Cuba is the Caribbean's largest and least commercialised island and one of the world's last bastions of communism. Its relative political isolation has prevented it from being overrun by tourists, and locals are sincerely friendly to those who do venture in.
Despite the formality of the colonial architecture, Cuba is pretty relaxed, even in the larger towns. The most frenetic it gets is in the middle of an enthusiastic chachachÃ¡, and the loudest it gets is behind one of the huge finned American cars chugging the streets.
If you want it even quieter, Cuba's backcountry and beaches are perfect chillout destinations for hikers, swimmers, cyclers, spelunkers or those who just want to smoke a fine cigar under a palm tree.
The Helms-Burton Act has allowed Cuba to find its place in the post-Soviet world gradually, without the sudden destabilising shock of mass consumer tourism from the United States. It's only a matter of time before American-imposed travel and trade barriers fall. No doubt millions will come when flights from Miami resume. Clearly, the time to go is now.
From 8 November, 2004 US Dollars will no longer be legal tender in Cuba. Travellers will be expected to use 'convertible pesos'; travellers' cheques and credit cards drawn on American banks will also be unacceptable. Exchanging US Dollars will incur a 10% charge.
Full country name: Republic of Cuba
Area: 110,860 sq km
Population: 11 million
Capital City: Havana (pop 2,200,000)
People: 60% Spanish descent, 22% mixed-race, 11% African descent, 1% Chinese
Religion: 47% Catholic, 4% Protestant, 2% SanterÃa (many Catholics also practice SanterÃa)
Government: Communist republic
Head of State: President of the Council of State Fidel Castro
GDP: US$20 billion
GDP per capita: US$2,000
Annual Growth: 2.5%
Major Industries: Sugar, minerals, tobacco, agricultural, medicine and tourism
Major Trading Partners: Western Europe, Latin America, Russia, China, Iran, North Korea