Travel

Cuba Bucket List: 40 Best Outdoors Places to Visit

If you’ve been craving a Caribbean adventure, the political tides have been shifting, and it may not be long before you can pack your bags for some authentic Cuba adventure travel. From captivating urban areas, to exotic natural parks and beaches, Cuba has it all, and it’s waiting for you to discover it for yourself.

With a unique mixture of African and Spanish roots, Cuba is one of the most exciting, yet least commercialized islands in the Caribbean. Although tourists have shied away from visiting Cuba in the past, it is actually a safe destination with locals who are more than happy to welcome those who come to discover all the island has to offer.

While Cuba is legendary for cigars and exotic cocktails, it is so much more to offer visitors. The azure waters of the Caribbean Sea lap upon the sandy white beaches and provide the perfect opportunity for rest and relaxation, while towns, such as Old Havana, offer a glimpse into the country’s history complete with colonial architecture, vivid paint colors, cobblestone pathways, and gorgeous gardens offer.

If you prefer nature at its best, you will never get tired of the breathtaking waterfalls, lush foliage, picturesque countryside, and complex cave systems. Travelers are also likely to get caught up in the exciting atmosphere that is often filled with pulsating music and music, as well as delicious foods that provide an up close look at what it means to be Latino. If you are planning a visit, the following are the best places to see in Cuba.

Havana and Trinidad

We start our photo gallery tour in Havana and Trinidad, the two most famous cities in Cuba. Both cities have numerous landmark buildings in the beautiful Old Spanish architecture traditions. While Havana is decidedly more urban, Trinidad has a vibrant old world feel unlike any other city in the Caribbean.

1. El Morro Fortress

El Morro Castle, Havana Harbor

Built in 1638, El Morro Fortress served as a stage for various defensive battles and operated as a prison for high ranking civilians and military personnel. Today, it allows visitors to take a step back in time to view original ramparts, cannons, and barracks. A Museum is also located within the Fortress. It also offers the perfect location for taking panoramic views of Havana.

2. The Malecón, Havana

The Malecón, Havana

Ideal for a sunset stroll, the Malecón is a five mile stretch along the Havana coastline. Waves crash against the seawall, while musicians and dancers captivate their audiences on land, creating spectacular photo opportunities. A favorite area of locals, it provides an inside look at locals enjoying life. Image Credit

3. La Habana Vieja

La Habana Vieja

Completed in 1777 and built primarily from coral rock found on the ocean floor, La Habena Vieja is considered to be one of the best examples of Baroque architecture in Cuba. Within the Cathedral of the Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception, there are a number of exquisite frescoes and paintings. Image Credit

4. Plaza Mayor, Trinidad

Plaza Mayor, Trinidad

This well preserved square is complete with gorgeous historic buildings, blooming gardens, and cobbled streets. Elegantly adorned with wrought iron posts, pottery, intricate white fences, and vibrant colors, it is a gorgeous area that comes alive in the evening with locals singing, dancing, and playing instruments. Image Credit

5. Bell Tower at the Convento de San Francisco

A distinctive landmark known for its yellow and green bell tower and its beautiful views of the city, this structure has served as a convent, church, and jail. Today, it includes a museum devoted to displaying Cuba’s revolutionary history with intriguing exhibits.

Ecotours of Cuba

Cuba has an extremely rich natural complexion. It is home to half a dozen UNESCO World Heritage Biospheres, and a rich diversity in in plant and animal species. Hook up with any number of ecotour providers in country for a guided tour inside these natural wonders.

6. El Nicho Waterfalls, Trinidad

El Nicho waterfall in Cuba

Surrounded by lush foliage, the three waterfalls are a hidden gem. Swimming in the crystal clear natural pools is the perfect way to relax and refresh after the short hike. Guided tours are available that offer information on the plants and wildlife that make this their home.

7. Viñales Valley

Panoramic view of the Vinales Valley in Cuba

Named a World Heritage Site, the Viñales Valley provides striking views of the amazing countryside, including mogotes, rocky outcrops, cliffs, and tobacco fields, in a welcoming, yet serene environment. It is a great place to get a traditional Cuban meal and get an inside look at what life is like in Cuba.

8. Viñales National Park

Viňales National Park Cuba

An area rich in natural resources, visitors can explore caves, visit a coffee and tobacco plantation, and check out the beautiful scenery. Guided tours are available.

9. Cueva Ambrosio, Varadero

Ambrosio cave at Cuba

A complex cave system, guided tours are available through Ambrosio Cave, one of the Caribbean’s most beautiful underground formations. Be aware that it is home to numerous bats that you can get an up close and personal look at. One of the most impressive aspects of the cave is the ancient hieroglyphics, some of which are believed to be more than 2,500 years old.

