Imagine waking up, rubbing your eyes, looking out at a turquoise-blue ocean accompanied by kilometres of white sand beaches, and heading outside for a morning pilates or yoga session.
The soundtrack to your stretching is the soothing, crashing waves just below and the reward for your sweat session is a fresh mimosa.
Not a bad way to start the day, right? Now imagine that six days in a row and you have a small taste of a recent Sunwing FAM trip to Cayo Largo, Cuba, on which PAX was invited.
Sure, the morning yoga and pilates (a special perk courtesy of Toronto's YOGAthletix) may not be a regular feature at Memories Cayo Largo, but that doesn't mean they won't be on the menu eventually.
Sunwing, who owns and operates all 11 of the properties on Cayo Largo, a small island off of Cuba’s southern coast, would love to offer the feature to its regular guests in the future.
"We're working with the resorts on, how do we plan those out going forward?" said Sunwing Travel Group's Chief Marketing Officer Samantha Taylor, who joined PAX in the destination. "So no matter what week you're coming, you're having that option as well, for yoga, for meditation, for wellness classes."
For Sunwing, the future offerings would be part of a strategic plan to appeal to a certain clientele looking for a specific kind of getaway.
"The next generation, and who we want to open up Cayo Largo to, are people who are really focused on wellness and want that mental break," said Taylor. "We talk about digital detox, we talk about situations where we're always plugged in and never really get a break. This island provides the best opportunity to put all that aside and to be able to focus on yourself.”
Sunwing’s non-stop Cayo Largo flights launched last November, with an initial offering from Toronto (three hours, five minutes), Montreal (three hours, forty minutes) and Quebec City (four hours, five minutes).
Ottawa was also added for that winter, which was a “great success,” Taylor said.
Sunwing’s Cayo Largo program, which is currently on a limited summer schedule, will return to all the above markets this winter, Taylor said, including service out of Halifax.
Is there a plan to link Cayo Largo with Western Canada?
"In the long term, yes," Taylor said. "As flights get longer, it adds a little more complications. But I think one of the benefits of our new partnership with The WestJet Group is that we are able to access all interconnectivity flights and bring people south. So for next winter, no. But in the long term? Absolutely."
"This is an island that should be accessible to Canadians."
Unplugging is easy
Unplugging is easy to do in Cayo Largo.
While improvements have certainly been made to Wi-Fi on the island's resorts, you'll still find yourself essentially offline when you leave your resort or head to the beach.
But that's not necessarily a bad thing.
If ever there were a reason to put down your phone, Cayo Largo's stunning beaches – some of the best in the Caribbean – certainly fit the bill.
“I think a little bit of the charm in coming here," said Taylor, "is perhaps not wanting to be connected. You want to be purposeful when you're plugging in. You don't want to always be accessible."
But it wasn't all Namaste all day during our stay.
PAX was also treated to a day-long Catamaran adventure where the boat winded through calm, quiet, lush tree-lined areas that almost remind one of Ontario's cottage country.
But that comparisons end once the snorkelling begins and we are plunged into the crystal clear, warm, salty starfish-filled waters.
After another short ride on the Catamaran, we arrived at the Cayo Largo Marina where lunch was served at Taberna Del Pirata, the marina's open-air bar and restaurant, while a local band played Caribbean music.
And if there's a better way to digest a lunch of grilled meats, fish, rice, and veggies than lounging on the stunning sands of Playa Sirena, it hasn't yet been discovered.
For animal and nature lovers, there’s turtle power in Cayo Largo.
PAX visited Centro De Rescate De Tortugas Marinas, a turtle sanctuary dedicated to preserving the local population of the endangered species which, over the past 200 years, has been on the decline.
Female turtles lay eggs on the beaches of Cayo Largo between April and into autumn and then return to the ocean.
Staff of the sanctuary remove the eggs from their nest and safely rebury them until it's time to hatch.
Visitors can not only feed and interact with the turtles on site but can also take turns burying the eggs (they both look and feel like ping pong balls, by the way).
It’s a pretty cool experience.
While Cuba may not exactly have a reputation as sparkling as its ocean when it comes to its food, the quality is improving – especially if you go off the buffet and hit up the a la carte restaurants.
A lobster lunch at Villa Linda Mar and a dinner at Memories Cayo Largo and another dinner at Taberna at the marina were particular standouts.
"I think people are very happy with the food situation," said Taylor. "I think people come with expectations, but in fact, they've been surprised."
While condiments, particularly the recognizable brand name ones are still tough to find (hot tip: you'll find them at Taberna), Sunwing's landmark importation licence could see them become more widely available.
"It's been something we want to make sure we're delivering on so there's many different ways for food to get to the island," said Taylor. "Some of it is within the country, some of it is outside the country, some of it is through partnerships with Sunwing, but we want to make sure that the level of access to food and the happiness that we're providing to our customers is going beyond expectations. That's an important part of rebuilding the island."
There’s certainly no shortage of rum on the island, and the FAM attendees were treated to a tasting on site at Memories Cayo Largo, trying various varieties of Cuba’s signature Havana Club brand before heading back to Taberna for a white party and group dinner (which, yes, featured condiments like French’s Mustard and Ketchup, Kraft BBQ Sauce, and Tabasco Sauce).
All in all, our time in Cayo Largo was a week of renewal, refreshment, reinvigoration, re-energization, and rediscovery on an island that is rebuilding and eager to, once again, welcome sun and sea-starved Canadian travellers.