To be honest, I’ve never been a fan of all-inclusive resorts. As an avid photographer and anthropologist, I enjoy nothing more than walking through streets bustling with activity and immersing myself in local culture. So when our UK-based travel agent, who helped us plan our weddingmoon in Cuba, suggested spending a week in a beach resort in Varadero (the country’s tourist mecca), I wanted to reply with a big fat ‘no’.
However, before I could voice my apprehension about being stuck in an all-inclusive resort with drunk holidaymakers and screaming children, Douglas turned to me with a beam on his face, and said, “Can you imagine that? A week of just sitting on the beach, doing absolutely nothing.”
After learning that staying at a resort would be the easiest way for us to get married in Cuba, I decided to swallow my pride and do something very touristy for once. I started to feel better about my decision once I found out that we would be staying at an adults-only resort.
We arrived at the Royalton Hicacos Resort & Spa on a humid December night, and by noon the next day I had fallen in love with the place.
Our days at the resort were mostly spent watching stunning sunsets on the beach, gorging on delicious food, drinking cocktails in the cool shade and absorbing beautiful Cuban music. However, not only did we get to spend a week in paradise – we even got married in paradise.
I have decided to write this review about the Royalton Hicacos for two main reasons:
1. We truly loved the resort and I’d like to share with you some of the amazing things about the place.
2. I’d like to show you that even the adventurous traveller can enjoy a few days at an all-inclusive beach resort.
What we loved about the Royalton Hicacos
This was the first time that Douglas and I stayed at a luxury resort, and we weren’t expecting to have a room that is bigger than our Edinburgh flat. Our junior suite was complete with a wee living room and a large balcony. We were also delighted to find a huge bath and a bed that could sleep four people. Our fridge was stocked with local soft drinks and beer, and it was re-stocked daily – as was our supply of coffee. Moreover, the room was always cool and we never found it too hot or too cold.
The rooms at the Royalton Hicacos are located in quiet areas, most of them overlooking the resort’s gardens. It didn’t feel like we were at a hotel – in fact, our room was more like a wee flat by the sea.
We also didn’t expect to find such a wide variety of food at the buffet restaurant. We were spoilt, truly spoilt. While I don’t normally have anything for breakfast, it was difficult to resist the delicious selection of salads, cheese and cakes. I had big breakfasts, and I ate even more at lunchtime and dinner, when the tables were lined with dishes laden with meat, seafood, rice, fresh vegetables and more cakes. We also got to try different local fruits and fresh juices.
The resort also has a few a la carte restaurants. We dined at the Beach Grill on our wedding night, where I enjoyed a fresh lobster while listening to the sound of waves and some lovely live music.
I cannot speak highly enough of the staff at the Royalton Hicacos. They took great care of us throughout our stay, and the wedding organiser helped us make our wedding day a dream come true. Our butlers greeted us every day to make sure everything was OK, and the waiters at the buffet restaurant were always up for a chat. The barmen at the lobby bar served me piña coladas with a lovely smile, and the maid surprised us with a spotless room and cute towel animals every single day.
On our third day at the resort we had a quick meeting with the front desk manager. The resort takes customer feedback very seriously, and we found out that the manager tries to meet with all guests at the resort to listen to their recommendations.
The Resort Grounds
The resort is spread out along the beach and is located in a beautiful green area. The main pool is just behind the lobby bar and the buffet restaurant, and there is a smaller pool situated in a quieter area closer to the rooms. You can access the beach through a path among the trees, and the palm garden behind the beach is a lovely place for an evening stroll.
There are also a few shops in the resort, including a pharmacy and a few souvenir shops, so you don’t need to go into town to buy things like mosquito spray or beachwear.
Pairing adventure with relaxation
While we did spend most of our days at the resort just reading and sunbathing on the beach (and stuffing our bellies with food), we also ventured out of the resort on a wee adventure. The resort is located quite close to the Varahicacos Ecological Reserve, which is home to some interesting natural wonders, including Cueva de Ambrosio: a historic cave with ancient pictographs and hundreds of bats.
Cueva de Ambrosio is just a 15-minute walk from the Royalton. Entrance fee is 5 CUC and you get a guided tour. If the ticket kiosk is open but there’s no one there, just walk into the cave and yell ‘hello’- there’s only one guide, so if he’s not at the kiosk you’ll probably find him showing tourists around the cave.
If you’re not comfortable being around bats, then you might want to skip Cueva de Ambrosio and head straight to the Muslims Trail which is located further up the road.
The Muslims Trail in the Varahicacos Ecological Reserve is the best site for viewing local flora and wildlife. The trail also takes you to a cave containing human remains that are over 2, 500 years old. If you’re lucky, you might also be able to spot freshwater crabs and iguanas. Admission fee is 5 CUC and you get a wee paper with information about the various stops along the trail.
If you’re thinking of visiting Cueva de Ambrosio and the Muslims Trail on the same day, I suggest leaving the resort around 10 or 11 so that you are back in time for lunch at the buffet restaurant (lunch service ends at 3pm). However, you can always grab a bite to eat from the resort’s 24-hour bistro.
My top tips for staying at the Royalton Hicacos
1. Use a mosquito spray, especially when you’re outside at dawn and sunset. Take it with you to the Ecological Reserve – I got quite a few mosquito bites when we were there. You can buy the spray from the pharmacy at the resort.
2. We visited Cuba in December and the weather was perfect – it wasn’t too hot and there was often a nice breeze during the day. We did get a couple of rainy and windy days while we were at the resort, but you can still enjoy a nice walk on the beach if the sea is too rough for a swim.
3. Make sure you get to watch the sunset on the beach. If you’re there in December, head to the beach around 5pm.
4. There’s no need to buy an adapter if you forget to pack one – just ask for one at the reception desk.
5. You can buy WIFI cards for 1 CUC per hour from the resort, so there’s no need to buy them in advance from Havana. In fact, WIFI cards at our Havana hotel cost more than 1 CUC. This post contains affiliate links. This means that I may receive a commission on any purchases made through the links in the post at no extra cost to you.
This post contains affiliate links. This means that I may receive a commission on any purchases made through the links in the post at no extra cost to you.