Five centuries have passed, but the place has lost none of the exquisite beauty that so impressed Columbus.
The town itself looks and feels antique, with its little fortresses and streets lined with venerable wooden edifices, rickety and humbled with age, with red-tiled eaves supported on ancient timber frames.
Baracoa is surrounded by fruitful countryside; the uplands are smothered in humid tropical forests festooned with epiphytes. Much of the mountainous region is protected as a last refugee of the ivory-billed woodpecker (now though to be extinct) and the amique, an insectivorous mammal. This area is as far off the beaten track as you can get in Cuba. Perfect for the nature enthusiast and if your looking for a nature vacation this is the place to be.
The fecund mountains are cut into deep valleys by rivers spilling onto the narrow costal plain. Several of the rivers have precipitous lower courses that one day will surely be touted as classic white-water runs.
Diego Velázquez founded the city of Santiago de Cuba in 1514 and named it for the King of Spain’s patron saint, St. Jago.
Home of rum and revolution, Santiago de Cuba has a unique, enigmatic appeal and is one of the most interesting regions in the country. The second-largest city in Cuba is distinctive in mood and teems with sites of historical, cultural and natural interest.
Its east-facing position and proximity to Jamaica and Haiti forested close links between the city and the two Caribbean islands. It is sometimes referred to as “Cuba’s most Caribbean city”. The majority of the 30,000 or so French planters and merchants who fled Haiti following the revolution in 1791 chose to settle in and around Santiago, stitching their habits and customs onto the cultural quilt of the city. Many French planters also established on the surrounding mountains. The rich racial mixture has produced some of the most exciting music, art and architecture in the Caribbean. The potpourri of influences can be felt to this day.
The people carry themselves in Santiago with a certain lassitude and speak in a lilting tongue with a musical tone.
Though the traditional architecture is mostly Spanish, the faces are mostly black - often with jade green eyes betraying hints of European blood.
Beyond the limits of the city the visitors will find beaches trapped between the mountains and the ocean, and such attractions as Parque Baconao – featuring a cactus garden, an aquarium, a crocodile farm, the prehistoric world of “Valle de la Prehistoria”, among other places of interest, as well as the National Park “Gran Piedra,” which boasts a megalith of tens of thousands of tons perched atop a peak, 1200 meters above the sea level, and surrounded by a splendid garden. Santiago de Cuba is another city in Cuba that is a perfect vacation destination.
Another well-known haunt is the holy shrine of El Cobre, sanctuary to the Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, patron saint of Cuba.
Santiago De Cuba, Cuba
Villa Clara is one of the 14 provinces of Cuba. It's located in the central region of the island bordering north with the Atlantic, west with Matanzas Province, east with Sancti Spiritus, and south with Cienfuegos City. Villa Clara shares the Escambray Mountain Range with Cienfuegos and Sancti Spiritus to its south.
It is a territory of extensive plains, mountains, rivers and artificial lakes that boasts a wealth of history, culture and natural values.
The northern coast of Villa Clara is dotted with numerous cays (part of the Sabana-Camaguey Archipelago), and there are many coral reefs, sandy beaches, and newly constructed resorts in the Ensenachos, Santa Maria and Las Brujas
cays. The cays of Villa Clara are treated in this site as separate destinations.
Among the province’s attractions the following outstand:
Santa Clara: It is a quiet city, built following the Spanish standards (a perfect squared layout with a central plaza), surrounded by extensive plains, mountains, rivers and artificial lakes, which boasts a wealth of history and culture.
Santa Clara is home to a mausoleum which houses the remains of Che Guevara and sixteen of his fellow combatants killed in 1967 during the Bolivia campaign. There is also a monument to the derailing of the armored train during the Battle of Santa Clara.
The position of the city, almost in the very center of the country, makes it a perfect halt and a great communication link, east-west and north-south.
Santiago de Cali, Colombia (1994).
Oviedo, Spain (1995).
Bloomington, Indiana, USA (1999).
Cheboksary, Russia (2004).
Remedios: One of the most beautiful colonial towns in Cuba, full of Spanish charm, 45 km north-east of Santa Clara. There is less than an hour from there to beach resorts in the Ensenachos, Santa Maria and Las Brujas cays.
Sister city: Ann Arbor,USA.
Caibarién: Known as La Villa Blanca, it is a picturesque fishers’ town situated on the north coast of Villa Clara, about 7 km from Remedios, bordering the Bay of Buena Vista. It lies at the eastern extremity of the province, close to the border with Sancti Spíritus.
Hanabanilla Lake: This huge manmade lake (32 sq. km) fills what was once a deep valley on the northern slopes of the Escambray. With its 35 meters average depth the lake offers scenic landscapes framed by pine-studded mountains, perfect for boat trips and fishing in its waters stocked with trout and bass.
Villa Clara, Cuba
Santa Lucia Beach is relatively isolated on Cuba’s Atlantic north coast, on the northern coast of Camagüey Province, near Nuevitas bay , in the east-central part of Cuba, around 550 km from Havana.
