Cuba's culture is widely enjoyed, yet nature fans should not dismiss the Caribbean's largest isle. 19 percent of Cuba's land is protected, and two of its nine UNESCO sites are natural - protecting marine limestone terraces and montane forests. There are endemic birds and orchids, hikes through the dramatic scenery of the Sierra Maestra and superb diving - without the tourist hordes of better-known nature destinations.
One of Cuba's most overlooked spots, this little seaside town gives way to some of Cuba's most dramatic landscapes: river-filled rainforests, towering mountains, glorious waterfalls and the flat-topped El Yunque mountain - ideal for hiking. Baracoa's unique character has been preserved by its geographical isolation; until the 1960s it was only accessible by boat.
Steamy Santiago has Cuba's hottest climate - and its hottest culture. Edgy and urban, Santiago proudly divides opinion - some revel in its fiery Afro-Haitian culture and well-worn city centre, too far from Havana for the limited wealth to filter down. Others are shocked at the hardship and hawkers. The bullet-riddled Moncada Barracks are a legacy to the revolution that never happened here.
You don't need to hole up in an all-inclusive to get access to Cuba's beautiful beaches. Take a day trip to these little cays from Viñales - Levisa has little bungalows and a diving centre, while the lesser-visited Jutias has a pristine beach, skeletal, sun-bleached mangroves and kayak rental. Sometimes an entrepreneurial fisherman will cook your lunch on the beach over an open fire.
Habana Vieja - Old Havana - is pretty much everything you could dream it to be. While other historical centres have become victims of ther own success, gentrification has not penetrated this communist capital, and the 1950s cars, streetsids salsa, crumbling colonial casas and seductive locals mean you will never have your finger far from your camera shutter.
Salsa, son, rumba, jazz... Cuba's cobbled streets echo with the sound of some of the world's most seductive music. You'd pay a fortune to see musicians this good elsewhere - here, it'll cost you a few pesos as a tip - they even take requests. Take salsa classes here and learn with the best - or go and see the National Ballet, get serenaded in El Floridita, or join on of the many festivals and carnivals.
The original Airbnb, since 1997 Cubans have been allowed to open their homes to guests – known as casas particulares. Most also open their hearts and minds – giving a glimpse into the realities of Cuban life, as you sip coffee or tuck into a home cooked breakfast with your hosts. This is also the best way to get insider tips on where to go; casa owners can arrange lifts and even guides.
The limestone karst-filled Valle de Viñales is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and within this mountain-ringed landscape there are tobacco farms, oxen-ploughed fields; quaint villages and a way of life that has changed little in centuries. Explore the caves, ride horseback through the hills or sip an ice-cold Bucanero beer in the plaza as live music echoes off the colonial buildings.
Yes, it's a Caribbean island, and yes, some of its most stunning beaches are found around Varadero. But all-inclusive resorts are to Cuba what Cancún is to Mexico or Benidorm is to Spain. Cuba's true beauty is its people and culture - and there are scant chances to encounter them here - and the benefit to the wellbeing of the struggling locals is questionable.
Years of rationing, imposed self-sufficiency and general poverty have hardly created a Caribbean cornucopia. Some recommend bringing spices with you to liven up your food - and leaving them to your Cuban hosts as a thank you. Small restaurants - called paladares - are now springing up, these tend to be the best option. Even if the food's not amazing, the atmosphere is wonderfully homely.
Cuban hotels are state run, and aside from the most exclusive, they are fairly shabby affairs; the general advice is to “remove one star” for a true reflection of facilities. The food is also uninspiring - we advise casas particulares (guesthouses) and paladares (privately owned restaurants) all the way.
Capitalism ends as soon as you step off the plane. In Cuba, the only advertising is for the communist party; the only billboards promote Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. It's a refreshing escape from the daily commercial bombardment. Any souvenirs you pick up here will be unbranded (handmade musical instruments and clothing, hand-rolled cigars) - save, perhaps, the odd, cheap bottle of Havana Club or Habanos cigar.