Few places pique the curiosity of travelers quite like Cuba. This formerly closed-off Caribbean nation has surged in popularity in the last decade as it becomes more accessible to visitors, and the capital city of Havana is the natural starting point for any visit to Cuba. After all, Havana is a lively city full of color, character, and contrast that demands at least a few days to explore.
But this country is much more than just Havana, with many of the best places to visit in Cuba being in the western part of the island around the capital. Here are the best day trips from Havana to help you see what Cuba’s really like.
How to Get Around
Although you can make many of these day trips with public transport, consider renting a car for the day to give yourself more flexibility and independence. With your own four wheels, you control your time and schedule. Depending on how many people are in your group, renting a car might even work out to be cheaper than other forms of transportation. You can compare car rental deals and find the lowest prices at Rentalcars.com, an aggregation site that searches and displays prices and availability from hundreds of car rental companies, helping you find the best possible car for your budget.
Don’t want to drive or deal with the hassle of public transport? No worries! We’ve listed the best tour for each day trip (where available).
As the best-known beach destination in Cuba, Varadero is a natural pick for a Havana day trip. Full of beach resorts and often part of vacation packages, Varadero is more of a relaxing escape than a cultural destination.
Varadero is a peninsula with 20 kilometers of coastline lined with gorgeous white sand beaches. Lying back on the sand and enjoying the sun is the focus of a visit to Varadero, along with swimming in the pleasantly warm waters. Then there’s the important matter of sipping on rum cocktails and gorging yourself at Varadero’s excellent restaurants. This is the place to go if you need a lazy day away from Havana.
Getting there: Several buses a day go from Havana to Varadero, the journey taking roughly three hours. If you rent a car, the drive takes just under two hours.
When the conversation turns to classic day tours from Havana, it’s only a matter of time before Viñales is brought up. This small town in Western Cuba sits on the edge of the Viñales Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The area is adored for its mostly untouched green plains full of towering limestone hills, and there are also coffee and tobacco plantations in the area.
Begin your trip to Viñales with a walk through the town’s main street to see its colorful home, before continuing into the captivating landscapes of the Viñales Valley. You can explore the Viñales Valley on either a hike or a horseback ride. For a superb view, stop at the lookout points along the road to the south of the valley.
Getting there: Buses from Havana to Viñales don’t work for a day trip, so your choices are to go with a guided tour for the day or rent a car for the 2.5-hour drive each way.
Playas del Este
If all you want is a short trip from Havana, head for Playas del Este. Sometimes dubbed “the Havana Riviera,” this series of beaches is far more down-to-earth than the glitzy shores of Varadero, and it’s also closer to Havana.
Playa Santa Maria del Mar is generally considered the nicest and most equipped of these beaches. You can visit this clean beach to relax in the shade of palm trees with a cocktail or two. Beyond sunbathing and swimming at the various beaches, you’ll find opportunities for snorkeling and scuba diving at Playa Bacuranao. Then there’s the nearby beach town of Guanabo, where you can visit markets and get a taste of local life.
Getting there: You can take the hop-on hop-off Havana Bus Tour to get from Havana to Playas del Este in around half an hour, with buses running every 30 minutes as well.
In terms of culture, Matanzas makes one of the best side trips from Havana. This city on Cuba’s north coast has long been a haven for the island’s writers, poets, and musicians. It has several nicknames, including “the City of Bridges” for its 17 bridges, “the Venice of Cuba” for the waterfront created by its three rivers, and “the Athens of Cuba” for its many artists and scholars.
Walk through the city to see the kind of colorful buildings you might know from famous pictures of Cuba, particularly around Parque de la Libertad and Plaza de la Vigía. Next, visit a museum or two, such as the Pharmaceutical Museum with its preserved historic pharmacy, or the Museum of the Slave Route inside the San Severino Castle. Just outside of town, you’ll find the Cuevas de Bellamar, an incredible complex of caves.
Getting there: There are several buses a day that take two hours to make the journey from Havana to Matanzas. Alternatively, you can rent a car or hire a driver for the day and make the journey in around 75 minutes.
