Though a challenge to reach independently, the forest-covered Península de Guanahacabibes has become a popular destination for organized excursions and in this respect is easier than ever to get to. The journey is certainly not without its rewards, especially for scuba divers, who can enjoy some of the best dive sites in Cuba. One of the largest national forest-parks in the country, the Parque Nacional Guanahacabibes covers most of the peninsula, the whole of which was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1987. Some of Cuba’s most beautiful and unspoilt coastline can be found here around the Bahía de Corrientes, the bay nestling inside this hook of land. It was on the peninsula that the Cuban Amerindians sought their last refuge, having been driven from the rest of the island by the Spanish colonists. Guanahacabibes is still relatively untouched by tourism and the only two hotel resorts are the low-key María La Gorda and Villa Cabo San Antonio. This is also an important area for wildlife; birdlife is particularly rich between November and March, during the migration season, while May to September is the best time for seeing turtles.
Make sure you bring enough cash to cover all your costs on a trip to this area, as you cannot withdraw money or use credit cards for accommodation or restaurants. The only way into the peninsula is along a potholed road through a thick forest that begins where the Carretera Central ends, at the tiny fishing village of La Fe, 15km beyond the turning for Laguna Grande.
María La Gorda
María La Gorda
Turn left after La Bajada to get to the Península de Guanahacabibes’ most popular spot, María La Gorda, where there is an international dive centre and a small hotel complex on a fine white-sand beach. The relaxing drive here follows the shoreline of the bay, with dense forest on one side and an open expanse of brilliant, placid blue-green water on the other. Along the way are a few slightly scrappy but likeable little beaches, which you can make your own if you want complete privacy, but it’s best to wait, as there’s usually plenty of room on the much larger beach belonging to the resort at the end of the road. The white-sand beach is expansive enough for guests and non-guests (who can use the beach for free) to spread out without feeling too crowded. The sense of idyll is marred only slightly by the presence of a hard frill of rock which fringes the sand at the water’s edge; and the fact that as the beach is rarely swept, a small amount of debris usually accumulates.
You should bring enough cash to cover all your costs here, as there are no banks, ATMs or places to change money, and the restaurants don’t accept credit cards (though the little shop does).