Cuba is to Canadians what the Costa Del Sol is to Brits. It is where you go to lie on a beach and get a tan. The difference is that there are no parties, no ‘Bar Street’ and ‘Club Street’ and bar crawls that end in either sex or sleeping in a pool of your own vomit, rather each all inclusive hotel has it’s own entertainment program that made us think of Hi-Di-Hi.
The locals call Canadians ‘Pollos’ (Chickens), coz all they do is eat and sleep. About 1.2m come to eat and sleep each year, and I think they like it because their noisy cousins from south of the border can’t get there easily.
An all-inclusive resort isn’t really our thing but we went for two reasons; the Cayos only have all-inclusive resorts as options and secondly, we wanted a bit of a break from Cuba. We pushed the budget a bit and opted to stay at the 5* Melia Cayo Coco. It cost US$220 a night for all food, booze, activities etc and, best of all, was adults only. It was also described as ‘an intimate resort’ as there were ‘only’ 300 rooms!
We arrived, after an easy three hours in our banger, rather early (12pm rather than the check in time of 4pm) but were welcomed and allowed access to everything right from the off. Nobody cried when we got to our room, which was big, airy, slightly dated and had a bath. The hotel was in a lovely location, with a white sand & crystal clear water beach on one side, and a lagoon (also a breeding ground for mosquitoes) on the other. It boasted 4 restaurants; the first was the main buffet restaurant, which we christened ‘The Trough’ and three small ‘a la carte’ places, that you needed to reserve a table in. Interestingly, demand is so high for the non ‘trough’ restaurants that people book via the inter web before they arrive so we had to beg to get a late table on one night in the one place with a vegi option.
It turns out that Canadian ‘Snowbirds’ (people escaping the snow for a bit of sunshine) return year after year and it really was happy families with the staff. The returners also know the tricks of the trade and, rather than being content with the small plastic glasses of beer and cocktails you get to take to the beach, come equipped with their own massive thermal mugs which take about an hour to fill but greatly reduces their need to return to the bar.
I liked being amongst middle to late aged Canadians. They drank but did seem to get drunk, they talked without shouting, they clapped politely at the appalling entertainment, whilst no strangers to the buffet, they weren’t really kicking the arse out of eating (except perhaps the guy who took a whole loaf of bread to accompany his breakfast) and mostly they knew that one wears a top when at the bar. The staff loved them too, because of their almost universal lack of understanding of what Cuba was really like and their North American attitude to tipping. About 50% would tip $1 every time they got an all-inclusive beer (which is about the cost of a beer in a Cuban bar) and I would be surprised if the barman at the beach bar – who rarely bothered to smile or chat – didn’t clear $100 a day in tips, in a country that pays its Doctors $60-$100 per month.
Cayo Coco is also very close to perhaps the worlds most perfect beach under certain criteria – Playa Pilar. It takes about an hour to get there, has no hotels on it, sand like talcum powder and crystal clear water that is shallow enough to wade out waist deep for about 100m. Because you can only get there on one of approx 4 daily buses or in a taxi, it is really quiet, and being Cuba, everything is cheap too. Two sun loungers under a palm roof shade cost $4 for the day and beers were $2. Such a wonderful place in Europe would be packed and charging $60 for a beach chair. If you like lots of bars, music, jet skis etc, this won’t be for you, but as a perfect place to relax, it can’t be beaten.
You get to the beach on an open topped double decker, the hop-on, hop-off type you see in most cities. The difference is, in most cities they rarely go faster than about 50kph. Here they go at 100kph which leads to a bit of an assault on ones senses, rather like being on a motorbike without a crash helmet, and if you keep your mouth open there is a high chance you will drench those behind in streams of dribble.
It was a lovely few days. Some of the staff could have been a lot more friendly, but they were good by Cuban standards, and the scoff lacked a bit of variety, but we ate well, slept well, relaxed on a beautiful beach and felt ready to hit Cuba again by the end of it.