Havana, Cuba vacation travel guide for Canadians: best things to see and do
Havana is Cuba's capital and one of the country's (and Caribbean's) must-visit destinations. Full of history and culture (and a slowly booming private business sector), it's got something for every type of traveller, whether you are interested in the politics of the city, are an art aficionado, or, simply delighting in the colonial architecture and tucked-away private restaurants.
Havana is also close to beautiful beaches. A little bit westward from the capital city (approximately a three-hour drive) sits Pinar del Rio, full of dreamy cayos and stretches of white sand beach. We've highlighted some of the best beaches in the region.
The capital of Cuba and the largest city in the Caribbean, Havana is full of culture and history. Old Havana, the city’s historic centre, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1982. The material effects of a longstanding U.S. embargo can contribute to the impression that time has stood still, but the Havana of today is the heart of Cuba’s modern cultural life. It's full of museums, theaters, and art galleries, as well as paladares: privately owned restaurants often tucked away within colonial mansions.
Visiting Havana is one of the top things to do for travellers heading to Cuba, and with good reason. Stay close to Old Havana and soak in the vibe of the city, visit the iconic public squares, and dance the night away as you listen to live music at the numerous bars, restaurants, and nightclubs.
Travelzoo tip: Literary lovers will enjoy visiting Ernest Hemingway’s old haunts and drinking accordingly, from La Bodequita del Medio for a mojito to El Floridita for a daiquiri.
Cuba is known for the abundance of classic cars (and what trip to Havana would be complete without a classic car tour?), but there is also plenty to do on foot. Stroll along Calle Obispo in old Havana, popping in and out of art galleries; walk along the Malecon and watch the sun set over the bay; or meander along the Paseo del Prado, one of the oldest streets in Havana lined with giant trees and beautiful buildings.
Beaches near Havana
For travellers looking to combine a visit to Havana with a little bit of beach-hopping, the 10-kilometre Playas del Este is a perfect gateway destination. Mi Cayito is less crowded than Santa Maria, while Guanabo is a town with numerous bars, restaurants and shops. El Megano is somewhat quieter. Playas del Este is where locals go for holidays. Playa Bucaranao is the closest beach to Havana city, with a coral reef popular with snorkeling enthusiasts. Another interesting beach close to the city is Playa El Salado, also known as salt beach.
Jibacoa is a great bay that offers snorkeling for beginners off a small reef close to the shore. Nestled in between Varadero and Havana, the beach has a gorgeous backdrop of rolling green hills, and is highly recommended for a day trip from Havana.
Pinar del Rio
The Pinar del Rio province offers a lot of dreamy cayos and stretches of beach. Cayo Levisa is a 30-minute boat ride away, and offers secluded swimming spots for travellers looking for a bit of peace and quiet. The island is mostly mangrove, with the beach taking up a slice on the northern side of the island. The site has an international diving centre and is part of the Colorados Archipelago Reef System, which means a lot of really interesting diving spots.
Travelzoo tip: There is a modest bungalow-style hotel on the cayo for those who want to stay for a night or two.
Maria La Gorda
Beautiful Maria La Gorda is less frequented than Varadero or the Cayos of the Jardine del Reyes. Popular with divers, its waters are known for plunging walls, caves and shipwrecks. This is just the tip of a national park that occupies Western Cuba; for those looking for something even more remote, Playa Las Tumbas is an idyllic beach destination.
Travelzoo tip: Green turtles come up to nest between June and August, providing a unique opportunity to turtle-watch.
Consider a visit to watch the sunset off Cayo Jutias, located near Vinales Valley. A pocket-sized island with peaceful beaches and lush mangroves, it's two hours from Vinales on an interesting drive through dense coastal vegetation. Make a pitstop at Playa Cayo Jutias, also known as Playas de las Estrellas de Mar for the numerous starfish.
Travelzoo tip: The road to this slice of heaven is rocky. If you’re going by private transfer, be sure to leave before sundown: many drivers are not willing to drive back at night.