It’s twilight in Old Havana, and you can still taste the mint and lime of your last mojito. A smoky, tropical breeze rustles through your hair, carrying with it the soft sounds of salsa music from a nearby bar. You turn a corner, and the crumbling concrete wall at your side transforms into the facade of a stunning colonial building. Your evening is just beginning, but it’s already magical.
This is Cuba: an otherworldly paradise, where nothing quite makes sense but everything somehow works. Many travelers stick to the splendor of Old Havana or the beaches of Varadero—and it’s hard to blame them. Venture a bit farther, though, and you’ll be sure to encounter the history and folklore that make Cuba so unique. Welcome to your next great adventure.
Weather in Cuba
While Cuba is just 90 miles from the United States, the nation’s weather patterns are purely tropical. The year can be roughly divided into two seasons: the cooler dry season and the warmer wet season.
Dry Season (November–April)
It might be winter up north, but it’s the perfect time to visit Cuba. The weather is cooler at this time of year, but it’s Cuba cool. Temperatures during this time average between 70 and 75 degrees. You likely won’t be the only one to take advantage of the perfect weather, though; crowds can surge during this time, and hotel prices jump by about 25 percent.
Wet Season (May–October)
With tropical storms—including occasional hurricanes—battering Cuba’s shores, summer in the United States marks Cuba’s low season. However, look out for deals in May and October. You might be able to find the elusive trifecta of low prices, fewer crowds and good weather during the country’s shoulder seasons.
Picturing Cuba might conjure images of salsa clubs, cigar bars and the dilapidated elegance of Havana. Look beyond the city’s walls, though, and the country offers a nature lover’s paradise: sun-soaked beaches, richly forested mountains and everything in between.
The largest island in the Caribbean, Cuba has some of the best-preserved mountain ecosystems in the entire region. Visit the Viñales Valley in the west or Alejandro de Humboldt National Park for spectacular hiking, rock-climbing and bird-watching.
The coastal swamps and mangrove forests of the Ciénaga de Zapata and Desembarco del Granma National Parks are perfect for wildlife lovers seeking destinations off the beaten path. Think the Everglades but with a touch of Cuban mystique you won’t find anywhere outside of the island.
Even the most intrepid adventurer would be remiss not to spend at least a day on one of Cuba’s pristine beaches. The island truly offers some of the world’s best. Varadero is the country’s most well trafficked for a reason, but Playa Paraíso, Playa Pilar and Playa Ancón offer the same sparkling water and sugary sand—without the crowds.
Cubans love to party, and if you visit the island, prepare yourself for a whirl around a dance floor at pretty much any time of the year…or day! Visit Cuba during one of its famous festivals, though, and you’re sure to have an experience you never forget.
Celebration of Classic Cars
It’s true—the cars really do look like that. However, it’s during this week in March that the truly spectacular classics come out of the woodwork. Transport yourself back to 1950, and watch a never-ending arsenal of Bel Airs, El Dorados, and Coupe de Villes parade down Havana’s cobblestone streets.
Every Caribbean and Latin American country has its own take on Carnaval, but like everything else on the island, Cuba’s version is one of a kind. Havana’s Carnaval lights up the city’s world-famous malecón each August with rum-soaked floats, while Santiago’s festival in July features a colorful display of the region’s Afro-Caribbean culture.
Festival Internacional de Jazz
The island might be more commonly associated with the rhythms of salsa and rumba, but Cuban jazz is world renowned. Visit Havana in December to hear some of the world’s finest jazz musicians in an unforgettable, historic setting.
Backroads Pro Tip
While it’s worth the expense, be prepared to shell out a little bit extra for your hotel if you’re in town for the jazz festival. The event coincides with both Cuba’s high season and the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, making for one of the country’s busiest travel seasons.
Americans might have been barred from Cuba until recently, but the rest of the world wasn’t. Canadians, Europeans and travelers from across Latin America have been flocking to the island for decades. With the island now open to an influx of US visitors, some of the country’s more popular attractions can get crowded during high season (December to March) and the local high seasons (around Christmas and Easter), but during the rest of the year you can still feel as if you have the island all to yourself.
No matter where you’re coming from, everything on the island feels just a little bit different. Indeed, each moment in Cuba offers a new adventure, whether it’s trying to find working Wi-Fi, navigating the country’s dual currency or realizing your rum and Coke is actually served with the knock-off tuKola. Whether you’re an urbanite or a nature lover, though, Cuba offers plenty of action for travelers seeking experiences they can’t get at home.
The aforementioned Viñales Valley and Alejandro de Humboldt National Park offer a slew of trails perfect for beginners. For a more strenuous hike, venture to the flat-topped mountain El Yunque. It’s near Baracoa on the island’s eastern coast.
Scuba Diving and Snorkeling
Jibacoa and the Bay of Pigs offer some of Cuba’s most accessible offshore adventures. For truly world-class diving, though, it’s worth making the trek to Maria la Gorda on the island’s western tip or the archipelago Jardines de la Reina (the Queen’s Gardens) off the southern coast.
Even those with two left feet should spend at least a night in one of Havana’s famous salsa clubs. Many in Ciudad Vieja cater to tourists, but those who venture farther afield to hip Miramar will be well rewarded. (For a lively music venue, La Casa de la Música is our personal favorite. There’s a location in each neighborhood). Prefer to just watch? Finish your daiquiri, and then head to the seaside Malecón for Havana’s biggest street party—it’s the hottest local hangout every Friday and Saturday, and literally stretches for miles!
All right. This might not be an adventure in the traditional sense…but you’re in Cuba, so why not indulge? Plenty of shops in Old Havana sell hand-rolled cigars by the dozen, but we recommend going straight to the source. Viñales isn’t just a sweet hiking spot; it’s also where you can find UNESCO World Heritage–listed tobacco fields and the country’s finest cigars. It’s well worth a day-trip or overnight from Havana!
Travel to Cuba with Backroads
Backroads offers numerous ways to experience the very best of Cuba on our award-winning active travel adventures. Explore this country in the best and most genuine way possible—away from the crowds, buses and tourist hot spots. We hope you'll join us! Check out our full list of Cuba adventures here.