Article cover image

Mojitos, Mambo, and More: Unveiling Cuba's Cultural Treasures


| 10 mins read

Cuba, the largest island nation in the Caribbean, is a vibrant tapestry of culture, history, and natural beauty. From the rolling hills of Viñales Valley to the bustling streets of Havana, Cuba offers a unique and unforgettable travel experience. This comprehensive guide unveils the must-do experiences in Cuba, ensuring an immersive and culturally rich vacation.

Learn to Salsa Dance Like a Local

A country of vibrancy, movement, and embracing life to its fullest, Cuban life is akin to the various dance forms that find a home here. From Salsa to Rumba, and Mambo to Tango, Cubans move with a grace and energy that lifts everyone’s spirits. Become a part of this energetic way of life by joining a dance class in one of Cuba’s popular cities like Havana or Trinidad!

The local guide in the city will take you to a workshop with experts who have been practising Cuban dance forms for years. These are typically paired with visits to music venues and dance clubs at the end of your class, where you can show off your newly perfected moves and dance the night away with locals! Learning Salsa or Mambo is a window into the soul of Cuba, a fun and interactive way to connect with the local spirit. You will leave with a newfound appreciation for Cuban dance, a new skill, and a tangible reminder of the joy and vibrancy that permeates every aspect of Cuban life.

Explore the Heart of Tobacco Country: Viñales Valley

Nearly every rich person in a movie has two things that scream wealth and indulgence - scotch and cigars, particularly Cuban cigars. The masterful crafting and intense flavour of the cigar made it an instant hit worldwide, and Cuban cigars have maintained their role as one of the best indulgences for decades. And the good news is, you can visit the place where the required tobacco is grown and even learn to craft your own cigars! 

Nestled in the western province of Pinar del Río, Viñales Valley is a UNESCO World Heritage Site renowned for its stunning landscapes and rich tobacco-growing tradition. Start the day off on horseback with a leisurely ride across the rolling hills of Viñales. The route will take you through the sprawling tobacco plantations, where the local guide will introduce you to the farmers who will teach you about the traditional process of cultivating, harvesting, curing, and preparing tobacco leaves for cigars. Sample a fresh Cuban cigar made with your own hands while gazing at the lush farms all around you - a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will surely leave its mark.

Sip Authentic Mojitos on the Steps in Trinidad

An abundance of street musicians playing lively tunes, colourful cobblestone streets, amazing nightlife for just about anyone, and a city steeped in rich culture and history… does this sound fictional? We assure you, it is not! The charming colonial town of Trinidad (which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site) is home to all this and more. To enhance this relaxing atmosphere, there is just one more ingredient needed - a quintessential Cuban mojito! As many locals say, there is a very particular way of making a Cuban mojito that only a resident can demonstrate. Take a special mojito-making workshop to up your bartending skills and make a delicious and refreshing drink made with local rum and freshly harvested mint. Then, find a spot on the grand staircase near the Casa de la Musica, soak up the atmosphere, and enjoy the music. Remember, sipping a mojito on the steps is a quintessential Cuban experience!

Local Tip: Experience a one-of-a-kind club built inside a cave near Trinidad. Let loose and dance among stalactites and stalagmites to the infectious rhythms of Cuban music.

Uncover the Secrets of Rum at a Havana Distillery

Speaking of rum - no Cuban adventure is complete without indulging in the country's national drink. A guided tour of Havana’s popular Club Rum Museum showcases the history and intricate process of rum distillation and, of course, gives you a taste of the excellent rum straight from the barrels! Under the guidance of a Cuban bartender, you can even mix your own drinks, a fun and delicious way to learn the art of Cuban cocktail making.

Local Tip: Visit El Floridita in Havana, a bar frequented by Ernest Hemingway, and imagine the famous writer sitting at the same spot, seeking inspiration amidst the lively ambience.

Cruise the Malecón in a Vintage Car at Sunset

There is one image that comes to mind when people think of Cuba - rolling down the colourful streets in a vintage car. Ditch the postcards and live in the dream of every gearhead – Cuba is a living time capsule roaring to life! Picture this: you're cruising down dusty Havana streets, the wind whipping through your hair as iconic 40s and 50s Chevys and Fords thunder by. These cars are not mint-condition, never-been-used kind either, but battle-worn testaments to everyday Cuban life, each dent and ding a story waiting to be told. Cuban streets are a never-ending car show, a rolling museum where every corner unveils another legendary vintage model – Oldsmobiles, Plymouths, the whole chrome-laden crew.

But how did this automotive wonderland come to be? A trade embargo put these American cars in a time warp, transforming Cuba into a land where vintage cars are as national as cigars. Today, this gives us the possibility of living out our movie star dreams!

Amp up the experience by taking a nostalgic vintage car tour down Havana's legendary Malecón seaside promenade. Cruise in a classic car, the ultimate Cuban experience, and immerse yourself in the vibrant scene. Families stroll leisurely, musicians weave their melodies into the air, and vendors tempt you with irresistible Cuban treats. As the sun dips below the horizon, the Havana harbour explodes in a breathtaking display of colour, painting a magical backdrop to your day of exploration. This is Cuba, and it's waiting to steal your heart, one vintage ride at a time.

