Few visitors to Cuba would disagree that the country’s famed capital city is its main attraction.
But nine million of Cuba’s eleven million inhabitants live outside Havana – and have very different lives to their urban counterparts.
Many regional centres across Cuba are UNESCO World Heritage-listed sites, and they’re amongst the most intriguing yet least visited destinations anywhere in the world.
Here are three suggestions for top places to see in Cuba outside Havana.
It’s easy to see why Vinales was reputed to be Fidel Castro’s favourite place in Cuba. Only a few hours’ drive from Havana, it is located in a fertile tobacco growing valley where the mountains are green, the earth is a deep rich red and the landscape is dotted with palm trees, presenting a kaleidoscope of colour. It’s definitely one of the top places to see in Cuba.
The Viñales Valley was declared a World Heritage-listed site in 1999 and the town is visually stunning in its own unique way. Peaceful and quiet, traditional life has largely been preserved here and people go about their business without hurry or worry. Visitors can observe farming practices much as they were a century ago.
There are many things to see and do in Viñales, from learning how to roll a Cuban cigar to healthier holiday pursuits like hiking or cycling through the village, swimming in local watering holes and exploring the cave systems around the area.
Because of its proximity to Havana, Viñales is a great day tour and offers a change of pace for those wanting to escape the hustle and bustle of the capital.
If Viñales is said to have maintained traditional life, some might say Trinidad has been frozen in time. Located about four hours by road from Havana, the area definitely makes for an interesting visit and is another of the top places to see in Cuba.
The first things that strike you are the cobbled roads, the old well-preserved palaces and the colourful colonial architecture which creates a fascinating atmosphere. The town is UNESCO World Heritage-listed and must be seen to be believed.
Look around and you’ll notice that the horse and cart is still a common method of transport – even depicted on the traffic signs!
Another reason to visit Trinidad is the beach – Playa Ancon. It’s about 20 minutes drive from Trinidad and is by far the best beach in Cuba, with its soft white sand and clear turquoise water. It’s the perfect place to relax and unwind during your trip.
The curious traveller will want to head for charming Santa Clara, Cuba’s fifth largest city. Here visitors have the opportunity to immerse themselves in Cuban history and explore the various important sites built in honour of Che Guevara, the famous revolutionary who stormed this town and strengthened the Cuban Revolution of 1953-59.
Lake Hanabinilla (created by the Hanabinilla Dam) is a great day excursion from Santa Clara. It’s located about 50 km to the south. A boat tour will take you to a hidden waterfall in the middle of the mountains – one of the most secluded and beautiful locations in central Cuba. Here you can swim in what feels like a lost world, with lush tropical rainforest and colourful birdlife.
Each of these options is easily accessible by road from Havana and will give you a different perspective on Cuba – well beyond your stay in the capital.
Do you have any tips for top places to see in Cuba outside Havana? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Stephen Hodges was a teacher and a social worker before he left Australia for a three-year overseas adventure. While travelling he worked as a grouse beater in Scotland, a chicken farmer on a Kibbutz in Israel and a camp counsellor in France. On his return to Melbourne, Stephen began working in the travel industry and set up a business, which he ran for six years. He still has a passion for travel and believes life is all about experiences – and that you can find them in the most unlikely places, if you look hard enough.