Cuba is famed for its crystal clear waters and splendid stretches of white sand such as Varadero, the island’s longest beach. Many tourists are happily enjoying the all-inclusiveness of their tropical resort, but if resort lounging isn’t your thing, explore the cities around and dive into the local scene.
There is no shortage of things to do and see in Cuba, from charming colonial towns to national parks and stunning uncrowded beaches. Here are some of the amazing places you shouldn’t miss around the cities of Trinidad and Holguin to feel the magic of this vibrant country.
Must-see places near Trinidad
Hike in Topes de Collantes National Park
If you’re looking for a cool break from the beach and the heat, then Topes de Collantes National Park is the right place for you. Located about 15 km from the city of Trinidad, this park is part of the Sierra del Escambray, Cuba’s second largest mountain range. As soon as you arrive, you notice the cooler temperature averaging 21°C. We suggest the 3-km Centinelas del Rio Melodioso trail (the melodic river trail) in the Guanayara Park. You will begin in coffee plantations and follow the course of the melodic river to the breathtaking El Rocio waterfall. To reach the trail, you will hop on an old Russian army truck. Prepare for a fun and bumpy 30-minute ride!
Pause to take in the surroundings and marvel at the spectacular waterfall. You can also take a refreshing dip in a natural pool along the road.
- Tips: bring your swimsuit, good shoes and insect repellent for the hike.
- A local guide will accompany you and provide interesting information about the endemic species of flora and fauna.
- Don’t miss the small cave next to the waterfall!
- Access to the Centinelas del Rio Melodioso trail costs 20 CUC per person.
Lunch at Casa la Gallega
The hike will probably work up your appetite. At the end of the trail, there is a traditional rural hacienda called Casa la Gallega where you can grab lunch. The dishes consisting of chicken, rice, potatoes and salad are basic but fresh and flavourful.
An excursion to Topes de Collantes is also available from Transat’s resorts in Cayo Santa Maria. The cost is 70 CUC per person (price is subject to change).
Stroll through the streets of Trinidad
Trinidad, in the south-central region of Cuba, is one of the most well-preserved colonial towns in the Americas. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, this colonial splendour will enchant you with its red terracotta roofs, cobbled streets and pastel houses. The best way to explore it is to get lost in its streets! Visit the town in the early evening to enjoy the laid-back Cuban atmosphere and the live-music scene. All roads lead to Plaza Mayor (the central square), head to the Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco, one of Trinidad’s landmarks with its pastel-yellow bell tower. This former convent now turned into a museum offers one of the most beautiful panoramic views of the town. Climb the bell tower to watch the sunset and photograph the iconic cityscape.
- Tip: there is a public Wi-Fi hotspot right in Plaza Mayor if you want to post your pictures on Instagram.
- Selected Transat hotels offer an overnight tour of Trinidad and the surrounding mountains for 109 CUC per person, including accommodation and all meals (price is subject to change).
The must-see places near Holguin
Follow the footsteps of Columbus in Gibara
The fishermen’s town of Gibara nestles peacefully on the northern east coast of Cuba, 33 km from Holguin. This off the beaten path seaside town has an authentic Cuban charm with its faded pastel facades and run-down buildings. The story says that Christopher Columbus docked near Gibara in October 1492 and fell for the beauty of what is today Holguin’s province.
There aren’t any specific attractions in Gibara; simply wander the streets of this sleepy town and take in the local atmosphere. Stop by Hotel Encanto Ordoño, the tallest building of Gibara located in the historic centre. This elegant and fully restored boutique hotel has a beautiful rooftop terrace. Enjoy the stunning views of Gibara Bay with a mojito in hand.
J. Peralta y calle Donato Marmol, Gibara 82100
Explore the classic city of Holguín
The city of Holguín has a beautifully antiquated charm of its own. If you like classic cars, you’re in for a treat! Streets are filled with colourful vintage Chevrolets and Cadillacs; why don’t you take one for a ride? Stroll through the lively streets and parks, and observe the relaxed Cuban way of life.
Head to the Museo de Historia Provincial, a beautiful national monument from the 1860’s used by Spanish troops as a fortress during the independence wars. Admission costs 1 CUC per person.
198, Freixes, Holguin, 80100.
No visit to Holguín is complete without a climb up La Loma de la Cruz (the Hill of the Cross). This steep stairway has 458 steps to the top of the hill and offers a stunning panoramic view of the city. It’s well worth the workout! (You can also drive to the top if you don’t want to break a sweat).
The city has some privately owned restaurants since 2011, so we suggest eating at Restaurante 1910, a restaurant frequented by Cubans and travelers with good local food. Try their tender grilled octopus or pulled beef dish.
43, Mártires street, between Aricochea and cables streets, Holguín, 80100.
Chill out in Guardalavaca
About an hour away by car from Holguin, on the northeast coast lays Guardalavaca, a top beach destination. It is split into 3 separate enclaves: playa Pesquero, playa Esmeralda and playa Guardalavaca. These idyllic beaches are surrounded by lush hills and frequented by Cubans, so they have a more local atmosphere. Nature lovers will enjoy Playa Esmeralda, known as the emerald beach due to the deep green colour of the water. This tranquil beach is surrounded by cliffs and lush vegetation.
Finish your day at Playa Guardalavaca, a beautiful white sand beach. Although many all-inclusive resorts line this stretch, the area still has a low-key vibe. It’s a great spot to grab a cocktail and linger to watch the sunset.
When you plan your next vacation to Cuba, make sure to venture out of your all-inclusive resort and experience Cuba in all its unspoiled glory.
Crédits photo: Air Transat