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Updated Jul 29, 2014, 8:22 AM
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Ciego de Avila

Ciego de Avila is an urban center of approximately 90,000 inhabitants on the central side of Cuba, and it is the capital city of a province bearing the same name. It is connected by the island’s main National Road, Carretera Central, and the National Railroad System which is about 460 km. (286 miles) east of Havana and 110 km. (68 miles) west of the city of Camaguey which used to be included inside its boundaries until 1976 when the new administrative division of the island was implemented.

The vast and mostly flat region where it lies has always rendered good fertile soil for the growth of sugar cane, citrus fruits, and some other valuable agricultural products. The province itself covers an area of about 6910 km²  and boasting the lowest population density on the island.

Spanish Conquistador Jacome de Avila founded the small village of Ciego de Avila in 1538 that consisted of a farm located in a clearing surrounded by forests, hence how it got its name.  But the hamlet never grew significantly, mainly due to its isolation in the middle of the island, far away from the government centers in Havana and Santiago de Cuba. The town only became a bona fide city in 1840, acquiring its municipal government years later, and becoming an independent city from the nearby town of Moron in 1877.

The city was put on the nation’s spotlight 
for the first time when the Spanish army decided to build a military line of defense which was widely known in Cuban history as La Trocha de Jucaro a Moron, during the wars of independence against Spain, which broke out in the second half of the 19th century.  This was done in order to prevent the Cuban nationalists, the insurgency, from expanding the war from the east to the west, an action that proved inefficient numerous times in spite of gradual reinforcement and improvement endeavors on the part of the Spanish crown. In its heyday in the late 1890s, La Trocha had 68 forts stationed at one-km. intervals and lookout points every 500 meters equipped with listening stations. Moats were also added together with heliographic towers for optical signals.

The Trocha was surrounded by barb-wired reaching a 9-meter in height. A narrow-gauge railroad connected all the military positions that had a garrison of over 5,000 soldiers. Some Trocha towers have survived the impetuous passing of time, lying a short distance outside town and now used as museums. It is a fact that the Trocha remains one of the most important military engineering works ever created by Spanish rule in the New World.

The ethnic mixture of the inhabitants of the area offers both local and rural festivities of Spanish and Congo origin; and Yoruba and Voodoo festivals of African origin in the Jamaican and Haitian immigrants' quarters.

The city owes many of its outstanding colonial buildings to the charity work of the city benefactor, Angela Hernandez Viuda de Jimenez, who donated an ample part of her fortune to develop a rich, cultural ambiance in the city. She’s often referred to as the modern founder of the city.

The sizable Parque Marti offers a glimpse of the two-story colonial houses, a common architectural feature in town, and is only a few blocks away from The Teatro Principal, a 500-seat theater dating back to 1927 and renowned for its excellent acoustics.

Despite its local architectural attractions, the few visitors that happen to lay their eyes on the city are those who are mostly just passing through on their way to the Keys that form the Jardines del Rey Archipelago. The main access point by air is Máximo Gomez International Airpoirt which is located almost half-way down between Ciego de Avila and Moron. 

The latter is often referred to as the City of the Rooster and was founded in 1750, retaining a small, well- preserved colonial center. The Museo Municipal is listed as one of many attractions in this town, displaying more than 600 archaeological finds that were brought to light as recent as 1947 from a site very close to town, and includes a famous aboriginal statuette, El Idolillo de Barro.

There is a popular Cuban phrase that goes: You’d be careful not to end up like "the Cockerel of Moron" that lost its feathers together with its crest. This is an old Spanish saying dating back to the middle ages that relates to how a Spanish landlord from the Andalusian village of Moron de la Frontera ruled his domains over the local farmers with merciless cruelty, being labeled the "cockerel" for his arrogance. The angry masses got fed up with the mistreatment and kicked the "cockerel" out of town.  When an Andalusian community migrated to Cuba in the 18th century, founding the village of Moron, they built a statue of a rooster in order to keep their traditions going and as a remembrance of what their ancestors had to go through in the past so that the nasty incident would never occur again. The original Statue of Cockerel was torn down in 1959 and put back in its original spot in 1989 right by a tower that plays the recording of a cock crowing twice a day, at sunrise and at sunset.

A 62-km. drive from 
Moron brings you to the Jardines del Rey Archipelago, the largest of the four archipelagos that surround Cuba, where both Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo Keys are to be found. The aforementioned archipelago was discovered by the Spanish Conquistador Diego Velazquez de Cuellar in 1522, who, struck by their beauty, dedicated them to the King of the Metropolis. It includes more that 400 isles, islets, keys, and islands, almost all of which remain untouched and uninhabited; featuring incredibly precious scenic and environmental as well as well-preserved tropical ecosystems meeting the requirements of the most demanding visitors.

A 17 km. long highway links mainland Cuba to the archipelago where only two keys are being exploited: Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo. The nearby, third largest island in the archipelago, Cayo Paredon Grande, also untouched, offers magnificent swimming, diving, and bird watching opportunities.

There are many natural sites to admire on the way to the north coast, and two freshwater lagoons stand out: Laguna Redonda, owing its name to its almost circular shape, which is abounding with freshwater fish; and Laguna de la Leche (Milk Lagoon), thus named because of its color which is caused by limestone deposits in the water, which is the largest body of brackish water in Cuba covering a total area of 67 km² (26 sq miles) and is a natural safe haven for herons and flamingos. The environs north of Laguna de la Leche are met by Isla de Turiguano, a Dutch-style village surrounded by pastureland and Dutch cattle, the only one of its kind in Cuba.

Chinese immigrants built the landmark Diego Velazquez Lighthouse in the 19th century which boasts excellent views of the surrounding sites.

Fishing and producing charcoal were the main economic activities that the 19th century settlers got involved in and the experience can be lived out by visiting La Güira which displays a true-to-life model of this former way of life. On your list of things you must do should be a dinner at the Rocarena Restaurant or a night outing at La Cueva del Jabali.

The waters of the Old Canal of Bahamas bathe Cayo Coco, which covers an area of 370 km². A fairly good-sized international airport located on the eastern side of the island has recently eased up access to the keys. Cayo Coco has 22 kilometers (14 miles) of fine, white sand beaches with pristine waters located in a practically untouched area where forests and many exotic plants cover close to 90% of the territory. Brackish water lagoons as well as marshy land and mangrove areas provide an excellent habitat for many species of its fauna, making Cayo Coco an important natural reserve for marine birds. Flamingos can be easily spotted everywhere. The name of the key is derived from the white ibis, commonly called by locals "el coco." The key is ideal for water sports enthusiasts as well as a family resort place.

A secondary highway links Cayo Coco to Cayo Guillermo, a key that stretches over 13 km² of surface which was made world famous by Nobel Prize-winning Ernest Hemingway and his novel "Islands in the Stream,"  which described how promising this place seemed to him. Cayo Guillermo has many beaches, but the 4 km. long Playa Pilar boasts the highest sand dune in the Caribbean reaching up to 15 meters. There are adjacent keys like Media Luna and Los Felipes offering a lot of potential in the future for many nautical activities.

The Archipelago of Jardines del Rey will make you feel like you're in paradise, satisfaction guaranteed!

Ciego de Avila