Playa Santa Maria
Being a peninsula, Cayo Santa Maria is treated to 13 kilometres of wrap-around coast, the full length of which is open to the public. Six of those white sand kilometres make up Playa Santa Maria, the archipelago's most popular beach. It's where the majority of the hotels are located, all of which are keen to take advantage of the stunning waterfront views.
The shores of Playa Santa Maria are largely shallow, although the ocean here has been known to get a little rougher than when it reaches the other Cayo Islands. If this beach doesn't suit, there are an assortment of other smaller, quieter beaches tucked along the rest of the long shores in virtually every direction. They're all edged by beautiful natural reef formations.
Accommodation in Cayo Santa Maria takes luxury holidays to a whole new level. It only became a holiday destination in the early 21st century, so the facilities here are all designed with the modern tourist in mind. With only 12 hotels on the entire peninsula, what they do, they do well.
Each of the hotels in Cayo Santa Maria are All Inclusive and feature 4* and 5* amenities. They come equipped for all of your holiday needs, with swimming pools, sporting facilities, evening entertainment and more dining options than your stomach will know what to do with.
Gardens of the King
The beauty of Cayo Santa Maria is in just that – the peninsula's beauty. Inland has been declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, so you know hikes here are bound to be gorgeous. It's part of the Jardines del Rey – which translates to 'Gardens of the King' – archipelago for good reason.
Stints on Cayo Santa Maria are largely spent catching glimpses of local wildlife. Just beneath the ocean's surface and off the island's coast is the world's second largest barrier reef. You can join an organised diving trip via boat or catamaran cruise and paddle past angel fish and barracudas, or grab some snorkelling gear of your own and see what's swimming alongside you at the beach.
Cayo Santa Maria is home to Latin America's largest dolphinarium, the Delfinario en Cayo Santa Maria. Here, you can see dolphin and sea lion shows, and even get a chance to high five Flipper in special interactive excursions.
If you want to kick back and relax, there are just as many opportunities to sink your toes into warm water with cucumbers over your eyes. The island is home to a number of spas at luxury resorts, where finding your Zen is a piece of cake.
Pueblo La Estrella
Cayo Santa Maria might not be home to a staggering number of restaurants, but as a result of being popular for cheap Cuba holidays, it still offers a decent array of cuisines, most of which can be found in Pueblo La Estrella, the area's main tourist town. Your hotel, on the other hand, will vie for your attention with it's own collection of restaurants, as part of the All Inclusive offering. Regardless of where you choose to dine, you'll be met with ample opportunities to nosh in the open air, beneath palm fronds or overlooking the beach.
Aside from the bars and lounges found at hotels, Pueblo La Estrella is where you'll find the island's handful of nightlife opportunities as well. There are discos, cigar lounges and even a billiards centre here, although things are widely kept laid-back come nightfall. There are also a whole lot of cocktails on the beach and under the stars.
As with wining and dining outside the hotel sphere, much of the retail spots on the island are in Pueblo La Estrella. Daily markets help to satiate all of your hand-crafted souvenir needs, while duty-free prices on cigars and spirits ensure you'll get the best price on local specialities. There are also markets and malls found in the towns closer to the bridge road, where any and all shopping needs can be met.