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Towns with charisma

As can be expected in a country with over eleven million inhabitants, Cuba has a number of urban patches that each lay their particular trap to capture and hypnotise their visitors.
It is often the ethnic mixture that will captivate central Europeans: from the light-skinned, blue-eyed breed to his ebony-wood, dark-haired counterpart, the whole range is to be seen. A charming example can be found by watching school classes, dressed in smart uniforms, in which the whole spread of colours is represented. To best imbibe the atmosphere of a Cuban town, look for a café with a view of the street and let the colourful life go by before your eyes that is accompanied by much laughter and flirting, by ever more novelties along the way - a lovingly polished old timer in screaming pink; a moped on which five people are riding (three of them children); a Santería priestess dressed in blinding white whose healing skills are revered by many Cubans.



The Old Lady of Havana

The view of Havana's imposing colonial buildings from the 16th and 17th century, that are currently being restored with UNESCO help, reminds one of an ageing film diva who now makes up for her lost youthful attractions with plenty of makeup and a happy character. She shows her best face with a stroll through the lanes of the old city that are criss-crossed with the omnipresent sound of music, from loud discussions and happy children's laughter pouring out of open windows. Many of the historic buildings have been converted to rented housing and thereby saved from the sterility of being a museum. One wanders along roads at right angles to one another, bordered by arcades, past impressive churches, cloisters, cathedrals and the picturesquely peeling facades of distinguished villas, sneeks a peek at lovingly tended courtyards and beautifully restored shops and lets oneself be drawn into negotiations over artistically manufactured souvenirs in the market on the Plaza de la Catedral. To get a good impression of the martial eras of Havana's history, you can visit the defiant fort of La Cabana from the 16th century which sits opposite the no less fortified emplacement El Morro on the other side of the Bahía de la Habana, and provides a wonderful view over the old city. In the evening, the whole of Havana meets at the Malecón, the famous bankside road where flirting is the thing to do along the walls of the quay, or you can be enthralled by a dance show at the famous "Tropicana".



Santiago de Cuba - a pulsating district

Santiago de Cuba was built on hills in the southeast of the country with a view over the blue Caribbean and the green mountains of the Sierra Maestra which rise behind. Those who have found Havana to be full of life and living at a fast pace will need to adjust to an even faster heartbeat here: Son, Cha Cha Cha and Salsa rhythms emerge from tightly packed music pubs that ensure that the walk of passers-by is never far from being a dance step, that party atmosphere is in the air and that there's a smile on everybody's face. The rich music tradition - Son was created here - is celebrated most at the annual carnival in February where the streets turn into a catwalk for large groups of colourfully-dressed dancers. Majestic colonial buildings serve as a backdrop for the lively partying, dressed with balconies and wrought-iron doors, beautiful plazas and shady parks that wait like cool oases in the "tierra caliente" ("hot earth") as the region around Santiago is known. Santiago played an important role in Fidel Castro's revolution that started here and, with the delivery of the declaration of surrender of Batista's army, also ended victoriously: mementos of this time are displayed in the "Antiguo Cuartel Moncada" museum. 



Trinidad - melancholy beauty

The UNESCO world heritage site title is borne not only by Havana but also by Trinidad, lying in the centre of the south coast, and respected as a jewel amongst the colonial towns of the island. The riches to which it owes this reputation came in the 17th century through the growth of the sugar-cane industry and resulted in a construction boom of impressive palaces and villas with which the sugar barons tried to outdo one another. As many of the buildings are today museums, it is possible to get an interesting insight behind the pastel facades. It is best to go on foot for a walk through this open-air museum, to wander along the cobblestone paths over which horse-drawn carriages once clattered, and to let the light nostalgia that has settled on the lanes soak in. The best place to get an impression of the luxury and opulence of the heyday of the town is at the Museo Romántico where, amongst other treasures, a valuable bureau from Austria (!) and a marble bathtub can be seen.



Baracoa - the oldest town in Cuba

This was where Christopher Columbus first set foot on Cuban soil in 1942. Baracoa, lying in a bay, is surrounded by undisturbed countryside.
Lovers of nature will find tropical vegetation here as far as the eye can see. The local population live predominantly from agriculture, far away from the hectic rush and any stress; the simple lifestyle soon invokes a feeling of being transported back to the last century.
The most important tourist highlights here are El Yunque, the table mountain, and the Humboldt National Park.