In light of Obama's landmark plans to rebuild US/Cuba relations, Gwenllian Jones explores the country's romantic side...
A unique city that craves endless days of exploration, it can be difficult to know where to start. Having evolved up and around four colonial plazas, La Habana Vieja has plenty of historical and cultural sights to fill your first few hours in the city. It can also provide a welcome reprieve if the initial vibrancy of Havana proves to be overwhelming.
Visit during the day to catch a glimpse of some of the city's most majestic buildings, such as the Catedral de San Cristóbal on Plaza de la Catedral, described by Cuban novelist Alejo Carpentier as 'music set in stone'. The leafy Plaza de Armas provides shade and seclusion on a hot afternoon, and also plays host to a second-hand book market - so come in search of your very own first-edition Hemingway. Wander the winding streets in between, and gaze up at the rickety balconies and the weathered colour of the buildings.
As daylight fades, head towards Plaza de San Francisco and meet the beginning of the Malecón - the city's 8km-long seafront road. As the sun sets, throwing its last light over the Old Town, join the congregation of friends, lovers and fishermen and immerse yourself in the commotion.
Leave the bustle of the city behind, and opt for a few days exploring Cuba's flourishing countryside. Large areas of the Sierra del Escambray mountain-range are protected, so it's well-worth finding a reputable guide to take you to their midst. Find your very own paradise in the Cienfuegos province; discover the El Nicho Waterfalls on the Hanabanilla River, and swim in the crystal waters of its pools enveloped by verdant rainforest - the perfect setting for a honeymoon excursion. There's also a 1.5km nature trail, the Reino de las Aguas, with an array of flamboyant indigenous plants. And with excellent birdwatching opportunities, see if you can spot some of Cuba's endemic species; the Cuban emerald, the broad-winged hawk or the Cuban parrot.
If you are a couple of cycling enthusiasts, why not explore the region on two wheels? There are a number of guided bike tours traversing the region - from short, gentle trips that make the most of the routes from mountain to coast, to more challenging trails up and around the peaks. The roads are mostly empty, so pedal at your complete leisure - this is Cuba, after all.
Trinidad was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988, and the visitors started to stream in soon after. However, where many other towns might have buckled under such a sudden influx of people, the town has managed to carry on with life just as it did before - grass still grows up through the cobbled streets and men still cycle around selling bread from their bikes. Meander along the lanes hand-in-hand, and listen as the gentle plucking of guitar strings follows you from street to street.
Widely-recognised as a haven for historians, the town boasts a museum on every corner (almost) as well as some charming art galleries. The Museo Historicó Municipal and the Museo de la Lucha Contra Bandidos are considered among the best, located in some of Trinidad's most impressive colonial mansions. Climb the towers for unmatched views over the town and the neighbouring Valle de los Ingenios.
Cuba's oldest settlement has an unprecedented history. Accessible only by boat until the opening of the La Farola road in 1964, Baracoa's unique culture has developed in almost complete isolation - so be prepared for an exclusive and intimate insight into this north-eastern corner of Cuba.
Surrounded by a pristine eco-system and lush, unexplored rainforests, the busy crowds are far away - so relax! Baracoa is host to some of Cuba's best beaches, carpeted by shrubs of mangrove and met by the clearest teal-like water. To build an appetite for dinner, hike the table-topped mountain of El Yunque for panoramic views of the surrounding region, and pick up some refreshing fruit - carambolas, lychees and jaboticaba - from Phillip's Farm on your way. Then, in the evening, sit down for a plate of plantain-stuffed local fish, or even some buttered lobster. And for dessert, try the localcucurucho -a mix of sugar, coconut, nuts and dried tropical fruit wrapped up in cones of palm bark, or visit the Casa del Chocolatefor a cup of local hot cocoa.
As the birthplace of rum and, arguably, the world's most vivacious music genres and dancing styles, there's no better place to let loose and throw yourself into the middle of the dance floor - partner in-hand, obviously. Whether it be along the sensuous and salsa-ridden streets of Santiago de Cuba - enriched by its Afro-Caribbean culture and cosmopolitan vibe - or to the rumba rhythms of Havana's colourful Callejón de Hammel; grab a Daiquiri, and swing your hips into action.
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