It may be a long day trip, but the old city of Trinidad is still one of the best places to visit from Havana. It sits just off the south coast near the middle of Cuba and is best known for its preserved colonial streets and architecture, which offer a glimpse into Cuba’s past and have earned Trinidad recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
But Trinidad isn’t just historic; it’s also extremely pretty, thanks to colorful buildings like those around Plaza Mayor. For a nice view of the city center, head up the bell tower at the Convento de San Francisco de Asís. You’ll find an even better view if you hike to the top of Cerro de la Vigía, a hill overlooking the town.
Getting there: The only real ways to visit Trinidad from Havana for the day are to take a guided tour or to rent a car for the four-hour journey each way.
For those looking to escape the city and experience the nature of Cuba, Las Terrazas is the perfect day trip. This ecovillage in the Sierra del Rosario mountains is at the heart of Cuba’s first UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. What was once an artist colony is now a center for ecotourism that embraces the beautiful scenery around it.
With whitewashed buildings that make it stand out against the hillside, the village is full of workshops and studios for local artists. There’s plenty to do in town, with hiking, bird-watching, swimming, and zip-lining among your options. You may also want to visit the Orquideario garden nearby in Soroa, especially if you’re visiting during the orchids’ blooming period from September to November.
Getting there: There is only one bus each way per day from Havana to Las Terrazas, with the journey taking up to three hours. Hiring a car and driver is your other option, with the drive taking roughly an hour.
Probably the least known of the beach options on this list is Playa Jibacoa, a resort east of Havana past Playas del Este. Originally just a fishing village, Jibacoa has developed into a low-key destination for those who want to enjoy the beach in peace. Indeed, the main appeal of Playa Jibacoa is just how few people you’ll see there.
You can choose from several beaches here, with little chance of them being overcrowded. But there’s more to Jibacoa than just sunbathing and snorkeling. Divers can have a lot of fun exploring the two shipwrecks off the coast, for instance. Then there’s the beach’s hinterland, where you can hike in the hills or explore some local caves.
Getting there: You’ll need to hire a driver for the day to reach Playa Jibacoa from Havana, with the trip taking just under two hours.
The colorful city of Cienfuegos is another one of the best things to see in Cuba outside of Havana. Locals sometimes call this bayside city “the Pearl of the South,” and you’ll see why when you reach its historic center. Standing in Parque José Martí, the main square of Cienfuegos, you’ll be surrounded by vibrantly painted buildings that mostly date from the 19th and early 20th centuries. This vintage character has earned Cienfuegos the World Heritage Site status from UNESCO.
One landmark in the city center you won’t want to miss is the Palacio de Gobierno, with its unlikely Moorish look. It’s also a good idea to walk down to the city’s waterfront, where you’ll get nice views of the bay from the Malecón de Cienfuegos.
Getting there: You can visit Cienfuegos as part of a tour to Trinidad. Otherwise, it’s a 3.5-hour drive each way.
Just outside the city of Matanzas lies the Yumurí Valley, another great destination to visit from Havana. Following the Yumurí River, this valley is lined on either side by high mountains that create a dramatic landscape. The valley opens out quite a lot, though, offering a wide rural plain dotted with palm trees.
You can explore the Yumurí Valley with four-wheel drive or on horseback, which indicates just how rural this area is. As you pass through, you’re guaranteed some wonderful landscape scenery and the odd farming settlement along the way. For a great view of the landscape, head for Puente de Bacunayagua, the highway perched above it all.
Getting there: You can arrange four-wheel drive tours, but most leave from Varadero, not Havana. This means you’ll likely need to hire a driver to make the trip there, which takes an hour.
To see what Cuban village life is like and even find a Hemingway connection on your trip, journey to Cojímar just east of Havana. Cojímar really is just a fishing village, albeit a pretty one. The village’s claim to fame is being an inspiration for Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, which explains the statue of the writer near the waterfront. The monument sits opposite Cojímar Tower, an old fortification that dominates the pier.
Other than those two sights, there isn’t much in the way of landmarks to visit here. Instead, spend some time appreciating the small-town vibe, maybe even meeting some locals.
Getting there: As Cojímar is just outside Havana, you can take a local bus to get there in about 40 minutes, or hire a taxi for the 10-minute drive.
That just about does it for day trip ideas from Havana. As you can see, no matter how incredible Havana is, there’s a lot to do in Cuba beyond the city limits.