West of Santiago

El Sanctuario de Nuestra Señora de la Caridad del Cobre

Twenty-nine kilometres west of Santiago is El Sanctuario de Nuestra Señora de la Caridad del Cobre ('El Cobre'), where the shrine of Cuba's patron saint, the Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, is built over a working copper mine. The story goes that in the 17th century, three fishermen were about to capsize in Nipe Bay, when they found a wooden statue of the Virgin Mary floating in the sea. Their lives were saved and they brought the statue to its current resting place above the altar. Downstairs there are many tokens of gratitude left by Cubans who have been helped by the Virgin in some way, for example, for their son to escape to Miami on a raft, in some medical problem or in some sporting event. It is quite common to see nuns dragging the infirm from a minivan into the church. There is a pilgrimage here on 7 September, the eve of the patron saint's day. Women with exposed shoulders are not admitted, so don't wear skimpy tops here, although they do hire rather attractive coveralls if you forget. Watch out for the touts swarming around you when you get out of the car; they will try to sell you souvenirs and pieces of copper. It is probably best to take a bit of copper and offer some pesos cubanos, otherwise they will be waiting for you when you leave the church. Fortunately they are not allowed inside.

Mar Verde to El Francés

There is a small, busy beach about 10 km west of Santiago called
Mar Verde
; then
Bueycabón
, which is nothing special, and then
Caletón Blanco
(30 km west of Santiago), which is a nice beach, mostly frequented by Cubans. Like all the beaches in this area, it is quite narrow, with beige sand. A seawater swimming pool next to the sea has the remains of a diving board. Hold your breath as youths throw themselves 2 m or so into the air above the
pool, getting the distance they need over the water to avoid being smashed on the pool's
edge. When they are not doing that, the pool is a pleasant place to take a dip if you want the Caribbean without the waves. There is a café and restaurant and Campismo for Cubans.
Further along is
El Francés
, said to be the best beach in the west but reserved for the military.

El Saltón

About 35 km inland from El Francés, near
Cruce de los Baños
, you will find El Saltón , a mini-resort advertized as 'stress relief', where there is a waterfall and several natural pools to bathe in. Originally designed as a health spa, you don't have to be ill to stay there now. It is in a fantastic location in the Sierra Maestra and set into the side of a mountain some way down a track with a picturesque waterfall and nothing else around it. A great place for a massage in a very relaxing environment. Day trips are organized to include a swim, lunch, hiking with a guide and horse riding.

El Uvero and around

Further west from Santiago the wonderful coastal road runs along the base of the Sierra Maestra with beautiful bays and completely deserted beaches, some with black sand. It is only possible to visit by car and a sturdy one is recommended as parts of the road are gravel and unsealed. Many of the villages have connections with historical revolutionary events.
El Uvero
, about 60 km from Santiago, Carretera Granma, has a monument marking the attack by Castro and his men on the Batista troop HQ on 28 May 1957. The building that was attacked is now a small
museum
.

It is 20 km from El Uvero to Ocujal and about 7 km from there to Las Cuevas (before La Plata), from where you can climb up to
Pico Turquino
(1974 m). This is the highest peak in the Sierra Maestra. There are only two legally established and maintained accesses to the mountain, from Las Cuevas and from Alto de Naranjo . A guide is mandatory. It can often be difficult to get a guide without advanced booking and it is quicker and easier to go on a tour. Sol y Son , offer a day trip. If you need accommodation in the area, you can ask around in Ocujal and Las Cuevas, or there is a campsite at La Mula, east of Ocujal.

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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