We signed up a for a tour in Cuba – something we have never done before. A tour was what brought us to Maria la Gorda. Part of it was because Cuba made us nervous, we did not have a tour book, there would be little or no internet once there to help with planning, and online information was sparse.
But, the main thing that concerned us was access to money. We were in Cuba for 12 days. During that time we would have no access to US issued credit cards or US issued ATMs. We had to bring enough US dollars to cover our expenses, and carry that amount of money with us. If something happened to our stash we would be SOL.
We thought that by booking a tour, we would at least be able to arrange 7 nights of accommodations, transportation, and some meals ahead of time. We accomplished this task by booking a trip through Intrepid, one of the leading budget, adventure tour companies. I chose the tour I did because it took us from Havana to Vinales, to the beach, and then back to Havana, giving us a decent tour of the west part of Cuba, without too many days of pure travel. And, that was how we found ourselves in Maria la Gorda, Cuba.
The Promises of Maria la Gorda
The tour itinerary described Maria la Gorda as “[r]enowned for its diving, idyllic beaches, untouched nature, and laidback vibe, Maria la Gorda is the perfect spot to wile away some time under the Cuban sun.” It was also described by Intrepid as “a beachside haven that buzzes with wild pirate legends and rumours of buried treasure.”
Well, reality was different. The words vibe and buzz should not have been used to describe this resort.
We also assumed that Maria la Gorda was a town, when in fact it was the resort itself – and the only one in the area. The hotel was supposed to be across from the beach, which it was. But, I asked our guide if there were any restaurants or bars near the resort. She replied that the resort was pretty isolated. It was not until the bus ride to the resort that she admitted the resort was one of the most remote areas of the island. Breakfast was included, but then she suggested only eating one additional meal because food was expensive and not very good.
Well, the food part of the description was true. I just wished she said something before hand so that we could bring some snacks. Way to manage expectations, after the fact.
The Reality of Maria la Gorda
We were, in fact, isolated, at the end of a bumpy road through a national park. The beach was clean of trash, but filled with natural debris and sand fleas – not all that welcoming, particularly with memories of sand fleas in Guatemala and El Salvador fresh in my mind. The shore was rocky and it was difficult to get into the sea.
The room was passable, but the property had a feeling of a socialist version of a “resort.” The food was over priced and awful. There was some new construction going on, but the older part of the resort was just that, old, kind of sad looking. There were construction materials thrown about haphazardly. We had a new room, which looked like an attempt to accept modern design, but was done half-heartedly at best. The resort was socialist, in my eyes, because it had a feeling of “if you build it they will come” and there was no need to do things well – clean up, serve decent food, etc. They would earn their living no matter what.
The best part was the half dozen or so large cows that hung around the building. One night, while walking from the restaurant to the room, the cows were running at us at fairly high speeds. I jumped up a flight of stairs for safety. That was the most interesting thing to happen in our time at the resort.
This is not an attempt to complain about the quality of the resort or accommodations. I was not expecting high quality housing in Cuba, particularly within our general budget. But, I felt a bit too remote, and stuck, in this “resort,” which was oversold as part of the tour.
The tour called for only 2 nights, but the time at Maria la Gorda passed so slowly, that not even our emergency bottle of rum sped things up. My problem was, in part, with the concept of a tour – being that on schedule – on someone else’s schedule, and allowing someone else the control of our day, was not a pleasant experience. And, the fact that Intrepid thought that of all the beach areas in Cuba to choose from, that Maria la Gorda warranted a visit at all. It was not a highlight of our trip.
Amber Hoffman, food and travel writer behind With Husband In Tow, is a recovering attorney and professional eater, with a passion for finding new food and drink destinations. She lives with her husband, Eric, in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. Together they have traveled to over 70 countries.