Santa Lucia beach is a popular budget holiday destination for scuba diving lovers and for those looking for a peaceful place to rest. This natural heaven offers all the charms of nature, with its quietness only broken by the flamingos and seagulls. Perfectly transparent waters bathe a 21 km long strip of soft white sand, inviting visitors to swim, indulge in nautical sports, take a pleasant walk or go for a dive.
Offshore, there is the largest coral reef in the country and presumably the second largest in the world. As close as 200 meters from the shore, it is possible to dive into a fascinating world of 50 species of corals, 200 species of sponges, near 500 species of tropical fish and the remains of at least 27 sunken ships. Some are from the period when America's gold was taken to Spain and some others ended in the bottom of the sea during World War II.
Santa Lucía beach combines excellent beaches, diving sites and water sports with neighbor attractions, such as the city of Camagüey, full of history, culture and a peculiar splendor; Cayo Sabinal, which is another jewel, once the refuge of pirates; the lush Cubitas Mountains; home to some wonderful wildlife, stunning scenery and an amazing 300+ species of plants, among other nearby appealing sites.
Western Cuba, a favorite destination for visitors interested in nature tourism, has the Viñales Valley, whose origin dates back to more than 300 million years ago, as an attraction par excellence to enjoy that tourist modality.
According to experts, the Viñales Valley is an exceptional scenery, in which its unique nature and the preservation of the environment blend with the agricultural work of men and women, especially in tobacco fields.
Covering an area of 132 square kilometers, the Viñales Valley is also the most outstanding exponent of a chalky valley in the Antilles, and is surrounded by "mogotes", which are hills with round tops and vertical slopes.
According to experts, the valley's flora is closely linked to its ancient past, since it holds 17 endemic varieties that cannot be found anywhere on Earth, including the cork palm (Microcycas calocoma), which is considered a living fossil from the Jurassic period.
The region's fauna is highly endemic, including birds like the bee hummingbirds (Calypte helenae), Cuban trogons or "tocororos" (Priotelus temnurus), cartacubas (Todus multicolor), nightingales (Myadestes elisabeth) and Cuban grassquits (Tiaris canora).
The town of Viñales, in the heart of the valley, is a typical agricultural settlement whose main street is flanked by galleries of columns and red-tiled houses.
The socio-historical development of the region contains elements and sites that characterize the Cuban people with antecedents from aborigines, African slaves and peasants. The unique features of the area's natural landscape surround all this.
In one of the "mogotes", known as "Dos Hermanas" (Two Sisters), visitors can enjoy one of the world's biggest outdoors natural paintings, the so-called Mural of Prehistory.
The Mural of Prehistory, which is 120 meters high and 180 meters wide, was painted on the slope of the aforementioned hill. It is a singular representation of the biological evolution of Sierra de los Organos, also in western Pinar del Río province.
Experts recall that in order to paint the mural, the vegetal layer on the slope of Dos Hermanas had to be removed, while a score of local residents participated in the dangerous artistic work under the guidance of Cuban Professor Leovigildo González (deceased).
The passage of time has failed to erase this breathtaking work of art, which attracts thousands of visitors every year, who come to enjoy the images of the plesiosaurus and the megalonus rodens, painted with singular ability on the hill's slope.
In addition, the Viñales Valley has numerous caverns, among which Cueva del Indio (crossed by the San Vicente River), Cueva de San Miguel and Cueva de Santo Tomás stand out. The latter has been classified among the largest caverns in Latin America, with more than 45 kilometers of galleries.
The Viñales Valley, which was declared World Heritage by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), is also Cuba's true Natural Monument and receives thousands of vacationers who want to be in direct contact with nature while they tour the Cuban archipelago.
A large number of hotels in Pinar del Río province are in the Viñales Valley, where Los Jazmínes Hotel offers a wide range of options, including trails for ecotourism.
Those trails are "The Road to the Mogotes", which begins at the hotel and leads to the depths of the valley, ending at the Mural of Prehistory; "Unsuspected Nature", in which travelers can enjoy the many species of birds inhabiting the region, and "The Secrets of the Underground World", in which Cueva de Santo Tomás stands out for its great archeological values.
The hotel's amenities include air-conditioned rooms, sports facilities and outdoors activities.
Another hotel is La Ermita, which offers the ecological tour "Wonders of Viñales", which consists of a walk to Sierra del Infierno to watch the local flora and fauna, especially birds, and take a close look of the cork palm.
The hotel infrastructure of the Viñales Valley is complemented by the Rancho San Vicente Hotel, which is located near a spring of mineral-medicinal waters that became famous in the 19th century.
Pinar Del Rio, Cuba
Cuba's central province of Villa Clara is also taking part in the dynamic development of the island's tourism industry, backed up by its exuberant nature and unique history. The strategy to boost tourism goes beyond the so-called big island, focusing on the territories that make up the Northern Keys, which boast several kilometers of excellent beaches and a pristine environment. A 48-km-long causeway on the sea connects the largest island of the Cuban archipelago with Santa María, Las Brujas, Ensenachos, Cobos, Majá, Fragoso, Francés, Las Picúas and Español de Adentro, among other keys. The key holds remnants of pre-Columbian cultures in caverns near the beaches, which boast beautiful underwater seascapes that provide a one-of-a-kind option for ecotourism. Legends are also present in the region, like in the case of Las Brujas (The Witches), whose name is linked to stories about ghosts, noises and apparitions that circulated among local dwellers, although other stories refer to love encounters between a local fisherman and a young lady.
