The late nights dancing your ass off in salsa clubs (with maybe two too many mojitos). The pristine landscapes Vinales and Baracoa that will have any outdoor enthusiast drooling. I could go on and on. There are simply too many incredible backpacking experiences in Cuba to cover in one trip! We tried our best in just over two weeks, but there was still so much left to explore.
Cuba is a backpacker’s playground. Travellers just don’t know it yet! Sure, the island is lined with thousands of hotels on it’s beautiful beaches, but you would be foolish to think Cuba is one big resort.
After reading these 6 adventures all backpackers must try, you’ll wonder why you haven’t made it to Cuba sooner.
1. Get Down and Dirty in Cuba’s Music Scene
Just ask the locals and they will tell you where to find it.
There are countless bars that line the iconic streets of Havana, but you will have look closely to find the real music scene. Cuba’s jazz scene is top notch, and much better if you want to enjoy music with a Cohiba. Chilling in a swanky jazz joint had to wait because Lindsay and I wanted to move our feet. With the help of a local and our newest best friend, Alize, we stumbled upon a backroom bar that would throw us right into the fires of Cuban rhythm. There’s no sitting down at these bars.
If you are looking to sweat a little more head to the beating heart of Santiago. Everyone here is born to dance with son music running through their veins. The best time to visit is in July when Carnival floods the street and Cuba’s musical lifeblood is in full force.
Wherever there is live music there are good times to be had. I will guarantee it!
2. Stay in a Casa Particular
Airbnb perfected by Cuban hospitality. That means sharing a glass of rum while watching a Cuban baseball game with your host and his dad. I could only laugh and think “where else?”
Casa Particulares offer a unique backpacking experience that will have you feeling right at home. Finding a place to stay can be as simple as finding a home with the distinct blue logo and knocking on the door, just like the old days!
If one host does not have room for you it’s no problem. They will happily pour you some coffee while they call a friend down the street to come get you.
Staying with locals was easy, and a special cultural experience in itself. Any backpacking trip through Cuba is incomplete without a stay in a Casa Particular. We wrote a full guide on our Cuban home stays to make sure you don’t miss out!
3. Travel by Classic Cars
By far the coolest ride you will ever have, no matter where you end up in the world. These gems just don’t exist anywhere else. You will also be happy to know this can be the cheapest way to cross the country!
Corral your group of best mates that you just met over mojitos and share a taxi ride to your next destination. We had 4-hour car rides cost about $40, but the more the merrier, and the cheaper! Your Casa Particular host can probably refer to you another friend with a 1960’s Chevy to get you where you are going.
I would not test the off-road capabilities of these classics (like we did on our way from Baracoa to Moa). If you are so inclined, I guess the risk of breaking down only adds to the adventure.
4. Horseback riding through Viñales
Every once and a while, I dream that I’m back in Viñales. It was just that captivating.
Vinales is a quiet, down-to-earth agricultural town with landscapes that are out of this world. Think Jurassic park, but replace raptors with quaint tobacco farms framed by spectacular “mogote” hills.
The best way to explore the Viñales Valley is by horseback. Hire a local guide to take you out to visit the plantations, wander the rolling hills, and go caving! You can explore it all in one day, but the easy-going countryside is at its best when you give yourself time to unwind.
It’s a little taste of Cuba’s wild, wild west, but the cowboys here trade in the whiskey for rum and cigars after a long ride. Forgive me for all the liquor references, but I think I need to get something off of my chest…
5. Drink it all up
Cuba Libre, Cubanito, Saoco, Canchanchara, Mojito, or some good-ole rum straight up. There are more than enough cocktails and spirits to keep you from seeing straight.
But did I mention the beers? Cristal, Bucanero, Huatey Clasica… you get the picture.
Drinking up life in Cuba becomes a backpacking experience when you take it to the streets. Plenty will locals, whether it be in the Plaza Mayor or on Havana’s Malecon, will be waiting for you to clink their glasses and converse. And who knows! Maybe an impromptu salsa class will break into session.
Simply put, it’s a way of life You need to tilt your head back and jump in.
6. Untamed Jungles and Beaches of Baracoa
At last I leave you with my favourite, and I beg of you to discover why.
Baracoa is for the adventurous, the daring. It takes some time to get here, but it might just be the most incredible backpacking experiences in Cuba.
Exploring the natural beauty of Baracoa is not for the feint of heart. It is untamed wilderness at its purest. Whether you are climbing up the iconic table-top mountain of El Yunque, trekking into the massive Alejandro de Humboldt National Park, or paddling up the Rio Toa, it is impossible not to get caught up in the raw beauty that Baracoa has to offer.
There is simply nothing like it. If you are looking to get off the beaten path for your backpacking experience in Cuba, seek out this quintessential hidden gem. Any place that has just one bus going there a day must be a good bet.
Cuba is jammed packed with incredible backpacking experiences. This is just a shortlist of some of our favourite adventures, but you could easily spend two weeks or more in Cuba. This tropical island is begging for your attention. I would suggest you explore it now before the secret is out!
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