202km (126 miles) SE of Havana; 194km (121 miles) S of Varadero

The Zapata Peninsula juts off the southern coast of Matanzas province, and is surrounded by stunning colorful waters. The peninsula itself is almost entirely uninhabited; most of it is protected as part of the Parque Nacional Ciénaga de Zapata (Zapata Swamp National Park), a haven for bird-watchers and naturalists. The eastern edge of the peninsula is defined by the Bahía de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs), the site of the failed 1961 U.S.- backed invasion of Cuba. The Bay of Pigs, and Playa Girón in particular, is a sort of national shrine to this stunning David-over-Goliath victory. Just off the shore, all along the Bay of Pigs and toward the east, the coast drops off steeply for 305km (1,000 ft.) or more, making this a true haven for scuba divers and snorkelers. The waters near Playa Girón -- shades of sapphire, aquamarine and lapis lazuli -- evoke a picture-perfect postcard of paradise.

Note: Bring plenty of mosquito repellent. Since this is an area of vast swampland, mosquitoes can be fierce, particularly if there's no wind. I also pack lightweight, long-sleeved shirts and pants.