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We have just spent two incredible weeks in Cayo Guillermo, Cuba. Our last trip over to the island was way back in 2007 and we fell in love with the country. We always said we would be back, and here we are. We booked this as a package holiday through Thomas Cook. Our hotel for the fortnight would be the all-inclusive resort of Iberostar Daiquiri.
Beautiful Cuba, Our Favourite Place
Whenever we travel long haul, we always book into an all-inclusive resort. But this doesn’t mean that we stay in or around the hotel for the duration. We always try to visit local towns and areas looking for authentic food and experiences. Having the convenience of an all-inclusive hotel is just that, and we hope we can show you in this blog.
For the past few years we have been doing a lot of city breaks in Europe. Myself and Vicky definitely needed a relaxing beach holiday after a busy year. We flew into Jardines del Rey Airport after a nine-hour flight from Manchester. We stepped off the plane and wow was it hot. The airport is tiny, one room for check-in and departures. Hurricane Irma destroyed most of the airport back in 2017. They have done a fantastic job of getting it operational and looking good in a brief space of time. We will speak more about the hurricane further on.
Two Weeks In Cayo Guillermo, Cuba
Shown to our coach, our suitcases stored underneath, we took our seats. Our guide offered us a nice cold bottle of Cerveza Cristal (we were looking forward to drinking this beer again) At 5CUC for two it was hard to turn down.
The drop off at our hotel took around 40 minutes. The views from our coach window were great, blue sea, lagoons and lots of wildlife including vultures, Wild Boar and Pink Flamingos.
Cayo Guillermo is part of the Jardines del Rey archipelago North of the island in the Atlantic Ocean. There are several other ‘Cays’ here too. The Cayos are all connected to mainland Cuba via a causeway about 20 miles long. They did not permit Cuban citizens on this string of Islands unless working to serve tourists or had strict permission. This ban, however, has since lifted and now locals can freely visit the beaches here and can even stay in the hotels.
Besides lazing around by the pool, relaxing on the beach, and taking it easy, we got up to many other things. The excursions we went on were all organised through our Thomas Cook representative and priced at the CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso). The CUC is the currency used by tourists when converting your money; the CUP is currency used by the locals.
*During the time of our holiday (May / June 2019) 1CUC was worth approximately 0.78GBP.
So, just how do you spend two weeks in Cayo Guillermo, Cuba? Read on to find out.
Speaking to some of the staff who worked in our hotel, they told us of the devastation that Hurricane Irma brought to Cuba and Cayo Guillermo back in 2017, a year before our visit.
It was Cuba’s costliest hurricane. Costing over $13.2 billion in damages. The hurricane started off as a Category 5 storm over Cape Verde in the Atlantic Ocean. It then swung over towards the Caribbean, hitting Sint Maarten and The Bahamas before making landfall over Cuba on September 9th when it reached Category 3 status.
Across Cuba it caused extensive damage to buildings, crops and other infrastructure. Sadly, 10 people lost their lives.
Cayo Guillermo, Cayo Coco and Cayo Santa Maria endured some of the worst damage. It devastated hotels. The airport was almost destroyed, and it caused immense damage to wildlife. The reef was badly affected. Habitats around the hotel, like the lagoon and other wetland areas, almost destroyed. These were clearly still in recovery when we visited.
Among the casualties were flocks of American Pink Flamingos. It killed several hundred. Aswell as several thousand other bird species.
This also affected several feral cat colonies that lived within the grounds of some the hotels, ours included. However, some survived. The resort staff and guests alike all look after the cat colonies, and although I say they are feral, most of these are so used to humans they are more domesticated and are more than happy to sit on your knee and let you hand feed them. So, if you are a cat lover you will enjoy this even more.
The Beaches Of Cayo Guillermo & Playa Pilar
Playa Pilar beach was only a 20 minute bus ride from our hotel. To get here there is an open-top bus service that runs from hotel to hotel. This service also goes to the markets and shopping areas of Cayo Coco. From our hotel this cost us 5CUC each for a return ticket. Well worth the money as it was once voted one of the world’s best beaches.
The sea here is possibly the bluest we have ever seen. It was shallow and so warm in parts. The beach was spotless, with bright white sand. Make sure you take some bananas to feed the fish (a top tip from a hotel worker) they love them and it is much better than feeding them bread. Snorkelling here is an absolute must.
You need to pay for sun beds, but the cost isn’t much. On our first trip, the beds cost 2CUC each. During our second visit to the beach, we opted for beds a little further along the stretch. These came with a small wooden shelter and cost 10CUC for the pair and this price also included three cocktails from the beach bar. What a bargain!
Catamaran & Media Luna Island
After a short drive to the harbour, we boarded our catamaran. There weren’t that many people on this excursion, which made it a more pleasurable experience. We stopped at two spots for snorkelling. Most of the Northern coastline from Cayo Blancos down to Cayo Sabinal, including Cayo’s Guillermo and Coco border the worlds second largest barrier reef. The water here was so clear and there was a huge number of brightly coloured tropical fish.
Vicky isn’t the strongest swimmer and therefore not one for readily getting in the sea. However, after a bit of a pep-talk and the donning of a swim vest, she hastily entered the water with me. She absolutely loved it. I was so proud of her for conquering this fear. This trip also included a trip to Media Luna island where we enjoyed a shrimp, chicken and lobster lunch. Ernest Hemingway once visited the island, and they say it is the inspiration behind his novel Islands In The Gulf. We had an hour’s free time here to explore.
Our last stop would be the shallow waters of Playa Pilar beach, we had already visited this beach, but we had more free time to swim, snorkel and relax. On our final journey back to the harbour, we were so honoured to see wild dolphins swimming by our boat. What an experience.
The cost of this trip was 79CUC each.
Santa Clara and Trinidad
I don’t want to go into too much detail about this here because we have a separate posts about this two-day excursion. All I will say is how outstanding it was. It was very tiresome, especially on the coach journey. However, it was so worth it and we definitely recommend doing this trip. If you have been to Cuba before and visited Havana then you will absolutely love these two towns. A taste of real Cuba.
Paragliding is something I have always wanted to do but never done. This time there would be no excuse. It was happening. The guys who ran this had a small beach hut just up from our hotel in which they also offered other water sport activities.
Strapped to my guide, they pulled us out to sea by a speedboat on a thin rope. Seeing the crystal blue waters, tiny islands, the reef and the rest of the Jardines del Rey archipelago from above was pretty incredible. You could even see mainland Cuba in the distance. At 400 meters we released and then slowly floated back towards the beach. I was so happy I finally got to do this and I am already looking forward to doing this again.
The price of my para-gliding experience was 80CUC.
We had a glorious holiday. We saw some great things and had some fantastic mini-adventures. There are still one or two places we would love to visit in Cuba and I am certain that again, one day we will return. We have already spoken about returning to Havana and spending more than just a day there. Our plans also include visiting the towns of Matanzas, Jibacoa, Santiago de Cuba and Holguin.
We are currently putting together a video full of clips which we will post over on YouTube. Subscribe to our channel Just Us Two Travel – YouTube.
As always, please leave your comments below. If you are planning on visiting this incredible island, then why not buy The Rough Guide to Cuba