Beyond Havana: Four Other Cuban Cities to Explore

Baracoa, Cuba

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Uncover the quieter Cuban cities, where less explored towns offer captivating stories and encounters

Havana may steal the spotlight, but Cuba's lesser-known towns are the heart of the island's soul. From the very first village founded on the island to a town cradling Cuba's largest underwater cave, we're setting off on a journey through Cuban cities that offer a different kind of allure – one steeped in history, culture, and unspoiled beauty.

Gibara, Cuba

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1. Gibara

Escape the relentless pace of Cuba's big cities and let Gibara, a quaint coastal town, enchant you with its serene bay and mountainous backdrop. Imagine breathing in that salty sea air, mingling with the aroma of Cuba's finest seafood - think mouthwatering crab enchilados and other crab dishes, so famous they're literally on the town's welcome sign!


Before diving into Gibara's culinary delights, dip into the Tanque Azul. More than just a stunning natural pool, this jade-hued wonder is your gateway to one of the world's oldest underwater caves - a 20-million-year-old aquatic labyrinth waiting to be explored. And let's face it, snorkeling here might just be the closest you'll get to time travel!


Gibara doesn't just do serene; it does festive too! Home to the Festival Internacional de Cine Pobre de Gibara, it's where you can catch cutting-edge Latin American cinema without the blockbuster budget.


Fancy staying like a local? Gibara's hostels and Airbnbs, such as the charming Casa Luz del Norte, offer a taste of authenticity. Constructed in 1874, this colonial-style beauty, with its Mudéjar flair, overlooks the bay. You can even rent bamboo bikes made locally to wander around at your pace.

Calle Calzada, Cárdenas

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2. Cárdenas

Varadero's hyper-popular crystal waters might be the crown jewel of Cuban beaches, but a hop away, the Cuban city of Cárdenas stands as a beacon of history. Boasting a blend of 19th-century splendor and modern charm. Picture this: streets lined with rainbow-hued colonial homes, towering columns, and ceilings that could tell a thousand tales.


As you meander through the streets, don't miss the towering Parish Church of the Immaculate Conception, where a 9-foot tribute to Christopher Columbus claims its fame as the first of its kind in America.


Step into the Oscar María de Rojas Museum, the second oldest in Cuba, for a peek into the past. This National Monument, founded in 1900, houses a fascinating collection that spans from pre-Columbian artifacts to an extensive entomology display, including Cuba's largest butterfly collection. Open from Monday to Sunday, a guided English tour is a bargain at about 15 Cuban pesos.


And for those beach cravings? Varadero's pristine sands are just a hop away, with a plethora of hotels to choose from. So why not mix up your beach getaway with a dash of Cárdenas' colorful history?

View of Las Terrazas, Sierra del Rosario

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3. Comunidad Las Terrazas

Have you ever dreamt of escaping to a place where mountains whisper and palm trees sway to their own rhythm? Tucked away in the western province of Artemisa, near the Sierra del Rosario mountain range lies Comunidad Las Terrazas, a rural oasis that captivates with its natural beauty and serene ambiance. Art enthusiasts will be drawn to the renowned Cuban painter Lester Campa's gallery and studio, where the local landscape is beautifully translated into stunning paintings.


In this haven for explorers, you'll discover the ruins of Cuba's first coffee plantation, Cafetal Buenavista, dating back to 1801. Nearby, the Cafetal Buenavista restaurant offers a taste of authentic Cuban cuisine, featuring the famous congrí rice, tender pork, and fresh vegetables. The restaurant is open until 5:00 p.m. and provides a delightful dining experience for around $20 USD.


For a restful night, consider Villa Bella Vista, a hostel that stands out for its affordability and quality. Here, each room is a front-row seat to nature's grandeur, with the cool mountain breeze as your lullaby. With comfortable beds made from local cedar and a peaceful atmosphere, prices start at just $35.

The bay of Baracoa

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4. Baracoa

As the first Spanish settlement on the island, Baracoa offers a unique blend of historic roots and unspoiled natural landscapes. Located in the province of Guantánamo, this Cuban city is surrounded by an untouched jungle forest teeming with extraordinary birdlife and endemic species. Within Alejandro de Humboldt National Park, you'll be captivated by the Tocororo (Cuban trogon) and Almiquí (Cuban solenodon), thriving amidst towering pine and mahogany trees, with a forest floor lush with ferns.


The Fiesta de las Aguas, from August 10-15, marks Baracoa's anniversary with a blend of dance, traditional music, and local cuisine. The city comes alive with festivities, especially along the Baracoa Boulevard and the Malecón. A culinary highlight is the savory bacán, a local favorite combining green banana, coconut milk, and pork, wrapped in a style reminiscent of a corn tamale.


Rest in history at El Castillo Hotel, a former 18th-century fortress. Its location on a hill provides a breathtaking view of the city and a large pool, perfect for a refreshing dip. The hotel, blending historical significance with modern comfort, is a perfect end to your day, with rooms available from 53 euros. In Baracoa, you don't just visit; you step into a living, breathing piece of Cuban heritage.

Written by Teresita Padrón.


Published January 2024.

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