Americans Can Visit Cuba – Here’s 15 Incredible Things To Do on the Island

Yes – American travelers can visit Cuba! Wondering how to spend a bucket list trip exploring the island of Cuba? These are some of the best things to do in Cuba, according to locals and long-time expats who have explored every inch of the island.

Explore Old Havana

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There is no more fascinating area of Havana than its oldest neighborhood, Old Havana, home to beautiful but faded historic architecture, museums, cultural centers, fortresses, and grand plazas. Unlike the historic centers of other cities in the Caribbean, Old Havana is unique in that people actually live here, and you’ll see real life happening around you as you walk the streets: children rushing to classes in their uniforms, fruit and vegetable markets, street vendors selling pastries.

Dive with Sharks in Jardines de la Reina

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Jardines de la Reina is known as one of the most pristine protected areas of the Caribbean Sea, home to unique corals, beautiful tropical fish, and countless sharks, some known to grow larger than anywhere else on Earth. Diving with sharks is one of the most popular activities here, though experienced guides can also lead you to shark-free areas if you’d like a more relaxing dive. Wherever you plan to dive, be prepared for stunning underwater scenery with canyons, caves, and unique formations wherever you look.

Hike Pico Turquino

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In the heart of the Sierra Maestra mountain range in southeast Cuba, expect lush jungles and stunning views to reward your efforts. The hike is moderately strenuous and doesn’t require any special gear, acclimatization, or training, so as long as you’re reasonably fit and active, it’s well within your reach. The summit also includes an optional visit to the Comandancia de la Plata, one of Cuba’s most important revolutionary sites.

Stroll the Colonial Streets of Trinidad

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Trinidad is known for having the best-preserved and most extensive colonial center in the Caribbean. It’s a gem that far too few travelers in the Caribbean visit. While specific sites in the historic center are worth seeing – particularly the Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco de Asis with its stunning mountain views from the rooftop, there is a simple and special joy in exploring the historic city streets.

See the Mogotes in Viñales

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Viñales is stunning; its limestone “mountains” called mogotes soaring up from otherwise flat ground make this valley look almost otherwordly, leaving a lasting impression. Visiting just to bask in the beauty is more than enough of a reason. However, Viñales also has so much to see and do. Horseback ride through the valleys, visit tobacco plantations, learn about the art of making cigars, and explore caves with underground lakes and rivers.

Soak Up the Sun in Varadero

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Cuba’s favorite beach getaway, both for international travelers and Cubans, is Varadero. The convenience of Varadero – just two hours east of Havana – and its bevy of restaurants, bars, rental apartments and houses, and resorts – makes it a great, easy spot to enjoy one of the world’s best stretches of white sand.

Ride in a Vintage American Car

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Would it be a trip to Cuba without taking a ride in a vintage car? While you’ll see vintage cars everywhere you look, the most impressive convertible models are usually used for giving car tours of the country’s major cities. These rides are a great introduction to the city’s most impressive spots.

Hike Waterfalls in Topes de Collantes

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Cuba is filled with fantastic places to get off the beaten path and hike through the stunning interior of the country. One of the best spots to explore on foot is the stunning Topes de Collantes area in the Escambray mountains just west of Trinidad. Home to countless waterfall hikes like El Nicho, Salto de Caburní, and Vegas Grande, this is a great place to escape for a day trip to an impressive natural spot.

Take in the View from the Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca

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Located in Santiago de Cuba, the island’s eastern capital and second-largest city, the historic Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca is an impressive Spanish fortress you can’t skip. It’s lauded by UNESCO as “the most complete, best-preserved example of Spanish-American military architecture.”

Enjoy a Havana Sunset on the Malecón

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The Malecón, Havana’s iconic seaside promenade stretching for almost 5 miles, offers an unobstructed view of the Caribbean Sea, El Cristo de la Habana and El Morro, making it the perfect vantage point for witnessing the sun dip below the horizon in a blaze of color. Enjoy the sea breeze while tasting authentic Cuban drinks and tapas.

Visit the Sierra del Rosario

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The Sierra del Rosario mountain range in the province of Pinar del Rio is a unique protected biosphere, home to endemic flora and fauna in the stunning and lush tropical forest that makes for an unforgettable trip. Within the Sierra del Rosario you’ll find Soroa, a popular destination for hiking in Cuba, and home to a beautiful orchid garden and stunning waterfall hikes.

Spot Unique Wildlife in Ciénaga de Zapata

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One of the most unique natural spots in Cuba is Ciénaga de Zapata on the southern coast of Cuba. Known for being one of the country’s best areas to witness wildlife, Ciénaga de Zapata is home to over 900 species of plants and over 175 species of birds (many of which are only found in Cuba – some are found only in this park!).

Walk in Ernest Hemingway’s Shoes

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Cuba is famous for being a second home to Ernest Hemingway and the inspiration for much of his work. Today, visitors to Havana can take a guided Hemingway tour or follow in his footsteps by visiting some of his favorite spots around Cuba. For example, El Floridita, a famous Old Havana bar, memorializes Hemingway with a large bronze statue at the bar; he was known to down several drinks at this very corner. Alternatively, visitors can explore the Hotel Ambos Mundos, an Old Havana hotel that was Hemingway’s home away from home before he purchased his estate outside Havana.

Stay in a Casa Particular

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Before renting on Airbnb became a popular way to travel, Cuba did it first. Called “casas particulares,” these “private homes” have long been the best place to stay in Cuba. Just like on Airbnb, you can find everything from a spare bedroom to a sprawling mansion with a private pool for rent – often significantly cheaper than the prices of a hotel.

Visit Cuba’s Pristine Cayos

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Some of Cuba’s most popular destinations aren’t actually on the Cuban mainland – they’re the tiny cays (cayos) that rim most of the island, sitting just offshore. While each cay is unique, they’re generally known for having Cuba’s most famous and luxurious resorts and are home to the island’s best beaches. Among the most popular cays for visitors to Cuba are Cayo Coco, Cayo Guillermo, and Cayo Santa Maria, just to mention a few.

carley rojas avila

Carley Rojas Avila is a bilingual New York-based travel writer, editor, content marketer, and the founder of the digital travel publications Explorers Away and Home to Havana. Carley is an expert on all things Latin America, the Caribbean, and Cuba, having lived and worked in four different countries in the region. Her writing has appeared on the Associated Press wires and in Travel + Leisure, Yahoo, MSN, Euronews, The Weather Channel, and more. When she's not writing about her travels, find her front row at a Bad Bunny concert, befriending street cats, and taste-testing every pizza in Havana.