Around 700 km south east of Havana lies Holguín, Cuba’s third largest city.
Restorer Carlos Chiong Cruz led us from there to an old colonial treasure he has helped to rebuild in recent years.
His taxi driver’s 1950 Dodge, fitted with an engine from a Russian Volga, drove some 30km north… There, behind an old railway tunnel, lies an unexpected beauty: the town of Gibara which celebrates its 200th birthday this year.
“We have to preserve, to restore this city. It’s like saying we have to restore the tower of Pisa. We have to restore Gibara to preserve its lightness and brightness,” said Cruz.
The fishing town once known as “Cuba’s best-kept secret” is being restored to its former glory.
Some ruins remain, but there are also renovated hotels such as “Arsenita,” which are part of a project designed to heighten Cuba’s appeal as a tourist destination.
“We are very much absorbed by creating new hotels of this kind. It’s an example of the effort that is being made,” Cruz explained.
To mark the island passing the four-million visitor mark for the first time in 2016, the annual FIT Cuba tourism fair held a special event in Gibara this year.
Tourism minister Manuel Marrero Cruz helped officially launch the town as a tourist destination.
‘Festival of Poor Cinema’
For over a decade, the town has hosted a film festival for low-budget productions. Until recently, it was called the ‘Festival of Poor Cinema’.
“He had the wonderful idea of bringing together these films and of calling the festival “poor”. But it is rich because it promotes the human being, and empowers people who love peace, dignity, and humanity,” Cruz said.