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.








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