Top 10 Cuba Destinations for Backpackers

1. Havana

The sprawling capital city is probably where you’ll first arrive so spend a few days seeing the sights, getting comfortable with the heat, and soaking up Cuba’s vibe. There are loads of museums to visit, as well as an obligatory ride in one of the beautiful old taxis, a stroll along the malecón, and of course, lots of mojitos. It’s also one of the only places in Cuba with a few dorm rooms available which can be useful for solo travellers to meet some buddies to continue their trip with.

The Che Guevara memorial in Santa Clara
The Che Guevara memorial in Santa Clara

2. Viñales

This small friendly town in the Piñar del Rio province is mainly inhabited with tobacco farmers and their families. The area is made up of a huge valley with strange mogotes (large grassy mounds) rising from it, making a spectacular backdrop. There are many activities to keep you busy, such as horse riding, visiting a tobacco farm, or exploring the caves.

3. Cienfuegos

A stunning city full of French architecture so slightly different to what you’re used to in Havana and in better condition too. Sights include the historic centre, the tree-lined Prado, the malecón, and the magnificent bay. You can go fishing for bass for the day, or just take a boat trip around the harbour to have a nose at what the fishermen are up to.

4. Santa Clara

Even though there’s not a great deal here compared to other destinations in Cuba, it feels kind of obligatory to visit the resting place of Che Guevara. You can visit the museum, go to his mausoleum, and marvel at the huge statue in the Plaza de la Revolución. There are also some good nightlife options.

5. Trinidad

This is such a beautiful little town with cobbled streets and stunning colonial buildings, all centered round the lovely Plaza Mayor. Wander up the little hill for some great views. In the evenings the streets come alive with music and there is plenty of salsa dancing going on. With plenty to see, great nightlife, and a nearby beach it’s easy to stay here for a few days or more.

6. Sancti Spriritus

Another gorgeous colonial town but somewhat more ‘real’ and less touristy than Trinidad, which is the big reason to go here. Have a stroll along the river which is lined with guava trees and over the picturesque bridge, or take a trip to nearby Presa Zaza, Cuba’s largest lake and home to many bird species.

7. Bayamo

A nice stop to break up the long trip down to Santiago, this capital city of the Granma province doesn’t have so many colonial buildings due to a fire during the Revolución. The Cuban sprit was said to have been born here though, and you can tell by the local’s national pride. Head to Parque Cespedes for a relaxing afternoon amongst the palm trees and take advantage of the great street food on offer.

8. Santiago de Cuba

The second largest city in the country is at the opposite end from Havana and is known for its music, dancing, and rum! There’ll be plenty of chance to have some salsa lessons and show off your new skills. There’s also a lot to see in terms of history and culture but it’s a busy town and you’ll probably want to escape to the nearby beautiful countryside before long.

9. Baracoa

With an intriguing history this quiet town is an interesting place to visit sitting amidst jungle and vegetation where coconuts, cacao and coffee are grown. Activities such as bike riding and hiking up MountYunque are popular, as well as relaxing at the lovely nearby beaches.

10. Varadero

Don’t be put off by all the resorts swarming with tourists, there is a nicer side to this sandy peninsula and the beaches are world class. Stay in one of the cheap casas particulares in the pleasant town instead of the hotels lining the coast. It’s easy to find some beach all to yourself, especially in low season. Basking in the sun on the powder white sand while reading a book is pretty much all there is to do during the day, but at night there’s always a party going on somewhere!


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