Cuba might be immortalised in high-speed films and books, but the only way to truly soak up all its glory is to head off on holiday to Cuba and see it for yourself. The colours and sounds are other-worldly, from the busy streets of Havana to the rum-filled nights and white-sand beaches of the Cayo islands. And there’s a lifetime’s worth of activities to get you in the thick of it all on your Cuba holidays. Here are some of our top picks.
Snorkel in Cayo Santa Maria
Believe it or not, the second largest barrier reef in the world lies just off the coast of Cayo Santa Maria, a town within Cuba’s beautiful Jardines del Rey archipelago. Join a diving trip that takes you out to this protected patch of sea, where you can pull on a suit and head below the surface for an underwater universe like no other. Prepare to be amazed, as you find yourself amid swarms of colourful fish, turtles and pillows of coral.
Banje Beach, Dubrovnik
Banje Beach is Dubrovnik’s biggie, nestled just underneath the Old Town’s ancient walls. It’s incredibly popular, not least because of its easy accessibility. There are lounge chairs and umbrellas for lazing, a beach bar for nibbles that quickly becomes a nightclub come sundown, and watersport options like jet-skis and pedalos for exploring the outer walls by sea.
Marvel at vibrant Havana
Visiting Cuba often feels like stepping back in time, especially in Havana. Communist leader Fidel Castro’s reign left the town in a bit of a time warp, but it’s that dated feel that gives Havana its flair and colour. The streets are paved with Spanish colonial architecture and classic cars frequently drive past. The avenues here are so alive, even casual strolls become an activity of their own.
The Plaza de la Catedral is lined with al fresco dining spots in the shadow of the Baroque-style Havana Cathedral, whose garish towers date back to the 18th century. While in Havana, you can’t miss the Gran Teatro de la Habana, a stunning theatre that’ll stop you in your tracks. While Fusterlandia is a little less grand, but equally as impressive. It’s basically a town-sized work of art, featuring sculptures, archways and walls covered in mosaics.
High-five a dolphin at the Delfinario en Cayo Santa Maria
Cayo Santa Maria’s dolphinarium is the largest in Latin America, and your best shot at swimming alongside Flipper himself, or one of his descendants, at least. Here, you can catch live dolphin and sea lion shows, grab a bite to eat and swim with your new finned friends.
Embark on a Hemingway-themed crawl
Ernest Hemingway set his 1970 novel ‘Islands in the Stream’ partially in Cayo Guillermo, and when you set sights on these gorgeous shores, you’ll instantly understand why. Hemingway fell head over heels for Cuba, so much so that he made it his home.
Hemingway’s house in Havana has since been converted into a museum, known as the Museo Hemingway Finca Vigia. It’s still being renovated, but is otherwise open for visitors to see the modest rooms where the celebrated writer wrote two of his most famous works – ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ and ‘The Old Man and the Sea’.
Go for a dip in the Saturno Cave
Hidden away in Varadero is the Saturno Cave – a pocket of fresh water, or cenote, surrounded by craggy stalactites and stalagmites. Organised daytrips can get you here, although you’re also welcome to venture in on your own for a swim. The water is an electric blue and yet somehow crystal clear, so you’ll have unimpeded views of the fish and blind shrimp that are sharing the water with you.
Wander through the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes
Havana’s Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, or the National Museum of Fine Art, is where you’ll find a staggering collection of art in the Asturian Center, an equally-impressive building. The art here ranges from 500 BCE artefacts to a painting by Thomas Gainsborough, among some more contemporary works.
On top of this, two blocks away is the museum’s sister-branch, Arte Cubano, which focuses solely on Cuban art. Here you’ll find everything from Cuban pop art to cartoons and 19th-century life paintings.
The Yumuri Valley & Vinales Valley
The Yumuri Valley is one giant swathe of leafy green, noted for the fact that it’s so undeveloped as far as tourism goes. It’s a top notch example of how Cubans in this part live, speckled with farms and even fewer villages.
You’ll most likely have to join a guided tour to navigate these parts, but that just adds to the fun. The jungle-like terrain is best explored on a rugged 4×4 tour.
Cuba’s Vinales Valley is the place to go if you want to see this Caribbean country in action. We mean agricultural action of course, owing to the fact that the Vinales Valley is a vast, fertile landscape surrounded by mountains and clad with farms, especially those cultivating tobacco.
It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site for the ways in which it highlights the Caribbean’s cultural development, and, coupled with the villages scattered throughout, shows just how this rural landscape gets by.