10. Salto Vega Grande

Salto Vega Grande

Located along the side of the Escambray Mountains, Salto Vega Grade reaches heights of 3,000 feet. The gorgeous waterfall flows into a sparkling freshwater pool that is the perfect place to cool off after examining the numerous caves and grottoes located along the hiking path. Image Credit

11. Salto del Caburní

Salto del Caburní

Although it requires an almost 2 mile hike that takes you through an area filled with traditional casas and coffee plantations, the beautiful waterfalls are worth it. The water rushes more than 200 feet down into a series of ponds that are perfect for an afternoon swim. Image Credit

12. La Gran Piedro, Santiago

La Gran Piedro, Santiago

Rising more than 6500 feet, La Gran Piedra offers outstanding views of the interior mountains and the coastline. Atop the rock is a gorgeous botanical garden that provides the perfect backdrop for photos. Image Credit

13. Santo Tomas Cave, Vinales

Santo Tomas Cave, Vinales

Part of the largest cave system in Latin America, visiting Santos Tomas Vinales offers an amazing opportunity to explore. Breathtaking scenes, a glittering cavern, stalagmites, and bats can be found within the cave’s wall. The cave includes a lagoon that is used to provide boat rides back to the exterior. Image Credit

14. Gran Parque Nacional Sierra Maestra, Granma

Gran Parque Nacional Sierra Maestra, Granma

Located at the heart of the Sierra Maestra mountain range, Gran Parque Nacional contains Cuba’s highest peak, Pico Turquino, which provides majestic views of the forest, mounts, rivers, and valleys below. Look for the wide variety of flora and wildlife that call this area home, as well as the numerous historical sites. Image Credit

15. Cueva del Indio, Pinar del Rio

Cueva del Indio, Pinar del Rio

Used by the Guanajatabey Indians as homes, you can enjoy the sites by taking a boat ride along Cueva del Indio’s underground river. After ending your journey, be sure to stop by the various shops located nearby for a souvenir. Image Credit

16. Cueva de los Portales, Pinar del Rio

Cueva de los Portales, Pinar del Rio

 

This complex of caves and caverns reaches heights up to 100 feet, and has formations of stalactites and stalagmites. You can study the geologic history of the caverns inside the on site museum. Image Credit

17. Cuevas de Bellamar, Varadero

Cuevas de Bellamar, Varadero

 

Hidden deep underground, Cuevas de Bellamar is filledwith astounding stalagmites and stalagites, as well as mesmerizing crystalline formations and a network of streams and rivers. Thought to have been formed more than 300,000 years ago, the cave system extends more than 2 miles. Image Credit

18. Sierra del Escambray, Guanayara National Park

Sierra del Escambray, Guanayara National Park

Providing the perfect chance to hike and enjoy the beautiful countryside, Sierra del Escambray offers outstanding views, a gorgeous waterfall, and the opportunity to swim in the exhilaratingly cold pools that collect below the waterfalls. Image Credit

19. Hanabanilla Lake, Villa Clara

Hanabanilla Lake, Villa Clara

Considered by many to be one of the world’s most beautiful lakes, Lake Hanabanilla has developed a reputation as one of the best places to catch a trophy largemouth bass. Shaded by the numerous trees and hills that flank it, many visitors enjoy heading out on the lake in a rowboat to enjoy the gentle breezes. Image Credit

20. Topes de Collantes, Trinidad

Topes de Collantes, Trinidad

The third highest peak in the Escambray Mountain range, Topes de Collantes has the feel of a tropical rainforest and is home to canyons, falls, grottos, and natural pools filled with crystal clear water. The area includes a wide array of flowers, including 40 species of orchids, as well as massive trees, and 40 species of coffee. Image Credit

Seashores & Beaches

As the largest island in the Caribbean, it’s only natural that Cuba is home to dozens of white sand beaches. Some, like Guardalavaca, are heavily used by resorts, while others will take some work to find. The reward is enjoying an unspoiled beach free of the resort crowds.

21. Playa Esmeralda, Holguin

Playa Esmeralda

Named for the emerald green water that laps along the gorgeous white sands, Playa Esmeralda almost always has a gentle breeze to keep sunbathers cool. Due to the wide variety of coral and sea life that is mere meters from shore, it is the perfect place to go snorkeling.

22. Cayo Coco, Jardines del Ray

Cayo Coco Jardines del Ray

Located on the Atlantic coast part of the island, these tiny islands are referred to as “the Cuban keys”. The white sandy beaches and turquoise sand provide the perfect backdrop for a number of water sports including sailing, snorkeling, and windsurfing.

23. Paradise Beach, Cayo Jutias

Paradise Beach at Cayo Jutías Cuba

On the northern coast, Paradise Beach is a favorite of locals and is rarely crowded. After lounging in the shaded sun beds on the gorgeous beach and playing in the azure water, you can head to the small restaurant on the beach for delicious fresh fish and seafood.

24. Scuba Diving, Cayo Largo

Coral and Scuba Diving in Cayo Largo Cuba

Considered by Cubans to be an island paradise, Cayo Largo is known for its easy going and friendly atmosphere. Don’t be shocked by the “click, click” sound you will hear…it’s just the numerous crabs that call this island home. It is also the perfect place to go scuba diving if you are interested in seeing a variety of beautiful corals and fish.

25. Scuba Diving, Peninsula de Zapata

Coral Moray Eel Scuba Diving

With minimal coral damage or pollution, the diving water off the coast of Cuba is known for its pristine condition. It is a great place to catch moray eels peeking out of their caves, as well as a wide array of colorful fish, and the occasional octopus or squid.

