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November 4h, 2001 - Hurricane Michelle hit Cayo Largo

Most Cayo Largo lovers probably know it by now... Our small island was tremendously shaken by the passage of hurricane Michelle on November 4, 2001. It was the biggest hurricane (level 4) to hit Cayo Largo since it's opened to tourists. Winds reaching more than 250 kph accompanied by torrent rains swept the island and created a 6-meter storm surge. The sea invaded the lands which were submerge under 1 to 2 meters of water for a few hours.

This fury left behind many destructions, but the Cubans are not easily impressed, the've seen this before! I will explain below how they quickly and courageously orchestrate the rebirth of this tourist pole.

During the few months following the hurricane, We kept in touch with some Cuban friends who informed us about the current situation. Then we returned to Cayo Largo at the end of March 2002 for 2 weeks (it was 5 months after the hurricane) and then again at the beginning of July 2002 for one week.

Please note that the following informations are NON-OFFICIAL, they come from reports of several persons and from our own personal experience and observations. This hurricane was the worst to hit Cayo Largo for many many years. As Cayo Largo is a small island, it has no effect on the hurricane.

Here is a chronology of the events :

Thursday, November 1st, 2001

  • Yes it's now confirmed, the hurricane will pass through the Canarreos Archipelago, Cayo Largo will be hit.
  • In the afternoon begins the evacuation of approximately 500 tourists and 1500 employees. Everything was well organized and went smooth and quickly. The tourists were brought to Varadero.
  • Friday & Saturday, November 2nd & 3rd, 2001

  • 142 (brave!) Cubans stayed on the island and continued to protect as much as possible the infrastructures for the imminent passage of the hurricane. The boats in the marina were brought to the channels in the north of the island. The night between Saturday and Sunday was already pretty much shaky!
  • Sunday, November 4th, 2001

  • In the late morning, the hurricane Michelle (coming from South America) hits Cayo Largo directly! It's still a level 4! (the maximum is 5).
  • In the afternoon the hurricane's eye passed on Cayo largo offering a short respite. Everything went relatively calm for some time and even the sun shined through.
  • Then... Hell again! The second part of Michelle swept Cayo Largo, causing many more damages to the vegetation and infrastructures than the first part.
  • And, as if it was not enough already, here comes the flood! At the end of the afternoon, the most part of the island is submerged. However, fortunately all this water was then quickly reabsorbed (in approximately 2 hours).
  • The good news: no one was killed, no one was severely injured!
  • The following days

  • The good weather returns, but Cayo Largo is cut from the world, no electricity, no telephone, the airport is closed.
  • A flight in helicopter over the island was organized to be able to see and film the damages. We had the opportunity to view a part of this videotape and looked at the pictures taken. It was not a pretty sight.
  • The damages are numerous: debris everywhere, torn off roofs, broken windows, uprooted trees and shrubs, trees which lost their leaves...and... oh NO! Our favorite hotel (villa Capricho) was the most affected.
  • At the marina, the tiles from the quays were floating everywhere (they will later be recovered) and some boats ran aground but are recoverable.
  • November and December 2001

  • The destination is closed for the big cleaning and repairs. Our trip scheduled for December 8 was cancelled (this had been giving us the chance to discover Cayo Santa Maria).
  • The quick recovery of Cayo Largo has been made possible by all the tremendous efforts made by the Cubans and their will to reopen the destination as soon as possible.
  • The decision was made to destroy completely the hotel Villa Capricho which was damaged beyond repairs.
  • In mid-December the airport reopened to international flights, and the marina Puerto Sol was again functional and able to offer the usual services and excursions.
  • The sea withdrew from the beaches which recovered beautifully, especially on the western part of the island.
  • December 20th, 2001

  • Reopening of the Hotel Sol Club (Sol Melia)
  • The hotel is as beautiful as before! However, unfortunately most Tour Operators did not resume yet their Cayo Largo program, leaving the hotel almost empty for a while.
  • February 2nd, 2002

  • Reopening of Hotel Isla del Sur.
  • This hotel underwent many restorations, changes and improvements. It was ready in time for the celebrations of the 20th anniversary of Cayo Largo as a tourist pole. This hotel was the first of Cayo Largo.
  • The Italian Tour Operator resumed its Cayo Largo program, booking all the rooms at the Isla del Sur.
  • March 18th, 2002

  • Reopening of Hotel Villa Lindamar.
  • The huts are as pretty and inviting as before!
  • Cubana Airline opened a weekly flight from Montreal (QC, Canada) to Cayo Largo (direct).
  • Some Canadian Tour Operators started again to offer their all-inclusive package to Hotel Sol Club and Lindamar.
  • March 25th to April 8th, 2002

  • We went back to Cayo Largo, we stayed one week at the Lindamar and one week at Sol Club. We were pleasantly surprised by the current state of the island! The 3 hotels which are reopened are really impeccable and the beaches are superb! At first glance it's almost hard to believe that the island was so recently hit by a hurricane! However, by looking more closely we saw that much still remains to be made, especially in the repairs of the other hotels. We were also very sad to see the damages to the vegetation. However, we had already many proofs that the tremendous efforts made by the Cubans and the capacity of nature to recover will erase soon the traces of this unhappy event!!!
  • End of May 2002

  • The German Tour Operator resumed its Cayo Largo program.
  • July 1 to 8, 2002

  • We are back again to Cayo Largo, for one week at Villa Lindamar.
  • The only hotels reopened are still: Sol Club, Isla del Sur and Lindamar.
  • They began the repairs to Hotel Soledad and Pelicano. The construction of the new Barcelo hotel, which has been delayed due to the hurricane, seems to be progressing. We were told that ALL the hotels, except Villa Capricho and Villa Iguana, are supposed to be reopened before the end of 2002.
  • Playa Paraiso and Playa Sirena are definitely wider and more beautiful than before the hurricane!
  • October 2002

  • Two other hurricanes (Isidore and Lili) of lesser intensity hit again Cayo Largo. They didn't cause too many damages to the hotels, but they made the beaches on the east side of the hotel zone disappeared. These two storms also affected the progression of the recovery efforts and especially the construction of the new hotel Barcelo at the West end of the hotel zone.
  • December 15th, 2002

  • It's the beginning of the High Season and the reopening of hotels: Sol Pelicano, Villa Soledad & Villa Coral
  • The Villa Iguana is too much damaged, reopening is undetermined, they are using a part of it for the workers. Villa Capricho is completely gone!
  • There are important delays on the construction of the new Barcelo hotel, it was also scheduled to open its doors on December 15, 2002. The opening is delayed to later in 2003.
  • Begining of 2003

  • The beaches on the East side of the hotel zone are slowly coming back.
  • Voilà! It was the sad story about the passage of hurricane Michelle and aftermaths for the following year. Bravo for the courage of all the Cubans who went through this sad event and were involved in the recovery efforts! Let's all hope that this little paradise will never again be hit as strongly!

    Click HERE to browse photos of this hurricane in 2001.

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    About the authors ... We are Lily and Normand, globetrotters and Cuba lovers. Our travels took us to many wonderful countries around the world, but Cuba will always have a special place in our heart. We have been there more than fifty times. We like to call it our "segunda casa". We are Canadians and we need to escape our harsh and long winters once and a while! Traveling and building personal websites are our greatest passions. The information which is ensued there is simply from our experience and appreciation as travelers. Our sites are non-officials and opened to general public. In spite of we did our best to share the most exact informations, we cannot be held responsible for changes, errors or omissions. No part of this website may be reproduced, modified, distributed, published, broadcast, retransmitted or circulated in any form without our prior consent.