Architecture

Habana Vieja Like an old attic full of dusty relics, Havana is a treasure chest of eclectic architecture.

Cienfuegos Cuba’s most architecturally homogeneous city is a love letter to French neoclassicism, full of elegant columns.

Camagüey An unusual street plan of labyrinthine lanes and baroque spires that hide a devout Catholic soul.

Trinidad One of the most beguiling and best-preserved towns in the Caribbean, tranquil Trinidad is a riot of colonial baroque.

Nightlife & Dancing

Santa Clara Where the ‘next big thing’ happens first; drag shows, rock ‘n’ roll music and everything in between.

Cabarets Cuba's flamboyant kitschy cabarets, like Havana's Tropicana, are something from opulent pre-revolutionary life that refused to die.

Casas de la Trova Cuba’s old-fashioned spit-and-sawdust music houses are determined to keep the essence of traditional Cuban music alive.

Union of Cuban Writers and Artists (Uneac) Provincial free cultural centers full of latent artistic talent where everyone greets you like a long-lost friend. Leader of the pack is El Hurón Azul in Havana.

Ruins

Gran Hotel & Balneario The elegant skeleton of this hotel and bathhouse sit totally abandoned in the middle of Matanzas Province.

Hacienda Cortina A surreal stately home surrounded by plant-rich, statue-filled grounds that's just been partially restored.

Antiguo Cafetal Angerona Romantic but little visited ruins of an old coffee farm just outside the town of Artemisa.

Sierra del Rosario Reserve The ruins of some of Cuba's oldest coffee farms lie within this Unesco Biosphere Reserve.

Presidio Modelo Cuba's creepiest prison with its huge circular cell-blocks is waiting to haunt you on La Isla de la Juventud.

Under the Radar

Gibara The home of the ‘poor man’s film festival’ is rich in wild, ocean-side scenery and creeping Holguín magic.

Hotel Marea del Portillo Coastal resort close to magnificent mountains, untouched since the Granma yacht ran aground in 1956.

Matanzas Varadero’s outcast sibling lacks sun-loungers and stuff-yourself-silly buffets, but it has soul asere (mate).

Las Tunas Cuba’s least-visited provincial capital defies its ‘boring’ stereotype on Saturday night when there’s a rodeo in town.

Isla de la Juventud Getting to the isla can be a pain in the rear, but if you want a piece of Cuba to yourself, it's worth it.

Wildlife-Watching

Ciénaga de Zapata Take a boat trip to see a microcosm of Cuban wildlife, including the critically endangered Cuban crocodile.

Parque Nacional Alejandro de Humboldt Sky-high levels of endemism make Humboldt, home to the world’s smallest frog, an ecological rarity.

Sierra del Chorrillo Nonindigenous exotic animals, including zebra and deer, in a quintessentially Cuban grassland setting.

Río Máximo Behold the largest colony of nesting flamingos in the world on Camagüey’s north coast.

Guanahacabibes Crabs and iguanas do battle with 4WD traffic on the excursion to Cuba’s western wilderness.

Diving & Snorkeling

Isla de la Juventud La Isla is famed for its clear water and hosts an underwater photography competition.

Jardines de la Reina Heavily protected archipelago with zero infrastructure protects some of the most unspoiled reefs in the Caribbean.

María la Gorda More than 50 easily accessible dive sites off Cuba’s western tip make this small resort ‘diver’s central’.

Bahia de Cochinos Once infamous for another reason, the Bay of Pigs is today known for its easily accessible diving sites.

Playa Santa Lucía It’s worth braving this rather tacky resort strip to experience the best diving on Cuba’s north coast.

Relaxing at a Resort

Varadero The biggest resort in Cuba isn’t to everyone’s taste, but it’s still insanely popular.

Cayo Coco An island getaway linked to the mainland by a causeway, Cayo Coco is low-rise and more subtle than Varadero.

Guardalavaca Three separate enclaves on Holguín’s north coast offer three different price brackets, from expensive to bargain basement.

Cayerías del Norte The still-developing cayos of Villa Clara Province host Cuba's poshest resorts.

Cayo Largo del Sur Cuba's most isolated resort island isn't very Cuban, but its beaches are among the best in the nation.

Playa Santa Lucía Old and a little neglected, Camagüey's northern beach resort still offers the best bargains and excellent diving.

White-Sand Beaches

Playa Sirena Huge football field–sized beach on what is essentially a private tourist island with plenty of shady palms.

Varadero Twenty kilometers of unbroken beach – there's a reason why Varadero is the largest resort in the Caribbean.

Playa Las Tumbas On the western tip of Cuba, Las Tumbas, in the Guanahacabibes biosphere reserve, is practically virgin territory.

Playa Maguana Wind-whipped waves and bruised clouds all add to the ethereal ambience of Baracoa’s finest beach.

Playa Pilar Hemingway’s favorite is much-decorated in travel mags and backed by big dunes and a lobster-grilling beach shack.

Playa Bonita The only easily accessible beach on uninhabited Cayo Sabinal requires a boat transfer from Playa Santa Lucía.

Revolutionary History

Santa Clara ‘Che City’ is the home of Guevara’s mausoleum, myriad statues and a fascinating open-air museum.

Bayamo The understated capital of Granma Province, where Cuba’s first revolution was ignited in 1868.

Sierra Maestra Flecked with historical significance, including Castro's mountain-ridge HQ during the revolutionary war.

Santiago de Cuba The self-proclaimed ‘City of Revolutionaries’ was where Castro staged his first insurrection at Moncada Barracks.

Museo de la Revolución Cuba’s most comprehensive museum is a one-stop immersion in all things revolutionary.

Indigenous Culture

Museo Chorro de Maita The most important archaeological site in Cuba; all pre-Columbian investigations should start here.

Museo Indocubano Bani Modest but enthusiastically curated museum in Cuba's archaeological 'capital' Banes.

Sendero Arqueológico Natural el Guafe Short trail in western Granma Province to a cave where a Taino water deity is carved in bare rock.

Museo Arqueológico 'La Cueva del Paraíso' Innovative museum in a cave close to some of Cuba's oldest pre-Columbian remains.

Boca de Guamá Slightly kitschy attempt to recreate a Taíno village and pass it off as a tourist hotel.

Cueva de Punta del Este Large collection of cave paintings rightly dubbed the 'Sistine Chapel of the Caribbean'.

Pirates & Forts

Havana’s Forts Four of the finest examples of 16th-century military architecture in the Americas.

Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca del Morro Two hundred years in the making, Santiago’s La Roca is today a Unesco World Heritage site.

Castillo de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles de Jagua This little-visited bastion just outside Cienfuegos is 275 years old but still in remarkably good shape.

Baracoa Cuba's ‘first city’ has three stalwart forts that today serve as a museum, a hotel and a restaurant.

Matanzas Once breached by the British, Matanzas' little-visited Castillo de San Severino now harbors an interesting slave museum.

Live Music

Casas de la Música Havana's two Casas de la Música mix big-name live music with late-night dancing.

Casas de la Trova Son (Cuban music style) and boleros (ballads) give an old-fashioned lilt to these cultural houses in every Cuban provincial town. Our top pick is in Baracoa.

La Tumba Francesa Mysterious folklórico dance troupes in Guantánamo and Santiago de Cuba perform musical rites with a Haitian influence.

Street Rumba Salt-of-the-earth Havana and Matanzas specialize in mesmerizing drumming and dance rituals.

Jazz Cuba's best jazz venues are both in Havana's Vedado district: the Jazz Café and Jazz Club la Zorra y El Cuervo.