Cuba is not only the largest island in the Caribbean, but it may also have the most sights and attractions scattered across its diverse landscape. It could easily take more than two weeks to see the natural wonders of its mountains and forests and experience the culture and history of its towns and cities.
We've created an 8 day itinerary that takes in many of the island's best attractions across several regions, with recommended lodgings in each, offering the first-time visitor an exciting introduction to the country.
DAYS 1 AND 2: HAVANA
Cuba’s amazing capital is the first port of entry for most visitors, and it could keep you occupied for days. Spend your first day strolling the famous seaside walk El Malécon. A good starting point is Antonio Maceo Park, just east of Hotel Nacional. Continue east about 2 miles until you reach the beautiful Baroque Catedral de la Habana. The next day you can take in a trio of terrific museums —the rum-themed Museo del Ron Havana Club, the fine arts Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, and the Museo de la Revolución.
On either day, be sure to save some energy for the night. Visit the famous El Floridita (aka the cradle of the daiquiri) bar. Although touristy, it provides a classic Cuban night, with hot live music and cool daiquiris and mojitos. Or head to Casa de la Música, one of Havana's most popular night clubs, featuring many of Cuba's biggest modern acts.
When you're finally ready for sleep, you could stay at the historic Hotel Nacional, where pre-revolution anybody who was anybody stayed. For a contemporary feel, try the Hotel Meliá Cohiba with its modern amenities or the intimate Hotel Raquel.
DAYS 3 AND 4: TRINIDAD
The colonial town of Trinidad dates from 1514 and remains Cuba’s best-preserved colonial architectural gem. Its streets, with their pastel-colored houses, are an attraction on their own. The Museo de la Lucha contra Bandidos houses a Revolution-themed museum in a former monastery, the Convento de San Francisco. Like all things Trinitario, religion rubs shoulders with Revolution here. The Iberostar Grand Hotel Trinidad is your best lodging choice in this city.
DAYS 5 AND 6: CAMAGÜEY
Camagüey’s labyrinth of streets reputedly confused invading pirates, and they continue to do so with visitors. Keep asking for directions; you’ll get where you need to go. A pair of 18th-century churches, the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Merced and the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad have both gone through numerous renovations and restorations through the centuries but have remained pretty faithful to their original constructions. The Hotel Colón evokes its 1920s heyday and is one of Cuba’s snazziest city hotels.
DAYS 7 AND 8: SANTIAGO DE CUBA
Like Havana, Santiago could keep you occupied for days. The beehive of life that is Parque Céspedes is best observed from the venerable Hotel Casa Granda, the best people-watching post in the city; it and the modern Meliá Santiago de Cuba are two great, affordable, places to stay. Three terrific museums sit in the center of the city: the Museo Provincial Bacardí Moreau documents Santiago’s history; the rum-themed Museo del Ron acquaints you with the life and times of Cuba’s best-known beverage; and the Museo del Carnaval portrays artifacts from Santiago’s Carnival celebration. (Try to time that last one for late afternoon when the museum stages a mini-carnival performance.)
Don’t forget Santiago’s environs either. Cuba’s Revolution began at the Antiguo Cuartel Moncada, military barracks outside the city. Pay your respects to revered Cuban poet José Martí at the Cementerio Santa Ifigenia where he is buried. Cuba’s patron saint, Our Lady of Charity, is revered at the Basílica del Cobre. The imposing Castillo del Morro fortress sits out on the coast and protected Santiago from pirate invasions during colonial times. Any of the regional sites warrant a half day and can be reached by taxi. Back in the city, an evening of drink and music at the Casa de la Trova or drink only at the Hotel Casa Granda are relaxing ways to cap off a day, even if you don’t stay at the latter.