|Carisol Los Corales |
|Have just returned from a week in Santiago de Cuba, where I stayed at Club Amigo Los Corales.
This was a last minute booking, Sunwing sale on a Sunday evening to travel on a Thursday morning. The weather alone was worth the price, following nearly a meter of snow in Ottawa the week leading up – everything else was just a bonus. And for this property there was no single supplement, a real bargain at March break time.
Flights down and back on time and with no issue – Sunwing were efficient and I appreciated the food, drink and entertainment. Transfers to/from hotel were also adequate. Sunwing rep Pablo is a good guy and very helpful – I informed him that I'd be staying in a Casa Particular in the city for a couple of days, and he assisted in reconfirming the accommodations, setting up a taxi, etc.
I'll lead off with a review of the resort itself, Los Corales, followed by some off-resort activities.
The staff at Los Corales are quite friendly and give their best effort. The reality is that many, such as maids and wait staff, are overworked. Despite this they maintain that cheerful Cuban demeanor, and are a pleasure to interact with. Though this is a 'tipping' resort, I never got the feeling that service was suffering without a tip – had heard some who stayed at other resorts say that they couldn't get a drink without handing a tip first, and this was definitely NOT my experience. Bar and restaurant staff were quick to recognise me (that gringo who butchers the Spanish language… but at least tries) and did well in remembering my preferences. The room was always clean, and decorated with towel animals and flowers – gracias, Ileana. Marledes and the front desk staff were generally helpful. Groundskeepers were the friendliest, always an "hola" or "Buenos dias" – and these were the guys I tried to talk to the most, and in the end gave the most in terms of goodies from the duffel bag. No matter what we bring to Cuba, though, I feel like we could always do more… very sad that the Cuban people have so little, and even if hotel workers are already 'middle class' or better, this hotel will close for the summer, and beyond that who knows, so I feel better in trying to help out where possible.
Los Corales has seen its best days, quite possibly many years ago. Still, I went in with minimal expectations, and was not disappointed. The lobby is open-air and works well enough, with a small shop and a bar that's open in the evenings. One terminal just off the front desk serves the entire resort for Internet, but the wait times didn't seem too bad – cost 6CUC for 70 minutes. Grounds are well maintained around centre of property, with some 'fraying at the edges' visible beyond the pool towards the beach. Pool is adequately maintained, though not enough loungers available for all guests – seems some were moved to beach, which was adequate during my stay. The beach has seen some erosion due to hurricanes, but has a stretch of whitish sand that is medium to fine, not terribly rocky, and with a small area of water to wade into without stepping on sea grass. Those who snorkeled or went scuba diving seemed satisfied. Some buildings have been renovated with white tiles, a 'cleaner' look. In general the buildings do appear dated, and without investment the resort will continue to fall behind in appearance. There are two cinder-block buildings in this property that appear more 'bombed out' and are an eyesore. Carisol, the sister property next door, had already closed for the season by the time I arrived, and Corales will likely close soon as well. How many more years will this property go on? Without increasing tourism in the area and an investment in infrastructure, not likely many more.
FOOD & BEVERAGE
My expectations were at their lowest here, especially having been disappointed at a 4-star property in Cuba the year before (Breezes Jibacoa). And since this had been booked last-minute at a bargain price, and traveling alone, I wasn't as concerned with what the food would be. Perhaps these diminished expectations played a role, but I was satisfied overall with the dining at Corales. As they say, every meal offered something. Breakfasts at the buffet featured an omelet station, as well as a variety of fresh fruit, hot croissants, and freshly squeezed orange juice. Lunch seemed to be the weak point, though most of the time the (cold?) buffet at least offered a selection of grilled chicken, vegetables (never had so much cabbage!), and rice (properly cooked, unlike at Jibacoa). Burgers and pizza were made to order. So even if variety wasn't the spice at lunchtime, at least the meals were consistent and of passing quality. Dinners were the high point. The buffet featured a station for fish and calamari cooked to order; another station for grilled meats; a third for pizza and pasta; and a fourth for fried chicken, croquettes, crab claws, potatoes, etc. Not as wide a selection as at a four-star, but done consistently and in an acceptable manner. The Seafood dinner at the 'ranchon' beach bar (which also offered a small lunch selection including grilled chicken, soup, salad, etc) was fine, though I most enjoyed the Grill, with mixed chicken, pork, and beef grilled over a wood fire. These two had to be reserved in the morning or early afternoon. Each venue offered Spanish table wine. No disappointments here. Yes, my best meals this trip, much like the last, were off-property; nonetheless, I did not go hungry at any point, did not have any disagreements with any meal, and overall found the experience quite acceptable. The bonus was the free flowing wine, beer, and booze. Plenty of rum – enjoyed mojitos, Cubatas (Cuba Libre with dark rum, especially Santero), etc. And the lobby bar in the evening has international selections, so I could have my pastis (Pernod and Ricard both available). Good coffee was available around the clock at the main bar, along with juices, sodas, etc. Overall, the experience was very positive.
