Cayo Coco

Destination Location

Cayo Coco
  • 22.506847, -78.409423:primary
  • 22.5132007598877, -78.5110015869141:secondary
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Overview

Cayo Coco is a true tropical paradise, lined with white beaches and lapped by dramatic two-tone aquamarine waters. It welcomes visitors to its more than one dozen resorts, all of which sit right on the sea. Cayo Coco is separated from the Cuban mainland by a wide body of water known as the Bahìa de Perros (Bay of Dogs). It is also home to one of the largest colonies of pink flamingos in the world. 

There are eight resorts on the main island and another four on its tiny neighbour to the west, Cayo Guillermo. Perfect for those seeking to get away from it all, these two islands have very little development on them besides the resorts. Less than 20 years ago, these islands were known only to local fishermen and to the coast guard that protected them.

Author Ernest Hemingway fished up and down the coast and wrote about it in his novel Islands in the Stream. Papa (as Hemingway was nicknamed) is still celebrated here. Playa Pilar, a beautiful beach on Cayo Guillermo, takes its name from Hemingway's boat. And the annual fishing tournament that takes place each October bears his name.

Cayo Coco is a place where you can choose your own adventure. Remain on the islands and explore the natural wonders through bird-watching tours and snorkelling excursions over the massive coral reef just offshore.

Kick up your heels at The Cave nightclub, or blast through coastal waters while piloting your own craft on a thrilling boat adventure. You can even hold a crocodile in your own two hands at the Parque Natural El Bagá, a 1,854-acre nature preserve on land reclaimed from Cayo Coco's first airport.

A short drive across the 27-kilometre causeway links these islands to mainland Cuba and takes you to a world filled with wonderful cultural experiences. Take a bicycle taxi ride on the bustling streets of Moròn, then visit the town's giant, bronze cockerel.

Head a little further down the road to the provincial capital of Ciego de Avila to see a Cuban cigar being rolled, or cheer on the hometown Tigers baseball team at Estadio José Ramón Cepero. Do as much or as little as you like—that's the beauty and luxury you’ll find in Cayo Coco.

Cayo Coco is a fantastic destination for:

  • beach
  • romance
  • snorkelling and diving

Destination basics

Just off the northeast coast of Cuba, temperatures on Cayo Coco remain remarkably stable and consistent throughout the year. With pleasant trade winds, temperatures range between highs around 20 C in the winter months and lows of 30 C in the summer.

The island isn't immune to cold fronts, especially in the months of January, February and March so pack a light jacket or long-sleeve top. While you won't find many rainy days here (rain tends to be brief, an hour or two at most), April, May and June are Cayo Coco's rainiest months. That's when a small travel umbrella may come in handy.

Average monthly temperature and average monthly rainfall diagrams for Cayo Coco

Cayo Coco retains an idyllic, almost remote feel. The islands used to be completely uninhabited until the Cuban government decided to develop them as a vacation destination in the early 1990s. Cubans who live nearby and work at the resorts bring local culture with them that you can both see and taste.

Cuba has long been a meeting point of African and Spanish cultures. The two cultures come together most notably in salsa, a dance form born in Cuba that is now practised and performed around the world. You'll find salsa dancing in clubs and discotheques across Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo, often led by residents of the nearby town of Moròn.

Solo dancers form a line for the salsa suelta or the casino ruedo – forms of the dance that don't require a partner – and sometimes borrow moves from hip-hop, jazz and rumba. For partner dances (the most common form of salsa), dancers use turns, changes in direction and plenty of hip movement. They also keep a fast pace, moving to music that ranges as fast as 250 beats per minute.

Most resorts on Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo include restaurants with Cuban cuisine, a blend of Spanish, African and Caribbean culinary traditions. These restaurants are great places to get acquainted with the local foods that residents of the nearby towns cook.

Most fruits and vegetables in Cuba are organic and pork is the most popular meat. Try some traditional Cuban congri (a pleasing mixture of white rice and red or black beans), fried plantains and traditional Cuban pork roast topped with sweetened papaya for dessert.

Although Cuba is an island with a very long history, its culture is largely been shaped by the Cuban Revolution of 1959. After overthrowing the government of Fulgencio Batista, the revolution ushered in more than five decades of communist party rule, most of it under Fidel Castro. He officially handed the reins of power to his younger brother, Raul, in 2008.

