The following post is a review that I recently wrote for TripAdvisor.com. I'm apparently on my way to earning some kind of virtual badge....whatever!
Just like the hero of the children’s story “The Little Engine That Could,” Club Amigo Marea del Portillo keeps chugging along, and accomplishing more than others might anticipate.
There will always be bumps in the road – and, since it’s in Cuba, there will be goats too. Despite the obstacles, however, I see improvements at the little resort every time I visit. In April (2012), I was there for my seventh stay, which is a very small number compared to many of the “repeaters” who have considered this their second home for well over a decade. Club Amigo Farallon del Caribe – Marea del Portillo may be a tiny dot on the tourism radar but it has one of the highest return-visitor rates of any resort on the island, perhaps even THE highest.
This resort is in a rather obscure location along the southern sole of Cuba, deep in the historically significant Granma region. It’s primarily an agricultural area, not known for its cultural activities. Don’t plan to see the Cuban ballet in Pilón, the nearest town of any significant size. Don’t expect to shop anywhere except the resort “tienda.” But, if you are looking for “authentic Cuba,” you will find it here. In fact, it will be delivered with a smile, time and again, by almost everyone you meet, either at the resort or in the adjacent village of the same name, Marea del Portillo.
Keep in mind, though, that this place is at the low end of the food chain, in more ways than one. This humble resort is one of the smallest in the Club Amigo chain, and it’s physically and metaphorically on the wrong side of the mountain when it comes to supplies. That means the buffet may not always have the widest selection and the bar may not have the best booze options all the time, but there are many factors involved.
This was the case when I was there for three weeks in April. Sunwing had suspended summer service; my departing flight on April 26 was supposed to be the last plane until Nov. 1, when flights would again begin arriving from Toronto (Nov. 15 from Montreal). The Farallon del Caribe, the largest hotel of the resort, closed April 19 and nobody knew for sure if the beachfront Marea hotel and cabanas would continue to operate during the summer.
I am not a picky person but, even I began to find the buffet a bit of a challenge; I was glad there were some newly opened restaurants in the village, within walking distance of the resort. Then, during my final week, everything changed. Sunwing reinstated its usual weekly summer flights and guests would begin arriving at the resort April 26, May 3, and so forth. Staff smiles grew wider and relief was apparent in many eyes – they would not be laid off after all. And, suddenly, the buffet was overflowing with a tasty array of fresh offerings, including lobster, to my great delight!
Perhaps the management had been hesitant to reorder food supplies because they feared the resort would have to close. I don’t know but, to me, that would have been a logical business decision – cutting losses. If so, I certainly wouldn’t fault them. However, I can also understand that some people who were there earlier in April may have gone home grumbling about the paltry food options at the resort. Well, all I can say is, I ate well during my last week!
Food aside, this little resort keeps chugging along in other ways too. I see physical improvements every time I go, which is usually twice a year – I now organize group trips in the shoulder seasons, April and October. Last year, they installed a large grill and covered dining area beside the Marea hotel pool, and it is an excellent addition. This year, they are rebuilding a thatched gazebo between that hotel and the beach. It will be at least twice the previous size and, the rumor is, this structure may become another bar or eatery of some sort, possibly with 24/7 service. I’ve also heard that more renovations to the Marea hotel are on the agenda; it’s the oldest part of the resort complex, so that makes sense.
Before I developed an attachment to this place and its people, I had preferred to go somewhere different almost every I could travel. If I returned to the same location, I would merely use it as a stepping stone for broader exploration. Now that I’ve gotten to know Marea del Portillo, I find that I want to keep going back and exploring in a different way; I want to get to know the community and learn more about authentic Cuban life.
This little resort, Club Amigo Marea del Portillo, provides a safe, comfortable and affordable base for me, as it does for the dozens of repeat visitors. It may not have the highest rating in some travel guides but it gets five stars in many hearts!
– Jenny Cressman (written May 25, 2012)