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Two weeks ago, I thought I would be writing a review on the new Barcelo Resort in Cayo Largo. Three days prior to leaving on December 23rd, our Signature Vacations Representative phoned us to let us know that the Barcelo wouldn't be opening until Saturday December 28th and we were moved to the Sol Pelicano Resort. Initially I was very disappointed, since I had read one or two earlier reviews which led me to believe that the older Sol Pelicano resort left a little to be desired. My second choice of a resort on Cayo Largo would have been the Sol Club Cayo Largo Resort based on posted reviews.
After staying at the Sol Pelicano for 5 days we were given the opportunity to move to the new Barcelo Resort. We visited the beautiful new resort one afternoon and decided to stay at the Sol Pelicano for the remaining 5 days. We loved the staff, the friendly environment, the food and the resort in general. I will try to elaborate in each of the sections listed below. At the end of the review I will briefly outline some things that you might consider to make your visit to Cayo Largo the best possible.
I would like to thank Lily and Normand from Montreal, Quebec for creating the www.cayolargo.net website. It is an incredibly informative website that helped us plan our vacation to this idyllic island paradise.
We were met at the airport by our Signature representative and quickly transported to the Sol Pelicano, where we were greeted by Cuban music and dancers in the front lobby. Rum drinks were served as luggage was sorted and taken to your rooms. The rooms were very spacious, colorful and clean. Our room had two twin beds that we found to be very comfortable and a large bathroom with a shower that you could hold a party in. We stayed in the 5300 block of 12 rooms at the western edge of the resort. It was very quiet and we had a ground floor room that looked out over the sandy scrub brush wasteland between the Sol Pelicano and the Sol Club which was about a kilometer away.
We noticed when we walked through the resort that the area used for evening entertainment was at the eastern end of the complex far removed from the area where we were staying. The grounds were very well maintained even though they lacked a lot of the mature vegetation that was typical at the Sol Club next door. The main swimming pool is salt water and its kept very clean. There is one pool for the kids and another pool for adults. Every day the entertainment staff has a variety of poolside activities that many people get involved with. There is a play area for smaller children where there are tables and chairs along with a swing and slide. I didn't notice if any supervision was supplied, but I doubt it.
Before December 27th, there were much fewer people at the resort and it gave you some time to talk to the people working here. They all could speak English to some extent and it made us feel a little more at home, rather than our last trip to Panama were very few people made any attempt to speak English. My wife and I are not very fluent in Spanish and we never felt that this was a handicap while staying at the Pelicano.
The resort had a beach restaurant which was amazing. The food was set up in a buffet fashion where you could choose from a large variety of hot and cold dishes. Fruit and veggies were always abundant along with chicken, fish and pork . Yes they even served hamburgers, hot dogs and french fries for the people who can't get away from typical McDonalds food. The bartenders were great and served up such specialties as Sex On The Beach, Sangria, Pelicano, Mohito, Juanito Fresco, Tom Collins, Havanna Special, Lucas, Cubata and a Sirena Beach. The local beer on tap is Cristal. We only ran into a lineup once were we had to wait to get a table but this was right around noon. We spent a lot of time with a couple staying at the Sol Club next door and they had to order food at their beach bar rather than a buffet style. They preferred the setup of the Sol Pelicano's beach restaurant to the one they had.
The main poolside bar and restaurant area is called the Zun Zun bar, which is open from 10:30am until 6:00pm. By the way, a Zun Zun is another specialty rum drink created by the bartenders. A special note of appreciation goes to Jose Luis who ran a special lesson on how to make all of these cocktails at 4 pm by the pool. My wife and I had a blast. Angel Manuel, Dinaldo and Silvo worked extremely hard to try and make everybody feel at home and serve a lot of hungry and thirsty poolside patrons. My hat goes off to them. I hate to mention only a few of the waiters and waitresses as they were all hard workers and tried to make our visit the best possible.
Every day at 9:00am, 10:30am and at 11:30am a bus or tractor and cart would arrive at the front of the resort to transport people to the two main beaches, Playa Sirena and Playa Paraiso. Transportation from the beach back home was also provided by the resort at 1:30pm, 3:00pm and at 5:00pm. There was a bus that picked up people who wanted to go to the marina in town at set times in the morning. From here they could take a ferry ride to Playa Sirena at a cost of $4.00 US or go and visit the local turtle farm which is right beside the marina for a cost of $1 US .
Throughout our 10 day stay at the Sol Pelicano, I didn't hear anybody say anything about people getting sick either from the water or the food. All drinking water was bottled. Every day the maid left a 1.5 litre bottle of water in the room fridge. Drinking water could also be obtained at any of the bars. You might want to take along a few smaller plastic bottles for drinking water while you are on the beach.
