The beach: Out of 14 days, there were two green flag days, 6 yellow flags and 6 red flags. On the first day thick globs of oil washed up on shore and staff spent the day cleaning up. On the first day, some tanker decided it was cheaper to dump their oil in the sea rather than pay at the port for a cleaning. It could have been a lot worse, but it was taken care of quickly.
The whole time I was there I never had a problem finding a palapa, shade or chair on the beach. Lots of chairs around the pool but not that much shade to be had.
Activities: In the morning (9:00am) and afternoon (4:00 pm) there are walks up the hill to a lookout where some great photos of the resort can be taken. The path leads through a few small farms where you will be offered coconut and sugar cane to try. Brings some small gifts in exchange, not necessary, but definitely appreciated.
Beach volleyball, sand hockey, soccer and other games in the morning on the beach. Spanish lessons at noon near the pool bar. (The staff would appreciate if anybody could possibly bring a hockey stick or two to leave down there for the sand hockey games) Throughout the day at various times and locations there is water aerobics, pool volleyball, dance lessons, etc. Massages ($) are available on the beach near the gym At the aqua center, staff will take you out on catamaran for a ½ hr ride. I didn’t do it but others told me it was fantastic. They also have sea kayaks and pedalos available, all free. Snorkelling equipment is available, but they run out quick and you have to reserve advance. There is clean, well equipped weight room beside the aqua center. Lots of new equipment. Evenings, at about 9:30 there is entertainment usually outside near the pool. Sometimes there are musicians, dancers, but often it is the staff lip synching, or performing skits, or audience participation. Kind of hit or miss in my opinion. I rarely stayed for a whole show.
Snorkelling: This is the reason why I booked this resort. It has a well deserved reputation for easy access to coral reefs from the shore. I always bring my own snorkel, mask, flippers and life vest. The main area in front of the Beach grill is quite shallow (3 to 4 feet deep) A few hundred feet from shore the depth drops and there is a very large circle surrounded by corals, the depth dropping at some places to about 40 or 50 feet . I identified a minimum of 50 different species of fish and countless others that I didn’t see well or long enough. The best technique when snorkelling is to relax and just float, the fish will be less nervous and many interesting species will come out from underneath the ledges and rocks for brief appearances. There are also some species that camouflage themselves very well, such as the Peacock flounder and Scorpion Fish. If your just thrashing about, you’ll miss them for sure. There is bit of a current that seems to pull you west, especially on yellow flag days. I spoke with another avid snorkeller who had seen a small octopus in the grassy area near shore. I was extremely jealous of her. Anyways what can I say, The corals are beautiful, the underwater landscape changes all the time while you’re moving about. Lots to explore. I was in heaven and spent many, many hours in the water on the days that were not red flagged. On a bitter note, There were too many people actually walking through the small corals, kicking them off the sea floor with their feet. I could see this while I was under the water. Not only is this bad for the eco system, it is also dangerous for the person walking out there. They could step on some very sharp rocks, sea urchins, cone shells and Scorpion fish, all guaranteed to bite, sting or cut you in some way. I also would recommend to not feed the fish, some are becoming a bit aggressive, especially the Chubs. The tour reps should be explaining how fragile the reef is, as part of the orientation for the tourists. An amazing experience. Some of the more interesting species for me, were Rock Hinds, Porcupine Fish, Spotted Scorpion Fish, two types of eels, Puddinwife.
If you are someone who likes to snorkel, it is strongly advised that you bring your own equipment. The aqua center was constantly running out of equipment. You could make reservations, but when people went for the equipment, it hadn’t come back yet or was handed out. Also you can only reserve the equipment for short periods of time. The best time to snorkel seemed to be in the morning, the water appeared calmer than in the afternoon and early in the morning certain species were not as shy.
Food: Plentiful and usually pretty good. Lots of variety, too many desserts, Even with all the walking, bicycling and swimming I did every day, I gained 5 pounds. Best place for coffee was at the Beach Grill and the Lobby bar. Fantastic!! Different theme nights such as Cuban, Italian, Seafood etc. There were two a la carte restaurants , Cuban and Italian, never ate at either, but heard great things about them. The service was apparently excellent.
Excursions: Havana Colonial cost: 52 CUC. One hour drive in air conditioned coach To Havana. The tour guide leads you around Old Havana. It really is a feast for the senses. Amazing old Spanish architecture and full of history. There are a lot of people doing what they can to get a dollar out of you. They will draw a caricature of you, women dressed in bright costumes will pose with you, lots of street performers. All interesting and part of the experience. Also included is a walk through the older, but not fixed up areas of Havana. An eye opener if you want to see how people really live. We are far too spoiled in Canada. We had lunch across from the Malecon near an old Spanish fortress on the water with a great view of Havana. In the afternoon we drove around and saw some sites such as Revolution Square, etc. A really great trip. There are several other excursions to Havana available with different itineraries, some include an evening at the Tropicana.
Rio Canjimar: around 54 CUC Includes snorkelling of a beach (not very good, too many waves, zero visibility) Snorkelling or swimming in a cave. (great experience). A boat ride down the river, stopping for swimming and then to a beautiful area where we ate and spent the afternnoon, swimming, riding horses, playing with reptiles, rowing boats, and lazing about. A great day and my fellow guests from the hotel were a pleasure to be with.
Catamaran: around 102 CUC. Very large catamaran, about 80 people on board, We stopped for swimming with the dolphins, A bit short I thought, then snorkelling for an hour at a coral reef, but it was more like forty minutes. Nice reef though A few species of fish that I had never seen before (Black Durgeons, what a fish!) They didn’t have enough snorkelling equipment for everybody so people had to go in shifts. They only had small Styrofoam belts as floatation devices. Inadequate in my opinion. Nothing is as good as a real safety vest. Because of the poor flotation devices some people wouldn’t snorkel, a real shame. Dinner and drinks on an island with lots and lots of other people and way too much time spent there waiting to get back on the boat. Most of my previous experiences with catamaran tours have been more intimate with a smaller group and boat. It felt more like cattle being processed this time. Most cat tours are 72 CUC.
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