Few places stand out in my mind as much as our holiday to Cuba; a Caribbean island steeped in history, circled by golden beaches, spiked with rum cocktails and pulsing with music.
From its popular beaches, to ornate crumbling buildings and Hemingway connection, discover 10 of the best things to do on a holiday to Cuba that will leave you with lasting memories.
This post was written in collaboration with Iberostar Hotels but is based on a self-funded trip I took there previously.
10 Cool Things To Do In Cuba
1.Book a twin centre holiday for the best of both worlds
It is possible to travel independently to Cuba and stay at Casa Particulares (Cuba’s answer to B&Bs) but it takes a lot more work than booking a package holiday through a tour operator.
We took the easy route and booked a 10-day package holiday at one of these Cuba luxury resorts, and to give us the best of both worlds we split our time between 7 nights all-inclusive at Iberostar Bella Vista Varadero and 3 nights bed and breakfast in Havana. This gave us a chance to relax on the pristine sands in an established tourist resort, and yet feel a bit more independent while exploring Havana and dining at different local establishments.
2. Take a daytrip to Cayo Blanco
We didn’t stay horizontal on the beach the whole time we were in Varadero, although that was tempting. We’d heard great things about a day trip to Cayo Blanco, so we arranged with our hotel to join one.
This uninhabited white island (just like the name suggests) is a 45 min catamaran trip from Varadero and truly is an aquamarine slice of paradise. The shallow sandy waters turn the ocean 50 different shades of turquoise, and it’s warm enough for you to just wallow in it while holding a (totally optional!) rum cocktail.
3. Wander the Old Town of Havana
There’s nothing in the world quite like the time warp that is central Havana. Havana’s crumbling, ice-cream-coloured architecture is recognisable the world over and there’s something to turn your head on every corner – from the elegant yet decaying colonial homes on the Prado, to tile-fronted pizzerias and 50s-style petrol stations in Centro.
Havana’s Old Town, Havana Vieja, with its designated UNESCO heritage sites, is a well-preserved area of Havana. It feels like it’s been spruced up for tourists compared to the rest of the city but that makes it no less extraordinary.
Head to the Catedral de San Cristobal, built in 1777 and home to the remains of Christopher Columbus for over 100 years, and work your way through the cobbled streets to rainbow-coloured Plaza Vieja. Pass via the book market at Plaza de Armas and pop into art galleries, cigar stores and cafes along the way.
Check out this walking tour of Old Havana for expert guidance.
4. Cruise Havana in a classic convertible
I know it’s a cliché, but who can resist the opportunity to cruise the streets of Havana in a classic convertible? (Not me.) Tour guides with retro rides wait outside the entrance to hotels like ours, the Iberostar Parque Centro, and it’s such a fun way to cover a lot of ground in the city. We hired a cobalt blue Pontiac to show us the Prado, Centro, Vedado and Miramar.
Most tours will take you along the 7km-long seafront Malecón and onto the Plaza de la Revolución, where you’ll find a giant portrait of Che Guevara plastered on the wall of the Ministry of the Interior.
You’ll also pass Cuba’s El Capitolio, reminiscent of the Capitol in Washington but modelled on the Panthéon in Paris and cost a cool $17 million, and stop for photos outside the iconic Hotel Nacional, famed for hosting the largest ever get-together of the North American Mafia!
Depending on how tight-lipped your driver is you might get more of an insight into the lives of Cubans today. See more here.
5. Visit Hemingway’s Home
You’ll find Hemingway’s home of 20 years 15km southeast of Havana in San Francisco de Paula. His book-strewn home has been preserved since he left it to the Cuban people in 1960 and you can take a peek inside it (from open windows and doors!) at the Museo Hemingway.
6. Visit the home of the mojito
While everyone seems to agree the mojito was invented in Cuba, where exactly seems up for some debate.
Mojito Mojito says the drink of the same name was invented by their barman but La Bodeguita del Medio (apparently Hemingway’s favourite place to sip one) also claims to be the mojito’s birthplace. Why not have a drink in both and decide for yourself who you think does it better?
7. Sip a daiquiri at El Floridita
Scribbled on the wall in La Bodeguita, allegedly by Ernest Hemingway, is “My mojito in La Bodeguita, My daiquiri in El Floridita” and he did the latter so often they’ve made a statue of him propping up the bar there.
Many tourists in Cuba pass through El Floridita on day trips but if you’re staying overnight in Havana you’ll have a better chance of getting in at a quieter hour.
8. Go to The Museum of the Revolution of Havana
The Museum of the Revolution of Havana is somewhere my husband insisted we visited on our trip but I’m glad he did. Housed in what used to be the Presidential Palace, still showing the bullet holes of an unsuccessful assassination attempt on its last resident Fulgencio Batista, the museum covers the build-up to the revolution in Cuba, along with details of life since, although obviously from one heavily-biased perspective.
Outside are a collection of vehicles associated with the revolution, including a tank used by Castro during the 1961 Bay of Pigs battle.
9. Explore Cuban cuisine at independent restaurants and paladares
Away from the standard hotel fare, you’ll discover the creativity of Cuban cuisine at independent restaurants and paladares (privately run restaurants often found in people’s houses).
Discover Cuba’s answer to refined dining at Paladar Los Mercaderes or sample ceviche overlooking the sea at Casa Mia. One of Cuba’s most popular restaurants is La Guarida. Hidden on the 3rd floor of a dilapidated mansion in Centro, people queue for a taste of their signature appetizer of eggplant caviar, honey-mustard chicken and pork medallions.
10. Have sundowners on the rooftop of Iberostar Parque Central Hotel
What more could a weary tourist want after a day of exploring somewhere with the history and vibrancy of Havana, but a cold drink and a view like this one from the rooftop of the Iberostar Parque Central?
Read next: First impressions of Cuba