Keys & islets: Cuba’s hidden treasures
Nature has endowed the Caribbean with extraordinary charms, nothing short of divine: warm, clear, safe waters perfect for underwater adventures; placid, verdant islets, havens of stillness; coastlines that nourish body and senses, beyond imagination.
These seas and islands seduced the pirates and corsairs of old. Writers have immortalized them and the characters who have inhabited them. And these seas and islands form part of the incredible natural heritage of Cuba, the largest island in the Antilles.
Discovered by Europeans almost five centuries ago, the strings of keys and islets from Los Colorados to Jardines del Rey, Jardines de la Reina and Los Canarreos are breathtaking oases of peace to this day.
Cayo Levisa - northern coast of Pinar del Río province (western Cuba)
Fine white sand and singularly blue-green waters distinguish the beaches that meander along the shores of this key, complemented by a rich undersea world abundant in coral and tropical fish and dotted with shipwrecks from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Cayo Las Brujas - northern coast of Caibarién, Villa Clara province (central Cuba)
Soft breezes usher the waves towards the shore on the extensive virgin beaches of this attractive islet. Nature abounds both onshore and beneath its coastal waters, home to many endemic species. This is a place for contemplation and pure enjoyment.
Cayo Ensenachos - northern coast of Caibarién, Villa Clara.
In Cayo Ensenachos, humans and nature had made a pact long before the Spanish arrived in the fifteenth century. The horseshoe shaped bay was home to an indigenous settlement, and it is still home today to numerous endemic plant and animal species. Its most exotic beaches are Ensenachos and El Mégano, perfect for long days of sun, sea and serenity infused with tranquil walks and soothing swims.
Cayo Santa María - northern coast of Caibarién, Villa Clara.
Cayo Santa Maria is the largest among a group of islets stretching along the northern coast of Caibarién. Its beaches, long and serene, hold extraordinary beauty and are also a gateway to a spectacular underwater world that makes Cayo Santa María one of the Caribbean’s most popular scuba diving destinations. Its treasures include a coral reef that protects its beaches and is home to a rich array of marine life that visitors can explore in a habitat still relatively untouched by humanity.
Cayo Guillermo - northern coast of Ciego de Ávila province (central Cuba)
With its privileged location and all the natural charms of its shores, Cayo Guillermo is a point of reference in the Jardínes del Rey archipelago. Its beaches are the perfect space for lying in the sun and enjoying the tranquillity, watching cruise ships pass in the distance along the Old Bahamas Channel to the sound of waves breaking softly on the sand. One of its jewels is Playa Pilar whose spectacular sand dunes are the highest in Cuba.
Cayo Coco - northern coast of Ciego de Ávila
Cayo Coco is the largest island in this stretch of keys, and the fourth largest in the Cuban archipelago. Ernest Hemingway sailed close to its shores during the Second World War and its vistas inspired his novel Islands in the Stream.
Among its most seductive spots, Playa Flamenco boasts a strip of the finest sand that drifts down into warm and friendly waters while Playa Prohibida stands out for its towering sand dunes, almost fourteen metres above sea level at their highest points.
Cayo Paredón Grande - northern coast of Ciego de Ávila
Protected by the craggy rock formations on its northern shore that give it its name, Cayo Paredón Grande (which means tall rock face) fuses tropical landscapes with fresh Caribbean sea breezes. Its beaches, like its landscapes, hold an unusual beauty, rich in biodiversity.
Cayo Sabinal - northern coast of Camagüey province (central eastern Cuba)
Stories of this cayo go back to the age of pirates and corsairs who circled the Caribbean in search of glory or refuge. Bursting with colourful and exotic natural life, Cayo Sabinal used to lure rough men of the sea and its beauty continues to enthral visitors today, with its intimate palm-lined beaches set to a soundtrack of birdsong and peace. Alongside abundant wildlife this area also offers centuries-old buildings to explore including the San Hilario fort dating from 1831 and the Colón lighthouse that dates back to 1848 and still helps ships navigate today.
Cayo Saetía - northern coast of Holguín province (eastern Cuba)
The perfect place to combine beach time with nature tourism, Cayo Saetía is a true natural gem with astonishing wildlife. Its forty-two square kilometers are mainly forested with some grassland areas where all manner of exotic animals roam free, introduced species living alongside native ones, from water buffalo to zebras, white-tailed deer, antelope, wild bulls, large flightless rhea birds and native Caribbean hutia rodents.
Jardines de la Reina Archipelago, off southern coast of Ciego de Ávila and Camagüey provinces (central eastern Cuba)
This is the least explored of all of Cuba’s archipelagoes and it is one of the best preserved in the Caribbean. Kaleidoscopic seascapes and magnificent biodiversity set apart this proposed UNESCO World Marine Heritage site.
Over six hundred islets make up these “queen’s gardens” and they boast an exuberant vegetation whose verdancy tussles with the heart-stopping azures of the sea along its beaches. They provide a habitat to numerous species of sea birds, rodents and iguanas and a vital breeding ground for Cuba’s four turtle species.
Cayo Largo, Isla de la Juventud, off the southern coast of Cuba
Located off the southern coast of Cuba and to the east of Isla de la Juventud, Cayo Largo is one of the largest and most important in the archipelago known as Los Canarreos. The seabed here is made up of coral reef and home to a spectacular array of species. National Geographic rates it one of the best preserved on earth making it a scuba enthusiast’s dream Beaches so long they look infinite are perfect for ambling walks as well as swimming and water sports. The unusual sand on the southern shoreline, of a type that is found in only three other parts of the world, is fine and white and stays cool all the time.
Cayo Largo is also an important turtle nesting site and rumour has it that the waters surrounding it conceal more than two hundred shipwrecks from the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, perhaps even buried treasure.
As authentic as the island they surround, Cuba’s cayos are otherwordly and filled with un expected surprises - natural realms that inspire and breathe life.