Welcome to the enchanting world of Cuba, a land of captivating contrasts where history intertwines with vibrant culture, and where natural beauty meets artistic expression. In this journey through Cuba’s most captivating experiences, we’ll explore the hidden treasures of Havana’s backstreets, take a step back in time while hiking through the green tobacco fields of Viñales Valley, immerse ourselves in the soul-stirring Cuban art and music scene at Fábrica de Arte Cubano, and venture into the wilderness of Ciénaga de Zapata for an avian adventure like no other. Join us as we unveil the top activities that make Cuba a destination unlike any other, where every corner tells a story, every note resonates with passion, and every step reveals a new facet of this Caribbean gem.
Stroll the Backstreets in Havana
Just walking around and exploring the old and falling apart part of Havana is one of the coolest things you can do in Cuba. We didn’t plan on it, but we ended up doing it. We wanted to visit a cigar factory called Real Partagas, but we had to get tickets from Hotel Inglaterra, which was a 30-minute walk away. So, we got our tickets and started walking through the smaller streets of Havana to get there.
As we walked past the big Capitolio Nacional and down streets like Calle Maloja and Calle Sitios, we realized why they made us pick up tickets there. The small streets of Havana were lively and full of local life, without many other tourists around. The old buildings were falling apart but were covered in interesting art and colorful paintings. Kids played in abandoned places, and their parents sold little things on the corners of the streets.
Our trip to the Real Partagas Cigar Factory was just the start of our adventure in the backstreets of Havana. The southern part of the old town near the Pharmacy Museum, the San José Almacenes Artisanal Centre, and the Rafael Trejo Boxing Centre had a lot of hidden treasures. It’s a much older and more picturesque part of town with the charming, battered look that Havana is famous for.
Our walk through old Havana ended with us admiring the unique shops, bars, and galleries along Calle Obispo, Calle O’Reilly, and Calle Mercaderes. The best part of our tour of crumbling Havana? Listening to the five-piece band playing in the alley outside Nao bar.
Hiking in Viñales Valley
Hiking in Viñales Valley is another great thing to do in Cuba. Viñales is in the western part of Cuba and is where they grow lots of yuccas, a kind of plant people eat, and sweet potatoes, which are important foods in many countries.
But what makes Viñales special is the green tobacco fields that cover the area. We arrived in Viñales after seeing a beautiful sunset from Los Jazmines Hotel, ready to start our hike without a guide and with very few directions. We walked through farms where people still live like they did a long time ago, unlike in modern countries.
When the Soviet Union fell apart, Cuba lost its main source of money and couldn’t buy cheap oil anymore. So, Cuban farmers had to go back to using animals to take care of their crops because they couldn’t afford machines. You can still see this in Viñales today.
We saw friendly farmers using homemade machines pulled by oxen and cowboys on horses who looked like they came from an old Western movie. Old folks took naps under the shade of trees. Viñales is simple and slow, and that’s why it’s one of the best things to do in Cuba.
Cuban Art & Music at Fábrica de Arte Cubano
Fábrica de Arte Cubano is a place where you can experience Cuban art and music. It’s like a way for the Cuban people to show their passion and strength, especially because they’ve had a tough history. In the past, the government-controlled a lot of the art in Cuba, but this place is a celebration of how the Cuban people have kept their art alive. It’s also a fantastic night out in Havana and one of our favorite things to do in this intriguing country.
Getting into Fábrica de Arte Cubano was a bit confusing, like many things in Cuba. There was a long line that wound around a makeshift area made of poles and ropes. People like us, who didn’t know what was going on, stood in line. First, we got a stamp, then at the next stop, we got a barcode and some hard-to-understand instructions. At the next stop, someone who looked like an official but did not quite take our money – we think it was the entrance fee. Finally, they let us go.
Feeling a bit dazed and confused, we wandered around with the other people who were let in. We walked through a narrow hallway with abstract oil paintings, leading to a small room where a guy played incredible guitar music to a small audience. Another hallway had an art exhibit with a communist theme. After crossing a suspension bridge, we found a big dance floor with loud music.
Fábrica de Arte Cubano is a mix of art, music, cocktails, and Cuban culture. It’s one of the best things to do in Cuba because it has something for everyone.
Birdwatching in Ciénaga de Zapata
The Ciénaga de Zapata National Park is like a buffet of different environments, including swamps, mangrove forests, wetlands, and underwater canyons. Out of the 28 birds that are only found in Cuba, 15 of them can be seen here. Our guide, Carlos, was really hopeful that we would see all of them.
At our first stop, Carlos used recordings on his iPhone to call the birds. We walked slowly behind him, trying not to make any noise by stepping on crunchy leaves. Carlos took this very seriously.
But it was worth it. During our tour, we saw a tocororo, a Cuban tody, a Cuban parrot, a pygmy owl, and we think a hummingbird, among many others. We were really impressed, but Carlos was a bit upset because we didn’t see all 15 birds from the Zapata area.
We were determined to find more birds, so we stopped at a local farm where we were fascinated by old machines and manual ways of doing things. Carlos was on a mission to find the remaining birds we hadn’t seen yet.
These activities showcase the multifaceted beauty of Cuba, from its vibrant urban life in Havana to the tranquil countryside in Viñales, the cultural richness at Fábrica de Arte Cubano, and the natural wonders of Ciénaga de Zapata for bird enthusiasts. Cuba indeed has something to offer for travelers interested in history, art, music, nature, and culture.