About 90 miles off of the coast of Florida, Cuba is a somewhat mysterious and not often visited country for American tourists.
Unfortunately, I found that tourists who do visit Cuba tend to get stuck in Havana. And it's a shame! Cuba—which is more than triple the landmass of most other Caribbean countries—has so much to offer in terms of culture, activities, landscape, food, and beaches.
Let's embark on an adventure to explore five amazing places, each with its own unique charm, and all within reach of Havana!
1. Las Terrazas – A taste of rural Cuban life (approx. 60km from Havana)
Not more than an hour outside of Havana, you'll find the eco-village of Las Terrazas. It's a beautiful community that supports the local population by encouraging skill-building, circulating resources and money, and protecting land ownership.
On a day with clear weather, it's an absolute wonder of nature! Lush green grass, and beautifully still natural pools, and of course, warm locals to talk to and commune with. The Las Terrazas is centered around self-sustainability, ecology, art. You can visit local artisans and gift shops, try delicious organic food, sip espresso (with ron, if you like!) at Cafe de Maria, say hi to local animals (cows, goats, and friendly dog).
You can have lunch at the nearby restaurant, and then walk up the terraces—learning about this area's involvement in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and Cuba's history leading up to the Spanish-American War and Cuban Revolution. Again—a beautiful land steeped in a lot of stories.
If you're looking for nature, serenity, and a different energy completely from auto-heavy Havana, go to Las Terrazas.
2. Vinales – Almost Jurassic Park (approx. 180km from Havana)
Next stop, Vinales! A super small town with so much personality and charm. Our entire group stayed in a series of casa particular, which are Cuban family home stays—a tribute to how small but cozy this place is.
Vinales is famous for its breathtaking valleys, traditional tobacco farms, and massive limestone cliffs called mogotes. We visited multiple eco-farms, and Finca Agroecológica El Paraiso in Vinales seemed to unanimously be the group's favorite because of it's farm-to-table style, great drinks, and great dancing!
The farmers are super friendly and might even show you how they roll cigars. The views in Vinales are like something out of a movie, with vibrant greenery and unique rock formations. It's a peaceful break from city life and a chance to connect with Cuba's rural heart.
3. Cienfuegos – The Pearl of the South (Approx. 250km from Havana)
Cienfuegos is a unique site in Cuba, and stands out with surprisingly French architecture (Cuba was under French control from 1791-1809). It has a breezy seaside vibe that's best felt when walking along the Paseo del Prado when the weather is nice. The combination of colorful buildings and cool ocean breeze is an experience worth having.
As far as my Intrepid group trip, we definitely had the best quality of accomodations in Cienfuegos. Strong wifi, newly renovated homes. We discovered this was because Cienfuegos is the site of many electrical and nuclear powerplants which has brought a lot of prosperity to local economy.
If you want to see Cuban history, comfort, and some with French flair, Cienfuegos is worth the trek.
The piece de resistance of our time here though, was having drinks at the Palacio de Valle. It's a palace that looks straight out of a fairy tale! I definitely got some of my favorite photos here.
4. Santa Clara – The City of Revolutionary Spirit (Approx. 260km from Havana)
If you're a history buff visiting Cuba to learn more about the historical figures involved in the Cuban Revolution and global revolutionary thought, you have to pay a visit to Santa Clara.
Santa Clara is the stronghold where Che Guevara led a significant battle for the Cuban Revolution. The Che Guevara Mausoleum welcomes you with a massive statue and memorial of “Che” (Cuban slang for friend, or bro). It's a powerful experience and with a tour guide (or researching the memorial beforehand) you'll learn so much about Cuba's past.
But Santa Clara isn't just Cuban history—it has worthwhile street art, cafes, and a surprisingly youthful energy that's worth experiencing on your Cuba trip.
5. Trinidad – A beautiful Cuban getaway (approx. 315km from Havana)
It may actually be Trinidad—not Havana—that you might be seeing in all of those Pinterest-worthy photos and videos. This city is straight-up picturesque! Though the furthest from Havana on this list, I'd argue it was the most worthwhile trip to take.
That's Trinidad for you! This UNESCO World Heritage site is known for its well-preserved colonial architecture and cobblestone streets. You can explore historic museums and vibrant markets, and even dance to live music in the main square at night.
Kaleidoscope color streets, exciting salsa night at just 20 CUC an hour, stunning sunset beach days at Playa Ancon.
I hope these five worthwhile places outside Havana entice you to find a way to see more of the country. Plenty of local tour operators that can take you for day trips, or even 1 or 2 overnights (of course, I'm partial to Intrepid Travel because that's who I did my trip with).
Cuba is about the same land mass as the state of Virginia, and more than 8x the size of Puerto Rico. Imagine if you only visited one city in a state, and assumed the rest of the state was like that! You'd miss out on a lot of regional diversity, stories, history, food, and experiences.
If you only stay in Havana, you're skipping:
- waterfalls and limestone cliffs
- exploring tobacco fields in Vinales
- admiring French architecture in Cienfuegos
- stepping back in time in Trinidad
- and feeling the revolutionary spirit in Santa Clara
Enjoy your time in Cuba and embark on your trip with an open mind, an open heart, and be ready for an adventure.
Did this blog post inspire your Cuba itinerary? Was it helpful? Share your thoughts, plans, and questions in the comments!