Cayos de Villa Clara
About five kilometers east of Caibarién, a 50-kilometer-long causeway departs the coast road and leaps from cay to cay, ending at Cayo Santa María, 45 kilometers from the mainland. Miles of beaches run along its north shore, shelving into turquoise waters with a coral reef beyond.
The cay is in the midst of major development that calls for 10,000 hotel rooms on Cayo Santa María and neighboring Cayo Las Brujas. Since 2008, the cays have been rebranded as the “Villa Clara Keys” (www.villaclarakeys.com).
Most of the beaches front hotels; day visitors can buy a day pass (CUC20). Otherwise join the Cubans who get free beach access at La Salinas; the trail is just beyond the airport.
Beyond the hotel zone, you can drive a dirt road to reach Sendero Ecológico, a nature trail. The easternmost part of the cay is a military zone with a lighthouse (faro) that’s off-limits.
You need your passport for a toll booth checkpoint (CUC2 each way).
Fishing here is top-notch, notably for tarpon. Excursions are offered (CUC260/350 half/full day). Scuba diving is spectacular: The best site is the wreck of the San Pascual, a tanker that ran aground off the west of Cayo Francés; scuba dives (CUC45 one dive) are offered from Marina Gaviota (tel. 042/35-0213, marinasm [at] enet [dot] cu), adjoining Villa Las Brujas.
A delfinarium was under construction at last visit. The marina offers a one-hour visit to dolphin training tanks, including snorkeling (CUC35). It also offers excursions by catamaran (CUC42 half day, CUC72 full day, CUC57 sunset cruise with dinner).
Accommodations and Food
All hotels are operated by Cuba’s Gaviota chain and located on the town’s one road.
illas Las Brujas (tel. 042/35-0025, reserva [at] villa [dot] lasbrujas [dot] co [dot] cu, from CUC61 s, CUC76 d low season, CUC71 s, CUC86 d high season) has 24 spacious cabinas atop Punta Periquillo, on Cayo Las Brujas. Nicely appointed, each has two double beds, satellite TV, and modern bathrooms. It has sailcraft on the beach.
The Restaurante El Farallón (daily 7–10 a.m., noon–3 p.m., and 7–10 p.m.) overlooks the beach but is freezing (what is it with the Cubans and air-conditioning?), and the food wins no prizes.
Sol Cayo Santa María (tel. 042/35-1500, fax 042/35-1505, www.solmeliacuba.com, from CUC170 s, CUC210 d low season, from CUC252 s, CUC315 d high season) is a deluxe 300-room all-inclusive property run by the Spanish Sol Meliá chain. Its cabinas, done up in Meliá’s lively trademark pastels, are built on piles and separated by small bridges. It has heaps of facilities, including tennis and a kids’ club.
The hotel has opened a deluxe extension, the two-bedroom Villa Zaida del Río with its own swimming pool and gardens.
A tad more upscale, Meliá Cayo Santa María (tel. 042/35-0200, fax 042/35-0550, www.solmeliacuba.com, from CUC190 s, CUC250 d low season, from CUC290 s, CUC360 d high season) has 360 beautifully decorated rooms and a classy elegance to the public areas, which include three swimming pools, and all the water sports you could wish for.
In 2008, the near-identical 925-room Meliá Las Dunas (tel. 042/35-0100) opened.
And 2009 saw Spain’s Barceló chain open the mammoth four-star Barceló Cayo Santa María (tel. 042/35-0400, www.barcelo.com), with 684 rooms, 21 restaurants, 28 bars, and a mega-spa. This multi-phase hotel will eventually have four hotels in one, with a staggering 2,780 rooms, 21 restaurants, and a golf course!
For top-of-the-line luxe, check into the gorgeous Occidental Royal Hideaway Ensenachos (tel. 042/204-3584, www.occidental-hoteles.com, from CUC240 s, CUC320 d), an all-inclusive with three separate sections in English-colonial style, with marble floors throughout. It has 400 rooms, including 10 bungalows, 50 honeymoon rooms, and 10 suites, most a considerable distance from the beach. Every room comes with concierge service. The “Royal Suites” are three kilometers away—a resort within a resort.
Getting to Cayos de Villa Clara
In early 2010, AeroGaviota was the only airline serving the airport on Cayo Las Brujas.
There’s a gas station adjacent to the airport, where Vía Rent-a-Car (tel. 042/39-5398) has an office.
© Christopher P. Baker from Moon Cuba, 5th Edition