Maria la Gorda
Maria la Gorda is in Pinar del Rio province in western Cuba. It is mostly synonymous with the diving camp that is situated there. The entire settlement consists of a hotel, diving centre, small shop, sandy beach and 2 restaurants. However, even if you are not a diver, it is a nice place to spend a night.
There are no public buses to this part of Cuba. You can however book transfers easily through tour agencies.
From Vinales for example a transfer bus leaves daily at 8:00am and returns at 5:00pm - journey time 3hrs cost 15CUC per person. Bear in mind that Maria la Gorda is a long way from anywhere.
If you walk a few kilometers away from the camp, towards the top of the peninsula, you see interesting landscape -- mangrove swamp and the sea are divided by wall of old shells/corals. Some big (50 cm) empty shells there.
This entire peninsula was recently run over by Hurricane Ivan (and subsequently Hurricane Wilma) and it will probably take some time to restore its natural beauty.
Diving is the main activity on offer. A range of options are available, and snorkelling trips go out with every dive (though on one trip there was little to be seen by snorkellers that couldn't be seen by snorkelling from the jetty). There is also a volleyball pitch.
The hotel also advertises that it runs hiking excursions, and other entertainment, but I saw little evidence of any of that.
If you have your own transport it is possible to drive (with a paid guide) to the western end of mainland Cuba. This Wikitraveller was rather disappointed in this trip: it was a long dusty drive with little to see - there's a lighthouse and marina at the end, but we weren't taken round the former and were the only visitors to the latter (they provided sandwiches and beers, not included in the price). We did see a couple of Iguanas from the road, but we'd already seen one within the resort. The highlight was a deep swimming hole with an underground connection to the sea (and containing some tropic fish). This wasn't far from the start of the tour, at the Ecological station, where the road meets the sea on the way in. It was unclear whether you could get there without paying the guide fee (you probably could on foot). Other trips (including hikes) are also available from the station. If you're interested in Cuban birdlife there are a few bits and pieces to be seen. Bee Hummingbirds (the smallest bird in the world) are said to be present on the peninsula but I didn't see any (found them at Playa Larga instead, with the help of a guide). Royal Terns loafed on the piles near the resort entrance and I found some Yellow-headed Warblers and a single Black-throated Green Warbler around a dump not far from the resort - follow a track into the scrubby woodland next to a roadside pool on the inland side of the road half a mile or so from the resort entrance. In spring large black, yellow and red land crabs swarm in their hundreds across the roads (especially after rain) and the inevitable casualties attract scavenging flocks of Turkey Vultures. Quite a sight.
The food at the hotel is pretty foul. The dinner buffet is no good and at 15CUC per person is very bad value. There is also a small a la carte restaurant which is marginally better. When booking the hotel dont take the dinner option - you can decide when you get there if you want to risk the buffet!
In March 2006 we found the food OK.
A decent bar - but taking a bottle of rum with you advisable, and they don't mind.
Hotel Maria la Gorda, CUC 66 for a room with 2 beds (hot water, TV, rich breakfast). This is the only hotel in entire area down from Guane. They have a complex of wooden cabins connected by walkways which were comfortable and pleasant.