holguin cuba

Ultimate (Local!) Guide to Holguin Cuba

Outside of Havana and popular Havana day trips like Varadero and Viñales, the province of Holguin is the most visited part of Cuba. Known for having some of the best beaches in Cuba, Holguin is not to be missed if you’re looking for an incredible Cuba travel experience.

However, Holguin is so much more than just its beaches! Home to beautiful and historic cities like Gibara and the capital city of Holguin itself, important archeological sites, and wild natural beauty, Holguin is worth more than a drive-by on the way to a beach resort for all-inclusive vacations. 

This is our ultimate travel guide to Holguin, Cuba, where we’ll let you in on all this beautiful area of Cuba has to offer, and why you should visit Holguin when you visit Cuba.

While José lived his whole life in Havana, his entire family is from Holguin, and we’re lucky to have gotten to know this province and its capital city well. Keep reading for our guide Holguin’s cities, beaches, and natural beauty, and check our Holguin map for help planning your own trip to Holguin.

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Holguin, Cuba

Situated in the far eastern corner of Cuba’s north coast, the province of Holguin and its capital city of the same name are among Cuba’s best destinations for travelers, and the most visited.

One of the first areas of Cuba to be visited by Europeans, Christopher Columbus landed here in 1492 and claimed that Holguin was “the most beautiful land human eyes have ever seen.”

Today, the province of Holguin is the third most populous in Cuba – after Havana and Santiago de Cuba, and Cuba’s fourth largest city.

The city of Holguin is a transportation hub connecting the eastern extremes of the island with the larger western cities, and with its international airport, many Cuban and international travelers pass through the city.

What is Holguin Known For?

Holguin is best known to visitors for its incredible beauty. Of course, first and foremost Holguin’s natural beauty is in its beaches. However, the beauty of Holguin doesn’t stop at the edge of the sand.

Important sites of natural beauty in Holguin include the coastal Parque Nacional de Bahia de Narajo and the lovely Cayo Saetia and its nature reserve.

Inland you’ll find the Parque Nacional La Mensura and Parque Nacional Pico Cristal, both renowned destinations for hiking in Cuba. Plus, the wooded Pinares de Mayarí is home to stunning pine groves, coffee plantations, hiking trails, and lakes for swimming or kayaking.

There are also many important historic sites – both pertaining to the Spanish colonial period and the history of the indigenous peoples of Cuba – that are found in Holguin as well. Overall, you’ll find a great mix of things to see in Holguin while you visit.

Does Holguin Have Nice Beaches?

Holguin has some of the best beaches in Cuba and some of the best all-inclusive resorts, in a country known for having some of the best beaches in the world. It goes without saying that the beaches you’ll find here are second to none – the dreamy white sand, crystal clear water you’d imagine on a Caribbean island.

Most of the best beaches in the province of Holguin are located around Guardalavaca, the most famous beach town and resort town in the province.

You can also find some excellent beaches along the far eastern side of the province, in the Bahia de Nipe near Banes.

Best Beaches in Holguin

Guardalavaca

Guardalavaca is the most famous of Holguin’s beaches, and the largest beach town on Holguin’s coastline. While some of the other great beaches in Holguin are almost entirely for the use of private hotel guests at resorts, the beach at Guardalavaca is open to everyone, and Cubans flock here.

You’ll find a good array of resorts, home and apartment rentals, and other accommodation options in town for your stay.

Playa Pesquero

Just a few miles from Guardalavaca, Playa Pesquero is home to some of the whitest sand and clearest water in Cuba. The beach is protected on both sides, making for shallow water perfect for swimming. Snorkeling, sailing, and other watersports are popular, and this dreamy beach is the perfect place for it. 

Resorts surround the both Playa Pesquero and it’s neighbor, Playa Estero, and you’ll have plenty of options of where to stay.

If you’re looking for a family-friendly choice, choose the Iberostar Selection Holguin – it’s pool has a fun waterpark for kids and kids club. Connected to the Iberostar if the Coral Level Iberostar Holguin, which is adult-only.

Playa Esmeralda

Just a stone’s throw from Guardalavaca, Playa Esmeralda is another white sand beach with stunning turquoise water. Closed in by craggy rocks on both sides, waves are small or non-existent, which makes for great conditions for swimming and snorkeling.

Nearby Playa Las Caletas, wedged between Playa Esmeralda and the Parque Nacional Bahia de Narajo, is another must-visit. 

Cayo Saetia

Located on the far eastern side of the province, Cayo Saetia – a small, mostly wooded key – is home to  some of Holguin’s most lovely beaches.

Here you’ll feel you’re truly off the beaten path, as most of the key is occupied by the Parque Nacional Cayo Saetia, where you can go on wildlife safaris and explore the area.

The lovely, secluded beaches on the west side of the key are nearly untouched and have far fewer visitors than Guardalavaca, Playa Pesquero, and Playa Esmeralda.

There is an oceanfront cafe and restaurant here worth a visit, too!

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Holguin Map

Check out this map of the Holguin province to see some of the different spots we recommend in this article. You’ll find everything from the Holguin airport to the proximity of the best beaches in Holguin.

Plus, you can zoom in to the city of Holguin and check out many of the things to do in Holguin and other recommendations for the city.