Bargain price, great weather (not one drop of rain), friendly staff, decent food and free-flowing booze – can't go wrong. Would I come back? I'd probably go to a different part of Cuba, and/or elsewhere in the Caribbean, but that's just my desire to see and do more. Will this resort survive? People with whom I spoke who were regulars here said that it's gone downhill, and that the tourism in the area as a whole is behind forecast, so it's a tough one. Still, I'm glad to have come here, as it was not only a welcome break from the weather in Ottawa, but proved to be a very positive experience.
SANTIAGO & VICINITY
In the three days between booking and departure, I'd done some research and arranged to stay three days / two nights in a Casa Particular in the city of Santiago de Cuba. This is a Cuban equivalent, more or less, of a B&B. For 25CUC per night, I had a room with air conditioning and a private washroom in a nice home, within four blocks of the city's historical centre and a block from police HQ so we know it's safe (not that Cuba is unsafe in general, but this added peace of mind). The owners are a lovely retired couple, Raul and Morayma, who were patient and helpful with my Spanish, and gave good advice on getting around the city. I will have a complete review posted shortly at:
The experience in Santiago was an overwhelmingly positive one, gaining a perspective of the city from ground level, and getting away from the 'safety net' by 'cutting the cord' of standard all-inclusive travel.
I also met a very nice German couple at the resort, and they invited me to visit some friends at the artists' community of El Verraco, about 20 minutes' drive from the resort. Sadly the number of artists here has decreased over time as tourism has not panned out, but this experience also proved to be a memorable one, and I recommend a visit for anyone staying in the area.
|Carisol Los Corales |
arrived back from Cuba yesterday. To begin this is a resort where we stayed already 10 years ago but I did not clue into the name nor did I recognize it from the pictures supplied. It was not really great then but we had a good time, but nothing compared to this time.
Everything connected with Sunwing was excellent including the rep at the resort.
Unfortunately the resort's staff made it a less than memorable holiday - keep in mind that I am a 20 years + Cuba veteran. The personal lacks the concept of customer service. If I am on a one week holiday I do not have the leasure to chase a light bulb for 4 days, a cup of coffee for 20 minutes at breakfast and my luggage to an from my room for 2 hours resp. 1 1/2 hours at departure time. TV has 7 Spanish channels and CNN which worked for one day and again the last day.
At our arrival by bus we are told that people booked for Corales should stay on the bus as the first stop is Carisol, the more "basic" of the two hotels in the compound. As I read the word "Corales" on my voucher, I stay on the bus. Not so! We travel to Corales and are told to stay on to be sent back.
Food was seriously below par. Again I go to Cuba for over 20 years now and not for the food and I actually like their style of cooking very much. One memorable breakfast: no bread, 6 plates with leftover slivers of cheese and cold cuts just so it was recognizable what has been on them, a bowl of black beans - cooked - nothing else with them and a yellow watery liquid in 4 bowls - not sure what that was and did not explore. Salads mostly shredded cabagge - did not know that cabbage comes in that many colours and shredded carrots. All food cold - consistently. This is especially appetizing concerning spaghetti overcooked with a ketchup-like sauce.
