Holguin: Gateway to Eastern Cuba

This was my third trip to Cuba. On the first in 2004, we vacationed on the western side of the island in the capital of Havana and Varadero, the premier Cuban sunspot. In 2008, we soaked up the sun at a beach resort on Guardalavaca Beach near the city of Holguin and enjoyed a couple of customized off-site excursions to experience the eastern region. But it was not until July of 2018, that I had the opportunity to visit Holguin as the Gateway to Eastern Cuba, and truly explore this cocoa-rich region of one of my favourite Caribbean islands.


This is why most of us come to Cuba: for the beautiful beach resorts. This was the view from our room at Las Brisas Resort on Guardalavaca Beach near Holguin in Eastern Cuba.

There is something very special about being shown a region through the eyes of a local. On my recent trip to Eastern Cuba, I had the great pleasure of experiencing Holguin, Santiago de Cuba, Guantanamo, Jamal, and the Cocoa Capital of Baracoa through the eyes of several local residents who introduced me to their favourite places. How lucky can a chocolate-loving girl get?


The Cuba Collection from Confiserie Sprungli of Switzerland features Gran Cru artisan truffles made from cacao grown in Baracoa, Cuba, in addition to other local ingredients such as coconut, tropical fruits, rum, and dulce de leche. These chocolates are so exquisite, I just had to go to Eastern Cuba and taste the cocoa at its source.

I’d come home after my first two trips to Cuba thinking that Cuban cuisine left something to be desired. But on this trip, I basked in being a foodie, and ate truly world class meals that showcased the seafood of the Caribbean sea, wholesome Cuban ‘peasant food,’ and even some cocoa cuisine.

The city of Holguin is Cuba’s fourth largest urban centre with a population of just over 350,000, and its nickel-rich mining industry is second only to tourism as a contributor to the nation’s economy.



Long-time leader of Cuba Fidel Castro is buried at the Cementerio Santa Ifigenia in Santiago de Cuba in Eastern Cuba. He resigned from the presidency at the age of 82 due to failing health, at which time his brother Raul Castro became Cuba’s new leader. Raul retired in 2018 at the age of 86 and was succeeded by Miguel Diaz-Canel as president in April, 2018.

There are also many tributes throughout Cuba to Fidel Castro, the charismatic revolutionary communist who governed Cuba from 1959 to 2008. That’s 49 years! Please stay tuned for more on the beauty and resilience of the Cuban nation and its emerging cocoa industry in Eastern Cuba.

My thanks to the Cuban Tourist Board for financing this trip and arranging my itinerary.

Doreen Pendgracs

Known throughout the Web as the "Wizard of Words", I've been a freelance writer since 1993. I'm currently researching and writing volume II of "Chocolatour: A Quest for the World's Best Chocolate". Volume I was published in September, 2013.

56 Responses

  1. Tatai says:

    I planted 2 cacao plants in a pot. Soon I will have my own homemade chocolate.

  2. Yukti says:

    I have added Cuba in my wishlist but do not know much about it. But Holguin really looks interesting and it is a gateway to Eastern Cuba. Thanks for sharing all tips!

    • Thanks for your comment, Yukti, and welcome to Chocolatour. Cuba is a fascinating country, and Holguin the major tourism hub in Eastern Cuba. Stay tuned for future posts, as I’m be writing about Santiago de Cuba as well. It’s a hub for arts and culture and is definitely worth a visit.
      Doreen Pendgracs recently posted…tree to bar chocolate in CubaMy Profile

  3. Amrita Sen says:

    Wow, such an interesting article about Holguin. I have heard so much about the place and more so about Castro. And yes, seeing a place through the eyes of a local resident is the best. Looking forward to more ‘chocolaty’ tours!

  4. alison says:

    I have always wanted to visit Cuba and your post and adventure for cuisine is inspiring. I love the culture and cannot wait to hear more about the cocoa exploration

  5. Cuba has always been an intriguing country for me, owing to Castro, Cigars, and classic cars. Holguin is a place I was not aware of and also the fact that Columbus landed here. It is always a different experience when you see a place through the eyes of a local.. Looking forward to more of your stories from the Cuban odyssey.

  6. neha says:

    The resort at Holguin looks totally stunning. While I was reading your article my little daughter looked at the picture and immediately commented – lets go here mumma, the place looks beautiful!! I will definitely stay tuned for your stories on the emerging cocoa industry in east cuba.

  7. Shweta says:

    The whole of Cuba is off-beat for me. it is half the world away from India, but determined to make it there soon!

  8. Jim Jones says:

    It seems like most if not all of the attention paid to Cuba focuses on Havana – but your post is a great reminder that there’s the whole rest of the country to explore. You made interesting comments about the Cuban cuisine being a pleasant surprise, and I’ve heard the same from others. I can’t wait to get to Cuba someday!

    • Thx for your comment, Jim. Yes, Havana was the first place I visited on my first trip to Cuba, and it is definitely worth visiting. But it is a big city with many disadvantaged people. The smaller cities and villages are a great way to see how the average Cuban lives, eats, and dances with way less stress.
      Doreen Pendgracs recently posted…Holguin: Gateway to Eastern CubaMy Profile

  9. I’ve never been to Cuba, but have read about it often and have been fascinated by the place. Thank you for this detailed post into Cuba and your insight into the place! πŸ™‚

  10. Val says:

    I would love to go to Cuba and be able to experience it through locals’ perspective! It’s very high on my bucket list, please write more as you “promised”!

