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The island of Cuba is filled with opportunities for adventure on land and sea. Coastlines harbour secret beaches, coconut palms, food shacks, and isolated snorkelling spots; caverns and sink holes invite divers into stalagmite-studded underworlds; coastal caves shelter Taíno rock art; Goliath Groupers and sharks eyeball divers in remote coral seas; conservation volunteers tend nesting turtles on Caribbean beaches; and the North Atlantic coast sees kite surfers skim the turquoise sea in perfect windy conditions.
Inland, the 780-mile-long island features rolling plains and mountain ranges with peaks for summiting, paths for trekking, and clearings for wild camping under star-spangled skies. Waterfalls cascade down leafy mountains into pools for bathing; and boats quietly putter out into lakes and lagoons for flamingo and manatee spotting, or for a chance to a cast a line to catch fish. Back roads and wild coastal routes are the backdrop for adventure cyclists while the flat-topped mountains in picturesque Viñales lure rock climbers, cigar smokers, horse riders, walkers and photographers.
Cuba’s best kept secret is the far east, the Atlantic corner first spied by Cristopher Columbus in 1492 where coconut, cocoa and coffee grow on mountains, and a coastal national park shelters the world’s smallest bird, frog, and bat. While in Baracoa, slip into the reviving waters of the River of Honey: legend relates that after one cooling dip you’ll always return to this quirky corner in Cuba’s distant east…
Known for its salsa, cocktails, and colonial cities Cuba’s green credentials have taken a back seat – until recently. With a growing organic farming movement and an increasing focus on healthy produce and Cuba’s green landscapes, spend time with local communities spearheading the island’s green revolution.
Stay in the eco-community of Las Terrazas, an hour’s drive from Havana. Zip line, birdwatch, trek, explore ruined coffee plantations, meet artists, and dine at eco-restaurant El Romero, set up by Cuba’s vegetarian pioneer. Spend the night in stilted cabins by the San Juan River for early morning dips, or at the community’s Moka Hotel, or in homestays around the lake. At La Picadora, in the centre of the island, become part of the farming workforce. Feed the livestock, churn butter, pluck coffee beans, and dine with the 227 community members on their farm-grown produce. After a day’s work as a campesino you’ll sleep well in La Picadora’s cottages equipped with compost toilets.
A 3,000-mile coastline fringed with mangrove, mountain and coral reef is bound to boast a couple of great beaches. Except Cuba’s golden sands’ tally is stratospheric. The beaches of Cuba are hitched to every nook, jungle corner, Atlantic outpost and Caribbean cove found along the coast, and then there are its 600 coral isles scattered in glittering turquoise seas. Many of the island’s beaches, especially those along the north coast facing the Atlantic coral reef, are dominated by all-inclusive resorts but dig a little deeper and you’ll find isolated sandy havens, stripped of the presence of the modern world. Along the west and south coast are a handful of indy beach spots, a couple of palm-fringed beautiful beaches on the north coast but it’s in Cuba’s distant east where you’ll find the most independent options: secluded stretches of sand with beach restaurants, loungers, and homestays.
Bicycle to secret beaches through jungle paths passing sea views, farmers tending plots, tropical fruit stands offering pineapple and mamey, and children dressed in maroon uniform on their way to school. This glimpse of rural life comes to those bicycling in the slow lane down the island. Looking for less of a challenge? Electric bikes debuted in Cuba in 2018 taking the strain out of long distance trips and a few small hills. Pedal out to the beaches east and west of Havana, or down to eco-community Las Terrazas, founded by Fidel as a Green Revolution project. Surrounded by limestone hills, reforested hardwood jungle, 19th-century coffee plantation ruins, bird life, and a lake fringed with Royal Palms, it’s the perfect retreat from city life. Take a refreshing dip on the terraces of the area’s San Juan River followed by a vegetarian lunch at Las Terrazas’ eco-restaurant El Romero.
Hawksbill, Green, and Loggerhead turtles breed in Cuba’s clear waters but today their coral reef habitat is under threat, and these turtles and their eggs have suffered poaching in the past. Some 30% of Cuba’s coral reefs are protected via 70 Marine Protected Areas, key legislation in preserving Cuba’s colourful marine biodiversity. And, thanks to several turtle conservation programmes operating in southern Cuba the outlook for Cuba’s marine turtles is promising. In western Guanahacabibes peninsula, some 300 nests per season, belonging to endangered Green turtles, are tended on the beach. Hawksbill turtles are critically endangered; Green and Loggerhead turtles are classed as endangered. Travel to Cuba’s Isle of Youth in partnership with a leading conservation organisation. Meet Cuban scientists and conservationists, and learn about the island’s wildlife and marine life on walks and talks and by snorkelling and diving beautiful protected Punta Francés. Head to a remote hamlet, once reliant on turtle capture for their livelihoods, and see how the organisation is working on alternative sources of income for this isolated community.
