Spanning the trunk of the island some 450km east of Havana, the low-lying provinces of Ciego de Ávila and Camagüey form the agricultural heart of Cuba. The westernmost of the two, sleepy Ciego de Ávila, is sparsely populated, with only two medium-sized towns that are often bypassed by visitors keen to reach the province’s star attraction: the line of cays stretching west from Cayo Coco to Cayo Guillermo, home to some flamboyant birdlife and the country’s most dazzling beaches, with one of the Caribbean’s biggest barrier reefs creating a superb offshore diving zone. Further north, smaller but more appealing Morón attracts a few day-trippers and is a good base from which to visit the cays without shelling out for an all-inclusive hotel. The town is close to the nearby lakes, Laguna de la Leche and Laguna la Redonda, the nucleus of a hunting and fishing centre popular with enthusiasts from Europe and Canada.
Livelier than its neighbour, Camagüey is the country’s largest province, largely made up of low-lying farmland dappled with a rural villages. Its main draws are the northern beaches and the provincial capital of Camagüey city, one of the original seven villas founded by Diego Velázquez in 1515. Nurtured by sugar wealth that dates to the late sixteenth century, Camagüey has grown into a large and stalwart city with many of the architectural hallmarks of a Spanish colonial town, and is deservedly beginning to compete as a tourist centre. While the government pushes the plush northern beach resort of Santa Lucía as the province’s chief attraction, its least spoilt beach is just west of the resort at Cayo Sabinal.