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A Stopover in Morón

Located 37km (23 miles) north of Ciego de Avila, Morón (Moh-rohn) is the small gateway city to the cays, and home to most of the 3,500 Cubans who work at the resort hotels. With just a few dusty streets traveled by bicycles, horse-drawn carriages, and antique American autos, charmingly low-key Morón is most notable for its splendid, but dilapidated collection of colonial buildings that line the main street, Calle Martí. Most visitors arrive by bus or taxi from Ciego de Avila or Camagüey or on an organized tour from one of the hotels on the Cayos. Though Morón possesses a Municipal Museum, Calle Martí 374 (tel. 33/50-4501; admission CUC$1) with pre-Columbian artifacts and idols, and an evocative 1920s railway station, most travelers are content to stroll up and down Martí, absorbing the relaxed local flavor. The town mascot is the cock of Morón, a bronze statue placed at the foot of a clock tower near the Hotel Morón (the cock crows twice daily).

Some visitors decamp to Morón as a less-expensive alternative to the all-inclusive luxury hotels on the cays. The large, unattractive, and uninviting Hotel Islazul Morón, Avenida de Tarafa (tel. 33/50-2230; www.islazul.cu) has a pool; double rooms cost CUC$36 to CUC$42. The best lodging options are the casa particulares. Casa Xiomara, Calle 8 no. 2-C, between Calle Sordo y Calle C (tel. 33/50-4236; marlene@moron.cav.sld.cu), is a modern, modest family home that offers one excellent air-conditioned guest room in an independent casita. Dine on Xiomara's wonderful food -- try the flan de leche -- while relaxing under hibiscus flowers and mango trees. Easily the best dining spot in Morón is Restaurante Paraíso Palmeras, Calle Martí 382 (tel. 33/50-2030 ext.117), whose house speciality is paella Valenciana. Restaurante-Bar La Fuente, Calle Martí 189 between Libertad and Ignacio Agramonte (tel. 33/50-5758), is a charming, upscale restaurant with original art on the walls and an open central patio and fountain that serves salads, omelets, and main courses like grilled fish and lobster for CUC$13 to CUC$20. At night, visit Patio el Gallo, Calle Libertad between Narciso López and Martí, for traditional Cuban music, comedians, and artistic shows.

Farther South: Jardines de la Reina

South of Ciego de Avila is the protected pristine chain of islands known as the Archipíelago de los Jardines de la Reina. Here, there are hundreds of uninhabited virgin cays, but the real attraction lies under the water with some of the best diving and fishing in the Caribbean. There are some 80 dive sites that offer the possibility of seeing whale sharks, hammerhead sharks, bull sharks, and hawksbill turtles, among others. (Whale shark high season runs Aug-Jan, with the peak months being Oct-Dec.) Anglers can hope to catch an abundance of bonefish, tarpon, permit fish, horse eye jacks, mutton snapper, and silky sharks. There is only one authorized diving and fishing operation based out of Júcaro, south of Ciego de Avila: Avalon (www.cubandivingcenters.com or www.cubanfishingcenters.com), which runs 6-day diving and fishing packages on four live-aboard boats or the floating hotel, La Tortuga. Prices start at CUC$1,478 in low season (including accommodations, meals, transfers, dives, and park fee).

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.