The largest island in the Caribbean and the sixteenth largest island in the world, Cuba, is the last bastion of socialism in the western hemisphere. A former Spanish colony that achieved its independence following the Spanish defeat by America at the turn of the twentieth century, Cuba turned to a communist ideology in the 1960s under Fidel Castro and his top lieutenant Che Guevara, an act which evoked the concern and incurred the wrath of the United States Ã¢?? the latter coming in the form of sanctions.
Only recently has Cuba managed to break free from the shackles imposed by the negative associations of communism and in the 1990s, the country saw its forty-year isolation end with an influx of Western tourism. Indeed, it is CubaÃ¢??s long isolationism that proves one of the main attractions for travellers, as destinations untouched by Western influence are now so few and far between, and this, combined with the friendliness of its unique people and sights of natural beauty, guarantees Cuba ever more popularity in the future.
Endowed with some of the most paradisaical white-sand beaches and turquoise-blue, warm waters around its over-3,500 kilometre coastline, Cuba is the ultimate beach-enthusiast destination. Where sun-worshippers can recline under a gently swaying palm tree on one of the 300 or so beaches littered across the island, others may find contentment snorkelling or diving amid the iridescent coral reefs that teem with marine life. Inland Cuba boasts plunging valleys, glorious mountains, thick forests, cascading waterfalls and colourful wildlife, all of which make a feast for the eyes and lend themselves as an idyllic setting for hiking, mountain biking and exploration.
As noteworthy as Cuba's natural bounties may be, travellers need to explore the cities, like the capital, Havana, to appreciate fully the unique charms of the country. With their colonial architecture, plethora of 1950s-esque American cars and imposing Revolutionary monuments, Cuban cities are strikingly unusual in history, colour and character and quite welcomingly resemble nowhere else on the globe. These street scenes are only enhanced by the laid-back lifestyle and friendly disposition of the Cuban people Ã¢?? a population of largely Spanish and African descentÃ¢??with the result that Cuba is an up-and-coming destination to be visited sooner rather than later.