Getting Oriented

The spirit of Eastern Cuba, the birthplace of rum and revolution, is intoxicating. The region includes the provinces of Granma, Holguín, Santiago, and Guantánamo. Together with Las Tunas, they once composed the single province of Oriente, the moniker still used for the whole area today.

The provincial capital of Holguín is a good regional hub—one that's quite close to the beautiful beaches of Guardalavaca. South of it lies Bayamo, the capital of Granma Province and the gateway to the Sierra Maestra. Directly west is the colorful port town of Manzanillo, with a wide malecón (bay-side boulevard) and a beautiful historic center. About 40 minutes east of here is Marea del Portillo, after which the road hugs the southern coast while snaking along in the shadow of the Sierra Maestra to Santiago de Cuba.

Santiago is the gateway to Guantánamo Province. Although famous for its U.S. military base, the province's most outstanding attraction is the colonial town of Baracoa, near Cuba's easternmost point. The town is a 260-km (161-mile) drive from Santiago along the awesome La Farola highway, which brought Baracoa in contact with the rest of Cuba when it was constructed during the 1970s. Pine-covered highlands, jungle-covered foothills, miles of beaches, and surging rivers fill the area around Baracoa. El Yunque looms over the city. The mountain was a sacred place for the indigenous Taíno, and their imprint is still strongly felt in Baracoa. Locals still boast of their Taíno blood, evident in their features.

Holguín and Granma Provinces. An area historically known for its acres of sugar and banana plantations, the area lining Guardalavaca is now an enclave of beaches and resorts. Granma is the province most associated with Fidel Castro’s Revolution in the last century, but also of Cuba’s original struggle for independence.

Santiago de Cuba and Guantánamo Provinces. Sparsely populated, the province of Santiago de Cuba is home to the Sierra Maestra and Cuba’s first capital, the simply amazing city of the same name, Santiago de Cuba. Guantánamo province is best known for the U.S. naval base. (Banish any thoughts of visiting the military installations; they're impossible to access from Cuban soil.) The nearby city of Baracoa is the province's real gem, as attractive as it is isolated.

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