From the early Spanish settlements and sugar plantations built on slavery to magnificent 19th-century merchants' mansions and opulent theatres, this region is generously endowed with architectural delights. The memories of heroes of the wars of independence and other struggles for liberation including the Revolution, are preserved in monuments and street names. The three provinces of Cienfuegos, Villa Clara and Sancti Spíritus in the centre west share the lush, forested Montañas de Guamuhaya, their boundaries meeting close to the highest point, Pico San Juan, in the legendary Sierra del Escambray. The mountains are a habitat for many birds, butterflies, frogs and other creatures of the forest and offer great hiking, river bathing and birdwatching.
The coastal city of Cienfuegos has some architectural highlights, particularly the theatre and the Palacio de Ferrer, both late- 19th-century masterpieces. The diving is good, with some pleasant dive lodges. The 1958 battle for the city of Santa Clara was crucial to the outcome of the Revolution and this lively university city is now a shrine to the Argentine guerrillero and icon, Che Guevara.
The northern part of Villa Clara is mostly flat and the coastline is protected by an archipelago of cays with some spectacular white coral sandy beaches. Heading south, the provincial capital of Sancti Spíritus was one of the seven towns founded by Diego Velázquez in 1514, but the star attraction is the colonial town of Trinidad, awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status to protect its cobbled streets, single storey, pastel-coloured houses with red tiled roofs, its churches and its planters' mansions. It also has the advantage of being close to a beach, with access to the mountains, and has some outstanding live music performances.
This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF