When you’re traveling on a shoestring budget, finding cheap or free things to do is a necessity for an unforgettable trip. While it’s certainly possible to spend a lot of money on a trip to Cuba, many attractions won’t cost you a penny.
From untouched scenery to fascinating historical sites, Cuba has much to offer for budget travelers looking for an inexpensive vacation. Here are 5 of the best free attractions for budget travelers hoping to keep their wallets happy while in Cuba.
The Malecón (Havana)
An 8 km stretch of roadway hugging the coast, the Malecón remains an icon that any traveler in Cuba must experience. The seaside promenade features six automobile lanes and spacious sidewalks that are a hub of local activity. From vibrant musicians to sumptuous architecture, the Malecón is a photographer’s dream that continues to inspire generations.
You could spend hours watching the mesmerizing waves spill onto the sidewalk or soak up the atmosphere of lovers, artists, and performers. The esplanade stretches from Havana Harbor to the Vedado neighborhood and presents one of Havana’s best places to watch the sunset.
Admire some of Havana’s famous hotels like the Hotel Nacional de Cuba and Havana Riviera, hang out with the locals, or simply chill on the seawall. The vibe along the Malecón is like no other and has a charm that’s impossible to replicate.
Plaza Mayor (Trinidad)
Trinidad is one of Cuba’s prettiest colonial towns, and it’s a shame not as many tourists make the trip from Havana. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Plaza Mayor is Trinidad’s historic centre that feels stuck in time when strolling its cobblestone streets.
Founded in 1514, the town developed around this plaza and contained its most opulent buildings. Many of the stately mansion built in the 18th and 19th centuries are preserved today as museums. The four lavish gardens in the plaza are enclosed by elegant wrought-iron fences, while decorative streetlamps and statues adorn the pathways.
Some of Plaza Mayor’s most stunning pieces of architecture include Iglesia Parroquial de la Santisima Trinidad, Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco, and Museo Historico Municipal. Gazing at the red terracotta roofs and majestic edifices dotting every corner of the plaza paints details images of life in Cuba at the height of the sugar trade.
Valley of the Sugar Mills
If you made the lengthy expedition to Trinidad, then one of the next free tours in Cuba needs to be the Valley of the Sugar Mills. Another one of Cuba’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the three valleys are 7-8 miles outside of Trinidad.
The site includes dozens of former sugar mills that operated at peak production during the 18th and 19th centuries. These fertile landscapes enriched plantation owners but on the backs of more than 30,000 slaves forced to work the land. Once slavery was abolished in the 19th century, the sugar mills fell into disarray.
Although the estates have turned to ruins, they’re vital when trying to understand Cuba’s dark history. Keep in mind that some places within the valleys will require an entrance fee, but simply exploring the area is free.
Mausoleo del Che Guevara (Santa Clara)
For a glimpse of Cuba’s revolutionary history, a visit to Santa Clara reveals the final resting place of Che Guevara. A key figure of the Cuban Revolution, Guevara died in 1967 alongside his fellow soldiers when attempting to spark a revolution in Bolivia. The remains of Guevara are inside the mausoleum with many of his comrades from the battle.
Inside the museum, there are photos of Guevara’s life, many of his possessions, and penned letters. Skilled architects and artisans worked in tandem with thousands of Santa Clara residents to complete the complex.
Regardless of your personal opinions about the man, touring the mausoleum provides much insight into Guevara’s impact on Cuban culture. The town of Santa Clara is about a three-hour drive from Havana, and a trip here is a must for history buffs.
Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean and contains over 3,500 miles of sparkling coastline and gorgeous white sand beaches. It’s hard to imagine visiting Cuba without at least one or two beach days to sink your toes within its powdery shores. There are tons of beaches open to the public, and the only expense you may have is transportation to reach your destination.
Bacuranao and Tarará are both a short drive from downtown Havana and among the most popular local beaches for a relaxing getaway. If you don’t have a car, book a taxi to reach the pristine waters close to Cuba’s historic capital.
Just south of Trinidad, the seaside village of Casilda is another worthy place to check out for beachgoers. Playa Ancón Cuba is the definition of paradise and often considered the jewel of Cuba’s southern coast.