The revolution and the American trade embargo that followed have led to an almost-complete absence of American brands in Cuba. Driving in this country can sometimes feel like a trip back in time. Most noticeable is the fact that it's nearly impossible to find Fords and Chryslers on Cuba's roadways—at least anything built after 1961. Cuban car owners have kept a large number of American classics running, carefully maintaining their engines and even making their own parts for repairs.

Tobacco remains one of the country's largest industries, with cigars being one of Cuba's biggest exports. Cuban cigar rollers, known as torcedores, are highly respected within the country and regarded by international aficionados to be the most skilled in the world. While some cigars are made by machine, many, including those made in the factory in Ciego de Avila, are still created using the time-honoured, hand-rolled techniques.

Once in Cuba, you can easily exchange your Canadian dollars for Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) at the airport or your hotel. Smaller bills are preferred and exchange rates can fluctuate daily. Please note that debit (Interac) machines are not available in Cuba and ATM machines only accept credit card.

Most tourist spots, hotels and restaurants will accept Visa, MasterCard and travellers cheques from Canadian financial institutions. Please do be aware that travellers cheques are subject to a surcharge so it is usually wise to convert them to pesos at your hotel.

US dollars, American Express and any other credit cards issued by American banks will not be accepted in Cuba. Before your departure from Cayo Coco, you should exchange any remaining pesos back to Canadian dollars. There is usually a surcharge of approximately 10 per cent, but you will only be able to change pesos back to Canadian dollars while in Cuba. Once outside of Cuba, the CUC has no value. That said, you can always save your leftover pesos for your next visit!

Most of the resorts in Cayo Coco have several restaurants and bars onsite. While this comprises most of the island’s culinary scene, you’ll find a few outside eateries scattered along the coast.

West Hotel Zone
One of the best lunch spots in Cayo Coco can be found on Playa Flamenco, which falls on the western side of the coast. It goes by Ranchon Playa Flamenco and serves Cuban-style seafood right on the beach. Succulent lobster is a patron favorite though the casual ambiance makes it an equally enjoyable place to simply enjoy a cold drink. You can also head to the Memories Caribe Restaurant for a range of international cuisines.

East Hotel Zone
Almost directly in the center of the strip of hotels that run up and down the Cayo Coco coast is a vegetarian-friendly bar and grill that is beloved by visitors to the island. Lenny’s Bar and Grill prepares fresh catches and serves them up with a smile. Farther east, nestled between several resorts, is Ranchon Las Dunas. You’ll find good food, great prices, and delightful views at this beachfront joint.

Cayo Coco is a work of natural beauty. Most of the island is covered in vegetation, providing important ecosystems for more than 200 species of bird alone. Almost all the activity in Cayo Coco is found along the coast, which is lined with resorts and select establishments.

West Hotel Zone
On the western end of central Cayo Coco are a number of upscale, all-inclusive resorts, as well as more affordable options. Beyond a profusion of places to stay, this also means lots of amenities, including restaurants, bars, fitness centers, spas, swimming pools, and much more. The beaches in Cayo Coco are associated with the hotels that are built on them, but all beaches in Cuba are public, meaning you’ll have plenty of outdoor options no matter where you stay.

East Hotel Zone
Jardines del Rey International Airport is located on the eastern side of the central coast, farther down and inland from most of the popular accommodations. Several budget hotels sit on this end of the coast though you’ll also find upscale options. There are a shopping center and handful of eateries here, so you have a few dining options outside hotel restaurants. Beaches are also plentiful, promising no shortage of water sports and outdoor fun to be had.

The stunning natural landscape is the biggest draw for visitors to Cayo Coco, so be prepared to slap on some sunscreen and soak up the rays.

Beaches
There are nine beaches in Cayo Coco, spanning a pristine 21 kilometers (12 miles) along the coast. Playa Flamenco is a favorite among visitors, great for snorkeling during the day and beach parties at night. Also great for nature walkers, the area is surrounded by characteristic mangroves, heightening the already amazing scenery. Another popular beach in Cayo Coco is Forbidden Beach, which offers a more rustic landscape. Head here to stroll in the sand and collect assorted seashells.

