The sea off Nuevitas is probably haunted by the souls of pirates and corsarios, merchant seamen, patriotic sailors and fanatic submariners.
On neighbouring cayo Sabinal, the San Hilarion Fort was used as a prison from 1831 for the few remaining pirates and as lookout for some Cuban separatists. During WWII, nazi U-boats sent by Admiral Donitz had managed to sink 78 ships in the nearby Gulf of Mexico and 153 others around these parts in the summer of 1942 alone : 231 merchant boats in 150 days north of Nuevitas and around Cuba ; (
Today, visitors drive from Camaguey through Minas and at the highway junction they have to choose : ahead to the town, left towards Cayo Sabinal (protected area, with agriculture (yucca, corn, platanos, melons, etc), fauna refuge where the sabina trees grow : pink wood variety, distinct aroma, insect resistant) or right to Santa Lucia (all-inclusives, 1,200-rooms aimed mostly at family vacations).
The huge bay is site of a nature sanctuary, named Refugio de fauna cayo Ballenatos y manglares de la bahia de Nuevitas with some 45 animal species (8 endemic) and 128 plant varieties of which 15 are endemic to Cuba (ie. found nowhere else on this planet).
The three cayos seen on the bay are named Ballenatos (Ballenato del Medio, 54 meters high, the Grande and the Chiquito) : along with the vast spread-out green expanses and untouched natural sites, the lovely sites on Cayo Sabinal on the west side of the strait and Santa Lucia on the east shore make it a must for travellers in quest of nature.
This Camaguey Province port town (sugar and commercial fishing) is the site of some large industries (cement factory, fertilizers, thermoelectric plant) and once one of the country's most important seaports. So its bay may be a no-no for swimming but it's got a nice central park and remarkable wooden houses along main street.
Some of its oldest neighbourhoods Canta Rana, La Loma, El Reparto, El Comercio, Pastelillo, La Gloria, Número Uno and Tarafa still show buildings with stained glass, imported from Bohemia, Venice and Mexico or mosaic floors and walls, made locally until 1930.
Few know that a most famous visitor, Ernest Hemingway moored his Pilar and was a regular here during the 30's and through the second world war. He hung around La Colombiana, the Comercio Hotel, the cafetería El Chorrito, the Niza moviehouse and the billiard room of El Faro, most of which have disappeared or changed vocation. In 1942, during "Papa's" chase of nazi U-boats, he dug in at Cayo Confites where he met a Nuevitas contact supplying him and his crew with food and drinks, well-deserved after days sloshing around in these mosquito-infested parts.
DISTANCES (km) Bayamo, 283
Cayo Sabinal, 32
Ciego de Avila, 183
La Habana, 615
Las Tunas, 196
Playa Santa Lucia, 70
Santa Clara, 340
Santa Cruz del Sur, 12
SEE.KNOW.DO This hilly town offering lovely views from three great lookouts : the Parque Salvador Cisneros Betancourt (with Sitial Martiano's 12 bronze plaques with quotes by the pre-Revolucion powerful local Masonic Lodges : see here), the Escuela Urbana Ignacio Agramonte or the Edificio de 12 Plantas•Galeria de arte Guernica•Fabrica de Instrumentos Musicales in nearby Minas (Mon-Fri 7-11hrs+13-17hrs; Sat 7-11h) : it makse and sells violins, guitars, including the unique laudes 12-chord guitars •Ingenio Santa Isabel, an abandoned sugar mill on Rio Saramaguacan •Yesterday named El Teatro Compoamor inaugurated in 1920 today, 'tis the Nuevitas moviehouse •Edificio de los Combatientes de la Revolución Cubana, corner of Camilo Cienfuegos and Oscar Primelles •Museo Historico Municipal : old photos and stuffed animals •Iglesia Católica Nuestra Señora de la Caridad erected in 1885
PALADARES • RESTAURANTS Restaurante El Puente. Hotel Caonaba : nothing to write home about.
SERVICES Daily Internet connections 8h30 to 19h30 at Centro Multiservicios Etecsa on calle Maceo No. 40 e/ A. Arango y Agramonte • International Medical Clinic (32) 33-6203, • Taxis in Santa Lucia (32) 33-6464 or in Camaguey (32) 27-1015, • Radio Cadena Agramonte 910 AM, 93,5 FM
EVENINGS Hotel Caonaba, Casa de la Cultura La Avellaneda, corner Máximo Gómez and Joaquín de Agüero, Ciné Nuevitas, calle Agramonte, corner Calixto García (Tue - Sun), Banda Municipal de Concierto local orchestra founded in 1918.