26. Playa Guardalavaca, Holguin

 

Playa Guardalavaca, Holguin

Cleaned daily, Playa Guardalavaca is a stunningly gorgeous place to relax with numerous trees providing shade. Although the sapphire water is shallow, the conditions are perfect for snorkeling around 50/ 100m off shore. Image Credit

27. Play Rancho Luna, Cienfuegos

Cuba - Caribbean beach Playa Rancho Luna in Cienfuegos.

One of the smaller beaches in Cuba, Playa Rancho Luna is favored by locals and tourists. Shallow water and slow moving undercurrents make it ideal for children. Plenty of trees provide a great place to relax in the shade.

28. Playa Blanca, Holguin

Playa Rancho Luna Cienfuegos

Located in the center of Lanzarote, Playa Blanca is a quiet beach that has lifeguards on duty, as well as a number of cafes and bars that are perfect for a quick snack or meal. The beach is a unique mixture of sand and rocks, but the water is absolutely beautiful.

Historical Cuban Sites

The cities of Cuba are really unlike most cities of the Caribbean, packed with old world historical sites, and void of much of the corporate presence and ubiquitous advertisements modern people have become used to. The historical sites showcase everything from centuries old Spanish architecture, to turn of the century hotels and resorts.

29. Finca Vigia – Ernest Hemingway’s Hideaway

Finca Vigia - Ernest Hemingway’s Hideaway

Although you cannot go in the home, you can walk the grounds where Hemingway wrote some of his masterpieces, such as The Old Man and the Sea. Large windows give you a peek at what life was like in Hemingway’s day and you can also stroll the beautiful gardens and pool area, as well as see his boat. Image Credit

30. Marina Hemingway, Havana

Marina Hemingway, Havana

The largest marina in Cuba, Marina Hemingway is named after the famous author. You can see the amazing yachts, as well as go swimming, hit the water slides, and eat a great meal. Marina Hemingway is also host to one of the largest annual fishing tournaments in the Caribbean. Image Credit

31. Hotel Nacional, Havana

Hotel Nacional, Havana

Flanked by 75’ palm trees, the Hotel Nacional takes you back to the 1930’s when Cuba was in its heyday. A Cuban icon, the hotel is the perfect example of Art Deco architecture and is known for its refined elegance. Image Credit

32. Capitolio Nacional, Havana

Capitolio Nacional, Havana

A monument to pre-revolutionary Cuban history, Capitolio Nacional is a grandiose building that dominates the Havana skyline. Perfectly landscaped gardens flank the building, while inside is a true work of art complete with gilded lamps and inlaid marble floors. Image Credit

33. Grand Theater, Havana

Grand Theater, Havana

Considered to have one of the riches exteriors of any Havana building, the Grand Theater features turrets embellished with statues of Muses and angels, as well as intricate spiral scrolls. Inside the magnificent stage is often the site of musicals and performances by the Cuban National Ballet Company. Image Credit

34. Club Cienfuegos, Cienfuegos

Club Cienfuegos, Cienfuegos

Although it was once a private club for the ultra wealthy, Club Cienfuegos is currently a yacht club where multimillion dollar yachts are frequently docked. Inside the gorgeous building there is a great restaurant, while just outside is a large swimming pool. Image Credit

35. Che Guevara Mausoleum, Santa Clara

Che Guevara Mausoleum, Santa Clara

Dedicated to the memory of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, an iconic political activist, the Mausoleum houses his remains and is part of a series of monuments that includes an 82 foot statue of Che himself. A museum detailing his life is also on site. Image Credit

36. Manaca Iznaga Estate, Trinidad

Manaca Iznaga Estate, Trinidad

Constructed in 1750, this estate transports you back to a time when slaves worked in the sugarcane fields. In addition to viewing the owner’s house and the original slave quarters, you can climb to the top of Iznaga Tower. Once used as a watchtower to ensure slaves were working, it now provides amazing views of the beautiful vistas below. Image Credit

37. Valley of the Sugar Mills, Trinidad

Valley of the Sugar Mills, Trinidad

Located over 100 square miles, Valley of the Sugar Mills was once home to more than 70 sugar mills. Today, a number of the original plantations and factories are still standing and open for tours. This region was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998. Image Credit

38. Jagua Fortress on Carribean Strait, Cienfuegos

Jagua Fortress on Carribean Strait

Declared a National Monument, Jagua Fortress was built in 1740 to defend against pirate attacks. Today, it operates as a museum, restaurant, and lounge. It is preserves the remains of chapel and former prison. Legend has it that fortress is home to “The Blue Lady”, an elegantly dressed woman who often appears in the chapel.

39. San Pedro de la Roca Castle, Santiago de Cuba

San Pedro de la Roca Castle, Santiago de Cuba

An elaborate complex of forts, bastions, batteries, and magazines, Santiago de Cuba is a well preserved example of Spanish-American military architecture. This stone fortress was constructed in 1637 and has been designated as a UNESCO Heritage Site. In an addition to providing a great look at Cuban history, it also offers mesmerizing views of the sea below. Image Credit

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