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Holguin – the city of parks in Cuba

The nation’s fourth-largest city serves up a slice of Cuba without the wrapping paper. What you won’t find here is four-star hotels, revitalized colonial buildings or tour guides with shiny name badges talking to you in English. What you will find is eager-to-please casas particulares, cheap food in pioneering new restaurants, and a city that loves (and brews) its own beer.

Neither one of Cuba’s seven founding villas nor a megaresort of carefully packaged Caribbean dreamscapes, the city of San Isidoro de Holguín barely features in Cuba’s tourist master-plan (which prefers to promote all-inclusive resorts over Cuba’s hardworking cities). But, for a certain type of traveller, this is part of its magic – and mystery. Sit down in one of the city’s central squares for an hour or two (Holguín is euphemistically coined the ‘city of parks’) and something interesting will undoubtedly distract you. It might be the religious solemnity of the annual procession to the hilltop Loma de la Cruz, or – more spontaneously – the exuberant cheers from the crowd in the oversized baseball stadium.

Holguin – Cuba attractions for those, who loves arts

  • Situated in a colonial building is the Galería Holguín displaying a revolving cache of good local art.
  • In the southwestern corner of Parque Calixto García is this bright gallery, Holguín’s best. It shares space with the Biblioteca Alex Urquiola.
  • Miguel de Cervantes fans, get excited: in this park near the Víazul bus station is surely Cuba’s biggest statue of the Don Quixote, in full tilt against the windmills, whilst Sancho Panza looks on, somewhat embarrassed.

Plaza de la Revolución

Holguín is a city most fiel (faithful), and its bombastic revolutionary plaza, east of the center, is a huge monument to the heroes of Cuban independence, bearing quotations from José Martí and Fidel Castro. Massive rallies are held here every May 1 (Labor Day). The tomb of Calixto García , containing his ashes, is also here, as well as a smaller monument to García’s mother.

holguin-plaza

Museo de Historia Natural

You’ll find more stuffed animals here than in a New York toy store – everything from the world’s smallest frog to the world’s smallest hummingbird. There’s also a big collection of the unique yellow polymita seashells found on Cuba’s far-east coastline but, to be frank, the building, guarded by two stone lions, is more impressive than what’s inside.

Mirador de Mayabe

The Mirador de Mayabe is a motel-cum-restaurant high on a hill 10km from Holguín city. It gained fame for a beer-drinking donkey named Pancho, who hung out near the bar in the 1980s. The original Pancho died in 1992 and they’re now onto Pancho IV who also drinks beer. Traditional country shows occur here most weeks.

A bus runs to Holguín from the bottom of the hill, 1.5km from the motel, three times a day.

Plaza de la Marqueta

Long earmarked for a major renovation, hopelessly ruined Plaza de la Marqueta is a plaza of possibilities that remains unfulfilled. Laid out in 1848 and rebuilt in 1918, the square is dominated by an impressive covered marketplace supposedly undergoing a transformation into a top-notch concert hall (after a decade of rumors, however, the work has yet to start).

Running along the north and south sides of the plaza are myriad shops that are meant to provide quality shopping but, to date, number only a couple of music and cigar outlets.

 Catedral de San Isidoro

Dazzling white and characterized by its twin domed towers, the Catedral de San Isidoro dates from 1720 and was one of the town’s original constructions. Added piecemeal over the years, the towers are of 20th-century vintage and in 1979 it became a cathedral. A hyper-realistic statue of Pope Jean Paul II stands to the right of the main doors. If it’s open you can take a peak inside, though the interior is relatively austere.

holguin-Catedral de San Isidoro

Museo de Historia Provincial

Now a national monument, the building on the northern side of Parque Calixto García was constructed between 1860 and 1868 and used as a Spanish army barracks during the independence wars. It was nicknamed La Periquera (Parrot Cage) for the red, yellow and green uniforms of the Spanish soldiers who stood guard.

The prize exhibit is an old axe-head carved in the likeness of a man, known as the Hacha de Holguín (Holguín Axe), thought to have been made by indigenous inhabitants in the early 1400s and discovered in 1860. Looking even sharper in its polished glass case is a sword that once belonged to national hero and poet, José Martí.

La Loma de la Cruz

At the northern end of Maceo you’ll find a stairway built in 1950, with 465 steps ascending a 275m-high hill with panoramic views, a restaurant and a 24-hour bar. A cross was raised here in 1790 in hope of relieving a drought, and every May 3 during Romerías de Mayo devotees climb to the summit where a special Mass is held.
It’s a 20-minute walk from town or you can flag a bici-taxi to the foot of the hill for around 10 Cuban pesos. This walk is best tackled early in the morning when the light is pristine and the heat not too debilitating.

holguin-loma-cruz

Relax and fun in Holguin

The north coast of Holguín is famous for its beaches, and rightly so. The region is endowed with remarkably clear waters, white sand and proximity to winding ecological trails. The three most popular enclaves, Playa Esmeralda, Playa Pesquero and Guardalavaca, are sweeping crescents near spectacular dive sites. There is hop-on hop-off bus service to the beaches and the surrounding sights.

Friendly Holguín locals like to have a good time.
Carnaval. See how Holguín does Carnaval during the third week of August. Expect lots of dancing in the streets and concerts al fresco.
Romerías de Mayo. Take in the music, poetry, paintings and many exhibitions during the weeklong art festival, which includes a pilgrimage to the top of the Loma de la Cruz, during the first week of May in Holguín. Don’t miss the national rap competition.

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