Guantánamo. A Land between Rivers
By Pablo Soroa Fernández Photos by PUBLlCITUR S. A
Cuba's easternmost region is characterized by the enthusiastic amiability of the locals and its outstanding landscape and natural features. Ecotourism, colonial fortresses cum welcoming hotels and the key: Baracoa, the first colonial settlement on the island make Guantanamo Province a most promising tourist destination. Cuba's eastern coast is home to one of the country's most vibrant provinces for its contrasting climate and exuberant nature. Baracoa is usually the first stop for the province's more than 40,000 annual tourists. This first Spanish settlement in Cuba, established in 1512, is also an excellent ecotourism site as well as offering such cultural incentives as Tumba Francesa (traditional music and dance fusing West Africa and France), the Changϋi (Cuban music) and the original Stone Zoo of Yateras.
Especially attractive are the Toa, Jiguaní and Cupeyal del Norte hills, the densest of the Antilles and included in the biodiversity heritage of Alexander von Humboldt National Park, classified by UNESCO as a World Nature Heritage.
Military fortresses erected between 1739 and 1742, like La Punta, Matachín and Seboruco, built for protection from corsairs and pirates are today hotels, restaurants or museums, frequently capturing vacationers. In Baracoa, Seboruco is the Castillo Hotel, among other lodgings and La Rusa, Porto Santo and Villa Maguana hotels.
Ecotourism came naturally to this area, adorned as it is with coconut and palm trees and where conservation dates back to the late 15th Century when Christopher Columbus first arrived. The transparent waters of the rivers and Baracoa's coast are suitable for fishing, swimming and rides, while the great variety of caves offers well-preserved archaeological traces and paintings.
The 2007 International Nature Tourism Event (TURNAT 2007) strengthened Guantanamo as a potential beach and nature destination and other investment plans are projected to welcome visitors from all over the world.
Visitors can follow chocolate production along the Ruta del Cacao (Cocoa trail), a special tour starting at the foot of the Duaba River with varieties of the plant American natives used to call God's food and ending at the Cocoa Products Company inaugurated by Che Guevara in 1963.
Guantanamo's ten municipalities offer myriad attractions besides the town of Baracoa with its legends, flora and fauna. Caiman era has a hidden bay between the slopes of the Sierra Maestra mountain range, EI Salvador has Monte Rouge natural bridge and Humanity's Heritage coffee plantations, while Yateras is at the source of the loa River.
San Antonio del Sur sports limestone limy cliffs, Maisí is famous for its caves, Niceto Pérez has the Monitongos' unusual morphologies, while Imías is blessed with the large rivers of Jojo and lacre. Finally, Manuel lames, the remains of the Caridad de los Indios, was the last redoubt of the descendents of the Cuban indigenous.
Guantanamo was the stage for the uprisings against Spanish colonizers led by native Siboney chieftains Guayo and Guama. And it is in Guantanamo Bay where the slopes of the Sierra Maestra mountain range arise, where, from 1956 to 1959, the rebellion against dictator Fulgencio Batista took place.
Its many picturesque valleys and hills occupy 6,184 square kilometres, 75 covered by mountain ranges. The highest of these is La Cana in Imias, 1,174 meters above sea level, and the Yunque de Baracoa (Baracoa's Anvil) (500m), which is a natural Cuban national monument. The area is crossed by the Via Azul road, a prelude to the La Farola mountain road, one of the marvels of Cuban engineering and worth the drive. More than 517,000 people live in the province with 310,000 of them in the urban area. It is the youngest population in Cuba. Life expectancy is 77.43 years (Women: 78.93 and Men: 76.05).
Although Guantánamo is quite near the area where tropical hurricanes begin in the Caribbean and Atlantic, it is somewhat less influenced by them due to the weakening and deviation effects of the mountain ranges of Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Haiti and those of the Sagua-Baracoa region.
There are too many natural attractions to list them all. If visitors choose Guantánamo as a tourism destination, they will find them for themselves, among which are the sea terraces, natural gems at the foot of the southern coastal strip and the rivers falling in marvellous rapids and waterfalls.