9 May 2024

TRIP REPORT (Part 1): I had a relaxing week with friends at Marea del Portillo!

BEACHRISE: A lovely sunrise from the Marea del Portillo beach.

As you may know, I'm not really adventure averse...

While I was in Cuba in March, things were a little different than they had been on past trips. The country is struggling. There are fuel and food shortages, frequent blackouts and a variety of associated challenges. I knew things might be difficult so, like a good scout, I did what I could to prepare in advance – such as always having water purification tablets and T.P with me, as well as a "roll-with-it" mindset and an openness to adventure!

My first week in Cuba was NOT an adventure, though, because I was at my favorite little resort, Marea del Portillo, on the island's southern sole. I'd stayed in the hilltop Farallón del Caribe Hotel on my last trip; thus, I opted for the beach-level Marea del Portillo Hotel this time. Both hotels at this resort are lovely! It was great to see people I've known for years – among the staff as well as my fellow travelers – and to make some new friends too.

It was also nice to see how beautifully the resort is being renovated. A lot of updating and freshening up has been done and more projects are in the works. Construction is a challenge in Cuba right now, though, due to the lack of supplies and their escalating cost, when they are available. Therefore, it will take some time for all the proposed upgrades to be completed. Be patient!

BEAUTIFUL: The updated Marea Hotel now features a sweet suite!

One thing I look forward to is the installation of an elevator in the Farallón hotel, which has sweeping views of the peaceful Marea del Portillo Bay and the majestic Sierra Maestra Mountains. I've been told this will be a "scenic" elevator and, therefore, I'm guessing it will replace the glassed stairwell at the east end of the building. That pending project will likely take the most time to accomplish. Perhaps in a year or two, we'll no longer have to hike up the stairs if we have rooms on the fourth floor of the Farallón... but I may do it anyway, just for the exercise! (I consider Cuba to be my fitness club and, with that in mind, I really should visit more often!)

Before we're able to take photos from the pinnacle of the elevator, we will be able to enjoy the facilities in the new structures going up between the two hotels. I've heard varying ideas about what exactly these buildings will contain, which suggests that plans are somewhat in flux. I believe there will be some sort of snackbar and a gym or spa, but I'm not sure what equipment or services will ultimately be available. Massage? Probably. Aroma therapy? Perhaps. Tattoos? Maybe. Sauna? I hope not! (I made that last one up; I'm admitting it because I don't want to start a rumor.) We'll have to wait and see.

This between-hotels site will also serve as a new access point for the beach. People will be able to jump on the shuttle at the Farallón, coast down the hill and get off at the new snackbar/spa/whatever building, and go directly to the beach without traipsing through the Marea hotel lobby. I think that will be much better! I'm assuming that baños and showers will be installed at convenient locations adjacent to this new beach access spot. I believe there are already some at the dive shop but more may be in the works. 

IN THE WORKS: This mid-way point between hotels will provide easy beach access.

It's hard to know what will be accomplished this summer at the resort, just as it's hard to know what food/beverages will or will not be available at any given time. When I was there in early March, the food selection was a bit limited but we certainly didn't go hungry! Every buffet tray had something in it, even if the contents were, in essence, a variation on the theme. Sausage and cabbage were definitely put to good use, but we also had a selection of other things throughout the week. My favorite meal was the lobster dinner cruise!

While there, I learned why some food items seem to be in short supply at the resort but are readily available elsewhere. Lettuce, for example, was noticeably absent from the resort buffet most of the week. However, I knew it was being grown in the nearby Marea del Portillo village. I did my best to connect the dots but, in the end, I couldn't do it.

I found out that, in order to buy local produce, the resort is required by the government to have a contract in place with the farmer. Payments would eventually be sent to the farmer's bank account, roughly once a month. The nearest bank is about 15 km away and, based on what I've heard from several sources, it does not always have enough cash on hand to supply withdrawal requests. People can have their government-issued payments applied to credit cards, but that limits them to shopping at government-operated stores where plastic is accepted. Some people prefer cash, since that's what they need for many aspects of daily life. If you want lettuce, you need money, honey!

