Cuba travel guide

Cuba holiday highlights

Where is Cuba?
The region’s biggest island sits in the northern Caribbean Sea, just over 100 miles south of the tip of the state of Florida. It’s nearest neighbours include the Bahamas and the islands of Hispaniola and Jamaica. The vast Gulf of Mexico lies to the west of Cuba.

Cuba’s most popular beach destination, Varadero, runs along the entire length of the Hicacos Peninsula and features 12 miles of some of the island’s most beautiful beaches. What the resort lacks in the way of culture, it makes up for with its offering of drinking and dining opportunities, year-round sunshine and wide range of activities and non-motorised watersports. This is where you can come to enjoy beach life for a week or two, or relax for a few nights after a tour of Cuba’s cultural gems.

A favourite for family holidays thanks to its expansive soft sands, clear waters, shallow depths and fantastic all-inclusive accommodation, Varadero is also a haven for divers. Over 28 spectacular dive sites are accessible from the beach and there’s a stunning array of underwater flora and fauna to discover. Dolphins flirt around the coast of Cuba and can often be spotted from the shore, leaping out of the water in the distance.

The Cayos
A natural paradise rich in flora and fauna, The Cayos consist of many islands and keys that are set off Cuba’s northern coast. Pristine white-sand beaches and clear aquamarine seas with vibrant coral reefs and abundant marine life make these islands ideal for relaxation. Cuba’s native Caribbean flamingos live in the shallow waters that surround Cayo Coco adding an extra splash of colour to the region.

Low-key and idyllic, Guardalavaca is surrounded by sublime countryside, flawless horse-shoe bays and coral reefs that are rich in marine life. Popular, yet never crowded, the resort is the ideal setting for an authentic Cuban experience alongside a relaxing beach escape. Just four miles west of Guardalavaca village is the beautiful Playa Esmeralda beach, a crescent-shaped bay that is the epitome of tropical paradise.

Cuba’s capital, Havana, is vibrant and bursting with character. Here you’ll find an eclectic mix of architecture, a dynamic music scene and impressive monuments chronicling its rich history. Seemingly frozen in time yet peppered with modern touches, Havana is home to crumbling buildings that lie alongside beautifully restored colonial homes and 20th-Century high rises from a more austere age – this is a city like no other. You can enjoy many cultural experiences and activities such as visiting a traditional cigar factory, or see where Hemingway wrote some of his most famous novels at his beautiful hilltop estate.

The World Heritage-listed Old Havana, or ‘La Habana Vieja’, is the colonial heart of the city. Wander the ramshackle streets to discover stunning Neo-classical and Baroque architecture, colourful colonial houses, charming courtyards and historic sights. Enjoy a performance by the renowned Cuban National Ballet at the 19th-Century Grand Theatre of Havana, soak up the atmosphere at Plaza de Armas – the pretty main square – browse the Artisan’s Market for souvenirs and learn about Cuba’s turbulent history at the Museum of the Revolution.

The vibrant waterfront district of Vedado is known for its museums, the legendary Plaza de la Revolución and some of the city’s best nightlife. The Malecón, a four-mile-long esplanade and seawall stretching from the Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta to the Almendares River, is lined with shops, restaurants and colourful buildings. The promenade is a popular meeting point for locals and a great spot for watching the sun set over the bay.

Founded by Spanish colonists in the early 1500s, the intimate city of Trinidad is one of the finest examples of a colonial city in the whole of the Caribbean. Cobbled streets are lined with pastel-coloured houses and beautiful plazas are overlooked by striking 18th- and 19th-Century buildings. With a unique ambience that is shaped by its intimacy and authenticity, Trinidad has an unbeatable location sandwiched between forested mountains and the Caribbean Sea. The nearby ‘living museum’ of Valle de los Ingenias was at the heart of the 18th- and 19th-Century sugar production and today is scattered with the ruins of over 70 sugar mills and grand plantation houses.

Diving & snorkelling
Along the island’s 3500-mile coastline there are many dive sites and snorkelling is often possible right off the shore. There are beautifully clear waters and thousands of miles of vibrant and healthy reefs which play host to an incredible array of marine species. The temperature of the water rarely drops below 22 degrees and the average visibility varies from 30 to 40 metres.

Cuba is almost entirely surrounded by reefs and there are numerous coral gardens, caves, shipwrecks and tunnels – many of which can be reached from our featured beach resorts in Varadero, the Cayos and Guardalavaca. A handful of our featured resorts, like the Paradisus Varadero, provide scuba diving lessons in the pool for non-certified divers and offshore dives for certified divers as part of their all-inclusive packages. The best off-beach snorkelling can be found in the resort of Playa Jibacoa. In other destinations you may have to travel by boat or road to the best underwater spots.

Most dive courses in Cuba are operated by Scuba Schools International (SSI) or Confederation Mondiale Des Activities (CMAS) dive instructors. PADI is an American-owned organisation and therefore PADI-certified instructors are not officially allowed to run courses in Cuba. However, you can use your existing PADI certification to dive in Cuba.

Food & drink
There has been an increase in the number of private, family-run paladares in recent years where you’ll find an authentic Cuban atmosphere as well as a slightly more interesting and flavour-filled menu. You’ll also have the chance to spend time with Cuban families. .Vegetarians and vegans are not well catered for throughout the island, and often food can be repetitive and of limited ingredients.

Getting around
Most of our guests travel around Cuba – particularly between the airport and the hotels of Havana, Varadero and the Cayos – via group transfers. To reach Guardalavaca you will need to take an internal flight. These flights are often subject to last-minute changes and this may result in disruptions to your holiday. The island’s infrastructure is not as developed as other destinations and as a result delays and disruptions may occur; roads may be in bad repair for long distances resulting in some uncomfortable journeys. This is particularly the case in the eastern half of the island, as it’s off the beaten track.

Cuba key facts

Time difference

GMT -5 hours




• There are two currencies in Cuba - the Convertible peso (CUC) and Cuban pesos (CUP) and you will mainly use CUC during your time in Cuba
• US dollars and US traveller’s cheques aren’t as widely exchanged as they used to be
• Traveller’s cheques are mostly accepted, but not all hotels exchange them – go to an international bank instead
• There’s a minimum fee of 8% to exchange currency and 3% on credit card payments.

Flying time to destination

10¼ hours to Havana.



Cuba good to know


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