Where to Go in Cuba

Three spots to visit beyond Havana

While things may not be changing as dramatically in other parts of Cuba as they are in Havana, a spirit of revolution is in the air in the island’s favourite sun spots. Here’s what you’ll see if you visit soon.  

Varadero

A thin strip of land jutting out into some of the world’s bluest, clearest waters, Varadero, about 150 kilometres east of Havana, has long been Cuba’s favourite vacation destination. 

For years, guides providing commentary on buses bound for Varadero from the airport or from Havana would rely on shop-worn jokes to entertain their guests. But now many of them talk of change and growth. 

Already home to an uninterrupted stretch of development, the area is making room for more. Gaviota Group, which owns around 55 hotels in the country—and hosts 500,000 Canadians every year—just opened Ocean Vista Azul this past November. It also debuted the 4.5-star Meliá Marina resort in 2013. Whether or not you’re a guest of this luxurious development, you can pay it a visit to tour a number of amenities not typical in Cuba, such as a 1,200-slip marina and Plaza Las Morlas, a village complete with boutiques, supermarket and new dining options.

Cayo Coco

Set in the Atlantic Ocean, Cayo Coco (and its diminutive sister island, Cayo Guillermo) is a place apart—literally. Now linked to the Cuba mainland by a 27-km causeway across the Bahía de Perros, this island was once an uninhabited tropical paradise. But, since the first resort opened here back in the 1990s, it has blossomed into a popular vacation spot.

A visitor has two options here: stay and relax at one of the island’s amenity-rich all-inclusives (the Pullman Cayo Coco just opened last fall), or go and explore. The former will include pool time and many Cuba librés. And the latter? Lots more options. 

You can cross the causeway and experience nearby Morón or, even better, the provincial capital of Ciego de Ávila. Ciego, as the locals call it, is often touted as a miniature Havana, with a compact city centre, great dining and fun boutiques set along a pedestrianized street.  

Holguín

Situated in the remote east part of the country, Holguín has a long history of good press; Christopher Columbus first set foot near here back in 1492 and he liked it—a lot. Upon first seeing the coastline, he declared the stretch of sand to be “the most beautiful land human eyes have ever seen.”

The resort area of Holguín consists of Guardalavaca, which includes Esmeralda and Playa Pesquero. More than two hours south are the green Sierra Maestra mountains, where Fidel Castro and Che Guevara hid out during the Cuban Revolution in the late 1950s. You can head there to visit their camp, the Comandancia de la Plata, where you’ll see their radio hut, hospital and Castro’s private shelter. 

Closer to your beachside hotel is the city of Holguín itself, Cuba’s fourth-largest. Known as the City of Parks, it’s home to a number of green oases, as well as its fair share of museums. Take in some history, then head back to the beach.

Getting there: WestJet flies to Varadero eight times a week from Toronto, Montreal and Calgary; and to Cayo Coco and Holguin twice a week from Toronto.