When I started visiting one of Cuba's earliest settlements (founded in 1514), down in the central south coast some five or so hours from Havana's in the late 1990s, Trinidad was a sleepy little colonial gem in the rough – as in, fairly shabby like most other Cuban towns, seemingly trapped in amber, even smaller feeling than its population of a little over 70,000.


The colonial quarter was all about cobblestone streets lined with those retro old U.S. cars parked in front of low-slung, late-colonial homes and shops (cigars, art and tourist kitsch especially prominent) with red-terracotta-tile roofs, some also with façades in pastel colors adorned with wrought-iron or wooden window grills. Many other Cuban towns and cities have no shortage of similarly charming archictecture, but here it felt more like a “time capsule” from its early-19th-century heyday than any place outside Old Havana – so perfectly preserved it’s long been a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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