If you long to get out of the city and hit the beach, Playa Siboney is around 19km (12 miles) to the East of Santiago. Varadero it isn't - neither in terms of facilities nor crowds - it's a much more rustic experience.
A beach popular with locals and day trippers
Playa Siboney is an underdeveloped seaside town - hardly a resort. A trip to the beach, however, offers the opportunity to sunbathe and swim in the warm Caribbean Sea and to see how Cubans chill out and kick back. You'll see families and youngsters and probably a few sexy Santiagüeras with their foreign sugar daddies.
Don't expect golden stretching sands or beach-front bars... The local sand is a greyish black due to the underlying geology. The beach itself sits under high cliffs topped with a few windswept palms and equally weather-beaten wooden houses and shacks. If you are lucky, you might find an enterprising local offering some street food, but you might be safer to bring a packed lunch from your hotel or Casa Particular.
The gateway to the Baconoa Biosphere Reserve
Continuing further eastwards, you arrive at the Baconao Biosphere Reserve, which stretches up to 60km (37 miles) from Santiago. The area is classified a UNESCO World Biosphere Heritage Reserve and features some unique indigenous wildlife, as well as a number of secluded natural beaches and great scuba diving and snorkelling opportunities.
Exploring the Siboney area
Inside the Baconao Reserve, it is possible to visit Jurassic Park, Cuban-style. The Valle de la Prehistoria features models of dinosaurs hidden among the lush vegetation. If you're in the area, it's worth a visit for the laugh - it's decidedly cheesy, but not worth a detour.
The nearby Grajita Siboney, however, is a worth a short visit to learn about the origins of the Cuban Revolution. The attack on the Moncada Barracks was planned and executed by Fidel Castro from here. You will pass the monuments to the fallen on 26 July 1953 along the road eastwards out of Santiago.
A day's circuit could also easily include La Gran Piedra (The Big Rock) and Cafeta La Isabelica, further local attractions.
There are a handful of Casas Particulares in Playa Siboney if you wish to stay a night or two and the restaurant on the hill overlooking the beach gets decent reviews.
Get InspirationAll about where to go and what you can do
If you are interested in Cuba's incredibly diverse indigenous biodiversity, the Alejandro de Humboldt National Park is worth a visit. Featuring 16 of the 28 protected national plant species and several endemic animals and birds, even those less attracted to flora and fauna will be impressed by the landscape and unspoilt beaches. It is best accessed from Baracoa.
A visit to the Almendares Park is an opportunity to relax in a lush, green setting in the heart of the city. Located by the river-side of the Playa neighbourhood, the park is an example of forward-thinking urban planning and offers some leisure activities for adults and children alike as well as the chance to see Habaneros relaxing with their families.
Playa Ancon just might be Cuba's best south beach. A 15-minute drive from Trinidad, visitors will find white sand, clear water, great diving, and sunny skies on the end of Ancon peninsula. There are three luxury resorts for those looking for an opulent holiday, as well as more modest options for the budget-conscious.
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