By David Stanley.

1st edition, 396 pages.

Lonely Planet, $17.95.

It has a rich culture, warm people, unblemished beaches, colonial towns, sizzling nightlife, world class scuba diving opportunities, revolutionary monuments, potent rum and top cigars.

It is the largest country in the Caribbean; its capital city is one of the oldest in the Americas, and it is a very hot destination with almost as many international travelers per year as Jamaica (which welcomed 1.2 million visitors in 1996).

Americans cannot go there.

Where is it?

It is Cuba, of course, and it has been officially off-limits to most U.S. travelers for 34 years, although an increasing number of intrepid Americans are making clandestine visits each year.

When and if the U.S.-Cuba trade embargo is lifted, Lonely Planet Publications is ready with its Cuba guidebook.

Tucked in the midst of 396 pages are 14 pages of color photos, 50 pages on the island's history and a section outlining how Americans can elude the State Department's regulations against travel if they choose to do so.

"Despite the restrictions, thousands of U.S. citizens travel to Cuba each year. Lonely Planet believes the decision to visit Cuba is a personal matter and travelers should weigh the risks before planning a trip there," a spokesman for the publisher said.

Canadian author David Stanley, who led tour groups through Cuba in the 1970s, spent six months driving 4,000 miles to research the book.

According to Caroline Liou, LP's publishing manager, the decision to get a guidebook on Cuba into the U.S. market was two-fold.

"The destination is timely, and we had the right author," she said.

Fodor's Travel Publications has a book on Cuba; Moon Publications is due out with its Cuba guide later this year.

The nuts and bolts of LP's book include coverage of Havana, restaurants and hotels for all budgets and 60 maps of Cuba's 13 provinces.

The guidebook spotlights Hemingway and human rights, slang and cigars, cocktails, cabarets and Castro.

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