Cuba Travel Guide: Cayo Santa Maria

Cayo Santa Maria is one of many islands in an island chain off the northern coast of Cuba. It was our last big stop in our itinerary and we were so happy that we had organized our trip to end in some good old R&R. We stayed at the Royalton Cayo Santa Maria which is an all adults-only all inclusive resort (like many on the islands). Upon check-in, we were greeted with a welcome drink at the bar and introduced to our ‘butler’ who showed us around the property and assisted us with dinner reservations.

We were at the resort for two nights (after having to cancel our third night due to lack of funds?) and spent 100% of our time doing our best rancho relaxo. We arrived in time for lunch on our first day and I immediately ordered the burger (forgive me travel gods, but it was excellent ??). For the rest of the afternoon, we just lounged by one of their the pools and I continued to devour The Handmaid’s Tale. That night we ate at Eggsellence (yes that is the name ?), which is the more casual of the two restaurants at the resort. Here we met our favorite waitress, Dianelis, who was thrilled to have a Spanish speaker in Roberto (99.99% of visitors at the resort are Canadian… more on that later). After dinner, we enjoyed a rum and a cigar and watched the entertainment for the night: a Michael Jackson themed dance show. Roberto used this time to make friends with one of the employees and get caught up on the Cuban National Series (I hear it was a nail-biter). That night they were having a ‘white party’ in town that sounded like a blast, but we headed to bed to rest up for another full day of relaxing.

The next morning we headed down to the island’s famous beach and it did not disappoint; the white sands and crystal blue water are hands down the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. We went for a quick little jog along the water to check out the other resorts and agreed that our beach and view were best. After breakfast and freshening up we headed into ‘town’ to pick up some sunscreen for the day.

Now, this town is not a real town. And because I had just watched Westworld and couldn’t stop making references to it I insisted that this town looked like Sweetwater. It’s full of pastel buildings that are identical with big generic signs: “Gym”, “Spa”, and our soon to be favorite: “Bolera.” It was a trip. We visited a couple shops for souvenirs and a few odds and ends but didn’t spend much time here. If you were staying at the resort for longer and got sick of their restaurants you could come here for other cuisines such as Sushi or Italian at the ‘Trattoria’ (the closest real town, Remedios, is about 45 minutes away). This fake town gave me the heebie jeebies a little (if you want to see pics see here). We found a little “Market” and were promptly informed that it would be 25 CUC for sunscreen. That was roughly the cost of a meal and we were still hoping to make our little remaining funds last for the next 24-48 hours so we skipped it. I’ll let you guess how that turned out. Be better than us guys (everything you need to know is here).

We spent the rest of the day relaxing at the beach, alternating between taking our chances with the sun, hiding in the shade, and dunking in the cool blue ocean. Pro-tip: the quesadillas are an excellent afternoon snack you can grab right from the beach bar along with your Cuba Libre. Also pro-tip: the noseeums on the beach are no joke. Do not underestimate these invisible buggers. I think if Roberto had known that we’d itch for weeks following this trip he would have broken his ‘no checked bags’ rule just so we could bring bug spray. So come prepared! I’ve also heard taking Vitamin B for a few weeks beforehand works, but who knows. When we couldn’t take the sand anymore, but still wanted to enjoy the view of the beautiful turquoise water we took advantage of the free catamaran rides the resort offered. It was so much fun and such a great way to see the whole coastline!

That night we ate at the fancier of the two restaurants, Senses, which was supposed to have more of a global flair. The service was excellent which was what we had come to expect from everyone at the resort. We mentioned to our waitress that we loved the glass of wine we were served with dinner, and when we returned to our room found that they had sent a bottle for us to enjoy. Such nice attention to detail and a sweet little touch. After dinner, we headed into town for a bowl off. We were the only ones there and it was some good cheap thrills. If you’re following along with me on Instagram you saw Roberto and his whole team went bowling a couple weeks ago because he hasn’t stopped talking about his pin prowess ever since he got a round on me.On our last day, we stayed at the resort for as long as possible soaking up the sun and enjoying a few free/already paid for/all-inclusive meals before heading for Santa Clara. We had originally planned to stay at the resort the third night and drive to the airport in Santa Clara the next morning, but when we ran short on funds the easiest thing to do was to cancel the night and stay in Santa Clara for a tenth of the cost.

Final Words

Cayo Santa Maria was absolutely beautiful and we had a great experience at the Royalton, but it certainly isn’t an “authentic” Cuban experience. Locals don’t actually live on the island and there were no other Cubans staying at the resort (my guess is either because they either can’t afford it or they aren’t allowed…they were checking passports on the way onto the islands). Like I said, almost everyone at our resort was from Canada.

The island is about 4-5 hours away from Havana by car. There are also flights, but we didn’t have enough confidence in our ability to figure that out and because we were coming from Trinidad we weren’t quite as far. If you don’t have that much time in your travel budget check out Playa Ancon near Trinidad. If you aren’t planning to stray from Havana (although I think you should!), Varadero is a very popular resort town as well and half as far. If you are braver than us and willing to take a domestic flight, check out Playa Paraiso on Cayo Largo which is supposed to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

What’s the most beautiful beach you’ve ever been to??


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