Maria la Gorda

Three hours west of Pinar del Río, over a bumpy road, you reach this world-renowned pristine beach and dive site, on the Bahía de Corrientes. It's named for a voluptuous young woman who was allegedly captured by pirates, then repatriated. Sadder, perhaps, but more business-savvy, she proceeded to set up a brothel. What makes the trip today worthwhile are the idyllic, virgin beaches and jewel-clear water, ideal for diving and snorkeling. Along the road, there's also the chance to encounter boar, deer, crocodiles, wildcats—though you're more likely to see Cuba's ubiquitous land-crab population headed for the seashore to lay eggs.

The flat, scrub-forested Península de Guanahacabibes was the final refuge for Cuba's Ciboney aboriginals fleeing first the Taíno and then the Spanish conquerors of the late 15th and 16th centuries. Today, the most sought-after inhabitants on the 90-km-long (56-mile-long), 30-km-wide (19-mile-wide) peninsula are the 190 resident and migratory species of birds, including 11 endemic species. Listed as an IBA (Important Bird and Biodiversity Area) by BirdLife International, the peninsula is a bird-watcher's mecca, especially in spring and fall, when multitudes of birds following the Mississippi Flyway pass over.

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