When Columbus landed on Cuban shores in 1492 he described the country as ’the most beautiful land that human eyes have ever seen’ and some parts of the island have hardly changed since he established in Cuba in 1512, with its surrounding countryside of towering mountains, huge green rivers winding down to deserted beaches of every shade of sand though palest creamy pink to sparkling black, bordered by lush vegetation and protected from ocean swells and impressive coral reefs.
Cuba’s coastline is around 3535 miles (5700 kilometres) long, with more than 300 natural beaches. In addition, along the high parts of the coastline, there are cliffs, marine terraces and areas of porous limestone rocks and karren; with mangrove, thickets and swamps in the lower-lying regions.
The water at Cuban beaches is a stunning combination of blues and greens, and the beaches themselves, whether pristine or developed, have golden, white or dark sand, which may be either hot or cool. In all cases, these beaches are entrancing and are filled with legends and surprises to be discovered, with the most attractive beaches from west to east being: Maria La Gorda and Cayo Levisa in Pinar del Rio; the Playas del Este in Havana, Varadero in Matanzas; the ones in Cayo Largo; the beaches of the northern cayos de Villa Clara, Santa Maria, Ensenachos and Las Brujas; the Ancon beach in Trinidad; the Rancho Luna in Cienfuegos; Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo in Jardines del Rey; Santa Lucia in Camaguey; Guardalavaca, Esmeralda and Pesquero in Holguín; Marea del Portillo in Granma; and the Baconao beaches in Santiago de Cuba.
The towns and cities of Cuba are surprising for their variety of architectural styles: baroque, neo-classical, eclectic, art noveau, art deco, modernist and post-modernist.
Some of Cuba’s cities are laid out in grid-iron patterns, while others are deliberately labyrinth. In many cases, fortresses welcome visitors coming from the sea. Exploration on foot will yield cobblestone and asphalt streets, columns, balconies, archers, banisters and a wide range of architectural styles. With more than 250 museums and numerous art galleries which display important Cuban and international works and artefacts and with 12 World Heritage Sites:
The Historic centre of Old Havana and its system of Colonial fortifications, Trinidad and the Valle de los Ingenios, San Pedro de la Roca, Desembarco del Granma National Park, Archaeological landscape of the first coffee plantations on the south-east of Cuba, la Tumba Francesa, declared a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity; Alejandro Humbolt National Park; the Historic centre of Cienfugos, and Camaguey
The cities of Pinar de Rio, Havana, Matanzas, Cárdenas, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Sancti Spiritus, Ciego de Avila, Morón, Camaguey, Las Tunas, Puerto Padre, Holguín, Gibara, Bayamo, Manzanillo, Santiago de Cuba, Guantánamo and Baracoa are all very rewarding, bringing out Cuba’s baroque, mestizo, hybrid essence. Some of them contain sites that have been of key importance in its history.
The cultural heritage of Cuba is enormous and varied. Music in all its forms, from chamber pieces to the most contagious danceable rhythms or the idiosyncratic traditional dance, is quintessential to the life and character of the inhabitants of this harmonious archipelago, which also has classical ballet and contemporary dance troupes.
This incredible mixture of music and dance, art and passion, poetry and cultural wealth, forms the heady creative mosaic which is so characteristic of this extraordinary island, without doubt, this is Cuba.