Manzanillo

Manzanillo is a small seaside town and principal port of Granma province with not much to offer to the foreign tourist. Its one advantage is that due to lack of tourism, visitors will not be subject to the constant attention and hassle common in tourist destinations; the people of Manzanillo seem completely uninterested in the activities of foreigners in their midst and you can stroll about the town at your leisure virtually ignored. Another advantage of the absence of tourism is that you can pay for nearly everything in pesos cubanos, so for the budget traveller who wants to hang onto CUC$ for later, Manzanillo is a good stop-off point. During the Special Period the port was closed, imports ceased and 3000 men were made redundant. Things have recently picked up a bit with renewed imports of rice, building materials and fertilizers, but the harbour has silted up and big cargo ships can no longer come in, leaving it as principally a fishing town. Further proof of renewed interest in the town came with the reopening of the theatre after being closed for 30 years, together with the small Hotel Venus opposite for visiting stage artists. The universities are thriving and attracting foreign students.

Ins and outs

Getting there

All long-distance transport is via Bayamo, unless you want to try for the once a week
flight
to and from Havana. At Bayamo you connect with
buses
and
trains
running from east to west along the island.

Getting around

The town is not very big so you can walk around it or take a bicitaxi or coche for longer distances. Some streets are actually steps and therefore pedestrian.Car hire is available for excursions to the Granma landing site and other local attractions.

Tourist information

The hotel is your best bet for information, or talk to local people. Tourism is not promoted in Manzanillo.

City centre

The centre of town is the
Parque Céspedes
. Here is the glorieta
(gazebo), maintained in pristine condition and considered a symbol of the city, where concerts are held on Sunday afternoons. The square is surrounded by restaurants and snack bars, all of which charge in pesos cubanos. On José Martí there are cheap stalls selling essential commodities for Cubans, also the usual mini-
paladares
. The
Casa de la Trova
is the centre of nightlife on Saturdays, and you can mingle with Cubans in a natural environment, without feeling segregated in a tourist-only exclusion zone, as in the big cities. A small, colonial church, the
Iglesia de la Purísima Concepción
, is on Maceo, overlooking Parque Céspedes. The
Museo Histórico Municipal
is on José Martí 226, with artefacts of the
conquistadores
in one section and relics of the clandestine struggle in the other. The
Malecón
stretches along the seafront from the town centre out to the Proyecto Recreativo, where there are night clubs, cabaret and lots of open air night life. Along the seafront you will find
El Ranchón
restaurant, fish restaurants and kiosks selling
minuto pescado
, small fillets of fried fish, while offshore little fishing boats bob about on the water.

Southwest Granma to Cabo Cruz

From Manzanillo a road follows the coast along the Golfo de Guacanayabo to the tip of the peninsula at Cabo Cruz and the Parque Nacional Desembarco del Granma. There are several police checks along the way and if you are in a car driven by a Cuban he is likely to face a fine for carrying foreigners. He will pay it and carry on. Illegal taxi drivers usually factor this in to their price. About 10 km south of Manzanillo is the
Parque Nacional de Demajagua
. The ruins of the
Demajagua
sugar mill
are preserved in a park with neat lawns, palm trees and a visitor centre at the entrance. This is the place where, in 1868, Carlos Manuel de Céspedes cast the first stone in the First War of Independence by liberating his slaves and shouting “¡Viva Cuba Libre!”. The mill was named after the bell used to call the slaves to work, which then became the symbol of the Revolution when Céspedes set off to rebel against Spanish rule. There is not a lot to see nowadays and a tree is growing up through the old machinery, but it is a pleasant stop on the hill with a view down to the sea and the cays offshore. The small one in the distance is Cayo Perla. Built in 1840, the mill was improved after 1868, but it didn't produce sugar, only molasses (
miel
).