Playa Pilar, the most picturesque beach in the area, is located in Cayo Guillermo, roughly 30 minutes by car from Cayo Coco. This tropical paradise has rich cerulean waters and sand so white it almost looks silver. While there is better snorkeling elsewhere on the island, Playa Pilar is the perfect place to lounge in the sun.

Birdwatching
If you drive from the mainland to Cayo Coco via the 27-kilometer (17-mile) causeway, there’s a good chance you’ll see a vibrant flamboyance of flamingos. Birdlife in Cayo Coco is thriving, and while you'll have the chance to enjoy many of the 90 indigenous and 120 migrant species that call the island home, these natural pink treasures often draw the biggest crowds.

Nightlife
You won’t find many nightlife venues in Cayo Coco, but the Bat Cave will fulfill your dancing desires. This cave turned club has both DJs and live bands depending on the night, not to mention festive decorations like laser lights and strobe machines. Delicious drinks complement the unique location and festive energy at the Bat Cave, so check it out if you’re craving nightlife on your trip to Cayo Coco.

Cayo Coco

Province: Ciego de Ávila Morón

Country: Cuba

Cayo Coco by the Numbers
Population: 416,370
Elevation: 4 meters / 13 feet
Average Annual Precipitation: 2 centimeters / 0.8 inches
Average January Temperature: 22°C / 72°F
Average July Temperature: 28°C / 82°F

Quick Facts
Electricity: 110 volts, 60 cycles, AC

Time Zone: UTC-5; Eastern Standard Time (EST)

Country Dialing Code: 53

Area Code: 33

Did You Know?
Cayo Coco takes its name from the white ibis, a native bird species that is known locally as the coconut bird, or coco bird for short.

Orientation
Cayo Coco is located 27 kilometers (17 miles) from the northern coast of mainland Cuba. It is approximately 200 kilometers (124 miles) from Camaguey and 500 kilometers (310 miles) from Havana.

Cayo Coco is Cuba's fourth-largest island. At 370 sq. km, it's a little bigger than Antigua and slightly smaller than Barbados. It is part of the Archipiélago de Sabana-Camagüey, a long string of keys that runs along Cuba's northern coast, popularly known as the Jardines del Rey, or Gardens of the King in English.

Cayo Coco is deceptively large. Several kilometres often separate individual resorts, and it generally takes about 45 minutes to travel between the main hotel zones on Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo. Both islands are also covered in palm trees, scrubby vegetation and mangrove swamps.

White sand beaches run along 22 km of Cayo Coco's coastline and another 5 km on Cayo Guillermo. These beaches are often lined with grassy dunes. Playa Pilar, a popular, beautiful beach at the far western tip of Cayo Guillermo, features the tallest sand dune in the Caribbean, which rises to a height of about 15 metres.

Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo are both connected to the mainland of Ciego de Avila province (a flat, largely rural area covered in sugar cane and other crops) by a 27-km causeway that crosses the Bahìa de Perros. There are no permanent settlements on either island.

Spanish explorers discovered the Jardines del Rey archipelago in 1513, not long after Christopher Columbus landed in the New World for the first time and Cuba itself was discovered. Its name honors Ferdinand II of Aragon of Spain, translating to “King’s Gardens.” Early settlers in Cayo Coco, which lies near the center of the Jardines del Rey chain, lived quiet lives as fishermen and charcoal producers for a time, but the island spent many uninhabited years before becoming the tourist hotspot it is today.

Just before the tourism boom, Cayo Coco and adjacent island, Cayo Guillermo, served as settings for two Ernest Hemingway novels: The Old Man and the Sea and Islands in the Stream. Hemingway spent many years in Cuba, often enjoying fishing trips in the Cayo Coco area. Soon others realized its potential, and in 1988, a causeway was built to encourage travel from the mainland. Five years later, the first resort opened in Cayo Coco, and by 2015, there were twelve resorts built along the coast. Today, tourists flock to the island to lounge in the sun, splash in the water, and admire the scenery.

Cayo Coco is an island linked to mainland Cuba by a 27 km long, man-made causeway. Getting around the island is best done on foot, which is a perfect excuse to take off your flip flops and feel the sand beneath your toes.

Should you wish to explore the area more, you can always rent a car for long distances or rent a scooter for shorter trips. Check with your WestJet Vacations representative for assistance renting a car or to inquire about excursions offered on Cuba's mainland.

