But the biggest surprise I discovered occurred off the tranquilo beach of Cayo Coco.
At the Melia Jardines del Rey one inevitably experiences a Papa Hemingway moment. The drop-dead gorgeous scenery at the beach hideaway on one of Cuba’s tropical islands tugs at the heartstrings. Surrounded by unspoiled boulevards of sea grapes and thatched tiki huts along a strip of sugar-white sand overlooking the turquoise sea, is it any wonder Ernest Hemingway fell for Cuba’s blessed archipelago, the Jardines del Rey?
Home to an aquatic playground that boasts every marine activity imaginable alongside one of the country’s best scuba diving and deep-sea fishing sites, Cayo Coco is aptly included in the “King’s Gardens,” Jardines del Rey for its plethora of nature reserves.
Among one of the latest island ventures comes from Meliá Hotels International. The Spanish-headquartered hotel chain that’s been skillfully bottling the sun vacations formula for 60+ years opened the 1,176-room Meliá Jardines del Rey on Cuba’s idyllic Cayo Coco. The company’s largest hotel to date debuted in 2015.
The luxury, all-inclusive property, only 10 minutes from the main airport, caters to couples, families and groups and is minutes from eco-adventures. Modelled after a sugarcane plantation, accommodations are designed as two story bungalows furnished with modern day amenities and necesario central air.
Nice choice of selection, diners can enjoy international, Creole, French, Latin, Asian and Mediterranean-style cuisine. The anchor restaurant Merkdo has buffet breakfasts, lunches and dinners with an array of hot and cold food stations as well as cooks preparing custom-made dishes. Another buffet restaurant, Rumba, while smaller also provides similar menu items but requires more formal attire. If you’re into a la carte menus, who isn’t? – find six on-site restaurants with themed dining from Tex Mex to Asian.
The Resort Pluses
The five star all-inclusive resort has a long secluded white sand beach named Playa Flamenco. No trucked in faux sand like the kind around some US beaches, this is the real deal. The shallow, turquoise water means warm bathwater ready with a smooth sandy surface for tender tootsies.
With five pools, sun worshippers and pool fans literally can choose a new pool daily while enjoying their 1-week all-inclusive.
The Resort Drawbacks
If you can’t flag down the commonly sighted golf cart shuttles be prepared to make a sun baked walk to anywhere here.
Next to the resort there is a tourist village with a spa. The full-service spa has a hydrothermal circuit for men and women and a variety of massages and facials with tropical menus.
Diving, fishing and bird watching
For pleasure boating, there are easy pedal boats and kayaks.
Hard to resist a resort sunspot with a king “rey” in its name. Harder to resist a beach named after flamingos. You’ll spot hundreds of them at a flamingo sanctuary on your drive here. And impossible to not have a good time here. The Cuban hospitality and fun atmosphere (if that’s what you’re after) are in the resort’s DNA.
You can make your reservations directly through Melia Jardines del Rey. For a standard room, double occupancy, average seasonal rates start at $150. You can also compare rates and book through Travelocity or another OTA.
Photography by Stephen Smith/mycompasstv