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    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.

    Cuba is a country like no other, with Havana's charming colonial architecture and revolutionary artefacts infused with communist iconography. It's a vibrant, fun and unique holiday destination, with strolls around the streets or along beaches entertainment enough for most visitors.

    But there are plenty of cultural and historical sites in Cuba for those who enjoy more traditional sightseeing, such as the Museo de la Revolución, the Capitolio Nacional and the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes.

    Then there are the fabulous beaches, largely free of the rampant resort development elsewhere in the Caribbean. And the beaches are not the only natural wonders, with the countryside boasting a wealth of natural splendour and interesting attractions, such as the sugarcane palaces of Trinidad and the colonial city of Sancti Spiritus.

    Cuba is also developing its potential for ecotourism with stunning natural regions such as the Montemar Natural Park which is made up of forests, marshes and beautifully clear lagoons. The cave systems of Gran Caverna de Santo Tomas are also pleasantly unspoilt, allowing for a more authentic caving experience than many of the glitzy tourist-orientated caves found on the international circuit.

    Museo de la Ciudad (Museum of the City)

    The grand Baroque residence of Cuba's former colonial governors, the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales, was built in 1791 and now houses Havana's primary museum collection. Known as the Museum of the City, its exhibits tell tales of Havana, such as its founding and its wars for national independence. The colourful Hall of Flags contains the original Cuban flag, as well as a number of others used by the Spanish colonial government. There are also exhibits relating to archaeology, folklore and weaponry, and an art collection of porcelain, paintings and antique furniture.

    Address: Calle Tacón, Plaza de Armas, Habana Vieja
    Museo de la Ciudad, Havana Museo de la Ciudad, Havana Judith Duk
    Cigar Factories

    The art of cigar-making in Cuba is a source of national pride. The main factories in Havana offer tours that showcase how cigars are still rolled by hand. Visitors will discover how the oldest factory called Partagas, founded in 1827, still employs a reader to keep workers entertained, supporting theories as to why many of its famous cigars are named after literary characters. Havana's other cigar factories are La Corona and the lesser-visited Romeo y Julieta. Los Cohiba Esplendidos are supposed to be the best cigars in Cuba, formerly only available to Fidel Castro, but travellers are advised never to buy cigars from street vendors as they're usually fake.

    Address: Partagas Factory: Calle Industria 520, Centro Habana
    Partagas Cigar factory Partagas Cigar factory Judith Duk
    Plaza de la Revolución

    The Plaza de la Revolucion is a famous landmark in Havana. The gigantic square, which is dominated by the imposing José Martí Memorial, has provided the setting for numerous political rallies. The podium in front of the memorial is where important political figures such as Fidel Castro have addressed more than a million Cubans on important occasions, such as 1 May and 26 July each year. At the foot of the memorial is a museum dedicated to Martí, a national hero of the Second War of Independence in 1895. On the far side of the square is the much-photographed Che Guevara mural with the slogan Hasta la Victoria Siempre (Forever Onwards Towards Victory).

    Revolution Plaza Revolution Plaza Judith Duk
    Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes

    The Bellas Artes Museum was founded in 1913 and is split into two buildings, one housing international art and the other Cuban art. Both collections should delight any visitor who has an interest in art. The Colección de Arte Universal covers everything from ancient Greek artefacts and Latin American pieces to art by French, Dutch and Italian painters, while the Colección de Arte Cubano contains works from the 16th to the 20th centuries by prominent Cuban artists.

    The latter galleries have rooms dedicated to religion, landscape, portraits and scenes from everyday Cuban life. Artwork by Gainsborough, Goya and Rubens are all featured, while the contemporary section includes Gitana Tropical by Victor Manuel Garcia and El Rapto de las Mulatas by Carlos Enriquez.

