As the biggest island in the Caribbean, Cuba is oozing with variety and personality. And while it’s famous for its world-class beaches and laid-back vibe, there’s something very different about this sunshine destination. From the island’s extraordinary history and political system to its unique Afro-Latin culture – Cuba is one of the most beguiling Caribbean islands you’ll find.
Here are 10 brilliant things to do beyond the beach while you’re there...
1. Havana history
What do I do while in Havana?’ you might ask. As the island’s capital, it’s vibrant, bursting with character and is home to some of the most fascinating history you’ll find.
Those charming rainbow-colonial buildings and colourful 1950s American cars you see on postcards are all found here, so it really is a photographer’s dream.
Explore its incredible Baroque cathedral, fort ruins and ancient plazas and the restored churches and mansions of Habana Vieja, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Any stroll around this unique metropolis is like taking a nostalgic step back in time.
2. Cigar city
While in Havana, aka ‘Cigar City’, it would be rude not to head out to one of the many factories to watch the experts hand-rolling tobacco leaves into those world famous cigars.
From the Partagas Cigar Factory – the oldest in Cuba – to the El Laguito Cigar Factory, set in a manicured garden oasis, you’ll be mesmerised by the heady aromas, hard work and unique craft that goes into this centuries-old export.
You may even get to roll your own.
3. Visit the Museo del Chocolate
Chances are, you think of Chocolate when in Cuba, so a visit to Museo del Chocolate should be on every visitor’s list. More a café than a museum, this chocoholics’ heaven in the heart of Old Havana serves up warming cups of melted chocolate, or if the sun’s blazing outside go for chilled version.
Watch chocolates being made and breathe in the sweet aromas while admiring charming chocolate artefacts that adorn the walls.
4. Cuban cuisine
Influenced by many cultures – Cuban cuisine is extremely diverse! For lunch, try a meat or cheese empanada, a type of Cuban sandwich to take your taste buds to their happy place. And by night, you might come across fried plantains, congri (rice) and a variety of pork or chicken.
Mojitos by the poolside are another must, made with lime juice and pure cane rum, these are as much part of the paintwork as the good ol’ Cuban cigars. In fact, Cuba is known as ‘Rum Island’ so book a visit to the Bacardi® Rum factory for a free tasting and to see how rum is made locally and exported worldwide.
5. Get yer groove on
Cuba oozes an infectious Hispanic-Afro-Caribbean vibe. And while you’re out and about you’re sure to discover the wild musical beats that bleed almost continuously in the streets. Get your fill in a wide variety of live music venues and brush up on your moves with the locals.
Mambo, rumba, bolero, or reggaeton. Everything goes here, so find a dancehall and get into a Buena Vista Social Club kinda vibe.
6. Visit Pinar del Rio
A less visited corner of Cuba, Pinar del Rio, a town closest to some of the world’s largest tobacco-growing territories, is worth a visit for its picturesque countryside and distinct Latin feel. Soak up the brightly coloured Spanish architecture, watch cigars being rolled in an old factory and see some of the finest Cuban art in its selection of museums.
While you thought rum was the preferred tipple in Cuba, you might want to try Guayabita del Pinar. A sweet heady brew otherwise known as guava brandy, this is the city’s signature liquor that you might be tempted to try.
Steeped in history from the sugar and slave trade, a visit to this charming UNESCO World Heritage site feels like you’ve stepped back in time. Big colonial and palatial architecture, Spanish-feel plazas and winding cobbled streets, Trinidad is a gem of a city that’s overflowing with character. Take a train into the Valley of the Sugar Mills and enjoy tours of the plantations overlooked by verdant countryside.
8. Explore the marine life
If you like diving, you’ll love Cuba. With pristine waters, over 50 species of coral and vibrant tropical fish, you’re heading for underwater bliss. There are dozens of good diving centres across the island offering underwater expeditions for both the beginner and advanced diver.
From the largest colony of black coral to underwater caves, shipwrecks and turtles, you’ll be left in awe of Cuba’s aquatic treasures.
Surrounded by the emerald sea, Cuba’s selection of water sports is diverse. Kayaking, windsurfing, fly fishing trips and hobie cat sailing are never far away on this island.
10. Lap up Varadero’s nightlife
By night, the beautiful spot of Varadero becomes a great place to party. From Mambo clubs to cabaret and Discos to karaoke, this is the time to get yer glad rags on. There’s live music, dance floors and flowing mojitos galore. A great way to end the holiday of a lifetime.