Cayo Coco – A Little Piece of Paradise

Better late than never….
After an adventurous taxi ride back to Havana from Vinales, we stayed for a night with our favorite Cubans. We had a early morning wake up call to our next destination….Cayo Coco. We stayed in the other building of our friends’ house (across the street). In order for us to give them back the key before we departed, we had to ring the door bell of their casa (mind you around 5:30 a.m.)… sure enough, our good friend came to the balcony and lowered their key on a string down to us. Our desire to get a picture was squashed in the darkness, but still a funny, unique scenario!
We arrived to the bus station and awaited to board the bus.
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Once our bus arrived we loaded up for our 8 hour trek across Cuba. Of course, the bus ride was more like 9 hours, but the worst part was they had these horrible Spanish 1980’s ‘soft porn’ music videos playing. It was so horrible that it became quite entertaining (definitely not something you would see on a bus in the U.S.A.).  About 8 hours in the ride, the bus stopped for lunch (stopped for about 45 minutes). We thought this was odd since we knew we were almost there. Of course we get back on and sure enough we were like 15 to 20 minutes from our destination….grrrrr.
We arrived at the bus station in Ciego de Avila, and proceeded to jump in a taxi for an hour and half ride to Cayo Coco.  Traveling isn’t always glamorous and picturesque, but we knew what Cayo Coco looked like and it was well worth the wait!  The best part of our taxi ride was the 18 mile man made stretch of pristine waters on both sides ( and not to mention flocks of flamingos).
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It was built to connect Cayo Coco from the main island. Once we got close enough to the Cayo Coco, we had to stop for ‘border control’. They needed our passport because most Cubans are not allowed on the island (unless you work there).  So as odd as it seemed, we showed our passports, answered a few questions, and continued on our way to some of the most glamorous, clearest waters anyone could dream of.  After 10 hours in a bus and taxi, it is easy to imagine how great it felt to finally arrive at our beach destination for the next five days!
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Hotel Meliá Jardines Del Rey had it all!  We carefully researched which hotel to stay at and we are so happy we chose this one. The property was just ‘finished’ this past December and is one of the few five star hotels on the island. The best part is it is all inclusive! Loads of restaurants, free drinks flowing, parties and festivities planned nightly, and plenty of water to explore.  Maybe an all-inclusive is not the authentic Cuba we saw in Havana or Vinales, but a side of Cuba that didn’t disappoint!  Many of the resorts in this area are havens for European and Canadian tourists.  Unfortunately a side of Cuba that Americans won’t get to enjoy just quite yet…
Hotel Lobby, grounds and room: everything was great! Room was very spacious and the hotel grounds were very well maintained. Often times, we would be walking to the bar, room, etc and get stopped by the grounds crew to fetch us a fresh coconut off the tree and open it for us.
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The food was on point. You had a choice for buffet everyday or you could book a fancy dinner in advance at one of their restaurants. The hotel had a great variety of different foods so we switched it up each day.
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But the Beach!!?!? This is what we came here for!  Our beach was surrounded by a coral reef, so we enjoyed a lot of snorkeling & floating.
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 Not to mention……the sunsets!!!
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The pool presented a quite different scene to enjoy. Our first swim up bar! And ‘free’ drinks too! Oh, and we tried to bribe the cleaning staff to re-stock our fridge with more beers! Unfortunately, it didn’t work =(.
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The hotel was situated with a lagoon on the side. As we were walking to the beach each day…… sure enough our pink Flamingo friends would just be hanging out. Why is it we are from Florida, and it takes going to Cuba to see these beauties in the wild?
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 The hotel had excellent nightly events for the guest. Live bands were the majority and they were all great!
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As an amazing bonus, the Island provides a double decker bus ($5 all day) that you can hop on and off throughout the island (you can visit other Melia properties etc). Taking the bus led us to a place that was even harder to imagine, clearer water!
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 So unfortunately our time in Cuban paradise couldn’t last forever.  But in classic Cuban fashion, our ride back to Havana wasn’t without adventure.  Thinking back to our earlier posts, remember how Cuba is currently a cash economy for Americans?  Well, we are officially at that point in our journey where it’s a factor ( a big one).  Rather than take the 10 hour journey back to Havana via taxi and bus, we are trying to save some time so we can enjoy one more night in Havana (Bus won’t arrive till after midnight).  All taxi quotes were very expensive. I mean after all, we are asking them to drive 5 hours back to Havana.
Our taxi ride from the hotel back to the bus station quickly became memorable!  Our driver asks, “Do you like cigars?”  Of course we do, we have enjoyed learning about how they boost the economy and how they are a vital part of their culture.  “Do you know they make different cigars for locals?”  Hmmmmm, makes perfect sense, locals don’t have nearly the amount of money tourists do (remember two currencies, one for locals, one for tourists).  “Would you guys like to take home some local cigars?”  Does this question really need an answer?!  Next thing we know, our driver is pulling up to his house to grab three packs of 25 local, hand rolled cigars for us to take home.  “How much?”, “Nothing!”.  Many Cubans are so excited for the tourism boost when the Embargo is lifted.  They are willing to leave a memorable impression, even giving away 75 local, hand rolled cigars!
Our last mission was to get from Ciego de Avila (bus station) to Havana without getting on the bus.  Well, mission accomplished, in a not so ‘legal’ way.  We found a local, non government regulated driver who was taking the journey about half way to havana to pick up his wife.  A ride that was awkward to say the least.  Our driver spoke zero English.  About 2 hours into our trip, we pull over in a desolate gas station, we had no idea what the hell was going on. They show us another car to get into ( we had no idea we were switching cars). So, we got out and switched cars  to one of his ‘friends’, and continue our journey to Havana. This gem of a car had everything, including a cracked windshield and no working seat belts.
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Well that is when it got a little bit more interesting.  Cuban officials do not like it when tourists pay locals and not government regulated taxi rides. When a police officer noticed the obscurity of a white couple riding in the back of a locals car, he immediately pulled us over.  In a panic, the driver who also spoke zero English, said “Mi amigo de familia!” , “No, Dinero”.  We knew exactly what he needed… to ensure the officer that we were not giving him money for the ride.  After about 10-15 minutes of discussion (and a few moments of nervous tension), we somehow were back on our way to Havana.
Our swift transactions landed us a couple of extra hours to enjoy one more night of wandering the streets of Old Havana, sipping on local Cuban beer, and enjoying cigars as we walked the streets one last time.
Sunday morning we headed to the airport, breezed through customs, and left Cuba with 40 cents.  Perfect budgeting for 10 days on a cash diet!
 Cuba is a must see!!!! Adios Mi Amigos!

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