    Address: Corner of Calle Trocadero (between Calles Zulueta and Monserrate) and Calle San Rafael (between Calles Zulueta and Monserrate)
    Bellas Artes Museum Bellas Artes Museum Judith Duk
    Museo de la Revolución

    Formerly the Presidential Palace and headquarters of the Cuban government, this impressive building now houses documents, photographs and artefacts pertaining to the Cuban Revolution. The museum provides an excellent introduction to Cuba's struggle for independence, such as the striking displays of blood-stained and bullet-riddled uniforms, and exhibits of life under Spanish colonisation.

    In front of the museum entrance stands a watchtower that was part of the old city walls, as well as a tank used by Fidel Castro during the Invasion of the Bay of Pigs in 1961. Behind the museum is the glass-encased yacht, the 'Granma', which brought 82 revolutionaries, including Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, from Mexico to set the wheel of revolution in motion.

    Address: Calle Refugio, between Calle Agramonte and Av de las Misiones, Centro Habana
    Revolution Museum Revolution Museum Judith Duk
    Montemar Natural Park

    Cuba is developing its ecotourism and one of the prime spots for getting back to nature is the Montemar Natural Park. The vast peninsula is home to one of the largest swamps in the Caribbean, as well as forests, crystal-clear lagoons and canals. Its exuberant flora, including more than 900 species of plants, is complemented by its rich fauna, consisting of 160 bird species and many other animals, even crocodiles. One of the park's many interesting features is the Laguna del Tesoro (Treasure Lagoon), a fresh water reservoir inhabited by golden trout. There are nature trails, a bird watching centre and the largest flooded cave in Cuba, as well as a scuba centre, crocodile farm and several restaurants.

    Cuban Pygmy Owl Cuban Pygmy Owl Shawn McCready
    Capitolio Nacional

    One of Havana's grandest pieces of architecture, the Capitolio is an important landmark and one of Centro Habana's major sights. A monumental stone stairway leads to the vast domed hall, from where tours will take visitors to elaborately decorated chambers that once housed the seat of Cuban Congress. Today it's home to the National Library and Academy of Sciences, a planetarium and a museum.

    Directly beneath the dome lies an imitation 24-carat diamond set into the marble floor, from where all highway distances between Havana and all sites in Cuba are measured. The building is today a bit rundown and the inside is often closed for renovations. Even so, the outside is great for photo opportunities.

    Address: Paseo de Marti, Centro Habana
    Capitolio, Havana Capitolio, Havana Judith Duk
    Baconao Park

    Baconao Park is a World Heritage Biosphere Reserve, boasting teeming wildlife refuges, coffee plantations and history exhibits. The park features varied attractions, from life size dinosaur models lurking in the lush vegetation to a museum dedicated to the 26th of July Movement, regarded as the beginning of the Cuban Revolution and occuring right there in the region. Climbing the 459 steps to the summit of La Gran Piedra some 4,049ft (1,234m) above sea level may even afford travellers the chance to see the twinkling lights of Jamaica on a clear night sky. The Jardin Ave de Paraiso is a magnificent 45 hectare (111-acre) garden dating from 1860. The park also contains an aquarium and a car museum.

    Address: Poblado de Siboney
    Baconao Park Baconao Park rdmazo
    Castillo de San Pedro del Morro (Morro Castle)

    Santiago's most impressive structure is poised ominously atop the cliffs at the narrow entrance to Santiago Bay. This enormous piece of military architecture, a maze of stairways and dungeons, was begun in 1640 and originally built to defend the bay from pirates and naval attack. It now houses the Museum of Piracy, featuring fascinating displays on piracy, colonialism and slavery, as well as old blunderbusses, muskets, cutlasses and Toledo blades in glass cases. The castle is one of the best-preserved 17th-century Spanish fortresses in the world and it has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

    Address: Six miles (10 km) southwest of the city centre, near the bay
    Castillo de San Pedro del Morro Castillo de San Pedro del Morro Rodger Evans
    Emilio Bacardi Moreau Museum

    The world's largest family-owned spirits company, Bacardi started producing rum in Santiago way back in 1862. Forced to flee the country after the Cuban Revolution in 1959, Bacardi drinks aren't found in Cuba today, but the brand still strongly associates itself with the country. The Emilio Bacardi Moreau Museum houses the patriarch's private art and antique collections, serving not as a rum museum but as an insight into the life of the famous family's historical artefacts. While there aren't distillery tours, the original factory still stands in Santiago where no doubt the fruit bats that inspired the world-famous Bacardi logo still nest in its rafters.

