For anyone hesitant to plan a visit to Cuba, don’t be! Traveling to Cuba is still possible, with maybe a few more travel restrictions nowadays, but still completely doable, and safe. Read on for highlights from my trip and all the things to do in Cuba!
For information on obtaining a Cuban Visa, booking flights to Cuba, tours when you get there and how to choose people to people for your reason for your visit, check out all the details in Travel to Cuba.
Cuban Architecture And Vibe
My favorite thing to do in Cuba was to check out the buildings and colonial architecture. Every structure you see in Havana was built in the 1950’s or earlier. No new buildings have been erected since the Cuban revolution (as per our tour guide). It’s interesting to see; even now all the construction work that is occurring is for restoration purposes only.
We stayed in Old Havana at a casa particular, something I highly recommend, so we were in the middle of some great architecture, including Unesco world heritage sites. We did a walking tour, which gave us a great sense of how the city is spread out and set up. Overall the vibe in Old Havana is very upbeat, with city squares interspersed throughout the city and live music and sometimes people dancing on the street; however, it is an island nation that is not wealthy. Therefore, you will see signs of that struggle. That being said we never felt unsafe.
There are more modern cars in Cuba from other countries, however, all American imports to Cuba stopped after the 1950’s. The convertibles, the classic Fords, and Chevrolets are amazing to see and a fun thing to do in Cuba is to rent one out for a few hours, or a whole day, to ride. Just beware the diesel fumes.
In regards to getting around, other sources of transport include the Cuban rickshaw, call the bici taxi, and a motorized rickshaw called the Coco (basically shaped like an open coconut)
From private studios, to street murals, to ceramic galleries, to the Cuban version of Spain’s Gaudi, Cuba offers it all. The talent there is just waiting to be discovered. I think that visiting the art galleries was one of the coolest things to do in Cuba and I highly recommend that you add this to your to-do list on your trip.
Everyone knows that when you travel you must try the local cuisine, and it’s a thing to do in Cuba as well; however, be aware that while the cuisine is pretty basic, with rice, beans, and some seafood mixed in, there are certain restaurants have been around for decades. Those are the places you want to make sure you visit in order to get a feel for local flavor and culture.
If rice and beans don’t suit you, or you think you’ll be stuck without more options, not to worry. Cuba does offer other options. I can personally vouch for the pizza if you’re looking to go Italian. There are also plenty of restaurants that offer American style fare, including steaks, fish, and chicken dishes…all with a side of rice and beans of course.
The desserts are amazing.
Varadero beach is probably the most well-known beach to visit for tourists and a fan favorite thing to do in Cuba to get away from the city. The cool green Caribbean coastline is lined with all-inclusive resorts and white sand beaches. We decided to do a day trip only. The beaches are free for everyone, so you do not need to stay at a resort in order to access a spot on the sand. However, be sure to bring your own towels, as, without the all-inclusive access stay from the resort, you will not be able to use their towels or beach chairs.
Other Cultural Things to do in Cuba
This is one of the best things to do in Cuba. They are known around the world for their cigars and cigar making. The most famous brand out of there is the Cohiba. There are stores selling cigars that allow you to also order up some scotch and try your hand at being a real Cuban. Definitely give it a shot and see what you think!
Cuban culture is steeped in art; there is a subculture of dance, entertainment and music in Cuba that is very well developed. Another favorite activity of mine, and in my opinion one of the top things you should add to your to-do list, was to attend a dance show that played at their local theater. Think Broadway meets Lincoln Center in NYC. There were different genres and styles all in one show. It was terrific and not that expensive.
Have a Drink at Hotel Nacional de Cuba
This is another must thing to do in Cuba. Hotel Nacional is famous there and has housed many American actors and elites. The location of the hotel is also great, situated with views of the water. You can easily go and have a drink at their outdoor seating area/bar and see the sunset!
Ride in a 1950’s American Car
A trip to Cuba wouldn’t be complete without hopping into one of these vintage cars. These are literally everywhere and a very popular thing to do in Cuba. Be sure to bargain your rate. You also have the option of having a convertible or closed top car. They are also really good about taking all the pictures you want, including some in the driver’s seat.
Check out Hemingway’s house
One of Cuba’s claim to fame is that Hemingway lived there and thought up so many of his stories while living there. A cool thing to do in Cuba is to include a tour of his home. You’ll also get to see the surrounding grounds and at the end of it, you’ll be dropped of at his favorite restaurant in Havana, El Floridita!
Visit the Rooftop Bars
Havana has a lot of options for going out and experiencing the city; again, there’s the rooftop that Hemingway used to frequent, at the top of Hotel Ambos Mundos. It’s a great place to catch views of the entire city.
In true Caribbean fashion, most of the cocktails that they are famous for are rum-based, however, they do have options for those less inclined to drink rum.
Have a Night Out
Nightlife does exist in Havana and it’s really interesting and fun to experience. It’s definitely a unique thing to do in Cuba. The best way to go about this is to ask around and see what the locals recommend and speak with your tour guide. There are different neighborhoods throughout Havana that are known for different things. They are your best resource for figuring out what works for your plans.
In Summary: Go to Cuba
A Cuba trip is a bucket list item that is doable with proper preparation and planning. Despite being a small Caribbean island, there is plenty to see and do to keep you busy, both in Havana, Cuba and outside of the city. The Cuban people are very well educated and easy to converse and get along with. I learned so much from my tour operator and was extremely satisfied with everything she recommended that we did!