advertisement

56km (35 miles) N of Holguín; 190km (118 miles) NW of Santiago de Cuba; 258km (160 miles) NE of Camagüey

Guardalavaca's white sands, hidden coves, stunning aquamarine seas, and underwater life make it a top beach destination. And though the beaches are lined with all-inclusive resort hotels that gaze out over some of the finest beaches in Cuba, Guardalavaca remains charmingly low-key. Its location, close to historic towns and cities, also makes it a good base for inland exploration. As a result, Guardalavaca is one of the hottest destinations on the island.

Guardalavaca is both a bucket-term for a series of neighboring beaches north of Holguín and the namesake for one small town and specific beach. Guardalavaca is the finest, and really the only resort cluster in the eastern half of the island. Guardalavaca's appeal is its stunning, three-stripe canvas of intensely green tropical vegetation, stone-white sand, and pristine turquoise seas well protected by coral reefs.

Christopher Columbus first sailed around the coast at Guardalavaca, landing just to the west at the Bay of Bariay in late 1492. He declared it "the most beautiful land that human eyes have ever seen." Columbus may have been given to hyperbole, repeatedly touting the unrivaled virtues of the places where he dropped anchor, but his assessment of Guardalavaca remains pretty accurate. The area was originally home to several indigenous groups, and today it is recognized as Cuba's archaeological capital, primarily for the discovery of the 15th-century Arawakan Indian village and burial site near Guardalavaca, one of the most important pre-Columbian sites in the Caribbean. The bohíos (thatched-roof huts) that dot the thickly wooded hills still evoke a sense of Caribbean discovery more than 500 years later.

The town of Guardalavaca remains a dusty country backdrop to the resort hotels that now dwarf it. The foundations of Guardalavaca's resort development were laid in the late 1970s: Fidel Castro himself inaugurated the first hotel here, swimming laps in its large square pool. "Guardalavaca" now denotes not only the eponymous town and beach, but is also used to refer to the entire resort, strung along several nearby beaches and continuing to expand. Playa Esmeralda and Playa Pesquero (also known as Costa Verde) are the two newest and most exclusive beaches to be developed.

The backdrop to the beaches is a bucolic region thick with sugar-cane fields, grazing cattle, and luxuriant, rolling hills sprinkled with royal palms. The zone is being touted as an ecotourist paradise; in addition to scuba diving at a dozen dive sites, hiking, biking, and horseback-riding trips are primed to take off in the near future. A dozen nature preserves, including one declared a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, dot the region. Side trips from Guardalavaca are easy to arrange.

When Not to Come to Guardalavaca -- The month of May in Guardalavaca is heavy with tropical rains, as is the early part of June. August is sweltering and too humid for all but the most committed sun worshipers.