Las Tunas

Victoria de las Tunas, also known as Las Tunas, or even just Tuna, was founded in the 1750s, but was never more than a market town until Las Tunas became a province in its own right in 1975 and needed a provincial capital. Travellers could be forgiven for not noticing this small, agricultural province on their way from Camagüey to Holguín or Bayamo, as only about 65 km of the road actually passes through it. On the other hand, the provincial capital would make a convenient break in the journey, or you could get well off the beaten track by visiting the beaches of the irregular northern coast, indented by three large bays. Las Tunas boasts 35 virgin beaches, of which the main one, Playa Covarrubias, has fine, white sand and is protected by a 3-km coral reef. Hotel construction is making it easier to stay in this area, which so far does not have the enclave atmosphere of many of Cuba's beach resorts.

Ins and outs

Getting there

The Carretera Central linking Havana with the east of the country runs through the middle of town, although there is now a Circunvalación running round the south so that you can avoid the centre all together if you want to. There is a domestic airport outside
Las Tunas
, but no international flights land here. Las Tunas is on the long-distance bus and train routes from Havana to Santiago de Cuba. It is easy enough to get there but more difficult to get out, as most of the buses are full when they pass through. The long-distance bus terminal is 1 km from the town centre and closer than the railway station, 2.5 km away, but both are within walking distance if you haven't got much luggage. Bicitaxis
and
coches
are available.

Getting around

The town of Las Tunas is small and you can walk
around it in a day at a leisurely pace. Motorized or horse-drawn
taxis
are available if you are based further out at
Hotel Las Tunas
, where there is also
car hire
. The provincial bus station for bus services to local towns and villages is beside the railway station. Taxis will take you on excursions.

City centre

The town centre is effectively the junction of three roads, the tree-lined Vicente García (the Carretera Central), Angel Guardia and Francisco Varona, at the Parque Vicente García, where there is a small church. There is a memorial to General Vicente García just off the Parque and his name crops up frequently in the town, because he led the struggle for independence in the area in 1868 and captured the town in 1876. The old centre of Las Tunas, the
casco histórico
, has received a certain amount of investment recently and the town has been beautified considerably, largely with the introduction of some 70 sculptures permanently exhibited around town. One, by Rita Longa, is of a naked woman lying in the shape of the island of Cuba, called 'Venus Stretching Out'. Las Tunas is known as the Cuban capital of sculpture and every two years has a major sculpture festival. Buildings, such as the 1945 Hotel Cadillac, have been completely renovated and an attractive
pedestrian boulevard created, linking Plaza José Martí with the theatre, the provincial museum and the Memorial Mayor General Vicente García González .

In 1976 a Cubana plane en route from Caracas to Havana was blown up just after take-off from a stop in Barbados by a bomber who left a device under his seat when he disembarked in Barbados. Seventy-three people, including the Cuban fencing team, were killed. To this day no one has been charged in connection with the incident. The
Memorial a los Mártires de Barbados
, located in a museum in the park along Vicente García by the river, contains photos of all the victims around the walls. Three members of the fencing team came from Las Tunas and the museum is in the house of one of them. The 25th anniversary of the bombing, in 2001, coincided with the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York, providing Cuba with extra publicity in its campaign for justice.

Opposite the Parque, the
Museo Provincial General Vicente García
, displays local history. Built in 1921, it was originally the Town Hall, before becoming the municipal public library in 1951, a high school after the Revolution in 1959 and a museum in 1984 after extensive remodelling. The
Memorial Mayor General Vicente García González
, is the birthplace of the general. The present house dates from 1919, as the General's house was burned down in 1876 when he ordered the burning of the city before turning it over to the Spanish. It is used for local ceremonies and houses various historical exhibits, old weapons, documents and art.

The birthplace of a local 19th-century poet has been made into a museum, the
Casa Natal Juan Cristóbal Nápoles y Fajardo
, on Lucas Ortíz. He was one of the greatest creators of the Cuban
cucalambé
style, which started in the 19th century but continues today as a niche cultural genre based on improvization. Nápoles wrote
décimas
, songs of ten sentences long. He vanished in 1862 and no one knows what happened to him. Every year a music festival is held in Las Tunas,
La Jornada Cucalambeana
, with singers of country music, improvization and other artists honouring this and other writers of
cucalambé
. There is also plenty of salsa and dancing, local food stalls and lots of beer and rum.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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