Discover a unique and remarkable island
Cuba fascinates visitors with a rich Spanish architectural heritage, an extraordinary musical culture, a political system unique to the Western world and an idyllic tropical setting.
Bathed by the waters of the Caribbean Sea, the Cuban archipelago borders the tropic of Cancer, just north of the main island, and stretches to the Gulf of Mexico. With a surface area of 110,922 km2 (42,830 mi), Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean. Its long, narrow shape — it is 1,220 km (758 mi) long and between 30 and 190 km wide (19 to 118 mi) — gives it close to 6,000 km (3,728 mi) of coastline, including the shores of the other islands or cayos. Four large groups of coral reef islets are found around the island of Cuba.
Cuba captured the world’s imagination thanks to Christopher Columbus, who in 1492 described the Caribbean’s biggest island: “I have never seen a more beautiful country, with palm leaves so big they can roof a house, with thousands of shells on the beach, with such limpid water, and always the same dizzying symphony of bird songs.”
Cuba remains the same wonderful island, replete with breathtaking scenery, idyllic beaches and amazingly fertile land. But in the course of a tumultuous history, this mysterious and inscrutable country was indelibly shaped by the mark of human hands.
Its capital, Havana, is a city that moves to the beat of its own rhythm, halfway between the relaxed pace of a sultry tropical town and a frenzied atmosphere like that of New York City.
The first thing that strikes visitors when they get to Havana is its urbanity. Not a false, superficial urbanity, but one that is deeply rooted in its very walls, its way of life and its population of over two million inhabitants. Founded in 1514 by Panfilio de Narváez, under the orders of Diego Velázquez, it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, for Old Havana boasts a rich architectural legacy. Such international recognition says a lot about this historic city, which was once the jewel of the Spanish colonies.
Havana is a city of depth and character, whose seductive charms are impossible to resist. Discover its grand plazas — Plaza de la Catedral and its cathedral, or Plaza de Armas, Plaza de San Francisco or Castillo de los Tres Reyes del Morro and the Fortaleza San Carlos de la Cabaña; its neighborhoods such as Prado and Vedado, and the Parque Central. Treat yourself to a stroll along the Malecón, a seaside promenade, or explore the Museo de la Ciudad or the Palacio de Bellas Artes.
The beaches of Varadero need no introduction…
As sure as the ebb and flow of the tide that caresses the long stretches of white sand of Varadero’s beaches, loyal vacationers come year after year to enjoy the region’s main attraction.
Located on the Hicacos peninsula, in the Cuban province of Matanzas, Varadero is a long, thin strip of land that juts into the sea.
The superb white sandy beaches of Varadero span a total length of over 18 km (11 mi), and Cubans rightly claim that they are the loveliest in the country. The calm, clear waters range in colour from turquoise to deep blue, with a million and one shades in between. The average temperature in Varadero is 25°C (77°F), and the ocean, warm year-round, is perfect for swimming and water sports.
If the beaches need no introduction, the same can’t be said of the Parque Natural de Varadero, a little-known park also found on the Hicacos peninsula. This uncrowded, unspoiled natural setting is also one of the few places in Varadero where you don’t have to pay to get in. Fourteen archaelogical sites lie hidden within its boundaries.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, the development of the local tourist industry has transformed Varadero’s urban landscape, though a few old wooden houses and streets have survived. Now Varadero’s main tourist attraction, the Mansión Xanadu (or Casa DuPont), a majestic Spanish colonial-style mansion, with carved wooden balconies and windows, is reminiscent of an Andalusian palace. Today the mansion comprises the Las Américas restaurant.
As far as nightclubs are concerned, Varadero is definitely one of the best cities in Cuba. All catering to tourists, these establishments offer a wide variety of music and atmospheres.
Enchanted isle of the Camaguëy Archipelago
Off the north coast of the province of Ciego de Avila, the small island paradises of the Camaguëy Archipelago feature long, fine-sand beaches engulfed by an emerald sea.
Cayo Coco, the largest island in the Archipelago of Camaguëy, is 36 km long (22 mi) and boasts nearly 22 km (14 mi) of beaches. Cayo Coco and its smaller neighbor, Cayo Guillermo, together form together a natural paradise that has spawned a thriving tourist industry.
The archipelago’s main attractions are the white-sand beaches and the crystal clear waters that change from blue to turquoise.
A spectacular 17 km (11 mi) stretch of road runs through the marshes to Cayo Coco. In order to lay the road in 1991, the swamps had to be filled with stones and dirt, and the local residents are very proud of this feat. Along the entire route visitors can observe the region’s abundant marine life and relish the sensation of making a pilgrimage to a natural paradise. Such an idyllic spot all but guarantees a restful, carefree and blissful vacation.
Cayo Guillermo is a little island only 13 km (8 mi) long, located northwest of Cayo Coco. The beach is not as long as Cayo Coco’s, but the place is a little less touristy and perhaps a little more charming as a result.
The virtually untouched beaches on Cayo Sabinal are absolutely stunning. A bit further east, the beaches at Playa Santa Lucía are a delight to vacationers, who come from the four corners of the earth. This seaside area has 20 km (12 mi) of fine, white-sand beaches, protected by 32 km (20 mi) of coral reef. The underwater depths reveal magnificent marine fauna that attract many divers to the area.
Azure waters and white sand…
Located 54 km (34 mi) from Holguín, the two fine sandy beaches of Guardalavaca attract more and more travelers each year. Every day, novice divers plunge into sea from the beaches, and more experienced ones climb aboard a boat that takes them out to the coral reef. Come nightfall, a cocktail and a romantic stroll along the beaches will quickly chase all your worries and troubles away.
One of Cuba’s eastern provinces, Holguín boasts some of the nicest beaches in Cuba. Playa Esmeralda, a crescent-shaped beach protected by a small, gently sloping cliff dotted with luxuriant tropical vegetation, is perfect for swimming and other water sports, including scuba diving.
The other beach, in Guardalavaca, 2 km (1¼ mi) farther east, is considerably longer and thus scores more points with tourists who enjoy lengthy, barefoot walks in the sand. Here, too, the water is good for swimming and other water sports. Numerous hotels line the beach, and promenades have been laid out beneath the palm trees. The nightlife is particularly lively.
If you want to see more marine life, head to the Acuario of Guardalavaca. Located in the magnificent Bahía de Naranjo, it uses one of the many islets in the large bay as the base for a natural aquarium whose occupants remain free in their natural environment in the midst of grandiose scenery, rather than being restrained in artificial pools. Twice a day, the dolphins put on a show after the seals amuse the crowd with their antics, and you can jump in and swim with the dolphins.
In Guardalavaca, you’ll find at least two good night spots: lively La Dulce Vida, a hotel nightclub, and La Roca, an outdoor nightclub on Playa Esmeralda that is perfect for a wonderful night out under the stars