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Cuban provinces: Matanzas ( Varadero)

Out of the 14 provinces the island is divided into, Matanzas is probably the one with the highest number and the greater density of tourism attractions, among which, the beach resort of Varadero is the most well known and demanded in the international market.

More than a century ago, on December 5 of 1887, the City Hall of Cárdenas approved the first urbanization project for this beach area, located in the most septentrional spot of the country and stretched for 22 kilometers along the north coast of the peninsula of Hicacos, a piece of land that had been exploited for more than 300 years only because of the existence there of productive salt mines and dense forests.

That is why, it wasn't until late 1920's that, in the hands of multimillionaire Irenee Du Pont, Varadero started to earn a place in the north American market and, after the 1930's, in the vacation itineraries of the Cuban high classes. Today, this tourist resort –which together with the City of Havana, receive some 70% of the total number of visitors who come to the Island– has an international airport, a solid and diversified hotel infrastructure and multiple options to satisfy all kinds of preferences.

Very fine white sands and transparent waters of unthinkable blue hues, are the major virtues of this well preserved beach, perfect for the practice of all nautical-recreational sports (with or without engine) and, in particular, for the practice of Scuba Diving, since there are 32 diving sites in an area whose limits are the Bay of Matanzas and the eastern tip of the Jardines del Rey archipelago.

Scenarios very praised by divers can be seen at the so called Blue Eye of Mégano, an enormous cave located in the reefs near the bay of Cádiz (close to the limits with Villa Clara), and the Cayo Piedras del Norte marine park, first and unique attraction of its kind in the country, covers an area of approximately four square nautical miles.

A 40 meter long boat; a rocket launch boat, an _AN-24 passenger airplane; a 102 meters long corvette and a tugboat are the intentionally sunken pieces that, since 1996, can be seen in this area, located approximately eight nautical miles to the northeast of the beach. The area is accessible for professional and amateur divers.

The ecological reserve of Punta de Hicacos has a different proposal for visitors: getting acquainted with the caves of Ambrosio and Los Musulmanes, where tens of aboriginal paintings are preserved; visiting La Laguna Mangón, where the existence of 662 bird species and 24 reptiles has been reported; traveling well back in natural history to experience the presence of the Patriarch, a cactus that is more than 600 years old.

An international air dive center; Varadero Golf Club, unique 18-hole par 72 professional golf court in the country; swimming with the dolphins of the aquarium; tens of excursions to the north keys on board sail boats and catamarans; aqua ray rides on to the narrow channels of the south; the opportunity of organizing a meeting at the Plaza América Convention Center, or enjoying the services of the green lung of the beach resort, Josone Park, are some other of the attractions offered by a city with lots of places to have fun at night.

The famous beach resort is also very close two other important places: Cárdenas and Matanzas. Cardenas, also called Flag City for being the place where the national flag was raised for the first time, is only 13 kilometers away. And the distance to the capital city is 35 kilometers

The city of Matanzas (founded in 1693), land of poets also known for its many bridges that enrich the urban area, is also known as the Athens, and the Venice of Cuba. Right there, next to a wonderful bay, a popular Cuban rhythm was also born: Danzón. There is also in Matanzas a sui generis Pharmaceutical Museum, which together with the Oscar María de Rojas Museum, opened at the beginning of the XX century, and Sauto Theater, compliment the cultural offer this province offers to visitors.

The caves of Bellamar, with almost 2 kilometers of spaces; the ruins of the Triunvirato sugar mill; and the fascinating Canímar River, of navigatable and quiet waters whose limits are marked by an exuberant vegetation, compliment the charms of the city of Matanzas, close to which –on the way to the city of Havana– the vast Yumurí Valley will make a stop and enjoy the privileged Bacunayagua lookout.

In this very area, in the midst of the quietness of the valley, Matanzas offers to its visitors the opportunity of receiving specialized anti-stress, beauty and weight loss treatments, as well as other programs conceived to improve the quality of life under exceptional conditions.

Also 40 kilometers away from Varadero, the town of San Miguel de los Baños gathers natural conditions to attract visitors interested in enjoying the kindness of its mineral-medicinal waters. Decades ago, there was here a beach resort and a building known as Gran Hotel considered by specialists a replica of the Great Casino of Montecarlo.

On the south side of the territory, the Great Natural Park of Montemar, located in the Ciénaga de Zapata Reserve of the Biosphere, is particularly attractive for those who prefer to enjoy the multiple specialties of nature tourism; though there are here many spaces of interest for those who rather go open sea diving or speleodiving in sunken caves.

A strategy designed for the preservation and care of its environment during almost four decades, together with scarce presence of population settlements have allowed this ecosystem to stay almost untouched. It is also considered the largest reserve of humid soil in the Caribbean, with outstanding places like the Salt Mines of Brito (ecosystem of coastal salt marshes), La Boca (the largest crocodile farm in Latin América) and the shelters of international fauna La Salina and Santo Tomás, which was classified as the most endemic area in the planet.

The Lagoon of the Treasure, with eight square kilometers of surface and five of depth, is probably the most well known place in the park. Boat rides are appropriate for fishing and traveling to the Guamá tourism center, habitat of two endangered species of aquatic vertebrates: Manatee and Manjuarí.

The values of this area are also enhanced by a natural pool; a garden where you will be able to see the transition between a semi-forest and a swamp forest; as well as the Bay of Pigs Museum, which gathers details of the defense against the armed invasion varied out in Cuba by mercenary troops in April of 1961 and defeated in less than 72 hours.

Matanzas, with an enormous potential for the development of tourism, has today its main economic support in the sugar agricultural industry with more than 21 facilities for the production of crude and refined sugar, excellent alcohols and other by-products of the sugar cane. Matanzas also has a supertanker base which provides a perfect infrastructure for the reception, distribution and storage of hydrocarbons, and at the same time produces almost one hundred percent of the of the material to cover tobacco plantations, the rayon thread and henequen natural fiber ropes that are made in the country.

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