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There are few more fascinating destinations in the Caribbean than its largest and most populous island, Cuba – not least because it has been a socialist republic since the 1959 revolution, when Fidel Castro seized power. This last remaining vestige of state socialism, 90 miles south of Key West, Florida, was once the last stronghold of Spanish power in the region.
Cuba’s rich artistic heritage ranges from pre-Columbian cultures to the splendors of Spanish colonialism and the internationally acclaimed art of today. It is also a place of great natural beauty, with three magnificent mountain ranges and fertile plains where sugar cane and tobacco grow. And it has some of the best beaches in the world.
A quarter of Cuba’s 11 million people live in and around Havana, which lays claim to being the most beautiful city in the Caribbean. Old Havana, with its square mile of colonial palaces, handsome plazas and charming cobbled alleys was, along with Mexico City and Lima, one of the three richest Spanish cities outside Spain. It has been designated by UNESCO as a city of world heritage.
Cuba has an easy-going, multi-racial population whose greatest enthusiasm is reserved for music. It is the home of the modern rumba, actually of African origin, the mamba, the cha-cha-cha and the salsa. Cuban jazz is also excellent. Wherever you go on the island, music will go with you.
Travel can be an adventure. Transport is cheap and convivial. Cuba is the only place on earth where hitchhiking is regulated by the state – in the nicest possible way. Each town has a hitch-hiking point manned by an official in yellow trousers who supervises the hitchers, registers their destinations and loads them on to any state or private car that happens to be heading in the right direction. Tourists are absolved from the obligation to take on hitch-hikers.
It's a great time to visit Cuba, if you can. It is a vibrant island with resorts and beaches, some extensive – and the fact that it does not always provide the fully-honed and polished version of modern-day tourism suits many of its visitors just fine.