The Cuban province of Holguin and its capital city of the same name might not have the same kind of game recognition as Havana, Trinidad, or Varadero. However, it has just as much to offer – if not more! – than some of Cuba’s most famous destinations.
José’s family is originally from Holguin, meaning we’ve had the chance to explore parts of this incredible destination that few travelers get to visit. In our ultimate travel guide to Holguin, Cuba, 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. Get ready to fall in love with Holguin as we have!
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Situated in the far eastern corner of Cuba’s north coast, the province of Holguin and its capital city are much-loved destinations for in-the-know travelers who are looking to get a little more off the beaten path while exploring the country. While Holguin’s incredible beaches are well-known and quite popular, much of the rest of this province goes overlooked despite having so much to offer.
One of the most obvious attractions of Holguin, Cuba its stunning natural beauty. On his first voyage to the Americas, Christopher Columbus landed in Holguin in 1492 and claimed that Holguin was “the most beautiful land human eyes have ever seen.”
Columbus wasn’t right about much, but he was certainly right about the natural beauty of Holguin! Stunning beaches like Playa Pesquero, biodiverse jungles like Alejandro de Humboldt National Park, and more make this a spot you won’t easily forget.
Today, the province of Holguin is the third most populous in Cuba – after Havana and Santiago de Cuba, and its capital is 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 in Cuba. 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, first and foremost 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 Naranjo 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.
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 and crystal clear water you’d imagine on a Caribbean island.
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.
Best Beaches in Holguin
Holguin doesn’t have just one stunning beach destination – it has several of them! If you’re adding the Holguin province to your Cuba itinerary, then you’re almost certain to want to include a beach day or two. These are among the most popular beaches in Holguin:
With picture-perfect white sand and clear, tranquil water, it’s no wonder that Guardalavaca is considered among the best beaches in Cuba, and is certainly the most famous beach in the province of Holguin. In fact, it’s the country’s third most popular destination for travelers!
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, making it popular with Cubans and travelers alike. It’s a great choice for traveling on a budget – low-cost accommodations in rental apartments and locally-owned hotels make it possible to enjoy without paying resort prices.
Just a few miles from Guardalavaca, Playa Pesquero is home to some of the whitest sand and clearest water in Cuba. This stunning beach – one of the best beaches in Cuba – is protected on both sides, making shallow water perfect for swimming.
Snorkeling, sailing, and other watersports are popular, and this dreamy beach is the perfect place for it. Or, just relax on the soft sand – this is one of the best places in Holguin for it!
Resorts surround both Playa Pesquero and its neighbor, Playa Estero, and you’ll have plenty of options for where to stay. If you’re looking for a family-friendly choice, choose the Iberostar Selection Holguin – its pool has a fun waterpark for kids and kids club.
Read More: 8 Best Resorts in Holguin, Cuba
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.
While Playa Pesquero gets perhaps a bit more name recognition with travelers than Playa Esmeralda, it’s certainly not for lack of beauty. Playa Esmeralda is that perfect Caribbean beach you’ve been dreaming of. Nearby Playa Las Caletas, wedged between Playa Esmeralda and the Parque Nacional Bahia de Naranjo, is another must-visit.
While the area around Guardalavaca is the most famous beach destination in Holguin, it’s not the only one! The lovely, secluded beaches on the eastern side of the province of Holguin are nearly untouched and have far fewer visitors than Guardalavaca, Playa Pesquero, and Playa Esmeralda.
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.
Things To Do in Holguin
Whether you’re traveling through the capital city of Holguin on the way to the beach or doing a trip through the stunning countryside of the province, you’ll find there is plenty to see and plenty of things to do in Holguin.
Things To Do in Holguin City
The curse of being so close to Cuba’s best beaches just an hour north in the area of Guardalavaca is that 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. 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.
1. Climb to the 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.
2. Stroll Through 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, the 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.
3. Visit 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.
4. Marvel at the 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 – is one of the most historic buildings in the city. Originally built in the early 1800s, the church has undergone various restorations but retains its gorgeous and historic details inside and out.
Things To Do in 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.
1. Explore Wild Cayo Saetia (+ Spot Wildlife)
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 cay with an incredible beach on the northwest side of the island.
