Whether you're a first time visitor to Cuba or a seasoned Cubaphile, we've got the ultimate list of lesser-known gems that you won't be wanting to miss on your Cuban getaway! Jade-green waterfalls, historic diving spots, charming colonial towns and picture-perfect beaches - here's Cuba's top 5 hidden gems:
Known as the first city founded in Cuba by the Spanish colonisers, the Eastern city of Baracoa dates back to 1511. Despite being considered one of the most beautiful areas of the island, Baracoa is not a very well known tourist destination, due to the fact that the city was not communicated with the rest of the country until 1965. Today, a winding road traverses the atmospheric 575-high mountain rage that separates it from the rest of the island.
Baracoa's highlights include El Yunque, an island-shaped mountain that sits as the backdrop to the cityscape, as well as the city's Malecón - the first sea-wall promenade in all the Caribbean, with a gentle sea-breeze and sunset view that will make you fall in love.
The city in itself is home to a charming colonial centre, steeped in rich history. However, it's the warmth and friendliness of the local Baracoenses that truly makes this isolated city stand out! If you decide to visit this beautiful oasis, then don't miss out on the nearby Playa Maguana, a stretch of powdery-white beach flanked to one side by a dense subtropical jungle and the turquoise Caribbean Sea to the other.
Located on the northern coast of Cuba in the province of Villa Clara, the vibrant colonial city of Remedios is renowned for its famous Parrandas, one of the oldest fiesta traditions in all the Caribbean. Held each year from the 16th-26th December, this explosive festival dates back to 1820 and features religious processions, rumba parades, conga groups, bright, colourful floats and jaw-dropping firework displays. The 8th oldest city on the island, Remedios' rich history and culture earnt it the status of National Monument in 1980. The city's central plaza is truly unique, as it's the only on the island to feature two churches - one dedicated to Cuba, and the other to Spain. Like most of the historic city center, these two churches are exemplary relics of Cuban colonial architecture.
Remedios is also home to a marble Statue of Liberty, bought by elite residents from the Paris International Exhibition in 1906. Holding a machete in hand (symbol of the mambi fight for independence in the 19th Century), Remedios' Cuban Liberty represent's the island's independence from the colonial chains of the Spanish in 1898.
Just an hour from Santa Clara (the 'City of Che') and an hour from Cayo Santa Maria (a paradise key off the northern coast), Remedios makes for a unique stop-over on the way to either destination. The town is home to a number of remarkable casas particulares (private home-stays), such as Hostal Buen Viaje (above), that will allow you to properly immerse yourself in Remedios' colonial enclaves. A relatively unknown gem, Remedios' popularity is on the rise - so make sure to visit soon before the town begins to crowd with tourists!
3. El Nicho Waterfalls
Shrouded by the thick jungle of Topes de Collantes Natural Park, the jade-green waters of El Nicho Waterfalls are just an hour away from the beautiful coastal town of Cienfuegos, and just 70 minutes from the UNESCO World Heritage City of Trinidad.
Quite literally off the beaten track, visitors must trail a (short!) journey across rustic bridges and through the Cuban boscage to reach this dream-like oasis.
Plunge into El Nicho's cool crystaline waters, or enjoy a pounding hydromassage against its foamy-white cascades. Climb up to a breathtaking observation point, or take a flirty stroll to the 'lovers den'! A visit to El Nicho is - without exaggeration - a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Known as the 'City of Churches', Camaguey is located right bang in the centre of Cuba, making for the perfect stop-over on the way to any number of destinations. A city of horse-drawn carriages, strolling troubadours and pastel-coloured colonial houses, Camaguey is arguably one of Cuba's most overlooked gems.
There's an old-time vintage glamour to the city, upheld by the resident Camagueyanos, who are known to have the most refined speech in all the island, and to be amongst the most educated and learned of Cubans.
Camaguey is also just over an hour away from Cuba's longest beach: Playa Santa Lucia. Across this long stretch of byzantine-blue skies and turquoise-green waters, visitors can explore a variety of stunning diving spots, or observe one of the beach's claims to fame: the daily shark feeding sessions held by local diving instructors.
5. Cienaga de Zapata
The diamond of all hidden gems, the Cienaga de Zapata (Zapata Swamp) is a peninsular region on the southern coast of Cuba. Home to a mysterious lagoon, a replica indigenous village, the infamous Bay of Pigs, a hidden fish cave and even a crocodile farm - the Cienaga de Zapata has so many hidden gems of its own that we've dedicated another entire blog post to it!
Just a two-hour drive from Havana and Varadero respectively, this is a lesser-known destination that will make a wealth of difference to your Cuba trip. Far away from the tourist hoards, you can snorkel with tropical fish, dive inside a weathered shipwreck, pet a baby crocodile and visit military relics from the Bay of Pigs invasion - all within a 30-mile radius.