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Friday,  April 19, 2024 4:41 PM 

On Location: Cuba's “Pearl Of The South” – PAX unpacks Cienfuegos, Melia Trinidad Peninsula with Sunwing

On Location: Cuba's “Pearl Of The South” – PAX unpacks Cienfuegos, Melia Trinidad Peninsula with Sunwing
PAX explores Cuba's new Melia Trinidad Peninsula and Topes de Collantes nature reserve with Sunwing. (Pax Global Media)
Michele Yeo

When it comes to tropical destinations, Canadians and Cuba go together like sand and sunshine.

“Canadians have had a longtime love affair with Cuba as a vacation destination,” says Samantha Taylor, chief marketing and digital officer at Sunwing Vacations, “but each city has its own unique personality.”

Now, Canadians have another city and another personality to add to their vacation vision boards. After a hiatus, Sunwing Vacations has officially resumed service to Cienfuegos on Cuba’s south coast. 

“Cienfuegos is the perfect blend of all that’s wonderful about Cuba, and what makes it an ideal vacation destination for every vacation style and budget,” says Taylor. “It’s a great destination for both novel and expert Cuba travellers who are seeking a new experience.”

Cienfuegos, Cuba. (javier gonzalez leyva/Shutterstock)

Known as Cuba's "Pearl of the South,” Taylor says Cienfuegos offers a little bit of everything for sun-seeking Canadians.

“Cienfuegos is an affordable destination for families and adults with plenty to enjoy - from stunning waterfronts to water sports, history, charming city streets with domes and palaces, parks, walking trails, waterfalls and more,” she says.

Sunwing currently offers direct flights on Fridays from Toronto and Montreal.

“The two flights weekly by Sunwing to Cienfuegos make it easier for travel advisors to sell these destinations that offer an impressive combination of cities with architectural treasures, lush mountains and serene beaches,” says Lessner Gomez, director of the Cuba Tourist Board in Toronto. “Travel advisors should feel confident recommending this area not only for the new first-class accommodations but also for the vast array of attractions and experiences their clients can enjoy when visiting.”

PAX on location 

PAX, earlier this this month, was invited to experience Sunwing’s renewed destination with a stay at the Melia Trinidad Peninsula just 14 km outside of the city of Trinidad and about an hour and a half from the airport at Cienfuegos.

Melia Trinidad Peninsula. (Pax Global Media)

NexusTours provided airport transfer to the five-star resort, which opened in November of last year. Boasting 401 rooms including several swim-up rooms, it’s the latest addition to Sunwing’s Cuban hotel portfolio.

“It's not the same as Varadero or Cayo Santa Maria,” says Juan Pereira Márquez, the hotel’s general manager. “It's another concept with a beautiful view."

“Huge improvement” to area

The property is open to families, but the hotel’s exclusive Level area is for adults only.

“Our main market is the Canadian customer,” says Márquez. “We have customers from Europe as well but our first market is the Canadian people. The hotel is commended for couples, for families, for weddings, and for honeymoons.”

The front desk team at Melia Trinidad Peninsula. (Pax Global Media)

Spread across a sprawling and stunning property set on the Caribbean Sea, the hotel features several fresh water swimming pools, the aforementioned swim-up rooms, as well as 14 restaurants and bars.

“We are so excited that Trinidad is getting glam with new hotel openings,” says Gomez at the Cuba Tourist Board. ”This area used to be a budget destination and lacked high-end resorts, so we are thrilled to share the exciting news of the opening of Melia Peninsula Trinidad Hotel. This, the Mystique Trinidad La Popa by Royalton, along with the existing Iberostar Grand Trinidad, brings a huge improvement to the hotel offerings in this part of Cuba.”

Inside Melia Trinidad Peninsula

At the time of PAX’s stay at Melia Trinidad Peninsula, construction was still underway on a private area for Level guests including a separate reception area and restaurant and bar which will only be accessible to Level guests.

Level guests enjoy personalized attention during their stay, daily replenishment of the in-room mini bar, 24-hour bellboy service, and pool and beach towels in their rooms as well as exclusive pool access.

Swim-up suites at Melia Trinidad Peninsula. (Pax Global Media)

Also under construction at the time of our stay was Yhi, which will be the hotel’s luxurious spa and the adjacent fitness centre (there was a temporary gym available to guests). Final arrangements are also still in the works for watersport offerings like kayaks.  

