Holguin

Destination Location

Holguin

Overview

In Holguin, you don't need to go far for a taste of authentic Cuban life. Catamarans are waiting in the port to whisk you away to the very best snorkelling spots and Jeeps are always ready to lead you into the jungles of Cuba's most adrenaline-filled destination.

Holguin is a place where different months of the year can deliver completely different getaway experiences. Come in January for daytime highs in the mid-20s C or wait until April when it's truly tropical and a day below 30 C is rare.

The water in Holguin really is blue, the sand white and the rum is as delicious as people say. It's hard to understand why Christopher Columbus, who first set foot in Holguin province in October 1492, ever left this place.

When you arrive  at the Frank Pais Airport, you'll be transported to one of three regions that make up the resort area: Guardalavaca, Esmeralda and Playa Pesquero. On your way there, you'll pass by banana plantations and travel over rolling hills once home to sugar cane fields. Sharing the road with other travellers and locals, don't be surprised if you pass by mopeds, modern tour buses and horse-drawn carriages called coches de caballo.

The resort area of Holguin offers a tropical kiss from the Caribbean and keeps couples and families equally happy with a perfect mix of relaxation and adventure. Be sure to head to Guardalavaca Beach, where you can kick back in the shade of a mango tree and take a short stroll to a sand-floored bar for a bottle of local Cristal, Bucanero or beer.

Holguin is a fantastic destination for:

  • beaches
  • snorkelling and diving
  • romance

Airport served by: Holguin, Cuba (HOG)

Destination basics

Cubans say they have only two seasons in Holguin – summer and winter. Most visitors come in winter, which runs from November until March. In December, January and February, daytime highs hover around 25 C. If you’re a heat-seeker, wait until April to make your visit to Holguin. In the summer, daytime highs regularly push toward 34 C and don’t drop much below 25 C at night. Occasionally, night temperatures do dip down to 10 C, but that’s rare. Usually they stay in the high teens.

Mix these temperatures with an average humidity around 80 per cent and a steady breeze from the northeast trade winds, and Holguin feels tropical. Pack some good walking shoes for exploring, a sweater for winter evenings and breezy tops for the summer season.

Average monthly temperature and average monthly rainfall diagrams for Holguin

From the moment you land in Holguin, there's music in the air. Without even realizing it, you may soon be mumbling Spanish words to songs you don't know and swaying to the beat. It could be mambo, the cha-cha-cha, rumba, conga or anything else that falls into the salsa category. Go ahead and step, step, sway your way to dinner.

Cuban music has Spanish and West African roots. The African influence shows up in the percussion, instrumentation and rhythm, while the Spanish influence can be heard in the guitars. Travelling musicians often serenade you at dinner and you may even find a four-piece band on board an old train as it rattles through a small town. If you happen to stop for an afternoon cocktail, chances are you'll see someone with a guitar.

An afternoon at La Rueda at Guardalavaca Beach can quickly turn into a sing-a-long involving the entire bar if a karaoke machine and musicians from a nearby resort find their way into this open-air spot next to the markets.

All this Cuban music will stay with you long after you return home, especially the popular song Guantanamera. It was written in 1929 by José Fernández Diaz and tells the story of a young man's affection for a young lady. Everyone from José Feliciano to Jimmy Buffett has covered the tune.

Spanish and African influences can also be found in other aspects of Cuba's rich culture. Don't pass up a chance for an authentic – and seriously delicious – coffee break, whether at a Holguin coffeehouse or the little cafe at your resort. Almost all restaurants here also serve up a simple but delectable plate of roast pork with a side of rice and red beans. And don't forget to try the popular salty, fried plantains.

Once in Cuba, you can easily exchange your Canadian dollars for Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) at the airport or at your hotel. Smaller bills are preferred and exchange rates fluctuate daily. Please note that debit (Interac) machines are not available in Cuba and ATM machines only accept credit card.

Most tourist spots, hotels and restaurants will accept Visa, MasterCard and travellers cheques from Canadian financial institutions. Please do be aware that travellers cheques are subject to a surcharge so it is usually wise to convert them to pesos at your hotel.

US dollars, American Express and any other credit cards issued by American banks will not be accepted in Cuba. Upon departure from Holguin, CUCs can be exchanged back to Canadian dollars at the airport. There is a surcharge of approximately 10 per cent, but you will only be able to change pesos back to Canadian dollars while in Cuba. Once outside of Cuba, the CUC has no value. That said, you can always save your leftover pesos for your next visit!

While most of its historic sites are clustered in the city center like a bullseye, Holguín is lovely throughout. You’ll find no shortage of local sanctuaries in this charming city, nicknamed the “City of Parks,” which guarantees green spaces in almost every neighborhood.

Central Holguín
The best-known square in Holguín, Plaza Calixto García, sits in almost the exact middle of the city. A lovely place for a picnic or afternoon stroll, it draws crowds of both tourists and locals, cultivating a lively atmosphere that flows throughout central Holguín. Significant landmarks and notable restaurants, bars, and clubs surround Plaza Calixto García, not to mention friendly vendors peddling local fare and wares.

Plaza de la Revolucion
Much like the city center, Plaza de la Revolución is brimming with parks, notably its namesake Plaza de la Revolución de Holguín. The neighborhood is relatively quiet though it offers a handful of cafes, restaurants, and shops. You’ll even find a disco.

Nuevo Holguín
Just east of Plaza de la Revolución is Nuevo Holguín, which plays host to the Estadio Calixto García. It’s a quiet neighborhood except on game days when fans of the Holguín baseball team turn up to show their support. You’ll also find a few shops, cafes, and local churches in the area.

Zayas
This neighborhood is a hotspot for accommodation, likely due to its proximity to central Holguín. A quaint area of the city filled with shops and eateries, the Zayas neighborhood also houses two lovely parks: Parque Infantil and Los Caballitos.

Lenin
There is a steady stream of eateries between central Holguín and the Lenin neighborhood, which lies west of Plaza Calixto García. Like most areas outside the city center, this one is largely residential, thoug you’ll find a few shops. Also found here is the Iglesia de Dios, a local church that hosts a lively congregation.

From improvised bursts of live music and dance to diverse marine life teeming beneath shimmering waters, Holguín is a flurry of charm. Local attractions await and natural splendors abound, promising plenty of entertainment during your stay.

Outdoor Activities
Bahia de Naranjo Nature Park stretches about 405 hectares (1,000 acres) along the northern coast of southeastern Cuba. Habitats in this seaside getaway, which sits outside the city but within the Holguín province, move between dense mangrove forests and pristine beaches. Hikers will enjoy exploring the rich terrain on the Las Guanas trail while luxury vacationers may prefer to soak up the scenery from the bow of a gently cruising yacht.

Beyond even its scenic appeal, the biggest draw to the Bahia de Naranjo Nature Park is the renowned dolphinarium at Cayo Naranjo. Fulfill your childhood dreams with an onsite dolphin swim or one that begins with a catamaran ride and ends with unforgettable snorkeling. Wander around the aquarium then check out a sea lion show. Make a day of it with a delicious seafood dinner at the site’s restaurant, which also offers a full bar for the adults in the group.

Museums
The Museo de Historia Provincial lies on the northern end of Parque Calixto García. Known as La Periquera to locals, the museum is housed in a Neoclassical building, offering an architectural value that influenced its appointment as a National Monument. Exhibits in the Museo de Historia Provincial range in focus from African dance to historic relics, including those once belonging to Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. Cultural events are also regularly held in the courtyard, so keep an eye out for what’s on when you visit.

The beautiful green and yellow exterior of the Museo de Historia Natural is reason enough to visit this Holguín landmark. Inside, you’ll find impressive collections dedicated to birds, mollusks, butterflies and moths, insects, rocks, minerals, and fossils. A treat for both budding biologists and taxidermy fans, the Museo de Historia Natural offers the chance to learn about Cuba’s complex natural makeup and its fascinating history.