The one complaint I heard several times was the colour of the hot water in the rooms. As is the case in many Cuban resorts there is a rusty colour to the hot water probably due to the iron in the hot water heaters. Remember, the bathroom water is desalinated sea water and any salt when it comes in contact with iron creates iron oxide which has that reddish color. We didn't find it objectionable as we just let it run for a while and the water got clearer. My wife and I found that there was always ample hot water, but we tended to shower out of the peak water usage periods early in the morning.
The Sol Pelicano has one a la carte restaurant and a huge buffet restaurant. You must reserve a time at the activity centre to eat at the specialty restaurant. We never did go to the a la carte restaurant at the Sol Pelicano. We went to the a la carte restaurant at the Sol Club Cayo Largo next door with our friends who were staying there. We found the portions to be very small and not the least bit filling. The food was very good but it was in limited quantities. One duck leg, four shrimp and a small bowl of tasty soup is not my idea of a filling meal. We naturally assumed that the Pelicano might have similar portions so we continued to eat at the buffet which was very good.
In the morning, at the buffet restaurant, they served a variety of sliced fruit ( pineapple, grapefruit, orange, banana, mango) along with fruit juices..loved that guava juice. Custom made omelettes, scrambled eggs, fried eggs to order, hard boiled eggs were all there. A variety of cold meats, sausage, weiners,and spicy ground meat were available. Cereal, many types of yogurt, and an excellent assortment of breads and croissants along with an excellent tasting coffee were there for the taking. Breakfast was served from 7:30am until 10:00am.
Dinner at the buffet restaurant was served from 7:30pm until 10:00pm in the evening. Along with an excellent selection of breads/buns, salad stuff, condiments, fruits and veggies, there were specialty stations set up at key locations. These allowed people to create custom dishes for grilling or to create unique pasta combinations. There were many different varieties of hot dishes available, including pizza and a good selection of meat dishes that ranged from chicken and pork to hips of beef, whole salmon or other fish species. They even served turkey on Christmas day. You absolutely must try the Cuban ice milk (sort of like ice cream) that comes in pear, orange and strawberry flavors. My wife loved the unique flavor of the pear ice milk.
We found the selection of food to be very good. I realize that some people always can find fault with something, but the people at the Sol Pelicano have done an excellent job in trying to create a tasty food menu with a fair amount of variety. We certainly couldn't complain. I have read in one other report a complaint about lineups for the grilling station and other specialty areas in the buffet. Sure there were lineups at some specific times when everybody decided to eat at once, but this was not just the Sol Pelicano's problem. We had several dinners at the Sol Club next door and the lineups were even longer with more people staying at the resort. One recommendation that I would give to the Pelicano resort is to make sure that both coffee machines are operational during the breakfast and dinner time slots. Having only one machine working did create some delays during the peak dining periods. By the way, the coffee tasted great.
We found the buffet restaurant at the Sol Pelicano to have a little more ambience than the large cafeteria style eating hall that was at the Sol Club, but again this is strictly a personal preference.
This is what Cayo Largo is all about. While we were in Cayo Largo, we walked the whole south shore from Playa Sirena to Playa Tortuga at the far eastern end of the island. There are one or two spots around the new Barcelo resort and just around the communication tower where the beach vanishes during high tide ( 2 foot vertical) or when the wind is blowing onshore. You have to walk around these areas. The beach sand is a beautiful white color and is so soft to walk on. One day my wife and I walked for 5 hours from the end of the sand road just east of the tower along the beach towards the eastern end of the island. We got within a mile or so from the end and then we walked back before it got too late in the day. The sand is always cool to walk on due to its powdery texture. On our walk (au natural) we never saw another person and it was a warm sunny day. It was absolute paradise.
One day we walked to the Barcelo resort on the road from the Sol Pelicano and walked back by the beach. It was a nice trek back and we were provided with much entertainment from the feeding shorebirds and the diving pelicans. It was interesting to see the damage caused by the hurricanes that destroyed several of the resorts 4 or 5 years ago. This trip back along the beach took about an hour if you walked at a steady pace.
The beaches in front of the Sol Club and the Sol Pelicano are kept very clean and are quite wide. We didn't spend any time on these beaches since they tended to be more crowded and we were looking for some relatively quiet areas. In front of the resorts,one finds the so-called "textile" beaches where bathing suits were the norm. Once you started to stray further west along the beach you ran into more topless bathers and those preferring the au natural (naturist) mode. From these beaches you can walk for an hour in a westerly direction until you reach Playa Paraiso.
The best way to reach Playa Paraiso, which is the true beach goers paradise is to take the free shuttle from the resorts in the morning. You are dropped off at the beach bar on Paraiso beach ( beer-$1.00US,rum drink-$3.00US). From here you can lounge in the nearby thatched shelters on the beach chairs or you can move further away. If you walk to your right (west) you can walk all the way up to Playa Sirena which is another textile beach up at the far end. Most people walk up Paraiso beach and find a semi-secluded spot to work on their all over tan. We found that everybody respected your "space" and most acknowledged your presence by a friendly greeting in passing. We always took the 9:00am shuttle to the beach at Playa Paraiso as this ensured that we got some beach chairs further up the beach where we were pretty much by ourselves.