    Address: Calle Pio Rosado No. 552 e/Aguilera y Heredia
    Emilio Bacardi Moreau Museum Emilio Bacardi Moreau Museum CNPC Cuba
    Santa Ifigenia Cemetery

    Santa Ifigenia Cemetery was founded in 1868 and declared a National Monument in 1937, now sheltering a number of important historical and cultural figures including war heroes and famous politicians and artists. The gateway is dominated by a memorial to Cuban soldiers who died fighting in Angola. The visitor is then led to the impressive tomb of Cuban national hero José Martí, the six sides of its tower each representing one of Cuba's original provinces. The round mausoleum is designed so that the sun will always shine on Marti's casket, which is draped with the Cuban flag. The cemetery also contains a shrine to the Virgin of Charity, Cuba's patron saint, in the form of the Basilica del Cobre.

    Address: Av Crombet
    Santa Ifigenia Cemetery Santa Ifigenia Cemetery Jack Wickes
    Habana Vieja (Old Havana)

    Old Havana (Habana Vieja) is the historic section of Cuba's capital, its ruined defensive walls still attempting to fence in the district. During the years of Prohibition in the United States, it turned into a playground for Americans flocking here for liquor, gambling and hedonism. One of the district's most famous bars is La Bodeguita del Medio, which was the favoured haunt of the legendary US writer Ernest Hemingway. It's cobble-stoned streets are now lined with museums, hotels and restaurants, while striking churches and restored colonial buildings with grand facades surround the picturesque plazas hosting afternoon chess, domino games and salsa performances.

    Old Havana Old Havana Byron Howes
    Gran Caverna de Santo Tomás

    The Gran Caverna de Santo Tomás are situated about 10 miles (16km) west of Viñales. With more than 29 miles (46km) of underground galleries spanning eight different levels, it's Cuba's largest cave system and one of the most important in South America. Fantastical limestone formations, glittering stalactites and stalagmites, underground lakes and vast caverns reveal themselves by the light of headlamps. Amateur spelunkers will probably be limited to just two levels, with entrances to them semi-hidden on a forested slope overlooking the valley and providing wonderful vantage points for views and photographs.

    Address: El Moncada, 11 miles (17km) west of Vinales village
    Santo Tomas caves Santo Tomas caves Judith Duk
    Museo Romántico

    Museo Romántico overlooks Plaza Mayor, the historic centre of Trinidad and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The mansions and palaces surrounding the square date back to the 18th and 19th centuries, when trade in sugar and slaves brought huge wealth to the area. Also called Brunet Palace, the Museo Romántico mostly displays the personal collections of paintings, furniture and porcelain belonging to its previous owners. While the plaza and nearby houses are all unmissable attractions in Trinidad, the neoclassical Museo Románticoi is itself magnificent, with original marble floors and splendid frescoes.

    Address: Calle Echerri 52
    Museo Romantico Museo Romantico Judith Duk
    Museo Histórico Municipal

    The grandiose Museo Histórico Municipal is a beautiful site. Previously owned by one of the richest families in Cuba, there are murals depicting well-known classical scenes and its rooms are outfitted in decorative splendour. Exhibits hark back to its original past, covering the sugar industry and history of Trinidad, including collections of weaponry, furniture and art. One of the most popular attractions of this neoclassical mansion is the captivating view from its tower, capturing wonderful vistas of Trinidad and the Escambray Mountains.

