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Cuba - Off the beaten track

Ballet Folklorico Cutumba, Santiago de Cuba


Bayamo is the capital of Granma Province, the country's southernmost point, and the region sees few tourists. This area was important in the Cuban struggle for freedom: Castro and 81 rebels landed at Cabo Cruz aboard the Granma (hence the province's name) on 2 December 1956, and the first War of Independence was launched here in October 1868 when Creole planter Carlos Manuel de Céspedes freed his slaves, formed a militia and overran the eastern end of the island. The area has a wealth of historic places of interest, including the site where José Martí was shot, and one of Cuba's greatest national parks, Gran Parque Nacional Sierra Maestra, to the south of Bayamo township. Bayamo has a pleasant and relaxed atmosphere and makes few concessions to tourism. The town is centred around Parque Céspedes, which is a delightful, shady park containing long marble benches and statues of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes and Perucho Figueredo (who composed the Cuban national anthem in 1868 to coincide with Céspedes' revolution). On the north side of the park is the Ayuntamiento, and it was in front of this in 1868 that Céspedes proclaimed independence for Cuba.

Isla de la Juventud

Although 350 islands make up the Archipiélago de los Canarreos, Isla de la Juventud is by far the biggest of them and this region is administered from the island's capital, Nueva Gerona. Much of the island is flat and the Ciénaga de Lanier is Cuba's second-largest swamp. Isla de la Juventud is the least populated region of Cuba, with most people living in the north of the island. Once known as Parrot Island, it was a hideout for pirates like Francis Drake, John Hawkins, Thomas Baskerville and Henry Morgan, and it inspired Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. The local economy turns on cattle ranching and grapefruit plantations, and the unhurried way of life and unspoilt surrounds are the major attraction. Just getting to Isla de la Juventud, by boat or by plane, is a bit of an adventure. There are Indian cave paintings at Punta del Este and great scuba diving along the Pirate Coast drop-off at Punta Frances. The coral keys to the east of Isla de la Juventud have turtles, iguanas and pelicans that seem indifferent to human company.

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