When it comes to dining, Melia Trinidad Peninsula has several diverse offerings including Alma, their Spanish cuisine restaurant; Sasa, the hotel’s Asian fusion restaurant, which includes a teppanyaki station where the chefs prepare food with a fiery flair.

Rumba, the main buffet restaurant. (Pax Global Media)

Alma serves Spanish fare. (Pax Global Media)

Mosaico restaurant features a Mediterranean menu, and Rumba is the hotel’s main buffet area offering breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily.

There are several bars throughout the property including the chic lobby bar and Daiquiri Bar, a chic and plush indoor lounge and ideal spot for a cocktail either before or after your restaurant reservation.

Inside Daiquiri Bar. (Pax Global Media)

During PAX’s visit, the hotel also offered a sunset ceremony where guests were invited to sip cava, enjoy live music and watch the stunning sunset.

It’s a pretty magical experience – you’re on a pier above the blue waters of the Caribbean sea, the scenic Escambray mountain range provides a picturesque backdrop while a trombonist serenades you as you sip sparkling wine and watch the pink and gold sun slowly set.

The hotel also offers plenty of areas to relax and bask in the sunshine including hammocks, swings, benches, and cabanas.

Standard room at Melia Trinidad Peninsula. (Pax Global Media)

Unpacking colourful Trinidad

When it comes to excursions, NexusTours provides several from the Melia Trinidad Peninsula and surrounding resorts.

PAX experienced two during our stay. First up was a day trip to nearby Trinidad, a city declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1988. Colourful with cobblestone streets and buildings with red roof tiles, the historic city covers 55 blocks.

The tour, led by a knowledgeable trilingual guide fluent in Spanish, English, and French, includes stops at the Museo Romántico, also known as Brunet Palace, in the heart of old town Trinidad.

Church of the Holy Trinity in Trinidad. (Pax Global Media)

Once owned by one of the county’s most wealthy families in the 19th century, the museum has been preserved and restored and features artifacts and antiques like silverware, china, and furniture from the time.

Next to the museum and still in the heart of the city, is the beautiful Church of the Holy Trinity or Iglesia Parroquial de la Santísima Trinidad with its neoclassical facade and gorgeous interior.

Another stop on the day trip is a visit to Casa del Alfarero, a pottery house with a rich local multigenerational history dating back to the mid 19th century. 

It was founded by the Santander family, and to this day, local celebrity Daniel "Chichi" Santander, now in his 80s, continues to make lovely pieces small and large as visitors watch in appreciation.

Daniel "Chichi" Santander. (Pax Global Media)

Lunch at a local hotel is provided on the excursion, but alcoholic beverages like wine and cocktails are extra. Speaking of cocktails, the excursion includes a stop to enjoy a Canchánchara, a traditional drink featuring rum, lime juice, honey and ice. 

This was invented by guerrilla fighters during the first war of independence against Spain and is believed to be Cuba’s oldest cocktail.

Hiking in the Escambray Mountains

The second excursion we participated in was a day trip to Topes de Collantes, a lush nature reserve park 800 metres above sea level in the heart of the aforementioned Escambray Mountains, where hiking trails, beautiful waterfalls, scenic views and refreshing swimming holes with crystal clear water are found.

Lush Topes de Collantes nature reserve. (Pax Global Media)

The guide, also trilingual and fluent in Spanish, English, and French, takes visitors through the area which also features a settlement and a coffee plantation.

Most of the 6,000 residents of the area work in tourism or in the coffee trade.

Arabica coffee is harvested in the area between September and June and is not available in stores or markets, only through the region’s farmers.

Topes de Collantes is known for its coffee. (Pax Global Media)

The excursion includes a stop at a coffee house where visitors can enjoy a fresh cup and purchase bags of beans to take home. 

The trip concludes with a delicious lunch of chicken, rice, and sweet potatoes and includes local beer and rum.

All in all, the newly-revived destination has plenty to set it apart from others in Cuba like Varadero and Cayo Largo.

Waterfalls, swimming holes and hiking trails at Topes de Collantes. (Pax Global Media)

“And with a growing presence of hotels and resorts at varying price points in Trinidad nearby, experiencing Cienfuegos is made even more accessible,” says Sunwing’s Taylor.

Sunwing Vacations’ current winter schedule offers all-inclusive vacation packages with direct flights on Fridays from Toronto until April 12, 2024 and from Montreal until April 26, 2024.

“We can’t wait to welcome Canadians to this revived part of the island where they can enjoy Cuba’s rich cultural mosaic and diversity,” says Gomez.

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