01 of 08
Maria la Gorda Beach - Guanahacabibes Peninsula in Western Cuba
Although most of the focus of a Cuba cruise is learning about the history of the country and its culture and people, seeing some of its natural beauty is also important.
Guanahacabibes peninsula in western Cuba has one of the largest national forest-parks in the country, the Parque Nacional Peninsula de Guanahacabibes. This mostly flat peninsula was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1987. Guanahacabibes features some of the loveliest beaches and best diving in the Caribbean, and one of the most accessible is at Mara la Gorda beach. This beach has a long dock where cruise ship tenders and dive and snorkel boats can tie up, making it a great beach day on a Cuba cruise.
The Guanahacabibes peninsula was once home to the Guanahatabey (also spelled Guanajatabey) people, who were the indigenous aborigines who lived in western Cuba at the time the Spanish conquistadors arrived. The peninsula has over 100 Cuban archaeological sites linked to the Guanahatabey.
The Guanacahabibes Peninsula in western Cuba is a great place for nature lovers to visit. Bird watchers have spotted almost 200 species of birds, and 4 of the surviving 7 species of marine turtles have been found in the waters around the peninsula. They come ashore at night in summer to lay their eggs. The pristine coral reefs attract all sorts of marine life (as well as snorkelers and divers).
One interesting phenomenon on the peninsula (and elsewhere in Cuba) for several weeks each spring is the hordes of yellow or red crabs moving from their land homes into the sea to lay their eggs. Unfortunately, since some of the crabs may have to walk 6 miles to the sea, many are killed while crossing the roads dividing the beach from the forests, so they end up dead. They smell horrible but make a great snack for birds and mammals. These crabs are toxic to humans, so don't be tempted to cook one. Cuba isn't the only place that has swarms of land crabs, but if you visit in the spring, you will see them. And, since the Guanahacabibes Peninsula is a nature preserve and lightly visited, you are more likely to see them alive.
Cuba Cruise Ships and the Guanahacabibes Peninsula
The Celestyal Crystal includes a day at Maria la Gorda on its Cuba cruise itinerary. In addition to the lovely beach seen in the photo above, Maria la Gorda has a small hotel resort and beach bar and cafe. This rustic hotel primarily caters to divers and those who enjoy an off-the-beaten-path resort.
The Celestyal Crystal offers its guests snorkeling and diving opportunities, but those who don't enjoy those activities can lounge on one of the beach chairs (in the sun or shade) or take a tour to Cabo de San Antonio, which is the westernmost point of Cuba and is also on the Guanahacabibes peninsula. Cabo de San Antonio has a nearby lighthouse, cave, walking trails, and its own beautiful beaches.
The rest of this article includes more photos and information on spending a day at Maria la Gorda.
Beginning in November 2016 and continuing through 2017, Celestyal Cruises visits Punta Frances rather than Maria la Gorda. Guests shouldn't be disappointed in the change since Punta Frances features two miles of white sandy beaches along with excellent snorkeling and diving. The Punta Frances beach is near one of Cuba's best marine sanctuaries at Punta Frances National Park.Continue to 2 of 8 below.
02 of 08
Dock at Maria la Gorda Beach
Cuba cruise ships visiting Maria la Gorda beach on the Guanahacabibes Peninsula of Cuba must use their tenders to take guests ashore. The tenders dock alongside the dive and snorkeling boats.Continue to 3 of 8 below.
03 of 08
Sparkling Blue Caribbean at Maria la Gorda
Seeing the various shades of green and blue in the Caribbean is one of the world's most beautiful sights. The beach and waters surrounding Maria la Gorda were clean and perfect for swimming, sunbathing, snorkeling, diving, or just sitting in the shade on a lounge chair and watching the colors change.Continue to 4 of 8 below.
04 of 08
Sign at Maria la Gorda Beach
I'm not making fun of this translation since English is my one and only language. However, sometimes you have to laugh at the translation in signage. We quickly decided that this was NOT encouraging suicide by hanging.Continue to 5 of 8 below.
05 of 08
Snorkeling Boat at Maria la Gorda
The Cuba cruise People to People tour at Maria la Gorda used this small boat for our snorkeling trip out to the coral reefs off the Guanahacabibes Peninsula. The reefs were just a few minutes boat ride from the Maria la Gorda pier. The SCUBA divers went to a reef a little further away, but the diving was still less than 50 feet deep. Like we snorkelers, they loved the pristine corals on the reefs.Continue to 6 of 8 below.
06 of 08
Snorkeling near Maria la Gorda Beach
The boat provided all the gear we needed for snorkeling--flippers, masks, snorkels, and life belts for those who wanted them. I had a problem with a leaky snorkel, but it was quickly replaced. Some on the boat were newbie snorkelers, and this was a good place to learn since water was clear and relatively calm.Continue to 7 of 8 below.
07 of 08
Snorkeler near Maria la Gorda Beach
One of my snorkeling mates demonstrates the clarity of the water near Maria la Gorda beach on the Guanahacabibes Peninsula.Continue to 8 of 8 below.
08 of 08
Coral Reef near Maria la Gorda Beach
The clear, swimming-pool-like water of the Caribbean just off the Guanahacabibes Peninsula was gorgeous for snorkeling. I loved seeing all the different types of coral. Since this is a lightly visiting area, the seas are still pristine. However, some of the beaches and coral have been damaged by hurricanes. Since the area is relatively shallow and flat, hurricanes are responsible for most of the damage.