    Address: 423 Simón Bolívar
    Museo Historico Municipal Museo Historico Municipal Judith Duk
    Ancón Beach

    Situated seven miles (12km) south of Trinidad at the end of the peninsula, Playa Ancón boasts soft sand, warm waters and a fitting backdrop of palm trees. There are many watersports at Playa Ancón, as well as good offshore snorkelling and dive sites. Scuba enthusiasts will revel in this underwater playground of rock tunnels and colourful coral. Visitors can guide yachts through the beach's surrounding waters to find that perfect swimming spot or even hire boats to go fishing or exploring along the coast. Travellers also enjoy taking in the countryside when taking a leisurely bicycle ride to Playa Ancón from Trinidad, passing through a picturesque old village on the way.

    Address: Seven miles (12km) south of Trinidad
    Playa Ancon Playa Ancon Esteban De Sousa
    Moncada Barracks

    The bullet-ridden Moncada Barracks and adjacent Parque Historico Abel Santamaria were the settings for the most important events in Cuba's revolutionary history. In 1953, a group led by Fidel Castro attacked the barracks in an attempt to launch the revolution, but the plan failed and many were captured, tortured or killed by Batista's army. Castro himself was later tried in the Escuela de Enfermeras for leading the attack, and this is when he wrote his famous 'History Will Absolve Me' speech. This botched attack is widely considered to mark the beginning of the Cuban Revolution and the date of the attack, 26 July, was adopted by Castro as the name for the revolutionary movement which overthrew Batista's dictatorship in 1959.

    Address: Avenida Moncada
    Moncada Barracks Moncada Barracks Fernanda LeMarie
    Cueva del Indio

    Located in the Viñales Valley, the 27 miles (45km) of the Cueva del Indio is a magical place. In addition to the caves, the area provides some great family activities such as hiking and climbing, as well as some gorgeous rock pools for swimming in the bright green water. The caves are named for the indigenous Guanajatabey, who carved shelters into the limestone rock to hide from Spanish colonialists. Some of their bones were unearthed in the cave system and their art is still visible on the walls. Children will love the boat ride across the underground lake in the cave, and discovering the stalactites, stalagmites and petroglyphs.

    Cueva del Indio Cueva del Indio Dainis Matisons
    Acuario Nacional

    Acuario Nacional is a scientific research centre dedicated to conservation and public education. It features around eight big tanks containing truly beautiful freshwater and saltwater fish, along with seals and other tropical species. Some of the biggest drawcards for kids are the reproduction of a mangrove forest and the marine grotto, while lunchtime is best experienced at the delightful underwater restaurant. The aquarium is consistently voted a top Havana tourist attraction for kids, so families shouldn't miss out.

    Address: Third Ave and 62 St. Miramar, Playa
    Acuario Nacional Acuario Nacional Patrick Nouhailler
    Camera Obscura

    A camera obscura is a dark room in which a lens and a series of mirrors reflect images of exterior surroundings onto a concave surface. There is a Camera Obscura in Old Havana on the corner of Plaza Vieja, which offers spectacular 360-degree views over the city from a telescopic lens located atop a 115-foot (35m) tall tower. Guides give ten-minute tours of Old Havana and the bay, using the camera to point out special places, architectural highlights and the area's attractions. Apart from the camera tour visitors also gain access to a roof garden which is a nice spot from which to take photographs.

    Address: Corner Mercaderes and Brasil, Habana Vieja
    Camera Oscura Camera Oscura Brian Snelson
    Parque Nacional Alejandro de Humboldt

    This UNESCO World Heritage Site is located in the Cuban provinces of Holguín and Guantánamo, featuring impressive flora and fauna, such as parrots, lizards and hummingbirds unique to the area. The amount of endemic species in the park has made it one of the most valuable areas in the world for research and conservation. Its extreme humidity and incredibly varied topography are what make it so hospitable to the magnificent diversity of species. It's widely hailed as the most important nature reserve in the Caribbean, remaining unspoilt by human settlement. A guide is compulsory when touring the reserve, and tourists find it hard to resist its pristine waterfalls and stunning natural rock pools.

