Travel stories, tips and suggestions for travel in Central America and the Caribbean

Cuba has long been a popular destination for vacations, especially for people looking for all-inclusive vacations and resorts that offer beautiful beaches and all the mojitos you want. Unlike many other destinations however, Cuba has been nested in a socio-political atmosphere unlike any other destination of its kind. It’s because of this that travellers often want to know more about the ins and outs of travel to the country and what to expect, and do, even when staying at all-inclusive resorts on the island.

We’ve been to Cuba several times and have visited quite a few resorts and with each experience we took home a tip or two about staying at one of their resorts. It seems like each time we learn something new and our last trip to Cayo Santa Maria, thanks to, was a wonderful experience that gave us even more insight.

No matter where you book your resort, what star it is or how long you plan to stay, we’ve put together 5 of our top travel tips for resorts in Cuba that you’ll want to consider before you go!

Bring Things To Give Away

This was a controversial subject on our last visit to the Cuba. For years, it was a given. When you travel to Cuba, you bring a bunch of things to give away to those working at the resort. This time, we found thread after thread online discussing why bringing things is not welcomed by the people of Cuba and is no longer a good idea. People repeatedly said it was an insult to the Cubans to receive goods in lieu of cash tips, that handing them toiletries, clothes or toys at any time was suggesting they It seems that ss the country’s political climate has been changing, so has the country’s entire socio-economic structure and that has given to changes in the way others around the world view the country and their behaviour towards it.

We decided to do a little research of our own while we were there and talk to those working on the resorts we were visiting. What we found was that there

Book Your A La Carte Right Away & Think of Sunsets

Something we try and do right away when we get to an all-inclusive resort is get our a la carte restaurant reservations booked. Though what restaurants and how many a la carte dinners are included with your stay differs depending on what resort you go to, the one thing that stays consistent is the demand for them.

Especially in high-season, reservations can book up fast, so it’s good practice to get yours booked as soon as possible. This guarantees you get the restaurant(s) you want as well as the day and time that suits you best. One huge factor that always plays into the timing of our reservations is sunsets. Depending on where you are staying in Cuba, you may have the opportunity to witness some beautiful sunsets and if you’re hoping to catch as many as you can, you’ll want to make sure you’ve booked your a la cartes around sunset hours.

Of course, since we can never predict what the skies have in store, we like to keep sunset hours free on all the days to make sure we’ll catch at least one or two beautiful sunsets!

 cayo santa maria cuba resorts

Know Your Drinks

Whether you drink alcoholic beverages or not, your all-inclusive package is going to include unlimited drinks of any variety. Between a limited availability of products (though these limitations seem to be less and less with each passing year), translations and the like, you may be surprised to find your favourite beverage doesn’t taste exactly as you expected… but that doesn’t mean it can’t.

We’ve had so many people mention the taste of their drinks to us while at resorts. The coffee was an espresso rather than a regular coffee, the rye and ginger didn’t taste right, the list goes on. The problem may lay more at your feet than at the bartenders’ or resorts’.

Instead of just asking for your cocktail or mixed beverage, ask for them to be made with specific liquors (that you may already know you like) when you order. While it’s true that not all resorts will include all the alcohol options (some may charge more for top-shelf liquors), you’ll still be better off finding the best ones for the drinks you like.

A tip for rum drinkers? If you can, Havana Club 7 year is found at most resorts and will up the quality of any of your rum beverages from the basic bottled rums they may use. For non-drinkers, ask if there’s a special virgin cocktail that the bartender makes (you’ll be surprised at the tasty concoctions you can find at resorts that come without booze) and be specific when ordering your coffee beverages – some of the names may be the same but the composition of your brew may not!

Bring What Cash You Need

This is something we get reminded of time and time again, AFTER we’re already in Cuba. We always think we’ve brought enough cash with us and figure we’ll be fine. We always wind up down to our last dollar (or should we say peso) and have some minor stresses about what will happen if we need some cash at customs or at the airport.

