11 Jan 2015

My recent Trip Advisor review of Club Amigo Marea del Portillo + photos!

After every trip to Club Amigo Marea del Portillo, my favourite little resort in southern Cuba, I make a point of writing a review. I wrote this one after my November 2014 group trip.

I try to do what I can to help promote this lovely place because I think it is a truly wonderful spot but also, more importantly, because the resort is the single largest employer in the entire region and, if this resort does not do well, a lot of families will find it difficult to survive. There are simply not many options for work in this rural, rather isolated region. 

You can read my review below (with captioned photos!) or go to the Trip Advisor website (here's a link) where my review is now posted, along with all the other reviews I've written over the years – about my "second home" and a few other places.


You get more than you pay for at Marea del Portillo!

Club Amigo Marea del Portillo is a small, friendly resort situated on the southern shore of Cuba, nestled in the foothills of the historic and majestic Sierra Maestra mountains.

The main part of the resort sits on a secluded horseshoe bay and is comprised of a few dozen cabañas and two hotels, the Marea del Portillo and the Farallón del Caribe – accommodating about 280 in total. The smaller Marea hotel and the cabañas are beach level and just steps from the ocean, while the larger, slightly more upscale Farallón hotel is positioned atop a hill and offers stunning views from every room. 

The cabañas in the Marea section of the resort are all level
with the beach and most have an ocean view.
Although generally rated as a 3 or 3.5 star facility, some folks I’ve spoken with feel it should be rated higher; I say it has a 5-star heart. The cleanliness and service are definitely top-notch and the natural beauty of the setting can’t be beat. The food is always well-presented, fresh and abundant, featuring local fish and organic produce from the area. People say ‘you get what you pay for’ but, at Club Amigo Marea del Portillo, I think you get more than you pay for.

I initially started going to this resort in 2009 because it was the cheapest place I could find for a winter escape to a sunny beach. I have continued going there because it is such a lovely spot and the people are so wonderful – both resort staff and families in the community! In 2011, I began to lead groups there twice a year and, now, many of my friends have become repeat visitors like me.

The Marea hotel dining room and new hot buffet, photographed
soon after the recent renovation work was done.
Every time my friends and I return, we comment on the improvements that have been made since our last visit. During the past two years, a lot of renovation work has been going on, mainly in the beach-level section of the resort. The Marea hotel, dining room and pool area have had the most visible upgrading, and it all looks great! Changes to the dining room include the reorganization of the buffet and addition of large steamer tables to keep more food hot, as well as new décor. (I’ve written in more detail about these renovations in other Trip Advisor reviews, which you can find on my website: www.jennicacuba.com – see links in the blog archives at the righthand side of the page for April 2014 and Dec. 2013.)

Another significant upgrade was pending when I visited in November 2014, and I’ve heard since that it is now up and running. This one, however, is not visible. I’m referring to Wifi – wireless Internet service is now available at Marea del Portillo! Wifi access is possible in common areas like the hotel lobby and around the pool. My on-site source told me they are also working on setting up Wifi at the Farallón del Caribe hotel and, eventually, at the Punta Piedra hotel too. (Punta Piedra is located about 6 kms down the road but is technically part of the Club Amigo Marea del Portillo resort complex.)

Wifi Internet service is now available in certain parts of the
Marea hotel section, including the pool area.
I don’t know if having Wifi will mean that the resort’s star-count will go up to 4 now but, to me, that’s a minor detail. I love this place because it surpasses expectations. The friendly, welcoming staff members routinely go out of their way to make one’s stay enjoyable and memorable. The peacefulness of the place and the beautiful scenery surrounding the resort are second to none, and I feel rejuvenated by every visit. 

How can soul restoration be anything less than 5 stars?

5 Jan 2015

My latest TripAdvisor review: Ferlin's

Ferlin’s restaurant consistently provides great service & excellent food

Insider tip – try the stuffed fish & plantain chips

Whenever my friends and I are staying in the area, dining at Ferlin’s restaurant in the village of Marea del Portillo is a must – and we usually must go more than once!

Fernando Acuña
Most people visiting this part of southern Cuba stay at a lovely little resort known as Club Amigo Marea del Portillo, which is comprised of two hotels and a handful of cabañas. Although the hotels offer plenty of delicious food at their buffets, restaurants and snack bars, it’s fun to venture off the resort property and sample some local cuisine, and Ferlin’s is the best place to do so. 

Located in the quaint village of Marea del Portillo, about 2 kms from the resort, this authentic Cuban paladar (a privately owned restaurant) provides safe, inexpensive dining that is sure to be both memorable and delectable. The owners combined their names, Fernando and Erlin, to name their restaurant, and their combined experience at the resort means they know how to properly handle and prepare food, as well as how to provide great service. Fernando has been a chef at Club Amigo Marea del Portillo for many years and Erlin is a long-time member of the wait staff.

Erlin Mara Hernández
Although they now operate a restaurant at their home, Erlin and Fernando continue to work at the resort. They have hired and trained a small crew to cook and serve, which means that their enterprise is also an asset to the local economy, creating more jobs in an area where very few employment opportunities exist. Good for them – and good for you, when you choose to dine there!

Ferlin’s offers a palate-pleasing choice of entreés, including lobster, the most expensive item on the menu; it’s about 7 or 8 Cuban convertible pesos (known as CUCs – which are very close to being at par with the U.S. dollar). Shrimp, fish, pork and chicken are also generally on the menu, as well as shrimp or lobster cocktails, fresh salads, rice or congri (rice and black beans – a standard Cuban dish) and crispy chicharitas (fried, salted plantain chips). Ferlin’s chicharitas, in fact, are some of the best you’ll find anywhere!

For those not entirely familiar with Cuban cuisine, but interested in trying something a little different, one entreé you should sample is the stuffed fish. Ferlin’s version of this classic dish is excellent! The fish is stuffed with ham and cheese, lightly battered and deep-fried. And, since Marea del Portillo is a fishing village, you can be sure the fish is fresh.

Don't forget to check out the crafts!
All the food at Ferlin’s is very fresh and much of it is from the area – some produce they serve is from an organic farm at the edge of the village, which you may notice when are en route from the resort. Tourists are often warned to be careful about eating off-resort food but you don’t need to worry about dining at Ferlin’s. They always use treated water in their kitchen, Erlin has told me, and the facility undergoes regular government health inspections.

Erlin and Fernando have definitely found their niche, but they’re not the sort of people who rest on their laurels. Every time my friends and I visit, we see something new. They always seem to be doing things to improve the place physically, such as adding a fountain or building a decorative wall. And, to enhance your overall experience, there is also a craft table that offers an interesting selection of souvenirs, including some made by the woman who runs the kiosk.

I would heartily encourage you to seek out Ferlin’s restaurant in the Marea del Portillo village and treat yourself to an excellent meal. Your taste buds will thank you!

[Here's the link to the review on TripAdvisor: http://www.tripadvisor.ca/ShowUserReviews-g1404717-d3807579-r246721818-Ferlin-Pilon_Granma_Province_Cuba.html]

NOTE: The restaurant's phone number is (53) (23) 59-7070 - reservations are a good idea if you are taking a group.