Cayo Coco, a hidden paradise in Cuba
If it weren't for Cuba, it would be hard to find a place as beautiful as this one, where wild nature is still preserved against all odds.
On the north coast, in the center of the main island, is the Jardines del Rey archipelago, which is made up of about 400 small islands. Almost all of them are uninhabited, but two have emerged from anonymity because the North American writer Ernest Hemingway, who lived in Cuba for many years, chose them as a vacation spot.
In 2018, I visited Cuba for the first time, and I was immediately blown away by what I saw. If Havana convinced me of its history and Varadero of its fantastic beaches, the Cayos was something I had to visit. And I couldn't have made a better choice. The contradictions I felt when walking around the main island seemed to disappear, and I experienced completely different emotions.
Here you don't feel authentic Cuba and if you didn't know where you were, you could be led to think that you landed on some other island in the Caribbean. No Cubans are living here and therefore there are no villages or other places of interest with human activity, only nature in its most natural state. Exactly what I was looking for.
But this was a trip that could have been completely different. In early September, Hurricane Dorian reached the Bahamas after skirting Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, punishing these islands with constant winds of around 290 km/h and gusts of up to 350 km/h. Luckily he spared Cuba when I was there.
After long hours of travel, we had to go around the Dorian and ended up turning south and flying over some of the islands of the Bahamas after passing close to the Turks and Caicos Islands. When I got off the plane in Cayo Coco I felt that pleasant feeling of typical Caribbean humidity as if it were an invisible wall...
Cayo Coco airport is very small but practical, it was rebuilt after Hurricane Irma hit in 2017. The formalities were the same as in Varadero, individual photos of each one, picking up the bags, and finding the right bus.
After a good night's sleep, I was finally able to visit the hotel and the beach that had made me travel for so many hours. The color of the sea contrasted with some gray clouds that flew over the horizon. The effect served to enhance the beauty of the place.
I was definitely invaded by the feeling of good vibes! Expectations about the place were exceeded on the first day...
Cayo Coco is connected to the main island (CUBA) by means of a 27 km-long artificial path (called the wall). There are a few vehicles that circulate here, namely some classics, resort staff transport, and tourist vehicles.
The Cubans who work on the Cayos cannot sleep there and therefore have to travel many kilometers every day in order to be able to work.
However, there are public beaches that are frequented by families who are brought in school buses to spend the day at the beach. Unfortunately, these areas are easily identifiable as the respect for nature of some Cubans is still a few levels below what we are used to.
But the beauty of these beaches is simply unusual, with their white sand and the sea with a temperature well above 30ºC.
On the hotel's beach, there is a support bar and enough shade for all guests without the stress of having to book with towels as in other places...
In addition, there are several activities that we can do, namely catamaran trips to the coral barrier located right in front of the Hotel.
Walking to the right of the hotel along the beach, in the end, an area of mangroves appears that forces us to enter the water a little above the knee so that we can continue walking on a tongue of sand that on one side has the sea of bright blue color and on the other, a lagoon where we can see some animals that seem indifferent to our passage.
One morning, I came across a Cuban who was walking along the beach, returning from the mangrove area, carrying a baby shark around his waist, among other fish he had caught. The mangroves serve as a refuge and nursery for these animals and some Cubans who know the area end up fishing even though they know they are in a reserve...
It is easy to find places where the landscape perfectly combines all the elements, namely the shapes, and colors.
Always reminding us that we are in Cuba after all, it presents many details that need to be improved. For example, there is no lighting between blocks in the resort, which makes walking around an adventure. The poles and lamps are there, but either they don't have bulbs or they aren't connected...
I already knew about the typical difficulties and therefore I was not surprised.
In terms of location and landscape, note 20!
The house had an excellent location, next to the beach on the first floor. A suite and an adjoining room.
Mélia Jardines del Rey was restored after Hurricane Irma, but there are small details that can still be improved. Regarding the pools, I ended up not even trying them due to the beauty of the beach.
