This rugged mountainous region was pronounced “the most beautiful land eyes have ever seen” by Christopher Columbus when he first sighted it in 1492. But Holguin's beauty extends beyond the hills and exquisite beaches. Under water are amazing dive sites, and below ground are the world's second-largest deposits of nickel and cobalt.
When Columbus discovered the northern shores of Holguin, most of it was part of the Great Maniabón Indian territory. He also identified the area's mineral beds, which are now the world's second-larges deposits of nickel and cobalt. Today, the mountains and tropical forests remain virtually untouched, offering unparalleled ecotourism opportunities. And the beaches, lagoons and bays are irresistible to visitors.
||Places to visit
This spot where Columbus first sighted the New World is commemorated by a park with columns and statues symbolizing the meeting of European and aboriginal civilizations. His diary described the flat-topped mountain there.
The only known gold figurine created by Cuban aboriginals is on display at this town's Archaeological Museum. The aboriginal burial grounds at Chorro de Maíta are preserved in a museum north of Holguín. The remains of a European were also found here. Nearby is a reproduction village predating Columbus' arrival.
With Holguin province's international hotel infrastructure and excellent diving sites, it is a major tourist attraction. Playa Esmeralda and Guardalavaca are sweeping crescents near spectacular dive sites.
This bay, surrounded by beaches, mountains and dive sites, also houses a natural aquarium, where seals and dolphins put on a lively show. Visitors can also swim with the dolphins.
City of Holguín
The provincial capital is a growing agricultural industrial centre, with parks, monuments and historical buildings set in squares. A highlight is La Periquera (“parrot cage”), an historical museum where Spanish colonial troops hid behind the building's barred windows during a native attack in 1868.
This offers a panoramic view of the countryside from a hilltop near the city of Holguín.
Excursions to this tiny island are by sea or helicopter. It is home to imported animals such as zebras, buffalo, ñandúes, antelopes and others.
Pinares de Mayarí (Mayarí Pinegroves)
A research centre in the Sierra Cristal mountains, was established in 1988 to study the region's mountain ecology. Visitors wanting to get close to nature can stay at the hotel there, and explore the Mensura National Park, with its high waterfall and extensive pine forests.
The population of his bustling provincial capital is about 300,000. Its thriving arts community stems from a long tradition of lyrical theatre, symphony orchestra, modern ballet and visual arts. Points of interest: Calixto Garcia Park, History Museum, Revolution Square, Hill of the Cross, Mayabe lookout, San Isidoro Cathedral, Carlos de la Torre Natural History Museum.
This 1.5-kilometre ribbon of white sand is sandwiched between a coral reef and lush green vegetation. A perennial favourite, this spot has three major resorts (Las Brisas Club Resort, Atlantico hotel and bungalows and Club Guardalavaca); three outside restaurants (El Ancla, El Cayuelo and Pizza Nova) and countless activities to keep visitors occupied and entertained. They'll find shops, discos, karaoke, a diving school, sailing facilities, horseback riding, vehicle rentals (bicycles, motorcycles, cars) and taxi service.
EMERALD BEACH (PLAYA ESMERALDA)
Five kilometres east of Guardalavaca, Playa Esmeralda is just around the corner from Bahia de Naranjo nature park and aquarium. On this crescent-shaped beach surrounded by lagoons and lush greenery, Sol Melia hotel group operates three luxury resorts: the four-star Sol Rio de Luna and Sol Rio de Mares and five-star Melia Rio de Oro.
PINARES DE MAYARI
This plateau rests 600 metres above sea level with a spectacular view of the Nipe – Cristal mountain region, 110 kilometres east from Holguin city. A deep pine forest covers most of this territory, also Cuba's largest nickel reserve, with rivers, waterfalls and rapids. La Mesura National Park includes 300 different bird species and a wildlife program. The 26-room Pinares de Mayari villa was modeled after Alpine mountain huts, and offers many nature activities.
This 42-square-kilometre island about 100 kilometres from Holguin city is a world apart. Connected to the mainland by a bridge, it is noted for its forests and broad prairies that link the wooded areas and underline the scenery. The northwestern coast features cliffs more than 10 metres high, and at their feet are idyllic beaches. One of the islet's main attractions is its abundant native and imported animals such as antelopes, zebras, boars, ñandus and others that roam freely and yield unforgettable photo opportunities. Safaris and trips in jeeps or on horseback are available.
This has been converted into a nature park, where visitors can explore fascinating flora and fauna. The best known feature of the park is the natural aquarium, where sea lions and dolphins put on a show, and where guests can swim with the dolphins. The bay has two restaurants: a seafood restaurant at the aquarium and a country-style restaurant, Conuco de Mongo Viña, where you can sample the best home cooking after a visit to the cactus garden, mini-zoo or jaunt on one of its nature trails.
This seaside town is a slice of the Spanish Mediterranean. Once the main port on the northeastern coast of Cuba, it is still is an important fishing centre. Its colonial houses with their red-tiled roofs, arches and stained-glass windows are cooled by sea breezes. Still standing are the ruins of the Fort Bateria de Fernando VII, whose cannons guarded one of the main ports in eastern Cuba for the slave and sugar trade. Other highlights of the town are the Museums of Colonial Art and Natural Sciences. A jaunt to Bariay takes you to the spot where Christopher Columbus first landed in Cuba in 1492.
HOLGUIN & A CIGAR FACTORY
This tour of the city includes a visit to a cigar factory and a pottery shop, a stop at the Hill of the Cross and lunch at the Mayabe Lookout.
Get close to the earth and the people with this excursion. Visit an aboriginal burial ground, a family doctor's office/home, a farmer's house and an elementary school. Lunch at the Conuco de Mongo Viña.
DAY TRIP TO HAVANA
A short charter flight into Havana gets you there and back quickly, allowing plenty of time for sightseeing, shopping and lunch at a popular Old Havana restaurant. You'll tour the colonial section, visit museums and check out modern Havana.
SANTIAGO DE CUBA OVERNIGHTER
Day one: Includes a visit to Baconao Park (includes the Pre-Historic Valley and a car museum), lunch at La Punta restaurant and a stop at the El Morro fortress. Accommodation at the Hotel Santiago, and a show at the Tropicana Santiago night club.
Day two: Activities are a city tour, lunch at the El Zunzun restaurant and a visit to the Basilica El Cobre.
SANTIAGO DE CUBA BY HELICOPTER
A short helicopter ride from Holguin gets you into the centre of Santiago de Cuba, where you will tour the city and lunch at the El Zunzun restaurant. The tour includes stops at the El Morro fortress, 26th of July Museum and Baconao Park.
DAY TRIP TO JAMAICA
Check out life on another Caribbean island. A charter flight from Holguin into Montego Bay gives you time to tour the city, visit Ocho Rios, have lunch and shop till you drop.
This boat excursion gets you to the best snorkeling, fishing and swimming spots in the area off Holguin. Lunch on board is included