Cuba © Stephen Colebourne

With its sandy, palm-fringed shores washed by crystal-clear waters and cooled by breezes carrying the scent of frangipani, mango and guava, Cuba could portray itself as the archetypal Caribbean paradise. But the country has so much more to offer than generic Caribbean bliss.

Those who venture from the beaches and resorts will find charming colonial architecture and grand plazas, streets filled with classic vintage automobiles, and the hip-swaying sounds of salsa music filling the night air. Cuba is about cigar smoke, rum cocktails and baseball, and visual references to the Revolution of 1959 are everywhere. The largest island in the Caribbean has a tumultuous history and distinct culture. It's the perfect destination for those in search of something a little different on their beach holiday.

Christopher Columbus discovered Cuba on his way back to Spain after his second voyage to the New World in 1492 and was the first European to remark on its beauty. Cuba is so large that it allegedly confused Columbus, who thought he had discovered a continent and not an island. It sits at the mouth of the Gulf of Mexico; the main island is 746 miles (1,200km) long with an irregular coastline that hides hundreds of lovely bays and beaches.

Today, Cuba flaunts its glorious attractions, welcoming droves of travellers keen to explore this once mysterious island. The years of political isolation post-revolution have largely protected Cuba from mass tourism; the main towns and villages retain a crumbling colonial charm and are generally devoid of the large resorts that blight some of its neighbouring islands.

With its turbulent history and great offering of natural attractions, Cuba ticks all the boxes for an adventurous Caribbean getaway. Most visitors agree that it's so unique and extraordinary that it needs to be experienced in person and for a prolonged amount of time to be truly understood and appreciated.