First evening an exceptional music group rivalling Andrea Bocelli quality as background music and entertainment at dinner - best I ever heard live. The rest of the evenings we either finish really fast or go to the sister hotel Los Corales - long walk but hey I need my exercise. The music volume at Carisol is to a degree that the plates and glasses rock on the table. Conversation is impossible. That in a resort where the average age is 55+.
Not the resort's fault but it did not help that there was a large group of ******* from Canada who marked lounges with towels at the swimming pool and at the beach to the point of physical contact between guests. Most lounges were marked 24/7 for the whole week without me seeing a single user on them. The buffet was ransacked by taking incredible amounts of food items to their room und judging by the amount of food taken on their plates and then left to be thrown away I can only imagine what was left in the rooms. A serious disrespect especially to a country with limited resources.
Departure day up at 5:00 am. The day before we were told there will be sandwiches and juice at the main bar. Absolutely nothing there except black expresso as the milk went bad. I managed to get 3 pieces of toast from the main kitchen just so my husband could take his heart and diabetic medication. This to a lecture from the personal that I have to wait for 10 minutes as the dining room is not open yet for breakfast. Lady, my bus is waiting, I had an expresso without milk, our luggage is not at the bus after 5 requests and 2 hours. I am told my entry key card is not at the reception while the receptionist is holding it in his hand and I will certainly at this point not discuss your opening hours with you.
Please let me remark here that Pablo the Sunwing rep (Cuban) also tried to get my luggage that morning and was not successful. Really nice guy and absolutely nothing here is his fault.
Somehow looking back at our past Cuban holidays I have to say that in the future I would avoid Cuban run holidays and book the European managed places.
On another note: Santiago airport check in procedure a nightmare. 2 hours for barely 120 people on 5 check in counters. Security check almost amusing: my fault as I put my nail care set into my cabin luggage (did not think). Security uniformed guy takes one of 3 scissors out "for security reasons" and I choose to doante them to the Cuban cause, but left the two others with me. I hope this is no indication of the lack of security concerning other "weapons".
|Carisol Los Corales |
|2 hotels (Carisol and Los Corales) have fused into one resort. There are some benefits and some really bad things about the merger. I will explain in the following paragraphs. I will start by saying we had a wonderful time. The location is beautiful. The vacation was cheap. It was great.
My girlfriend and I were at Carisol Los Corales in January of 2008. The flight from Montreal was good. Cubana Airlines. 2 dollar cuban beer (Cristal or Bucanero) in cans on the plane. Awsome. Cristal is 5% and Bucanero is FUERTE or strong. I think about 6.5%. I prefer Cristal but both are really refreshing beers. I love them. They also have Rum. The meal was bizzare and kinda gross and stale but combine Cuban food with Airline food and what do you expect?? It was salami and some cheese and bread. It was good because we were hungry. We got stuck beside some single freakshow who went on and on about his bozo son who worked for the parks department. He was like Uncle Leo. Landing was sweet.
Drive to the hotel is incredible. Remember when Dr. Grant and Dr. Sattler arrive at Jurassic Park? it was like that. It was just before dusk and the modern (chinese built) bus drove along a narrow (yet smooth) mountain road. For an hour we travelled through the Baconao Park to the hotel. The Gran Piedra is the tallest peak in Cuba and it is beautiful. We later climbed the great mountain. Read on for the full description. Flocks of amazing giant birds flew through the orange sky and all of a sudden the Carribean sea appeared to our right. Waves crashed on the rocky shore sending white foam into the evenung sky like a great Roman fountain or a geiser bursting forth its frothy load. I'm in paradise I thought to myself with a tired smile.
My girlfriend, on the other hand, was tired and feeling carsick. The long turbulent flight, dehidration and the winding mountain road had made her feel sick. She began to freak out. I was soothed by the view and reassured her that our ordeal was almost over. I too longed for a stiff drink and a soft pillow.
The sun had set by the time we pulled in. He drove down a long driveway and I was pleased to see a beautiful hotel. I knew that checking in with 100 other people can be long and difficult so I planned ahead and sat at the front of the bus. I was the first one off. Quickly grabbing my suitcase I was the first to arrive at the front desk. I was soon followed by two dozen others. Instead of forming a line the tired quebecois mobbed the desk. The 6 foot long counter had 70 people pushing on it all demanding rooms. Hotel staff were unsimpathetic and disorganized. Now if I was payed 4$ a day I would be unsympathetic and disorganized too. Im not a hater. But they were moronic.
