When it comes to Cuba, many travelers might not know where to begin. From the delicious food to its interesting culture, there are more than a few things to learn before traveling to the Caribbean island.
From must-see world heritage sites to a few do’s and don’ts while traveling the country, here are some hidden gems and facts about Cuba.
The City Of Trinidad Is Full Of Beautiful Architecture And History
A hidden gem in Cuba is the city of Trinidad. Founded back in 1514, the city is home to The Plaza Mayor, an open-air museum of Spanish Colonial Architecture. Close to the Valle de Los Ingenios, Trinidad was once at the center of Cuba’s sugar production.
Now, travelers will want to come here to see the magnificent red-domed tower of the Church and Monastery of Saint Francis, as well as the Church of the Holy Trinity.
S.S. San Pasqual, The Ten-Room Hotel On Water
When there is an option to go to a very different type of hotel, one that isn’t, say, online, take the chance! In this case, it’s the S.S. San Pasqual, an American oil tanker off the coast of Cayo Las Brujas.
No longer used as an oil tanker, the S.S. San Pasqual was converted into a ten-room hotel back in the 1990s. The only way to get to the tanker/hotel is by boat from the mainland.
Enjoy The Amazing Culture
Cuba, especially the city of Havana, is full of amazingly rich culture. From historic art museums and architecture to local food and music, there is a little bit of something for everyone to enjoy.
Generally, tourists are prone to stick to more, well, touristy spots. But when it comes to traveling around Cuba, immersing oneself in the city’s local culture, or even one of Cuba’s small central towns, is an absolute must.
Jardines del Rey For Diving And Snorkeling
For anyone traveling to Cuba, the Jardines del Rey archipelago is a must-see. Well, technically, the must-see attractions of the island chain are underwater. Jardines del Rey’s crystal blue water is made up of a gorgeous coral reef.
Teeming with all sorts of different wildlife, Jardines del Rey is the perfect destination for scuba divers and snorkelers who want to see what a different part of Cuba has to offer!
Keep It Casual
From Havana to Santiago and Trinidad to Santa Clara, no matter where people are in Cuba, the dress code is very casual. For anyone who isn’t entirely sure what to bring to the country, keep in mind that while it’s all quite casual, it’s also very hot and sunny.
Even so, all that’s required are a few short-sleeved shirts, some shorts, and a pair of comfortable shoes since most of the cities are walking-friendly.
Hikers Need To Visit The Sierra Cristal Mountain Range
For anyone who enjoys the great outdoors, there’s no place quite like the Sierra Cristal mountain range. Located in eastern Cuba, the range is one of the country’s highest peaks and is pretty much completely dominated by a pine forest.
Founded in 1930, the Sierra Cristal National Park is Cuba’s first, covering a solid 71.57 square miles of terrain. It’s the hidden gem that hikers are going to want to take a day or two to explore.
Guayaba Is One Of The Most Delicious Fruits
One of the best-kept secrets of Cuba is the country’s spectacular fruit selection, such as guayaba or guava. Interestingly, locals don’t just eat guayaba as a fruit but use it in a variety of dishes.
Some of the most common uses of guayaba include yummy marmalade, the sweet dessert casquitos de guayaba, and even juices. The tropical fruit isn’t something to be looked over when it’s being sold on the streets!
Casa-Museo José Lezama Lima
For anyone who wants to dive into a bit of Cuban history, look no further than the Casa-Museo José Lezama Lima in Havana. The museum is the actual house writer, poet, and art critic José Lezama Lima lived in from 1929 until 1976.
Inside, the house has been left unchanged, with family portraits, furniture, and even his library untouched and preserved for the public’s enjoyment. It’s the perfect place to learn a bit of history about the man who wrote Paradiso.
Engage With The Local Population
No matter where tourists go in Cuba, engaging with the locals will make the experience so much richer. Warm, nice, and eager to share stories and learn about a stranger’s life, Cuban’s are all for small talk and getting to know people.
The best way to travel is to get to know locals and some of the places they enjoy going themselves. So don’t miss out on the opportunity to get to know someone!
Valle De Vinales And The Mural Of Prehistory
The mogotes, oddly-shaped mountains covered in moss and vegetation, of the Valle de Vinales, are found nowhere else in Cuba. They’re quite unique and are home to some of the oldest rocks found throughout Cuba and the rest of the Caribbean.
One of the hidden aspects of this area is the Mural of Prehistory, found on the mogote called Pita. The mural is an illustration of the natural evolution of life and is a wonder to behold.
