Escape the iconic cars in Havana and discover these little-known gems (iStock)
List Words : Insider Secrets | 24 January

3 hidden wonders of Cuba

Cuba is crammed with beautiful beaches and idyllic islands. If you can tear yourself away from them, there's a whole host of unmissable places to explore

1. Baracoa

Tucked away in the far eastern corner of Cuba, Baracoa’s distance from Havana makes it one of the least visited areas of the country. This has ensured that many of the local people have kept their traditions and continue to preserve the region’s pristine eco-system.

It is Cuba's oldest settlement and was one of the first landing sites for Christopher Columbus back in 1492. Anyone venturing down here is captivated by the scenic journey, snaking along mountain sides before a final descent into this quaint little city, overlooked by the imposing tabletop mountain – El Yunque.

Surrounded by lush rainforest and stunning secluded beaches, Baracoa is a world away from the hustle and bustle of Havana and well worth a visit to see another side to this fascinating country. Cocoa trees are found in abundance in the local area so be sure to sample the local chocolate.

2. Horticultural tour of an Organopónico

Organopónicos are a system of urban organic gardens that have sprung up in Cuba as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Back in the 1990s the collapse, combined with the US trade embargo, drastically left the country with insufficient food and other essential supplies, like petrol and machinery.

Faced with this crisis the government introduced a system of self-sufficiency by giving land and water to cooperatives in return for a share of the crops. Thus an organic revolution began to take place all over Cuba, with the imaginative use of any spare space to grow food; crumbling walls supporting plant pots and old parking lots converted into small vegetable plots and the Organopónicos were born.

Featured by the broadcaster Monty Don in his TV programme Around the World in 80 Gardens, visiting one of these impressive plots and being proudly shown around by a local gardener is a fascinating insight into everyday life in Cuba and a truly wonderful experience.

3. Sancti Spiritus

This delightful colonial town just an hour from Trinidad, is full of charm and character and much over-looked by most visitors to Cuba. It was, like Trinidad, founded by Diego Velazquez in 1514 and became the military, political and economic centre of the area in the colonial period. This led to the city being embellished with elegant 17th and 18th century mansions with a compact and attractive colonial centre similar to Trinidad's but far more peaceful with appealingly local authenticity.

There is a simple but charming hotel located right on its attractive central plaza called the Hotel de Rijo. A stay here can make a welcome break from the humdrum of Cuba’s larger cities.

Rebecca Allen is a Cuba country specialist for Audley Travel – when she’s not working in the Audley offices she likes nothing better than exploring the quiet back streets of Havana

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