Oh, but you were there off-season.
That was the response I got when suggesting to my new friend that the beach at Cayo Coco, Cuba was, essentially, a dump. In his defense, he’s a Cuban citizen and wanted to make sure that as a visitor I was happy with my experience. But it really just was not good.
To be fair, my choice in beaches was mostly driven by my choice of flights. I was trying to get on the Aerogaviota Antonov and, on the days I was in Cuba, Cayo Coco was the destination it served. With an irregular schedule and unreliable operations I was strongly encouraged to not book a same-day trip, which meant an overnight at the beach. How bad could it be?
After booking the flights I learned that the only options in the area were all-inclusive resorts. Turns out that, in large part, this is because there is nothing else around the beach area. The nearest town with locals is 2 hours away, according to my cab driver. So I chose a hotel based on the one website I could find any info and hoped for the best. The room was fine. Large, with a balcony and air conditioning which was more than sufficient. A few of the pools were open at the hotel and so were the bars which was good based on the all-inclusive nature of the property.
My research suggested that there would be plenty of taxis available to get me to the hotel. That was far from reality. With only 6 passengers on my flight getting out at Jardines del Rey airport (which is huge for the region served, with multiple daily international flights) there was just one tour bus, apparently pre-reserved by all the other passengers, for transfers. Fortunately the driver was willing to take me, too, for a $5 cash payment.
And so we drove out to the coast, across a small bridge and on to the barrier island. Which means there was a bit of inland water up against the back of the hotel. And in mid-June that translates into swampland festering with mosquitoes. I was red from bug bites well before anything resembling sunburn kicked in.
The food was functional, in that it offered calories, but far from what I would consider decent even for all-inclusive buffet meals. The menu was limited, which is fine, but when my choice of grilled chicken at lunch showed up at the table raw inside that was not so good. To be fair, the waitress immediately took it back and had the chef fix it, but that was off-putting. Dinner was a buffet of mediocre food which mostly lacked flavor or texture beyond “mushy” and which I was quite happy to only dine on for one night. It is meals like this which are why I pack granola bars when I travel. Also, there are three specialty restaurants at the resort; guests are allowed one meal in each during a stay. But they also require 24 hours advance reservations (I believe to fly in food from Havana) and I was there only the one night. My efforts to dine at them were thwarted.
The beach itself was fine, I suppose, with a steady breeze which kept the bugs at bay. But it was small; not much room to move around. And were it the busy season (which I’ve been led to believe really does exist) then I could see it being packed with beach chairs and really no space at all. My initial reaction was “Beach time in Cayo Coco, Cuba. It photographs well but I cannot figure out why people like it at all,” and I’m still convinced that’s the reality of the situation.
Getting back to the resort itself, I was somewhat surprised to see tape across the doors on many rooms. They were officially closed to occupancy. Whole buildings were closed down. It was my mentioning this which specifically elicited the off-season comment and I still cannot tell if I was 10 weeks or 10 years too late.
Closing off the unoccupied buildings makes sense if there is no demand, but the sidewalks do not crumble and succumb to the encroaching wilderness in just a couple weeks. At least these certainly did not.
There were other resorts along the coast; they didn’t look all that much different than mine. Maybe they were a completely different experience, but I doubt it. There’s little infrastructure, little money to improve and more than a few abandoned buildings, resorts, attractions and other facilities. It was definitely cheap – I paid ~$60 for the night, including the food and drinks – but I find it hard to believe that there are not other all inclusive options in the Caribbean which would be far more pleasant.
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