We’re here to help you figure out just what things to do to plan your Cuba itinerary.
– Here, we talk about the highlights of each city, the order in which you should visit them and how much time you need to spare.
– We’ve also written separate posts as a guide for each city, where you will find more detailed information such as where to stay, things to do and where to eat, places to see and so on. You will find their links below.
– Santa Clara, Playa Giron/Bay of Pigs and Cienfuegos are such small places, we decided not to make separate city guides for them. So we included our tips here.
– We know that you’re excited to see Cuba, but if you’re planning your trip, please read our Cuba Travel Guide article before reading this one!
1 week Cuba itinerary – For those of you who only have a week, our suggested Cuba itinerary is to stay in Varadero for 2 days, Havana for 3, Vinales for 1 and Trinidad for 2. If you need to cut your trip short, then you can remove a day from Havana or Varadero.
Do I need to include Santiago de Cuba in my Cuba itinerary? Traveling all the way to the southern portion of the island to see Santiago de Cuba takes a bit of time, but what it has to offer doesn’t differ that much from the rest of the country. If you aren’t able to make it to Santiago de Cuba, then you can rest easy.
VARADERO – A Turquoise Paradise (1 day is enough, maximum 2)
Get Ahead Of Jetlag
You’re probably impatient to see Havana, but we think it makes more sense start your Cuba itinerary form sandy white beaches at Varadero before heading into the capital city. This will give those of you traveling from far a chance to recover from the long plane ride and accompanying jet lag before going to Havana, where you’ll be walking around under the hot sun. Varadero isn’t the most exciting of places in Cuba, but it serves as an excellent way to slowly ease yourself into the country.
The 22 kilometers of Varadero’s coastline used to be the summer spot for wealthy folks living in Havana before the regime change in the 1960s. Today, it’s by far the best kept and richest place in all of Cuba. There are tons of foreign and domestic resorts in Varadero that offer unlimited buffets. These are filled with Canadian and European tourists looking to lounge around and sunbathe.
Don’t believe everything you’ve read about Varadero; the place is a romantic spot for Cuba’s youth to live out their relationships and eat fast food. This isn’t a place where you should expect to have an authentic Cuban cultural experience. Instead, go to Varadero with the expectation that you’ll be enjoying yourself in an idyllic beach setting.
How Much Time Should I Set Aside?
To get over jet lag and convalesce from a long journey, you’ll need two days. If sitting out on the beach isn’t your jam, then there are tons of other activities you can do during your two days there. Bear in mind that you will definitely need to make reservations one to two months beforehand. If your time is limited, then plan to spend only one day in Varadero, which is enough.
HAVANA – Heart and Soul of Cuba (Minimum of 2 days)
2 days min/ 4 days max in Havana
For most people, Havana is on the top of their Cuba itinerary. (For us, it was Trinidad, but we’ll get to that later.) As you probably know, Cuba is undergoing rapid change. This is most obvious in Havana. You’re going to want to spend at least two days, but no more than four, in Havana among the colorful but dilapidated buildings. We stayed in Havana for five days, which is why we can say without a doubt that it was more than enough time.
We suggest spending two days on tourist attractions and using the rest to roam around. The Museum of the Revolution is one major attraction; however, it’s as impressive as its name is creative.
Definitely use a collectivo, or shared taxi, when leaving Havana for Vinales instead of the bus. Just getting to the bus station, which is out of city limits, costs 15 CUC if you’re taking a taxi. On top of this, you’ll have to pay 12 CUC for a bus ticket. We also explained in our Cuba Travel Guide about how Cuba’s bus transit system is less than reliable. Don’t waste your time trying to catch inter-city buses. It makes much more sense for you to take a shared taxi from where you are staying in Havana to where you are staying in Vinales.
VINALES – Village Life & Cigars in Cuba (1 or 2 days)
Wandering around Vinales National Park is one of the best of ways to explore the island’s natural sites, and should without a doubt be on your Cuba itinerary. It’s home to a spectacular range of biodiversity, making it a protected site by UNESCO. It also boasts the world’s best cigars. This is also at the top of the list of places to see while in Cuba. Tourists frequent Vinales to take part in outdoor activities such as cycling, horse riding and trekking among the tobacco fields and to see rural life in Cuba. You don’t necessarily have to be in shape to participate either, as the tours are for everyone.
There are trips for each different type of activity, and every trip goes to more or less the same places, so you’ll definitely be able to see how tobacco is made. One of the best parts about these tours is that you’ll learn about the relationship between the government and farmers, as well as how tobacco is made, how it’s dried and then how it becomes a cigar. You can stay at Vinales for two days and do a different activity on the second day, but because the content of the tours doesn’t change much, we think that it’s enough to set aside one day.
