Cuba is a treasure-trove of enriching hidden delights. Anyone who’s ever visited the island returns with tales of tranquilizing beaches, lusciously green natural parks, unforgettable animal encounters and smiling locals. Rumors will only tell you so much about the so-called Pearl of the Antilles, so follow our guide to ensure that your holiday in Cuba leaves you itching for the next flight back to Havana.

1. Visit Viñales valley

On the western side of the island you’ll find one of Cuba’s Great National Parks, a hot-pot of farming, rolling hills, and striking landscapes. There are many ways to explore the valley, but to truly experience its hilly charms it’s best to rent a bike, saddle up and crank those gears! Some of the hills top 300 meters, but there’s no shortage of flat terrain for amateur cyclists to trundle along to their hearts content.

Here you’ll find traditional tobacco farmers, the backbone of the valley’s industry. The area’s blessed with incredibly fertile soil which has helped its agriculture survive relatively unscathed. To cool off, valley-dwellers can dive into crystal-clear waterfalls and enjoy a refreshing break from the balmy Cuban sun.

2. Dance through Jardines del Rey

Often referred to as the “Cuban keys”, these tiny islands are located just off Cuban’s Atlantic coast. Every year, thousands of jazz musicians musicians venture to the islands to hear musicians from Cuba and beyond in a truly iconic setting, located not far from Cayo Santa Maria. The fun doesn’t stop here – no trip is complete without snorkeling the surrounding coral-rich waters. What better way to refresh after a night spent moonlit dancing to Cuban-fused jazz?

Image by Javier de la Rosa, used under Creative Commons License (CC BY 2.0)

Image by Javier de la Rosa, used under Creative Commons License (CC BY 2.0)

3. Get wild at Montemar Great National Park

Ready to brave the swamps and see some Cuban crocodiles in their natural environment? Located less than two hours drive from Varadero, this unique backdrop of caves, lagoons, forests and beaches is the largest collection of wetlands in the Caribbean. Alongside fearsome reptiles, you’ll find wild boars and deer and a whole host of fish. Disclaimer – NOT for the faint-hearted.

4. Stroll the Valle de los Ingenios

The Valle de los Ingenios is a series of three valleys – San Luis, Santa Rosa and Meyer – just outside of the historic town of Trinidad. During the height of the sugar industry, several major mills were located here. Today, it’s a different story. Walking through the abandoned sugar plantations is an educational experience in itself, and when paired with the dramatic surroundings of Valle de los Ingenios it combines to an unforgettable holiday experience.

Whether you’re an intrepid explorer ready to scale the peaks of Viñales Valley, a music-fiend ready to lose yourself to the jazz infernos of Jardines del Rey or just looking for somewhere exotic to relax, Cuba holds a wealth of charms to cater for everyone’s tastes and more. Stick on some Buena Vista Social Club, pour an ice cold Havana Club, close your eyes and imagine where you’d like your next Cuban adventure to take you.