Cuba. The Caribbean island is synonymous with Che Guevara, vintage rum, and cigars as chunky as grandpa’s fingers. Arrive here and you’ll feel like you’ve taken a trip back in time. Baby-blue Buicks from the Fifties are the motor of choice, while the architecture in the famous capital, Havana, is a mishmash of Art Deco and colonial styles.
Make tracks for the coast, though, and it’s a different story altogether. Beach-wise, Cuba rolls out all the Caribbean stereotypes. White sand, warm seas, waxy palms – the whole shebang. Take Varadero – a two-hour drive east of Havana. Cuba’s most famous beach resort stretches its way along the Hicacos Peninsula, a ribbon of sand – 1.2 kilometres wide by 20 long – that juts out from the island’s north coast. It basically means that, wherever you stay, you’ve got one of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean as your backyard.
At the other end of the island is Guardalavaca. If you’re after a taste of the ‘real’ Cuba, this is the one to beat. Granted, the name’s a bit of a mouthful, but the translation – ‘guard the cow’ – is a nod to the area’s rural past. Turn the clocks back 40-odd years, and the place was a sleepy farming hub. And although the luxury hotels that now line its pristine coast are anything but rustic, the place never lost its go-slow vibe.