Havana is the way to go for those of us with minimal and quickly depleting vacation time. However, if you’re blessed to have the time to explore Cuba in depth, then you’ll want to get away from Havana and see some other cities. But where do you go? We’re here to help! We spoke with Havana resident and part-time tour guide, Yadiel Sánchez, and asked for his TOP 5 trip worthy jaunts outside of Havana. So take some notes and get to planning.
1. Viñales Valley
Three hours from Havana the UNESCO World Heritage site, Viñales Valley, sits waiting for ecotourists and historians alike. Cuban farmers have been planting and harvesting some of the best tobacco in the world for over 200 years in this area, making it ripe for some serious cigar education. Tabacco tours, bicycling, sunbathing on virgin beaches, and horseback riding are some of the common activities you can partake in while visiting Viñales. However, the caves are not to be missed either. The caves, along with the valley, were home to the Maroons and due to the accumulated history in the area, the Viñales Valley is now also a part of UNESCO’s Slave Route.
2. Las Terrazas
Las Terrazas, like Viñales Valley, is another eco-tourism hot zone one hour from Havana. It’s a UNESCO biosphere reserve known for its abundant greenery. Birdwatching, hiking, and biking are definitely must here. However, for those looking for a bit more excitement, their canopy tours and zip lining routes are considered some of the best in Cuba too.
3. Santiago de Cuba
Home to the Bacardi brand, Santiago de Cuba is the second largest city in Cuba and has been called the “Capital of the Caribbean.” The province is, not only, the cradle of the traditional Cuban Music, “El Son,” but it hosts the best Carnival in Cuba (celebrated from July 20 till July 27). Santiago de Cuba is also known for having the largest Afro-Cuban population on the island. As such, many of the residents still practice Afro-Cuban religions and the city is ripe for santería gatherings. Santiago de Cuba is also where San Pedro de la Roca, a local citadel, is located. This citadel is on the UNESCO World Heritage List as “the most complete, best-preserved example of Spanish-American military architecture, based on Italian and Renaissance design principles.” So if you’re into art, architecture, music, and culture then Santiago de Cuba is for you.
A five-hour drive from Havana and you will find a colonial village with beautiful beaches, waterfalls and amazing nightlife! Now, the water features are nice, but let’s be honest…most people go for the club. If you haven’t heard about Disco Ayala (the rave in a cave) yet, then you aren’t looking to party on an international scale. With cabaret acts, five dancefloors, and three different bars, the club hosts nearly 4,000 people every single night until 3am and did we mention that it’s underground in a retrofitted cave. Beyond epic!
5. San Severino Castle
Located in the Matanzas province, only two hours away from Havana, San Severino Castle is also part of UNESCO’s Slave Route. The castle houses the first Slave Route Museum or “Museo de la Ruta del Esclavo” in the Americas which opened in June of 2009. Though the museum is enough to get you out there, the view over Matanzas Bay, Varadero beach, and Saturno Cave with its clear, deep, and swimmable water should also entice those looking for an amazing well rounded day trip.
All in all, you’ll have an amazing time in Cuba no matter where you are. But if you can get out of Havana for a day or two, then make use of your time wisely. We truly hope this list helps with your planning.