In this beautiful hill-studded hinterland, Cuba’s contradictions are magnified. For the visitor, there's rich landscapes ranging from the pine-scented mountains of the Sierra Cristal to the palm-fringed beaches around Guardalavaca. Holguín's beauty was first spied by Christopher Columbus who, by most accounts, docked near Gibara in October 1492 where he was met by a group of curious Taíno natives. The Taínos didn’t survive the ensuing Spanish colonization, though fragments of their legacy can be reconstructed in Holguín Province, which contains more pre-Columbian archaeological sites than anywhere else in Cuba.
Perhaps something in the water breeds extremes. Fulgencio Batista, and his ideological opposite, Fidel Castro, were both reared in this province, as were dissident writers Reinaldo Arenas and Guillermo Infante. There's plenty of contrast in settings as well: the inherent Cuban-ness of Gibara contrasts sharply with the tourist swank of resort-complex Guardalavaca.