Cayo Sabinal owes its name to the abundant presence in its territory of a precious wood tree named Sabina. Its history is full of exciting legends of pirates and privateers who inhabited the zone during their adventures of attacks and lootings. That is the reason why, in 1831, the Spaniards built a fort in the eastern coast of the key. This fort, named San Hilario, served as watchtower and headquarters for the troops of the Spanish artillery in charge of the protection of the Sabana-Camaguey Archipelago from these perilous buccaneers. Later in time, it served as a military-class prison and, in 1875, it witnessed the only Carlist uprising in Cuba. Settled in the highest point of the key, the fort still stands and constitutes one of the main tourist attractions of Cayo Sabinal.
In 1847, a lighthouse was installed at Punta Maternillos. This lighthouse, named "Colón" after the Great Admiral, was an observation point that could cover all the Bahamas Channel and became imperative in alerting the Captains of the Ports of Nuevitas and San Hilario about any attacks or anomalies. The lighthouse is still active and constitutes one of the oldest of the country.
Owing to the numerous naval battles fought in the waters around the key, there are abundant shipwrecks in the bottom of its waters. Important ships like the Nuestra Señora de Alta Gracia, the Mortera, and the Pizarro are actual sunken treasures.
It was also at Sabinal where the Nobel Prize Winner Ernest Hemingway personally took part in the chase and hunting of German submarines during World War II. He also praised its waters because of their natural conditions for fishing.