Imagine a golden crescent of sand, sparkling azure waters and a brightly painted Cuban village nestling amidst palm trees on the edge of the ocean. Throw in a couple of thatched-roofed beach bars and a scattering of people lounging on the sand, and you will be imagining what Playa los Cocos and the village of La Boca looks like. A Cuban paradise by the sea.
Rafael, our charming and resourceful casa owner in Camaguey, had told us not to leave Cayo Santa Lucia without spending at least one day at Playa los Cocos; and not to leave Playa los Cocos before we’d drunk rum and eaten grilled fish caught by the villagers of La Boca on the beach. It seemed like a challenge of which we were capable.
La Boca and Playa los Cocos stand at the top of Cayo Santa Lucia, about 10km away from the hotel resorts on Playa Santa Lucia. Even though the development on Playa Santa Lucia is pretty low key (especially compared to other Cuban resorts), the contrast with Playa los Cocos couldn’t be more pronounced.
Two wooden shacks serving food and drinks are the only buildings on the beach, beyond this there is no tourist development whatsoever. Only a potholed dirt road connects Playa los Cocos to the rest of the world. I imagine that will change in coming years, but hopefully the salt flats behind the beach, where dozens of flamingos live, might prevent the developers from destroying this atmospheric spot.
We took a taxi to the beach early in the morning, and arranged for the driver to collect us later. When we arrived there was nobody around, so we strolled along the beach away from the village. The shore quickly became rocky, but we found a small beach amidst the rocks that we claimed as our own for a couple of hours. No people, and only the sound of the wind and sea for company. Blissful.
Eventually we were joined by a Cuban couple and their young daughter. Hunger was getting the better of us, so we shuffled off back to the main beach to see if the bars had opened. They had and a couple of dozen people, Cubans and tourists, had arrived on the beach. We had a delicious lunch of fish and prawns washed down with cold beer at the El Bucanero restaurant, and then hired a couple of loungers for the rest of the day.
I’m not very good at sitting on the beach, so after a while I took off to go and explore the village of La Boca and the coast further around the headland. The village is small, dirt roads and weather-beaten wooden houses give it a ramshackle and careworn feeling. People are friendly though, and I was invited into one house by a man who was keen to show me a whalebone from a whale that had washed ashore.
Walking further down the deserted coast was fantastic. A sailing boat passed close to the coast, some fishermen floated in inflated tire inner tubes, and a few seabirds wheeled overhead. I took swim from a small patch of sand and bobbed around for a while before heading back to the main beach. It was idyllic.