    Parque Nacional Alejandro de Humboldt Parque Nacional Alejandro de Humboldt Antonio Nunez Jimenez
    Ernest Hemingway Museum

    Cubans have adopted the rambunctious writer Ernest Hemingway as their own, especially in Havana where you'll find memorials to his apartments, regular haunts and favourite beverages. A keen fisherman and keener drinker, Hemingway references can be seen all over the harbour and bars of Cuba. Finca Vigia, his home just outside Havana, has been restored and now functions as a museum. In it he wrote two of his most famous books, For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Visiting the house feels personal and intimate, where travellers can see his actual typewriter and library of over 8,000 books.

    Address: Finca Vigía, Havana
    Hemingway's typewriter at Finca Vigia Hemingway's typewriter at Finca Vigia Bruce Tuten
    El Malécon

    A five-mile (8km) esplanade, roadway and seawall, running between the harbour in Old Havana and the historically Russian area of Vedado, a stroll along El Malécon is the perfect way to start any Havana adventure. The two-hour walk, described by many as a cross-section of Cuban history, begins in Habana Vieja, where the buildings have had their famous pastel colours faded by the sun and the salty sea-wind, and continues past various monuments of struggle heroes such as Máximo Gomez and Calixto García, before ending up in Vedado, a funky downtown district with great sights and vibrant nightlife.

    Address: Between the harbour and Vedado, Havana
    El Malecon El Malecon Matias Garabedian
    Viñales Botanical Garden

    The Viñales Botanical Garden ranks highly among things to see and do in Viñales, partly because it is refreshingly intimate and unspoilt by tourists. Originally cultivated to preserve samples of indigenous tropical plants, the garden is a riot of colour and tempered jungle which delights travellers of all ages. Gardeners are available to show you around and teach you about all the different species of plants, which makes for a lovely, personal experience. Roosters and chickens roam freely in the sprawling garden and there are lots of lizards and birds to marvel at too. Entrance is free but small donations are expected, particularly if you've taken a tour.

    Vinales Valley Vinales Valley Judith Duk

    Phrase Book

    English Pronounciation

    Cuba has a semitropical, temperate climate and experiences two seasons: a rainy season from May to October, and a dry season from November to April. Generally the weather in Cuba is sunny, hot and humid. The average minimum temperature is 70°F (21°C), and the average maximum temperature is 81°F (27°C). In summer (June to August) the heat can get uncomfortably intense, with temperatures reaching 100°F (38°C) and high humidity. The sea breezes tend to make conditions more pleasant on the coast. The rainy season includes a hurricane season from July to November, with September and October being the months most likely to experience serious tropical storms. Cuba has a very good public safety record when it comes to handling these storms but travellers ought to be aware that travel itineraries can easily be thrown by such weather. December, January and February are the coolest months. December to March is also the most popular time to visit Cuba due to the cooler weather and lack of rain and storms. However, as it can get very crowded over this peak period, March, April and May are also considered good months in which to visit Cuba. Although June through August is a hot period many people do flock to Cuba to celebrate carnival during the summer months.

    Jose Marti International Airport
    Location: The airport is situated 9 miles (15km) from Havana.
    Time: Local time is GMT -5 (GMT -4 from second Sunday in March to first Sunday in November).
    Transfer Between Terminals: A bus services the four terminals, with the fifth one being a freight terminal and not for passenger use.
    Getting to the city: Buses depart the airport for Havana every 30 minutes from 10am to 10pm, but require payment in local currency. Private transport is advisable.
    Car Rental: Transtour, Rex and Cubanacar operate car hire facilities at the airport.
    Airport Taxis: Official taxis are available outside all terminal buildings.
    Facilities: Airport facilities include VIP lounges with business facilities, banks and currency exchange, disabled assistance, a lost and found, and a variety of shopping and dining options.
    Parking There is short and long-term parking available roughly 500 feet (150m) from the terminal buildings.
    Money:

    The official currency is the Cuban Peso (CUP), divided into 100 centavos, but the 'tourist' currency is the Peso Convertible (CUC), which replaces the US Dollar as currency in tourist related establishments like hotels, restaurants and so called 'dollar shops'. US Dollars are no longer accepted as payment, and a 10 percent commission or more is charged to exchange them, therefore the best currency to bring along is Euros, the British Pound or Canadian Dollars. The CUC is almost equal in value to the US Dollar. Some places only accept Cuban Pesos and others only Pesos Convertible (usually tourist related establishments). Money should only be changed at official exchange bureaux or banks to avoid scams confusing the two currencies. Visa and MasterCard are generally accepted only in major cities and hotels as long as they haven't been issued by a US bank; Diners Club has limited acceptance, and American Express is not accepted anywhere on the island. No US-issued credit or debit cards will work in ATMs, but those holding cards issued in other countries should be able to get pesos at most major tourist destinations.

    Language:

    The official language is Spanish, but English is spoken in the main tourist spots.

    Electricity:

    Most older hotels use 110 volt power, 60Hz, while newer hotels use 220 volts, 60Hz. A variety of outlets are in use, but the flat and round two-pin plugs are most common.

    Entry Requirements:

    US nationals: US nationals must have a passport valid on arrival. A visa is also required if the visitor does not have a Tourist Card.

    UK nationals: British nationals must have a passport valid on arrival. A visa is also required if the visitor does not have a Tourist Card.

    CA nationals: Canadian citizens must have a passport valid on arrival. A visa is also required if the visitor does not have a Tourist Card.

    AU nationals: Australian citizens must have a passport valid for a minimum of 2 months from the arrival date. A visa is also required if the visitor does not have a Tourist Card.

    ZA nationals: South African citizens must have a passport valid on arrival. A visa is also required if the visitor does not have a Tourist Card.

    IR nationals: Irish nationals must have a passport valid for two months beyond the date of arrival. A visa is required if the visitor does not have a Tourist Card.

    NZ nationals: New Zealand citizens must have a passport valid for two months beyond the date of arrival. A visa is required if the visitor does not have a Tourist Card.

    Passport/Visa Note:Visa:

    In lieu of a visa, a Tourist Card ("Tarjeta del Turista") may be issued by tour operators, travel agents, or airlines for a single-entry holiday trip of up to 30 days, provided accommodation has been pre-booked and paid. A return ticket or proof of onward travel is required, as well as sufficient funds to cover the period of intended stay in Cuba (US$50 or equivalent per person per day). All those entering Cuba must hold travel insurance, with coverage in Cuba, to ensure cover of medical expenses for the period of stay. It is highly recommended that your passport has at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.

    Travel Health:

    Travel insurance with provision for emergency repatriation is compulsory for visitors to Cuba. Mosquito repellant is useful as viral meningitis and dengue fever do occasionally break out, even in urban areas such as Havana, while visitors are advised to take precautions against typhoid, particularly if travelling to rural areas. Cuban medical facilities are mediocre and many medicines are unavailable, so those requiring regular prescription drugs should bring them with, along with a copy of the prescription and a doctor's letter to facilitate entry through customs.

    Tipping:

    Tipping in convertible pesos is very welcomed in Cuba as salaries in the service industry are small. A 10 percent tip is appreciated in restaurants and by taxi drivers.

    Safety Information:

    Cuba is considered comparatively free from the threat of global terrorism, but has an increasing crime rate. Visitors are warned that theft from baggage in airports is common, and valuables should not be packed in suitcases.

    Travellers should be wary of pickpockets and bag snatchers in Old Havana, at major tourist sites and on buses and trains. Visitors are advised to take taxis after dark rather than walk but should always make sure taxis are registered.

