journey beyond the map
Just in case you don`t know a lot about Cuba, I need to tell you upfront that to discover Cuba, the best destinations may not be the steaming Havana nights or the chillaxing Varadero all-inclusive beach resorts (although that is awesome)
Glittering waves and sand between your toes are fabulous of course – just don`t miss out on all the other places to visit in Cuba while you are there.
Below is an introduction to all the gorgeous destinations in Cuba you absolutely should not miss when you visit, what is special about them, and what they can give you.
You will also find links to more information on each one, so you can easily find out everything you need to plan the dream vaycay to your dream destination!
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Interesting Facts About Cuba
To put you in the right place on the map first and foremost, Cuba is an island nation in the Caribbean Sea south and east of the US and Miami, only 106 miles away from Key West.
Other close neighbors in the region are Mexico, Haiti, Jamaica, and the Bahamas as well as the Cayman Islands and the Dominican Republic.
The island of Cuba is actually an archipelago consisting of more than 4000 islands in total, which may be a surprise to some.
It consists of the big main island, the Isla de la Juventud island (Isle of Youth), and many smaller islands referred to as the Keys (Los Cayos).
In June 2022 I published my first travel guide e-book about Cuba, after living in Havana for one and a half years.
My goal is to provide you with as much helpful information as possible. You will find all about the different destinations and sights, but also a lot of information no one tells you about – that you really need to know before visiting Cuba!
As an Amazon affiliate, I earn from qualifying sales, including my own products.
The whole population is around eleven million, and the island has a warm and humid Caribbean climate all year typical for the region. Which probably is one of the reasons you want to go!
Read more in-depth about Cuba, or keep going here to learn about all the best Cuba destinations you want to visit.
You probably have to prioritize, which is why I have made these handy quick destination profiles so you can find the ones you will love the most!
Facts About The Magic Havana
Havana, or La Habana in Spanish, is the mythical capital of Cuba, the largest city in the country. It is known across the world as beautiful, colorful, vibrant, and for a few decades, very closed.
You can read more about Havana in this comprehensive article about the city.
The city of Havana is situated on the North-Western part of the Cuban main island just on the coastline where you almost can see the USA and Florida. About 2.2 million people live in Havana, which also makes it the largest city in the Caribbean!
The city was founded by the Spanish about 500 years ago in the 16th century when Christopher Columbus discovered the island. Because of its strategic location, it became an important port for the Spanish Empire all those years ago for trade and business.
The colonial-style architecture and particular buildings give the city an impressive and beautiful ambiance.
Contemporary Havana is divided into city districts, the most important to know for you as a visitor are Old Havana, Central Havana, Vedado, Miramar, and Habana del Este.
The original part of the city, Old Havana, is a small semi-circled area to the east of the city close to Havana bay. It consists of old colonial buildings, for the most part, divided by narrow cobblestone streets and little parks and places.
Also read: All Articles About Havana Travel
Facts About Varadero Cuba
Varadero also referred to as Playa Azul, is one of the most popular holiday locations in Cuba. Especially for those who like sand, surf, sea, and stunning all-inclusive resorts.
Varadero is actually a long and super slim peninsula of white sand stretching out into the Caribbean sea, situated along the Northern coast of Cuba about a two hours drive east of Havana.
All along with the narrow piece of land, there are crystal clear waters, white beaches, palms, snorkeling, diving, and even a golf course where you can test your handicap (if you are into golf).
Varadero is a resort town, or area, in the province of Matanzas and is one of the largest resort areas in the Caribbean.
One interesting fact about Varadero is that Al Capone himself built a holiday house here at one point, on the narrow tung of the land of a peninsula.
Also read: All Articles About Varadero Travel
Facts about Trinidad
Trinidad is situated on the southern coast of Cuba, a little East of Havana. The city is super famous for its colonial old town, low rows of houses like jewelry, and wobbly cobblestone streets.
Its main square in the so-called neo-baroque style (an architectural style of the late 19th century), Plaza Mayor, is surrounded by grand colonial buildings.
Trinidad is simply a gem of a city that is on the UNESCO World Heritage list of places that needs to be protected.
According to Lonely Planet, “Trinidad is one of a kind, a perfectly preserved Spanish colonial settlement where the clocks stopped in 1850 and – apart from a zombie invasion of tourists – have yet to restart”.
Huge sugar fortunes amassed in the nearby Valle de Los Ingenios during the early 19th century created the illustrious colonial-style mansions bedecked with Italian frescoes, Wedgwood china, and French chandeliers.
Not to mention the beautiful Ancon Beach only a short drive away from Trinidad City.
And to sugar the cake, if you like a little clubbing, Trinidad has a nightclub called La Cueva (Disco Ayala) that is built into a huge natural cave deep into the mountain just outside of the city center! It opens at 11 pm, CC is $5 including a drink, and the ambiance is absolutely unique.
Also read: All Articles About Trinidad Travel
Facts About Vinales Valley In Cuba
Having had the pleasure of visiting Vinales valley in Cuba, I can safely recommend you take a weekend here if you can. The unique features and beauty of this agricultural landscape are amazing!
The fields and valleys are so green, the animals brimming with color and energy. Plantations of tobacco and sugar (and rum distillation) are providing quite well for the communities here, and some private trade has been allowed the recent years.
I recommend taking the time to visit the Vinales Valley in Cuba when you travel here, and take a horseback riding day if you dare (the horses are very gentle)!
Go visit the tobacco farms, and taste the locally brewed rum – and of course, buy handmade cigars to bring home with you. Or take a trip inside the Cueva del Indio, the Cave of the Indian, a stunning tour!
