In many ways, Cuba itself is a hidden gem. It’s a curious political outpost. The thorn in the side of 12 terms of US presidents. Until just a few years ago, travel to the island for 4.4% of the world population was off limits. Despite its many faults, Cuba is a destination teeming with adventure and intrigue. A trip to Cuba wouldn’t be complete without a stroll through the streets of Havana or a mojito on the beach, but what about the rest of this dazzling island. Here are 5 unmissable gems you need to discover in Cuba.
If you’re staying on the Eastern tip of the island, it’s worth renting a car to reach this idyllic location. It was the first Spanish settlement on the island and the first place Christopher Columbus visited in 1492. It’s surrounded by a high mountain range which means it is only accessible by one road. It’s about as far off the beaten track as you can get in Cuba. The region is famous for cocoa production and is the heart of Cuba’s chocolate production.
Santiago de Cuba
Head south from Baracoa and you’ll hit Santiago de Cuba, a fortified coastal town with a dazzling history. Visit in summer and you could be met with stifling temperatures and dense humidity, but you’ll also be rewarded with a carnival, unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. You’ll get to drink and dance in the streets until the early hours with the local residents.
Palenque de los Cimarrones
Step back in time and get know the native settlers of the island. This is the closest thing you’ll get to a theme park in Cuba and it’s quite a unique experience. If you’re visiting the Vinales region from Havana, then it’s worth visiting this historic replica village. You’ll also get a chance to try the traditional Creole food. Day trips from Havana to Vinales are pretty widespread but very few of them will include a trip to this unique place – request it if you can!
Although just a few hours from Havana, Playa Jibacoa has got to be one of the most remote and untouched beaches on the whole island. Here you’ll find pristine white sand, sparkling blue seas and if you time it right, you might even get the place to yourself. Take a bottle of rum and play at being shipwrecked for the day, or get your snorkel on and explore the shallow waters.
This small fishing village sits on a quaint island in the bay of Santiago de Cuba. You can hike around the whole island in just 15 minutes and then relax in one of the island’s restaurants enjoying fish fresh from the sea. The menu will likely be based on what has been caught fresh that day, so be prepared to go with the flow and order from a handwritten menu.
Every time you visit Cuba, you will find a new and undiscovered area which you will want to go back and explore some more. Start with these hidden gems and you’ll have a well rounded Cuban experience and a lifetime of memories to savour.