19 must places to visit in Cuba in 2023 (1of 4)
HAVANA, Feb. 18th Cuba is truly a unique destination. The largest of the Caribbean Islands, Cuba will charm you with its charismatic vibe influenced by four centuries of African, Caribbean, and Spanish cultures. Everywhere you look there are reminders of its past integrated with the present. To help you immerse in Cuban culture, we’re going to share the best places to visit in Cuba to experience an authentic and unforgettable vacation.
Cuba transgresses the boundaries of time, spanning six decades simultaneously. In Old, Havana takes in the mid-century ambiance of the UNESCO World Heritage Site combined with its Spanish colonial architecture. Hail a classic American car, and whisk along the Malecon with hair flowing in the wind.
Outside the city, there is a bounty of natural beauty to explore with thousands of miles of Caribbean coastline shielding glimmering coral reefs in tranquil turquoise waters.
If you arrive with an open mind, you will feel the new winds of Cuba whispering between the tones of salsa, reggaeton, and mesmerizing Santeria tambores calling on the saints to descend in celebration.
Here are the 18 best places to see when visiting Cuba that you’ll never forget.
1. Visit Mesmerizing Havana
Of all the unique places to visit in Cuba, the famous capital Havana should be on top of your list! Often travelers either instantly fall in love with Havana or don’t get it at all.
But if you give it time and wander its cobbled streets soaking in Cuban life and the different architectural styles from the old town to the central business district you’ll be captivated. We recommend at least a day in Havana, but if you can do three days, you’ll really be able to see it all.
There are so many unique things to do in Havana, which is a city filled with music, art, culture, and delicious foods as well as Cuban history, museums, landmarks, noise, and rubble. Many must-see destinations are also within day trip distance from Havana.
The first thing I recommend is that you take a classic American car tour around the city, and take in the contrasts. This is a super way of getting an overview of greater Havana and experiencing firsthand the different ambiances of the city districts.
The second is to do a guided walking tour of the historic Old Havana (La Habana Vieja). Learn about the rich historical details of colonial Havana, revolutionary Havana, and Che Guevera. Make sure you visit the Plaza de la Catedral, Bodeguita del Medio (where Hemingway hung out), and the Castillo de la Real Fuerza.
My third recommendation is to book a table for dinner at Paladar San Cristobal (where Obama had dinner) or the rooftop terrace at fantastic La Guarida, both in Central Havana.
Ask for a chambre separé in San Cristobal if you are a group, it will be an amazing evening. At La Guarida, stroll over to the other end of the restaurant after dinner for a nightcap at the amazing rooftop bar with stunning night views of Havana.
Vibrating in the contrast between the stunning and decaying, the new, the vintage, and the ancient, Havana’s unique atmosphere is created by decades of solitude, a proud national feeling, and a fading romantic idea about the revolution.
With its Spanish colonial architecture and the fierce Malecon boardwalk, a visit Havana is an incredible experience if you keep your eyes and heart open. Explore the centuries-old streets, peek beyond the facade, let the city tell you its history, and take in the ambiance of Cuba’s capital.
Where to Stay in Havana
Planning on staying in Havana? The Iberostar Grand Packard or Kempisky Manzana are Havana’s most luxurious hotels with the best sunset views in the city. Have a cocktail on the 6th-floor bar overlooking the infinity swimming pool and the Malecon.
2. Feel Authentic Cuba In Guanabo Town
Located just half an hour’s drive east of Havana along the coastline, Guanabo is a typical Cuban small town. It is not free of tourists, but it is a destination much less traveled than Havana or Varadero. There is a myriad of bars and small restaurants with random self-appointed DJs along the main street of Guanabo.
Stop for a mojito in one of the roadside bars, and buy a typical Cuban lunch in the park next to La Esquina de Los Caballitos (bring cash) along with the rest of the locals.
Then head for Guanabo Beach, where on the weekend each cluster of sunbeds houses a family with their subwoofer playing either reggaeton or salsa while sharing a bottle of rum with everyone!
Take a day trip to Guanabo, or opt for staying here for a night or two if you want a more authentic Cuban experience than partly polished Old Havana. You will find casa particulares for rent in Guanabo across the spectrum from simple standard to luxury, while experiencing a truer vibe of what Cuba 2023 is like, including the nightlife!
3. Basque In Turquoise Waters At Playas Del Este
Playas del Este is a chain of small beaches lying like beads on a chain spread out to the east of Havana city. Lots of Cubans come to Playas del Este to enjoy the sand and sea, especially during the weekends.
The closest beach to Havana is the small bay of Playa Bacuranao, while the most beautiful one according to lots of travelers, is Playa Santa Maria del Mar.
On the latter, you can expect lots of life and hustle and bustle, especially on the weekends, from kiosks selling everything from traditional chicken with rice, rum, and ice cream while playing music at the nightclub level.
Guanabo town is within walking distance of the eastern beach of Playa Boca Ciega, as well as Playa Guanabo. Playas del Este are the best beaches to visit on a day trip from Havana. You can take the bus from Parque Central, hail a private taxi to tend to you all day, or even book a beach trip as an organized tour online.
4. All-Inclusive Heaven In Varadero
In 2019, Varadero Beach was voted forward as the second most beautiful beach in the world on TripAdvisor. For anyone longing for a true Caribbean holiday with crispy white sand and blue oceans, resorts, and pools, this is one of the top places to visit in Cuba.
The sandy string of beaches follows along the entire coastline of the narrow Hicacos Peninsula stretching into the sea off Cubas’s northern coast.
The peninsula is mainly the home of numerous large pampering all-inclusive resorts filled with swimming pools, restaurants, and spas along the coastline, only steps from the white sands and the sea.
There is a small town center where you find restaurants, an artisan market, a variety of shops that you can enjoy, and even a mall built in the 90s, weirdly named Plaza America.
Varadero is perfect for a Caribbean getaway with swimming, snorkeling, boat trips, scuba diving, or simply soaking up some sunshine, and there is a golf course with spectacular proximity to the Caribbean surf.
You can also go exploring nearby caves, visit the Botanical Garden, a natural reserve, or venture out deep sea fishing!
Just know that if you stay in a Varadero resort for your entire vacation, you have not really visited Cuba, as the real Cuba is very different. So it is really great that Varadero is within tour distance to other destinations in Cuba, like Vinales, Havana, Trinidad, and Cienfuegos. Check it out.