TRANSPORTATION Bus for Playa Santa Lucia, Astro Guagua from Camaguey Bayamo (Daily - D) 9cuc), Ciego de Avila (3xday 5cuc), Cienfuegos (2xday 16cuc), La Habana (2xday 27cuc), Matanzas (D 22cuc), Santa Clara (D 12cuc), Santiago (D 15cuc) Viazul Bus from Camaguey (2xweek) Ciego 6cuc, Holguin 11cuc, La Habana 33cuc, Sancti Spiritus 15cuc, Santiago 18cuc Trains from Camaguey (see sked link above).
Many Viazul routes pass through Camaguey daily (72 km south of here : the closest Viazul terminal) on their way (or back from) the Oriente; from there, travellers can easily find a taxi to share, payable in pesos cubanos.
EXCURSION - CAYO SABINAL From the Nuevitas shore, one can see Cayo Sabinal (our heretofore well-kept secret) 22km away. Sabinal, the Isla de Los Corsarios (Isle of Pirates) boasts some 35 km of beach. Is this the mythical isle treasure hunters have been dreaming of for so long ? Bring your metal detector ! Sabina is a pinkish odourfull variety of tree which resists insects and is used in woodworking. Getting to the cayo is not much fun as the "road" is like a dirt-track, albeit for only 7km and sometimes in summer after rain , requires a 4x4 and patient, teeth-clenching driving. The fork to Sabinal is about 6km southwest of town. After passing a checkpoint (the Guarda Frontera are weary of drug-smugglers) where only foreigners are let through, you reach the centre (or middle) of the island on its north shore at Estero La Palma. Entrance fee is at the bridge to the causeway (pedraplen) : 5cuc. Fuerte de San Hilario, the still-standing old fort was used as a prison fro the ruling Spaniards starting in 1831.
Driving east you encounter Playa Brava, white-sanded with nice snorkelling on its reef offshore. Then lies the "most popular spot" Playa Los Pinos, almost deserted like others, except for a cabana with drinking water run by Cubatur. It used to be called Club Sabinal Los Pinos (5 cabins, diving centre and a restaurant) but the cabinas were torn down as they were weather-beaten. You may still see deer and wild horses in the area; there is still a shack-like cabina for the caretaker who may, we were told, be enclined to prepare freshly-fished seafood lunch for a ... fee ; )
As this is just about the best beach, you may also see a catamaran dumping bathers and sun-seekers from the Santa Lucia Centro de Buceo (Scuba-diving center), 25km east : 70cuc per person including lunch. A German scuba divers group enjoys feeding sharks offshore. See the video here.
Should you drive to the very eastern end, you may see Punta de Maternillos hooking north into the sea and then Playa Bonita. This is where the Cuban Marlin group runs a scuba diving post with a restaurant for lunches and dinners but no lodging. Next, Playa Chuchu, then the lighthouse and fort Faro Colon (vertical photos above) and Torreon San Hilario built in the 1830's to protect Nuevitas Bay. Other than that, there are nesting areas for flamingos : the largest in the Caribbean; the hill, as you come on Sabinal is called Loma La Alegria. Information : EcoTur (32) 22-5844 in Camaguey. email ecotur_at_caonao.cu EXCURSION - KING RANCH As you drive towards Santa Lucia, you come to the crossroad joining with the way to Camaguey. About 10 miles north from there, you come to another Cuban pre-revolucion oddity and proof if need be of how much Cuba was exploited by the USA : King Ranch (carretera de Santa Lucia, km 35, tel (32) 41-8115), namesake of the Texas spread, once the largest in "America". You'll find a restaurant, horses for hire and sometimes a rodeo show.
PLAYAS Locally, Playa Cuatro Vientos allows for a sight of the three cayos Ballenatos in the bahia; further for 2.5 kilometers, there's a fishermen dock named Santa Rita. Near the strip of casas in Santa Lucia's La Boca : Playa Los Cocos, quiet place at the entrance of the Nuevitas canal : go there directly by boat from town or drive the long way around tha bay. See Santa Lucia page. Excursions from Camaguey at 8h30, returns at 1700 hrs. 12cuc return. The many beaches of Cayo Sabinal above.
SCUBA DIVING Hotel Cuatro Vientos, Playa Santa Lucía : 37 sites of which the 5 best vary in depth between 20 and 30 meters. ACUC certification. See Santa Lucia page.
SERVICES EcoTur (32) 22-58-44 offers safaris by jeep to Cayo Sabinal (7h30-16h, 75CUC per adult). Cubanacan & Cubatur Avenida Tararaco in Santa Lucía (32) 33-6449
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DAISY y MANOLOV Daisy Jimenez Iejeda y Manolo Two ac bedrooms sharing one bathroom Calle Augusto Arango No. 39, e/Camilo Cienfuegos y Calixto Garcia Tel. (32) 41-4601
Daisy and her esposo Manolo (who evidently seems to favor cigars and the Che) rent two aircon bedrooms, shared bath.
Manolo knows the cayos like no one else and may be able to organize daytrips to playa Los Pinos Sabinal or unexplored areas of the bay.