After 50 km driving through sugar cane lands you come to the small town of
Media Luna
, home to the
Museo Celia Sánchez
, in a green and white traditional wooden house on the main road out of town, a small but worthy testament to this influential player in the Revolution. Celia Sánchez was a key figure at the beginning of the Revolution and it was partly because of her support that the
Granma
landing was not a complete disaster. Contrary to expectations, Batista's troops were waiting for the yacht and the revolutionaries had to scatter into the hills. Despite being in great danger, Sánchez, who lived locally, managed to get messages to the different groups and they were able to reunite. The town is neat with hedges of hibiscus, bougainvillea and other flowering plants. The sugar mill still operates here.

Another 23 km brings you to
Niquero
where there is accommodation in a nice hotel with great views of the sea in one direction and a sugar mill in the other from its rooftop bar. Niquero bus station is full of horses and carts and
bicitaxis
; there are very few private cars in town. From Niquero a dirt road leads to the spot where Castro's 82 revolutionaries disembarked from the yacht
Granma
, on 2 December 1956 in a mangrove swamp just southwest of
Playa Las Coloradas
, a reasonable beach with a Campismo resort of cabins and entertainment for Cuban holidaymakers. By the dirt road is a small park where a replica of
Granma
can be seen and the house of Angel Pérez Rosabal, the first person to help Castro when he landed on 2 December 1956. A guide is obligatory. A 2-km concrete path through the swamp takes you to a rather ugly concrete jetty and a plaque marking the occasion of the landing (The real
Granma
is in Havana). It is a hot desolate walk there and back, but hugely atmospheric when you imagine the men wearing heavy fatigues and carrying enormous packs with guns and ammunition struggling through the mud, mosquitoes, mangroves and razor grass. Every year on 2 December, hundreds of youths re-enact the whole journey from Mexico, disembarking here and heading off into the Sierra Maestra, worth visiting at that time.

A few kilometres further on, just before you reach Cabo Cruz, is
El Guafe
, where there is a 2-km, two-hour circular path, Sendero Ecológico, through the dry tropical forest. Along the path you can see evidence of Amerindian habitation, caves, burial sites and their ceremonial areas. Wildlife is also abundant, with butterflies along the path, birds in the forest and a wide variety of plants, including the tallest cactus in the country, called 'el Viejo Testigo', which was damaged by the 2008 hurricanes, but still lives to tell the tale. The dirt road ends at
Cabo Cruz
at the tip of the peninsula. There is a beach here, a mixture of stones and sand, with thatched parasols for shade, but it is not ideal for swimming because of the coral terraces just underwater. It is nice for a paddle after a hot walk at El Guafe, though. A ramshackle fishing fleet is parked under the eye of the 1871 lighthouse and there are a couple of kiosks selling fried fish if the restaurant is not open. A delicious fillet of freshly fried, piping-hot
minuto
in a bread roll will cost you about three pesos cubanos. Eat it sitting on the sea wall, then go back for another. The
Parque Nacional Desembarco de Granma
, which extends from the southwestern coast of the eastern region to the Sierra Maestra has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, largely because of the Cabo Cruz marine terraces.

Between Niquero and Media Luna there is a turning southeast across the peninsula, following the Río Sevilla for much of the way, to
Pilón
(population 12,000), a small town with a harbour on the south coast. Just before
Ojo de Agua
, there are three separate signs and plaques marking the spots where three groups of men who disembarked from
Granma
crossed the road in underground water conduits, before heading into the Sierra Maestra. The signs have the emblems of five palms in a heart, because the men arranged to reassemble at a place called
Cinco Palmas
. The spot near Ojo de Agua has the actual conduit through which Fidel and his group went, sitting at the side of the road. At Pilón the road joins up with the coast road from Santiago de Cuba. The best beaches in this area are on the south coast around
Marea del Portillo
where there are a few hotels offering diving and other watersports. The sand is grey because of its volcanic origins and gets hot at midday, but the scenery is spectacular with palm-fringed bays at the foot of the mountains of the Sierra Maestra and the deep blue of the Caribbean Sea.

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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