Places to Go

Havana

Museo de Bellas Artes—Located in the heart of Old Havana, the Museum of Fine Arts houses both permanent and visiting collections of classic and contemporary art.

Museo de la Campaña de Alfabetizacion—This museum on the outskirts of Havana tells the story of Cuba’s impressive 1961 Literacy Campaign in which 250 thousand volunteers (from age 7 to 89) set out across the country to teach more than 700 thousand people to read, resulting in a current-day literacy rate that rivals that in the U.S.

Museo de la Revolucion—More so than any other destination I’ve listed in Havana, this is a major tourist destination, but it’s also worth suffering through the crowds to learn about the history of the movement that transformed Cuba, for better and for worse, into the complex country it is today.

Museo de Abel Santamaria—This unassuming museum, at #164 Calle 25 between O and Infanta, is the house where the martyr Abel Santamaria (brother of Haydee below) lived and plotted with Fidel and other revolutionaries for their first big stand at the Moncada army barracks in Santiago on July 26th, 1953.

Casa de las Americas—Founded by the guerillera Haydee Santamaria soon after the Revolution, the mission of Casa de las Americas is to promote cultural interchange between artists throughout the Americas. As such, it hosts concerts, talks, film screenings, and readings from new books.

UNEAC—The Union of Cuban Artists and Writers, which hosts readings, films, panel discussions on art and literature, and weekly Wednesday afternoon live music performances in the lush courtyard of this former mansion.

El Malecon— Sizzling on sunny summer (and winter) afternoons, atmospherically moody during storms, and always magical at night, Havana’s famous seawall makes for one of the city’s most beautiful and dramatic walks. For a mini-marathon experience, pick it up at its start in Miramar and follow it for miles through the neighborhoods of Vedado and Central Havana into the cobblestoned plazas of Old Havana.

Playas del Este—If you want to go swimming in the Caribbean, skip the all-inclusive Varadero Beach and head instead for Playas del Este, which is frequented by Cubans as well as tourists.

Camagüey

UNEAC— The same artists and writers union that exists in Havana and in most major cities in Cuba, the Camaguey UNEAC also houses a gallery and bookstore and occasional concerts.

Casa de la Trova— Located next to UNEAC and across from the beautiful tree-lined, marble-benched Parque Agramonte, Casa de la Trova hosts courtyard concerts of not just trova but also classic Cuban dance music.

Catedral de Nuestra Señora de Candelaria Santa Iglesia The lookout from the tower of this church next to Parque Agramonte offers expansive views across the colonial streets and plazas of Camagüey.

Baracoa

El Yunque—This tabletop mountain, visible from nearly everywhere in the city, was supposedly what drew Columbus to the New World and inspired him to declare Cuba “the most beautiful land that human eyes have ever seen.” With a guide, you can hike to the top of El Yunque, a dramatic trek through a jungle of coconut and mango, plantain and pineapple, and the oblong dark brown cacao fruits from which chocolate is made.

Parque Nacional Alejandro de Humboldt—A guide can take you through this park on trails that lead to waterfalls and refreshing evergreen swimming holes.

Bayamo

Pico Turquino—From the tiny mountain village of Santo Domingo, just outside the eastern city ofBayamo, you can hire a guide to take you on the two-to-three-day hike up Cuba’s highest mountain, the 6749-foot high Pico Turquino. It’s a stunning although almost all straight-up 8-mile trek through orchid-filled forests of palm and pine. There are very rustic cabins where you can spend the night midway, and you’ll be greeted at the peak by a statue of Jose Martí and a breathtaking view of the Sierra Maestras, the former headquarters of the Revolution.

Pinar del Río

Parque Nacional de Viñales—There’s good hiking, rock-climbing, and photographing in the picturesque Viñales Valley where bright green haystack-shaped limestone hills called mogotes dot the landscape.

Isla de la Juventud

Presidio Modelo—You can hire a bici taxi from Nueva Gerona, Isla de la Juventud’s capital, to visit the museum of Presidio Modelo. A prison during the time of Batista, the museum now houses a permanent exhibit detailing the history of the rebels’ incarceration here after their failed attack on Moncada. It was in Presidio Modelo that Fidel, from his solitary confinement room, immersed himself in the readings that ultimately formed the foundation of the Revolution.

Santiago

Cuartel Moncada—Now a school, Cuartel Moncada was a military barracks before the Revolution. It was the site of the July 26, 1953 attack by Fidel and his rebels, which launched the Revolution. Inside is a museum detailing the fight and the history of the Revolution’s initiation.

Cienfuegos

Jardín Botánico Soledad—A nice escape from the bustle of downtown Cienfuegos, this botanical garden on the outskirts of town was created and maintained before the Revolution by Harvard botanists. Now it’s run by the Cuban Institute of Botany, and its alternately shady and sun-drenched trail house a wide variety of plants from the medicinal to bamboo, rubber, and cactus.

Matanzas

Ediciones Vigía—It’s well worth taking the tour of this letter-press book publisher, which designs homemade editions of children’s books, poetry, and prose by established and up-and-coming Cuban writers.

Santa Clara

Museo de Che— Che’s remains were brought from Bolivia to Santa Clara in 1997, and ever since, this has been the destination to learn about the Argentine revolutionary. The museum outlines Che’s life and contains many personal belongings, and his remains are housed in a connected mausoleum.

Trinidad

Parque Natural Topes de Collante—A short taxi ride from the quaint colonial center of Trinidad takes you directly into the jungly wilderness of Topes de Collante park, filled with waterfalls and thick tropical vines perfect for swinging.

Playa Ancon—You can rent bikes in town for the scenic ride to the white sand Ancon Beach.

Museo de la Lucha Contra Los Bandidos—The Museum of the Fight Against the Bandits tells the story of the unsuccessful CIA-funded counter-revolutionary movement that took place in Trinidad’s surrounding Sierra de Escambray mountains.