CAYO SANTA MARIA: THE ENDLESS PARADISE
We were the only ones who exited the bus, and it was the first time that we didn’t see another soul in sight. No one was asking if we wanted to stay in their casa, if we needed a taxi ride, or where we were going. We were off to a good start! I walked into the bus station and asked directions to the center plaza, so we strapped on our backpacks and walked the peaceful mile to the town center. Remedios is one of the oldest cities in Cuba, but several centuries ago, many people fled inland when the pirates often invaded and caused chaos. Currently, a quaint town rests with two large cathedrals in the center and only a few restaurants along the perimeter of the square. While Corinne watched both of our bags at one of the local restaurants, I roamed the streets looking for a place for us to spend the night.
When discovering the right casa particular, there are a few things that I always keep in mind. First, I look at the outside of the house. Usually if there are beautiful, decorative stones or tiles along the outside walls of the house, then the inside is often well maintained. I then knock on the door and politely ask (in my broken Spanish) if they have an available room. After a tour of the house, I always ask if they have a rooftop terrace available for guests to use. This is so important to us because we really enjoy waking up early to read, journal, and reflect on our experiences traveling. The final and most important decision-maker is if I’ve truly connected with the host family. Since we’re staying in their home, we want to feel comfortable, have nice conversations and feel safe. Eventually, I found Hostal San Carlos which was the perfect fit!
[Side Note]: Hostal San Carlos is a wonderful family and they provide four available bedrooms for guests. They have a multi-level rooftop terrace with abundant seating and WiFi internet connection. Also, there is a beautiful view of the plaza in the distance with both of the churches jetting up into the sky. They provide an amazing breakfast for just US $5 a day. This includes two eggs, bottomless toasted bread, an entire plate of assorted fruits, coffee, and a pitcher of juice.
Most of the foreigners vacationing in this region of Cuba stay on the small island chain just off the coast of Cuba. This is an extremely expensive option because all of the accommodations are all-inclusive resorts that are as pricey as any Caribbean island destination. Since we decided to stay in a casa particular about an hour away from the island, we completely eliminated these high costs and ended up splitting a taxi ride with the few other selected tourists who had the same idea as us and spent the entire day on the island!
Our first morning, we took a taxi collectivo with a French couple and a solo traveler from Spain. The cost was only US$10 each roundtrip. This is a good day’s wage for a local to earn, so taxi drivers actually spend the entire day on the island waiting in the parking lot until we want to leave. Eventually, we made it to Cayo Santa Maria and asked the taxi driver to drop us off at the eco-reserve on the far Eastern end of the island. The entrance fee was US$4. We all walked together through the jungle path for about 15 minutes and instantly become so stoked when we got our first glimpses of the ocean! We were the only ones prancing around on this powder, white sand beach lined with private huts. Corinne and I walked a bit father down the beach to claim our favorite spot to post up for the day.
We dropped our bags and sprinted to the ocean! I have never in my life swam in water as crystal clear, aqua blue, perfectly warm and inviting as this pristine beach. The shallow sand jetted out for 200 yards!
After a few hours, we hopped back in the taxi to checkout another beach closer to the hotels. The others seemed to love the loud music and crowds of people, but within five minutes of being there, Corinne and I walked back to the parking lot and asked our driver for a ride back to paradise. We had the entire beach to ourselves!
Cuba has truly been more than we could ever imagine. With Havana being a stimulating city that felt as if we had stepped back into the '50s to the stunning countryside and mountain ranges of Vinales to Trinidad's charming colonial town ambiance with its colorful streets and its irresistible live music scene to Cayo Santa Maria's beautiful and isolated white sand beach. This enchanting island will forever remain in our hearts and we encourage everyone to experience this incredible country that’s not so often traveled. Stay tuned for our upcoming blog posts on our adventures through Colombia!