Cuba compact

Skipping from West to East

The shape of the Greater Antilles islands looks like a slim hand that emerges in the southeast from a short cuff, its fingers curved protectively in a northwest direction over the "Island of Youth" and must only stretch slightly to touch Mexico's Yucatán peninsula.
The topography of the 1,250 kilometre long, narrow island is dominated by fertile plains where sugar cane, coffee and tobacco are grown; around a quarter of the area consists of mountain ranges, the highest being Pico Turquino (1,974 metres) in the Sierra Maestra in the extreme southeast. The island is bordered by dramatic steep coasts and kilometre-long flat beaches that are partially overgrown by thick mangrove forests.

Sleepy villages & rich green
The western province is called Pinar del Río, famed for its tobacco plantations whose products have a large following worldwide. An easy-going atmosphere and rural peace cover the rich green countryside of the province, which makes it especially attractive for ecology tourism. One of the most famous natural treasures is the Tal Valle de Viñales in the shadow of the chalk stone "Mogotes" that was declared a world heritage site in 1999 by UNESCO. The route to the province of Havana leads over hilly land, through pastures and sugar-cane fields and - first of all - past the capital town of the same name in the region of Matanzas. Here the widespread fruit plantations spread over the countryside on wide plains, sprinkled with colourful farmer's houses whose sunny terraces and flower gardens tell of the interests of their inhabitants.

Gentle valleys and untamed mountains
Between the provinces of Villa Clara and Sancti Spiritus it is hillier, where the idyllic views of sugar-cane fields and cow pastures continue, until you pass Camagüey in the "wild east" and the ranges of mountains line up with unique beauty. Although wide expanses of this once thickly wooded strip of land were deforested here for agricultural use, there are still extensive rain forests to be found that transform into mountain forests higher up. These provide superb areas for lovers of nature to discover when trekking, for example, in the National Parks of Desembarco del Granma Turquino and Sierra Maestra with their undisturbed forests of mahogany and Indian bean trees, gigantic ferns and numerous types of orchid. In the east, the African influence on culture is most noticeable, an example being the town of Santiago de Cuba that, as the "most Caribbean" town in Cuba, fascinates its visitors with a rich cultural life.