Raunchy rhythms, picturesque landscapes, charming colonial towns with working classic cars and the tangible traces of Cuba’s revolutionary past – discover real Cuba. Combine relaxing days on the white shimmering sandy beach of Varadero with a varied round trip through Cuba. After all, this Caribbean island and its capital Havana radiate a contagious zest for life heightened by the authentic historic backdrops – a pure sun and sand holiday is simply not on the cards for most travellers. Cuba entices you to leave your hotel resort and experience real Cuba your way – and in your time, relaxed just as you like it. The most flexible and independent way of exploring the Caribbean island is by driving a hire car. The alternative is by bus, and you never know when the next bus is really going to leave.…
Cuba’s phenomenal diversity at your fingertips. Depending on the time you can free up, you should familiarise yourself in depth in advance with the beauty on offer on the island and check out different sources to put together your itinerary of hotspots and highlights. We recommend the following highlights for a varied, fascinating and memorable road trip:
As the perfect start to a relaxing holiday or the sublime chill out climax to crown a rich and diverse round trip: The small island of Cayo Blanco in the north of Cuba awaits you with its white powder sand that simply begs you to relax. If you’re keen on water sports, you’re in the right place too: sailing, diving and snorkelling are on the programme. The underwater world is simply beautiful and rich in diversity. Starting off in Varadero you can, for instance, sail a catamaran to this small, palm-studded Caribbean paradise.
If you’re interested in the history of the Cuban revolution, then you should stop off at the town of Santa Clara, at the foot of the Escambray Mountains. From Varadero it’s fastest to take the Autopista Nacional to get to this charming colonial town with its cobbled streets and a diverse range of historical and cultural attractions.
What are the must-dos in this emblematic town that made its name in the Cuban revolution?
- Che Guevara Mausoleum and Museum – A trip back in time to the Cuban revolution featuring personal letters from the national hero.
- Che Guevara Monument on Plaza de la Revolution – Ideally get there early, say at 7 am, to avoid the tourist masses.
- Parque Leoncio Vidal – Saunter through this vibrant park with a tour guide or local and reconstruct Cuba’s multifaceted history.
- Armoured Train Park – The monument to the armoured train in memory of the battles in December 1958 and showing historic pictures and relics from the Cuban revolution.
- Catedral de Santa Clara de Asis – 3 blocks away from Parque Leoncio Vidal you will find the impressive cathedral in Marta Abreu Street and is well worth a visit.
Spend a day at Lago Hanabanilla, located to the south of Santa Clara. Go on a boat trip on this impressive artificial lake off the mass tourism trail. You should take the time to explore this natural paradise on foot then sip a refreshing drink on the shore-side, idyllic restaurant with a beautiful view over the surrounding countryside. The mountain overlooking the lake promises a superb panoramic view over the shimmering lake – it’s a good idea to wear some sturdy shoes and take some drinks to get the most out of a relaxing excursion away from the crowds.
Another must-do for all active nature lovers is hiking through the lush verdant forests in Parque El Cubano in the Parque Nacional Topes de Collantes. Don’t forget your swimming gear and possibly a change of clothes, as the Salto de Javira waterfall is sure to entice you to take a refreshing dip.
El Nicho Waterfalls in El Nicho Park is also well worth a visit. There is a small entrance fee. It takes about 45 minutes to walk to the falls.
Just 3 kilometres to the south of Parque Natural Topes de Collantes at the foot of the Escambray Mountains lies the fascinating colonial town of Trinidad. From Santa Clara take the Carretera de Manicaragua. Trinidad will cast its spell on you as soon as you arrive: The side streets adorned with pastel-coloured houses, the source of the catchy rhythms in the air, immediately lifts the spirits. The clip-clop of the horses on the cobblestones takes you back to the 19th century. Above all the magnificent colonial architecture is a reminder of the wealth created by the sugar plantations, and transport you to a time when Trinidad was the sugar capital of Cuba. If you can, allow three days to fully explore and appreciate Trinidad and its surroundings.
Parking in Trinidad: Find a good parking spot before you enter the town, as most streets are pedestrianised.
Experience Trinidad to the full – there are so many sights:
- Plaza Mayor – this enchanting square is selfie paradise. With its traditional white fencing and the surrounding, imposing colonial mansions, this is the heart of the town.