For a real treat, walk to the left (east) from the beach bar on Paraiso, out around the huge sand bar. You will come to a point of land that you can walk around while in the water. If you try to cut across the sand dunes you will run into the spiny thistle which is the scourge of the dune and grassy areas on Cayo Largo. You can't walk barefoot anywhere around this pesky plant. When you round the point you come into one of the most beautiful sections of beach on the island. There are rock outcroppings visible in the water and the water here is always calm due to the offshore reefs. You can snorkel to the west of these rocks and there is all kinds of small fish to see. There are 3 or 4 pelicans that spend all day diving for fish in the shallow tidal pools that cut through the beach. The only negative comment is that some of the beach areas away from the water tend to be littered with wood and debris from the storms that hit the south shore of Cayo Largo.
My wife and I spent 4 or 5 days on this one section of beach. It's certainly a rough life when the only sounds you hear are from the surf and the pelicans diving into the water right in front of you. It's a great private area to reflect on nature and life in general. Once you've been to this area of the beach and you see where the main road is, you can get the bus driver to drop you off. They will even pick you up at the appropriate time in the afternoon as they are driving beachgoers from the Playa Paraiso beach bar back to the resorts.
The beaches were an incredible experience and we have already booked back to Cayo Largo for 2 weeks next December.
Special Trip Notes
Take small plastic containers so that you can take sliced fruit from the breakfast buffet or some croissants for lunch on the beach. Take some smaller liquid containers for filling with fruit juice for the beach.
You can arrange to have a bagged lunch made up for you to take to the beach by leaving your room number at the front desk the day before.
You don't need to take large beach towels as they are provided by the resort. You can drop your wet towel off at the end of the day and pick up a fresh one.
You must reserve a scooter or a vehicle the day before to be assured of one being available to rent. One or two might become available for an afternoon rental. The scooters are a blast and cost only $20 US for a 24 hour period. They will easily handle 2 people, but be careful going off the paved road as they are hard to control in the loose sand. You can easily get up to the large communication tower on one of these scooters.
When the bus or tractor comes by in the morning make sure that you cram onto it to get to Playa Paraiso. If there is no room available make sure that the driver radios for additional transportation or you might be waiting for the next bus which comes by an hour later. This only happened to us once. The drivers are all pretty good, you just have to make sure that they understand the situation.
Tips are not expected and we only tipped when we felt the service warranted it. The one exception to this was when we arrived our luggage was hurried off to our room even though is was not requested and I did get the feeling that a tip was expected. The waiters, waitresses and bartenders work long hours and in many cases I tipped them because of the good service. We took down a supply of $1.00 bills, which seems to be greatly appreciated.
The only biting fly we encountered were mosquitoes that only came out at dusk for about an hour. They vanished by the time it was dark. You might want to take some insect repellant but I certainly didn't think it was necessary. All the resorts fog for mosquitoes to reduce their numbers. According to one employee at the new Barcelo resort, the mosquitoes become a little more of a problem during the warm, humid summer months.
One of the main disappointments was the catamaran trip to see the iguanas on a nearby island and to do some snorkelling on a nearby reef. The trip itself was great apart from being a little windy, but the crew left a little to be desired. The trip was organized through our Signature vacations representative so one would naturally think that the crew might understand a little English.The information was all in Spanish including the lunch menu that we were supposed to pick from. Surely one of the crew should have been bilingual as it would have made the trip a little more interesting to all the non Spanish speaking customers. At the end of the trip, one of the crew brought out a big can with the word "tips" written on it. He certainly seemed to intimidate some of the younger people into providing him with some undeserved beer money. Once again the trip was great but I don't think it was worth the $69 US each and the loss of a day on the beach.
Don't go barefoot on the grass anywhere on the island or you will regret it. You'll only make this mistake once ! There is a grass species that has a spiny thistle for a seed pod. The spines are very painful if you step on them. They stick to shoe laces, sneakers, beach towels and they even will stick into the soles of your shoes. These thistles are about 1/8 inch in diameter and very sharp.
We took our own snorkel and fins. There are some at the resort but we chose not to chance their availability.
We did take down a 220-120v converter since electricity is 220 v. We never had to use it as the room we stayed in had a 220v hair dryer and a 120v outlet in the bathroom
I did not hear of one incidence of theft. All rooms come with a room safe that is opened by the door key. I don't even recall seeing a police station or officer of the law during our visit apart from airport security personnel. We always felt that it was a very safe environment. The hotel had their own security personnel.
Thanks to Bruce for this trip report ...