Why should Havana get all of the limelight? If you’re planning a trip to Cuba, consider visiting Holguin at the east of the island. Boasting pristine, powdery white beaches, lush greenery and various attractions, Holguin will appeal to every type of tourist. If you can tear yourself away from the Atlantic view and sun loungers at the region’s numerous holiday resorts, get out into the city and its surrounds to learn about the Cuba of days gone by. You’ll soon realise things have changed a lot since Columbus first stepped ashore…
Here are 5 things to do and see when you visit Holguin.
1. Explore Holguin in a classic American car
Vintage cars are emblems of Cuba’s tumultuous past relationship with the US and there are around 60,000 of them left in the country. This is the most authentic Cuban experience out there, because these formerly grand vehicles are the same cars that were driven by the country’s elite before the Revolution. Often Chevrolets or Cadillacs; they’re known as ‘maquinas’ locally, and it’s best to get a driver who speaks good English. That way, you can get an inside perspective of Holguin. See a typical classic car tour of Holguin!
2. Eat in a paladar
Independently owned restaurants were only legalised in Cuba in 2011, and they have altered the country’s dining culture vastly. Try the vividly hued Maragato for lunch, where the waiters will serve you thirst-quenching kiwi flavoured cocktails on arrival. For your evening meal, call Hector Fajardo Hernandez and get a table at El Criollo. It’s a humble restaurant set up in his backyard, serving delicious lobster and meats. Eating in a ‘paladar’ will be a welcome alternative to the buffet at your all-inclusive hotel or a state-run restaurant. The locals may even be in the mood for a sing-song!
Feeling fit? Take in the best view of Holguin from the top of the Hill of the Cross, or ‘Loma de la Cruz’. Be warned – it’s a steep climb but if you can’t handle the 458 steps, you can always drive up. There’s a café-bar at the top, which will be a welcome sight after the cardio session. Rising 261 meters above sea level, the hill is located north of Holguin and is crowned by a wooden cross, said to protect the city’s inhabitants. This is one of the most popular activities for tourists in Holguin.
Okay, so the stunning beach is a huge draw for tourists and locals alike in Guardalavaca, but the daily craft market stalls are also the perfect place to pick up gifts. The hawkers sell everything from sundresses to clocks shaped like those iconic rum bottles, and a lot of other unique trinkets. It’s probably best not to go at midday, when the heat is sweltering – but an ice cold can of Cristal should keep you cool if you do.
The town’s name translates to ‘hide the cow’; a throwback to the days of invasion when foreigners would come ashore and slaughter the locals’ animals. ‘Guarda la vaca!’ the people would call to each other as they fled.
A visit to El Chorro de Maita will leave you well-informed about Cuba, and you will learn about Holguin’s history in particular. Here, you can see an indigenous cemetery that speaks volumes about Cuba’s ethnic and cultural variations. The cemetery is a square room built upon the recently discovered burial ground of the indigenous Tainos people, who were farmers and potters. The bones and burial methods show that the cemetery dates back to the 13th Century, when humans first inhabited Cuba.
Opposite the cemetery lies the cultural museum, where scenes of rituals and daily life that shaped the region’s past have been recreated in lifelike displays. It takes around an hour to take everything in and the museum provides a fascinating insight into the lives of native Cuban Indians before the colonisation of the country. Watch out for the figures coming to life!
Dannielle Noonan is the British blogger behind While I’m Young and Skinny, a travel and lifestyle blog for twenty-somethings juggling heads full of career goals with hearts full of wanderlust. Lover of cocktail fuelled (mis)adventures and the occasional sober activity, Dannielle has Scottish roots and has lived in New York City. Her blog will help you believe that you really can have it all!