The farmer with the beautiful field of organic greens, just 2 km from the resort, would be happy for his produce to be featured on the buffet. But, quite understandably, he wants to be paid in the national currency at the time of purchase. While I was at the resort for my first week, my meals were bereft of lettuce but, later, a friend hooked me up...after I went rogue! (The next part of my March trip was definitely more adventuresome – stay tuned.)

Meanwhile, this is what you need to know: The Marea del Portillo Resort IS OPEN!!! The director has unequivocally stated that the resort will continue to operate year round. If you want to stay there this summer, you can book rooms through the Cubanacan website or you can pay with a credit card at the desk when you arrive (remember, the card must not be linked to an American bank). For now, the Farallón del Caribe Hotel is the focus, I've been informed. 

FARALLON: The lower photos were taken while on the resort's lobster dinner cruise.

Sunwing is only offering flights via the Holguin airport, but transportation can be arranged; if you have a group of 6-10, the shared cost is reasonable. The director says they are working on reestablishing operation with Sunwing, but there are no specific details at this time. Previously, he had said he hoped flights would resume to Manzanillo in June but... we'll see.

I did a little checking and found that the Cubanacan Hoteles website seems to work a little better for booking than the Cubanacan Grupo site and, oddly, is a couple of bucks cheaper in most cases. It can be a challenge to find Club Amigo Marea del Portillo; you may have better luck searching for "Granma" as a destination. The Hoteles site also provides an email address for the resort: reservas@marea.tur.cu. You could try making a reservation that way and, presumably, pay when you arrive. Here's a link I used in my tests: https://reservations.cubanacanhoteles.com/en/. Scroll down to the bottom to find Granma. Interestingly, I noticed several photos of Cayo Blanco on the site!

I'm not sure if the resort will be able to provide transportation from the Holguin airport, but I think they're trying to put something together. However, another option to consider is Proyecto Guacayanabo, a group of entrepreneurs based in Manzanillo. They can provide transportation tailored to your group; prices vary depending on the size of the vehicle required. You can contact them by email (proyectoguacanayabo@gmail.com) or connect with their manager, José Ortiz Benet on Facebook.  

Anyway, according to Abel Carcur, director general of the Marea del Portillo Resort, the bottom line is this: "The resort is open 365 days per year." 

XO, Jenny 

KEEP SMILING: I enjoyed hanging out with friends at the Farallón Hotel's poolside bar! On the right, I'm with José Ortiz Benet of Proyecto Guacanayabo at the Holguin Airport.








19 Feb 2024

Marea del Portillo, here I come... again!


Yes, I will soon be returning to Marea del Portillo, Cuba, again. I was there when the resort finally reopened on Dec. 6, after too many years, and I want to return before flights to/from Manzanillo end for the 2023-24 season.

I thought I'd timed my visit to occur while this tourism season was still going strong. When I planned my trip, flights were available to the middle of April 2024. However, Sunwing abruptly decided to truncate the season and end flights to/from Manzanillo de Cuba in mid March instead. Dec. 6 to March 20 is a VERY short season!

Without the Sunwing flights from Toronto and Montreal, the entire Manzanillo airport will close. The next nearest Cuban airport is in Holguin, which is about 4 hours away from the Marea/Pilón area. It is a bit of a drive but there are a lot of interesting things to see along the way! Sometimes, when I've flown via Holguin, I've stopped in Manzanillo or Bayamo and, on occasion, stayed overnight in Holguin. All three of those cities are interesting to visit.

After Sunwing pulled the plug on the more convenient Manzanillo flights, the resort management team began exploring other transportation options. They had hoped to be able to provide a package that would include the airport transfer without adding to the cost. That, unfortunately, has not yet proven possible. At this point, they're still awaiting answers following a recent meeting in Bayamo with Sunwing representatives.

Sunwing may not seem to care about this resort and the communities it serves – I mean both the local community and the community of tourists – but the resort managers definitely DO care. Abel Carcur, Yancel Pérez and Ñusta Arévalo want to keep this resort open beyond March 20, and they are trying very hard to find a viable solution. Both Yancel and Ñusta live in the area and have worked at the Marea del Portillo for quite some time. Abel is new to the resort but not new to the tourism business, nor to Cuba, although he's actually from Spain.

As well as working in the tourism industry in different capacities around the world, Abel Carcur also had a restaurant in his hometown of Lugo, Spain.