As of this article, Cuba still does not accept American credit cards or any credit card affiliated with American companies (which is a vast majority of them around the world). Since ATMs aren’t widespread, you’ll need to bring the cash you need so you can convert it once you are in Cuba.

It’s hard to know exactly how much you’ll need especially since, if you’re at an all-inclusive, you’ve already pre-paid for everything. What you’ll need to think of is souvenirs, excursions, any transportation for sightseeing, wifi cards, emergency money (e.g. medicine at the resort) and tips. You don’t have to convert all of it unless you need it but it helps to have extra on hand. If there’s a safe at your resort it also won’t make it a hardship to have as you can lock it up and forget it unless you need it.

A tip about tips? Leave them! It is greatly appreciated and a few dollars here and there for those who do a great job does make a difference.

Prep Your Apps and Downloads Before You Go

This is another lesson learned too late: make sure you have any apps and downloads completed before you leave for your trip. While you can get wifi (there are 1.50 CUC per hour cards that can be purchased at resorts) it is unpredictable and you probably won’t be able to get through larger downloads.

If you’ve prepped ahead you’ll be able to upload photos to social media, send emails and even Skype/Facetime. You’ll also want to make sure your audio library is stocked and any e-books are ready to go as well!



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 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!


Cuba holds a special place in our hearts. Not only is it the scene of our very first vacation together, it is also one of our favourite countries to visit with incredibly friendly people, beautiful culture and amazing beaches. Though we mostly enjoy delving into the local scene when we travel, we also love to vacation and that means taking a break from it all, sitting back and letting someone else take care of everything.

So when we needed some time to relax and reenergize, we figured an all-inclusive resort would be perfect and decided to head back to the scene of our first vacation as a couple. To do that, we popped over to and looked up resorts in Cayo Santa Maria, the island in Cuba where our travels as a couple began!

All-Inclusive Resorts For A Vacation in Cayo Santa Maria, Cuba

What we found were a lot more options than were available years ago. With all of these choices we decided to not only stay in one resort for the week, but also visit several others while we were there. This gave us the opportunity to see what was else available for those looking for a getaway, romantic or not, on an island with some of the most beautiful beaches we’ve ever seen.

Here are four great options for an all-inclusive vacation in Cayo Santa Maria, Cuba.

Dhawa Cayo Santa Maria

We stayed at the Dhawa Cayo Santa Maria Resort for the whole week. It was relatively new when we visited and we thought that its modern design and decor was an intriguing contrast to the tropical setting typical of an all-inclusive resort in Cuba.

The Dhawa is actually on Cayo Las Brujas, a neighbouring island to Cayo Santa Maria, but the drive is similar in distance from the airport and you really won’t notice the difference if you’re venturing off the resort for any of the excursions or attractions. In fact, you’ll find yourself closer to the Marina Gaviota Las Brujas where you can go scuba diving, fishing or sailing.

The resort itself is family-friendly with everything from a kids club for the little ones, to a disco at night for the party-goers. We found the food to be above average for what is commonly found at resorts in Cuba and even discovered some favourites at the buffet and the 24 hour snack bar that had us returning for more! With three a la carte restaurants, there’s also decent variety of food to choose from.

Dhawa Cayo Santa Maria Cuba Resort

We loved the pool area as it had two pools, semi-attached, and a separate wading pool nearby. There’s also daily and nightly entertainment and activities with an incredibly talented, friendly and enthusiastic entertainment team.

Our favourite part of the resort was, as is for any resort in Cuba, the beach. This stretch of beach may be a bit unexpected as it has a beautiful rugged natural rocky area to start before it extends to a long strip of sandy coastline. With a bar, food service and tons of loungers either in the sun or in the shade, it makes for a great place to enjoy the sun, sand and water.

It’s a great resort, with a more intimate vibe, that is perfect for a family, a group of friends, a couple or just an individual looking for a more relaxed vacation in the sun.

Melia Las Dunas

The Melia Las Dunas was the resort we stayed at on our first visit to Cayo Santa Maria together and we found it as fantastic during this visit as it was the last time. It’s by far our choice for a romantic getaway for couples in Cuba even though it is not an adults-only resort.

