We drove on to Playa Giron, famous for being the Bay of Pigs landing, we found huge crashing waves against the breakwater and beautiful coral along the beach. It is also a noted location for a huge land crab migration, occurring every spring millions of crabs migrate across the streets and through the yards from the forests to mate in the ocean creating quite the spectacle as everything seems to turn red.
Cienfuegos surrounds a beautiful bay and is centered around a wide walking street. The city has a sleepy charm we spent our afternoon enjoying the many flavors of delicious ice cream and marveling at some of the colorful palaces near Punta Gorda at the southern tip. We found a lovely casa particular with a fantastic view over the bay for the night. Casa particulars are government approved, privately owned accommodation and they are one of the only options Cubans have to earn their own private income. Homeowners pay the government a monthly fee in order to legally be able to host guests in their homes. If an unregistered casa rents to a tourist, penalties can be steep and likely will include jail time. Just before we went to bed at our casa, all of the electricity went out and after an hour of men scurrying around trying to resolve the issue with no success, we were moved to another place next door. Casa owners always have a friend next door who also owns a casa and can help out whether it is an electricity issue or a lack of vacancy.
The next day we drove to Trinidad, a colorful Spanish colonial city from the 1850's. We meandered around the maze of cobblestone streets and took in the slow pace of life here. It is a UNESCO heritage site and the buildings show a bit of restoration as they were some of the most vivd buildings we saw in the whole country. Playa Ancon is a beautiful beach just 8 kilometers away where we managed to find our own private beach with loads of coral and blow holes forcing the ocean spray up at us. We stayed the night in Remedios, a town so quiet and sleepy we could barely find a place for dinner.
The next day we drove 48 kilometers on a manmade causeway out to the beautiful beaches on Cayo Santa Maria for another day of sun and sand. Almost all of Cayo Santa Maria is bought out by all inclusive resorts with private gates. We did manage to find Playa Perla Blanca where a modern but sleepy shopping center has beach access for 5$ including a cocktail, beach lounger and shade. The beach was phenomenally clean and beautiful and we enjoyed our afternoon swimming and reading.
We drove slowly back over the causeway in the afternoon thinking about how little earth was separating us from a whole lot of ocean, we made it all the way back to Matanzas where we found an awesome casa to spend the night. We stopped at Coral Beach the next day but it wasn't as nice as Varadero and since we were close we packed up and headed that way. Of all of the beaches we encountered Varadero was not only our first but our favorite beach of the whole trip; for its beautiful beaches, abundant and decent food, accessibility and overall vibe.
The area is famous for land crabs, similar to this statue which march en masse to the sea to lay eggs every spring
chorizo and ham pizza, a staple
Cueva de la Peces
Our Cienfuegos Casa Particular
Cienfuegos walking street
Dominoes, a favorite pastime for Cubans young and old
Batido or milkshake bar
Ice cream another favorite cuban snack, cones are only 3CUP (.12 cents USD)
Colorful Trinidad, a UNESCO protected city
Clearly food safety is a top priority
The mango trees were absolutely loaded with mangoes the size of your head
A typical coffee/food stand in Remedios
Agro-ecology in a communist state