We visited the Marea del Portillo hotel complex between February 25, 2010-March 4, 2010, staying at the Farallon del Caribe section. After a 3 1/2 hour flight from Toronto with Sunwing Airlines, we landed with a real bang, the hardest landing we’ve ever been in, everyone clapped and heaved sighs of relief as the plane slowed down to a safe pace, a great discussion followed as we all related other similar hard landings in our travels, we all agreed that this was the ultimate hard landing, we were very happy we got to disembark in one piece. Manzanillo Airport is very small, maybe too small for 180 people disgorged from an aircraft at one time. As first-time visitors to this airport we weren’t ready for the sheer physical crush getting our baggage. I guess you could call it "Manzanillo mayhem". However, we did made it out alive and kicking and on to our assigned bus. Thank goodness that we were able to get a couple of cold Cristal cervesas to calm our nerves and start the holiday on a nice mellow note. The trip to the hotel took about 1 1/2 to 2 hrs, the scenery was beautiful as we wended our way past small villages and towns, the scenery was especially beautiful in the latter half hour of the trip, I have to say too that the time went by very quickly.
We arrived at the Farallon del Caribe to a great welcome by the hotel staff who were lined up on the hotel entrance stairs, all greeting us with welcome drinks and of course Cuban music. A very very nice gesture. Right there we started to feel very comfortable about this place. We did not have to check in at the front desk, Elena our Sunwing rep had already given us our room assignments and room key along with some other info outside the Manzanillo Airport. I have to say that this should be done by all of the hotels in Cuba. It was so efficient, it just went so smoothly, a great start to the holiday. It was though, a little bit confusing getting our luggage to our room as we had two bell boys trying to deliver the luggage. Thinking that they were a team and would share the tip, we tipped the one bellboy generously, I guess nobody was sharing, so one of them went without a tip, he was a very sad bellboy, he certainly conveyed his displeasure with looks that could kill, I guess you can’t win them all.
Our first room assignment was a room overlooking the pool and the Marea del Portillo Bay, the Sierra Maestra Mountains were a spectacular backdrop to that. What a view!! However and alas I’m ashamed to say that after about an hour in the room, with the very loud music from the pool, and in anticipation that the evening entertainment, which would be just beyond the pool in the same area and would be just as noisy, we asked for a room change. What spoiled brats we are! To make this happen and as seasoned Cuban travelers, we now donned our bulletproof vests before talking to reception for any kind of change in our room assignment, we didn’t have to worry. A wonderful lady on the front desk, immediately on our request for a room change, gave us a key to another room on the opposite side on the same floor. When we got to that room, we knew we were in heaven. Wow! another beautiful panoramic view, this time of the sunset cruise lagoon coupled with the beautiful Sierra Maestra Mountains as a backdrop. What service from the front desk and I might add, delivered with a genuine smile. We knew then we had come to the right place.
Restaurants and Bars: There was four bars, one buffet restaurant and I believe one à la carte restaurant with differing menus. We did make a booking at the à la carte but when we showed up, we were told that the kitchen was broken, it would be the buffet for us that night. We didn’t try the à la carte again. Actually all of our meals were at the beautiful buffet restaurant outdoor terrace. That restaurant, with panoramic views of the lagoon beneath, the beautiful Sierra Maestra Mountains as a backdrop, served just simple Cuban fare for all our meals. For breakfast they had an omelette station with eggs done any style, toast, pancakes, French toast, bacon sometimes, scrambled eggs sometimes, cold meats, cheese and I have to say the best freshly squeezed orange juice I’ve ever tasted. Dinners were, the choice of two really good soups to start,main courses of pasta, two kinds of rice, a roast of either turkey, pork, beef one time, fish, chicken, different vegetables and salads, lots of bread, lots of light cake deserts, ice cream and then to finish off a very nice aged cheese assortment. Lunch was a mirror image of dinner. We were very happy with the food. The service at the buffet was so-so, it ran hot and cold all week long, tip first service later kind of thing. No wine of any kind in the week we were there, however they did serve beer and other cocktails with your dinner, so all was not lost.
The pool bar which was open from about 10 a.m. till 5 p.m. was such a nice welcoming place. The staff here are just really good and are very friendly and when they have the time they like to converse with the guests. The lobby bar was just a wonderful place to go in the evening after dinner, there we had our after dinner cappuccino served with brandy or maybe a rum Alexander. The staff at this bar are just wonderful as well. Great ambassadors for their hotel and for the Cuban people. A good menu of blended cocktails available at both these bars. The beach bar is quite a lovely place to sit in the warm sun and enjoy the beach and the beautiful mountain scenery. Here you can have simple cocktails or beer. The Zun Zun snack bar near to the pool is open during the day and served sandwiches, snacks, etc.. It served coffee in the mornings. The best all-around service in the hotel was at the lobby bar, then the pool bar, closely followed by the beach bar.
