A Small Island with a Big Past: What to See in Cuba
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A Small Island with a Big Past: What to See in Cuba

Getaway Staff

Cuba is somewhat of a mystery to a lot of people, but it's an exciting place worth exploring. This is a gorgeous country with a lot of adventures for history buffs, outdoor enthusiasts, and beach lovers alike. Follow in the footprints of revolutionaries, relax on the beach, dance underground, or explore historic forts and cities. There are so many sides to Cuba, it's important to take the time to explore it all.


01 Topes de Collantes

View over the lush mountains in the Topes de Collantes nature reserve in the Escambray Mountains. Tree in foreground. mrtom-uk / Getty Images

One of the best places for outdoor adventure seekers in Cuba is Topes de Collantes Natural Park. It's located in the pine, bamboo, and eucalyptus forests of the Sierra del Escambry range. There are several trails to follow, including the Salto del Carbuní that takes you past coffee plantations, cliffs, traditional houses, and a stunning waterfall. If you're not up for the hike, you can also visit the park via 4x4 or on horseback.


02 Morro Castle

Little girl running away from the waves crashing on Havana's Malecón. Cuba. ferrantraite / Getty Images

The Morro Castle was completed in 1640 and was built to protect the city of Havana from unfriendly ships in the surrounding waters. Today, it acts as a welcome port for tourists sailing into Havana. Start with a visit to the lighthouse and museum then take a walk around the top of the castle to take in the amazing panoramic ocean views. If you're up for it, stick around until 9 pm when cannons are fired every night; a tradition that once signaled when it was time to close the walls of the city.


03 Valle de Viñales

Rolling of cigars in Viñales RenHo / Getty Images

The Valle de Viñales is on the western end of the country and is a great way to get a feel for various aspects of Cuban life. Visit the main street where local artisans sell traditional Cuban street food then wander around the side streets to the hills and valleys beyond. One of the most interesting places to visit is the tobacco plantation where you can see how genuine Cuban cigars are made. This is a great place to take a scenic bike ride and there are some bike tours that travel here as well.


04 Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca

San Pedro de La roca fort inner yard and walls, sunset view, Santiago De Cuba, Cub

On the far southeast coast is the Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca, a certified world heritage site constructed during the first half of the 17th century. This castle sits on the top of rugged cliffs and offers stunning views of the surrounding ocean. This was by design - fear of pirates is part of what necessitated building the castle in the first place. Today, it's a great place for taking pictures, particularly if you're willing to wander through the palisades and turrets.


05 Valle de los Ingenios

View on the Valle de los Ingenios valley on the sugar plantation rchphoto / Getty Images

Located about 5 miles east of Trinidad is the Valle de los Ingenios, a region historically responsible for the colonial city's wealth. The Valle de los Ingenios is a series of three valleys, once home to vast sugarcane fields and worked by roughly 30,000 slaves. Sugar mills and plantations one dominated the region and some of the ruins are still visible today. One of the best ways to see the area is by taking a ride on a steam train, a truly unique experience.


06 Baracoa

View over the oldest city in Cuba, Baracoa

Baracoa is located on the far eastern tip of Cuba and is Cuba's oldest and most isolated city. Because it lies between the mountains and the coast, this is one of the wettest regions in Cuba and features lush, deep green foliage. The city remained relatively isolated from the time it was founded in 1511 until 1964 which allowed it to develop without much outside influence. There's a big music scene here and it's not far from some of the most beautiful beaches in the country.


07 Cienfuegos

Vintage Car Near The Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Cathedral In Cienfuegos, Cuba AleksandarGeorgiev / Getty Images

If you're looking for a place to slow down and relax, Cienfuegos is waiting for you. Take a leisurely stroll to discover the wide range of plants and animals native to the area. There are stunning botanical gardens nearby and the city serves as the perfect home base for beaches and snorkeling. When in the area, make sure to visit El Nicho, a series of waterfalls tucked in the forest where you can hike, swim in natural pools, and even explore caves.


08 Trinidad

Colonial street view in vibrant city of Trinidad, Cuba merc67 / Getty Images

Trinidad might be the most popular tourist destination in Cuba and it's definitely worth a visit. This beautiful city was founded in 1514 and is considered a world heritage site. It's been beautifully preserved. One of the best things to do here is simply strolling through the city center - cars cannot enter the city so you can take your time photographing the colonial buildings and cobblestone streets and browsing the shops.


09 Cayo Coco

Idyllic Tropical Sand Beach, Cayo Coco, Cuba Onfokus / Getty Images

  Caya Coco is a popular tourist destination and, when you visit, you'll understand why. This is an ideal destination for anyone who loves the beach and the bays and lagoons make it more picturesque than most. The white sands and warm water are the perfect backdrop for spotting schools of tropical fish and you might even spot a flamboyance of flamingos. There are a lot of excursions based in Caya Coco as well, including catamaran cruises, motorboat tours, and snorkeling.


10 Sierra Maestra

Sierra Maestra is a mountain range in southeast Cuba alxpin / Getty Images

The Sierra Maestra is a mountain range in the deep southern part of Cuba with quite a history. In the 1950s, these hills were a regular destination for Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. Today, a hike through the tropical forests leads you to the secret headquarters of these rebel revolutionaries. If that doesn't interest you, head to the top for an amazing view of the Caribbean Sea.


11 Old Havana

streets of havana peeterv / Getty Images

Havana has a lot to offer but when you're in the city, be sure to check out Old Havana. Some people refer to it as a little piece of Spain in the Caribbean and it definitely lives up to that reputation. This part of the city is considered a world heritage site, full of Andalusian-style buildings as well as cathedrals and palaces. If you look closely, you can even see the cannon holes used for defense in the 17th and 18th centuries.


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