Named after the French pirate Gilberto Girón who descended on the area around the year 1604, Playa Girón is a beach in Matanzas Province about 114 kilometres from Havana. While the name Playa Girón may mean little to many nonCubans, it’s location on the eastern side of the Bay of Pigs might ring a bell.
To give a quick recap of the history of the place: In 1960, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower started a program to overthrow the Cuban Government formed by the recently triumphant Revolution. Run by the CIA, this program trained, armed, and recruited Cuban exiles to participate in an invasion of Cuba.
When John F. Kennedy became president, he had to decide whether or not to go through with the attack and he decided in favour. The intent was to establish a beachhead, then a government to gain U.S. recognition.
The attack phase was begun on April 17, 1961, that followed two days of aerial bombings of key airports in an attempt to disable the Cuban air force. Even so, the night landing was immediately discovered and reported, and within three days the invasion was defeated with 1,189 invaders taken prisoner, four American pilots killed in battle, and 176 Cubans killed in action.
A museum, built to preserve the memory of the days fi ghting the 1961 mercenary invasion is replete with maps, photographs, displays, and corresponding captions (in Spanish). Indoors and outdoors, mortars and antiaircraft guns used by both Cuban and exile forces are in display. The museum also features an exhibit contrasting the area’s impoverishment before the Revolution to the conditions today.
Although this is a most interesting museum and well worth a visit, there is much more than just history in the bay and its surroundings. On the way to the famed Varadero Beach resort from Havana, in the southern part Matanzas Province, it is a three hour drive from the capital. To reach the bay one must cross the Zapata Swamp, part of the Zapata Peninsula.
Cuban naturalists declare that Zapata Swamp, extending over some 300,000 hectares, is one of the most important ecosystems in Cuba and the largest wetland in the Caribbean island.
It is the island’s best preserved natural region with a privileged landscape possessing unique fl ora and fauna, allowing close contact with nature. About 56% of the wetland is forest, with an estimated 900 diff erent plant species, most of them native, growing in the area.
There are also recorded approximately 12 mammal species, 160 birds, 31 reptiles (including Cuban and American crocodiles) and a variety of amphibians and invertebrates. All these treasures grant the Zapata Swamp the right to be declared a Biosphere Reserve.
Playa Giron and Playa Larga, on both ends of the coastline bathed by the waters of the Bay of Pigs, are in full harmony with the natural environment and provide great sites for scuba diving. Accommodation, both hotels and private homes, is available for all travelers to catch the early rays of the sun over the clear waters of the beach.
Girón as a beach
Traces of Mesolithic and Neolithic cultures have been found in Girón, and it was later also a haven for pirates and privateers. The region remained isolated from the late 19th Century until 1959 when the newly formed Revolutionary government decided to make of it an attractive tourist resort, later to be rebuilt due to the destruction caused by the invasion.
There are some 12 diving sites around Playa Giron, with fantastic visibility at most of them reaching 20-40 metres. Shore dives are popular to access the drop-off s where you will fi nd an amazing number of swim-throughs. An abundance of corals, sponges and gorgonians provide refuge for many reef fi sh. Barracuda and groupers can also be spotted. Punta Perdiz 2 is a popular dive site which has many small caves while El Jaruco is a site for deep diving and experienced divers. Here lies a wreck, from which the site gets its name.
Nearby a small rural area with a population around 2,200, Playa Larga is one of the most appealing places for nature tourism and water sports. Diving and snorkelling spots like the La cueva de los peces (cave of fi sh) or Caleta Buena, off er visitors plenty of opportunities to appreciate nature’s beauty and bounty.