What you will find is two areas of the resort – each one with its own pool and buildings with rooms, but one side geared towards families and kids and the other for adults. While the sides can mix and mingle, there are activities for the kids available only at the family pool (and also the separate kid pool) and most of the guests that are adult-only will find they are given a room at the other side of the resort.

Melia Las Dunas Cayo Santa Maria Cuba Resort

The Melia Las Dunas also has some great dining options. In addition to the buffet, there is a pizzeria serving food at lunch and while it was one of our favourite places to eat, their 8 a la carte restaurants are also great choices for dinner.

There are quite a number of bar and snack options, entertainment throughout the day and evening and impeccable staff and service. Of course, nothing beats a resort that not only has a stunning beach but also an ice cream parlor. One of our favourite things to do when we were planning to spend some time in the sun and sand was to grab an ice cream on our way!

It’s a beautiful resort with a tropical atmosphere and is perfect for a little romance, even if you bring the kids!

Warwick Cayo Santa Maria

The Warwick Cayo Santa Maria is one of the hotels on the island that we were able to visit with a day pass. Since we did not get to stay as guests, our opinions are from what we saw during our time exploring the resort. For us, this resort was simply stunning. Being only two years old, it is similar to the Dhawa in that it felt like a modern tropical paradise.

While the gorgeous, giant pool was definitely something to enjoy (and we did), we really liked the beach with the multiple access points and varied terrain. When we first stepped foot on the one end of the beach we were greeted with a rocky outcrop before it gave way to pure sand.  To us, the contrast between the natural, more rugged looking shore and the pristine, sandy stretch of beach was simply beautiful. Having a bar at each of the main beach access points is also a great touch!

Warwick Cayo Santa Maria Cuba Resort

The hotel rooms we saw were also modern with great decor and added touches.  The one thing we didn’t get to try much of was the food. During the low season, the main buffet was closed for renovations and we were only able to try the mini buffet which was decent but obviously not indicative of the regular food options or any of their a la carte restaurants.

With many bars, a lush tropical property to explore and tons of waterfront space, whether at the pool or on the beach, and lots of activities to choose from, the Warwick is definitely a resort that adds some 5-star Cuban luxury for the whole family!

Valentin Perla Blanca

Multiple pools, beautiful landscaping, different activities and entertainment throughout the day and into the night and, something we’ve yet to experience in our travels, adults only access. The Valentin Perla Blanca was a whole different resort from the ones we visited. As with the Warwick this was only a day pass, so we only got to explore some of what the resort had to offer.

As is with many of the larger resorts on the island, low season means that some of the areas are closed off. For us, that meant we focused our time on the pool that was open and the beach. There are some great vibes at this resort, with the music and the relaxed atmosphere, and we enjoyed slipping into the 24 hour restaurant to test out some of their food (the chicken fingers were definitely our favourite).

Valentin Perla Blanca Resort Cayo Santa Maria Cuba

What stood out the most to us about this resort was the option to upgrade to the Privilege Club. By doing this you would get an exclusive concierge which means quicker check-in and check-out, a special lobster dinner, 20 min massage, discounts on additional spa treatments, premium brand liquors, a special buffet area as well as more benefits and extras in the a la carte restaurants. It also means access to the “Privilege Lounge” which has AC, those premium liquors we mentioned and a relatively quiet space to get away and relax.

We really loved that part of the Valentin resort and knew as we were walking around that it would be a great way to experience a stay there. It’s definitely a great place to get away from it all, pamper yourself and leave the kids at home!

A huge thanks to for making these experiences possible. If you’re looking for vacation packages or looking to book a trip, check them out! As with everything, reviews and opinions are our own.


It’s no surprise that Puerto Vallarta is one of Mexico’s top cruise ports or that it’s a popular and desired destination that has so many cruise lines including it as a port of call. With so much to do and see, more and more cruises are including Puerto Vallarta on their itinerary, including a new Mexican Pacific Cruise on the cruise ship Magellan in 2018. This probably has a lot to do with the destination itself and just how much passengers are able to immerse themselves in the country and culture without having to travel too far.