Head out of the beautiful Viñales Valley on farmers’ tracks and into the Valley of Silence where tobacco leaves grow, rustic huts dry tobacco leaves on racks, Royal Palms frame the view, and cave pools offer refreshing swims. Outside of Trinidad, on the Caribbean coast, the Valley of the Sugar Mills shelters sugar mill ruins. Ride to the ruins to learn about the area’s sugar cane industry and slave trade, visit waterfalls, and taste freshly brewed coffee, sugar cane stalk, and spit roast pork in this horse ride through history. In the folds of the Sierra Maestra, in Cuba’s east, mount a horse to explore the rugged interior and waterfalls, and chat to Cuban farmers along the way.
The UNESCO-protected valley of Viñales, in southwest Cuba, offers challenging climbs, aerial views, and a chance to notch up routes in a corner of the world mostly untouched by the global climbing community. Across the region conquer the round-topped mountains, known as mogotes, with Cuba’s passionate climbers. There are 250 climbing routes in the main zones of La Costanera, Valle del Mogote, and El Palenque. These craggy pillars, some 300 metres tall, hide sculpted stalactite overhangs and other limestone wonders. Favourite La Costanera is described as a cathedral of limestone. For climbers, the adventure is rewarded with bird’s-eye views of Royal Palms, and the valley floors studded with mogotes.
Set sail from glorious Havana, French-founded Cienfuegos, or musical Santiago, settling into life on the ocean. Board a catamaran and sail past coral cayes through gin-clear waters and watch pelicans dive, southern stingray glide, and marine turtles munch on seagrass. Look out for wild dolphins, too. Pull in at secret beaches in coves along the coast, and on remote coral islands. Snorkel the shallows in search of rare elkhorn coral, colourful parrot fish, and sea anemones while your private chef prepares a BBQ seafood feast for lunch.
For further and deeper exploration, charter a yacht to head into the protected Gardens of the Queen, a string of coral islands several hours off Cuba’s southern shore. As a marine protected area, visiting rights are restricted. The area is famous for its healthy ecosystem teeming with sharks, and Goliath groupers, and full of rich, colourful reefs. In season whale sharks swim through, and there’s a chance to spot American crocodile in the shallows. Snorkel before breakfast while your chef prepares a gourmet start to the day. Some of our yachts boast a starlit cinema, a spa, and a private nightclub for nocturnal pleasure. Choose anything from a romantic catamaran with a small number of cabins to a 16-passenger boat for a holiday with friends and family. All your concierge needs on land will also be taken care of by staff and crew.
Gather rods, bait, lemons and rum and head out along Cuba’s 3,000-mile coastline in search of fish. Cast off from Havana’s Marina Hemingway, north coast beach resort Varadero, or head to the southwest tip of the island and troll for marlin, snapper, dorado and great barracuda in the indigo depths. Off the south coast Zapata swampland, boat out over salt flats and cast a line across the transparent water home to hundreds of bonefish. This is a fly-fishers’ paradise, and a wildlife hotspot filled with Cuban crocodiles, endemic birds, and pink flamingos. The Hatiguanico River, which drains through the Zapata swamp, is flanked by jungle sheltering turtle, blue heron, wild pig, and jumping tarpon which delights anglers on a mission for the ultimate Grand Slam.
Cuba’s coastal reefs are protected so its tropical waters are brimming with colourful marine life. For divers, the holy grail is the Gardens of the Queen, a 93-mile archipelago of coral islands in the Caribbean, 60 miles offshore. Liveaboards allow divers to explore beautiful reefs surrounded by reef, silky, and nurse sharks, and Goliath Groupers. At certain times of year huge whale shark, and curious-looking hammerhead sharks plough through. Other diving hotspots include the Caribbean waters off protected Punta Francés on the Isle of Youth, a small ocean spot off Camagüey’s coast, and the coral reefs of the Bay of Pigs where liveaboards first ventured in 2017. For divers, and snorkellers, a Bay of Pigs wall studded in vibrant coral is only 100 metres off shore, and a growing indie beach scene nearby is perfect for post-dive relaxation.
At the island’s beach resorts, water sports have recently taken off. Kitesurfers rate the wind and conditions off the north coast island of Cayo Guillermo as the best on the island, but smaller bases offer beginners and experimenters exciting options, too. For a slower kind of experience, SUP on the calm green waters off the south coast in front of Guajimico, or SUP the cool rivers around Baracoa, in the far east. Or kayak along Cuba’s coast, bag-shaped bays, and flamingo-flecked lagoons.
