A few of my friends have emailed me asking for a shorter itinerary for Cuba (for one or two weeks instead of the three that I was in Cuba). They saw my pictures from Havana, Vinales, Trinidad, Santiago de Cuba, Camaguey, Cienfuegos, and Varadero and they wanted to know what they absolutely had to see and what they could skip if they were short on time. I think one week is the minimum you must stay if you go to Cuba, but I understand that some people might be on a long weekend from NYC or Miami where they have direct
I think one week is the minimum you must stay if you go to Cuba, but I understand that some people might be on a long weekend from NYC or Miami where they have direct flights. I’ve included options for a weekend, one week, and two-week options.
If you only have a long weekend, please go to Havana rather than Varadero! Havana is full of life, color, old cars, history, amazing music, and incredible salsa dancing. I met people who spent a whole week in Varadero and didn’t get to see any other parts of the country and I think that is a crying shame, but do whatever floats your boat!
One Week in Cuba
Havana – 3 Days – I came to Cuba with the specific intention to dance as much as salsa as possible. So that is what I did! I fell in love with the Salsabor a Cuba dance academy and spent many hours every day in classes and dancing the night away with these teachers. If you are not a crazy salsera like me then you might want to go to visit Hemingway’s watering holes, get lost in Havana Vieja, walk along the Malecon, and go to visit the Castillo del Morro.
Vinales– 1 Day– I stayed in a wonderful casa particular just a block away from the main plaza through Airbnb. They arranged for me to book a five our horseback riding tour of Vinales. This was a major highlight of my three weeks in Cuba and I consider it a must see. You get to learn about how tobacco is grown, visit a coffee plantation and cave formation, and see the sun set behind this Avatar style landscape.
Trinidad 3 Days– Listen to as much live music as you can in the plazas, in the Casa de la Music, and in La Casa de la Trova. Enjoy the colonial architecture and cobblestone streets. Dance every night and take dance lessons for at least an hour a day (ask at Casa de la Cultura). Spend a day at the beach called Playa Ancon.
Two Weeks in Cuba
Havana 5 days- With two extra days in Havana, I would visit Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. I would also be sure to fit in one of the artesania markets to get souvenirs for people back home. I would make sure to visit the Fabrica de Arte art gallery at night.
Vinales 2 Days– Just relax for a second day or take a bike riding tour further into the national park.
Varadero– 3 days – I always like to end a vacation with a little beach time if I can. Many people choose to do all-inclusive hotel stays in Varadero just because it is easiest. I chose to stay at El Mojito which is an amazing place with delicious food (breakfast included) and lodgings for under $50 a night. Maybe take a catamaran tour, but I think the best value are in the gorgeous Varadero beaches themselves.
Three Weeks in Cuba
I posted my full itinerary here. Looking back, I wish I had spent more time in Santiago, Havana, and Trinidad and just skipped Cienfuegos and Camaguey. However, you might want to include them to break up your bus trips if you are taking Viazul buses across the country.
Havana– 4 days
Vinales – 1 day
Trinidad (I had to book a night here because I couldn’t find a bus from Vinales to Santiago)- 1 night
Santiago de Cuba– 3 Days My favorite thing to do here was visit Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca. The salsa shows at Casa de la Musica were also fun (but not as good as Trinidad). Visit a rum museum (Havana Club started here). If you are lucky enough to be here in July then party it up at Carnival (I think I will need to return for this because so many people told me I would love it).
Camaguey– 2 Days– This is a UNESCO site because of its many twisty streets, colonial architecture, and lovely churches. I loved visiting the sculpture workshop and the many churches.
Trinidad– 4 Days
Cienfuegos– 2 Days
Varadero– 3 Days
Havana– 1 Day– I, of course, just danced a lot for my last night! On your last day maybe you would like to ride in a classic car and/or see a cabaret.
I really hope more people make it to Cuba before it changes too much… or before a certain someone in the White House starts reversing all of the progress Obama made. There are so many other places that you could visit on future trips, but I think these area all excellent places to see on your first trip to Cuba.