- Museo de Historia Municipal – is where you gain a good impression of the heyday of the town. The museum is housed in an impressive mansion with patio in Calle Simón Bolivar. Explore the building and don’t forget to climb up the tower for a unique overview of the town.
- Casa de la Musica – this is simply a must: the Casa de la Musica in Trinidad is where people gather in the evenings to dance to contagious Caribbean rhythms and try out different varieties of rum. Just find a good spot on some steps and soak up the pulsating scene under a starry sky.
- Playa Ancón – how about passing the afternoon on the 4-km long beach of Playa Ancón? Crystal clear water, soft sand between the toes and a glass of cool Mojito in your hand?
- Valle de los Ingenios – the valley of sugar mills takes you back to the time when Trinidad was the sugar capital of Cuba and is a reminder of the slavery and social contrasts that existed in the 18th century.
Some 90 kilometres from Trinidad lies the town of Cienfuegos, another treasure-trove of colonial architecture. Drive your car along the beautiful Caribbean coast via Circuito Sur (Route 12) to the cleanest town in Cuba. Typical Cienfuegos:
- Parque José Martí – in the town centre and the best place to start exploring the architectural gems in Cienfiegos. The monument to the national hero Jose Martí is framed by elegant colonial buildings.
- Paseo del Prado –stroll along the longest promenade in Cuba, taking you right through the historic quarter from water front to water front.
- Punta Gorda – once where aristocrats lived, this quarter on the southern tip is a must at sun down.
Of course, it goes without saying that a trip to Cuba has to include Havana – colourful, bustling, full of temperament, La Habana is the biggest metropolis in the Caribbean. You owe it to yourself to dedicate a couple of days to soak up the ambience and explore all the facets of Cuba’s capital city.
It’s best to park outside town, as you can lose a lot of time and fray your nerves negotiating the traffic in Havana. On foot the experience is so much richer and more intensive.
Hotspots in Havana
- Malécon – in the day and especially at night the legendary seaside promenade is where the locals congregate. After 8 pm Cubans start to tune up, play, sing and dance dance dance. Just order the drink of your choice at a kiosk and join in. Everyone is open and relishes contact to travellers.
- Habana Vieja – saunter through the narrow side streets in Old Havana, take in the impressive street art and head to the most popular sights of the city: Catedral de San Cristobal (on Plaza de la Catedral), Bodeguita del Medio and Plaza de Armas (second hand book market).
- Hotel Ambos Mundos rooftop bar – this hotel in Old Havana near Plaza de Armas features a rooftop terrace with a magnificent view over Old Havana.
- Probably the most iconic sight in Cuba and the hallmark of Havana: Capitolio Nacional de Cuba – to the west of Old Havana.
- Tip: If you start at the Capitolio a one-hour drive in a legendary classic car costs half the price you pay in the harbour.
- Museo de la Revolucion – is housed in the former presidential palace and exhibits the tangible traces of the revolution along the façade. If you are interested in the historic events in the revolution fought by Fidel Castro, Camillo Cienfuegos and Che Guevara against the dictator Battista, this is the place.
You can take the Autopista Este-Oeste to drive to the waterfalls that lie in the middle of lush tropical forest some 75 kilometres southwest of Havana. After an intensive sojourn in Havana the Salto de Soroa falls surrounded by verdant vegetation is the right tonic for relaxing body and soul. The western side of the island is often regarded as the more authentic. The fascinating landscape with tropical forests, countless species of orchids, tobacco and fruit plantations characterise the unbelievable natural beauty of Cuba.
The most famous natural spectacle is the 20-metre high waterfall known as Salto de Soroa. Bathing gear is essential as the natural pool at the base is simply too enticing and too refreshing to miss.
120 kilometres to the south you are in paradise – Viñales. Mogotes, craggy karst outcrops, rise haphazardly from the floor of the soft green valley. Some you can hike on and even through. You can explore this unique and impressive landscape at your leisure on foot or on horseback.
Tip for a relaxing break: A chance to get your breath back and relax, that’s sometimes what’s needed, and where better than on Balcón de Valle. This is a restaurant with a gigantic panorama view over the fairy-tale landscape and it lies directly on the road from Pinar del Rio.
A holiday drive on Cuba must include a trip to a tobacco factory. In the Fábrica de Tabacos Francisco Donatién in Calle Maceo you can watch over their shoulders as cigar makers roll cigars. The region around Pinar del Rio is also known as Cuba’s tobacco centre.