Gorgeous white sand beaches and blissful turquoise seas are the biggest attractions in laid-back Guardalavaca, which sits on one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline to be found anywhere in the Caribbean. This popular resort on the northern coast of Cuba entices holiday-makers with its fabulous beaches, wide choice of water sports, and vibrant restaurants and cafés. It’s close to the Bahia Naranjo nature reserve, a beautiful, protected bay fringed with forests, which is perfect for walking and picnicking. The snorkelling and diving are excellent – among the best you’ll find on the island. You could visit the delightful city of Holguín, an hour’s drive away, for a taste of Cuba at its most authentic.
The main attractions of Guardalavaca are undoubtedly the magnificent beaches, which are dreamy Caribbean sweeps of white sand, backed by luxuriant greenery. You can simply bask in the year-round sunshine, or try out some of the water sports, perhaps go horse-riding along the beaches, or even take a boat trip out around the bay. The Bahia Naranjo nature reserve is well worth a visit, not just for its pristine forests and beautiful bay, but also for the chance to swim with dolphins and sea lions in the dolphinarium. The tranquil city of Holguín, about an hour’s drive away, is a great place to soak up traditional Cuban life. As well as wandering through the charming streets, and watching the vintage American cars chug by, you could also visit a cigar factory or try the locally brewed beer.
Classic Cuban cuisine usually features pork or chicken, accompanied by rice, beans and vegetables. The most famous Cuban dish ropa vieja, which is tastier than its name (which means ‘old clothes’) would imply! It’s a slow-cooked beef stew with tomatoes, peppers, onions and garlic. Other local favurities include ajiaco, a succulent stew meat, corn and green vegetables. Then there’s the famous arroz con frijoles – rice with black beans – or the sturdy black bean soup called moros y cristianos. The seafood is wonderfully fresh, and you might find lobster, shellfish and fish straight from the ocean on local menus. A much-loved classic is lechón, roasted suckling pig, which is often served at big family gatherings. And you shouldn’t want to miss out on the famous Cuban rum!
It’s unlikely that the allure of sun, sea and sand will ever fade for most kids, who will be more than happy messing about on the gorgeous, Caribbean beaches of white sand. As many of the hotels and resorts in Guardalavaca are all-inclusive, most offer a programme of entertainment specifically designed for kids. You could take the kids on one of the boat trips that depart from the Puerto de Vita marina, or head to the amazing Bahia Naranjo nature reserve. This has some gorgeous (and easy) walks, plus the chance to visit (and perhaps even swim with!) the dolphins and sea lions in the dolphinarium.
Action & Adventure
Guardalavaca is one of the best places in Cuba for snorkelling and diving. There is a coral reef located only a couple of hundred metres offshore, and a wealth of wrecks and caves to explore underwater. You can also explore the famous La Corona (‘the crown’) coral reef, which is huge and shaped like – yes, you guessed it – a crown. Horse-riding is very popular in the area, and you can take treks with the vaqueros (cowboys) into the surrounding hills or along the beaches. There are also some wonderful walks through the forests and around the bay in the Bahia Naranjo nature reserve.
Columbus described this stretch of coastline as one of the most beautiful he’d ever seen – and it’s easy to understand why! Breathtaking beaches of sugar-white sand sweep for miles, shaded by palm trees and dipping into translucent waters. The main beach in Guardalavaca has plenty of amenities, including sunbeds and parasols for rent, lots of places to eat and drink, and a good choice of water sports. The diving and snorkelling is excellent here, and there are local suppliers who can rent out equipment and organise excursions. There are more fine beaches nearby in Playa Esmeralda and Playa Pesquero, which are located between 10 and 15 kilometres to the west.
Most of the nightlife in Guardalavaca is concentrated in the hotels and resorts, many of which are all-inclusive. They put on a huge variety of entertainment, from DJ sessions and club nights to salsa shows and live music. Outside of the hotels and resorts, there isn’t a lot going on, but you will find a handful of clubs and bars if you want to explore the town. You could also kick back at one of the relaxed beach bars that sit right on the waterfront. There’s more nightlife in Holguín, the provincial capital, which is located about an hour’s drive away.
The spectacular Caribbean beaches in Guardalavaca provide the perfect setting for romance. What could be more romantic than strolling on the white-sugar sands, and perhaps finding a secluded corner under the palm trees for a siesta? You could snorkel around the coral reef, marvelling at the colourful underwater world, or book a diving excursion to one of the amazing wrecks and dive sites in the area. Or perhaps take a sunset horse trek along the beach. In the evening, kick back with a mojito and soak up the salsa rhythms, or chill out by the waterfront with a drink in hand.
The main cultural attractions in the area around Guardalavaca are concentrated in Holguin, the provincial capital. The fourth-largest city in Cuba, it’s a pretty, colourful town full of faded colonial buildings and elegant plazas. Vintage American cars chug through the streets and salsa rhythms float out of the bars. It’s known as the ‘City of Parks’ and has several beautiful gardens where you can relax and seek some shade. You can enjoy a visit to a local cigar factory (take your passport if you want to purchase some cigars) and tuck into a traditional Cuban lunch at one of the many old-fashioned cafés.