With lush tropical forests, waterfalls streaming down from the mountains, pristine beaches, and a lively culture, it’s no wonder why Cuba seems to be on every adventurer’s bucket list. The island nation is unlike any other in the Caribbean, with a complicated and contentious history, infamous nightlife, and incredible landscapes that beckon travelers from across the globe.
And yet, much of the country still feels like an undiscovered world. While it’s a little more difficult for Americans to go to Cuba these days, if you can work around the travel restrictions, those who seek an off-the-beaten-path adventure will find plenty to explore. Whether you’re looking for remote beaches, adventure sports, or just delicious food paired with locally made rum, we’ve put together a guide for how to have an unforgettable experience visiting one of the brightest jewels in the Caribbean—and how to outfit yourself for it.
Without a doubt, beaches are one of Cuba’s biggest draws. While people flock to take a dip in the incredible turquoise waters off of the country’s most famous stretches of sand—like Varadero Beach and Guardalavaca—there are still many spots that are relatively unknown to foreigners, especially on the eastern shores. While they can be more difficult to get to, making the trek is worth the extra effort. Sitting on the Atlantic Ocean, the beaches of Baracoa are much quieter than the more popular spots, and also has some of the best surfing in the country.
Just outside Baracoa, Alejandro de Humboldt National Park is home to one of the most biodiverse island ecosystems on Earth. Unfortunately, the logistics of taking a trip there can be tricky. Nature lovers looking for more straightforward—but no less beautiful—hiking options will find plenty inTopes de Collantes National Park. The park’s extensive trail network winds through the green jungle to waterfalls, caves, and refreshing swimming holes.
There are plenty of other possibilities for adventure travel in Cuba that are still waiting to be tapped. There are plenty other possibilities for adventure travel in Cuba that are still only at the early stages of being tapped. Climbers will find impeccable limestone sport climbing in the Valle de Viñales (though you’re likely to find it called trekking here). The town of Viñales is an easy 2-hour bus ride from Havana, from which you can walk to some of the crags.There is also some easily-accessible bouldering on the western side of the country being developed.
Log the dive of a lifetime by visitingJardines de la Reina, a national park that encompasses the archipelago just southwest of the island. Unlike other places around the world, the coral reefs here are very healthy, in part thanks to tight regulations around visiting them. Those who don’t make it out there can still have an incredible experience at the Guajimico Villa, an eco-lodge between the cities of Cienfuegos and Trinidad that offers extraordinary views, snorkeling, and plenty time to hang out on the beach.
Urban Exploration Like a Local
No trip to Cuba would be complete without staying a day (or a few days) in Havana, the country’s capital city that is famous for its retro cars, crumbling buildings, salsa clubs, and art scene. Spend a day or two walking among the most famous historic sites, including the churches and mansions of Old Havana, the Museo de la Revolución, and writer Ernest Hemingway’s house.
The country’s socialist food production system means that food is still rationed, so Cuba hasn’t had a reputation for being a foodie destination. However, the growth of privately-owned restaurants—called paladares—has given visitors substantially more dining options, and many of them are delicious. One great choice is Doña Eutima, where you can find well-prepared Cuban fare such as ropa vieja.
Cuba’s salsa music and dancing, on the other hand, has long been the stuff of legends. After dinner, head to Bar La Lluvia de Oro, a favorite salsa club for all generations with a friendly atmosphere, good food, and lively Cuban music.
While the cars might still be from the 1950s, not all of Havana is stuck in the past. Finish the night by catching a glimpse of Havana’s young and ultra-hip side atLa Fabrica de Arte Cubana. It’s a cultural center housed in a former industrial plant that includes galleries, performance spaces, food, drink, and a feisty dance floor.
Adventure & Leisure Gear
When you’re exploring a new city or country, the last thing you want worry about is your outfit, and 37.5® Technology has you covered. Our innovative fabrics incorporate particles made from volcanic sand and coconut shells, which actively respond to body heat to capture and release moisture vapor before it turns into liquid sweat. In doing so, the particles help to keep the microclimate next to your skin at an ideal temperature of 37.5 degrees Celsius and an ideal humidity of 37.5 percent. It’s so effective, brands from adidas to Kenneth Cole to Rab have partnered with us to create products using 37.5 Technology.
In a tropical climate like Cuba’s, 37.5 Technology can go a long way to keeping you comfortable, whether your day’s adventure takes you to the beach, the trails, or the city. (And you won’t have to sacrifice fashion to do it!) Pieces such as the women’s VaporActive Radiate Cropped Yoga Legging or the VaporActive Alpha Short Sleeve Athletic Shirt from Mission and Point6’s quick-dry sock collection will be able to keep up with you when you’re hitting the trail. Tommy Bahama’s IslandZone® shirts provide a stylish way to cover up after a day of surfing, diving, or lounging near the water.
Back in the city, the Techni-Cole Kam leather sneakers from Kenneth Cole will keep your feet comfortable as you spend the day walking the streets of Havana. Once nightfall comes, a Carl Gross performance suit jacket or a shirt from Greiff will keep you both looking and feeling cool as you dance the night away.
Travel restrictions to Cuba are ever-changing, so keep an eye on the U.S. Embassy website when planning your trip!
Featured image provided by Fabien LE JEUNE