This charming, albeit decayed, Spanish colonial city 300 mi/485 km southeast of Havana, has several restored plazas of exquisite historic charm. Camaguey is the third-largest city in Cuba and is associated with early revolutionary Ignacio Agramonte, who led unsuccessful revolts against the Spanish in the mid-1800s. Sights include several impressive historic churches, Parque Agramonte, Plaza San Juan de Dios and the intimate cobblestone Plaza del Carmen, with its life-size ceramic figures. Camaguey has two very pretty, well-restored colonial-style hotels right in the middle of the city, which offer amazing bargain prices.

Camaguey is in the middle of a cattle-ranching region; try to see a Cuban rodeo while you're in the area. Cuban cowboys (vaqueros) have their own unique style. Outside of town are the Sierra de Cubitas—river gorges with dramatic cliffs.

Within the province of Camaguey, there are some beach areas worth checking out, too. Lesser known than Varadero and Cayo Largo is the Santa Lucia resort area on the north coast, which is especially popular for its diving and snorkeling, although it may disappoint almost everyone else. Resorts such as the Cuatro Vientos and Vita Club Caracol primarily serve budget-oriented European charter groups, but they and the social life in the area are desultory.

More atmospheric are the beach and funky fishing community at Playa Los Cocos, which is 4 mi/6 km northwest of Santa Lucia. Cayo Sabinal, nearby, is worth the hardship of getting there for anyone who loves gorgeous beaches and turquoise waters in solitude. It has no facilities, but myriad mosquitoes will prey upon you. If you drive (a four-wheel-drive vehicle is essential), expect tight police checks when entering or leaving the island as drug-smuggling has been a problem there.

Sprinkled off the southern coast are the Jardines de la Reina, dozens of tiny coral cays studding shallow waters of Maxfield Parrish blues and greens. The fishing and diving there are as good as anywhere in Cuba. Facilities are limited to several small floating hotels that function as dedicated fishing and dive lodges.

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