Things to Do in Holguin

Holguin City

The curse of being so close to Cuba’s best beaches just an hour north in the area of Guardalavaca, the capital city of Holguin is largely overlooked by visitors who rush to the coast. If you have time in your itinerary, don’t overlook this charming and historic city, but spend a day exploring.

Especially for those visitors to Cuba who only make it to Havana and the beach, visiting one of Cuba’s other cities is a treat.

You’ll find much of the charm and history of Havana but far fewer tourists and lower prices. These are some of the highlights when visiting the city of Holguin.

Loma de la Cruz

Perched on a hill above the city of Holguin, the Loma de la Cruz – in English, the hill of the cross – is a stunning viewpoint over the city. The massive cross that tops the hill is visible throughout the city.

Reached by a nearly 500-step staircase, the climb isn’t for the faint of heart, but go slow and take frequent breaks and you’ll get there. Visit in the early evening to catch cooler weather and the sunset over the city.

Parque Calixto Garcia

Apart from the Loma de la Cruz, Holguin is most well known for its charming plazas like the Parque Calixto Garcia. This park is surrounded by historic and important buildings for the city such as the Casa de la Trova, Cine Martí theater, and the city’s museum.

Continue north on the pedestrian street on the east side of the park to visit the city’s other prominent plazas. 

Parque San José

Just two blocks north of Parque Calixto Garcia, Parque San Jose is another one of the city’s beautiful and historic plazas.

Home to the historic Iglesia de San José and lined with colorful and historic buildings, this square is well worth a visit. 

Catedral de San Isidoro

Facing the Parque las Flores in the heart of historic Holguin, Catedral de San Isidoro – more commonly referred to as the Cathedral of Holguin – one of the most historic buildings in the city.

Originally built in the early 1800’s, the church has undergone various restorations but retains its gorgeous and historic details inside and out.

Holguin Province

In addition to visiting the best beaches in Holguin – which happen to be some of the best beaches in Cuba – there is a lot more to the Holguin province for visitors to enjoy and experience.  These are some of the absolute highlights – though not a complete list by any means, these are good to get you started.

Cayo Saetia

Set at the entrance to the Bahia de Nipe (Nipe Bay) on the far eastern part of the province, Cayo Saetia is a lovely natural key with an incredible beach on the north west side of the island.

The island is covered by the Parque Nacional Cayo Saetia to protect its array of wildlife – wildlife safaris are popular excursions, are are catamaran tours around the island with stops at beaches and for snorkeling.

All in all, this is an incredibly beautiful corner of Holguin!  

Gibara

Just a small town with fewer than 100,000 people located on the coast, Gibara holds a special magnetism and charm unlike any other place in Cuba.

One of the destinations Christopher Columbus first visited in Cuba and one of the nation’s oldest cities, there remains so much history and charm in exploring the streets here.

Gibara is home to the annual Gibara International Film Festival every August and the Cine Pobre International Film Festival in April, making these action-packed weeks the perfect time to visit.  

El Chorro de Maita

Located just south of Guardalavaca, El Chorro de Maita is one of Cuba’s important archeological sites, where archeologists have made discoveries shedding significant light on local (Taino) indigenous history.

An important burial site, here you’ll see the remains of hundreds of skeletons and the items they were buried with. There’s also a recreation of a Taino village and buildings. 

Parque Nacional Bahia de Naranjo

Wedged between some of the nicest beaches in Holguin, the Parque Nacional Bahia de Narajo is a great addition to a Holguin beach retreat. This national park offers a variety of nature trails to explore where you can see wildlife.

Its most visited attraction is the “delfinario” – a sectioned off portion of the ocean where visitors can swim with dolphins! This is an extremely popular activity for visitors to the resorts nearby. 

What to Pack for Cuba

Check out our Ultimate Cuba Packing List to help you pack for your trip – we’re sharing exactly what to bring to Cuba and what we never travel without.

gibara

Holguin Cuba Hotels

Most visitors to Holguin head straight to the resorts on the coast near Guardalavaca – if you’re looking for a fantastic place to stay, look no further than the Paradisus Rio De Oro Resort & Spa.

Situated on the pristine Playa Esmeralda, one of the best beaches in Cuba, you won’t find a nicer spot along the coast. Located just a few miles down the coast, Iberostar Selection Holguin on Playa Pesquero is another favorite.

For a complete guide to the best casas particulares in the city of Holguin, check out our ultimate guide to where to stay in Holguin

Getting to Holguin

Getting to Holguin is relatively easy – its capital city is a transportation hub and has frequent buses and shared taxis that pass through the city on a regular basis.

Though rather isolated from nearby large cities, which makes for long bus or car rides, you won’t have any trouble getting to Holguin.

Holguin Airport

Though tiny, the Frank Pais International Airport in Holguin has daily flights from other cities through Cuba, including Havana. The airport also has regular international flights, including frequent flights to cities through Canada, Latin America, and even Europe

The State Department of the Biden Administration recently lifted flight restrictions to Cuba, meaning that flights to Holguin will be permitted again, after years of being off-limits.

This is great news for Americans looking to travel to Cuba, and makes traveling to Holguin easier than ever.

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