ABTA have named their travel hotspots for 2009. This month, we're bringing you bitesized guides to our top choices. This week we complete our series with Cuba.

Why go

Cuba is poised for a period of transformation following five decades of enmity with the USA. Both countries have new presidents and each president has plans for big changes in Cuban tourism.

Fidel Castro handed over the presidential post to his brother, Raul, in February last year. Since stepping into his brother's boots, Raul Castro has lifted restrictions on Cuban nationals staying in tourist hotels and owning mobile phones and computers. Raul wants to give Cubans a better standard of living by following the economic patterns set by China and Vietnam, both popular tourist destinations with Communist backgrounds.

Barack Obama swept to victory in the January US presidential elections partly on the back of promises to lift travel restrictions to Cuba for Cuban-Americans. This has prompted speculation that the USA may ease restrictions on travel to Cuba for all US tourists. Just this month, US representatives introduced a bill to lift the restrictions completely. Although the bill is unlikely to succeed, it's a sign of changing American attitudes.

All the signs indicate that the time to visit Cuba is now, before the legacy of Fidel Castro dies and Cuba becomes just another Caribbean island. If the USA makes it easier for Cuba to receive American tourists, Cuba's tourist industry will receive a much-needed boost but many fear the island will change beyond recognition.

Getting there

Cubana flies direct from London to Havana and Holguin. There are currently no direct flights from the USA.

More Cuba travel information


Cuba's capital is one of the best preserved colonial cities in the Caribbean and Old Havana is rightly designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. Its 500-year-old centre is full of museums, galleries and architectural gems. You'll also see the things that helped make Cuba legendary, such as vintage American cars and piles of fat Cuban cigars.

Santa Clara
Santa Clara is the monument, museum and mausoleum of Ché Guevara. His body was only returned from Bolivia in 1997, 30 years after his capture and execution. In 1959, he and 300 rebels defeated 3,000 of Batista's troops here, leading to the dictator's flight just days later.

Santiago de Cuba
The country's best musicians and dancers can be seen at work in Santiago de Cuba. Visit the Museo Emilio Bacardí, which contains the rum magnate's collection of antiques and fine art, and the Moncada Barracks, where Castro launched an abortive uprising in 1953. The Castillo del Morro is a museum of piracy.


Colonial Trinidad, founded in 1514, is the jewel in Cuba's crown and another UNESCO World Heritage site. Locals ride horses down cobbled streets past houses painted in pastel colours and elegant mansions have been converted into museums. Most are clustered around the exquisite main square, including the National Museum of the Struggle against the Insurgents.

More things to see in Cuba


A number of Cuba's tobacco factories, including the Real Fábrica de Tabacos Partagás in Havana, are open for tourists to try their hand at rolling their own cigars.


Cuba's beaches are up there with the Caribbean's best, and there's a huge variety to choose from. Playas del Este near Havana is where the locals play. Exclusive island resorts like Cayo Coco have recently opened up to Cubans but are still dominated by foreign tourists dedicated to relaxing and sunbathing. Varadero is a lively resort that combines beach life with nightlife, for locals and foreigners.

Scuba diving

There are 30 dive sites at Varadero alone. One of the world's biggest coral reefs is offshore at Cayo Coco, and there are more reefs around Isla de la Juventud, Stevenson's inspiration for Treasure Island.

Meet the locals

Cubans are polite, educated, fun, and just dying to make contact with people from other countries. Make time for at least a night or two in a casa particular, eat in paladares rather than state-run restaurants, and strike up conversation whenever possible.

More things to do in Cuba


Cuban cuisine is a mix of Spanish and Afro-Caribbean, heavily reliant on rice, beans, chicken and pork. Some of the best cooking, and often an illegal lobster or two, is found in paladares (small, private restaurants). Swill it all down with some strong Cuban coffee or rum.

More about Cuban food and drink

Next week we begin our series of bitesized guides to New York City's boroughs, covering the best hotels, attractions and activities in the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Visa and passport information is updated regularly and is correct at the time of publishing. You should verify critical travel information independently with the relevant embassy before you travel.