A four-hour drive, either by air-conditioned tour bus or window-conditioned taxi, from the capital sits Trinidad. Compared to Havana, this small city in the central province of Sancti Spiritus has been incredibly well preserved. Devoid of crumbling buildings and streets lined with infinite pockmarks, Trinidad could easily be mistaken for a 19th-century colonial movie set.
Brightly painted houses leap out from the roadside, old men puffing on cigars lead ailing donkeys down the cobbled streets and colonial mansions stand in the town centre as grand as they were on the day they were built. If you weren't here, with your 21st-century camera and your knock-off Ray Bans, this could be 1850.
Founded in 1514 by Diego Velazquez, this city on the southern coast of Cuba became the launching pad for the conquest of Mexico. A true museum-city, Trinidad was first classified by the Cuban government as a national monument in 1965 and finally a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988.
With the appearance of a bygone era, its architecture is fascinating despite the age of the monuments and palaces; from its colonial villas from the time of the Spanish conquest to the grand old houses that were owned by the island's biggest sugar plantation owners. It seems that time has stopped in Trinidad.
Nowadays, it is a medium-sized city (a population of some 50,000 inhabitants), with the locals offering a friendly and warm welcome. Despite the pervading tourism, its population remains faithful to the local traditions, particularly those concerning music.
Head 18 kilometres to the north and you'll encounter the lush slopes of the legendary Sierra del Escambray, Cuba's second largest mountain range, visible as hazy shadows in the distance from Trinidad's rooftop gardens. Even the easiest of hikes through the Topes de Collantes nature reserve shows why these hills have been used as a base for guerilla movements both pro- and anti-revolution, with thick jungle on all sides and very little in the way of a fixed population.
Some are drawn by the fact that Che Guevara camped out in these mountains during 1958, hoping to join his comrades in Santa Clara, and others are just content to marvel at the jungle and take a dip in one of the natural swimming pools that form at the bottom of the park's set of waterfalls. Whichever way you choose to appreciate them, Trinidad and its surroundings stand as the gateway to some of the most interesting periods in Cuban history. Beach lovers may be somewhat disappointed by the distance to the beaches which, depending on the place of accommodation, are located up to nine miles away, but Playa Ancon is widely reputed to be Cuba's best beach. Trinidad has a domestic but no international airport. The hotel landscape is very diverse in terms of price, style and location.
Visit the crafts market, one of the cigar factories and make sure to listen to the music at Casa de la Trova or Casa de la Musica.
If you want to take full advantage of your time in Trinidad, simply head for Plaza Mayor and venture into the city from there, observing the sights, sounds and smells at your own leisurely pace.
Remember to avoid the cyclone season (October - November). Bring along light clothing and lots of sunscreen.
Avoid making negative or critical comments about Fidel Castro, or ask their opinion on the political regime; this may make Cubans feel uncomfortable.
Cuban cuisine is quite simple and not diverse. Chicken and rice are its main staples. It is common for potatoes, fried bananas and yams to be served with the main meal. Make it your mission to taste the local lobster!
Of course, Cuban rum is excellent, as are the cigars. The local shirts, known as guayabera and straw hats guajiro are also a good buy. As for the music, you will find many recordings by local artists.
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