Cuba itineraries

Most visitors are surprised that it can take a full day to travel between cities in Cuba; this island is deceptively large. For shorter trips, plan your Cuba itinerary around Havana and the scenic west; two weeks or more allows you time to reach the Afro-Cuban stronghold of Santiago, with plenty of stops along the way. For those traveling independently, daily Viazul tourist buses are comfortable and air conditioned; while drivers will find roads poorly signposted but pleasantly free of cars. Many Cubans hitchhike to get to work; you could pick up an impromptu guide!

1. Baracoa

One of Cuba's most overlooked spots, this little seaside town gives way to some of Cuba's most dramatic landscapes: river-filled rainforests, towering mountains, glorious waterfalls and the flat-topped El Yunque mountain - ideal for hiking. Baracoa's unique character has been preserved by its geographical isolation; until the 1960s it was only accessible by boat.
Bay of Pigs

2. Bay of Pigs

The scene of the US military's spectacular failure, most people visit this region purely for the name. However, the bay's most spectacular attraction is arguably its endemic flora and fauna, along with a "cenote" - a deep, collapsed pool, where you can snorkel with fish. The battle was fought out at Playa Girón - today home to a small museum and peaceful beach, popular with divers.

3. Camaguey

The labyrinthine streets of Cuba's third-largest city were designed to confuse invading pirates - hence its nickname "the Maze". But if you're worried about getting lost in the medina-like maze, tour Camaguey by bicitaxi. There are numerous hidden plazas, large earthenware water pots and pretty churches are characteristic - as is the Ballet of Camaguey, the best outside Havana.
Cayo Levisa

4. Cayo Levisa

Separated from the mainland by a breezy half hour ferry journey, you'll feel like a real castaway on little Levisa's 3km beach. Wander along the mangroves, gaze out to the impossibly blue sea, have lunch at the little cafe or take a snorkelling trip to a nearby reef - there's little to do on Levisa other than relax, and sip a fresh piña colada.

5. Cienfuegos

Southerly Cienfuegos is set on a beautiful bay, and its architecture has earned the city center recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Hang out with local people along the Malecón, journey through Cienfuegos' history in the Museo Provincial, or relax with a boat trip across the bay or a visit to the botanical gardens.

6. Havana

The Caribbean's best-loved city, Havana's old quarter is a UNESCO site. This neighbourhood is as storied as they come; people pedal round cobbled streets, classic cars cruise the Malecón, musicians strum and sing on every street corner and Spanish echoes from crumbling homes. Check out the cultural centers, artists’ studios and well-preserved theatres.
María La Gorda

7. María La Gorda

Few make it out to the isolated peninsula of María La Gorda, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of mangrove swamps and empty beaches. Some of Cuba's best scuba diving takes place off these shores, but you can also take treks into the surrounding forest that protects the world's smallest bird, the tiny bee hummingbird. Divers should have reasonable experience; some prefer to bring their own equipment.
Santa Clara

8. Santa Clara

History buffs and Che Guevara fans tend to make a beeline for Santa Clara - the scene of the final battle of the revolution, and the final resting place of Guevara. The town is pleasant but otherwise unremarkable; the real draw here is the Che Guevara Memorial, the huge Che statue, the Che museum and the site of a train derailed by the guerrillas, with exhibits inside the actual carriages.
Santiago de Cuba

9. Santiago de Cuba

Squeezed between the mountains and the Caribbean Sea, Santiago has Cuba's hottest climate – and a proudly rebellious history. Explore Afro-Haitian culture, a well-worn city center, and a different band for every doorstep, street corner and plaza. The bullet-riddled Moncada Barracks are a legacy to the revolution that never happened here.
Sierra Maestra National Park

10. Sierra Maestra National Park

AKA Pico Turquino National Park, the Sierra Maestra feature Cuba's highest peaks and some of its most stunning scenery, ideal for multi-day hikes and mountain biking. But there is historical appeal here, too. The steep valleys have sheltered guerillas since the earliest colonial invasions, followed by escaped enslaved people, and finally Castro and his fellow revolutionaries, whose wooden wartime HQ can still be seen.

