Just returned from our first trip to Santa Lucia,(Camaguey) having previously spent a week in Guardalavaca (Holguin) last year. While we enjoyed arriving in Cuba at 5:30 pm,, the time waiting on the bus to leave the airport seemed to drag on for reasons never made clear to the passengers, as everyone seemed to be on the bus and ready to go. We arrived at the resort after approximately a one hour drive, which included a pee break stop as our bus washroom was apparently out of order. After 14 of our passengers returned from their washroom break in the ditch, we carried on to the hotel, where we made the wise strategic decision to have my wife sprint for the lobby, while I looked after our luggage, and pulled a drunk from our bus out of the bushes.
Tip: Sitting near the front of the bus certainly makes this more possible.
We were fairly quickly checked in, and off to our room in the 200 block of the resort. We were immediately impressed with how clean, and welcoming the resort felt. Upon arriving at our room, we had not yet had the chance to exchange any currency, leaving the luggage porter with a $5.00 Canadian bill which he was more than happy with ! Our room was clean and comfortable, while the bathroom was also a decent size and always had hot water. The beds were also comfortable, albeit two double beds pushed together, which frankly made for a pleasant sleeping experience for both my wife and I. We were able to get 3-4 English speaking channels on the TV, including CTV Toronto which was great for news back home, and Olympic coverage. The air conditioning worked fine, and while the breeze was wonderful with the windows left open, there are no screens, so we dealt with a few mosquitos in the room if we opted for fresh air. We only saw a salamander once high on the wall, while we're not quite sure where he ended up. The cleaning staff generally arrived between 1100 and noon to clean our room, while we never had any issues with their work. Our safe did not work and the front desk's response was simply, "a lot of them don't work". They did offer to have us store valuables in a secure location at the front desk as an alternative. Between ourselves and the other two couples we ended up hanging out with, 2/3 of our safes didn't work.
Tip: Don't forget your own face cloths, and stoppers for the sink drain and bathtub.
The food was better than both my wife and I expected, while we only ate once off the resort. The seating was ample, the staff were largely attentive, and the selection was such that we always found something to eat. The toaster does more warming of bread than toasting, while on a few occasions the bread went in the front, and out back onto the floor. The final meal on the Thursday evening was amazing and included lobster, beef, turkey,roast pork & grilled salmon along with an impressive dessert table. This treat was primarily because of the annual festival which was going on and the competition between the 4 area resorts.
Tip: Make sure you bring your own condiments if you're someone who likes jam, peanut butter or whatever on your morning toast ! Also ketchup supply is hit and miss.
The entertainment at this resort included a very talented dance troupe and we were treated to several high energy performances by this hard working crew. They practiced hard daily and put on top notch shows. The band was great as well. While we know it is common at many resorts to build up the audience and get the excitement level up before each show, we found the practice here to be over the top in terms of volume, annoying horns and sound system noises and simply was dragged out well past the point of being enjoyable. Applause was requested many, many times as participants to pre show games were introduced one by one....you probably get the picture. Anyway, we found ourselves avoiding this part of the show and settling in for the real talent which was the dancing, fashion show, music etc that followed.
The beach was clean, and great for laying around, but not so good for swimming due to large amounts of sea grass which made it a challenge to find sandy areas which could be walked to or through. We actually went next door to go swimming at their beach. As with other reviews the beach is fairly windy, much to the delight of kite surfers, although we never found it unbearable. Because of this resort's smaller size, there were always lounge chairs down by the beach, while we also never had a problem finding a grass sun stand to park ourselves under. Vendors were present, but kept to the water's edge, and we never felt bothered by them in the beach area in particular. There were a few people soliciting charity such as clothing items or toiletries that approached us if we ventured for walks along the water's edge away from the resort or offered to arrange lobster dinners, horseback riding or sell cigars.My wife and I loved that staying at this resort included a free catamaran sail of approximately 35 minutes, where our guide took us out near the reef and back.
Excursions we took part in included the 2 hour catamaran trip, where we snorkeled for one hour, included a non alcoholic drink, and then returned us to the marina just north of the resort, where we caught a small train shuttle back to the hotel. ($25 Pesos each for this excursion)
Tip....Bring your own mask and snorkel for a more enjoyable experience, as the ones offered are not very good quality. The fins supplied worked well.
We also took a buggy ride to Coco Beach with 4 others, which was a great afternoon, and certainly a beautiful area to visit, enjoy a drink, lay in the sun and enjoy the water. (Most buggy operators will charge $15.00 to $20.00 for a buggy ride to Coco Beach and back, often waiting for your group until you're ready to return) We shared this cost with the group and capped the day off with a wonderful lobster dinner at a local restaurant (10 pesos each)...delicious and thoroughly enjoyed!
We also took part in the excursion to the King Ranch (cost included as we booked with Hola Sun), which was a worthwhile experience. We saw real Cuban cowboys display their roping and riding skills in a mini rodeo competition, learned about the uses of many indigenous plants,visited the school and the home of a local resident in a small village nearby and were treated to a delicious pig roast lunch with tasty local side dishes, served in a dining shelter, complete with music. Our guide Vincent was knowledgeable, funny, and passionate about his role as an educator to the tourists who visit the ranch. He is a kind man and through his delivery of information you can tell he has great respect for the environment, animals and for the Cuban people. The one caveat here is the weekly walk thru the local village is highly anticipated by many residents who line the street hoping for gifts from the tourists. As we are learning, this practice is not helpful for many reasons.(see tip below).
We also enjoyed the final day in Camaquay, which was a nice way to wrap up the week after days of laying around. Leaving the hotel at 0830, we had an escorted trip to several key historical sites in this 500 year old city, visited a market, a pottery makers home, had lunch, and were allowed another hour in another more developed market area. Great way to see more of real life in Cuba versus the Cuban resort experience. ($33.00 each)
Tip: If you're tempted to give things way, don't do it on this trip. I made that mistake with ball hats, and was almost swarmed, while those who felt cheated almost got into fights with the others.
We are learning that gifts are far better distributed through more organized channels, and there are many opportunities to share with Cubans in a way that preserves dignity and supports fairness. It is hard to walk through streets lined with children and parents requesting help...but we can see this type of random gifting is creating a culture that is doing long term harm to the younger generation. There are cultural exchanges where items are distributed to areas of greater need and in return the recipients give back thru hospitality, entertainment programs or things they may have in abundance to share.
We also borrowed bikes from the resort for a two hour trip into the countryside. Bikes were in decent shape, and included a metal basket on the front which was very handy. This is an area with little traffic, while we never felt vulnerable making this trek into the countryside. How many Caribbean destinations can you say that about ? We learned during our trip that any locals "harassing" tourists can receive up to 5 years in prison. We heard a heartwarming story of a scooter breaking down and the locals combining their resources to repair it and send the tourist on his way safely.
In summary, we are glad we visited this area and chose this particular resort. We knew going in that it was a fairly remote location, and travel off the resort would be limited due to distance and cost considerations. We will definitely return to Cuba in the future but will choose a different part of the country to visit and learn about.
- Also Known As:
- Club Amigo Caracol Hotel
- Club Amigo Caracol Hotel Playa Santa Lucia
- Hotel Amigo Caracol
- Country Inn Camaguey
- Club Amigo Caracol Playa Santa Lucia, Cuba - Camaguey Province