There is also a local bus that travels between Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo at a cost of just CUC$5 per person, per day. Check with your hotel's front desk for the most up-to-date bus schedule.

Arrival

Upon arrival at Cayo Coco International Airport, proceed to the immigration area with your passport and completed tourist card. Once through, proceed to the baggage claim area to retrieve your luggage. You'll then exit the terminal through the sliding doors to meet your WestJet Vacations Representative wearing a baby-blue golf shirt and black pants or skirt. Be sure to have your transfer itinerary ready to present to them.

Your WestJet Vacations Representative will provide you with a bus number. Once on board your bus, you will be welcomed by a Cubanacan Guide who will hand you a helpful information pamphlet. Your WestJet Vacations Representative will then give a brief speech on the bus welcoming you to Cuba and you'll be on your way to your hotel.

Departure

A bus will take you from your resort to the airport on the day of your departure. Please refer to the WestJet information binder in the lobby of your hotel two days prior to your departure date to obtain the pick-up time of your bus. Since the bus may make various stops, the pick-up time may vary by 15 minutes or so. Upon arrival at Cayo Coco International Airport, please proceed to the WestJet counter to check in for your flight. You’ll then proceed to immigration and security check. Once through, you'll wait in the international departures area to board your WestJet flight back to Canada.

Insurance

As of May 1, 2010, all guests must have proof of health insurance to enter Cuba. When entering, guests may be required to present this proof of insurance.

Although your Canadian provincial health insurance card is accepted as sufficient documentation, your provincial health plan may only cover part of the costs—and as with health services to foreigners in many other parts of the world, you'll need to pay upfront.

To ensure you're covered in case of sickness or emergency, it's recommended that you purchase supplemental health insurance. While you can purchase insurance from your insurer of choice, it's worth noting that policies issued by American insurance companies will not be recognized in Cuba.

Vaccinations

Be sure your routine vaccinations are up-to-date. Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, malaria, typhoid and tetanus are commonly recommended. Visit your local health clinic for additional information. It is also recommended that you use mosquito repellent to protect yourself from mosquito-transmitted diseases.

Electricity in Cuba is 220 volts, however most hotels are equipped with both 110 volt and 220 volt outlets. If you are bringing an electrical appliance, it is recommended that you verify prior to departure if a converter and/or adaptor is required.

With three-quarters of the island covered in forest and 90 per cent still untouched by development, Cayo Coco can feel like your own private island. It's a place where roads are few and those that exist are mostly empty. Wild cattle and boars roam free. Here, you can put your feet up and forget that there really is a bigger world out there.

Cayo Coco is a place known for its solitude – most visitors return from here marvelling at their ability to relax. It's an offshore island, set apart from the Cuban mainland by the broad Bahìa de Perros (Bay of Dogs).

Nearby in Cayo Guillermo, you’ll find one of Cuba's top sport-fishing destinations, where even a half-day fishing trip can result in a haul of kingfish, sailfish, tuna, barracuda and even blue marlin. Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo also form one of Cuba's top bird-watching destinations. More than 150 species of birds live here, including one of the largest colonies of flamingos in the world!

While you can find sun and sand at locations around the Caribbean, you'll simply find more of it here on the 27 kilometres of beaches that line Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo. The sand is as fine and white as sugar, the water a clear blue and the massive coral reef is filled with life. It’s no wonder the region is so well known for unbeatable snorkelling and diving opportunities.

Even the dunes that line the beaches here are amazing, especially the huge 15-metre sand dune at Playa Pilar, the tallest in the Caribbean. Enjoy the company of others on the main beaches, or wander off to quiet places like Playa Flamenco or Playa Prohibida to stake out your own little piece of paradise.

Your WestJet Vacations Representative will provide you with a bus number. Once on board your bus, you will be welcomed by a Cubanacan Guide who will hand you a helpful information pamphlet.

Most tourist spots, hotels and restaurants will accept Visa, MasterCard and travellers cheques from Canadian financial institutions.

Cayo Coco is an island linked to mainland Cuba by a 27 km long, man-made causeway. Getting around the island is best done on foot, which is a perfect excuse to take off your flip flops and feel the sand beneath your toes.

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*Prices are per guest, based on double occupancy and are limited; may not reflect real-time pricing or availability. See terms and conditions.

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