Cuba Tourist Board
By Merle Rosenstein
Lying off the north coast of Villa Clara province, 120 kilometres from Santa Clara, Cayo Santa Maria, is Cuba’s newest destination. A small island 13 kilometres long and up to two kilometres wide, Cayo Santa Maria is in the Jardines del Rey (King’s Garden) archipelago, part of the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. ‘El Pedraplen’, a 48-kilometre causeway, joins Cayo Santa Maria to the mainland.
With no permanent residents, Cayo Santa Maria is a charming island paradise with clean white sandy beaches, shallow clear water, stunning natural scenery and an abundance of diverse wildlife. Birders particularly like the island, spotting anhingas, seagulls, flamingoes, woodpeckers, hawks and the tocororo, the national bird of Cuba. It’s also home to numerous species of reptiles, amphibious, fish and mammals.
Outdoor enthusiasts can snorkel or dive to find an amazing variety of fish lurking in the coral formations, or go hiking on Cayo Santa Maria, Majá, Fragoso, Cobos, Las Brujas, Ensenachos, Español de Adentro, Francés and Las Picúas. Water lovers can windsurf, swim, sail, or go deep-sea fishing, speed boat racing or water-skiing. And history buffs explore the ancient caves.
In nearby Santa Clara, you can visit the memorial museum, built in tribute to Ché Guevara and his comrades killed in combat in Bolivia. The historic centre of Remedios, declared a National Monument in 1980, has two churches in its municipal square – Nuestra Señora del Buen Viaje and Parroquia Mayor, with its huge gold-plated altar and a sculpture representing a pregnant Virgin Mary.
Two new hotels on Cayo Santa Maria opened in 2010 – the Barceló Cayo Santa Maria Caribe with 660 rooms and the Meliá Buenavista with 104 rooms.
The 5-star Barceló Cayo Santa Maria, when completed, will be the largest resort in the Caribbean with 2,670 rooms. Phase I began in December 2008 with the Barceló Cayo Santa Maria Beach followed by the Barceló Cayo Santa Maria Colonial in December 2009, for a total of 1,308 rooms. Phase 2 includes the Barceló Cayo Santa Maria Caribe and the Tropical section planned for a December 2011 opening, for a total of 1,362 rooms. Barceló Cayo Santa Maria is the first resort in Cayo Santa Maria to offer three-floor bungalows.
The Meliá Buenavista, a small luxury 5-star hotel with junior suites for adults only, is located in the west part of Cayo Santa Maria, Punta Madruguilla. The first Sol Meliá Hotel, the Sol, opened in December 2001, followed by the Meliá Cayo Santa Maria, the Meliá Las Dunas, and the Meliá Buenavista in December 2010, for a total of 1,689 rooms.
More information on this gorgeous new destination can be found at www.gocuba.ca