Last year, some of you may have heard that a Spanish company was taking over the resort. I think that rumor may have arisen because Abel came from Spain to tour the facility; it was really just one Spanish guy who was hired by Blue Diamond to be the general manager. Rumors also circulated that the resort was being sold. Well, it was sort of a shell game because Sunwing owns Blue Diamond. They are rebranding it, not selling it... at least, not yet.

Abel has apparently been given a year to turn things around financially but I have not been able to find out if that "year" begins next season (Winter 2024-25) or if has already started. If the clock is now ticking for Abel, then Sunwing should not have cut him off at the knees by stopping flights to Manzanillo earlier than originally scheduled.

When I chatted with Abel in December, he explained that many changes were pending, including the creation of two separate resorts on the same property. Instead of the Marea del Portillo hotel and the Farallón del Caribe hotel being under one big umbrella (Club Amigo Marea del Portillo), each of the hotels would be marketed separately and would cater to different clienteles. Then, if the Marea hotel's financial picture did not improve, it would be sold and Sunwing would operate only the Farallón.

However, I found it quite interesting to learn that Sunwing was not footing the bill for all the renovation work that has been and is being done at the facility. Abel said that, in his experience, the amount of money being pumped into the resort is unprecedented. Since the Cubanacan group actually owns the place (Sunwing is essentially a property manager), it would seem that they want to keep this entire resort alive – at least two of three hotels, that is. I have no idea about the future of the third hotel, Punta Piedra, which is located a few kms to the west, but I hope it doesn't fall into disrepair.

So, if Sunwing sells off the Marea hotel, would Cubanacan step in and operate it? Perhaps. Could another international airline be found to fly into Manzanillo. Maybe. At this point, I'm just speculating! Let's all sing together: "Quizás, quizás, quizás...." 

Blue Diamond has dual-personality, two-hotel resorts under the "Resonance" banner, which is the current plan for Marea del Portillo/Farallón del Caribe.

Meanwhile, let's talk about what could happen after March 20. The resort could simply close. Or, it could be opened on weekends only for day use (no overnight accommodation). OR, in a scenario I want to be optimistic about, it could stay open and provide transportation from/to Holguin for clients with air/hotel vacation packages (Sunwing or another company). In this case, people could also book accommodation autonomously – no matter where they were traveling from or what airline they might be using. If a group arrived together, a Manzanillo-based company called Proyecto Guacanayabo could adeptly supply shuttle service.

Although other individuals can provide transportation, Proyecto Guacanayabo seems to be the best option for groups because they have access to numerous vans and other larger vehicles. And, for those who like the classics, they have a big yellow truck with bus-style seats at their disposal. It can comfortably carry 10-12 people and, since it has a large roof rack, luggage can go on top instead of being crammed inside, which must be done with many vans.

Also, because their business includes guided tours to other parts of Cuba and event organization, they would have the chops to put together a nice mini-tour from Holguin to Marea del Portillo. Since Manzanillo is about halfway, it would be a great place to stop for a break that could include a meal and music, as well as beverages and baños, and, perhaps, a quick drive along the city's sculpture-studded malecón.

I realize that a 226-km drive from plane to bed is not ideal or, for those with certain health issues, even possible. Nonetheless, I would encourage you to keep an open mind about this idea and not negate it out of hand. Certainly, having an unexpected 4-hour bus ride is not nice but this would be organized and announced in advance. IF this mini-tour option can be worked out, I think it would be fun!

Let's stay positive and keep supporting Marea del Portillo as much as we can! On Feb. 28, I will again be heading for my favorite little resort, my second home and my Cuban cottage, as some folks call it. I will try to post a trip report by Easter... if I make it home and have time by then! While I'm there, I'll do my best to provide what updates I can about the resort and its future. 

Keep smiling,

This awesome vintage vehicle, equipped with modern, padded bus seats, can carry 12 people.


6 Jan 2024

MY DEC. 6 MAREA TRIP REPORT: Not perfect but perfectly fine!

It wasn't perfect but it was perfectly fine!

TORONTO, DEC. 6, 2023, 6:15 A.M.
The first flight from Canada to Manzanillo de Cuba was loaded and ready to roll down the Pearson airport runway when the pilot introduced himself on the intercom and informed us that we were overweight. Okay, he didn't mean that we, the people, were overweight; he meant the plane was overloaded.

