Open Jaw Visits Cuba's Newest Gems: Cayo Paredon and Cayo Cruz

Fam group in front of Cayo Cruz sign

Decked out in #CubaUnica branded t-shirts, beach bags, and sunglasses, courtesy of the Cuba Tourist Board, a group of 34 travel advisors from Ontario along with Open Jaw’s Karen Dahdah, embarked on a Cuba Mega Fam adventure last week.

Our journey began with a 3.5-hour Sunwing flight to CCC, with Karen Puebla from the Cuba Tourist Board as our host. Upon arrival, we received a warm welcome from our guide, Osdany Fernandez, and our trusty driver, Miguel, from Gaviota Tours, who would be with us throughout the week, ensuring a seamless and memorable experience.

The scenic route from the airport took us along a causeway lined with mangroves, bird sanctuaries, and turquoise waters, dotted with pink flamingos. As we reached the Pullman Resort in Cayo Coco, we were greeted by the entertainment staff and a live band in the open-air lobby, offering breathtaking views of the ocean.

Cuba Mega FAM Group in #CubaUnica T-shirts at Pullman Cayo Coco

The FAM provided advisors with the opportunity to participate in the 5th annual Destinos Gaviota events, workshops, and trade fair. We were among more than 1400 invited guests from 43 countries.

The trade fair included hotel and supplier presentations at the Valentin Cayo Cruz followed by the opportunity to visit hotels.

Site inspections on Cayo Cruz and Cayo Parendon included the adults-only Iberostar Coral Esmeralda and the family-friendly Iberostar Selection Esmeralda properties, Valentin Cayo Cruz, and Vila Gale, the first Portuguese hotelier in Cuba.

“This was an amazing experience,” said Grace Afonso, owner of Exquisite Travel in Toronto. “Being on the hotel inspections helps us gain more knowledge and sell the resorts because we've seen them firsthand.”

From the opening cocktail evening at Plaza Paredon to the closing ceremonies of the event, it was a lively carnival-themed vibe, with elaborate costumed performers, musicians, incredible cocktails, food, and nightly fireworks.

Carlos Latuff, President of Gaviota Tourism Group at the closing ceremony

It's no surprise that Cubans know how to party, but what captivated me the most was the quality of performers, from opera singers to Cirque du Soleil-style aquatic acrobatics and traditional dance troupes that conveyed a story with every move. We were treated to a performance by the famous Cuban musical group Los Van Van on the opening night and the boy-band Charanga Habanera for the finale.

Popular Cuban music band Los Van Van perform at Destinos Gaviota

Cayo Cruz and Cayo Paredon are poised to become the go-to destinations

Cayo Cruz, situated on the northern coast of Cuba, is an hour away from Cayo Coco airport (CCC). The 25km-long island boasts beaches that stretch almost the entire coastline. To preserve and protect the dunes and mangroves, the oceanfront hotels are built further back, and the beaches are accessible via several raised walkways to minimize their impact on the dunes' flora and fauna.

The La Marina Plaza and Spa was the first hotel to open in July 2019 with 60 rooms, a rooftop terrace pool, and buffet included in the rate. Approximately 800 metres from the beach, amenities like alcohol, a-la-carte dining, and spa come at an additional cost. The plaza offers numerous shops, a cigar bar, and even an ice cream parlor.

At the Valentin Cayo Cruz, the atmosphere is calming and tranquil, with modern amenities and furnishings. Even though the property itself is quite large, it's easy to navigate, with restaurants and bars at the center square. This adults-only resort has 546 rooms, including deluxe, junior suites, and suites. It features a 3-tiered infinity pool right off the lobby, and additional pools closer to the room blocks.

Iberostar Coral Esmeralda swim up rooms. Image courtesy of Iberostar

At the Iberostar Coral Esmeralda and Selection Esmeralda, your clients have the choice to stay in the adults-only section or the family-friendly section. Opened in December 2022, the 571-room resort property features seven room categories, including swim-up suites, generous-sized terraces and balconies, and living rooms. Small convention facilities are available for MICE groups at the Coral level and kids clubs with themed play areas are available at Selection.

Grand Aston Cayo Paredon exterior pools and oceanview

We stayed at the Grand Aston Cayo Paredon, a 635-room oceanfront resort opened in November 2022, only 30 minutes from the Cayo Coco airport. The hotel offers international a-la-carte restaurants, family and adults-only pools, and 2km of powdery white sand beach. The waters are crystal clear, allowing you to snorkel right from the beach and encounter marine life swimming by.

“One resort I would highly recommend to my clients is the Grand Aston Cayo Paredon,” says Phil Fichera of Verona Travel in Bradford. Known as ‘Cuba Phil’ because most of his bookings are in Cuba, he added, “It's very clean, with good service, high-quality food and alcohol, and an amazing beach!”

The soon-to-be-open Vila Gale Cayo Paredon, the first for the Portuguese chain in Cuba, boasts more than 630 rooms, seven restaurants, family and adults-only pools, a kids and teens club, and a sports fitness center. The vibe of the resort is fresh, with coral pinks, pastel blues, and neutral colors, creating a warm and tropical ambiance.

It wasn't all work this week, though. The group enjoyed excursions arranged by Gaviota Tours, including a dolphin experience, a catamaran with snorkeling on the coral reef, and a two-day excursion to the city of Trinidad. More on that to come!

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