  11. Claire says:

    Woah, stunning view of the beach resort!! And, interesting photo that you had there of a man posing next to the Christopher Columbus statue ;P
    Looking forward to your next post πŸ™‚

  12. This sounds the perfect way to see Cuba, through the eyes of locals, who can help you find not only the amazing local cocoa / chocolate but also great local food. I’m not into beaches at all, but this would be right up my street.

  13. Lori says:

    What a wonderful way to experience Cuba and the lesser known parts of the country. I’d love to see Cuba in its still-authentic state, and especially experience the food (and chocolate). What could be better?

  14. I’ve been wanting to go to Cuba for years but never got round to it yet. You’ve reminded me I need to do it soon!

  15. Lucky you to have visited Cuba three times! Nice intro to the eastern region and Holguin. Looking forward to your future posts.

  16. Deepika says:

    Very unique post about Cuba, a great country.
    Thanks for sharing.

  17. When I think of Cuba I don’t think of beaches or cocoa. I will read your posts with interest to learn a little about a country I would love to visit.

    • Hi Lyn and thx for your comment. The beaches of Cuba are amazing. Varadero is one of the best in the world. And I’m thrilled to have discovered they are also growing some of the world’s finest cocoa. They just need help with improving their processing techniques and chocolate making skills, with hope that another hurricane will not further devastate the crop. Stay tuned! πŸ™‚
      Doreen Pendgracs recently posted…Holguin: Gateway to Eastern CubaMy Profile

  18. As always, some of travel’s most satisfying experiences are found off the beaten path. I’ll echo what many of your other US readers have said. We have a a rather hazy view of a place that the rest of the world has been getting to know. I look forward to your future posts about your latest trip to Cuba.

    • Thanks for your comment, Suzanne. Americans can get a glimpse of Cuban culture by visiting Little Havana in Miami. But it’s definitely not as good as the real thing. the Person to Person tours offered out of LA are a great way for Americans to get to Cuba hosted by an ex-pat Cuban. Cheers!

  19. Janet May-Hewson says:

    I didn’t realize Christopher Columbus was in Holguin. He was such a world traveller. I had heard that his ashes were portioned off to many lands. Do you know if Cuba received some?

  20. Tom Bartel says:

    Holguin is a little known gem of Cuba. Pretty sure when I was there last year that I was one of about five tourists. Had one of my most memorable experiences there as an impromptu opera concert and fashion show on the sidewalk in front of the library just wowed me.

  21. I’m looking forward to hearing more about your culinary adventures in eastern Cuba. We have many friends from Cuba and their home cooking is quite a diverse array of tastes.

  22. tint pets says:


  23. I’ll be interested to read about Cuba then and now in future posts!

  24. Carol says:

    You are discovering more of Cuba than others who go to the tourist spots. I would love to read your future posts on the cuisine, the cacao industry, and the history of Cuba!

    • Thanks, Carol. It is so much more meaningful if we get off the beaten path and look for authenticity in our travels. I know people who never leave the all-inclusive resort. They may as well stay home as far as I’m concerned, as all you have then is a pool and a buffet. You can have that anywhere!!!

  25. Oh I love seeing Cuba through your eyes, Doreen. And how nice to see that Christopher Columbus is still being honored somewhere in the world!! Keep the stories coming.

  26. Beverly says:

    Las Brisas Resort looks wonderful! I would love to visit there.

  27. susan gill says:

    Sounds Like a great time was had . I will hopefully get there one day.

  28. Your trip to Cuba sounds interesting. I have visited Cuba only once. That was years ago. Although I did get into Havana and did a day excursion to a sugar plantation and other sites, most of my time was spent at an all-inclusive resort. I’d love to go back and explore more of the country.

  29. Phoenicia says:

    Thank you for giving us an insight into Cuba. It is a country with such history. I picture pink cars, dancing in the streets, colourful clothes – all of this has been taken from whatever I have seen on screen!

    A friend visited and mentioned there is not a wide variety of food which I was not best pleased about. Food is highly important to me, particularly when on holiday.

    • Hi Phoenicia and thanks for your comment. I bet your friend stayed at an all-inclusive resort, and it is true that some of them lack creativity in their menus. But if you go to the small, privately-owned restaurants, you’d be surprised at how innovative the offerings are. Stay tuned for more visual offerings on the sights of Cuba. πŸ™‚
      Doreen Pendgracs recently posted…Holguin: Gateway to Eastern CubaMy Profile

  30. Tam says:

    Awesome. I will stay tuned for more reads about your latest trip to Cuba.

  31. Wow, three trips to Cuba! I haven’t visited yet, and have less desire to do so unless I could do some scuba diving, which is supposed to be amazing! I am glad you were able to pursue your love of chocolate there and interact with the locals.

  32. As you saw on Facebook, another of my Canadian friends vacations in Cuba quite frequently. When I first learned that, I was shocked, since like Jeannette says, us Americans don’t know much about the island. My Canadian friends broke me into it and you’ve just given me another reason to try to get my husband to go there: chocolate! Can’t wait to keep reading.

  33. Doreen — this is a glimpse of a Cuba that most Americans don’t know. My image is of very old, beat-up cars because of the U.S. embargo. Obviously, since the U.S. recognized Cuba, things have changed, and hopefully for the better.

    • Absolutely, Jeannette! The Cuban people are so proud, innovative, and productive. They are well educated and resourceful. And they want visitors to really experience Authentic Cuba. You will see much more of that in the coming posts. Thx for stopping by.

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