Santa Maria, or Cayo Santa Maria, is a small island sixteen kilometers long and two kilometers wide. White-sand beaches are ideal for walking. The beaches are located north of the island while the south side consists mainly of mangrove swamps.
The longest beach is about 6 kilometers long. To reach the island, you’ll have to use a 48 kilometer long causeway providing postcard views. The causeway has built-in water tunnels to let a natural flow of water and fish. A ninety-minute bus ride will take you from the airport to your resort.
There about 15 resorts in Santa Maria, all beachfront, for the pleasure of ocean lovers. All resorts face North except one, the Iberostar Ensenachos. Note that in Cuba there’s always a bridge or a path to go through vegetation as it acts as a natural defense against tropical storms or hurricanes during late summer and early fall.
Go snorkelling in Cayo Santa Maria
Cayo Santa Maria is a year-round snorkelling paradise with pristine coral reefs, clear, warm waters and lots of marine life. The reef runs parallel to shore about 100 meters from the main resort beaches. Most resorts have water sport facilities where you can get snorkelling gear.
You can also book a catamaran snorkel trip to the more sheltered inner cays of Santa Maria. The catamarans are big and since they sail inside lagoon waters, you may have the opportunity to see rare fish species.
One tour visits two snorkelling sites where you can explore a shipwreck of Santa Maria area; the tour also takes you to a deserted beach on one of the neighboring cays for a delicious lobster lunch. After lunch, you’ll sail around the lagoon before heading back to the marina with free drinks on board.
Diving in the Buenavista Biosphere Reserve
The waters around Cayo Santa Maria are part of the Buenavista Biosphere Reserve. All fishing and marine harvesting is highly regulated here and as a result, the shallow reefs and deep drop-offs around the islands make up one of Cuba’s healthiest marine ecosystems.
The island’s structure and clear protected water means there are mild currents and thriving marine life. Year-round water temperatures average 27 C and visibility easily reaches 30 meters (300 feet)! With hundreds of species of fish and 200 varieties of coral and sponge, your experience is sure to be a memorable one!
There are about 24 established dive sites ranging from 20 to 30 meters. You’ll discover coralline gardens, caves, vertical walls, tunnels and shipwreck remains.
Go saltwater sport fishing in Cayo Santa Maria
The chance of hooking something big when you’re fishing in a highly regulated and healthy reserve is more likely than not. Cayo Santa Maria’s charter boat operators offer two sport-fishing options. You can fish the deep waters aboard a comfortable 15-meter powerboat for mahi mahi, wahoo, amberjack, grouper and barracuda. Or, you can fly fish in the shallow waters from a flat-bottomed skiff for horse-eye jacks, mutton snapper, tarpon and bonefish.
The causeway linking the Santa Maria island to the mainland has 46 bridges. Twice a day, the tide rushes in and out under them. They’re a favorite hunting spot for the lagoon’s big predators. Cruising the edges of these fast-flowing waters are hungry 30-kg tarpons and Cubera snappers just waiting for you to try to hook them on, but not without a hard fight. If you hire a government-licensed guide, you can also fish from the bridges, but you must bring your own tackle. The excursion is 6 to 8 hours with snacks and free drinks.
Head to the forest in Guanayara National Park
Guanayara National Park is located deep in the Escambray Mountains in southern Villa Clara province. It’s part of the larger Topes de Collantes Nature Reserve. The tour bus drops you at the park entrance where you board an authentic Russian army truck for an exciting road trip into the heart of the park. The road winds through lush rainforest and the guide points out the flora and fauna along the way.
An hour later, you disembark and hike the short Centinelas del Rio Melodioso (Guards of Melodic River) trail to the picturesque El Rocio waterfalls. After a short break, you are divided into two groups. Hikers who are fit head down the river while the others continue along the trail. On the river walk, you can slide down some moderate cascades and rapids.
The two groups meet at a natural river pool called The Deer’s Puddle for a refreshing swim. After drying off, it’s back on the trail for a short walk to La Gallega restaurant for a Creole lunch of rice and beans and your choice of meat, chicken or fish.
Cruise at sunset in Cayo Santa Maria
After returning from their snorkelling day-trips, the crews of the large catamarans at Las Brujas Marina prepare their boats for the popular sunset cruise and dinner.
Besides the spectacular sunset, you’ll enjoy a lobster or chicken dinner prepared on board, and an open bar and dancing on the deck to wonderful Cuban-Latin music. The Santa Maria entertaining crew will also give you free salsa lessons.