In fact, Puerto Vallarta offers visitors such a vast amount of activities and sights that it’s pretty guaranteed to find something for everyone during a visit. Whether a ship docks at the marina or anchors in the harbour, there will definitely be some pretty exciting cruise excursions awaiting nearby – from snorkelling the blue waters, to whale and dolphin watching in the beautiful Bay of Banderas, to tours of tequila factories, the port is a gateway to an exciting exploration of nature, wildlife and culture.

Even if you haven’t booked an excursion through the cruise ship itself, you can still venture on your own and experience whatever facet of the city you prefer.

Exploring Puerto Vallarta on Your Own From Port

Malecon Puerto Vallarta

Since Puerto Vallarta is also a resort town there is an abundance of beautiful beaches where tourists can enjoy water sports and activities or just relax. In fact, taking a taxi to the ‘southside’ of town will get you to Los Muertos beach, one of the most popular beaches in Puerto Vallarta. Here you’ll be able to grab some food at one of the beachfront restaurants, take a swim in water and lay out on a beach towel to dry off in the sun.

At most of the beach areas that are heavily populated by resorts, Playa Los Muertos included, you can also buy a day pass to a resort which can get you either beach and pool access only, allowing you to use their beach chairs and other services, or a full pass allowing you access to all their amenities and food as well.

Shopping in Puerto Vallarta markets

If you’re not looking for a day at the beach, you can ask the taxi to take you downtown instead and explore the social heart of the city. It’s here you’ll find one of the main attractions, the Malecon. Meaning esplanade along a waterfront, the Malecon is quite literally a seaside promenade that has been a centre of town life for over 80 years. With artwork and statues and local artists plying their craft, local stores, restaurants and bars, and stunning waterfront views, it’s not something you’ll grow tired of no matter how long you spend venturing along it. If you do happen to be docked for the night, the Malecon is a great place to go to experience local nightlife too.

Shopping is another activity you can partake in and whether you choose to walk along the port’s shops or head downtown to the Malecon or the Marina Vallarta, you’ll find various shops offering everything from jewellery to souvenirs to tequila. There’s also Mismaloya Beach, the set of the classic film “The Night of the Iguana”, where you can combine some shopping along with some time on the beach in one of Hollywood’s most iconic settings!

Making Puerto Vallarta’s Cruiseship Terminal It’s Own Destination

The port itself offers some amenities like some small shops and snack bars, liquor stores and cyber cafes and you can also choose to get a day pass from a resort nearby the terminal rather than taxi further into Puerto Vallarta.

Alternately, hopping on another ship is also an option as day cruises depart from the Maritime Terminal and offer some pretty exciting experiences exploring the area and the Bay of Banderas. One of the ships you won’t want to miss is Puerto Vallarta’s infamous pirate ship, the Marigalante. It’s back on the waters after renovations and offers day and evening tours with a pretty fun pirate theme. You really don’t have to go far from the port to find some adventure.

marigalante pirate ship puerto vallarta

What is perhaps the most exciting thing about cruising to Puerto Vallarta, is all the upcoming developments of Puerto Vallarta’s International Port. With a multi-million dollar extensive renovation and construction project underway to expand and grow the terminal, it promises to become a destination in itself for cruiseship passengers who dock there.

Already winning awards for excellence including “Best Port of the Riviera in Mexico and South America” in the Cruise Critic Cruiser’s Choice Awards in 2016 and the “Gold Elite Award” by the Global Quality Foundation, it’ll be exciting to see how much more Puerto Vallarta will bring to the cruising experience as they move forward with their plans to transform the port and make it a hub for cruisers and non-cruisers alike – the first cruise port in the world to be accessible to non-passengers.

The plans include a new passenger centre and parking lot as well as some fantastic tourist attractions like a Tequila distillery, an art gallery, artisan shops, a commercial centre with a food court and a cultural centre. It will also be home to what promises to be the biggest aquarium in Latin America.