Cuba’s wild landscapes are increasingly open to trekkers looking to get off the beaten track. In the middle of the Guaniguanico Mountains, in the island’s west, is the 699m-high limestone peak, Pan de Guajaibon. Search for bats, birds, and jutía, large tree-dwelling mammals, while scaling its heights. In the middle of the island is the Sierra del Escambray, a jungly mountainscape cut through with rivers and waterfalls and dominated by Lake Hanabanilla, a huge man-made reservoir. The Escambray’s peak, Pico Tuerto, towers over rainforest, and evergreen jungle, filled with pretty orchids, and inhabited by colourful birds. Explore hidden waterfalls, popular bathing spots, secret caves, and trek a network of paths near the lake, and close to colonial Trinidad city, once used by Cuba’s 19th-century independence fighters.
In Cuba’s far east, hike Baracoa’s famous flat-topped El Yunque Mountain with its incredible panoramic views of the Atlantic seen from its summit. Looking to go deeper? Walk the four-day Humboldt trek through a park named after German explorer and naturalist Alexander von Humboldt. Or scale Cuba’s highest mountain, the Turquino Royal Peak, in the eastern Sierra Maestra range where Fidel Castro and his rebels built their HQ before their push to final victory in late 1958. Not looking for such a challenging hike? Head to beachfront tiny Chivirico on the Caribbean coast and day trek into the foothills of the Sierra Maestra behind the village.
The wellness sector in Cuba is a little secret. The island is better known for its energetic dance, lively African and Spanish-rooted music, raucous reggaeton, and rum cocktails. But for those seeking a route to mindfulness and relaxation, we can open doors to the top practitioners on the island.
At the capital’s five-star Kempinski Havana hotel, visit the calm environment of its Albear Spa by Resense. After a relaxing massage, enjoy the sauna, plunge pool, and spa pool with its floor-to-ceiling windows offering panoramic views of Havana’s skyline. Looking for a more holistic approach? We can introduce you to the ‘godfather of Cuban yoga’ who practices Iyengar yoga in his Havana studio, and co-runs yoga retreats at the beach, or in the beautiful Viñales Valley. Chinese practices were brought to the island by the influx of ‘coolies’ to the labour market in the 19th century. Today, tai chi is practised by Cubans of all ages under the shade of trees in the city’s leafy parks. We can introduce you to a Cuban master of tai chi, and also of wushu. Looking to do something different? As well as an introduction to Chinese martial arts, we can introduce you to Havana’s boxing community. Learn the sport with champions. Cuban boxers’ prowess in the ring is world renowned. Always fancied doing something to unravel those two left feet? This Caribbean island has had an outsized contribution to global music and dance. From slower, seductive son to raunchy salsa, wild rumba, and body-shaking reggaeton, choose your moves, and we’ll have you dancing like a pro with one-on-one tutoring.
Explore Cuba’s pristine wilderness with us on new wild camping tours. We’ve designed trips that take in trails passing mountain lakes, crystal clear rivers, and fishing villages. In Cuba’s remote east, trek jungle and coastal paths to the island’s furthest flung spot, Maisí. In fresh-air pine forests, outside of Holguín, search for birds before bedding down under the stars at a Cuban farm. In the mountains of the Escambray, in central Cuba, hike through forests packed with waterfalls, birds and orchids, and stop for a refreshing dip in a cool water lake. After a day’s trekking, dine on delicious campfire meals with your guide, followed by a trago of rum to ease in your night’s sleep. We provide you with new one-man tents with excellent ground sheets and bedding, a guide, and a support vehicle, if necessary. We can combine wild camping with trekking, horse riding and biking. Cuba has only recently opened its wild tropical landscapes to true campers. Our trips offer an up-close-and-personal view of this fascinating Caribbean isle.
Whether it’s a tune from a Cuban pop diva in a hip Havana bar or a ticket to a secret party on a rooftop where DJs spin cool tunes in the exciting Cuban capital, we’ve got the tickets.
At Havana’s first oceanfront boutique hotel listen to a Cuban band play under the stars at a private party. Across town, the HAPE Collective hold secret parties in unusual venues. Think a decaying Moorish palace, an abandoned city lot, and a China Town haunt. HAPE’s gathering of Cuban DJs and international supporters is reinventing the Cuban night. Catch DJ Jigüe experimenting with electronic sounds blended with traditional tunes conjuring up a new sound for Havana’s tropical nights.
If you love catchy reggaeton, the soundtrack to life on the streets of Cuba, we’ll find you the latest hotspot. Need to brush up on your salsa moves before heading into the starry night? We’ll book you into an intensive course so you can dance like a Cuban pro.