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Mark Moxon's Travel Writing

Cuba: Cayo Santa María

The beach at Villas Las Brujas
The beach at Villas Las Brujas

To the north of the Cuban mainland are some of the most idyllic spots on the entire island – the cayos of Cuba. Cayos are coral islands, which in English we call 'cays' or 'keys'; hence we have the Florida Keys strung out southwest from the Florida coast, not a million miles from Cuba itself.

Driving on Water

El Pedraplén
El Pedraplén ploughs straight through the shallow tropical sea

Getting to the cayos off the northern coast is a surreal experience, not least because you can drive there. In a fairly obvious plan to make the cayos easy to reach for tourists and their dollars, the Cuban government has built a series of huge roads across the sea, joining the likes of Cayo Coco, Cayo Romano and Cayo Santa María to the mainland.

A view of the sea at Playa Perla Blancha
The sea is a truly beautiful colour on Cayo Santa María
The beach at Villas Las Brujas
Looking along the curve of the bay at Villas Las Brujas

The Dark Side of Paradise

Playa Perla Blancha
The view east along the completely empty sands of Playa Perla Blancha...

The third cayo along El Pedraplén is Santa María, and this is where you get a real sense of Cuba gearing up for hardcore tourism. The guidebooks mentioned a couple of large, all-inclusive hotels, so we thought we'd take their advice and head instead for the 'utterly deserted' Playa Ensenachos, which, according to the Footprint guide, is 'deliberately being left wild and there are no hotels or facilities.' Unfortunately things are moving fast on Cayo Santa María, because Playa Ensenachos is now a mass of huge cranes, concrete shells and signs declaring that there's going to be an almighty resort opening there in the not-too-distant future. It looks as if the environmental plans of the past have already been swept away on a wave of construction.

Playa Perla Blancha
...and the view west – crowded it isn't

1 In the tropics – and Cuba is just in the tropics, with the Tropic of Cancer a handful of miles to the north – the moon is turned on its side, unlike in the cooler climes, where it waxes and wanes from side to side. This is exactly the sort of useless information that makes lying on the beach so relaxing...