The jewel in the crown of Cuba's colonial cities, Trinidad—a hill town 180 mi/290 km southeast of Havana—is one of Cuba's seven original towns, founded in 1514, and its red-tile roofs and cobblestoned streets are a must for visitors to see. Magnificent examples of architecture from the 1600s-1800s still stand (it's a UNESCO World Heritage city), and the streets in the restored early-colonial setting are closed to traffic. The majority of buildings are painted in tropical ice-cream colors. The atmosphere is fabulous—a time warp casting visitors back several hundred years.

Trinidad has a lot packed into a relatively small place—a surprising number of excellent museums, including the Museo Romantico (decorative arts; phone 53-4199-4363), the Museo de Arquitectura (colonial architecture; phone 53-4199-3208), and the Museo de Arqueologia (archaeology and natural science), all housed in former colonial mansions around the main square, Plaza Mayor. The cathedral is also on the square.

You will want at least two days there to immerse yourself in and savor the relaxed yesteryear lifestyle. The town is a center for the Santeria religion, and visits to a babalawo can be arranged. Catholic ceremonies are also more numerous there than elsewhere in the country; Easter is a great time to visit.

Those who stay overnight can choose from the large resort hotels on the delightful beach south of town. The local casa particular (private room rental) industry has flourished; Trinidad now boasts more than 500. If you wish, you might lodge in a colonial mansion filled with antiques, but it pays to shop around, as standards vary widely.

A short distance outside of town in the exquisite Valle de los Ingenios (Sugar Mills Valley). A good way to arrive is via a suburban rail service from Trinidad or—if the creaky and cranky old train is in service—on a touristy steam train.

In the Escambray Mountains north of Trinidad, in the spa resort of Topes de Collantes, is a massive sanatorium. More appealing, the area also has dense rain forest for those seeking wilderness: Trails lead to waterfalls (organized excursions are offered from Trinidad and from Topes de Collantes).

Nearby Playa Ancon is the perfect place to spend a day or more relaxing on the white sand beach or enjoying a snorkeling or scuba diving excursion—the offshore coral reefs are in superb condition.

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