People who arrived last were served first. People began arguing and shouting. Chaos. Just like Jurassic Park. I waited 45 minutes at the end of the counter. Finally I was served. As I said at the beginnign of the review Corales and Carisol are two hotels that 5 years ago fused into one. IF YOU GO, WHEN YOU ARRIVE AT THE FRONT DESK, INSIST THEY PUT YOU IN CORALES. It is nicer, cleaner, better, more bars, more booze, better alcohol (beefeater gin) better music, better pool, better show. The mistake they have made is using Carisol as an overflow for Corales. When Corales fills up they stick the rest in Carisol. Which means if there are only 20 people in Carisol of course they have less food, dancers, etc... They two hotels are a LONG 8 minute walk appart through some fields. This mean its 20 minutes (return) to any bar/restaurant. It sucks. They stuck us in corales. We were sad. The window in our room was broken. They PROMISED to move us to Corales and they lied. Dont let this discourage you. your vacation is what you make it. At this point I realized I did not want to waste my week arguing with the IMBECILES at the front desk.
We gave up. We settled for a better room on Carisol, on the second floor with a pimp balcony and high ceiling. We went to the beach. It was beautiful . Corals, fish, amazing ells and rock lobstahs, Crazy. NOT LIKE VARADERO. there is coral and sea grass. Beautiful if you like that stuff. I spent 5 hours a day out there. I got wasted and snorkeled. Very dangerous yet really fun. I love the sea. Always have, and this place rocked. Amazing sunsets.
The Good - Breakfast Omelets, Pizza at lunch, Pasta Bar at Lunch, Ham Sandwiches, Fresh Veggies
The Bad - Everything Else - Sausages tasted Ok I guess but contained face meat and lungs and reproductive organs. No toaster for bread in the morning. Bacon undercooked, fish overcooked, chefs have access to good ingredients but ruin the food because they don't care. The food sucked. IT was a joke. We laughed at the buffet. It was just terrible. An embarassement. The Chefs need a class in cooking. They boil veggies till they were mush, undercooked meat or boiled beef. Stewing beef was quick fried instead of slow cooked, fish was cooked til it looked like jerky, mistery fried seafood things and cuban bologna were everywhere.
If you can afford a five star go. If you cant, come to corales carisol. Eat the fresh veggies and pizza. Its good. Dont eat the junk. You will live and at least its better than staying at home watching TV. DONT GO TO CUBA FOR THE FOOD.
waiters very nice and leave them tips it changes their lives. The are nice people. They will brinh you agua and cerveza and vino tinto. Wicked awsome.
BARS - OK service. Some attitude sometimes. Tip them and they love you. Overtip and they own you. Bring thermal mugs they are a godsend on the beach.
ROOM - hard beds, 11 inch TV w/ some english (HBO and CNN), nice warm shower/bath. Nice sink. HUGE SPIDERS.
Walk west along the beach for half an hour and go to BACONAO aquarium. When we arrived it was like something out of a Terantino Horror flick. Bizzare fish in dirty tanks. Giant sharks looking hopelessly for a place to die. Endangered sea turtles swimming in circles ina 6 by 6 foot tank with no shade/ decoration. It was sad but cool. It was scary but worth seeing. They also had dolphins. It was 5 bucks to get in. Email me for pics TImWIsdom1@hotmail.com
Dolpins do backflips. Here is a video I shot
SCUBA DIVING - incredible, beautiful. JUST GO
The aquarium is cool and woth seeing. You can swim with the dolphins for 75$ but what a rip off. Idiotic.
We also did the coffee plantation/botanical garden/Gran Piedra Excurtion. DO IT. I WONT RUIN IT FOR YOU. IT IS BEAUTIFUL AND AMAZING. IT IS CHEAP. JUST BOOK IT IT IS SO CHEAP. AMAZING PLACE.
NOT 5 STARS BUT WORTH IT, EVERY LAST CENT.