Jardines del Rey
By Roberto Campos Phoios: Emilio Herrera & Ferval
In 2007, for the fourth year in a row, the two millionth visitor to Cuba was distinguished with a celebration. This time at Jardines del Rey for Canadian Jehan Belinge on his 14th visit to the keys, where he delights in the level of services and staff attention.
Between the Hicacos Peninsula and Nuevitas Bay off the northeast coast of Cuba, you can see the 465 kilometre long Sabana-Camagüey archipelago, now re-baptized Jardines del Rey, the name given it in 1552 by Spanish conquistador Diego Velázquez in honour of King Ferdinand. The archipelago is home to more than 2 000 islets and keys, the most famous of which is Cayo Coco.
The paradise that is Cayo Coco was recognized by Ernest Hemingway when Islands in the Stream character, Thomas Hudson, discovers the lagoon where hundreds of pink flamingos come to feed.
Today's visitors can not only bask in the spectacle of rosy flamingos flying over their heads but, amid the silence marked by the slow murmur of the waves washing the roots of the mangrove trees, can observe some 200 species of birds and 340 varieties of flora. The "Silver Ibis", the endemic White Ibis also known as the Coco Bird, gave the key its name.
For those whose sense of vacation craves more than bird watching, lolling on 21 kilometres of glistening white sandy beaches, or walking the nature trails to catch glimpses of the island's iguanas and jabalí (wild pigs) — hunting is not permitted — consider water sports.
Although there are places you can walk almost a mile into the sea at knee level, surprises abound in deep sea areas for divers. There are some 30 diving spots around the islet, both for snorkelling or full gear diving. There is a well preserved coral reef waiting to offer its pleasures to both amateurs and experts, and dolphins are frequent visitors.
Cayo Coco can be reached directly by air from Canada, by sea to the Marina Cayo Coco or by driving across the 17 km causeway north from Ciego de Avila.
Reserve early; paradise is popular.