Say “Cuba” and many think Havana. It’s the country’s capital, after all, and the setting for nearly all of the images of Cuba that we see in tourist brochures. But this island – the Caribbean’s largest – offers more than big city hustle and bustle.
So far largely undeveloped, Cayo Romano is the largest key in the King’s Garden island group. It is a mostly undiscovered system of estuaries and lagoons, missed by a majority of yearly foreign visitors to Cuba. The vast shallow flats provide an ideal habitat for bonefish, tarpon and barracuda, so fishermen find this a highlight destination.
Cayo Santa María
One of the smallest keys on the island, Santa María lies in the mini-collection of islands called the Cayos de Villa Clara, and it holds over 6 miles of gorgeous beach. Particularly popular with tourists, there is a variety of activities that keep people occupied. Although it is the second largest beach resort area in Cuba, it somehow maintains its quality of a quiet and relaxed destination, so explorers can still find themselves immersed in that small island feeling.
At just under 5 square miles, this gem of the King’s Garden Archipelago sits just off the coast of Cayo Romano and Cayo Guillermo. In 1514 Diego Velázquez was the first European to explore the region, and at the north of the island stands a lighthouse with his name. The light still shines for passing sailors. The shallow flats of Paredón are well known for fly-fishing, where anglers catch Bonefish and Permit, and on the north side of the islet, visitors find the white sands of Playa Los Piños and Playa Los Lirios next to the turquoise water. A particular recommendation of Román Cahero, Cayo Peredón is a hotspot for birders.
At the end of a 17-mile causeway that crosses the Bay of Dogs lies Cayo Coco, the second largest key in the King’s Gardens. The key is named after the White Ibis, a lanky native of Cuba that locals call the Coco Bird. Matching the plumage of this lanky shorebird, the famously white sand on this key attracts explorers and beachgoers who love their natural surroundings. The area is largely covered with vegetation, and over 200 species of birds make this place home, including pink flamingos. After a sojourn of exploring the key and its wildlife, visitors can enjoy a cold Cuban cocktail and a lobster lunch in one of the open-air, palapa-style restaurants that line the coast, called ranchons. Apart from the tourist offerings, there is little development at Cayo Coco, allowing journey makers a bit of seclusion.
“The northern keys,” says Román Cahero, “like Cayo Las Brujas and Cayo Santa María, as well as Cayo Guillermo are popular with ‘sun and sand’ tourists from other countries, particularly those from Canada and Europe, who enjoy the all-inclusive resorts in the area,” International airports and a well-developed hotel infrastructure with 4-and 5-star hotels in Cayo Coco make these attractive destinations for travelers who would prefer a less-regimented excursion.