Lying 30km off Ciego de Ávila’s north coast and hemmed in by 400km of coral reef, the Jardines del Rey (“The King’s Gardens”) were christened by Diego Velázquez in 1514 in honour of King Ferdinand of Spain. The cays are the dazzling jewels in the province’s crown, with a rich tangle of mangroves, mahogany trees and lagoons iced by sugar sands and thick with pink flamingos, and a top diving location with an infrastructure to match.

Despite their auspicious naming in the sixteenth century, the numerous islets spanning the coastline from Ciego de Ávila to Camagüey remained uninhabited and relatively unexplored until as recently as the late 1980s. Until then, they had only been visited by colonial-era pirates and corsairs seeking a bolthole to stash their spoils; Ernest Hemingway, who sailed around them in the 1930s and 1940s; and former dictator Fulgencio Batista, who had a secret hideaway on tiny Cayo Media Luna, a mere pinprick on the map and now a favourite haunt for sunbathers and snorkellers.

The exclusivity of the northern cays was breached in 1988 by the construction of a 29km stone causeway (or pedraplén) across the Bahía de los Perros, connecting the Isla de Turiguanó peninsula to Cayo Coco. The delighted state began to create a tourist haven destined to be as sumptuous as Varadero, and so far two of the islands – Cayo Coco and smaller Cayo Guillermo – have been primed for luxury tourism, with a string of all-inclusive hotels planted along their northern shores. The causeway has had a negative environmental impact on the cays, however, disrupting the natural flow of water and impoverishing conditions for local wildlife. The two cays are themselves connected by another causeway, with an offshoot running east to the breakaway Cayo Paredón Grande, uninhabited but providing another beach option should you exhaust those on the main islets.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

Cuba features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

18 brilliant pictures of life in Cuba

18 brilliant pictures of life in Cuba

It has been a big year for Cuba. After US-Cuba relations were improved in summer 2015, an influx of tourists started to head to the country – the first half …

09 Dec 2016 • Rough Guides Editors insert_drive_file Article
12 tips for backpacking Cuba

12 tips for backpacking Cuba

Cuba’s captivating, colourful streets and carnaval­ feel make it appealing for travellers year­-round. The country's popularity is skyrocketing, and visit…

10 May 2016 • Freya Godfrey insert_drive_file Article
Delving into the Daiquiri: Havana’s favourite drink

Delving into the Daiquiri: Havana’s favourite drink

Cuba’s cocktails chart the country’s ambivalent relationship with its neighbour to the north, America. This is most obviously demonstrated by the Cuba Libre…

24 Feb 2016 • Henry Jeffreys insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month