While Puerto Vallarta is already an exciting and desirable port of call, it seems as though it is only going to get better as more is being offered to cruiseship passengers and tourists wanting to experience as much as they can while they are there. It’s definitely not hard to see why this is one stop you won’t want to miss!

At the Melia Las Dunas in Santa Maria we were travelling as a couple but on our second trip to Cuba we travelled with our family in a group of 8 adults and 2 children. It wasn’t intentional that we stayed at a Melia resort our second trip to Cuba but we were glad we did. The resort was perfect for us as a large group and offered many opportunities for all the couples and smaller families to have time on their own.

We definitely think this is a place for families or groups of friends looking for a vacation destination, but more than that we really think it is a perfect romantic destination. If you’re looking to plan a romantic trip, we’ve put together some other amazing anniversary trip ideas that are great for any couples getaway!

Initial Impressions – Enter Paradise

varadero beach view from snack bar


On our second visit to Cuba, we stayed at the Melia Marina Varadero. The resort is only about 45 minutes from the airport via shuttle through local areas which provides a very brief, but fascinating, glimpse of Cuban living.  We were told when we booked the trip that the resort was still under some construction but when we arrived there was very little evidence of any construction left to be done to the main portion of the resort. The bulk of the remaining work was on the areas surrounding the hotel where non-inclusive shops, cafés and a bowling alley are being built.

Once again, when we first walked into the lobby, we were immediately embraced with a tropical island oasis feel.  The only issue we had was with regards to check-in. We unfortunately had to wait 2 hours after the listed check-in time to receive our room keys. Since we had gotten to the resort 2 hours prior to this time, we were pretty tired but it’s hard to complain when you can check your luggage at the front desk, grab a drink and sit on a gorgeous beach to wait.

The Room – A Great Marina View

hotel room melia marina varadero

Unlike the Melia Las Dunas, this resort had one main building of hotel rooms around which the rest of the resort was built.  The room we received was large, bright and clean, as was the bathroom which had both a bathtub and a large shower stall. We also had a balcony with a beautiful view of the marina.

As in Santa Clara, we were hoping to receive a swan towel. This quest for a swan towel at a hotel started before Cuba and has been an ongoing joke of ours since. Although we got some very nice curtain and bed sheet designs this time around, we were still left without a swan by the end of the trip. (You can find our first swan towel, and the excitement that ensured, at the Swiss Lanna Lodge in Thailand.)

There were also a set of apartments as an alternate room option, in which one couple in our group stayed. The two bedroom apartment came with a family room, two bathrooms, kitchenette and laundry area and was not only large but clean and comfortable. The apartments also had their own roof-top pool and fitness area.

The Beach – White Sand, Turquoise Waters

varadero beach cuba

Considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, Varadero beach will have you taking a moment of silent reflection as you look out over the pristine water and white sand.  From the resort, the beach is accessed by a boardwalk but it was not too far of a walk and there were staff driven golf carts for those that wanted. The other benefit of having the beach slightly off the resort was that the sand fleas (if there were any) also remained at a distance. The water was clean, calm and warm and the resort staff put on water-aerobics every morning which was actually a lot of fun and got us interacting with other guests. The beach also had plenty of cabanas and beach loungers so there was always shade if we needed.

The Pool – Family Fun

view of pool at the marina hotel in varadero cuba

There was one large pool behind the hotel with a swim up bar and a 24 hour restaurant. There was less shade by the pool but plenty of loungers. Cabanas could be rented and there was entertainment and activities throughout the day. Again, we spent more of our time by the beach, but enjoyed taking some time by the pool at the end of the day.

The Food – Another Pizza Love Affair

heart shaped pizza marina hotel varadero

Once again, the food was not what is expected of a Cuban resort. We actually looked forward to the buffet to see what new items were added and which of our favourite dishes were back again. It seems like a pattern with us in general, but the pizza was one of our favourite foods. The cook who makes it was a delight to chat with and has an obvious passion for what he does. He even made us a heart-shaped pizza with toppings of our choice. We still talk about how delicious that pizza was.

