Cayo Coco (or “Coco Key” in English) is an island in north central Cuba that is best known for its all-inclusive resorts.
It is located in Ciego de Ávila Province and is part of a chain of islands called Jardines del Rey (“King’s Gardens”). The cay is administered by the Morón municipality and is named after the white ibis, a local bird called coco (coconut) birds. The island’s long white beaches and remote location have been a major attraction since it was first developed in the 1980s.
The causeway linking Cayo Coco to the mainland is 17 miles long and runs across Perros Bay (Bahia de Perros). It took 16 months to build and required 110 million cubic feet of stone. The causeway stirred controversy among environmentalists because it disturbed the tidal flow, thus changing the salinity and temperature of the water. A number of gaps were created in the causeway to restore some water flow. Wild flamingos still live in the shallow waters of the bay and can often be seen from the causeway. Two short causeways link Cayo Coco to Cayo Guillermo (to the west) and Cayo Romano (to the east).
Still largely wild with swamps and scrub land populated by wild cattle, the islands have attracted about a dozen large international hotels developments totaling about 5,000 rooms. The Jardines del Rey project plans to expand to 32,000 rooms. Massive coral reef off the north coast attracts divers from around the world.
As of 2016, resorts in the area includes:
- Pullman Cayo Coco (Accor group) (566 rooms) – immediately East of the Melia Cayo Coco
- Iberostar Playa Pilar (482 rooms) West area of Playa Pilar (Cayo Guillermo)
- Hotel Colonial Cayo Coco (formerly the Guitart Cayo Coco, then Blau Colonial)
- Hotel Playa Cayo Coco (formerly the Sirenis Cayo Coco)
- Hotel Villa Cayo Coco (formerly the Be Live Villa Coco)
- Iberostar Cayo Coco (formerly the Emperador section of the NH Krystal)
- Hotel Olé Mojito (Iberostar group), (formerly the El Senador, NH Krystal La Laguna Villas & Resort,Iberostar Mojito)
- Melia Cayo Coco (Melia group)
- Melia Jardines del Rey (Melia group; 1,176 rooms) – East of the Pestana Cayo Coco
- Memories Caribe Beach Resort (formerly the Blue Bay Cayo Coco)
- Memories Flamenco Beach Resort
- Pestana Cayo Coco Beach Resort
- Sol Cayo Coco (Melia group)
- Tryp Cayo Coco (Melia group)
The island has its own international airport, the Jardines del Rey Airport (Aeropuerto Jardines del Rey; airport codes IATA: CCC, ICAO: MUCC). Since 2005, tourists can fly directly in to the airport on Cayo Coco. An earlier airport, the Cayo Coco Airport has been reclaimed as a small natural park called Parque Natural El Baga.
The Jardines served as Ernest Hemingway’s favorite retreat while in Cuba – and a source of background setting for his writing. During World War II they were the site of his submarine-hunting missions. He outfitted his fishing boat, the Pilar, with US Navy-issue machine guns, hand grenades, and explosives, and set out to destroy German U-boats. Hemingway later won the 1954 Nobel Prize for Literature mainly for his book, The Old Man and the Sea, which was written in Cuba and based on a Cuban fable.
Hemingway’s experiences in the archipelago became the setting for the closing scene of Hemingway’s last novel, ‘Islands in the Stream.’ They appeared as a, “line of green keys that showed like black hedges sticking up from the water and then acquired shape and greenness and finally sandy beaches.” Hudson, the main character in the novel, engages shipwrecked German submariners and dies of a machine gun blast.
“[Hudson] looked up at the white-painted house and the tall old-fashioned light and then past the high rock to the green mangrove keys and beyond them the low, rocky, barren tip of Cayo Romano,” Hemingway writes.