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Central Cuba Travel Guide

  • Photo: Tupungato / Shutterstock

Plan Your Central Cuba Vacation

Cuba's geographic heart pounds with the timeless rhythms of Afro-Cuban music, of turquoise waves crashing on white-sand beaches, and of life unfolding in splendid colonial cities. Its coral reefs are awash in color, its mangrove swamps attract flamingos by the thousands, and its lush mountain valleys are filled with birdsong of all types.

Inviting beaches border Central Cuba to the north

and south. In between are varied landscapes—from mountains to mangroves—dotted with historic cities. Unlike that of many Caribbean islands, Cuba's early history centered on life in cities, and scattered across this region are three of the nation's seven original "villas"—Trinidad, Sancti Spíritus, and Camagüey—as well as the colonial town of Remedios. In each, time-worn churches and mansions line cobbled streets and tidy parks; in the verdant countryside beyond, old farmhouses overlook sugar plantations, royal palms tower over pastures populated by the people's cattle, and children in red-and-white uniforms play outside one-room schoolhouses.

Central Cuba's history contains many a tale of conquest. Its earliest inhabitants were the Taíno, who island-hopped their way through the Caribbean from South America, arriving on Cuba about 200 years before the Spanish and overrunning the earlier Ciboney, who had settled farther west. The Taíno developed rather sophisticated agricultural techniques, introducing such mainstays as yuca (manioc or cassava), potatoes, corn, tobacco, and cotton. Archaeological evidence suggests that they were also potters, weavers, hunters, and fishermen who plied the waters in powerful canoes. By the time Columbus arrived on the island in 1492, however, the Taíno were being challenged by the Caribs, a warlike people who also originated in South America. The Caribs never actually settled in Cuba, and while they began the conquest of the Taíno, they left its eventual completion—and the island's settlement—to the Spanish.

The conquest of goods led to central Cuba's first period of prosperity. Spanish law mandated that all commerce be conducted with colonial authorities. Such a monopoly drove prices up and left many criollos (Cuban-born Spaniards) at odds with Spain. In the mid-16th century, buccaneers (loyal to European nations other than Spain) and pirates (loyal to no one but themselves) attacked ships and sold their plunder on black markets. For many central Cuban residents, smuggling became a highly lucrative profession.

Even after the liberalization of trade, many central Cuban families retained a philosophical distance from Spain. During the wars for independence that wracked the country in the second half of the 19th century, Camagüey was a hotbed of rebellion; the Spanish army even built a coast-to-coast barrier, La Trocha (consisting of fences, embankments, and watchtowers), through the middle of Ciego de Ávila to keep eastern rebels out of the west. Much later, central Cuba's topography made it key in the Revolution. The Sierra de Escambray (Escambray Mountain range) was the haunt of Castro's guerrillas, and rebel leader Che Guevara dealt a decisive blow to Fulgencio Batista's troops in Santa Clara, where Che's remains rest today.

Central Cuba's northern and southern coasts have many beautiful stretches of sand. The beach count leaps dramatically when you include the hundreds of cayos (keys) that flank the shores. More and more visitors are discovering the northern cayos, collectively called the Jardines del Rey (Gardens of the King). In the south, the less accessible archipelago known as the Jardines de la Reina (Gardens of the Queen) is visited only by diving excursions.

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Top Reasons To Go

  1. Beaches Each central province has a bit of shoreline, and some of the beaches here are lovely turquoise shallows and powdered ivory sands shaded by coconut palms. Central Cuba's best beaches are on its northern keys—Villa Clara's tranquil Cayo Las Brujas, and Ciego de Ávila's more developed Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo.
  2. Colonial Architecture Several cities have histories that date from the arrival of the Spanish. Trinidad, the best-preserved of these communities, has block upon block of cobbled streets lined with 18th- and 19th-century structures.
  3. Scuba Diving and Snorkeling Diving possibilities range from coral formations just offshore to the isolated, hard-to-access, coral-ringed islands of the Jardines de la Reina, protected within a vast marine park off Cuba's southern shore of Cayos Coco and Guillermo, in the heart of the northern Jardines del Rey, offer access to miles of coral reef teeming with marine life.
  4. The Cuban People The increasing popularity of the casa particular (individual homestay) and the paladar (private eatery) provides new opportunities to get to know individual Cubans, witness their everyday lives, and forge friendships.
  5. Great Resorts The youngest and best maintained resorts of Cuba are now found on the Cayos of the Jardines del Rey peninsula. From these real island paradises you can head out to some of the traditional colonial cities.

When To Go

When to Go

Hurricane season runs from May to November, the drier season less susceptible to big storms from December to April. The fact that most visitors...

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