Many travelers yearn to find places off the beaten path that give them unique stories to share back home. For decades, Cuba was inaccessible for explorers due to political tensions and travel restrictions. However, times have changed in recent years, and more international visitors are discovering the Caribbean country’s best sites.
As more tourists reach the island’s sandy shores, colonial cities, and nature preserves, the search for hidden gems is heating up. While places such as Havana, Varadero, and Trinidad are well-known throughout the travel community, there’s much to be discovered in Cuba.
Let’s dive deeper into this incredible country by looking at five secret destinations you should add to your itinerary.
Known for its monuments to enigmatic revolutionaries, Santa Clara often falls off the radar for tourists. Santa Clara is the capital of the Villa Clara province and roughly four hours east of Havana.
The Che Guevara Mausoleum features a statue of the controversial figure and holds his remains plus his closest allies killed in Bolivia. Memorials paying homage to Guevara are all over Santa Clara, including the Museo and Memorial al Che and Monumento a la Toma del TrenBlindado.
Santa Clara offers a more authentic glimpse into everyday Cuban life due to its lack of foreign visitors. Parque Vidal is a lively square embellished with colonial buildings and energetic shopping streets for locals. Teatro La Caridad hosts plays and ballets for lovers of fine arts, while baseball fans can watch professional players in action.
In recent years, Santa Clara has become a haven for pulsating nightlife, and it’s one of the best Cuban cities to party with the locals. The town has a vibrant LGBTQ community, and El Mejunje is Cuba’s most famous gay bar that hosted the country’s first drag show.
Parque El Nicho
Parque El Nicho is a heavenly oasis inside the Topes de Collantes Nature Reserve. Roughly 50 km east of Cienfuegos deep in the Escambray Mountains, the sanctuary offers respite from the scorching heat with its revitalizing swimming holes. The lush greenery of the park engulfs tumbling waterfalls, peaceful rivers, and dark caves.
The jungle canopy provides shade along the nature trails that course through the landscape towards the crystal-clear waters. Reach the tops of El Nicho’s canyons for a spectacular panorama of the forested hills. Sounds of exotic birds chirping in the trees fill the airwaves until you hear the splashing of swimmers in the water.
After trekking through the jungle and enduring the fierce humidity, a dip in the frigid waters of Parque El Nicho is a blissful way to enjoy Cuba’s wild terrain.
María la Gorda
It’s no secret that Cuba has some of the Caribbean’s most stunning beaches, but María la Gorda is heaven on Earth for divers and sunbathers. Located in western Cuba’s Pinar del Rio province, this tropical hideaway is isolated from most of the country.
Although it’ll take some effort to reach María la Gorda, a couple of days sprawling on the powdered sands or scuba diving will be an unbelievable experience. The dive camp situated on the peninsula gives you access to lots of colorful fish, coral reefs, and sea caves. Multiple dives depart each day, and a beach restaurant serves a breakfast and dinner buffet to refuel for your excursion.
Venture outside the dive resort to explore the mangrove swamps and seaside trails littered with blooming flowers and enormous seashells. Legends of seafaring pirates and their buried treasure add mystique to María la Gorda, attracting many explorers in search of hidden jewels.
Ciénaga de Zapata
Located on the southern coast of the Matanzas province, Ciénaga de Zapatais the ultimate playground for wildlife enthusiasts. The swamps, mangroves, and wetlands of the peninsular region are home to dozens of endemic species like the Zapata sparrow and Cuban crocodile. In total, the ecosystem contains over 170 bird species and more than two dozen reptiles.
Although famous for the infamous failed invasion during the Cold War, the Bay of Pigs is an oasis for scuba divers with its stunning coral reefs and marine life. La Laguna del Tesoro is a fishing goldmine that’ssteeped in legends of indigenousgroups tossing their treasures into the water during the colonial era. Bird watchers will have a field day searching for exotic species inside the verdant scenery of Refugio de Fauna Bermejas.
Ciénaga de Zapata offers a wide range of Cuba group tours for intrepid travelers wishing to know an authentic side of the country many never get to see.
Situated outside of Santiago de Cuba in the southeast corner of Cuba, Baconao Park is an eccentric group of cultural attractions celebrating Cuban culture. The region was named a UNESCO World Heritage Biosphere Reserve in 1987, and visitors will find colorful gardens, volcanic rock, nature reserves, coffee plantations, and a lagoon.
The area stems from the Cuban Revolution, and the GranjitaSiboney showcases where Fidel Castro and his fighters organized their movement. Other attractions look further back in time to the origins of the Cuban people by recreating a Taino Village from the pre-Colombian era.
One of the perplexing sights of the park is Valle de la Prehistoria and its collection of dinosaur sculptures built by prison inmates.