Lapped by the warm turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea and surrounded by thousands of islands and keys, Cuba is naturally gifted with a lush landscape and countless white sand beaches. Most visitors are drawn to the northern Cayos, as the majority of resorts and idyllic beaches are found there. These popular tourist areas were devastated by Hurricane Irma in September 2017, but they are now fully recovered and ready to welcome travellers.
When vacationers have their fill of the beach, what else is there to do for curious travellers? To catch a glimpse of the real Cuba, escape from your all-inclusive paradise and explore what’s around. Here are some of our favourite day trips in and around Cayo Coco and Cayo Santa Maria.
Excursions around Cayo Santa Maria
Snorkel in Cayo Las Brujas
Teeming with fish and wonderful coral reefs, the Archipelago of Jardines del Rey is one of the best places to observe the underwater flora and fauna. If your resort is located in Cayo Santa Maria, head to Cayo Las Brujas, only 20 km away. This cay is an isolated nook with shallow and crystal clear water, making it an ideal place to experience Cuba’s exotic nature. From the marina Gaviota, set sail on a catamaran for a snorkelling, diving or fishing excursion.
Tip: bring your bathing suit and towel. Masks, snorkels and fins are provided on the boat.
Stroll in picturesque Remedios
If you’re looking for a cultural escape that will take you back in time, head to the tranquil town of Remedios. This unspoiled colonial town is perfect for an afternoon stroll in its colourful streets. Admire its unique Spanish architectural heritage and do some people watching from a café on Plaza Marti (the central square).
This town has also some charming hotel boutiques encased in colonial-era buildings, such as Hostal Barcelona. Peek inside to see its antique furniture, beautiful floor tiles and lovely hidden courtyard.
For a real Cuban immersion, go to Casa de la Cultura, a cultural centre where locals dance and play music until late at night. If you’re feeling the Latin rhythms, find a partner and learn the steps of Casino (Cuban-style salsa). Cubans’ love for dancing is definitely contagious!
Transat resorts in Cayo Santa Maria offer a guided tour of Remedios. The cost is 34 CUC per adult including lunch (price is subject to change).
Beach hopping in and around Cayo Coco
Mangrove boat ride at Laguna la Redonda
Most tourists who come to Cayo Coco focus on the beaches, but if you want to discover another side of Cuba’s natural beauty, we suggest taking a boat ride through the mangroves at Laguna la Redonda. This mangrove-rimmed lake is located about 48 km from Cayo Coco and is teeming with fish, such as bass and trout. Take a speedboat ride in the mangrove tunnels; it’s a peaceful and refreshing tour where you can appreciate the richness of this ecosystem. You will also see the damage caused by hurricane Irma in September 2017, and how nature is regenerating. Your boat captain will show you the different bird species, insects and trees. he will even let you take the wheel if you say por favor!
Hotels located in the cays of the Jardines del Rey Archipelago often offer this excursion, but you can get there by taxi as well.
Lunch with an ocean view at Playa Prohibida
For a nice break from hotel buffets, go to the Ranchon Playa Prohibida in Cayo Coco. It’s a secluded shack on hotel-free Playa Prohibida, better known as Lenny’s bar & grill, in honour of a long-time regular Canadian tourist named Lenny. This tranquil and rustic shack offers a breathtaking view of the ocean. But this place isn’t just about the view; you’ll enjoy its friendly staff, laid-back atmosphere and famous fresh lobster dish.
The Lenny’s bar is decorated with old license plates brought by tourists (mainly Canadians); feel free to bring yours as well!
Tip: ask a taxi driver to bring you to this restaurant as it is not close to any resorts.
Kitesurf in Cayo Guillermo
Cayo Coco is famous for its stunning beaches and pristine waters resembling a slice of paradise, but it’s also a touristic place. Take the 27 km causeway that links Cayo Coco to Cayo Guillermo, the neighbouring cay. Cayo Guillermo is a little more isolated and has a more natural feel, with just a hand full of hotels.
Kitesurf aficionados can ride the waves in Cayo Guillermo thanks to its strong and steady winds. If you wish to learn or master your skills, there are kitesurfing schools located directly on the beach. You can also admire the kitesurfers with their multicolour sails while sunbathing on its magnificent white sand beach.
Sunbathe in Playa Pilar
Bask on the sand of Playa Pilar, an uncrowded beach located in the north-western end of Cayo Guillermo. Some even say it is Cuba’s most stunning beach (but we’ll let you be the judge). Sink your feet into its soft sand and let its shimmering turquoise waters lure you. You can rent some beach loungers or Bali beds. This secluded beach can be reached by a hop-on hop-off bus from Cayo Coco 6 times per day during peak season (5 CUC per person for a round-trip).
Are you ready for your next vacation to Cuba? Venture out of your all-inclusive resort and explore its colonial towns and lesser-known stunning beaches, it’s the best way to experience authentic Cuba.