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(2021 - Winter Issue)


Classic cars. Cigar bars. Ernest Hemingway (a.k.a. Papa) and the all-time classic novel, The Old Man and the Sea.

As my toes touch the sun-kissed tarmac at Cayo Coco Jardines del Rey International Airport, my mind skips to what surely lies ahead. Although often I’ve been the only Canadian in the room who has never been to Cuba, I’m here now and between my fellow travellers’ tales, newsreels and other media, I figure I have a pretty good sense of the place. This will be a journey back in time, I muse, to an era during which no one cared about gas-guzzlers or diesel exhaust, smoking was stylish, and a bad boy could be redeemed by his good writing.

I’m a bit surprised then when my tour guide introduces me to his homeland not with a Montecristo but instead, a synopsis of the country’s latest tourism offerings. Modernity then, and not nostalgia, becomes my new theme and a stay at Cuba’s latest off-island destination seals the deal.


Situated off Cuba’s north coast, and part of the archipelago Jardines del Rey (Spanish for “King’s Garden”), Cayo Cruz is a remote, slender strip of land tethered to the mainland by a 12-kilometre causeway, and to its neighbouring island, Cayo Romano, by a causeway about five kilometres long. Interestingly, here, there are no cities, villages or farms. In fact, there are no permanent inhabitants at all. Instead, folks commute by car or board one of the steady parade of buses that carry workers to-and-fro, dropping them off and picking them up at one of the island’s three resorts.

Built to be a state-of-the-art tourist utopia, collectively there’s the Valentin; the Hotel Iberostar Coral Level, a resort complex within swanky Iberostar Selection Esmeralda; and La Marina Plaza & Spa Hotel. Each luxe beach property features a contemporary design, within structures so new that sometimes, intermingled with the sea air, I swear I can detect the smell of fresh paint. Previously known only as a great spot to go sportfishing, in 2019 and early 2020 that changed with the opening of these oceanfront properties. Each building is set back from the sea to help protect against hurricane damage, and with raised footpaths and bridges leading to the beaches, to ensure fauna and flora along the shoreline are preserved.


At the adults-only, all-inclusive Valentin Cayo Cruz, I consider hauling myself off the chaise longue on which I am sprawled next to the multi-level infinity pool, to take a stroll along the boardwalk to the beach. As a reward for my efforts (it’s less than a five-minute walk but hey, I’m on holidays) I could grab a drink at the open-air bar before skimming across the warm white sand into the Atlantic for a swim. On the other hand, I could just do a log-roll from my chaise into the pool and hit up the bartender at the swim-up bar. Or, for that matter, I could wander back to my spacious, tastefully decorated woman-cave situated in one of the 12 low-rise structures that dot the resort where there is also a pool.

And then, I don’t know, get fancied up for an even fancier cocktail in the Piano Bar? Or head to the open-air lobby to watch people people-watching? Happily, I’ve already decided upon dinner—with three à la carte restaurants from which to choose. Food and drink in Cuba is more diverse than the beans-and-beer-centric diet I’d anticipated.


With its air of exclusivity heightened by the causeway treks, Cayo Cruz has a once-you’re-here-you’re-here vibe, but resort guests are encouraged to rent a car if they want to explore other parts of the country. I discover more Cuban firsts on Cayo Guillermo where at Gran Muthu Rainbow, Cuba’s first LGBTQ adults-only resort, I’m warmly welcomed with a splash of cocktail and an even splashier dance performance.

If holidaying on an island that is off of an island isn’t remote enough, Kempinski Hotels has rescheduled to reopen Cayo Guillermo Resort Kempinski in January 2022. Cuba’s first luxury non-all-inclusive resort is set to take the lavish vacay one step further. Oh sure, you can stay in one of the glorious suites, but you can also check in to a private over-water villa suspended on stilts, accessible by a boardwalk bridge that juts into the sea. Spacious and with a vaulted wooden-beam ceiling that creates an even more airy feel, your secluded getaway includes not only a small private pool but one that has a ladder leading down to the ocean.


Back inside the new resort’s floating villa, I pass a poster-size black-and-white photograph of a marlin-toting Hemingway with a fellow fisherman. That’s when it dawns on me. Cuba may have gone avant-garde but curvy cars built in the ’50s still cruise the roadways; resorts boast sexy, leathery cigar bars; and the spirit of the writer who named his famous boat Pilar, after the very beach on which this resort now is situated, lives on. Indeed, the nation has managed to catch modernity without releasing the richness of its past.


Cuba-bound Canadian travellers on an all-inclusive package need a valid passport, tourist card (included) and mandatory Covid insurance, which is available to purchase through your travel agency or upon arrival at the airport for $30 USD. Coverage is valid for 21 days.

Travel Planner

As of November 15, 2021, all tourist destinations in Cuba have reopened including more relaxed entry protocols for Canadian travellers. Canadians must be either fully vaccinated, or show a negative PCR test done 72 hours before entering Cuba.

For re-entry to Canada, PCR tests are available at the hotel for a $30 USD fee (payable locally by Visa or debit).

For trip bookings, check with your local travel agent on latest Covid protocols.

For travel information to Cuba

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