The Ruins In The Valle De Los Ingenios
Valle de Los Ingenios, or Valley of the Sugar Mills, is a UNESCO world heritage site and a must-see location for anyone traveling to Trinidad, Cuba. Made up of three valleys, San Luis, Santa Rosa, and Meyer, the mills were the center of Cuban sugar production in the 18th and 19th centuries.
While the mills are no longer in operation, there are picturesque ruins of the mills, barracks, plantation houses, and other facilities located throughout the valleys.
Guanábana Is A Must-Try Fruit
For travelers who enjoy trying new and exotic foods, look no further than the Guanábana, or soursop. With the smell of a pineapple, the taste of a strawberry and apple, and the creamy texture of a banana, the soursop is primarily used in smoothies and juices.
It’s very common, and therefore should be one of the first things tourists should try when roaming the hot streets of Cuba (nothing like a cold smoothie on a hot day!).
Cash, Cash, And Bring Some More Cash
A little secret many travelers might want to be cognizant of is that any credit card from an American bank will not work in Cuba. This means credit card transactions will be declined, and ATMs are all but useless.
It’s very important to bring a lot of cash to the country. But it’s even more important to stick to a budget so that cash doesn’t run out! Sometimes, it’s best to over-withdrawal before heading to Cuba.
A Bicitaxi Is An Experience Tourists Won’t Want To Miss
With so many different modes of transportation, there is nothing quite like the bicitaxi. Dating back to the “special period,” these bike-taxi’s are pretty much just as they sound — a tricycle-looking bike with two back seats and a person “driving” in the front.
Bicitaxi’s came in very handy in Cuba when fuel was in short supply since they have no need for gas and only need a whole lot of will and foot power.
5-Star Hotels Are More Like 2 Or 3 Stars
It’s important for tourists to take Cuban hotels with a grain of salt. If lodging is listed as a five-star hotel, it’s most likely going to be a letdown from what Americans consider luxury. In fact, these places are closer to two, maybe three-star hotels.
Unfortunately, even though the food isn’t going to be the best and the rooms aren’t going to be quite as nice, these “five-star” hotels are still going to run for a high price. It’s just something to keep in mind.
The Fishing Village Cojímar Is Full Of Literary History
The small fishing village of Cojímar is a hidden gem a lot of tourists wouldn’t think to visit. But they should reconsider! The village is where writer Ernest Hemingway docked his boat, Pilar.
It’s also one of the main inspirations behind one of his more well-known novels, The Old Man and the Sea, specifically the main character of Santiago. It’s said that Hemingway based the character off his old fishing buddy, Gregorio Fuentes.
El Pedraplen Feels Like The Car Is Driving On Water
According to travelers, there is nothing quite like driving over El Pedraplen. An almost 30 mile stretch of road connecting Caibarién to Santa María Cay, Cuba, the drive feels as though the car is driving over water.
It might sound like a strange activity, but El Pedraplen is considered the longest causeway in the world. And who wouldn’t want to feel as though they’re driving into the horizon!? It’s sure to be beautiful.
El Morro Originally Served As A First Line Of Defence
El Morro is a massive fortress, better known as Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca, designed back in 1587. Located at the entrance of Havana Bay, the castle originally served as the city’s first line of defense from pirates.
Ironically, the castle is now the Museum of Piracy. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, El Morro is an architectural marvel that took a solid 100 years to build. So, it’s definitely worth visiting!
Don’t Critique The Paladares
Throughout the years, the local community in Cuba has worked very hard to revamp its food scene to what it is today. And what it is today is absolutely remarkable! Serving “survival food” at small self-employed restaurants called paladares, locals are very proud of where their country’s “inner foodie.”
Chefs and owners have worked very hard to get where they are, so it’s very important for tourists to enjoy the experience and not critique the workers.
The Statue Of Fictional Heroine Cecilia Valdés
People might overlook a quick trip to downtown Havana. But they shouldn’t! In the middle of a small plaza right in front of the Iglesia del Santo Angel Custodio, there stands a bronze statue. This statue is of Cecilia Valdés, the heroine of author Cirilo Villaverde’s book by the same name.
The novel has inspired many projects in the arts, including operas, other literature, and even a film. Cecilia Valdés is considered one if not the most important book to come out of the 19th century.