On Cayo Las Brujas is the villa of the same name, which is located in Punta Periquillo, very close to a wide strip of sand that runs for about two kilometers. The villa was built on pillars on a reef. Very close to the villa is an airport, which can receive small- and medium-size planes, thus facilitating vacationers' access to the key.
Cayo Santa Maria, Villa Clara, Cuba
For over two centuries, in recognition of its rich cultural life, Matanzas has been known as "Cuba's Athens." For obvious reasons, it is also called "the city of bridges."
The city was founded on the shores of a beautiful bay in 1693. At that time, it was called San Carlos y San Severino de Matanzas. Its splendid buildings are eclectic in style.
The area surrounding the city has some singularly beautiful features. The Pan de Matanzas (Matanzas Bread Loaf) Hill and the Yumurí Valley are particularly entrancing. Places to visit in the city include the Sauto Theater, the Triolet Drug Store and the San Carlos Church.
Immortalized by painters, poets and musicians, Matanzas is just a few minutes' drive from Varadero Beach and near the Zapata Peninsula. The city of Matanzas, capital of the province of the same name, is in northwestern Cuba, 100 km. (62 miles) east of Havana and around 18 minutes from Varadero Beach. An excellent highway links Matanzas with the nation's capital.
Parque Nacional Ciénaga de Zapata covers 628,171 hectares. is the main wetland in Cuba, as well as the largest (and well-preserved) of the Caribbean Islands. The Zapata Peninsula biosphere is a huge natural reserve for all manner of wildlife including local and migratory birds, lizards, crocodiles and rock crabs. Zapata Biosphere Reserve shows a great diversity of ecosystems such as grasslands; mangrove, Ciénaga, semi-deciduous, evergreen coastal and sub-coastal forests; coastal and sub-coastal matorral and coral reefs with principal coral species and coastal lagoons. The area also supports the main populations of the Cuban crocodile (Cocodrilus rhombifer) and American crocodile (C. acutus) and birds as the great flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber). Some 9,000 (2001) people, mostly of Spanish origin, live permanently in one of the largest biosphere reserves in Cuba. Economic activities are mainly silviculture, fisheries, community agriculture, tourism, handicraft and apiculture. At La Boca you can see crocodiles and take a boat to the picturesque Guama, a group of tiny islands connected by wooden bridges. The area is also home to one of the largest underground cave and lake systems in Latin America. Continuing 13km south from La Boca de Guama you reach the famous Bay of Pigs at Playa Larga. US-backed exiles tried to invade Cuba through this bay on April 17, 1961. The main museum dedicated to these events is at Playa Giron, which is 35km father south. The little village of Playa Larga makes a good base for visiting the adjacent nature reserves in Gran Parque Natural Montemar. Fishermen can partake in bonefishing at Las Salinas, and for tarpon and snook there is Rio Hatiguanico.Playa Giron, on the eastern side of the famous Bay of Pigs (Bahia de Cochinos), 48km south of Boca de Guama, is named for a French pirate who frequented the area centuries ago. The CIA-sponsored landing here on April 17, 1961, was defeated within 72 hours, as a museum and many monuments proclaim. In all, 200 invaders were killed, 1197 captured, and 11 hostile planes shot down. You really get the feel of reliving history by coming here, and the clear Caribbean waters washing these shores make Playa Giron a favorite destination for scuba divers and snorkelers. A lasting legacy of 1961 is that the entire Bay of Pigs area is strictly out of bounds to cruising yachts.
Line the northern coast of the island just east of the city. Bacuranao, Mégano, Santa María, Boca Ciega and Guanabo are among the most popular of the east beaches. Havana’s shoreline is more than 60 miles of white sand beach with warm turquoise water. There are numerous scuba diving centers and options for accommodations. Varadero and other resort areas attract more attention for their pristine beaches partly because they cater to tourists and have much nicer hotels and facilities, but there are some lovely spots along Havana’s coast just 20-30 minutes from the city.
Soroa, also known as Cuba's Rainbow, is 70 kilometers west of the Cuban capital. It is a site of breathtaking natural beauty, with a 22-meter waterfall that invites visitors to take a refreshing swim any time of the year. The region's unspoilt lush environment is perfect cycling and mountain climbing, with excursions on the banks of the Manatiales River and unique baths at the so-called "Poza del Amor" (Pond of Love). One big attraction of Soroa is the nearby botanical gardens which contain an excellent orchidarium, home to more than 700 different types of orchild. The surrounding countryside is lush, hilly and very pleasant to wander around. For those into birdwatching, there are several viewing stations dotted around, for photographers, the area can affords a good opportunity for fauna and flora shots.
Pinar Del Rio, Cuba