Few places pique the curiosity of travelers quite like Cuba. This once closed-off Caribbean nation has surged in popularity in the last decade as it’s become more accessible to outside visitors. The capital city of Havana is the natural starting point on any visit to Cuba. Havana is a lively city full of color, character, and contrast that demands at least a few days to explore.
But Cuba is much more than just Havana, with many of the best places to visit in Cuba around the capital in the island’s west. So, here are the best day trips from Havana to help you see what Cuba’s really like.
How to Get Around
Although many of the day trips mentioned below can be done by public transport, consider renting a car for the day to give yourself more flexibility and independence. Your own four wheels allow you to be in control of your time and schedule, and depending on how many people are in your group, renting a car might even work out cheaper than other forms of transportation. You can compare car rental deals and find the cheapest prices at Rentalcars.com, an aggregation site that searches and displays prices and availability from hundreds of car rental companies so that you can be sure of getting 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. Often part of package holidays and full of beach resorts, 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, that and 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: There are several buses a day from Havana to Varadero, the journey takes roughly 3 hours. Otherwise, you’ll need to hire a car, the drive is just under 2 hours.
As soon as talk turns to classic day tours from Havana, it’s only a matter of time before Viñales is brought up. Viñales is a small town in western Cuba sitting on the edge of the Viñales Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage site. 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. The area is adored for its mostly untouched green plains full of towering limestone hills, although there are also coffee and tobacco plantations in the area. You can choose to explore the Viñales Valley either on a hike or by going on a horseback ride. For a superb view of the valley you’ll find 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 either to go with a guided tour for the day or hire a car for the 2 ½ hour drive each way.
3. Playas del Este
If all you want is a short trip from Havana, head for the beaches of Playas del Este. Sometimes dubbed the Havana Riviera, Playas del Este is far more down to earth than the glitzy shores of Varadero, and it’s closer too. There are a handful of beaches to be found out at Playas del Este, but Playa Santa Maria del Mar is usually considered the nicest and best equipped. There you can relax under the shade of palm trees on a clean beach 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 beach town of Guanabo where you can get a taste of local life and visit markets.
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, one of the best side trips from Havana is to the city of Matanzas. This coastal city on Cuba’s north coast has long been a haven for the island’s writers, poets, and musicians. The city has several nicknames including the “City of Bridges” for its many bridges, the “Venice of Cuba” for the waterfront created by its three rivers and the “Athens of Cuba” for its intellectuals. Walk through the city and you’ll see colorful buildings like those around Parque de la Libertad and Plaza de La Vigia. Next, visit a museum or two, such as the Museo Farmaceutico with its preserved historic pharmacy, or the Museum of the Slave Route in Cuba which is housed inside the San Severino Castle. Just outside of town you’ll also find the Cuevas de Bellamar, an incredible complex of caves.
Getting there: To reach Matanzas from Havana there are several buses a day that take 2 hours to make the journey. Alternatively, hire a car and driver for the day and make the journey in around 1 ¼ hours.
It may be a long day trip, but the old colonial city of Trinidad is still one of the best places to visit from Havana. Trinidad sits just off the country’s south coast near the middle of Cuba and is a sight to see, which is why people make the journey there. The city is best known for its preserved colonial streets and architecture which offers a glimpse into Cuba’s past and has 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, visit the Convento de San Francisco de Asís and head up its bell tower. However, an even better view can be found if you do the hike up to the top of Cerro de la Vigía, a hill overlooking town.
Getting there: The only real ways to visit Trinidad from Havana for the day are with a guided tour or by hiring a car and driver for the 4 hour journey each way.
6. Las Terrazas
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 which embraces the beautiful scenery around it. The little village with whitewashed buildings that make it stick out against the hillside is full of workshops and studios for local artists. There’s plenty to do in town, with hiking, birdwatching, swimming, and ziplining among your options. You may also want to consider visiting the Orquideario orchard garden nearby in Soroa, who’s hundreds of orchards bloom during winter.
Getting there: There is only one bus each way per day from Havana to Las Terrazas, but it is a possible way to get there. Hiring a car and driver is your other option, with both taking roughly 50 minutes to make the trip.
7. Playa Jibacoa
Probably the least well-known of the beach options on this list is the resort of Playa Jibacoa 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. There are actually several beaches here to choose from and not much chance of them being over-crowded. But there’s actually more to Jibacoa than just sunbathing and snorkeling, as there are two shipwrecks off the coast which divers can have a lot of fun exploring. Then there’s the beach’s hinterland, where you can hike in the hills or explore some of the local caves. But really the main appeal of Playa Jibacoa is just how few people you’ll see there.
Getting there: You will need to hire a driver for the day to reach Playa Jibacoa from Havana, with the trip taking just under 2 hours.
The colorful city of Cienfuegos is one of the many things to see in Cuba outside of Havana. This bayside city is sometimes called the ‘Pearl of the South’ by locals and you can see why once you reach its historic center. Standing in Parque José Martí, the main square of Cienfuegos, you’ll find yourself surrounded by vibrantly painted buildings which mostly date from the 19th and early 20th centuries. This vintage character is what earned Cienfuegos World Heritage 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 go for a walk down to the city’s waterfront, with nice views of the bay from the Malecón de Cienfuegos.
Getting there: It’s possible to visit Cienfuegos as part of a tour to Trinidad, because otherwise it’s a 3 ½ hour drive each way with a car and driver.
9. Yumuri Valley
Just outside the city of Matanzas lies the Yumuri Valley, another great destination to visit from Havana. Following the Yumuri River, this valley is lined on either side by high mountains that create quite a dramatic landscape. The valley does open out quite a lot though and offers visitors a great wide rural plain dotted with palm trees. For a great view of the landscape, head for the Puente de Bacunayagua which sits high above it all. Exploring the Yumuri Valley can be done by 4WD or 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.
Getting there: 4WD tours can be arranged, but most leave from Varadero, not Havana. This means you’ll likely need to hire a driver to make the hour long drive there.
To experience what Cuban village life is like and also 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 that it was an inspiration for Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, which explains the statue to the writer near the waterfront. The monument sits opposite Cojímar Tower, an old fortification which dominates the Cojímar Malecon. Other than seeing those two sights, there isn’t much in the way of landmarks to visit. Instead, spend some time appreciating the small-town vibe and maybe even meet some locals.
Getting there: As Cojmar is just outside of Havana, you can take a local bus 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. There is loads to see in Cuba beyond the city limits of Havana, no matter how incredible that city is.