As travel restrictions to Cuba loosen, more and more international visitors arrive on Cuba's sunny shores, eager to discover the island's treasures. While Havana, Santa Clara, Santiago de Cuba and Varadero Beach continue to rank high with tourists, we take an deeper look into some of Cuba's best-kept secrets. Our list of twelve 'must-do' bucketlist items highlight the hidden gems in Cuba that not everyone see. This exciting list is geared towards travellers who aren't afraid to step off the beaten path, strike up a conversations with locals and learn about Cuba's rich culture and history first-hand.

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Cafe Literario

Address: Calle 23 & G, Vedado, La Habana Politics, art and culture blend seamlessly in this discrete Cuban cafe. The cafes regular literary nights also hosts an open mic, where everyone is welcome to read to the diverse crowd. It’s a wonderful place to converse with locals and develop lasting friendships with Cubans.

Shop at Havana’s hidden market

Photo Credit: Umbrella Travel Photo Credit: Umbrella Travel Address: Avenida del Puerto corner of Calle Cuba, Havana Behind the low row of arched windows at the end of the Malecon, you’ll find is the Almacenes de San Jose market, an eclectic collection of local artisans selling their wares. Buying local, handmade art is so much better than your typical souvenirs!

See a show at La Opera De La Calle

Address: Teatro Arenal | Calle 31 Between 42nd and 44th, Havana Housed within a rundown old theatre building is one of Havana’s most spectacular musical treasures. The small group of talented singers and dancers exude passion and dedication as they belt out opera classics and entertain guests with their colourful whirlwind performance.

Learn to salsa dance at La Casa de Son

Address: Empedrado # 411 between Compostela and Aguacate, Havana Swing and sway to the rhythmic Latin beats at the best dance studio in Havana’s old city. Dancers of all levels are welcome to enjoy a variety of dance lessons that include Cuban traditional dances like Danzon, son, cha cha cha, rumba, salsa, casino rueda, and folklore.

Dine at a Cuban paladares

Paladares are independent restaurants often found in private homes or apartments around Havana. Although paladares often don’t have signs leading the way or even names, asking around with locals will reward your search with a delicious and incredibly authentic Cuban meal and experience.

Around Cuba

Browse the Trinidad art galleries

galeria-pincelada-colonial Okay, so this one isn’t really a secret, it’s more of a no-brainer. The popular colonial city of Trinidad is brimming with private art galleries where shoppers and art-lovers can support Cuba’s most renowned artists. One of the most impressive galleries belongs to Yudit Vidal Faife, one of the country’s young talents.

Stay at a “casa particular” in Trinidad

You’ll enjoy a taste of everyday Cuban life when you choose to spend a night or two with a Cuban family with these authentic homestays.

Find El Nicho Waterfall

67031889 Photo Credit: Panoramio Cienfuegos. Along the road bewtween Trinidad and Cienfuegos is the lush tropical jungle of the Parque El Nicho, which is home to several pretty waterfalls and gorgeous native flora. The largest of the falls is worth the 25 minute hike it takes to swim and enjoy in its cool, cascading waters.

Spend a day in Sancti Spiritus

SANCTI SPIRITUS, CUBA - SEPTEMBER 5, 2015: Latin for Holy Spirit. It is one of the oldest Cuban European settlements. Built in 1514, Sancti Spiritus is one of the oldest colonial cities in Cuba. Despite its small size, the city is home to an array of historic churches, buildings and monuments but is often overlooked by tourists who tend to head straight for Trinidad further south. For a genuine look into not only Cuba’s past but also its vibrant present, a stopover here will be unforgettable.

Savour fresh local produce at an organoponico

Organoponicos are Cuba’s organic urban farms, a tradition that started in and around Havana in the early 1990’s. These eco-friendly farms were established to help feed their surrounding neighbourhoods. The most famous is the Organoponico Vivero Alamar, located just outside of Havana.

Escape the crowded beaches

Cuba - Guardalavaca beach Blessed with a sunny tropical climate and Caribbean clear waters, Cuba is home to dozens of pretty sandy beaches. However if you want to sidestep the main tourist beaches we recommended visiting the island’s lesser-known beaches, which include: Cayo Coco a beautiful quiet beach; Casilda Bay which is perfect for diving and snorkeling; and Guardalavaca, a pristine beach that offers gentle surf and crystal blue waters.

Road Trip from Pinar del Rio to La Bajada

cuban-countryside Rent a car and take a spin on one of the island’s best scenic routes. The stretch of road between the town of Pinar del Rio to the far Western tip of the island is speckled with pretty villages, lush tropical landscapes and traditional farmsteads.

We know Cuba is full of many more hidden gems just waiting to be explored and enjoyed, but we hope our list of twelve bucketlist items inspires you to delve deeper into Cuba's rich history and culture and go beyond the typical tourist traps. Do you have any other items that should be on this list? Comment your recommendations in the comments section below!

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