Perhaps the detail really deserves a negative note, as it was very weak and does not leave nostalgia... Meals have little variety of food and there is not always replacement of the same, and some guests (Cubans) contribute to aggravating the situation as they take advantage of their short stays to fill backpacks with food that they then take home... a phenomenon that I had already witnessed in Varadero...
Outside the hotel, there are some stalls where you can buy some local crafts. It's always worth negotiating - LOL
Returning to the hotel's beach (Playa Flamenco) we can also walk to the left side and here the landscape is simply breathtaking. After passing in front of the neighboring hotels (Playa Paraiso and Memories Flamenco) it's difficult to find the right words to describe the environment and that's why I leave that job to the photos...
The pleasure that invades us when stepping on these fine sands is difficult to describe. They are by far the most beautiful beaches I have ever visited.
Some Cubans confided to me that the beauty of this beach increased immensely after Hurricane Irma, as it brought more sand and altered the coastline.
This area has a natural beauty that is in no way behind the famous Playa Pilar in Cayo Guilherme, and it also has the advantage of being able to walk completely alone in total tranquility.
I also had the opportunity to visit Cayo Guilhermo, the neighboring Cayo of Cayo Coco, where statues of Ernest Hemingway welcome us before entering the island. Here I visited the Hotel Mélia Cayo Guilhermo which has a fantastic beach with a pier that distinguishes it on the horizon.
I couldn't resist, every time a classic passed by I took some pictures...
Flamingos are a species that inhabit the Cayos and it is often possible to observe them in their natural habitat. They confided to me that they almost disappeared with the passage of Irma, but that they are recovering.
The Mélia Cayo Guilhermo hotel is much smaller than the Mélia Jardines del Rey, but it also has a wonderful environment where the water houses stand out, which delights tourists. Believe me, they are very useful, because the sun doesn't forgive around here...
The food on the day I visited this hotel was quite good, far superior to what I was given at Mélia Jardines del Rey.
Upon reaching the pier, the difficulty was finding the best framing because the beauty of the place is impressive.
The shade provided by the structure in the water provides refuge to the marine life that is extremely rich here. It is not difficult even out of the water, when walking along the treadmill to see shoals with hundreds of fish that follow us and feed around here.
The sun loungers invite you to relax! :)
In Cayo Coco, there is a "shopping center" where you can also buy local items at interesting prices. For this, the most practical thing is to use a tourist bus that for 5 Cuc's allows the visit, in a very comfortable way.
We couldn't miss visiting the famous Playa Pilar, considered one of the most beautiful in the world, and for that we opted for a catamaran trip with lunch at Cayo Media Luna, making two stops for snorkeling in the coral barrier located in the old channel of the Bahamas.
This day started early and we were taken by bus to the Cayo Guilhermo marina. On the way we had the opportunity to pass by the old Cayo Coco airport, which is now part of the road that gives access to Cayo Guilhermo, and we even had the opportunity to see the old control tower...
Upon reaching the marina at the beginning of the island, we advanced through the old Bahamas Channel where we could dive and try snorkeling.
We performed two dives in two different locations. In the first, we only dived after a Cuban crew member had entered the water to ward off a small shark... In the second, we were able to swim next to an old German ship that was sunk during the Second World War, which now serves as a refuge for huge fish.
Cayo Media Luna
This small island, which is located right in front of Playa Pilar, has a small restaurant where we had lunch in a very Zen atmosphere, chicken and lobster.
After lunch, we waited for the departure in the water to avoid the strong heat that was felt.
No one permanently inhabits this Cayo as it is very small, but it is a very pleasant and welcoming place.
It was Ernest Hemingway's boat that gave its name to this beach on Cayo Guilhermo. The house where the writer spent his holidays no longer exists as it was destroyed by a hurricane, but it's easy to imagine how this place influenced him...
The color of the water and the sky match perfectly!
Cayo Coco airport has a private area that we were privileged to be able to use. Here we waited quietly for the return home.
In the end, we were able to say goodbye to the Jardins del Rey, flying over the area with the last rays of sunlight.