    If there are political demonstrations of any kind, travellers should avoid them; Cuban authorities are known to clamp down on street protests quickly and sometimes violently. Tropical storms and hurricanes usually occur between June and November; although good warning is usually given, electricity, water and communications can be disrupted for weeks.

    Local Customs:

    Visitors should address Cuban men as 'señor' and women as 'señora'. While many Cubans will engage in political discussion and debate, it is not advised to criticise the government too vocally and one should be respectful of revolutionary figures such as Fidel Castro and Che Guevara.

    Homosexuality is legal in Cuba but public displays of affection between same-sex couples are not always well received by locals. The penalties for possession of illegal drugs are very strict, as are the penalties for any breach of Cuban immigration rules.

    Business:

    Cubans tend to be warm and hospitable, and business is conducted more informally than in many other countries. Establishing a good relationship is vital to successful business and some time may be given over to small talk. Owing to relative isolation from the global economy, business in Cuba tends to take some time and effort, and one is often hemmed in by the country's communist practices.

    Punctuality is always important, but don't expect meetings to begin on time or deals to be struck quickly. The dress code tends to be more casual than elsewhere, but businesspeople still usually wear collared shirts and the dress code for women is sophisticated. Business hours are usually about 8.30am to 12.30pm and 1.30pm to 4.30pm, Monday to Friday. Some businesses are open every second Saturday.

    Communications:

    The international code for Cuba is +53. Wifi availability in Cuba is expanding rapidly and hotels will often provide access, but there is still limited connectivity. A prepaid NAUTA internet card is needed; which is purchasable from a ETECSA station located throughout major cities or at upscale hotels. Once visitors have a NAUTA card they'lll need to find a wifi hotspot in a modern hotel or WiFi park.

    Duty Free:

    Travellers to Cuba over 18 years do not need to pay customs duty on 400 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 500g of tobacco; 1.14 litres of liquor; medicines and perfume for personal use; and gifts to the value of USD 60. The import and export of local currency is prohibited.

    Useful Contacts:

    Official Tourism Portal, Cuba: www.cubatravel.cu

    Cuba Embassies:

    Cuban Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 797 8518.

    Cuban Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 (0)20 7240 2488.

    Cuban Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 563 0141.

    Cuban Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 2 6286 8770

    Cuban Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 346 2215.

    Cuban Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 (0)1 671 8300.

    Cuban Embassy, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 (0)4 464 2210.

    Foreign Embassies in Cuba :

    US Embassy, Havana: +53 (0)7 839 4100.

    British Embassy, Havana: +53 (0)7 214 2200.

    Canadian Embassy, Havana (also responsible for Australia): +53 (0)7 204 2516.

    South African Embassy, Havana: +53 (0)7 204 9671.

    Irish Embassy, Mexico City, Mexico (also responsible for Cuba): +52 55 5520 5803.

    New Zealand Embassy, Mexico City, Mexico (also responsible for Cuba): +52 55 5283 9460.

    Cuba Emergency Numbers : 106 (Police), 104 (ambulance), 105 (fire department)
    Cuba
    Playas del Este

    Twenty-five minutes east of Havana are the Playas del Este, a chain of sandy beaches stretching for six miles (10km) between Bacuranao and Guanabo. There are a few tourist hotels lining the coast but facilities are fairly limited for the most part, with most visitors primarily there to enjoy its clear and warm turquoise waters. There are a number of pristine 'tourist' beaches in Cuba but the Playas del Este are fun because they offer a more genuine experience of the festive Cuban lifestyle, making it a great place to mix with locals. There are usually lots of vendors selling food and beer at reasonable prices on these beaches and people are generally outgoing and friendly.

    Address: Ave Las Terrazas e/11 y 12, La Habana del Este
    Playas del Este Playas del Este Judith Duk
    Valle de los Ingenios (Valley of the Sugar Mills)

    This emerald valley was once the centre of the sugar industry in Cuba in the 18th and 19th centuries. At its peak, there were over 70 sugarcane mills and about 30,000 slaves working on the plantations. Today, the ruins of estates and mills are visited by tourists attracted by the region's beauty and its historical significance in the slave trade during the valley's boom years. The main site is the Manaca Iznaga, a striking 144ft (44m) high tower which was used by plantation owners to keep watch over slaves. Along with Trinidad, the Valle de los Ingenios has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and riding tours are a popular way to take in the area's lovely views.

    Address: Carretera de Sancti Spiritus (8km from Trinidad)
    Valley of the Sugar Mills Valley of the Sugar Mills Wilder Mendez (Lezumbalaberenjena)
    Santa Clara

    The city of Santa Clara is best known for the Che Guevara Mausoleum and other monuments relating to the Cuban Revolution. The Tren Blindado marks the spot where Guevara attacked the train carrying Batista's troops and derailed the tracks with a bulldozer. The Mausoleum was built to pay homage to the memory of Guevara and his comrades who fought with him in Bolivia, and the enormous monument incorporates a huge statue of his likeness, as well as representations of many aspects of his revolutionary life. To one side of the statue, a huge stone block has been inscribed in full with his farewell letter to Fidel Castro.

    Santa Clara Santa Clara Judith Duk
    Sancti Spiritus

    Sancti Spiritus lies on the banks of the Yayabo River, its delightful architecture and winding cobblestone streets exuding charm, authenticity and friendliness. Pedestrians enjoy ice-creams flavoured with fruit, while dodging jams of horse-drawn carriages, bicycles and scooters. The old town is a National Monument dating back to 1514, filled with stately colonial homes and colourful houses beneath red tile roofs. It also boasts the Parroquial Mayor, Cuba's oldest church, and the Puente Yayabo, a bridge over the river which is the city's most famous sight. The city is the birthplace of many famous Cuban musicians, so it's worth checking out the local music scene.

    Sancti Spiritus Sancti Spiritus Judith Duk
    Bay of Pigs Museum

    The famous Bay of Pigs Invasion of 1961 was a humiliating failure for the United States, strengthening the Cuban people's support for Fidel Castro and their own government. The fascinating Bay of Pigs Museum (Muséo Playa Gíron) stands as a record of the Cuban victory, with displays showing actual plane wreckages, tanks, mortars and machine guns used in the battle, and maps and explanations concerning this most infamous event. Anyone with even a passing interest in modern history or foreign policy that has shaped our current world will find the Bay of Pigs Museum utterly enthralling.

    Address: Playa Gíron
    Bay of Pigs Museum Bay of Pigs Museum Panther
    Cayo Largo Del Sur

    Cayo Largo del Sur is a popular diving and snorkelling paradise southeast of Havana, boasting white sand and crystal-clear water. Explorers love to swim in its natural grottos, while marvelling at the wonderful variety of crustaceans and fish that call the coral reef home. This Cuban resort island is reached via yacht or plane from Havana, and once ashore travellers can rent motorcycles, bicycles, horses and watersports equipment. For those who want to sunbathe in their birthday suits, nudity is permitted on many of the island's beaches.

    Cayo Largo Del Sur Cayo Largo Del Sur Dnllnd
    Varadero

    The 22 mile (36km) stretch of Varadero Beach has often been referred to as one of the world's most beautiful. Crystal-clear water makes for amazing diving, fishing and snorkelling, and glass-bottom boat trips are unmissable. Varadero is situated on a spit of land reaching out into the Atlantic, boasting 23 world-renowned dive spots and dive centres providing lessons and equipment. Other attractions include deep sea fishing, windsurfing, parasailing, kayaking and sailing, while for landlubbers there are a number of restaurants, nightclubs, a skydiving centre, golf courses and more. The hotels in Cuba's most popular beach resort are some of the best in the Caribbean, enjoying close proximity to shopping complexes and artisanal markets.

    Varadero Varadero Wilder Mendez