Date of visit: October 18 to November 1, 2007
Arrival/Check-in: The most organized, easiest check in we have ever experienced. The Reservations Manager, Daniel Sánchez Guerra, had our room keys, wristbands, literature, etc. ready for us in individual envelopes at the airport. We picked up the envelope as we boarded the bus, sat back and enjoyed a 1½-hour bus ride with commentary by Nelson. Bumps, potholes and washouts were courtesy of the heavy rains the area has recently experienced. We arrived at the resort at around 1:30 in the afternoon (Toronto departure @ 06:30!), were met at the door by management (special hello to PR Exec. Vincente – thanks for the invitation) and animaçion staff and went straight in to have lunch while our baggage was unloaded and staged in the lobby. After lunching, we were shown to our room by a couple of bellhops. Into our swimsuits and on the beach by 2:30.
Room: We opted for a cabaña room. These are located about 50 yards from the main block of ‘hotel’ style rooms, beyond the pool and entertainment area. The cabaña rooms seemed to be a little larger than a regular room and were in blocks of either 4 rooms, or 8 rooms, 2 stories high. Most cabaña rooms had a small balcony or patio that faced the beach. From our balcony, palm and sea grape trees obscured a clear view of the beach. They also effectively blocked out the sun for the early morning. Room was equipped with shower only, a hairdryer with cord too short to reach the socket, safe (no charge), bar fridge (empty), cable TV (3 or 4 stations in English), 2 fairly firm twin beds, air conditioner, etc. Housekeeping by Mirdelis was excellent.
Beach: As has been mentioned by others, the beach at Marea is of dark sand. It isn’t black and it certainly isn’t white. What it is after about 9:00 in the morning is HOT! Run as fast as you can from the plentiful shade to the water’s edge. There were always enough loungers available, although, once or twice after a late morning start, someone else had claimed ‘our favourite spot’. The beach is fairly wide – maybe 40 or 50 yards from the trees to the water. Once the onshore breeze starts up, be prepared to get somewhat roasted if you are on a lounger. Best remedy for that is to keep up the intake of fluids! We’re not positive, but it didn’t seem like there was any snorkeling from this beach. All the time we were there (pre and during Noel), there were pretty good waves. OK for short body surf rides. Made a nice sound all day and night too. Be prepared for noseeums when there is no breeze.
Food: In our opinion, typical 3 star fare. Always a variety of fruit, salads, entrees, sides and desserts. Custom omelettes at breakfast. Wine with lunch and dinner. We are not picky eaters, so were always satisfied with the offerings. As I told the Head Chef, "I was never disappointed by a meal". We only wish that there were a few truly ethnic and/or local items on the buffet every day. By the way, all of the fish served was absolutely delicious! We did miss the fresh squeezed orange juice machine that we have seen at other resorts. During the day (‘til 5:00) the Beach Bar offers hot dogs, hamburgers, ham and cheese, chicken sandwiches and fries. Excellent for a late afternoon snack. The best coffee comes from the Pool Bar until the Beach Bar’s espresso machine gets fixed. The specialty Italian restaurant, Amici, makes a nice change from the buffet. There was never any problem with booking a table for 7:00, so we went twice. The restaurant could do with 2 things: menus in English and a little mood music. Other than that, service was great and the food good.
Locale: Marea del Portillo is on the south western shore of Granma province, 12 km. from Pilon and about 175 km. from Santiago de Cuba. It is on a large bay with curving beach and is backed up inland by the Sierra Maestra Mountains. For those of us who live in relatively flat terrain, it made a nice change to see hills and mountains. The village of Marea is about 3 or so km. from the resort. The town of Pilon is about 12 km. In the opposite direction.
Entertainment: This resort has a 14-piece house band!!! 14 piece!!! They are great! The dance troupe of about a dozen or so are also very professional. All the shows we saw were well rehearsed and presented. Poolside bingo daily for a bottle of rum or liqueur as well as daily contests for similar prizes.
Pool: The pool is a reasonable size and is deep enough to shallow dive into. There is also adequate natural and man-made shade around it. The Pool Bar is conveniently nearby. Be prepared for noseeums when there is no breeze.
Excursions: Due to an unfortunate set of circumstances (lack of, or miscommunication and hurricane Noel), we were not able to go on as many excursions as we had wanted to.
Bayamo day trip (55CUC each) – This is a long day. Almost 12 hours in total, about 6 of which are spent on the coach. The visit to the province’s largest city includes a tour of Carlos Manuel de Cespedes home (now a museum) lunch at a nearby restaurant, a visit to a taverna for some Cuban music and about ½ an hour free time. Back on the coach and off to the city of Manzanillo. Stop there for a walk around the city square and some shopping at a souvenir store.
Cayo Blanco (7CUC) – First of all, be aware that you have to make your own way to where the boat is docked (we didn’t know and had to almost run to make it). This is about a 12 minute walk. A half hour boat ride (fishing included) takes you to Cayo Blanco. White sand, lots of loungers, shade, open bar, cooked lunch, snorkeling and pleasant conversation (only 8 of us plus crew!) made for a very enjoyable afternoon. We would have gone back, but Noel cancelled that thought.
Local horseback rides (5CUC) – a great way to get away from the resort for about an hour and a half. We especially enjoyed going up into the foothills. That trip included a refreshment stop at the guide’s parent’s house. Very edifying. Summary: We enjoyed our stay at Marea del Portillo. If the weather hadn’t interfered for a couple of days and we hadn’t had a misunderstanding about the VIP package, it would have been a most enjoyable experience. In the travel forums, I asked Marea returnees why they go back there. Hollydog gave me the best summary for this resort: "No blaring music, late night parties and booze ‘till you puke parties. Staff who are genuinely happy to see you and go out of their way as best they can (with the limited resources they have) to make you feel special. An animaçion/entertainment team that will take "no" for an answer. Local neighbours who are not nosy, rude or trying to sell you absolutely everything. If you want to rest and relax, in a cozy, if not fancy part of Cuba, Marea del Portillo is the place". I will add that it is a bargain to boot!