Birthplace of war hero Major General Calixto García Iñiguez, the Museo Casa Natal Calixto García is a popular attraction in Holguín. You’ll find old maps, uniforms, and household items in this one-time residence turned history museum, which aims to preserve and spread the legacy of Major General Calixto García Iñiguez and his place in 19th-century Cuban history.

Among the many great reasons to visit Cuba is the unique cuisine, which blends Spanish, African, Caribbean, and Taino flavors. Celebrate traditional dishes at a laid-back cafe or opt for fusion fare at an upscale restaurant.

Central Holguín
By far your best bet for a memorable meal in Holguín is in the city center, where restaurants and bars are plentiful. Places like 1910 Restaurante & Bar, La Torre, and Restaurante El Aldabon offer three courses of Caribbean delicacies alongside a handful of international options. There are several outdoor bars around central Holguín, like the beloved La Begonia, meaning refreshment and relaxation are around almost every downtown corner.

Outside Central Holguín
While you’ll probably eat out mostly in the downtown area, there are a few noteworthy restaurants outside central Holguín. Los Toneles is a classic Caribbean restaurant in the Nuevo Llano neighborhood, boasting friendly service and homestyle cooking. Slightly closer to the city center in the Hechavarria neighborhood are several popular eateries, two of which are Delicias Cubanas and Ranchon Los Almedros, which serve Latin-inspired treats at reasonable prices.

If you find yourself north of Plaza Calixto García, check out the seafood at villa-turned-restaurant The Passsion in the Zayas neighborhood. The Passsion not only has a delicious menu but also a full bar and nightlife ambiance, making it a great place for a celebration.

Holguín

Province: Holguín

Country: Cuba

Holguín by the Numbers
Population: 346,191
Elevation: 5 meters / 16 feet
Average Annual Precipitation: 9 centimeters / 4 inches
Average January Temperature: 22°C / 72°F
Average July Temperature: 27°C / 81°F

Quick Facts
Electricity: 110 volts, 60 cycles, AC

Time Zone: UTC-5; Eastern Standard Time (EST)

Country Dialing: 53

Area Code: 24

Did You Know?
Important agriculture in Holguín includes sugarcane, tobacco, coffee, corn, and beans.

Orientation
Holguín lies in the southeastern part of the Holguín province. It is about 142 kilometers (88 miles) from Santiago de Cuba and 752 kilometers (422 miles) from Havana.

The island of Cuba, the Caribbean's largest island, lies 140 km off the southern tip of Florida. It's a long and narrow strip, not more than 200 km wide from north to south. To the east is the island of Hispaniola containing Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Jamaica is directly south and Mexico's Mayan Riviera is farther west.

The province of Holguin, one of 15 on the island, was one of the first places in the New World that Christopher Columbus visited in 1492. If you visit Holguin's resorts nestled in its three distinct beach areas of Guardalavaca, Playa Esmeralda and Playa Pesquero, you will see an authentic Cuban landscape. Haystack-shaped hills, forests full of wildlife and caves dot the coastline of this eastern province. In the water, coral reefs lie below the surface while azure blue waves lap at white beaches.

Heading south toward Holguin (population 300,000), you'll catch a glimpse of the countryside with cattle, goats and horses grazing on rolling pastures and papaya and banana plantations. The view from Loma de la Cruz (The Hill of the Cross) is high above the city and well worth the 465 steps it takes to get to the top. If you don’t want to walk, drive up the winding road around back.

Rumor has it that when Christopher Columbus landed in what is today the Holguín province in 1492, he declared it the most beautiful place anyone had ever seen. In the following years, more Spanish ships were sent to colonize Cuba, leading to a number of settlements cropping up over the next century. Holguín was established in 1523, decades after Columbus’ historic discovery, and founded in 1545, taking the name San Isidoro de Holguín after Spanish conquistador García Holguín.