Note: Connect with Cuban culture on a deeper level by playing a friendly game of chess, the popular hobby of most elder Cubans, with a local on the Malecon!

Experience the Legacy and Fun by Joining in the Festivals of Cuba

Winter Carnival Festivities in Havana (Early January): Immerse yourself in the electrifying atmosphere of Havana's winter carnival, pulsating with lively conga music and traditional dances. Witness cultural performances deeply rooted in the island's history and fueled by infectious enthusiasm. Don't be shy – follow the conga dancers and learn some new moves to join the celebration!

Santiago de Cuba Carnival (Mid-July): Be prepared to be dazzled by the electrifying atmosphere of Cuba's biggest and most colourful carnival held in Santiago de Cuba. Elaborate floats, energetic dancers, and pulsating rhythms fill the streets with an irresistible energy. Plan your trip well in advance, as this popular event attracts large crowds eager to experience the spectacle.

Fiesta Del Fuego in Santiago de Cuba (Early July): This exciting festival celebrates Cuba's rich history and cultural heritage with a variety of events, including performances, exhibitions, workshops, and energetic street activities. The highlight is the Fire Parade on the last evening, a symbolic and visually stunning spectacle not to be missed. Witness elaborate floats adorned with fire sculptures and costumed performers weaving through the streets, creating a captivating display of fire and dance.

Immerse yourself in Cuban performing arts with a captivating performance at the Tomas Terry Theatre in Cienfuegos. This magnificent neo-Renaissance architectural gem is a cultural landmark and a must-visit for any theatre enthusiast.

Explore Baracoa's Rich Chocolate Heritage

Cosily perched amidst the lush rainforests, Baracoa boasts a history of cultivating prized cacao for centuries. Indigenous people first discovered the "food of the gods," and Spanish colonists later spread its fame.

Unlike mass-produced sweets, Baracoa's chocolate is a handcrafted experience. Local producers use traditional methods, such as grinding roasted cacao beans on stone metates. The result? Intensely flavorful, single-origin dark chocolate, often infused with local spices like chilli or cinnamon. Take a guided tour of the charming chocolate houses to witness the bean-to-bar process and savour the complex flavours that have captivated palates for generations. Beyond indulgence, Baracoa's chocolate is a cultural touchstone, a testament to the region's unique history and a delicious adventure for your taste buds.

Local Tip: If you request your local guide in advance, you can hike up to the Yunqui Waterfall in Baracoa and conclude your day with a delicious traditional Cuban roast pork dinner by the riverbed. Savour the local flavours under the starry Cuban sky!

Dine at Casa Particulars and Hunt for Street Food Stalls

Cuba's culinary secrets are best discovered at a casa particular, family-run bed-and-breakfast nooks where breakfast becomes a cultural adventure. What better way to learn about this fascinating country than from a local host, all while savouring a decadent breakfast of local pastries with a dash of strong Cuban coffee?

The hosts of these casas whip up a fiesta of their favourite food - maybe a steaming plate of ropa vieja (slow-cooked shredded beef)? Or it might be the savoury arroz con pollo (chicken and rice)! All these traditional dishes are bursting with authentic flavours, making you say “Por supuesto!” (for sure!) to everything!

If you want to go beyond the home-cooked goodness, the vibrant streets of Cuban cities are your oyster (or Tamales, in this case)! Take a street food tour of Havana, Trinidad, or the ever-charming Cienguegos, to sample savoury fritters called fritas, quench your thirst with refreshing sugarcane juice, and maybe even snag a ropa vieja masterpiece from a friendly vendor. Feeling adventurous? Learn the secrets of cooking the perfect Cuban cuisine from the locals at a casa particular, just to make sure you don’t miss out on all the flavours for the rest of your life.

Some More Amazing Experiences in Cuba

Spend an hour or two in Plaza Vieja: Soak up the charm of Cienfuegos by people-watching at Plaza Vieja, a lively square lined with colourful buildings and bustling cafes. Relax on a park bench with your group and your local guide, grab a refreshing drink, and observe the locals going about their day. Be sure to catch the captivating performances by street artists showcasing their talents, adding to the vibrant atmosphere of the plaza.

Scuba Dive to See Shipwrecks in the Bay of Pigs: Dive into the historical site of the Bay of Pigs Invasion and learn about Cuban history.

Admire the Mural of Prehistory and the Indian Cave: Travel back in time with a visit to the Mural of Prehistory and the Indian Cave near Viñales. The mural depicts scenes of prehistoric life, while the cave offers a glimpse into Cuba's indigenous history.

Havana Street Art Walk: Wander around Havana's vibrant street art scene by walking through the city's neighbourhoods. Discover hidden murals that showcase Cuban art, culture, and social commentary.

Local Tip: Do not miss Fusterlandia in Cienfuegos, a whimsical outdoor art project created by José Fuster. This wonderland features colourful mosaics and quirky sculptures adorning houses, streets, and public spaces, offering a unique artistic experience.

Cuba offers an unforgettable experience for travellers seeking cultural immersion, breathtaking landscapes, and a vibrant social scene. From learning the art of cigar rolling to dancing the night away in a cave nightclub, Cuba has something for everyone. So pack your bags, grab your dancing shoes, and get ready to discover the magic of Cuba!