The solution was to unload everyone/thing and bring in a newer plane with a larger payload capacity – a bigger belly, in other words. This took about 4.5 hours and meant that the first flight to arrive in Manzanillo came from Montreal. Because of the delay, however, the Dec. 6 Toronto passengers are entitled to compensation in the form of a $125 CAD monetary refund or a $225 voucher. [To my Dec. 6 clients: Please check your email for instructions on how to submit a claim, if you haven't done so already.]

Rumors and speculation circulated as to why the plane was overweight. Was somebody just bad at math? Did a lot of people show up with extra luggage that hadn't been booked in advance? Although Sunwing now seems to be following the WestJet protocol of not weighing carry-on bags, in my observation, I don't think that was the cause. The delay was annoying but, in the end, it was a minor hiccup and, happily, I have a voucher for my next trip!

Upon our eventual arrival at the Manzanillo airport, we were greeted with great hoopla! There were musicians, dancers, stilt walkers, entertainers and TV crews – the return of Sunwing flights to the province made the national news in Cuba. The reopening of Club Amigo Marea del Portillo was truly a BIG deal. After a surprisingly fast and smooth bus ride to the resort, the celebration continued, complete with music, welcome cocktails, many hugs and face-splitting smiles!

The 2nd hiccup was due to the ongoing renovations. Part of the Marea section is still under construction and that hotel was not quite ready for occupancy on Dec. 6. Those who had been booked in the beach-level hotel had their accommodation upgraded to cabañas or Superior rooms in the Farallón hotel. Although the Farallón was absolutely gorgeous and the view is incredible, not everyone was pleased; some people really wanted to be in the Marea section, no matter what.

Those with mobility issues were given rooms on the Farallón's lobby level (2nd floor). Food was available at the newly expanded snack bar near the pool, as well as in the á la carte restaurant. If required, meals could be brought down from the buffet for those who can't manage stairs, I'd been assured in advance. Future plans for the resort include the installation of a "scenic elevator," according to the incoming manager, Abel Carcur. No timeline for this has been given but, judging by how quickly he seems to get other things accomplished, I would guess it will happen sooner rather than later. We'll see!

Anyway, as the days clicked by, people were moved into the Marea hotel just as soon as room renos were finished – if they wanted to move! One couple in my group, who had booked a full month, ended up in the Farallón instead of their usual Marea hotel room and, although they could have moved down the hill, they opted to remain where they were. I think more than a few people will choose the Farallón in the future!

By the second week, the main Marea dining room was ready for use as the venue for the Repeaters' Dinner. Work continues to be done in that section as fast as possible, but there's a lot to do. One of the biggest parts of the overall project is the construction of a floor atop the á la carte restaurant, dwarfing the stage. This will be a disco! In fact, another change that's afoot, once Blue Diamond fully takes over, is to make the Marea section into a music and party zone. The Farallón will become the more sedate and upscale hotel of the two. [I hope to be able to provide more details about these pending changes later.] 

Hiccup #3 pertained to WiFi. At first, people were told they would need to pay for WiFi and different prices were given. The most commonly quoted rate was $0.21 USD/hour, which needed to be paid with a Canadian credit card. Seriously! However, Sunwing's website clearly stated that WiFi was free throughout all their resorts in Cuba. Naturally, this was brought to the attention of Elena, the onsite Sunwing rep., as well as the management team. Abel quickly rectified the situation. In short order, WiFi was free and refunds were being offered to people who had already paid. [NOTE: This service is provided in blocks of 3-5 hours and, if you leave it "on," you will quickly burn through the allotment and have to go back to the lobby desk to have another block of time activated. I would recommend flipping your internet access "off" or switching to airplane mode when not using it.] Food is another thing people are always concerned about, of course. On the first night, we were served an elegant meal by the Farallón pool, complete with artfully arranged lobster and steak entrées. Throughout the remainder of my two-week stay, I ate shrimp, fish, chicken, pork and beef. And yes, I had some bacon for breakfast! Overall, I would say they were not lacking in meat. There were sufficient vegetables and fruit, too, but not as much variety as one may prefer. For example, leafy greens were rarely available but, if you like beets, you'll be pleased.

