Cuba, the largest island in the Caribbean, is high on the bucket list of many holidaymakers. In contrast to other places, a trip to Cuba often has its small corners and edges. But in my opinion this is exactly what makes the island so charming.
If you are planning a tour to Cuba in the near future, you will find here my best highlights, the most beautiful places and a lot of helpful travel tips for Cuba.
The Hicacos peninsula, better known as Varadero, is the largest and most popular seaside resort in Cuba. But the eternally long beach is really one of the most beautiful on the planet! The long strip of sand stretches from the city to the sea, and the resorts line up along it, one after the other. At the eastern end of the beach tongue there is a nature reserve with lonely wild beaches.
The Old Town of Havana
Havana was founded in 1519 by the Spanish as a trading centre between the New World and the Old World. The colourful mix of Indian, African and Spanish culture in the trading metropolis between Europe and Central America is still clearly visible today.
Magnificent baroque and neoclassical colonial buildings from the last four centuries, magnificent palaces and mighty fortifications take visitors back to the time of Cuba’s colonial rule. Some of the venerable buildings are among the oldest Spanish colonial settlements in Central America.
Trinidad lies picturesquely near the Caribbean coast in the south of the island embedded in the Escambray mountains. The beautiful and historic town has 75,000 inhabitants and an incredible number of well-preserved colonial buildings, wide cobbled streets and numerous historic sugar mills. Since 1988 it has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site. During a walk through the alleys along the buildings from the 17-19th century, one feels as if one is on a journey through time that shows the splendour and heyday of a small town that earns its wealth from sugar and the slave trade.
El Nicho Waterfalls
In one of the most beautiful mountain landscapes of Cuba the source of the river Río Hanabanilla rises, which plunges 15 meters into the depth as a rushing waterfall on rock terraces to collect itself in a natural pool below. Enjoy the untouched nature of the Sierra del Escambray and still take a refreshing swim at the foot of the splashing waterfall El Nicho.
El Nicho is one of the largest waterfalls in Cuba. You can climb up to 300 meters and should therefore be in a good physical condition.
The Humboldt Nationalpark
The Humboldt National Park extends over an area of around 700 square kilometres and, in addition to the tropical rainforest, also includes an area of around 23 square kilometres belonging to the sea. About 1,200 different animal species live in this national park, as well as about 1,000 different plant species. The Humboldt National Park ends in the north in the Atlantic Ocean and also has other water barriers that mark the end of the National Park: In the west the Rio Cupey forms the border of the Humboldt National Park, in the south the Rio Jiguaní and in the east the Rio Nibujón.
The Humboldt National Park was founded in 2001, in the same year it was also declared a World Natural Heritage Site by UNESCO. The reason for this is the untouched landscapes and especially the many endemic animal species – which even surpass the Galapagos Islands!
Isla de la Juventud
About 100 km off the south coast of Cuba is the Isla de la Juventud. Nueva Gerona is the capital of the island and the only one that vaguely reminds of a city.
In the north of the island there are mainly citrus plantations, but in the south of the island there are beautiful white sandy beaches surrounded by palm trees, which are ideal for a beach holiday.
Divers should definitely visit Los Barcos Hundidos, where you can see sunken ships at 6-10 metres. Besides the shipwrecks there are also many fish and a beautiful plant world to admire. Los Indios is known for its vertical walls and large coral hills on sand beds. Fuera de Limite is a special place where the coral reefs extend from the coast and then drop down to a depth of 15 metres, with large rocks full of corals, sea fans, sponges and many species of fish.
Santiago de Cuba
With around 500,000 inhabitants, Santiago de Cuba is the second largest city in the country. It is considered the cradle of Cuban culture, especially the musical traditions of the country and the carnival. From Santiago comes the Cuban Son, a style of music from the 19th century that has gained worldwide fame in recent years with the band “Buena Vista Social Club”.
If you are in Santiago for the first time, the best way to visit the city is to take a walk from the Parque Céspedes. Here is the Cathedral Catedral Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, which was built in its present form in 1818. Diagonally opposite, the Casa Diego Velázquez is the oldest building in Cuba and one of the oldest surviving buildings in Latin America. The first Spanish conquistador in Cuba once resided in the Arab style building, erected in 1519.
The historic centre of Cienfuegos was a notorious pirate port in the 18th century. Today the imposing streets, churches and palaces are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
“La Perla del Sur”, the nickname of Cienfuegos, already indicates its extraordinary beauty.
The largest promenade in Cienfuegos is the Paseo del Prado, built in 1922 – a boulevard lined with palm trees, colonial buildings and statues of famous Cubans or heroes of the Cuban past. It leads through the entire old town up to Punta Gorda, the former aristocratic quarter of Cienfuegos, where impressive villas and the brightly coloured wooden houses from the USA still exist today.
Jardines de la Reina
Located in the provinces of Camagüey and Ciego de Ávila, the Jardines de la Reina got their name from Christopher Columbus, who named them after the Spanish Queen Isabella, the Catholic.
The fourth longest coral reef in the world is one of the world’s most beautiful diving paradises due to its paradisiacal beauty and unspoiled nature. The crystal clear Caribbean Sea and the immense biodiversity – both above and under water – gave the idyllic archipelago the nickname “Galapagos of the Caribbean”. A labyrinth of grottos, caves and canyons makes every dive in the Jardines de la Reina a pure pleasure.
Again and again shipwrecks appear in the 40m visibility, among them a Spanish galleon from the 17th century. Densely populated coral gardens, interspersed with sponges are swarmed with fish of all kinds – barracudas, triggerfish and parrotfish, perch, reef sharks, hammerhead sharks, whale sharks and many more. The fish know that they have nothing to fear from humans and behave extremely trustingly towards the divers. A perfect place for underwater photographers!
Valle de Finales
The enchanting Viñales Valley is – perhaps apart from Cuba’s fantastic beaches – the most scenic area of the Caribbean island. Lush meadows with low bushes and small palm groves cover an impressive hilly landscape that is considered the oldest region in Cuba. The so-called “Mogoths” originated 170 million years ago and preserve an equally ancient flora and fauna.
The best way to explore the valley is on foot. Guided tours reveal the most beautiful places and also repeatedly warn of dangers – there are underground rivers that slowly undermine the area. Bus tours are also offered to various attractions, but the non-motorised exploration makes the impressions of the Valle de Vinales much more spectacular.