The island is covered by the Parque Nacional Cayo Saetia to protect its array of wildlife – which includes tons of animals you wouldn’t expect, including zebras, antelopes, buffalos, and even ostriches. Wildlife safaris are popular excursions, are catamaran tours around the island with stops at beaches and for snorkeling.
While you won’t find any safari lodges for families or the like in the area as you might in other wildlife areas, Cayo Saetia’s wildlife experiences are one of a kind and much more affordable than similar wildlife encounters you might find elsewhere.
2. Visit The Charming Town of Gibara
Just a small town with fewer than 100,000 people located on the coast, Gibara holds a special magnetism and charm. One of the destinations Christopher Columbus first visited in Cuba and one of the nation’s oldest cities, Gibara is packed with history.
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.
Gibara feels much like the small town of Baracoa, which is located on Cuba’s northern coast just east of the provincial border of Holguin. While I certainly wouldn’t recommend skipping Baracoa (Cuba’s first city, packed with historic landmarks and plenty to see and do), Gibara shares much of Baracoa’s charm.
Read More: Baracoa, Cuba: Ultimate Traveler’s Guide
3. 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. While the recreations are a bit cheesy, a visit is among the best things to do in Holguin.
4. Explore the Coastal Parque Nacional Bahia de Naranjo
Wedged between some of the nicest beaches in Holguin, the Parque Nacional Bahia de Naranjo is a great addition to a Holguin beach retreat. This national park offers a variety of nature trails to explore, where you can see unique wildlife and impressive flora and fauna.
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.
Where To Stay in Holguin
Most visitors to Holguin head straight to the resorts on the coast near Guardalavaca. We don’t blame them; the beachfront resorts in Holguin are some of the nicest resorts in Cuba and offer an unparalleled beach vacation experience on some of the island’s most pristine sands.
These are the best resorts in Holguin:
- Grand Memories Holguin ($$)
- Paradisus Río de Oro Resort & Spa ($$$)
- Iberostar Selection Holguin ($$$)
Where To Stay in the City of Holguin
There are few large hotels within the Holguin city center, given how many travelers that pass through the city head straight for the beaches. Most travelers enjoying the city stay in one of the many cases particulares – guesthouses – and have an enjoyable stay. These are some of the city’s best:
For a complete guide to the best casas particulares in the city of Holguin, check out our ultimate guide casas particulares 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. These are some of the most common ways to get to Holguin.
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 in Canada, Latin America, the United States, and even Europe.
Havana to Holguin
From Havana’s main bus station near the Plaza de la Revolución, you’ll find frequent buses to Holguin, which usually depart every four hours or so. However, the bus ride lasts for about 10 hours, making it either a long day of travel or ideal for an overnight trip.
If you’re not interested in taking a bus – who would blame you? – you can also find shared taxis, which also depart from the bus station.
Flights from Havana to Holguin are also frequent, though they can get a bit pricey. However, given the duration of the bus trip, I do recommend looking into your flight options! We’ve flown between Havana and Holguin before, and it was a breeze.
Santiago de Cuba to Holguin
If you can’t find a direct flight to Holguin, another great choice is flying into Santiago de Cuba and taking the bus from there. Frequent buses connect these two eastern cities, and with a bus ride of just over three hours, it’s quite manageable.
Or, take a private or shared taxi from Santiago de Cuba. Connect with your casa particular host or with other travelers to see if you can split a car or even head to the bus station in Santiago de Cuba, and you’ll find shared taxi drivers filling their cars.
Read More: Santiago de Cuba: Ultimate Traveler’s Guide
Cuba requires that all travelers have proof of a comprehensive travel insurance policy in order to enter the country. Check out our guide to travel insurance for Cuba for more details. We recommend these brands for Cuba travel insurance:
Carley Rojas Avila is a bilingual travel writer, editor, content marketer, and the founder of the digital travel publications Home to Havana and Explorers Away. She is a serial expat and traveler, having visited 40+ countries and counting. Carley has written for publications like Travel + Leisure, MSN, Associated Press, Weather Channel, Wealth of Geeks, and more. Find her front row at a Bad Bunny concert, befriending street cats, and taste-testing every pizza in Havana.