Sometimes, when I arrived late to the buffet, I discovered sausage and cabbage in several of the covered trays; I suspect they ran out of other things and didn't want the trays to be empty. They temporarily ran out of a few key items, such as butter, but there was certainly no shortage of delectable desserts, pastries and bread. The person or team in charge of baking is doing a top-notch job. And, for those who will want to know, the toaster was working beautifully. All in all, I never left the table hungry!

What haven't I covered yet? Entertainment! The music is excellent, as always, and most of the musicians will be familiar to anyone who's visited this resort before. Quite a few members of the animation team have returned and they've been joined by some new folks, all of whom are working hard to keep everyone highly entertained. Most of dancers are new to the resort, and they're very talented. Also new is an aquatic ballet team from Bayamo instead of Santiago, as before. Since they don't have so far to travel, they are able to present water shows every week, which is delightful! 

I would be remiss if I didn't at least briefly mention the beach, Cayo Blanco and other excursions. The beach in front of the hotels is being rehabilitated. Mother Nature apparently decided to move most of the sand to one big pile at the east end of the beach, effectively closing the river's mouth. Workers are cleaning the beach daily and hauling loads of sand back to where the humans would prefer to have it. More palapas and other structures for shade are being built, as well as a new beach bar below the Farallón. Regarding excursions, in my view, the land-based tours are reasonably priced, given the current cost of fuel in Cuba. In December, most people seemed to be going on excursions by "Jeep" rather than bus and, in that scenario, the driver serves as guide. On the sign you'll see five different options but, if you're interested in going somewhere else, I would encourage you to ask – it may be possible to customize a tour!

I wasn't able to take a ride on the resort's fancy new boat during my Dec. 6-20 stay but it looks nice. The general consensus seems to be that the rates for a day at Cayo Blanco and the Sunset Cruise are a bit high; keep in mind that all prices are in USD and must be paid with a credit card. Interestingly, during the first week, Cayo Blanco cost $85 but, by the second week, it had gone up to $90. The Sunset Cruise increased by $1 from one week to the next. Perhaps they'll lower the rates later! 


On a related note, I found out during my second week that people can now buy a pre-loaded Bandec credit card at the bank kiosk in the Manzanillo de Cuba airport. That's important to know if you only have credit cards linked to U.S. banks. So, American tourists who want to visit Cuba can use their greenbacks to buy these Bandec cards, which can then be used for excursions and shopping at government stores, including the resort's little tienda.

Oh, yes, that reminds me... you can pay with cash at the craft market that has been set up near the round-about at the resort entrance. Most vendors will accept either USD or CAD. In the future, a more permanent craft market will be built along the road between the two hotels, Abel has told me. As well, in that same stretch of road (west of the dive shop), a new ranchon will soon be ready for use and, hot on it's heels, a spa will be constructed next door. The spa will include massage and aromatherapy services and, possibly, a tattoo studio. It will be fun to see how all these excellent plans evolve!

One final "hot tip" for those who want to book a special room at the Marea hotel in the coming year: ask about room #127. It will have a private Jacuzzi-style bath adjacent to the back door! Woohoo!

Well, I think this has become a pretty comprehensive trip report! There are a few rumors floating around about other pending changes at our beloved second home and, when I have confirmation of the details, I'll let you know.

Bye for now!
~ Jenny 


5 Jan 2024

MZO return made the national news!

The return of flights from Canada to Manzanillo de Cuba on Dec. 6, 2023, made the national news in Cuba! 

Although the Sunwing flight from Toronto was supposed to arrive first, a delay in departure meant that the Montreal flight had that honor instead. Nonetheless, there was great fanfare for both planes at both the Sierra Maestra Airport and the Marea del Portillo resort complex. At the airport, we were greeted by numerous resort staff members and musicians, as well as dancers on stilts and otherwise. The return of tourists to the province was truly a joyful celebration!

Here are some Facebook posts by my friend Juanita Noryis Perdomo Larezada, a Cuban journalist, and a selection of the photos she shared. [NOTE: She posted in Spanish but the following is the English translation provided by Facebook. Although the grammar may not be perfect in the translation, I'm confident that Juanita's Spanish is impeccable.] 



December 6th, 2023. A lot of excitement is hosted at the Marea del Portillo Hotels & Resorts CUBA resort - Farallón and it's not for less. After four years of being "inactive," this charming tourist product from Cubanacan Hoteles is about to restart its operations.

