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A Peek Inside Cuba: 8 Never-Before-Seen Photos From Beyond Havana

With direct flights between the U.S. and Cuba starting this summer, many people will begin to explore the once-inaccessible island nation. These aerial photos will give you a flying start.

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Marius Jovaisa

Valle de los Ingenios

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Valle de los Ingenios (ingenios means sugar mills) is, according to UNESCO, “a living museum of Cuban sugar production.” From the late 18th century to the late 19th century, this valley was the center of country’s sugar industry. Located in central Cuba, it still includes the picturesque ruins of 75 former cane sugar mills, plantation houses, barracks, and other sugar-related facilities.

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Marius Jovaisa


The city of Trinidad, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, sits close to the Valle de los Ingenios. Its well-preserved architecture reflects its important role at the heart of the once-booming sugar industry. The red-domed tower in the center left belongs to the Iglesia Convento de San Francisco (or Church and Monastery of Saint Francis). The yellow building in the center right is the Iglesia Parroquial de la Santisima Trinidad (or Church of the Holy Trinity). 

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Marius Jovaisa

Jardines del Rey

White sand beaches and azure waters beckon at Jardines del Rey, an archipelago off the northern coast of Cuba, but the most treasured attractions there lie beneath the surface: teeming coral reefs that draw snorkelers and divers from around the world. In the 16th century, the islands were a haven for pirates. Today, they’re a natural habitat for the Caribbean flamingo. 

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Marius Jovaisa

S.S. San Pasqual

Resting off the coast of Cayo Las Brujas, a tiny island located in central Cuba, the S.S. San Pasqual is a former American oil tanker that has been converted into a 10-room hotel that’s like no other. The ship was also formerly a WWII warship and a prison. 

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Marius Jovaisa

Sierra Cristal

The Sierra Cristal mountain range in eastern Cuba is chock full of natural marvels like this pristine lake. The range has the country’s second-highest peaks, and it’s covered with pine trees. 

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Marius Jovaisa

Valle de Vinales

Towering magotes (cone-shaped limestone mountains covered in vegetation) are the signature, stunning geological feature of the Valle de Vinales, yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site in western Cuba. Some of the mogotes are close to 1,000 feet tall. The soil and climate make the area a rich region for agriculture, particularly tobacco. 

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Marius Jovaisa

El Pedraplen

The scenic El Pedraplen causeway is 17 miles long and connects Cayo Coco, an island off the coast of central Cuba, to the mainland. Drivers on the route can sometimes see wild flamingos feeding in the nearby shallow waters. Avid readers, take note: Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo were the setting for Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea and Islands in the Stream

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Marius Jovaisa

El Morro

The massive fortress of El Morro—also known as the Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca—was designed in 1587 to protect the city of Santiago de Cuba from marauding pirates. Fittingly, it’s home today to the Museo de Pirateria (Museum of Piracy). Santiago de Cuba is Cuba’s second-largest city after Havana and sits in the southeastern part of the island. El Morro, which took more than 100 years to construct, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

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Marius Jovaisa

Cuba From Above

Lithuanian author and photographer Marius Jovaisa is the first and only artist to have received permission from the Cuban government to fly over the island and photograph it. For five years, that’s what he did: Unseen Cuba contains almost 300 images.  

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Marius Jovaisa

Photographer Marius Jovaisa

Jovaisa has been interested in aerial photography from a young age. He is the author of four other large-format photo books: Unseen Lithuania, Heavenly Belize, Magic Cancun & Riviera Maya, and Heavenly Yucatan. He overcame many obstacles to complete Unseen Cuba: It took two years before he was able to take his first photo there. He had to bring in his own ultralight aircraft from Australia and his own Lithuanian pilots to train Cuban pilots because the Cuban government required him to do so. In addition to the book, the Unseen Cuba app (available for Android and iOS devices) provides access to more of the 50,000 images of the island that were taken by Jovaisa during his project.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest