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Dhawa Cayo Santa Maria Resort Review: Everything You Need To Know

The first thing you’ll notice about Dhawa Cayo Santa Maria is that it is actually located on Cayo las Brujas, an island close to Cayo Santa Maria. While it is a different island it still has the same stunning coastline for which Cayo Santa Maria is best known and the Dhawa is located on an interesting part of that coast – managing to be at times both rugged and sandy – with blue water and long stretches of beach.

We recently stayed at this all-inclusive resort for a week thanks to tripcentral.ca and thoroughly enjoyed our time there. If you’re looking to go yourself, we’ve put together an overview of the resort along with some highlights and suggestions of things you won’t want to miss while you’re there!

Dhawa Cayo Santa Maria Resort Overview

As one of the newer resorts in the area (as of June 2017) it offers a more modern atmosphere for those travelling to Cuba and a more intimate all-inclusive experience. We found the resort to be incredibly well-maintained with fantastic service and friendly staff.

dhawa cayo santa maria lobby

Though the property is smaller in size than some of the resorts that we’ve seen, you’ve got some options for spending your day in the resort including 2 large connected pools and one smaller, wading pool, tennis courts, a fitness centre, a spa and, of course, the beach.

At night, you can find your way to one of three a la carte restaurants, enjoy the nightly entertainment, head to the disco, listen to live music by the lobby bar or grab a snack at the 24-hour snack bar overlooking the pool.

The Standard Room at Dhawa Cayo Santa Maria

The standard room comes with either one king bed or two queen beds in a bright, island-vibe space that has either a garden, pool or ocean view. We found the necessary amenities like a safe, mini-fridge, iron and ironing board, hairdryer and toiletries and appreciated that the water and beverages were replaced daily in the fridge.

Since we’re not ones to stay in our room and are always out and about, a room with a view is nice but not always a priority for us. If it is for you, we’d recommend getting a premium package that includes a oceanview or request pool view as garden view will probably not be what you’re looking for.

Dhawa Cayo Santa Maria Deluxe Room

Other than that, the room is clean and spacious, welcoming and comfortable and we didn’t find any of the accommodation buildings to be too far out of the way from the major features of the resort.

If you did want to upgrade further, you can always choose a junior or one-bedroom suite which will upgrade you to VIP status and offers a whole array of additional amenities and resort extras.

The Beach

We had mentioned that the beach manages to be both sandy and rugged and this is something we loved about the area of the shore that the Dhawa is located. When first walking onto the beach, a rocky outcrop greets you from the end of the resort’s beach, it’s natural and pretty and a great contrast to the white sand, blue skies and water. It really is only a small section off to the side as the beach extends from it and is a long stretch of soft sand with lots of beach loungers and shaded cabanas to use.

dhawa cayo santa maria resort beach

On the beach is also a bar and restaurant which means you really don’t have to leave until they close! We found that it was a great spot to watch the sunrise, soak in some rays on a lounger, cool down and relax in the water and just enjoy the fact that you’re on a beautiful island. They also have non-motorized sports available for free to resort guests such as catamaran rides which makes for new experiences each day.

The Food & Service

Cuban resorts have long been criticized for their food but we’ve been fortunate to have stayed at resorts in Cuba that have pretty decent food and we’ve yet to have any complaints. The Dhawa Cayo Santa Maria is no exception. Their breakfast buffet was our absolute favourite. While it had a decent variety in general, it was their crepe station (pancake station) that had us up in time each day to make sure we didn’t miss out. Freshly made to order, with a variety of fruit toppings and sauces, they were an incredibly delicious and sumptuous way to spend each morning while on vacation.

The lunch and dinner buffet was also good with changing items daily but we found some favourites and tended to gravitate to them. One of those was the fresh fish section for dinner where the cooked prawns sauteed with garlic were spectacular.

dhawa french restaurant

The a la carte restaurants were also a pretty good change from the regular and offered us a bit of a romantic setting. We tried both the French restaurant (Maison Gourmet) and the seafood restaurant (Fuego del Mar) and though we liked them both, our favourite was the French restaurant. Each guest is able to book each of the 3 a la carte restaurants for one evening.

There was one place in particular that we could often be found: The 24 hour snack bar. Since it was open all the time, we found ourselves there for lunch, for snacks, for late-night second dinners and everything in between. It was definitely a great place to go if you’re hungry no matter what time of day.

Overall, the service was great. The staff was incredibly friendly and attentive and we found ourselves becoming regulars at a particular bar, section of the buffet and the snack bar. The staff at each one made a point to know what we liked and to make us feel welcome at all times.

The Entertainment & Other Amenities

We had fun on the resort and some of that had to do with the entertainment team. Always around during the day starting activities by the pool or beach and performing every night, they were fun and engaging.

The nightly entertainment was performed on stage in the resort theatre (with the exception of one night) and was different each night of the week. The performances varied from musical performances to dancing to shows involving audience participation and were lively ways to spend some time in the evening.

Dhawa Cayo Santa Maria Entertainment

After the shows, the disco started offering a club/lounge-like atmosphere that continued into the late hours of the evening.

If you’re not relaxed after watching a show or participating in one of the games or activities, there’s always the spa area where you can get a massage under a cabana overlooking the water. Though you may want to save that massage until after you give it a go on their tennis courts or burn off some energy in their fitness centre – both areas are great if you’re looking to add a bit of fitness to your vacation.

Our Tips For The Dhawa Cayo Santa Maria:

There are a few things we think you should know if you are planning a trip to Dhawa Cayo Santa Maria resort. For starters, you are not going to want to miss checking out the catamaran rides as they are a complimentary service of the resort and is a great experience  (do remember that tips are very much appreciated by those that will be taking you out on the water). If you enjoy the entertainment portion of all-inclusive resorts, the evening with the entertainment by the pool was by far one of our favourites and truly impressive and may just be something you’ll want to be sure to see.

We said that we were often at the snack bar and that means that we tried the entire menu. What we kept coming back for though were the chicken fingers. They were so good and the interesting mixture of bbq sauce, mustard and ketchup (we’re actually not sure what the sauce that comes with them is made of) was surprisingly delicious on them though you can ask for them without sauce if you’d prefer. If you’re not sure what to eat, or you’re hungry late, we’d definitely recommend heading over to the 24-hour snack bar by the pool for some!

 

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A Cuban Paradise: The Melia Las Dunas, Santa Maria, Cuba

The Melia international chain of hotels is a Spanish owned chain with over 350 hotels worldwide. While we’ve only been to two (and both were in the same country as the other was the Melia Marina Varadero), I can honestly say we were truly impressed with both stays and are big fans of the Melia Brand.

For us, our trip to the Melia Las Dunas was memorable not just because of the amazing time we had, but also because it was our first major vacation together and the start to our frequent travels as a couple. It was at this all-inclusive resort in Cuba that we realized we didn’t just love to travel, we loved to travel together and though we’ve been to other resorts in Santa Maria, Cuba, the Melia Las Dunas still holds a special place in our hearts.

Though we’ve recently returned to the resort with a day pass, the following is our experience throughout the week we stayed there. What we noticed since going back is that it is evident there have been upgrades and that the service and quality has not diminished one bit but you can always read more about our recent day trip to the Melia Las Dunas and other resorts on cayo Santa Maria!

First Impressions of Melia Las Dunas Resort

Melia Las Dunas Resort

Our first trip was to Santa Maria and the Melia Las Dunas Resort. The resort is about 1 hour 45 minutes from the airport in Santa Clara via resort shuttle and the route takes you over the Cayo Santa Maria causeway which makes for some pretty nice views.

When we arrived at the resort we were immediately greeted with warm smiles and offerings of tropical beverages. We were given our room keys right away and set off to explore the resort. As we stepped out of the lobby we were immediately hit with the tropical feel of the place. Palm trees, shrubbery and flowers created a truly isolated, island oasis. The entire resort has this welcoming, enveloping feel and made walking around a truly pleasant experience.

The Room – A Private Oasis

melia las dunas cuba standard room garden view

Rather than one main building, many individual 2-storey units house multiple rooms. The room we received was clean and spacious with a small entrance-way and sitting area as well as a vanity separating the closet and the bathroom. Every morning we received a different towel design on our bed. We were hoping for a swan and heard that other couples had returned to their rooms after breakfast to find one awaiting them… the above picture was the most complicated creation we found during our stay. This was the only real disappointment of the trip.

The Beach – Paradise & Perfection

santa maria beach

The view of the beach on Cayo Santa Maria is one of the most surreal experiences. Stepping onto soft white sand, looking out at crystal clear water that is the colour you think only exists in photoshopped photos, we felt like we were in paradise. The water was warm and for half of our stay it was calm.

The only thing we noticed was the lack of shade. Few palm trees or cabanas decorated the beach and the ones that were present, were taken early and rarely left for the duration of the day.

Be aware that on some beaches in Cuba, as in most sandy beaches, sand fleas are present at night time and are vicious biters. Socks, shoes and full length pants would be your best bet if you plan on catching the sunset on the beach, but this still won’t guarantee those pesky critters won’t find their way to your skin.

The Pool – There’s More Than One!

melia las dunas cuba pool area

There were two pools on this resort. One in the “family” section of units, where any one could go, and one on the “adults” section, where children were not allowed. Both areas had activities during the day, obviously geared for the age ranges present, and both featured swim-up bars.

We didn’t spend too much time at the pool until the end of our week when the weather became overcast and too windy to spend long hours at the beach but we were always able to find a lounger.

The Food – A Pizza Love Affair

pizza heart

Despite what many people have told us, food at Cuban resorts is not always bad. I was prepared for flavourless meals but instead found some pretty delicious food. The buffet changed from day-to-day. Not altogether, but significantly enough so as not to tire of the options.

The a la carte restaurants were also a nice change from the buffet. Our favourite was the pizzeria which was not only an a la carte option for dinner, but was also open for lunch without a reservation.

At the airport on the way home, passengers from other resorts commiserated over the bland and inedible food they experienced. Fortunately, we were unable to relate to their experience.

The Service – Smiles & A Helping Hand

cuba bartender and crab

From the concierge to the bartenders, the pool staff to the waiters, our Cuban hosts were always smiling, friendly and willing to help. At the end of our stay, Macrae fell pretty ill with the flu and we received a great deal of support from the concierge and the wait staff. The only issue we did have was with our room attendant (and no, not just because we didn’t get any fancy towel swans). She was often missing in action, failing to re-supply the toilet paper, or not altogether friendly when we did find her, but from those we spoke to on the resort, she was one of the exceptions and we were usually able to find another attendant at the neighbouring units to help us.

The Entertainment – Always Something New

Melia Las Dunas Fire Drinks

The resort seemed to have a significant number of families the week we were there. Many activities were available for children but there were also numerous adult oriented activities including sports, such as tennis; dance classes, such as salsa; and even Spanish lessons. There was nightly entertainment in an open theatre off the main bar which showcased dancers, comedy acts, magicians, and a night for Disney characters and songs. Random entertainment also seemed to pop up regularly. Musicians in the lounge, “Cuban Day” festivities with music, dancers and, my personal favourite, popcorn and cotton candy machines, were all unexpected enhancements to our stay.

Excursions also run from this resort which vary in price and depend on what tour company/airline you use. We had to cancel our snorkelling/swim with the dolphins excursion as Macrae was too sick to get out of bed, but friends we made there said it was incredible. There is also a marketplace that sits between Las Dunas and another resort which is set up with vendors during the day and has a bowling alley, discoteque, and restaurant for later in the evening. These are not included in the cost of your trip but are relatively inexpensive.

The Location – A Secluded Island

cuban market

While it may have been the time of the year in which we visited (late March), we found our resort to be a quieter, family-oriented location. This suited us fine as we weren’t looking for a spring break atmosphere.  The location was also remote, requiring air transport to Havana or any other distant tourist locale. The snorkeling here is supposedly some of the best on Cuba and while we were unable to experience it during this trip, we hope to make it back one day and see if it’s true.

Even though we ended up being limited to our activities towards the end of our trip (and even though there were no swan towels) the trip was still tons of fun and incredibly memorable. The overall experience at the resort was fantastic and we’d highly recommend it for anyone looking for a more relaxed vacation, with unbelievable beaches, amazing service and good food.

 

Looking to see another location in Cuba? Check out our review of our second Cuban all-inclusive vacation to another Melia resort, the Melia Marina Varadero.