The flight from Toronto should land at Sierra Maestra Airport in Manzanillo at about 2:35 pm, the passenger claimed on Facebook Jenny Cressman. According to her, the plane was delayed a bit, but they maintained the same joy of arriving at the resort that many Canadians consider their second home.

The longing for that magical setting is about to end, at least for the two flights out of Toronto and Montreal.

Huge happiness is also enjoyed by the workers of the complex, who return to their jobs, after a long wait. Congratulations also to Manzanillo airport managers and employees. Thank you, in addition, to Canada, for continuing to love Cuba, and especially to Lessner Gomez Cuba Tourism Advisor in Toronto.

Luck is thrown out. May this second half be better than the success of before 2019. Let quality be the best host.

If tourism wins, we all win, it's not mouth, it's common sense. Ministerio de Turismo de Cuba.




Tourism is back to Pilon. Canada arrived on the wings of Sunwing, the airline that brings the most vacationers to Cuba. This is a big event for a small village in the province of Granma. Tourism is life, livelihood, culture, tradition there. It's also the return of tourists who love Marea del Portillo Hotels & Resorts CUBA like their own family.

The joy is immense for workers, visitors and town. Tourism is oxygen for Pilón, and it is, also, encounter, hug. I share the happiness of the Tidal people... At last, tourism became a customer, hopefully forever. Ministerio de Turismo de Cuba Cubanacan Hoteles Nancy Virgen Estrada Milanes Lessner Gomez.


[Some photos were provided by Bayamo Radio.]




I recognize several people from the resort staff, even if only from the back! The tourists in these photos are probably from the Montreal flight. 

The Farallón del Caribe hotel looked glorious! Although I usually stay in the beach-level Marea section, it was nice to be so graciously accommodated in the Farallón for a change.


31 Dec 2023

Here's to a bright and beautiful 2024!

Good morning Cubita bella! This is one of numerous lovely sunrises I saw from my room on the 4th floor of the Farallón del Caribe Hotel (part of the Marea del Portillo resort complex) when I was there Dec. 6-20, 2023. It was great to finally be back at my "second home," along with my 28-person group! 
I've been working on my trip report – sorting photos and thoughts – but I won't likely be able to send it out until next year! In other words, I hope to finish it tomorrow. Before posting it here, I will send it out to my JennicaCuba email list. If you want to have it delivered to your inbox when it's hot off the presses, so to speak, you can sign up under the "Contact" tab.
Cheery cheers!

28 Dec 2023

Please stand by for my trip report

FULL CUBA TRIP REPORT COMING SOON! Meanwhile, here's a teaser...

To everyone who signed my petition to reopen Club Amigo Marea del Portillo and booked trips beginning on Dec. 6: WE DID IT!!! The resort opened with great fanfare and made the national news in Cuba. The legacy of Celia Sánchez continues; she's the one who advised Fidel Castro that a hotel should be located on the uniquely beautiful Marea del Portillo bay, where she loved to fish when she lived in Pilón. The resort quickly became a key employer in the region and, now, it is once again. Returning staff and new people are happy to be able to work, and that makes me happy too.
In my observation during my Dec. 6-20 stay, everyone at the resort worked very hard to provide a wonderful holiday experience for their guests. The Farallón hotel was absolutely gorgeous and the Marea section is coming along nicely. During the first week, Marea hotel rooms were being used as soon as they were ready for occupancy. Renovation and construction continues on some things but, most importantly, the resort is finally operating, for the first season since early 2020.
Yes, they had plenty of food but, also yes, they temporarily ran out of some things on occasion. There are supply chain issues all over Cuba. During my December visit, a few items came and went but I never left the table hungry. The baker and pastry chef at the Farallón must be particularly commended for all the excellent, tempting creations!
I will provide a more comprehensive trip report soon. This report will include information about what plans are afoot at the resort for the remainder of the season and beyond. First, as always, my JennicaCuba updates will go to only those on my email list. If you want to sign up for that, please visit my website's "Contact" page. http://www.jennicacuba.com/p/activities.html
While you wait, please enjoy the sunrise from my bedroom window on the 4th floor of the Farallón hotel. 
~ Jenny

May be an image of twilight and horizon