Over 200 km west of Havana and 27 km from the city of Pinar del Rio, the Viñales Valley is one of the prettiest areas in Cuba. Viñales is plain of several valleys separated by bizarre mountains called mogotes that dominate the landscape. Thanks to its rich soil, moist nights and cool mornings the valley is perfect to grow tobacco. Local tobacco farmers will be proud to show you their vegas to demonstrate the art of growing tobacco. The small town, founded in 1607 is a rural charmer justifiably declared a national monument. Don’t miss the Cueva del Indio, a cave once inhabited by Indians where a boat ride will take along the underground river. The Mural de la Prehistoria is a must-see in Viñales, a 180-meter high painting on the side of a mogote. The mural illustrates the process of evolution in the Sierra de los Órganos.
The largest resort complex in the Caribbean lies in the Península de Hicacos, 140 km east of Havana. Although a Cuban holiday center existed in the area as early as 1872, it wasn’t until 1930 that its international development began when U.S. millionaire Irenee Dupont built an estate with a mansion, golf course and yacht harbor. Other American millionaires soon followed and Varadero became a millionaire hideaway. Twenty kilometers of white sand and blue waters take you to a concentration of seafront restaurants, night clubs and luxury hotels that you will not find anywhere on Cuban soil.
Santa Clara, 300 km east of Havana, is the provincial capital of Villa Clara. The city was established in 1689 when residents of the neighboring town of Remedios got tired of constant pirate raids and moved inland. The city is mostly known by its recent revolutionary history. On December 30, 1958, Che Guevara’s rebel troops attacked the town and derailed a military train from dictator Batista’s army carrying reinforcements and U.S. weapons to Oriente to stop the Rebel Army. The battle of Santa Clara was decisive for the triumph of the Rebel Army over U.S-backed Batista’s army. Just two days after the beginning of the battle, on New Year’s Eve, the dictator fled the island. The Revolution Square commemorates the battle and contains a museum that shows the deeds of Che Guevara. In October of 1997, Che’s remains were laid to rest in a mausoleum of stone floor, hardwood ceiling and granite walls adjacent to the museum. The city’s best architecture is near or on Parque Vidal. Just 45 km northeast of Santa Clara is one of the most beautiful little towns in Cuba, with its own Spanish charm, Remedios is well preserved and one of the oldest Cuban towns, founded in 1514. Remedios is mainly known in Cuba because of the popular annual festivity held around Christmas and called parrandas, where the two neighborhoods of the city compete with each other to carry out the most elaborate parade of floats and most impressive fireworks. Driving up north, you find a gorgeous marine landscape. A causeway takes you from cay to cay for 50 km ending at Cayo Santa Maria, on which new beach resorts and facilities have been built along the 11 km of beaches. Also the neighboring Cayo Las Brujas and Cayo Ensenachos offer the visitors hotels and beautiful white sand beaches.
This colonial town is tucked into the southeast corner of Sancti Spiritus. It was the fourth village founded by Diego Velazquez in 1514. Considered a jewel of colonial architecture, Trinidad is preserved as a living museum and a must-see on a traveler’s list. The town reached its peak during sugar boom of the 19th century. Its narrow cobbled streets are paved with stones and its buildings are fronted with mahogany balustrades, fancy iron grids and huge wooden doors. In Trinidad, the visitor gets a little of different environments: the charms of a colonial town, the fresh breezes of the Caribbean Sea just 13 km from town at the Peninsula Ancon, with four kilometers of nice beaches of white sand and pines and palms, and the refreshing cool forest at Topes de Collantes National Park, an excellent area for hiking, with various nature trails, and bird watching. Trinidad and its Valley of the Sugar Mills were declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1988.
On the north shore of the province of Ciego de Avila, a 27-km-long paved causeway leads to the Archipelago Jardines del Rey, offering marvelous beaches, typical vegetation, wild fauna and a quiet sea. The two main cays and tourist attractions of the archipelago are Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo. With 21 km of amazing beaches, Cayo Coco is an excellent destination for scuba divers and birders. Cayo Guillermo lies 3 km west of Cayo Coco. This smaller cay is home to flamingos and pelicans. This was also one of novelist Ernest Hemingway’s favorite fishing spots mentioned in his novel based on his real life adventures “Islands in the Stream”. Its main attraction is Playa Pilar, also discovered by Hemingway, full of sand dunes, crystal clear waters and different fish species.
Camagüey is the capital city of the province with the same name. Located 570 km east of Havana, Cuba’s third largest city, it’s full of restored plazas and buildings, which gained it the condition National Monument and more recently a World Heritage Site. It was one of the seven villages founded by Diego Velázquez in 1514. The city prospered from cattle raising and sugar that fostered the slave-plantation economy in the region. Camaguey is known for its many beautiful plazas and churches. Due to the lack of fresh water, Camagüeyans used large clay jars called tinajones collect rainfall, which gave the city the nickname of “City of the Tinajones”.
The fourth largest city in Cuba is located 775 km east of Havana and 200 km northwest of Santiago de Cuba. When Columbus landed at Gibara, a beautiful small fishing town 28 km north of Holguin, in 1492 thinking he was in Asia, he sent an expedition inland that came across with an Indian village believed to have been in Holguin’s current location. Three decades later, Captain Garcia Holguin received a land grant. He then built a settlement in the location of the Indian village, which by then had been razed, and named it San Isidoro de Holguin.
The north of the Holguin province has some of the most gorgeous beaches and beach resorts on the island, excellent for scuba diving and snorkeling. Guardalavaca and the neighboring beaches are considered Cuba?s second largest resort. Some 65 km west of this resort is Gibara, a time-encrusted fishing town at the Bahia de Gibara. The site was an important port in colonial times when it was called Villa Blanca. The flat-topped mountain inland, Silla de Gibara, is considered to be the hill described by Christopher Columbus in his journal when he first landed in Cuba on October 28, 1492. Although citizens of Baracoa claim that he landed there and that the mountain he mentions is El Yunque.
The city of Santiago de Cuba stands in a horseshoe-shaped basin on the east side of one of the three natural harbors on the south coast of Cuba. Cuba’s second city and once the capital of the country offers imposing monuments and historical sites from almost every period of the city’s 500-year history. The city was founded several kilometers from its current location by Diego Velazquez in 1515 and its first mayor was the future conqueror of Mexico, Hernan Cortes. Santiago is also considered the “Cradle of the Revolution”. In July 1953, a group of young men and women led by Fidel Castro attacked the second largest military barracks on the island: the Moncada Barracks. The attack was the first organized action against Batista’s dictatorship. It was in Santiago de Cuba that in the first days of January 1959 Fidel appeared in public to declare the triumph of the Revolution. Its cultural life is rich. Santiago’s contribution to the melting of Spanish, African and Haitian culture has made it Cuba’s most Caribbean city. With its rich culture, the birthplace of son hosts one of the most prestigious festivals in the Caribbean every year: the Festival of the Caribbean also known as Fiesta del Fuego.
Five centuries after its establishment, Baracoa still hasn’t lost the exquisite beauty that impressed Christopher Columbus. The first village to be founded by Diego Velazquez feels and looks like an antique with a mix of hills and valleys that makes it one of the loveliest scenes in the world. It is the oldest colonial city in the Americas that still has the atmosphere of 1510 when Velazquez arrived from Spain with 300 men and founded the village. Baracoa is an Indian name that means “elevated land”. This relaxing town shelters important sights and visitors can make interesting excursions in the surrounding areas.