Cayo Santa María is a breathtaking island that offers a paradise-like beach resort experience.
💡 Planning Your Trip to Cuba 💡
🇨🇺 Visa: Before you depart, be sure to apply for your tourist card (which is your visa for Cuba). You can easily order your tourist card online through CubaVisa.
🛏️ Accommodations: To book your accommodations in Cuba, the Captain recommends Expedia.
📸 Activities: To book your activities, the Captain highly recommends Civitatis.
Cayo Santa Maria in a Nutshell
This islet, located off the coast of the Province of Villa Clara in the north of the island, belongs to the Jardines del Rey archipelago and, together with Cayo Ensenachos and Cayo Las Brujas, forms a small group called “Los Cayos de Villa Clara”.
Unlike other Cuban beach resorts such as Varadero or the Bay of Pigs, Cayo Santa María only opened to tourism in the late 1990s. Its tourist development was planned in a more elegant and environmentally friendly way, earning it the nickname “Rosa Blanca de los Jardines del Rey” for its white sand beaches. However, the island’s rapid development of beach resorts threatens the fragile ecosystem of the nearby Buenavista Biosphere Reserve.
The vast majority of tourists in Cayo Santa María are Canadians (85%), but the island is increasingly attracting visitors from around the world. Like other major Cuban beach resorts, Cayo Santa María is known for its all-inclusive resorts.
Getting to Cayo Santa María
If you’re wondering how to get to Cayo Santa María, you have a few options:
Driving to Cayo Santa María
The island is connected to the main island by a 48-kilometer-long/30-mile-long road built on the sea called a “pedraplén.” If you have a car, you can drive to Cayo Santa María, but you’ll need to pay a 2 CUC fee to use the pedraplén.
Taxis and Excursions to Cayo Santa María
If you’re not driving, you can book an excursion to Cayo Santa María through the Cubatur agency in Santa Clara. Alternatively, you can take a taxi from Caibarién (30 CUC), Remedios (35 CUC), or Santa Clara (70 CUC).
Flights to Cayo Santa María
There’s a small airport in Cayo Las Brujas that serves flights to and from Havana. Most of the hotels on the island offer shuttle service from the airport. Alternatively, you can take a taxi from the airport to your hotel.
The nearest international airport is in Santa Clara.
Getting Around in Cayo Santa Maria
The Panoramic Bus Tour, an open-top hop-on-hop-off bus, runs daily between Cayo Las Brujas and Cayo Santa Maria. The fare is 2 CUC per person for the journey.
Hotels in Cayo Santa Maria
Cayo Santa Maria has a handful of large all-inclusive resorts, and it’s difficult to find a budget option here, as all hotels are in the same price range. Among them, the Captain recommends 2 hotels in particular:
– Melia Buenavista (adults-only)
– Royalton Cayo Santa Maria (adults-only)
What to Do in Cayo Santa Maria?
Covering an area of 18 km2/7 square miles, Cayo Santa Maria has 13 kilometers/8 miles of beaches located on the north coast, which is the island’s main attraction. To the south, the islet is covered with mangroves and forests, home to many endemic species.
As you may have guessed, Cayo Santa Maria is a destination for pure relaxation, where you can unwind and forget about the daily hustle and bustle. It’s not a place to discover the real Cuba.
The Beaches of Cayo Santa María
There are nine beaches on Cayo Santa María, but they seem to blend together to form one 13-kilometer-long/8-mile-long beach:
- Playa Matamoros
- Playa Madruguilla
- Playa Canon
- Playa La Estrella
- Playa Las Caletas
- Playa La Colorada
- Playa Perla Blanca
- Playa Los Delfines
- Playa Las Gaviotas
All the beaches on the island are public and can be accessed freely. However, the sun loungers are reserved for hotel guests.
As an interesting fact, the only naturist beach in Cuba is located east of Playa Canon. Playa Las Gaviotas, on the other hand, is part of a protected wildlife reserve: no hotels can be built there, but it is possible to swim.
