Cuba - Attractions
Havana is the centre of all things Cuban. There's an air of faded glory about the city, as big '50s and '60s American automobiles cruise the streets and paint and plaster peel off everywhere. The city is lined with glorious Spanish colonial architecture, much of which is under restoration.
Havana has a swinging nightlife, and less traffic and commercialisation than your average Latin American city. But from the rough brilliance of Old Havana to residential areas ranging from shabby to demanding demolition, the exuberant friendliness of Havana's inhabitants is what shines through.
Baracoa sits on a headland between two picturesque bays near Cuba's easternmost point, Cabo Maisí. Founded in 1512 by Diego Velázquez, this is Cuba's oldest European settlement. The town was accessible only by sea until the 1960s when a road finally connected it to the outside world. Things are pretty laid back in Baracoa and the abundance of palm trees along this coast give it a South Pacific feel. The fact that this was an important Spanish outpost is evidenced by the three impressive forts: Fuerte Matachín, now housing the museo municipal; Fuerte de la Punta, now refitted with a restaurant; and El Castillo de Seboruco, which is now a pleasant hotel.
Pinar del Río Province
Naturalists will love this westernmost part of the country. Two UNESCO biosphere reserves protect some of the country's loveliest landscapes, including parts of the 175m-long Cordillera de Guaniguanico, a hiker's paradise. The province's limestone bedrock has been carved into the surreal and beautiful pincushion hills for which Viñales is famous, while the entire area is riddled with caves carved by underground rivers, some of which make for great diving. If you'd rather scuba through saltwater, however, María la Gorda boasts some of the finest underwater scenery in the Caribbean.
After a few days of exerting yourself, soothe your sore muscles at San Diego de los Baños, a century-old Spanish spa and natural hot spring. After a relaxing soak, you'll want to sample the province's pride and joy: The finest cigar tobacco in Cuba, hence the world, is grown right here in Pinar del Río with the sort of love and attention most people reserve for their own children.
Santiago de Cuba
Santiago de Cuba is Havana's rival in literature, music and politics, and is regarded as the 'cradle of the revolution' because of the pivotal role it played in overthrowing the Batista regime. It's the second biggest city in Cuba and, unlike other Cuban towns, has a noticeable Caribbean flavor due to the influence of the French planters and Haitians who settled there in the last century. The city's distinctive character is also due to its isolation from Havana, and its own history is as colorful as that of the capital (Santiago de Cuba's first mayor was the conquistadore of Mexico, Hernán Cortés).
The city houses Cuba's oldest palaces and museums including the Casa de Diego Velázquez and the Museo Municipal Bacardí. It overlooks the Bahía de Santiago de Cuba and many houses feature lacy ironwork balconies, pointed windows and narrow external staircases. The Cementerio Santa Ifigenia is the final resting place of many famous revolutionaries, including José Martí, whose embalmed body is on display.
Trinidad was founded in 1514, but despite this early start it remained a backwater haven for smugglers until the late 18th century. Smugglers brought slaves and gold from British-controlled Jamaica, but all this changed in the early 19th century when a slave revolt in Haiti caused French planters to flee to Trinidad, where they re-established their mini-empires. Trinidad boomed until the Wars of Independence devastated the region's sugar plantations and the town again fell into obscurity. The legacy of this short-lived sugar-boom wealth can be seen in the town's baroque church towers, Carrara marble floors, wrought-iron grills and run-down mansions. The most impressive of all Trinidad's many museums must be Museo Histórico Municipal. A visit to the Taller Alfarero, a large ceramics workshop where traditional techniques are still used is also worthwhile. Some of Cuba's finest beaches are just outside Trinidad.