To the west of Raphael Freyre, (now called Santa Lucia) which is west of Guaradalavaca, is a back road which will eventually lead to Gibara. Off this road you will find "Parque Monumento Nacional Bariay" which is a monument to Christopher Columbus, who made his first Cuban landing there on October 28, 1492. There, you will find, the explanation of two colliding cultures, and an interesting monument built for the celebration of the 500th anniversary.
The area includes beautiful shoreline, a restaurant, a live theatre and horse and buggy tours. Very picturesque, and very understated, this makes a great relaxing day's excursion in Cuba beautiful countryside....and there is lots to learn.
When travelling from Guardalavaca, keep your eye open for the "Saddle Mountain" described by Columbus in his diaries. This mountain is often confused with El Yunque in Baracoa, also argued to be the mountain Columbus described. I believe, lately, it has been agreed upon that the mountain he described was Saddle Mountain.
The road between Guardalavaca and Banes is one of the most picturesque in Cuba, and worth taking a taxi or renting a car for. (See my Banes pages for details of that area)
Following the road, you will see wonderful groves of royal palms, beautiful private gardens along the way and various styles of homes in a number of villages. The road climbs over a mountain range, giving you a very spectacular view of the Banes coastline and sugarcane fields on the otherside. Along the route you will witness Cuban life as it goes on day to days, with oxen teams, fruit seller (including the unusual "Star" fruit", dumptrucks full of people, and horse pulled school buses. It's just a slice of life!
Outside Guaradalavaca, on the road to the Hotels Rio Mares and Rio Lunes, is a little understated sites. Just beside the Hotel Rio Mares is an eco-walk with signage, Las Guanas, which takes you to the peak of the pennisula from where you can overlook the ocean, the bay and the hotel. Explanations of eco systems, flora and fauna are placed along the path. (A little on the expensive side at $6.00 US, keep in mind you dollars go to save the site, otherwise destined to be another hotel)
Going east from the front door of Las Brisas Hotel in Guardalavaca, follow the paved road for 3 or 4 minutes. You will note the road turns south. Just before this turn in the road, you will see a car path to the left, leading to the beach and a few houses.
Follow the beach in front of these houses, and you will finally come to a path leading into the woods along the beach, still heading east.
After about 10 minutes, you might notice a little path into the sea of seagrapes on your left. This is worth following, as it leads to the massive coral coastline, and all the ecological wonders found in such places....not to mention the crashing waves.
Back to the main path, you can follow this for about another twenty minutes. The road will split....to the left takes you back to the beach....to the right takes you to an underground river which is perfect for a dip. Living in this swimming hole, by the way, is a particular species of shrimp found only in this area.
If you are, by chance, a nut for walking, they say this path eventually leads to the Village of Boca De Sama, a charming little spot about 6 km. east along the coast line (15 km by car) (See my off-the-beaten-path tip on Boca de Sama)
If you do not want to stay overnight in this park, prepare yourself for an long all day trip, remembering that getting there is half the fun. Cayo Saetia is a wild game reserve privately set up for hunting imported wild animals. If you are there for a while, or on a safari organized by the hotel there, it is said you will see everything from antelope to zebra. On our own, however, passing through, we only saw antelope.
However, it is worth the drive (and the entrance fee of $10.00) to see the beach and the lovely restaurant on the beach. Plan to spend a couple of hours here.
The hotel is very pleasant, although perhaps a little on the expensive side compared to private Cuban rooms for rent.
CAUTION: If you are driving there, following the Guia Carreteras, note that you must follow the road to Felton. The map shows a second road that does not exist.
If you are adventurous and like to explore the area, an interesting half day trip could take you to Boca de Sama, a village at the mouth of the Sama River. This village is only 6 kilometers aaround the coastline to the east, on a footpath, yet 15 kilometers by road. In a taxi or rented car, take the road from Guardalavaca to Banes, turning left at Canadon, about 11 kilometers into the trip. There will be about 4 km to the village.
On the way, you will pass a marina where you can rent boats, or hire a cruiser for deep sea finshing. Just past the marina, on the left you will see a spectacular rock (coral). This is worth a stop. Just to the right is a footpath that will lead you to the opening of the cave that was once used by the Taino Indians (pre-Columbian). In there, you will find very good samples of stalactites and mineral deposits. There is also a cistern that was built much more recently.'
You will arrive at the village from above, where there is a great picture opportunity. As you descend you will see the school, where, if open, you can enter and read about the "American Invasion" of 1962!
Travel into the village and follow the path to the coast. There you will see a spectacular natural garden of fallen boulders and plants, and crashing waves on the coral shore. There you will also find the footpath back to Guaradalavaca.
If you are interested in the history of Fidel Castro, you might consider a trip to his farm, known as "Finca Las Manacas" at Biran, southeast of Holguin. Here you will see his family home, several red-roofed houses of his family, the gravesites of his parents, the thatched huts of the Haitian labourers and the cockfight rings. You will see the house set aside for Fidel, where he was supposed to settle down with a wife and run the farm. He never did, professing he had bigger things to run.
Follow the road from Holguin to Marcane, turning there on a road to Biran (8km) where you will turn right (north) when you see the massive Che Guevara sign. Travel for 3 kms and the farm entrance will be on your left. There are no signs, so feel free to ask the neighbours. I believe it is open normal office hours, including Sat. but only half the day on Sunday.
If you are at all interested in biking, your hotel can supply your bike, however, they are usually of bad quality. But since biking is such a great way to check out the backroads, consider taking a bike with you - no charge on most airlines. The Guardalavaca area has plenty of little backroads, all of which lead to some surprise - a river, a beach, a dam, or a little village. You will meet lots of people, and see their houses and gardens up close.