11. Soroa

A real draw for birders, this forest is ideal for day hikes with naturalist guides. Sample the fruit that falls from the trees, trek up to the viewpoint and finish off with a dip in the dreamlike natural pools, frequented more by Cubans than foreigners. The forest also hides a darker secret - the remains of coffee plantations with tiny stone huts built by the enslaved people who were forced to live in them.
Las Terrazas

12. Las Terrazas

This eco-community was one of the communist government's 1960s projects. Residents were moved from the surrounding land - which could then be protected - into purpose-built housing around a picturesque lake. Today, this village is full of painters, sculptors and woodworkers, as well as a vegan eco-restaurant, where meals are cooked in a solar oven.
Topes de Collantes

13. Topes de Collantes

The Escambray Mountains protected by this nature reserve are a giant playground for adults and kids alike. Canyon down a waterfall, ride horses along a river, spot rainbow-coloured hummingbirds, visit coconut plantations and swim inside an open cave. If you need an energy boost for that - then you're in luck. This is also the home of the best coffee in Cuba - visit a coffee farmer for a fresh cup.

14. Trinidad

Founded by the Spanish and later used as a base for French colonists fleeing nearby Haiti, Trinidad's colourful history is reflected in its perfectly preserved architecture, the ruins of the surrounding sugar mills, and Afro-Cuban religions. The plaza comes alive with salsa rhythms at night - this is one of Cuba's best live music destinations. Don't miss the nearby Playa Ancon - a pleasant cycle from the city.
Valle de Viñales

15. Valle de Viñales

The laidback, agricultural town of Viñales is surrounded by "sugarloaf" limestone mountains, organic farms and tobacco plantations. You could spend days in this UNESCO site - exploring hidden caves, horse riding to tranquil lagoons and listening to salsa in the plaza each evening. Banana leaves peek out from behind casas and donkeys and oxen slowly draw carts through the streets.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Cuba or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

Cuba itineraries

Beaches, forests & cities: 2 weeks
Havana > Viñales > Cayo Levisa > Soroa > Trinidad > Sierra Escambray > Havana

Backroads & beaches: 8 days
Havana > Viñales > Bay of Pigs > Trinidad > Escambray Mountains > Topes de Collantes > Santa Clara > Havana

Complete Cuba: 22 days
Havana > Bay of Pigs > Cienfuegos > Santa Clara > Trinidad > Camaguey > Santiago de Cuba > Baracoa > Havana

Travel times in Cuba

The following times give you a rough idea of the driving and flying times between the main attractions in Cuba.
Havana – Viñales: 3 hours by road Havana – Baracoa: 1.5 hours by plane Viñales – Santa Clara: 7 hours by road Viñales - Maria la Gorda: 3 hours by road Santa Clara – Trinidad: 2.5 hours by road Trinidad – Camaguey: 6 hours by road Camaguey – Santiago de Cuba: 7 hours by road Santiago de Cuba – Baracoa: 5 hours by road Santiago – base of Sierra Maestra: 3 hours by road
Written by Vicki Brown
Photo credits: [Page banner: Alexandro Espinar] [Top box - bus: Bruce Tuten] [...or: puffy eyes] [Baracoa: Paul Postiaux ] [Bay of Pigs: Bruce Tuten] [Camaguey: Marika Bortolami] [Cayo Levisa: Vicki Brown] [Cienfuegos: Stephen Colebourne] [Maria La Gorda: Charlesjsharp ] [Santa Clara: Bruce Tuten] [Santiago de Cuba: Marika Bortolami] [Sierra Maestra National Park: David Bacon] [Soroa: Annie Mole] [Las Terrazas: Javier Ignacio Acuna Ditzel] [Topes del Collantes: Guillaume Baviere] [Trinidad: Chris Brown] [Driving times: nathanmac87]