For centuries, Holguín belonged to a province known as Santiago de Cuba, which was renamed Oriente in the early 20th century. After the province split in 1976, Oriente divided into five provinces, one of which is the modern-day Holguín province. Today, the capital of this province proudly shares its name, attracting tourists from around the world who want to gaze upon the landscape that so captivated Columbus.

If you're staying in the Guardalavaca region of Holguin, getting around is easy. Although a small village, Guardalavaca has a number of shops, restaurants and bars, conveniently all within walking distance of the hotels in town.

If you're staying outside Guardalavaca, for instance in Playa Esmeralda or Playa Pesquero, you will need to take a taxi or rent a vehicle to get into town. Cabs to Guardalavaca are reasonably priced and car & scooter rentals are available right from most hotel lobbies.

Airport Information

Holguín's Aeropuerto Internacional Frank País is located just south of the city, with hotels and resorts only a short distance away – about a $10 taxi fare.

Passport and Tourist Card

All guests travelling to Cuba must have passports valid at least one month beyond their expected date of departure. Cuban immigration officials will not stamp your passport. They'll instead stamp your tourist card. These cards are given out while onboard your flight to Cuba with WestJet. The cost of the card is collected in advance for you by WestJet Vacations.

Throughout your stay, keep the portion of the card given to you at customs. Upon departure from Cuba, you will need to return the card to the check-in agent. Should you misplace your card, a new one can be purchased for CUC$16.

Insurance

As of May 1, 2010, all guests must have proof of health insurance to enter Cuba. When entering, guests may be required to present this proof of insurance.

Although your Canadian provincial health insurance card is accepted as sufficient documentation, your provincial health plan may only cover part of the costs—and as with health services to foreigners in many other parts of the world, you’ll need to pay upfront.

To ensure you're covered in case of sickness or emergency, it's recommended that you purchase supplemental health insurance. While you can purchase insurance from your insurer of choice, it's worth noting that policies issued by American insurance companies will not be recognized in Cuba.

Vaccinations

Be sure your routine vaccinations are up-to-date. Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Malaria, typhoid and Tetanus are commonly recommended. Visit your local health clinic for additional information. It is also recommended to use mosquito repellant to protect yourself from mosquito-transmitted diseases.

Electricity in Cuba is 220 volts, however most hotels are equipped with both 110 volt and 220 volt outlets. If you are bringing an electrical appliance, it is recommended that you verify prior to departure if a converter and/or adaptor is required.

Holguin offers the ultimate in relaxation, despite being a bustling city that offers many cultural sights and sounds. Within an hour of landing on the tarmac, you can be at the beach, enjoying a mojito in a seaside lounger at your resort. At the three resort enclaves of Playa Pesquero, Playa Esmeralda and Guardalavaca, you'll find low-sloping, white sand beaches that roll into either clear, sandy-bottomed lagoons or craggy reefs, all with incredibly blue water.

Swimmers love Playa Pesquero for a quick cool-off, while Guardalavaca offers the more adventurous types a chance to snorkel. Either way, the sun is always shining and the northeast trade winds bring a breeze perfect for beach days.

A quick ride off the resort delivers you to the destination of your choosing in Holguin. You can see where Christopher Columbus first landed; visit Gibrara, a small seaside town that hosts an international film festival; or, check out Holguin city where flower vendors and ice cream shops line the central squares.

Travellers are still few and far between in this part of the country, so you can easily get a glimpse of how Cubans really live by visiting Holguin's smaller towns. See locals shopping, hanging out on their front porches with friends or waiting roadside for transportation (which could be a state-run bus, delivery truck or horse-drawn carriage).

Hop in a turquoise 1955 Ford Fairlane and get ready for the unmistakable melody of the popular Cuban song, Guantanamera. Make sure to keep your eye out for the mangos, papayas and bananas in the plantations alongside the roads.

Holguín's Aeropuerto Internacional Frank País is located just south of the city, with hotels and resorts only a short distance away – about a $10 taxi fare.

Once in Cuba, you can easily exchange your Canadian dollars for Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) at the airport or at your hotel.

If you're staying in the Guardalavaca region of Holguin, getting around is easy.

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