For those of you with more time, we suggest that you go on a day trip from Vinales Square to Cay Levico, which is another great place to see in Cuba. Cayo Levisa is a bay that has a beautiful coast on an island north of Cuba. Scuba diving is a popular activity, and it costs 40 CUC. Another popular activity is going to the Alejandro Robaina Tobacco Farm, which features the most famous tobacco growing family in Cuba. However, going there is not so different from the excursions in Vinales.
For diving enthusiasts: Maria La Gorda
For those of you who are into diving, Maria La Gorda is a great thing to do in Cuba. Getting to Maria La Gorda takes about 2.5 hours from Vinales. You won’t be able to go with public transportation as it’s located in a remote part of Cuba. You’ll need to arrange a collectivo from Vinales to take you there. If you only plan to dive for a couple of hours, then you can also negotiate with the driver to wait and take you back to Vinales. The drivers will ask 90 CUC total to take you there and 100 CUC total if you find four people for a collectivo. You can read about how to find a collectivo in the transportation section.
There are only a couple of all-inclusive hotels in Maria La Gorda, no casa particulars. The price for a room in one of these hotels is around 55 euro per person. You can say at a casa particular at La Bajada, which is located 5 kilometers away.
This is one of the places that we were both really disappointed in. So we can’t say that Bahia de Cochinos should definitely be on your Cuba itinerary. If your time is limited, skip it entirely, make space for other places in your Cuba itinerary. Because it came up in our research, and it will certainly come up in yours, we decided to add some info in case you are interested in visiting while in Cuba.
If you are coming from Vinales, then it makes sense to go to Bahia de Cochionos and then to Cienfuegos. If you decide to go, then set it up with a collectivo, and don’t waste your time dealing with the bus. The bus does an unnecessary detour, wasting time in the process, and going by collectivo is around the same price.
If you are taking the bus, you’ll first go to Cienfuegos and get on another bus to Playa Giron, going down a part of the road you’ve already been. There is only one bus per day that leaves from Vinales to Cienfuegos, and it departs at 6:45 am. Most of the time it’s full and costs 32 CUC per person. On top of that, you’ll pay 7 CUC for the bus from Cienfuegos to Playa Giron, making the total cost 39 CUC. If you find a private taxi, it’s 150 CUC, and if you find 4 people for a collectivo, the price is 45-50 CUC per person.
Bahia de Cochinos / Playa Giron For Divers
There is not much to do aside from diving in Playa Giron, which is a small, lesser-known town located on the sea. This place is typically recommended because of the quality of diving and the ease in reaching the location; however, we don’t think it’s worth it if you’ve been diving in Varadero, as you probably won’t see anything different. We are not saying that this is not a good spot to go diving; instead, we recommend nixing it in the interest of time.
If you do two dives during the day, then you’ll be finished around 2 pm. Price per dive per person is 25 CUC. If you’d like to do something else in the afternoon, then you can go to the museum explaining the guerrilla attack that was organized by the CIA. However, this will only take about 10 minutes.
You can rent a motorcycle (25 CUC for the day) or a car (70-80 CUC ) to go to neighboring areas. If you go on the road that heads to Cienfuegos, then you’ll come to a beach club called the Caleta Buena. It costs 15 CUC to enter, but you can eat and drink as much as you want from the buffet and bar. The club closes at 5:00 pm. If you head towards Playa Larga, you’ll see an alligator farm after a small village. It closes at 5:00 pm, but you can try alligator meat at the farm’s restaurant until 3:00 pm.
Playa Giron, Cuba Itinerary Notes:
1. At the beginning of March, hundreds of thousands of crabs head to the shore to breed. You’ll be seeing red as they climb up the trees and over the asphalt.
2. Hotel Playa Giron is the only spot where you’ll be able to find a computer connected to wifi in a 30-kilometer radius. If you don’t have an internet card, then you can buy one at reception. They will sell you one for 3 CUC, even though the market price is 1.5 CUC. Everyone in town knows where the hotel is. If you are coming by bus, then the driver will drop you off in front of the hotel.
3. The place to rent cars and bikes is located in the same square as the hotel and bus stop.
Where To Eat and Drink
1. Ana Carlos
There aren’t that many restaurants as it’s a small place, but Ana Carlos is definitely a place worth checking out. They serve soup and a heaping plate of rice and beans before each meal. Their specialty is the seafood platter, which comes with lobster, shrimp and fish. The platter is 12 CUC, and more than enough to feed two people. If you ask anyone around, they’ll be able to tell you exactly where it is.
2. Hostal Luis
Though eating quality seafood doesn’t even need to be added to your Cuba itinerary because it’s in such abundance, we suggest that a visit to Hostal Luis. Yes, it is a hotel, but you have just got taste their excellent seafood dinners – whipped up by the chef, who also owns the hotel. Hostal Luis is also close to Casa Yadira & Yurien, which we recommend below.
1. Casa Yadira & Yurien
Located in the garden, the guest house has two rooms, which are both new, clean and airy. We were pleased that we decided to stay there. The best breakfast we had in Cuba was here and costs 5 CUC. We paid 20 CUC for the night. The owners can arrange a scuba diving trip for you on your behalf, and the bus will come to pick you up in front of the house. They can also help if you want to rent a bike.
