Despite being the province’s main tourist resort, GUARDALAVACA, on the north coast 72km northeast from Holguín, retains a charmingly homespun air. The area’s name pays tribute to a buccaneer past – Guardalavaca meaning “keep the cow safe”, which is thought to refer to the need to protect livestock and valuables from marauding pirates who once used the area as a refuge point. The lively Playa Guardalavaca and Playa Las Brisas have one plush hotel complex each (with a third and a nearby golf course in the planning); the two exclusive satellite resorts to the west, Playa Esmeralda and Playa Pesquero (which incorporates the nearby Playa Turquesa) are popular with those seeking luxury and solitude. Surrounded by hilly countryside and shining fields of sugar cane, the town of Guardalavaca, which backs onto its namesake resort, is little more than a clutch of houses, many now turned casas particulares.
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Should you tire of sunning yourself on the beach, the surrounding area has enough sights to keep you busy for a few days, many of them reachable via tours organized by the hotels. About 6km south in the Maniabon hills, a fascinating Taíno burial ground incorporates the Museo de Chorro de Maíta and Aldea Taína, a re-creation of a Taíno village that really brings the lost culture to life. Close to Playa Esmeralda, at the Bahía de Naranjo, an offshore aquarium offers an entertaining day out, though one of the most rewarding pastimes in Guardalavaca is to rent a bicycle or moped and head off into the dazzling countryside to enjoy stunning views over hills and sea; you can also do this on horseback with a guide.
A 1500m-long stretch of sugar-white sand dappled with light streaming through abundant foliage, Playa Guardalavaca is a delight. A shady boulevard of palms, tamarind and sea grape trees runs along the centre of the beach. One of the most refreshing aspects of Playa Guardalavaca is that the beach is well used by Cubans as well as tourists, giving it a certain vitality with a lack of hustle. Midway along, a restaurant serves fried fish and lobster meals along with drinks, and there are stands renting out snorkelling equipment so you can explore the coral reef offshore.