Cuba’s Top 5 Keys
Cuba’s Top 5 Keys
Cuban beaches are internationally famous. Nice temperature throughout the year, huge stretches of fine and white sand and low swell are characteristics of most of the beaches in a country that knows only one season: summer. Varadero, the main tourism circuit on the island, stands out due to its kilometers of gorgeous beaches and a growing hotel infrastructure —featuring “All Inclusive” plan. However, the travelers interested in escaping from the city noise and enjoying off-the-beaten-track beaches and exuberant landscapes have keys as their number-one choice.
Cuba is an archipelago and the main island is surrounded by tens of inhabited keys, endowed with spectacular natural conditions. The foreign tourism companies that began to invest in the country after the opening process, in the early 1990s, might have taken some time to discover the potential of the keys; but these spots have been revaluated and such leading groups as Meliá, Barceló and Iberostar have invested hundreds of million dollars to build hotels in these areas.
Visiting the keys is not easy at all for the Cuban people. The hotel fares in those places are far beyond the reach of most of the citizens and, moreover, these places are not geographically close. Furthermore, strong security measures are applied to control de access to these sites. So, unlike the situation in Varadero, is not common to see Cuban visitors on the keys.
Which are the best keys of Cuba? PanamericanWorld’s tour kicks off at the northern region of the country, in Jardines del Rey, the name given by the Spanish colonizers to the keys located near the Atlantic coast, thus paying tribute to king Fernando the Catholic.
Caibarien is located north of Villa Clara, a province nestled in the central region of the country, and it’s a small municipality, but it has been included on the international tourism map because that’s the starting point of one of the main architectural works of Cuba: the 48 km-long causeway that connects the island with the three main keys: Las Brujas, Ensenacho and Santa Maria. They are the so-called “Rosa Blanca de los Jardines del Rey (White Rose of the King’s Gardens)”.
It took years to finish this work and it’s internationally renowned because it was designed and carried out in an eco-friendly way, so both the marine and land ecosystem of the region wasn’t harmed. In other words, you are driven by car or bus on tons of rocks placed in the sea, which are divided by 46 bridges, thus facilitating the flow of water.
We arrive in Ensenachos Key, famous for two of its beaches, El Megano and Ensenachos. Peace is nearly absolute here and it’s combined with the green-blue water of the sea. This is one of the most sought-after destinations. Moreover, the visitors can appreciate the wildlife of the region, with such endemic species as the rat hutia.
We follow the same causeway and visit Santa Maria, the largest key in the region, with nearly 18 square kilometers of surface. Its coast features several beaches, like Perla Blanca, Las Caletas, Cañon and Cuatro Puntas. There are more hotels here and waves are stronger.
Villa Clara’s keys can also be reached by flying to Las Brujas-based airport, although big aircrafts have to go to Abel Santamaria Airport, in Santa Clara, the provincial capital, and the tourists are driven to the keys.
We leave Villa Clara behind and go east, to Ciego de Avila province. North of this province, in the same breath with Jardines del Rey, we follow a causeway to Guillermo Key, with a surface of 13 square kilometers. This key is famous because it’s near the second largest coral reef of the world, houses bright and colorful flamingoes, and its Pilar Beach is described as one of the best in the country. This beach was given that name because US writer Ernest Hemingway used to visit it on his “Pilar” yacht.
We now move to Coco Key, perhaps the most acclaimed of all. This key offers over 26 kilometers of fabulous beaches, like Los Flamencos, Jaula and Las Coloradas. There are colonies of flamingoes and the key was named after an exotic bird, White Ibis, which lives in the area and is commonly known as “coco bird”.
The keys north of Cuba are undoubtedly amazing, but the region of Cayo Largo del Sur, on the edge of Los Canarreos archipelago, in the Caribbean Sea, 177 km away from Havana, is even better.
The area is 24 km long and visitors can only fly to this key. It’s surrounded by coral reeves and its virgin beaches are very attractive. The list is made up of 5 km-long Lindamar, Sirena, Los Cocos and Paraiso, among others. The enthusiasts of water sports can enjoy several options here, especially scuba diving in the coral reef areas.
The Cuban travel industry is positioned as the second and most important one in the country. A record was reported in 2015, with 3.4 million foreign visitors and, within the framework of the thaw between Washington and Havana, the figure in 2016 is likely to be near four million. Could that growth affect the ecosystem of Cuban keys? For the companies in the field, receiving more tourists entails higher incomes —Meliá reported profits beyond 400 million euros in 2015 with its properties in Cuba—; but guaranteeing the sustainability of the keys is a must for tourism authorities and foreign companies to implement measures so Cuban keys remain as pieces of heaven on earth in the future.