Cayo Largo, Cuba: In Search of Piratical Adventure
I'd spent last few months wondering why I felt, well frankly, discontent. Perhaps it was the tail end of the winter woes? Nothing that a good dose of the Pirates of the Caribbean film couldn't cure, I thought.
I was inspired by the crystal clear waters, white sands and the naughty, yet adventurous spirit that pirate Jack Sparrow conveyed in the infamous film.
In other words, getting back to nature (the tropical kind), mixed with a little of the unexpected. Yes, it was time to bare and feed my soul.
Cayo Largo del Sur, a small island located in southern Cuba was just the ticket. Since it is said to hold the richest memories of pirates in the whole Caribbean, it was perfect. This voyage had to include Cuban pleasures like relaxing in a hammock, cigars and rum.
Did I mention long solo walks on the spectacular white, paradise like beaches and dare I say it, the nude beaches? I was destined to revel in new experiences and all by my lonesome. You see, I’d be chartering in unknown waters by traveling alone for seven days. As I was about to find out, you’re not necessarily alone in Cayo Largo.
Cayo Largo covers 38 kms (24 mi) with a whopping 25 kms (15 mi) of that being sugar sweet beach. It is home to hundreds of iguanas, pelicans, seagulls, parrots, crabs and starfish. The turquoise sea contains various fauna, as well as a 30 kms (19 mi) of coral reef.
This, and a multitude of beautiful, colorful fish, is why Cayo Largo is considered to be a world class diving spot. A diversified flora characterized by coastal vegetation, coconut trees and four species of mangrove trees decorate the historic dunes and beaches. There are no vintage cars nor vast, historic architecture to view. Rather, it’s an exotic, Robinson Crusoe type island escape.
HOW TO GET THERE
WHERE TO STAY
All of the hotels are located on the beach, so depending on what you fancy, it’ll be tough to find a bad coconut in the bunch. Choose wisely, as other entertainment and restaurant options are slim and none. Every past experience told me that anything under a 3-star is equivalent to the Bates Motel.
Since this was to be an adventure though, I bit my lip and booked at the 2.5 star Gran Caribe. It was the only one on the island that didn't charge the single supplement of 250 dollars per week.
Even though my hotel section was a bit older, it was clean, quiet and had a lovely balcony overlooking the sea. Most importantly, this small, quaint hotel met the safety and security criteria that this lonely traveler required.
There's not a lot happening in this hotel in the entertainment department. The couple I arrived with, thought it was too low key and shipped out to a more action packed one. Plenty of bells and whistles may be found at the other hotels on the island, so to each his own.
All hotels offer all inclusive packages, which include three delicious meals a day. Internet service is available at a cost of 10 pesos ($10 US) per hour. Bring your cellphone, as it will work in Cayo Largo.
Famous pirates like Jean Lafitte, Latrobe and Pepe El Mallorquin touched down on Cayo Largo between 1565 and 1820. It’s humbling that notorious legends like Francis Drake, Henry Morgan and Christopher Columbus (in 1494) wandered through the same white sands and turquoise waters that I've been prancing about in.
This area is said to hold the richest memories of pirates and privateers in the whole Caribbean. Henry Morgan parked his ship here for repairs three centuries ago and buried all his treasures in the key in 1666. Some suspect Sir Henry Morgan’s treasure is still buried in the area. There are almost two hundred sunken ships here, dating from between the sixteenth and the eighteenth centuries.
EATS AND DRINKS
Reviews I'd read about Cuba dissed the food, so I was apprehensive. Influenced by Caribbean, African, Spanish and American cuisine, the staples are rice, potatoes, lime, red and black beans, seafood and beef. Mojo criollo sauce, a marinade of garlic and citrus juice adds flavor.
Who said Cuban food was bland? Cuban grown sugar cane yields rum and sweet cakes. Ernest Hemingway, the famed writer, who once lived in Cuba had a favorite drink called Mojitos. I tried and enjoyed this tasty combination of lime juice, rum, sugar and mint.
Delicious delicacies and divine drinks, combined with the traditional, soft music filled nights created the sensuous, seductive atmosphere that is Cayo Largo. The light, flute filled cha-cha-cha and the big band mambo sounds are still echoing in my head. Occasionally, I'd be jilted back to reality with Reba McEntire tunes they sometimes played at the resort.
WHAT TO DO – THE ART OF DOING NOTHING
I tried the cigar portion of the program in the morning hours as Cubans do, for the first and last time on Playa Blanca beach. My new found friend for the hour, a charming Cuban, introduced me to it. Speaking of charming, a little romantic rendezvous can easily be arranged here if that is your intention. It wasn't mine, so if you aren't there for the romance bit, women get your excuse book ready.
My occasional dinner buddy and avid traveler, Mr. S, used Cayo Largo as an escape from his hectic job to do "a lot of nothing," as he called it. Best of all, there are plenty of free beach chairs and nobody really harassing you. Panhandlers and beach vendors are nonexistent.
WHAT TO SEE
Isolated from the southeasterly trade winds, makes for calmer waters with the same white sands which encompass the entire island. It takes two hours to walk from the hotel district to these beaches. In Cayo Largo you can wander for ages alone and feel like you are in your own safe, little paradise.
Experienced and environmentally conscious beach roamers carried small thermoses purchased from their homeland and refilled them for free, with adequate water from their hotel rooms or from the hotel bar.
Parade on the beaches nude, semi-nude or fully clad, your choice. Be prepared to see plenty of folks in the buff, as this is a nudist colony's paradise. A vivid image remains of a guy on a beachfront cliff doing his best King of the World pose, leaving nothing to the imagination. I tried not to look and giggle.
There's also a real mixed bag of same-sex couples, singles and families of all age groups and cultures. One family told me point blank that they were offended by the rampant and blatant nudity, so if seeing folks bits and pieces is not your bag, don't go there.
Scuba Diving and Snorkeling
Only Village - Cubans, Cubans where art thou?
Centrally located is a snack bar, a little sea turtle farm called Granja de los Quelonios (admission 1 peso) and the Marina. It can cost 10 pesos ($10 US) one way for a taxi to Isla del Sol or 2 pesos each, as a group.
From the Marina, Iguana Island can be reached by boat in about 20 minutes. Included is Cuban-style lobster or chicken lunch and drinks, as well as 45 minutes of snorkeling and a half hour at the natural swimming pool. Cost is about 73 pesos ($73 US) at the Marina or through your tour operator.
The breathtaking tour takes about an hour, as you are whisked through palm tree laden woods and then onto beautiful Playa Blanca beach. Here you'll see the remnants of an old hotel, Villa Caprichio, ravaged by Hurricane Michelle. The cost is 6 pesos ($6) and can be paid at the ranch. Reserve ahead of time. It’s a 20 minute walk from the Gran Caribe resort.
Upon entering the small museum (Casa Museo) located in downtown Isla del Sol, your first stop will be viewing photo catalogs of damage done by Hurricane Michelle.
Farther on is an exhibit dedicated to sea life and archaeological finds. The last stop, and the final leg of my journey, is a treasure trove display of pirate memorabilia and flags of the rebels of days gone by. Admission 1 peso.
Cayo Largo is one of the most beautiful, freeing, laid back and safest destinations I’ve ever visited. As the saying goes, “Where there is a sea, there are pirates,” and that’s definitely the case in Cayo Largo, exposing the hidden pirate in all of us...
Read more GoNOMAD stories by Jennifer Wattam Klit
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