If you’re planning to spend the bulk of your Cuban holiday in a bar crammed with people and the sweet scent of cigar smoke while you shimmy your hips in an effort to keep up with the locals as they salsa dance, well… you’re missing out (although naturally you need to try that). There are countless outdoor activities in Cuba that will tempt even the most urban of visitors. But if you don’t want to get out and about and enjoy the sun, then Cuba might not be the wisest choice for you.
Perhaps the very north of Norway… in winter. When travelling through Cuba, you will come across a few things that could not be described as pretty to look at, no matter how many mojitos you’ve had to drink.
There are unattractive industrial zones, old factories and warehouses, which really stand out simply because the rest of the countryside is so darn beautiful (and happily, there are vast swathes of protected national parks across Cuba). There are a fair few things in Cuba’s great outdoors that warrant your attention—the sorts of things you would regret missing. Luckily for you, we’ve whittled the list down to the absolute best of the best.
The Most Gentle Hike in Cuba? Into the Hills of Viñales
The charming town of Viñales probably looks much the same as it did a hundred years ago, and is just a short hop from Havana (about 2.5 hours in a car, and there are frequent bus services). It’s here that you will find one of the most gentle outdoor activities in Cuba. It’s a simple straightforward hike that allows you to see where those Cuban cigars are born (since a huge bulk of Cuba’s tobacco is grown in the area).
Start in the centre of the town and then take a leisurely wander for roughly two kilometres (1.25 miles) along a road called Adela Azcuy. You will see vibrantly coloured buildings, although the small town will quickly give way to countryside. You’ll end up at a tobacco plantation called Finca Raúl Reyes which has a refreshment stand, so you can stop for a cooling drink (or a shot of rum).
You can call it a day, or keep walking until you reach Cueva de la Vaca, a rather lovely cave further up in the hills that surround the town.
An Underground Escape to the Ocean: La Cueva De Los Peces
The Bay of Pigs is historically interesting, and the beach itself on Cuba’s southern coast is simply sublime. But there’s an even prettier spot just inland from the beach, and it’s one of our top picks for the outdoor activities in Cuba you need to try. La Cueva de los Peces is a sinkhole surrounded by lush tropical plants that look as though they’ve been landscaped into position. But no, this area is authentic and natural.
If you think that the water looks suspiciously dark, there’s a reason. Underneath the water is a series of natural caves that actually lead all the way out to the ocean. You will need to rent diving gear (and a guide) if you wish to explore the undersea caves, but you can splash around in the cool, clear water without having to pay a cent.
Narrow but Not Shallow: Varahicacos Ecological Reserve
Varadero is home to some of the plushest resorts in Cuba, and it can look much like any vacation spot in the Caribbean. It’s still lovely though! Leave the sunburnt tourists on the beach and head to the Varahicacos Ecological Reserve.
There are a number of easy hikes that start from the Reserve, although you will be changed a small fee to walk on some of these paths. It really depends on how much time you have to spend, although none of the walks can be described as gruelling. It’s difficult to walk far in this area, since the Hicacos Peninsula (where Varadero is located) is only 2.5 km across at its widest point. We recommend the leisurely hike to Cueva de Musulmanes, where you will be able to see human remains from the original indigenous inhabitants of the island (which are more than 2000 years old).
Pink Flamingos: One of the Most Relaxing Outdoor Activities in Cuba
It used to be difficult for Americans to visit Cuba, but the residents of the Guanaroca Lagoon didn’t let that stop them. The lagoon has a large number of resident flamingos, some of who fly back and forth between Florida (which isn’t really that far). You can book a tour in the nearby town of Cienfuegos and explore the area around the lagoon, where you’ll see a vast array of birds and insects.
The highlight of any visit to the lagoon is when you are rowed out across the water for a closer look at the flamingos as they placidly wander through the shallow water. This is truly one of the most relaxing outdoor activities in Cuba.
Let “Someone” Else Do the Walking: A Horse Trek in the Valley of the Sugar Mills
A wander through the UNESCO protected Valley of the Sugar Mills just outside of Trinidad is about one of the best outdoor activities in Cuba we can think of, but it’s better when you’re not the one doing the walking. Take a guided horse trek through the valley and you can see far more of it without breaking a sweat.
Many horse treks can be booked in Trinidad itself, and you can spend the better part of the day exploring the valley, before heading into the hills. If it’s a hot time of year (and yeah, that could describe Cuba pretty much all year round), then request a trek with a swimming stop, so you can allow the lovely horses to take a rest while you take a dip in the stream. Most of the treks are all-inclusive, so there will be meal stops as well.
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