7 Apr 2014

Why I’m a “repeater” at Club Amigo Marea del Portillo, Manzanillo de Cuba

This is a TripAdvisor review of Marea del Portillo that I wrote in March 2014; it's posted on their site along with a smattering of photos, different from those below. Here's a link, so you can have a look and give me a "helpful" vote, for what it's worth!

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My Feb. 26, 2014, trip to Club Amigo Marea del Portillo and Farallon del Caribe was not my first visit to this charming little Cuban resort.

Returnees have privileges!
I want to be up-front about that because it’s an important point – I am a “repeater.” I will not give a one-off critique of a place I happened to stay at once because it was cheap; I will provide an honest commentary about why I keep going to this resort and what has changed since I began visiting in 2009.

I am a repeat guest at this resort for several reasons. First, as many people note in other reviews, the scenery is phenomenal. Located on the southern sole of Cuba, in the historically significant province of Granma, this resort is on the rim of a peaceful bay, on the cusp of the Sierra Maestra Mountains. Do you prefer the mountains or the ocean? Here, you don’t have to choose – it’s the best of both worlds!

Cayo Blanco is an ever-popular excursion - sail,
kayak, snorkel or just hang out on the lovely beach.
You can go swimming, kayaking or sailing from the back porch of the hotel, so to speak. But, if you’d rather go for a hike, just head out a different door of the hotel and hit the trail. Or, if you want to simply sit and relax, you can watch the sun rise over the mountains and/or set over the ocean. If lazing about isn’t your cup of rum, however, you can take a bike trek, go for a horseback ride, participate in one of the many interesting excursions the resort offers, or just explore on your own.

Artist Ramon Cisnero
in front of one of his
many sculptures in
Manzanillo de Cuba.
I bought this print from Pedro Guillermo
Guerra Tamayo during the Manzanillo
Art Tour - then learned I had purchased
a painting of his at a Toronto exhibit!
There are options available for anyone of any fitness level. That is another reason to like this resort – it has something for everyone. There are the usual sorts of poolside activities, of course, but there are also opportunities to learn about the community and culture. You can take a tour of local villages, visit a farm, go on a “Jeep” excursion (in Suzuki 4X4s) or take the Manzanillo Art Tour – a new day-trip that was launched while I was there in February. And, if you like local art and crafts, be sure take a stroll to the rotary at the resort’s main entrance; you’ll find a nice selection of souvenir booths there almost every day. Crafts are also intermittently available by the pool at each hotel.

The "Titanic" skit is  quite funny!
Not sufficiently entertained yet? Well, don’t miss the evening entertainment that’s offered at both hotels – the Marea and the Farallon (which is open in high season only). These shows are high-energy variety nights that generally include live music, comedy and dancing. As a repeat guest, I can tell you there are some consistent elements and schticks but there are also new skits, new dance routines and new costumes on display every year, as well as new bands that feature some incredibly talented local musicians. As well, for those who want to party into the night, there’s a disco on the beach, where the d.j. will take requests.

I prefer to stay the cabañas (shown here) because
they are level with the beach and generally quieter.
I can also tell you, as someone who has been paying attention over the years, that this little resort has been working hard to make annual physical improvements. This past year, for instance, they did a major overhaul of the Marea Hotel dining room, and it looks great! They’ve created a new a la carte restaurant at the Farallon Hotel, added more outdoor beach showers and patios at the Marea Hotel, upgraded the Marea cabañas and enhanced the grounds in general. It just keeps getting better, each and every year!

The Marea Hotel pool is adjacent
to the entertainment centre,
and there are plenty of seats.
Other improvements include more shaded seating at the Marea poolside snackbar, as well as more choices of snacks (although supplies do sometimes run low). The food at the resort, in general, has improved over the years, in my opinion. There’s more variety at the buffets and the new steamer tables at the renovated Marea dining room keep things hotter. My best repeat-guest dining tip is this: be sure to check what they’ve got on the grill before filling your plate at the buffet. The grills at both hotels always have the freshest, hottest meat, and sometimes vegetables too.

The Farallon Hotel pool is larger than Marea's and
has a swim-up bar. Both offer afternoon activities.
Here’s another repeater tip: book the VIP package. It is available with Superior Rooms at the Farallon or Cabañas at the Marea, which are the only two hotels in the main complex – the Punta Piedra Hotel is technically part of the resort but is actually located 5 km down the road. The VIP package includes two trips to an idyllic island called Cayo Blanco, a lobster meal, a Sunset Cruise, free use of the in-room wall safe, etc. You can pay for these options separately after you arrive but, if you do the math, you’re better off being a VIP, which must be booked in advance.

Some produce on the hotels'
buffets is grown locally.
The physical stuff aside, there’s another compelling reason to return to Marea del Portillo time and again: the people. I’m not just talking about the resort staff; I’m also referring to the community surrounding the facility. According to my own observation, reading and conversations with others, the people in this part of Cuba are some of the warmest, most welcoming folks in the entire island.

Excellent towel origami.
Maybe it’s just good, old-fashioned southern hospitality. Perhaps it’s because they aren’t as over-run with tourists as other parts of the country and, therefore, aren’t tainted by the inundation. I don’t know. Whatever it is, I like it. I appreciate the opportunity to chat with the locals and get to know their culture in a more up-close and personal way – not just observing life through a bus window!

A Marea del Portillo toast with
birthday-girl Wendy, one of
my repeat group members.
Why do I keep returning to this obscure resort in a rather remote, rural part of Cuba? I’ve fallen in love with the people, as well as the place itself. I feel at home here – peaceful, happy and safe. Guests are not warned to stay on the grounds; they are encouraged to explore the area and consider Marea del Portillo their second home. For many people who visit this resort regularly, it is a place of healing and rejuvenation, which is why they keep coming back. The rate of repeat clients here is among the highest in Cuba.

Club Amigo Marea del Portillo and Farallon del Caribe may be rated as a three-star resort but I consider that a mere technicality. People say ‘you get what you pay for’ but, here, I truly believe you get more than you pay for!

Gorgeous sunrises and sunsets are always included free of charge at Marea del Portillo, Cuba!



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