(BBC) — With 3,570 miles of coastline, it’s no surprise that Cuba boasts an abundance of white sand beaches and clear blue waters.
When Christopher Columbus landed here in 1492, he is thought to have declared the island “the most beautiful land human eyes have ever seen.”
Ever since then, acclaim for the natural beauty of Cuba, the largest island in the Caribbean, has only grown.Up until the 1950s, Cuba was a favorite destination for Americans looking to lie on a sunny, sandy beach. When Fidel Castro took control of the island in 1959 and soon thereafter broke off relations with the US government, the Cuban tourism industry ended almost overnight.
Castro’s revolution nationalized all the hotels, and a US economic embargo prevented Americans from visiting Cuba. Suddenly, thanks to the Cold War, a weekend destination that had been easily accessible was off limits.The tens of thousands of Cubans who fled to the United States brought with them an overwhelming nostalgia for a homeland they had left behind forever.
When I lived in Miami for much of the 2000s, Cuban exiles described the fine, snow white sands of Varadero as if they had just come from a day at the beach and were not describing a place they hadn’t seen in more than a half-century.Then I moved to Cuba in 2012 and discovered that in typical Cuban fashion nearly everyone disagreed about which beaches were the best the island had to offer.
Many experienced beach goers swore that Cayo Largo del Sur — an island off the southern coast — had the most incredible beaches in Cuba.And though I had traveled across the entire island countless times in the past seven years, I’d never visited Cayo Largo.
So at 5 o’clock one morning, I found myself waiting at the tiny airport in the town of Baracoa, just outside Havana, to catch the single daily flight to Cayo Largo.