Playa Giron, Cienaga de Zapata
(53) 52 75 95 83
2. Casa Julio y Lidia
The location of this house is close to the center of the city – but there’s not much to do in the city center, so not sure how much this really matters! The owner of the house is an experienced diving instructor, so if you want to go, make sure to go with his team. By the way, it doesn’t particularly matter where you reserve your diving trips as there is only one firm and diving school. Rooms for the night cost 25 CUC and breakfast is 5 CUC per person.
(53) 45 98 4135
Founded by the French, the city offers a different type of architecture than you’ll find in the rest of Cuba, but you can breeze through the city in 3-4 hours, or leave it of you Cuba itinerary altogether.
If you are traveling with a collectivo, then negotiate with the driver to get him to wait 1-2 hours while you see the city. This city is often mentioned in articles and blogs that talk about must-see places in Cuba. However, if you’re short on time, we think you can just skip it entirely.
TRINIDAD – Our Top Pick (2 or 3 days)
Our Favorite Cuban City
The city that took the top spot on our Cuba itinerary is Trinidad by far. But, whatever you do, don’t start your Cuba trip in Trinidad. The place is so lovely that everything will be a letdown afterward. Established in the 1500s, Trinidad is Cuba’s oldest settlement.
The city is the best preserved colonial city in Cuba. In the 1700s, some of the Spanish owners of sugar plantations in Trinidad began to build themselves mini-palaces similar to European aristocracy, giving the city an entirely different vibe.
Most of these houses have been turned into museums. With its warmness, Trinidad has an entirely different feel to it than Havana. We found that the best casa particulars and restaurants in Cuba were also in Trinidad.
How long in Trinidad?
You can easily spend three days in Trinidad without getting bored:
1. You can spend one day aimlessly wandering the streets and take wonderful photos, which we think is one of the best things to do in Cuba.
2. You can spend another day going trekking, seeing the waterfall, or traveling to sugar plantations outside the city.
3. You can spend another going to the beach, but be forewarned that it’ll take 45 minutes – 1 hour by taxi.
SANTA CLARA – Che Guevara’s City (Maximum of 1 day)
Santa Clara is known as Che Guevara’s city. If you’re into Cuban history and already know a lot about it, then this might be an important addition to your Cuba itinerary, even though it might be a little disappointing. It’s not really a place that offers impressive views or architecture. In 1958, Che Guevara led a 340-person guerrilla army to defeat the military force 3,900-strong. This led to American-backed President Batista fleeing the country.
Under the command of Che Guevara, his rebel army was able to derail a train that was carrying some of the regime’s officials and ammunition, a significant factor in Guevara’s victory. One of the two things to see in Santa Clara is this train on display in an open-air museum, and the other is Guevara’s mausoleum, brought to Cuba in 1997. Guevara and his comrades were killed in 1967 in Bolivia after he went to spread the revolution to South America.
Sorry to Say…
It saddens me to say this, but don’t speak Spanish, you will be disappointed all over again (the first being at Havana’s Museum of the Revolution). “Is that it?!”
How something that carries so much historical and cultural importance can be overlooked regarding its presentation to the world was shocking to me. Any other country would glorify it out of proportion and turn it into a fan fair. But in Cuban museums, there’s no adequate English translation to learn anything of substance. So make sure to read Cuban Revolution – Fidel Castro, Che Guevara & Communism BEFORE going so you understand what you are looking at.
That said, you’ll only need to spend 2-3 hours seeing both landmarks in Santa Clara. If you don’t have enough time, skip Santa Clara and watch a documentary, which will equip you with more information than what you will see here.
Santa Clara: The Best Place in Cuba For Night Life
One big “however,” though, is that partying in Santa Clara might rank among the best nights out if you’re looking for a good time. Since it’s a college town, Santa Clara offers the best nightlife around. If you happen to be in Santa Clara on a Saturday night, then you can cut loose at Club Mejunje, which is an LGBT club and a really unique venue in Cuba.
If you are short on time, then Santa Clara is the first place to drop from your Cuba itinerary. But if you are in Trinidad on your way back to Havana, Santa Clara is on the way. In that case, we’d suggest that you bargain with your driver to set aside two hours for Santa Clara.
It doesn’t hurt to see it with your own eyes, good or bad. And then again, in terms of history, it’s an important place to see in Cuba. If you find yourself there on a Saturday night, it’s definitely worth going out and partying with the locals at Club Mejunje. Note: The music at Club Mejunje is usually electronica and there is an entrance fee. Nightlife in Cuba typically starts around 9:00 pm and ends around 1:00 am.
If You’re Into Bar Hopping
Club Mejunje – Marta Abreu, No 107 La Marquesina – On Parque Vidal Cades between Maximo Gomez and Lorda streets