The beach is a dark grey sand beach. The beach was wonderful to walk on, however you should wear water shoes as the sand gets quite hot. The beach by the water’s edge is definitely hard enough to jog on. I would say that the beach at the Marea del Portillo end is the best beach. It is wider and the sand is softer than at the Farallon end. There are much more beach lounges at the Marea end and quite a bit more good shade. Any part of the beach is within easy walking distance of either hotel. The pools at both hotels are well-kept and on our week were never too crowded. We preferred the Farallon pool. The Farallon pool had a wonderful view of the surrounding country and we were always able to get a lounge. The only shortcoming would be that there wasn’t a lot of shade at this pool, they definitely need more umbrellas. There were the usual lounge hogs who, in the middle of the night, came down to put their towels on the only lounges with shade. Sometimes those people didn’t show up to claim their lounges until 11:30 a.m.. A bit maddening. The hotel grounds are kind of idyllic, set on a fairly steep hill, dotted with flowering shrubs and trees, the grounds kind of cascade down to the beach. There was lots of goats, a couple of pigs, horses, sheep, that roamed the property. There was a family of iguanas that roamed around by the very steep staircase going to the beach. The iguanas liked to be fed with hard-boiled eggs and any kind of fruit, they were quite tame. These Farallon grounds wouldn’t be very friendly to people with a walking disability. The Marea del Portillo is a much more friendly property to people with a walking disability.
Activities on and off the Resort/Hotel:
We did the Jeep Adventure Tour and are we ever happy we did. We had a wonderful guide called Dennis, he was very informative about the flora and fauna and the living conditions of the farmers that were up in the mountains that we were touring through. It was just wonderful driving past great rural scenes of roaming flocks of goats and sheep, all varieties of feathered fowl and an amazing variety of fruit trees—orange, mango, banana,… coffee plants, patches of sugarcane etc.. The mountains were kind of dotted with small farm holdings, some farms looking better than others. These areas seemed a total world away from the touristy Marea del Portillo hotel complex. We were so happy we came on this aptly named "Jeep Adventure", it was that indeed, a white knuckle experience, I’ve never been on such roads in my life LOL, I didn’t think we would make it on a few occasions. Thank goodness for four-wheel drive and our very competent driver, I believe Tito was his name. Our final destination that morning was a waterfall area in the mountains. We drove in as far as we could and then walking down a winding trail, right into the depths of a valley, we found ourselves in a fairly large thatched cabana, from this cabana we came out into a large clearing with a beautiful waterfall, the water seemed to tumble from the sky into a beautiful glacier green pool. Some people stripped down to their bathing suits and went for a dip, they said the water was very refreshing, we took them at their word. We were supposed to have a barbecued lunch over an open fire at the falls, Dennis our tour guide thought it was too windy, so it was decided to have lunch in the farmhouse back at the top of the hill. We proceeded back to the farmhouse where we had a wonderful lunch of stewed lamb served with rice with beans, vegetables, dessert was rice pudding and of course we finished off with strong Cuban coffee. Some of our fellow travelers bought honey from other local farmers. After the same hair-raising trek down the mountain in the four-wheel drives we arrived back at our hotel safe and sound. It was a great day.
We had promised a friend in Canada that we would deliver some letters, are we ever glad we did. While doing that, we met some of the very nicest people. We kind of acclimatized ourselves to the area by hiring one of the horse and carriages to take us around on our first full day. José was our driver, he certainly knew the area and everyone in it. We had three letters to deliver, one to Marea del Portillo and two to Móta, we showed José their photos, he knew every one of the recipients, so off we went on our deliveries. Because our Spanish was so bad, José, who spoke really good English, acted as our translator. We are indebted to him, a wonderful patient man. Since that familiarized us to the local area, every day after that, we took random strolls through the surrounding countryside. Each morning we kind of reveled in the extraordinary natural scenery of the different areas, taking photos of everything from small vineyards and banana plantation to farm animals,on occasion speaking to the locals,always enjoying the fresh air. We usually spent our days at the Farallon, but in the evening after our after dinner brandy, we walked down to the Marea del Portillo to walk off our dinner and to take in some of the entertainment by the Marea pool. On our last evening on the way back to the Farallon from the Marea, and as the sky was so clear, we seen and wished upon some shooting stars. It was wonderful there on the road up to the Farallon gazing up at that pitch black sky studded with a billion stars, and as corny as it seems, we felt kind of at one with our fellow man and all of the unending universe out there. I have to say as well, that we would definitely come back to the Farallon again. A very simple place, a very simple inexpensive holiday, it was a joy to be there in such a beautiful location at the foot of the Sierra Maestra Mountains.
Our Flight Home:
We had an early morning check out at 5:45 a.m.. It was wonderful that they opened the buffet early at 6 a.m. for to give everyone breakfast, great customer service. We left the hotel just after 7 a.m. and were at the Manzanillo Airport somewhat after 9 a.m. for an 11:15 a.m. flight. It was quite a crush at this little airport with everyone checking in at the same time. We did manage to get seats together,one window, we were lucky. After going through immigration and security we thought, wow, only an hour to our flight! Not so!! They then informed us that there was computer problems in Toronto and the plane would be three hours late. We thought, too bad we checked in so quickly. Actually though it wasn’t so bad. Luckily and as usual, we had quite a few CUC to take back with us for our next trip to Cuba and we were able to buy some pizzas and beer for one CUC each. Pretty good prices. In the end the little airport restaurant/bar ran out of pizzas, thank goodness they didn’t run out of beer LOL. Actually, we were so busy yakking, the time passed pretty quickly and before you know it we were on our way back to Toronto, we were tired but very happy with our vacation. Our Sunwing flight was smooth and we had a smooth landing in Toronto. We were home in pretty good time. We certainly like Sunwing, it was our third time using them and even though the plane was delayed, we figured these things happen every airline, the price is right, so what can you say. The flight crew on both the flight to and from Manzanillo were just great and we certainly would use Sunwing again.