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Best day trips in Cuba

Cosmopolitan Cuban holiday destinations like Havana and Varadero are certainly worth writing home about, but step outside these borders and you'll come face to face with a whole new side of Cuba.

Sweeping valleys, tobacco farms, rural villages and historical treasures can be found all across this Caribbean beauty, and, more importantly, make for excellent day trips. Join a tour, go on your own – it's all up to you. Here are a few of our favourites.

El Nicho Waterfalls – from Havana

The El Nicho Waterfalls look like something straight out of a Disney film – they're so picturesque, you'll wonder if they're real.

Don't worry, they are. They're a cluster of freshwater waterfalls hidden up in the Escambray Mountains, surrounded by a hiking trail that affords unrivalled views of Cuba's sweeping valleys. They're not Niagara Falls in the ways of height, but the cool pool resting at the bottom and the dense vegetation offer a relaxing respite from the Cuban heat.

Vinales Valley – from Havana

Cuba's Vinales Valley is the place to go if you want to see this Caribbean country in action. We mean agricultural action of course, owing to the fact that the Vinales Valley is a vast, fertile landscape surrounded by mountains and clad with farms, especially those cultivating tobacco.

It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site for the ways in which it highlights the Caribbean's cultural development, and, coupled with the villages scattered throughout, shows just how this rural landscape gets by.

Baconao Park – from Guardalavaca

The UNESCO Biosphere Reserve that is Baconao Park is a step back in time – literally. All in all, it's a surreal experience visiting this patch of Cuba, mostly because it's speckled with life-sized models of dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures.

Also within are a botanical garden, the Museum of History of Terrestrial Transport – which isn't a museum about alien space ships, we checked – and a lagoon, complete with a reconstruction of a traditional Taino Village.

You'll also find what's known as the Great Rock, a large volcanic rock that you can scale for views of the surrounding valley and, rumour has it, Jamaica, if you come at night.

The Hershey Train – from Havana

Yes, that Hershey. The Hershey Train is the last surviving electric line in Cuba, first created by the Hershey Chocolate Company to transport sugar to Havana.

Nowadays it runs three times a day and provides service out to the city of Matanzas, but more importantly it opens a literal window to the farms and villages lying just beyond Cuba's capital city. Don't expect a cafe cart or even reliable train times – it's a dusty, three-car service but that just adds to the charm.

Yumuri Valley – from Varadero

The Yumuri Valley is one giant swathe of leafy green, noted for the fact that it's so undeveloped as far as tourism goes. It's a top notch example of how Cubans in this part live, speckled with farms and even fewer villages.

You'll most likely have to join a guided tour to navigate these parts, but that just adds to the fun. The jungle-like terrain is best explored on a rugged 4x4 tour.

Santiago – from Guardalavaca

Santiago is Cuba's second biggest city, noted for its colonial architecture and Afro-Caribbean vibes due to its proximity to Haiti.

It's one of those spots that expertly combines old and new – historically, Santiago is the birthplace of much-loved amenities ranging as far and wide as Cuban son music to the Bacardi empire. It's also home to Cuba's first cathedral, its first copper mine and its first museum, as well as the citadel of San Pedro de la Roca, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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