The Lesser Known Side of Cuba: A Trip to Marea Del Portillo
Ever heard of a place called Marea Del Portillo?
Didn’t think so.
And neither did I until I went there.
My first time in Cuba was with my brother, aunt, and grandmother. Exciting for a 26 year old eh? We wanted to get away, something relatively cheap and sunny so we came across this place in Granma provence, on the southern shores of Cuba.
It’s not well known because it’s not a spring break locale. Instead it’s visited by families, old folks, etc, whom all end up frequenting the area year after year.
I can’t speak much for other parts of the country but everyone in Marea and the surrounding towns were very friendly, from the locals to the staff at the resort. So friendly in fact that my family and myself were invited to dinner with our new friends family in the small village called Mota. They didn’t expect anything from us except our company. In return we brought rum to drink and they fed us a simple meal but my goodness it was tasty. We had fresh local fish, plump delicious, organic tomatoes, rice, and all the mangos you could get your fill of.
Our new friend Raidi and his family.
You should know that the area of Marea del Portillo is a fairly poor area. There’s not much tourism there compared to other parts of the country. There is however agriculture in the area, one of the best paying jobs being an onion farmer. But this area can be very dry due to the Sierra Maestra Mountains. These are the mountains that Che and Fidel had a hideout in. The hideout is still there to this day and you can rent a jeep to go see it yourself. Even in the dry months it is a very beautiful area. You can get on a horse and ride up into these mountains and stop for a dip in some fresh water. When it’s rainy season the same areas will turn from a nice pond to a lake with a waterfall. Even upon a quick glance you will see rolling hills right beside beaches, waterfalls, horses, goats, and small simple houses. It’s cozy area where you can feel genuine Cuba not the big city tourist traps and scam artists. Flash a smile and an hola and receive a friendly wave or even a new friend.
Once a week just outside the area of the Marea del Portillo hotel they have a horse race between local cowboys. This was my favourite part of the week. It’s not your average horse race, I would even have to say it’s more of a game of skill. There are tiny rings hanging from a line that they have to catch on a chopstick while at a full gallop on their horse, some even with no saddles. As an avid horse rider myself I decided to hang around after to talk to these guys. We managed to hit it off with my little bit of Spanish, their tiny bit of English, and of course some rum. I still keep in contact with one of the Caballeros (gentleman or cowboy) to this day.
Yaciel setting up the rings for his next race.
Day activities in and around the hotel:
The hotel offers many trips and excursions out of the hotel at extra costs. One of the trips I recommend is the sunset cruise which is a really beautiful time spent on the boat amongst a bunch of mangroves and oyster farms watching the sunset. Horse back riding is also available, you will want to speak to Chi Chi, the resident horse man. He can take you by the hour along the beach or wherever you choose. I do suggest booking to trip through the mountain. You will spend a bit on the horse then stop at a spot for lunch and a dip fresh water.
Pit stop on the horse trek through the Sierra Maestra Mountains.
Also you will find many activities throughout the day in the main area with the pool and stage. Things such as dance lessons, yoga, and one of my favourites: bingo. Everyday the winner of bingo will receive a big bottle of rum, it’s free to play and always a fun time. Another free thing you can do is walk. Hike up the mountain and you will get some pretty awesome views. There is a paved path just past the little cemetery off the main road, but it’s not an easy hike, go in the early morning and make sure to bring water and a camera.
View once near the top of the mountain near Marea del Portillo.
There are many places to snorkel and dive in and around the Marea del Portillo area including the island of Cayo Blanco. They have pretty regular boat trips there including one where you can fish and then BBQ what you caught once back at the island. Or you can opt for what I did when I got there and get a nice drink to sip while sitting in the warm, clear water.
Of course at the resort they always have live bands and performances and in the high season the nightclub is open at the Farallon hotel. If you want an authentic Cuban night you want to go to Pilon. Once a week the locals like to put on their fancy outfits and dance the night away in the streets of Pilon. You can take a bus into town from the hotel or your own taxi.
My biggest mistake was not bringing my own decent sized cup/travel mug. People told me to bring one and I thought “why should I if it’s all inclusive, they have cups”. Little did I know they are tiny one time use cups and I would feel like a fool asking for 5 at a time. Not to mention the environmental impact. But if you aren’t a big drinker then you are fine. BUT it’s all inclusive so you might as well take advantage of all the free drinks you can handle.
WHEN TO GO:
Anytime is a good time but here are some things to keep in mind.
– Check out the Sunwing website for cheap dates to go.
- The “rainy season” is April to November and this brings in more guests since the landscape is green and luscious. Although you won’t run into much rain since the mountains catch it all.
- With more guests it means that they open up the other hotel called the Farillion as well as the Marea hotel. The Farallon is on the hill next to Marea and not on the beach but they have a nightclub.
So for aproximately $6-700cad you can go to Cuba, all inclusive, for one week (plus the exit fee due on departure of $25 usd, check with your airline to see if it is already included). But you will get so much more than you bargained for. Get off the resort, explore the country, meet locals and ask them what you should do or where you should go. Hike up the mountain, find some waterfalls and eat local fruit.