Diving and Water Activities in Cayo Santa María
The diving center at Marina Gaviota and the agencies Catamaran Crucero del Sol, Sea Tour, Boat Adventure, and Caguanes Tour all offer boat excursions to discover the underwater world off the coast of Cayo Santa María. The prices range from 30 to 100 CUC per adult depending on the type of boat you choose (catamaran, speedboat, etc.), and about half as much for children. The price includes round-trip transfer between your hotel and the marina.
The diving center, located at Marina Gaviota on the neighboring island of Cayo Las Brujas, offers numerous excursions for all levels (a pool initiation session is mandatory for beginners). The price includes round-trip transfer between your Cayo Santa María hotel and the marina for all bookings. Prices range from 45 CUC for one dive to 240 CUC for 10 dives (equipment included).
In addition to scuba diving and snorkeling, the dive center at Marina Gaviotta also offers fly fishing and sea fishing excursions lasting 4 to 8 hours. Prices range from 115 CUC per person to 650 CUC per boat (maximum of 4 participants) depending on the type and duration of the excursion. Transfer between your hotel and the marina is also included, as well as equipment, drinks, snacks, and/or meals.
Cayo Santa María Wildlife Refuge
The extreme southeast of Cayo Santa María is home to a wildlife refuge, a protected area away from the large tourist complexes. You can get there by car, taxi, or by booking an excursion with a guide (inquire at your hotel). The refuge is crisscrossed with hiking trails inviting you to discover the island’s fauna and flora. You’ll also find Playa Las Gaviotas and a small cove, Ensenada de Santa Maria, in the reserve.
Cayo Santa María Delphinarium
The Cayo Santa María Delphinarium opened in 2011 and is one of the largest and most modern in Cuba. You can watch shows featuring dolphins and sea lions, or even swim with dolphins for half an hour for 69 CUC. Admission is 5 CUC per adult and 3 CUC per child. The Panoramic Bus Tour stops at the Delphinarium, or you can get there by taxi.
⚠️ As always with this type of facility, it is difficult to be certain that the animals are well-treated and the Captain cannot guarantee it.
The Tourist Centers of Cayo Santa María
Cayo Santa María has three tourist complexes:
- Plaza la Estrella
- Plaza Las Dunas
- Plaza las Terrazas
Here, you will find numerous shops, bars, restaurants, spas, and artisan markets. This is also where the island’s nightclubs are located.
What to do around Cayo Santa María?
Cayo Ensenachos and Cayo Las Brujas
Neighboring Cayo Santa María and connected to it by a causeway, Cayo Ensenachos and Cayo Las Brujas are the other two islets that make up the Cayos de Villa Clara.
Here, the recipe is the same as in Cayo Santa María: large hotel complexes, sandy beaches, snorkeling, diving, and relaxation.
The Panoramic Bus Tour connects Cayo Santa María and Cayo Las Brujas several times a day.
The capital of the Province of Villa Clara, Santa Clara is best known as the “city of Che”. Ernesto “Che” Guevara won the legendary Battle of Santa Clara here in December 1958.
His body was buried here in 1997, 30 years after his death in Bolivia. It is for visiting the Mausoleum of Che that many tourists stop in Santa Clara.
The Monumento a la toma del tren blindado, or simply Tren Blindado, also commemorates Che’s victory over President Batista’s troops.
Today, Santa Clara is a lively and bustling city. It is a pleasant place to stroll around the shopping streets and the surroundings of the Leoncio Vidal Park.
Remedios is a charming colonial town located 45 kilometers from Santa Clara, which has remained relatively untouched by the island’s tourist development. Despite this, it is one of the oldest cities in Cuba, with its main church being the second oldest in the country.
It’s an ideal place to experience another side of Cuba, one that is more authentic and less polished.
Remedios is also known for its Parrandas, a colorful and lively festival that takes place during Christmas, where the entire town comes together in the streets to celebrate.
Nestled on the coast, Caibarién is a small fishing port located at the entrance of the pedraplén, the causeway leading to Cayo Santa María. Here, there are no major tourist landmarks, except for a few colonial buildings in the center, a giant crab statue that has become the emblem of the city, and the Malecon, a palm tree-lined promenade. However, Caibarién is a great stop for visitors interested in discovering the real Cuba, far from the large tourist resorts on the neighboring islands.