The restaurants by the pool and beach both offered a different menu and were enjoyable as well. Unfortunately, the a la carte options were limited as they were still in the process of putting together more restaurants but there were 5 to choose from. we would recommend the Latin restaurant. They were incredibly accommodating and entertaining and the food was good.

The Service – Impeccable!

suprise drinks from marina hotel varadero

For the most part the service at this resort was 5-star. The waiters and bar staff were helpful, friendly, and always going that extra step to make the guests happy. The above photo is of the marina bars “surprise”. It was recommended by one of our favourite bartenders on the first night and they remained a staple for our entire group for the rest of the trip!
The manager of the resort could be seen quite frequently interacting with guests and overseeing the staff to ensure all aspects of the resorts’ service was spot on.  The only area where we felt was lacking was the front desk. They were less helpful during the delay in check-in and less friendly when asking questions throughout the stay. As a whole however, the service was impeccable.

The Entertainment – A Must-See Every Night

dog show in the marina veradero hotel

The Melia Marina Varadero had a plethora of entertainment and activities throughout the day and into the evenings. From beach- and pool-side activities to evening shows by the marina, there was always something to do and see.  Every evening there was a different show prepared for the guests and each one was well produced and thoroughly enjoyable, including a magic show and a salsa/variety night, to name a few.

In addition to the scheduled nightly performances, there were musicians frequently playing in the lounge during the evening and random surprises throughout our stay.  On one afternoon during our stay, we decided to go to the pool after our day at the beach and were surprised to see an animal show being organized. Dogs, a monkey, a horse and a donkey were among the animals in this funny and entertaining act that had the full attention of both adults and children.

Sometimes the thought of spending a full week in one location can seem monotonous but our visit was filled with a variety of performances and activities we could choose to participate in, or forgo. For those looking for late night entertainment, there was also a disco where guests could dance into the early hours of the morning.

The Location  – Perfect for Beach Lovers and Explorers Alike

horses in varadero

The great thing about a resort in Varadero, is the ease in which you are able to venture into town. There is a bus service with stops by all the resorts, for tourists exclusively which will take you along the main road into the heart of town and back again for a few pesos.

Stepping off the bus in town was like stepping into another decade.  Classic vintage American cars, faded brick buildings, and locals sitting on front stoops chatting, were prevalent and really hit home the differences between Cuba and where we are from. Playing to the masses of tourists, market squares, street vendors and restaurants are also very common.

We would highly recommend at least one day visiting Varadero. While it is obviously a tourist destination, there are still glimpses of local lifestyle between the elements of commercialism.

Dining Out in Varadero

paella from la vicaria in varadero

Local food is also a great treat. We ended up choosing a restaurant we had passed twice, La Vicaria. We noticed that there seemed to be many locals dining there and decided that it was a good sign. We ordered an appetizer of cooked shrimp and as our mains we ordered a pork chop dish and paella.

We would highly recommend the paella which came as an assortment of meats, fish and wonderfully seasoned rice and had us wishing we had ordered two bowls. It was a great chance to taste some of the local cuisine and only cost us about $20 CDN for the entire meal, including an appetizer and drinks.

Overall, both our experiences at Melia resorts were memorable. If you are looking for 5-star dining, then you may want to look outside of Cuba, but we can’t complain about the quality of meals we received. With the differences in locations, each resort offered a slightly different atmosphere.

The Melia Las Dunas in Santa Clara felt more isolated, family-oriented and laid-back, whereas the Melia Marina Varadero had a faster-paced feel with loads of entertainment. The ease of travel to Varadero was also a bonus with the Melia Marina as you are able to escape the confines of the resort and explore Cuban culture.

Either way, our experience with the Melia chain has been fantastic and we look forward to comparing more Melia resorts, as well as other chains, in the future.


Looking for a different resort in Cuba? See our previous review of our first all-inclusive Cuba vacation at the Melia Las Dunas, Santa Clara.


We had amazing experiences in Cuba but we know there are other great destinations out there. Comment below and tell us about your favourite vacation destination!

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.