Cuba, from tip to tip
May 1, 2013 | By Travel Bug |
From tip to tip, every part of this great island offers a unique mix of history, music, art, passion and beauty – as unique and warm as the sun in the sky.
Cayo Coco / Cayo Guillermo
To the east of Cayo Santa Maria in the province of Ciego de Avila, you’ll find Cayo Coco, Cuba’s most popular beach destination after Varadero. Enjoy 22 kilometres of white, soft, coral sand beach, offering great water sports like sailing and snorkelling. Its neighbour, Cayo Guillermo, famous for deep-sea fishing and the highest sand dunes in the Caribbean, was immortalized in Ernest Hemingway’s novel, Islands in the Stream. When you visit, you can not only fish where the Nobel Laureate fished but you can see his boat docked at its namesake beach. Both islands offer abundant flora and fauna with more than 200 species of birds and 340 species of plants.
When Christopher Columbus first saw the Holguin coastline in 1492, he declared it “the most beautiful land human eyes have ever seen.” The beaches of Playa Esmeralda, Playa Pesquero and Guardalavaca remain some of the most stunning beaches in the world. The pristine reefs ensure outstanding diving and snorkelling in the shallow warm waters of the Atlantic. The first resort here was inaugurated in the late 70s by Fidel Castro himself, and in fact you can visit his childhood home in nearby Birán. Other places of interest include the Museo Chorro de Maita, a native Indian archaeological site, the Naranjo Bay Natural Park, and the seaside town of Gibara, a charming port town with Spanish heritage.
Havana is a grand city – a majestic icon of Cuban history and tradition. In 1982, Old Havana was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, and as you wander its colourful streets, it’s easy to understand why. Admire Spanish colonial fortifications like the Real Fuerza Castle, the Tres Reyes del Morro Castle and the San Carlos de la Cabana Fortress. Stroll the Malecón (sea wall) and take in the wide harbour that helped make Havana the most important port in the Spanish empire. The lighter side of Cuban culture is also proudly on display. Enjoy a late-night cabaret show at the Tropicana Nightclub or, as Hemingway used to, a mojito in La Bodeguita, or a daiquiri in El Floridita.
Some call Varadero Beach the greatest beach in the world. Tourism began in Varadero in the 1930s after industrial magnate Irénée du Pont built his famous Xanadú Mansion here. Other celebrities followed, slowly turning the 20 kilometres of Varadero’s pristine white-sand beach into one of the world’s premier vacation destinations. Take your pick of resorts for all styles and tastes, and enjoy endless water sports and activities, including scuba diving and swimming with dolphins. In recent years eco-adventures have grown in popularity with the Varahicacos Ecological Reserve, on the peninsula’s tip, and the Zapata Biosphere Reserve becoming popular choices for those looking for adventure or wildlife encounters.
Cayo Santa Maria (Santa Clara)
The town of Santa Clara is the gateway to the spectacular Jardines del Rey archipelago (the King’s Garden) and the beautiful Cayo Santa Maria, a true tropical paradise. Much of this islet is protected and offers visitors a selection of secluded, elegant resorts, long beautiful beaches, virgin mangrove swamps and spectacular coral reefs. The university town of Santa Clara is famous as the home of the Monumento Ernesto Che Guevara, the final resting place of the legendary hero of the Revolution. There is a huge sculpture of the world-famous hero overlooking a vast plaza where music concerts are often held. The city also offers a lively nightlife, good restaurants and outdoor activities in the magnificent Escambray Mountains.
Cayo Largo del Sur
Secluded and serene, the sandy island of Cayo Largo is all about rest and relaxation. The beaches are absolutely beautiful, and the sea is a particularly intense blue. Sheltered from strong currents, the seabed around Cayo Largo and nearby Cayo Iguana offers amazing snorkelling and scuba diving with underwater caves and abundant sea life. On land, enjoy a moonlit evening watching sea turtles lay their eggs, or enjoy native wildlife like flamingos, iguanas and Cuba’s tiny bee hummingbird as you stroll for hours along impossibly wonderful beaches. Sunsets here are remarkable and best enjoyed on a catamaran cruise, perhaps with a lobster dinner and a glass of bubbly.