Spanning the trunk of the island some 450km east of Havana, the low-lying provinces of Ciego de Ávila and Camagüey form the agricultural heart of Cuba. The westernmost of the two, sleepy Ciego de Ávila is sparsely populated, and with only two medium-sized towns, Ciego de Ávila city and Morón. Most independent visitors base themselves in Morón, conveniently located for trips to the province’s star attraction, the Jardines del Rey, a line of cays off the north coast with flamboyant birdlife, the country’s most dazzling beaches and one of the Caribbean’s biggest barrier reefs, with superb offshore diving. As well as offering accommodation at a fraction of the price of the cays’ all-inclusive hotels, Morón also takes you within close proximity of two alluring lakes, Laguna de la Leche and Laguna la Redonda, both well set up for fishing, boat trips and lakeside dining.
Livelier than its neighbour, Camagüey is the country’s largest province, largely made up of low-lying farmland dappled with a rural villages. Its main draws are the northern beaches and the provincial capital of Camagüey city, one of the original seven villas founded by Diego Velázquez in 1515. Nurtured by sugar wealth that dates to the late sixteenth century, Camagüey has grown into a large and stalwart city with many of the architectural hallmarks of a Spanish colonial town, and is deservedly beginning to compete as a tourist centre. While the government pushes the plush northern beach resort of Santa Lucía as the province’s chief attraction, its least spoilt beach is just west of the resort at Cayo Sabinal.