Below is what Unesco has to say about why Vinales is on their list!
Views of Vinales Valley
“The Viñales valley is encircled by mountains and its landscape is interspersed with dramatic rocky outcrops. Traditional techniques are still in use for agricultural production, particularly of tobacco.
The quality of this cultural landscape is enhanced by the vernacular architecture of its farms and villages, where a rich multi-ethnic society survives, illustrating the cultural development of the islands of the Caribbean, and of Cuba”.
Also read: All Articles About Viñales Valley
Facts About Cienfuegos Cuba
One fun fact about Cienfuegos is that its name literally translates to “one hundred fires” (cien means one hundred, and fuegos means fires). The city has its name from a guy called José Cienfuegos, who was the Captain-General of Cuba from 1816 to 19.
Cienfuegos is also known to be called the “Pearl of the South of Cuba”, its architecture and style are a mix of the Caribbean culture and 19th Century France.
The architecture of Cienfuegos is inspired by the nationality of its founder; a French immigrant named Luous D`Clouet.
Cienfuegos is situated on the shores of a large sea pool on the southern coast, right on Cuba’s largest natural bay. It is full of classical facade houses, preserving one of the most homogeneous urban centers in the country.
Visitors are coming here to experience the mixture of French spirit and the Caribbean-style ambiance.
The whole city enjoys an enviable coastal environment, along with the tranquility that can be found in its renovated streets free from crowds of tourists.
Some keys of Cienfuegos have been declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO in 2005.
Facts About Santiago de Cuba City
Santiago de Cuba is a city on the island’s Eastern Coast of Haiti (close to Guantanamo, a place most people have heard about), and is a city of approximately 500.000 inhabitants.
Santiago de Cuba is a small big city on the eastern tip of the island, and when you visit it offers a lot of adventures and interesting experiences, museums, parks, plazas, music, art, and a lot more.
One interesting fact about Santiago de Cuba is that this city is actually where Fidel Castro and his comrades launched their revolutionary movement in 1953 with the attack on a garrison named “Cuartel Moncada”.
And we all know how that all went a few years later!
The province has about 1.2 million inhabitants, and Santiago de Cuba has for a long time been a Cuban commercial and industrial center.
It is also the birthplace of the world-famous Bacardi liquor brand, which was started here by a guy named Facundo Bacardi Masso in 1862!
Facts About The Cuban Keys
The small Caribbean islands outside the main island of Cuba are commonly referred to as the Cuban Keys.
There are a few bigger ones, but did you know there are around 4000 little islands in total around Cuba? Some of the Cuban Keys are super popular tourist destinations.
Several of these simply paradisic islands are home to holiday resorts with beautiful beaches and activities for visitors to enjoy. A few have long bridges connecting them to the mainland, like Cayo Coco and Cayo Santa Maria.
Of course, the historic traces of the colonial era is not readily apparent out on the keys, if that is some of your inspiration to travel to Cuba.
What you get a lot of here, is some time to relax, beautiful surroundings, and of course the Caribbean sea that offers a lot of salty water adventures above or below water.
Below are some of the most popular and well-known Keys apart from the main island of Cuba!
Cayo Santa Maria And Cayo Coco
Cayo Coco is a tropical island north of the main island of Cuba, one of the largest keys of Cuba, and also only a couple of hours east of a smaller island group called Cayo Santa Maria.
All these small islands are a part of the Jardines del Rey archipelago stretching east-west off the northern Cuban coast.
They are famous for their paradisiacal ambiance with white sandy beaches and coral reefs, and the keys are full of luxurious all-inclusive resorts. Cayo Coco is named after a bird that is called White Ibis, or coco or coconut bird by the locals.
Natural features on these small islands include lagoons and marshes that are home to loads of birds such as the white ibis as well as a native colony of pink flamingos that are ranked among the largest in the Americas.
Most tourists travel to the keys to enjoy the large all-inclusive resorts, hang by the pool, or the beaches enjoying the summer water activities in the amazing Caribbean waters!
Also read: All Articles About The Cuban Keys
How To Get To The Cuban Keys
If Cayo Coco is your main destination, you can fly directly to Jardines del Rey Airport.
You can also drive out as there is a long bridge connecting Cayo Coco (and Cayo Guillermo) to the main island. The driving time from Havana to Cayo Coco is approximately 6-7 hours if you drive directly, the distance about 526 km.
Privados is exactly what it sounds like, a taxi just for you. This is a very quick and convenient option, but on the expensive end of transport in Cuba. A collectivo is a scheduled taxi that you share with other people and cost less.
You can also take the train and bus from Havana to Cayo Coco, which would be the cheaper option but takes 11-12 hours. Visit the home page of Viazul to get information about fares and timetables.
The last option is to fly from Jose Marti Airport in Havana to Cayo Coco, which is one of the most expensive options but which ALSO takes quite a long time. The estimated total travel time is up to 11 hours flying from Havana to Cayo Coco.
Isla de la Juventud, the Island of Youth, is the second-largest island in the Cuban archipelago. Isla de la Juventud diving is perfect for traveling scuba divers out there, with its beautiful coral reefs and schools of fish.
Isla de la Juventud also has pristine beaches for those who prefer sand between their toes, a sunbed, and maybe a snorkel mask.
The island does not receive a lot of tourists and is still a sleepy and charming local community. The capital of the island is Nueva Gerona with around 60.000 inhabitants, founded in 1830 by Americans as a colony named Queen Amalia.
There is one large resort on the island, as well as cultural attractions like the Natural History Museum, El Pinero Central Park, the Clandestine Fight Museum, and El Abra State Museum.