Cuba // Northern Oriente //


Bordered by salt flats that score the ground with deep cracks and lend a haunting wildness, CAIMANERA, 23km south of Guantánamo, takes its name from the giant caiman lizards that used to roam here, although today it’s far more notable as the closest point in Cuba to the US naval base. Prior to the Revolution, Caimanera was the site of carousing between the naval-base officers and the townswomen: its main streets were lined with bars, and rampant prostitution, gambling and drugs were the order of the day. Little evidence of that remains in today’s sleepy and parochial town.

The village is a restricted area, with the ground between it and the base one of the most heavily mined areas in the world, though the US removed their mines in 1999. This hasn’t stopped many Cubans from braving it in the slim hope of reaching foreign soil and escaping to America. Visitors, meanwhile, have to have a permit to enter. The village is entered via a checkpoint at which guards scrutinize your passport and permit before waving you through; note that taking pictures en route is not permitted.

The lookout in the grounds of the Caimanera hotel has a view over the bay and mountains to the base – though even with binoculars you only see a sliver of it. Inside the hotel is a small museum (opened on demand), with a history of the base, a floor model and photos.

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