Cuba © Stephen Colebourne
Cuba could portray itself as the archetypal Caribbean island paradise, with its sandy, palm-fringed shores washed by crystal-clear waters and cooled by breezes carrying the scent of frangipani, mango and guava, but Cuba has so much more to offer than generic Caribbean bliss. Those who venture away from the beaches and resorts will find charmingly dilapidated colonial architecture and grand plazas, streets filled with classic vintage automobiles, and the hip-swaying sounds of salsa music filling the night air. Cuba is about cigar smoke and rum cocktails, baseball, and everywhere visual references to the 1959 revolution which still dominates Cuban identity. The largest island in the Caribbean has a dramatic history and a very distinct culture; it is the perfect destination for those in search of something a little different on their beach holiday.
Christopher Columbus discovered Cuba on his way back to Spain after his second voyage to the New World in 1492 and was the first European to remark on its beauty. Cuba is so large that it allegedly confused Columbus, who thought he had discovered a continent and not an island. It sits at the mouth of the Gulf of Mexico; the main island is 746 miles (1,200km) long with an irregular coastline that offers hundreds of lovely bays and beaches.
Today, Cuba is starting to really exploit its glorious attractions, welcoming droves of travellers keen to explore this once mysterious island. The years of political isolation post-revolution have largely protected Cuba from mass tourism; the main towns and villages retain a crumbling colonial charm and are generally devoid of the large resorts that blight some of its neighbouring islands.
With its turbulent history and great offering of natural attractions, Cuba ticks all the boxes for an adventurous Caribbean getaway. Most visitors agree that Cuba is a country so individual and extraordinary that to be truly understood and appreciated it has to be experienced in person.