands that make up Jardines del Rey. It’s also the best way to explore mangrove-lined waterways! Fishing fans should also try their hands at catching some of the species found off Cuba’s coast, from barracudas to marlin.

What’s next

Ready for your vacation to Cuba? Start planning with our array of vacation packages in Cuba! Plus, the earlier you book, the more you’ll save—check out our early-bird deals on Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo, Cayo Santa María, Varadero or Havana.