Cuba?s Fascinating Colonial History

Cuba was an island discovered by Christopher Columbus during his time journeying across the seas in 1492, although it is thought that an indigenous community was already living there at this time. The first Spanish settlement was developed in Cuba around 1511 and these European influences are still very visible today. For anybody with an interest in the colonial heritage of the Caribbean, Cuba is a must-visit.

Head to Havana, the capital of Cuba, to step back to a time when Spanish fleets brought treasures to the New World which had been discovered and trade and commerce between the two worlds really took flight. Old Havana is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and there you can see the first building built in the city, as well as admiring the baroque and neoclassical monuments, beautiful balconies, private homes and courtyards.  Many of the old buildings have been converted into museums and there are also churches, castles and markets, to name just a few of the delights Havana holds for history lovers.

Walk the cobbled streets of Trinidad and feel as if you have been transported back to the era of colonialism. The past is written on this city from the beautiful palaces to the plazas and it is easy to get around on foot. Plaza Mayor is a great vantage point from which to admire the beautiful 18th and 19th century buildings which grew around it and discover where those who thrived on the sugar industry lived. To get an insight into the lives of wealthy slave owners, Museo Romantico is a stunning colonial mansion brimming with antiques as well as souvenirs to take home to friends and family. Today Trinidad boasts a thriving tobacco processing industry.

If you have a real interest in neoclassical architecture, Cienfuegos is the place to be with several structures clustered together. Cemeteries such as the Cementerio de Reina also offer a glimpse at the neoclassical, with famed grave statues including La Bella Durmiente (The Sleeping Beauty) as well as marble headstones and burial crypts. This city has a magnificent fort and you can also walk the longest street lined with palms on the island of Cuba. French influences can be noted in the arc shapes and stained glass of the buildings while there are also many Hispanic and aboriginal legends surrounding Cienfuegos, predating the Spanish colonisation.
Carmaguey is a mediavel city where you might need your map to help with navigation. Get lost in a colonial maze of streets designed to confuse pirates and raiders of the past. As you explore, look out for large earthenware jars which have become a symbol in Carmaguey.
An integral part of Cuban culture today, explore the rich colonial heritage and book a break in 2012.

Emma is a travel fundi who spent a year back-packing in Nepal. She is based in London and writes about finding unforgettable holidays.