Considered the soul of the country, the eastern part of Cuba is dominated by verdant mountains and full of historic sites. Santiago de Cuba, the island’s first capital in the foothills of the Sierra Maestra mountains, has a rich colonial heritage and a splendid coastal fortification. It is also regarded as the cradle of the Cuban revolution. The city has a noticeable African-Caribbean flavour and is well known for its traditional Cuban music. Other towns of note include Camaguey, whose streets were laid out like a maze to foil pirate attacks, while to the very east is the sleepy colonial town of Baracoa, Cuba’s oldest settlement.
The isolated pine forests of Mayari are situated inland, high in the Sierra del Nipe, where the majestic Salto de Guayabo waterfalls thunder through the mist. In the foothills of the sierra, to the south-west of Mayari, lies the small community of Biran. Fidel Castro was born here in 1926 on the family sugarcane plantation and it is possible to visit the well-kept finca (farm) and the small on-site museum documenting his childhood.
Bustling Holguin, capital of the province of the same name, is known as the ‘city of parks’, while on the north-eastern coast, just 5km from the resort town of Guardalavaca and within the Bahia de Naranjo Natural Park, Esmeralda Beach (Playa Esmeralda) is a peaceful and idyllic setting with clear turquoise seas, powdery white sands and coral reefs.