Centro Cultural Dulce María Loynaz Is A Literary Lovers Dream
Restored in 2005, the Centro Cultural Dulce María Loynaz was once home to one of the most prolific Spanish poets in history, Maria Loynaz. Now, it is a landmark of Havana’s literary scene.
The cultural center hosts a wide array of events, including monthly music, poetry, and theater programs for the public. If diving into the local scene is on a travelers to-do list, then the Centro Cultural Dulce María Loynaz is a must-stop location.
Gato Tuerto Is The Perfect Place For Some Live Music
With live music, traditional Cuban food, and signature cocktails, what’s not to like about the Gato Tuerto? The local Havana bar is one of the city’s hidden gems and one that tourists should definitely frequent if they find themselves in the mood for some bolero music.
Once a meeting place for local artists in the city, it is now an iconic bar where people have a fun evening full of jazz, Cuban Trova music, and slow-tempo Latin bolero performances.
Explore Hemingway’s Past At Finca Vigía
From 1939 until 1960, writer Ernest Hemingway called Finca Vigía home. The house is located in the San Francisco de Paula Ward in Havana, Cuba, and is absolutely stunning. The best part is that the old home is open to the public!
With over 9,000 books in the library, a back veranda, and stunning views of downtown Havana, the house is a must-see destination for Hemingway lovers. Fun fact: it is at this residence that Hemingway wrote The Old Man and the Sea.
Papito’s Arte Corte Is More Than A Hidden Gem
For those who want to feel “la alegria Cubana,” or the joy of Cuba, there is no place better than Papito’s hair salon, Arte Corte. More than a hair salon, Arte Corte is more of an interactive museum with hundred-year-old chairs, antique scissors and razors, and even original artwork that’s been there since its opening.
Charming and quaint, Papito has brought a new life to the street of Callejón de los Peluqueros, a hidden gem everyone needs to visit.
Go To Doña Eutimia For 100% Traditional Cuban Food
When in Cuba, don’t settle for anything less than 100% authentic Cuban food. That’s why Doña Eutimia, one of the country’s hidden gems, is a restaurant tourists must visit. Why? Well, to start, the owner has made a menu comprised solely of foods she remembers her mother cooking.
Second off, she doesn’t believe in “fusion,” so everything on the menu is very traditional, aka delicious. It’s a quaint restaurant that deserves all of the attention.
For Traditional Dance, Don’t Miss The Patio De La Rumba
Is it even a trip to Cuba if a traditional dance and drum circle experience isn’t involved? Thankfully, the Patio de la Rumba covers all of those needs! On Saturdays from 3 till 6 pm, people watch drumming and Afro-Cuban religious and secular dance at an event known as Sábado de la Rumba.
Hosted by El Conjunto Folklórico Nacional de Cuba, the event brings together both locals and tourists for a fun and energetic time.
Taking An Almendrón Is A Right Of Passage
Havana locals get around using a taxi system called the almendrón. If tourists want to see how to live like a Habanero, then taking one of these old-school fifties and sixties-styled cars is a right of passage.
Keep in mind, when utilizing this transportation method, the taxi will always be filled. Drivers don’t leave the curb until their car is completely filled. But the ten pesos is worth the experience.
Visit Hemingway’s Room At The Ambos Mundos Hotel
Those people who enjoy Ernest Hemingway need to be sure to check out this hidden gem in Havana: the room he stayed in at the Ambos Mundos hotel. Kept in pristine condition, visitors can go to the room and see the author’s typewriter, glasses, writing table, and various other memorabilia.
He stayed at the hotel from 1932 until 1939, completing the first few chapters of his novel For Whom the Bell Tolls.
Head To Café Bohemia For Some Addictive Cakes And Goodies
Traveling and walking around can be a bit tiring, so there’s no harm in sitting down at a cute café to unwind for a bit. In this case, the place to be in Café Bohemia, a beautiful revamped mansion on Plaza Vieja in Havana.
Not only do they sell delectable craft cocktails and tapas, but their cakes and other pastries are pretty much to die for. Grab a book, order a refreshing cocktail and a slice of cake, and relax!
The Owner Of Mama Inés Worked For Fidel Castro
Foor authentic food with an interesting history, there is no place better to dine than Mama Inés. Chef Erasmo used to work for Fidel Castro, opening the tiny restaurant when the former Prime Minister passed away.
Now, the chef serves up delicious pork, avocado, beans, and rice dishes to his clients. According to reviews, the quality of each dish has ingredients that are out of this world, fresh, fragrant, and full of flavor.