Let me ask you a question….
What was the first thing that featured on your ‘Things to do in Cuba’ list when you were planning your trip?
I’m pretty sure that mojito’s made an appearance, as well as driving around in vintage Cadillacs. You probably also jotted down ‘learning to salsa dance’ somewhere near the top of that list, too.
However, I’m willing to bet that the first word you wrote down was: beaches!
If it wasn’t – it should have been.
Cuban beaches are among the most beautiful in the world.
There’s over 300 of them spread over the whole island – and that’s just a rough estimate. A nosey tourist with a lot of time on their hands could probably find even more, especially because the coastline is over 5,000 miles long.
That’s plenty of room in which to fit 300 beaches we know about, plus dozens of hidden little gems.
Best Cuban beaches – well, the most popular ones – are located close to Havana and are usually pretty crowded by the locals. Playa del Este and Playa Jibacoa are stunning – their white, sparkly sands shaded by lush, green palm trees under which you can relax with an ice cold Cuba Libre. The best part is they are only 20 minutes from Havana Vieja and are easy to fit into your itinerary, although they might be a bit difficult to get to without a local guide.
On the other hand, there’s a ton of popular beach resorts in Cuba which treat you to the same, visually stunning, experience and offer a bit more in terms of activities. Varadero Beach is one of them. Snorkeling and diving are really popular in Cuba so if you want to pack your holiday with water activities, a Cuban beach resort such as this one might be your best bet. However, don’t expect any peace and quiet here because you will be elbowing through hordes of tourists.
Stunning Cuban Beaches
Now, I’m going to talk a bit more about each of the beaches I mentioned here but first, let’s take a look at a few that are not so overrun by visitors. If you have a bit more time and plan to see more of Cuba than just Havana, I suggest planning a visit to some of these beautiful Cuban beaches – it will definitely be worth your time.
Punta Frances, Isla de la Juventud
Nestled somewhere around 60 miles south of the south coast, lies La Isla de la Juventud (The Island of Youth). It’s easy to believe that the book Treasure Island was based on this little piece of paradise, especially since this indeed was a spot where pirates and privateers such as Henry Morgan and Sir Francis Drake battled it out with the Spaniards that they so frequently ambushed and robbed.
Punta Frances is a lush, green outcrop of the local National Park and it has some of the most beautiful white sandy beaches in Cuba. It’s a popular diving spot and you’ll also find crocodiles there, so step carefully. The beaches are usually quiet but it might be a good idea to avoid Sundays since that’s when cruise lines disembark and it gets a bit crowded.
Cayo Coco, Jardines del Rey
Located in the archipelago King’s Gardens, is Cayo Coco – one of the most rapidly developing tourist regions in Cuba and the largest key in the archipelago. It boasts 22 miles of pristine, white beaches that were so dear to Ernest Hemingway that he used the key as a backdrop of many of his novels.
Playa los Flamencos is not the biggest of the beaches on Cayo Coco but it is the most serene one. If you’re looking for a place to kick back away from the crowds or to do a bit of snorkeling, this is a spot you should visit.
Playa Girón, Península de Zapata
If you’re visiting Cienfuegos then you’re close to Playa Girón in the infamous Bay of Pigs. Of course, once you’re there you’ll forget all about those power struggles between the US and Cuba and will simply soak up the beauty of the palm tree dotted beach and the crystal clear sea.
Girón Beach is not as crowded as other Cuban beach resorts but it still gets its fair share of tourists, which don’t detract from its magnificence at all. If you’re looking for water-related activities, snorkeling and diving expeditions can be arranged at reasonable prices.
Cayo Guillermo, Jardines del Rey
Cayo Guillermo is another one of Cuba’s islands that featured in a Hemingway novel – this time it was in the ‘Islands in the Stream’. This key is the smallest one in the King’s Gardens but don’t let that dissuade you – beaches stretching for nearly four miles are pristine and white, and almost never crowded.
The most beautiful beach on Cayo Guillermo is perched on its most-western tip and it’s called Playa Pilar. Named after author’s yacht, this beach was his favorite getaway and I’m sure it’s going to become yours as well.
Cayo las Brujas
Two of the most stunning white beaches in Cuba are located on the Cayo las Brujas, loosely translated as the ‘Island of the Witches’ – although it does sound a bit ominous, I assure you, the only thing to be afraid of here is an overdose of freakin’ awesomeness. Playas La Salinas and Caracol are covered with fine, white sand and surrounded by the bluest sea I have ever seen. The water is shallow and the beaches are dotted with palm trees offering a quiet respite from the hot, scorching sun. Leave your phone behind and only take essentials with you when visiting – your shades and a pitcher of ice-cold Margaritas.
Playas del Este, Havana
Playas del Este is sort of an umbrella term for several beaches I already mentioned, the most popular one of which is Santa Maria. This is a great spot to completely laze away the day while staying relatively close to Havana – Santa Maria is only a 30-minute ride by bus.
Playas del Este can get a bit crowded but have all the amenities a tourist would want – places where you can eat at bargain prices and cocktail bars that mix wicked drinks. If you’re staying in Havana and have no plans to visit any of the other beaches, do yourself a favor and go on a day trip to Playas del Este – it’s well-worth it.
Playa Mayor, Varadero
Although it’s located in a tourist hot-spot, Varadero, Playa Mayor still offers the best bang for the money. It’s one of the most developed beaches in Cuba, which means that everything you might want is right there for the taking – great restaurants, bars, and activities. It’s also very clean, with gorgeous white sand and clear, blue waters.
The coastline is dotted with resorts, but don’t let that bother you – all beaches in Cuba are public, which means that you can simply pick a spot on Playa Mayor and relax there without staying at any of the hotels.
Hidden Cuban Beach Gems
The beaches I already listed here will prove enough for most travelers to Cuba. However, if you want a truly unique experience and don’t mind traveling a bit more, there are few more Cuban beaches I can wholeheartedly recommend.
Playa Ancón, Sancti Spíritus Province
Playa Ancón is a short drive from Trinidad, one of the most beautiful towns in the whole of Cuba. After visiting the historical center, simply board a hop-on-hop-off bus or get a taxi (around 8 CUC) and 20 minutes later you will be on a most exquisite beach you’ve ever set your eyes on. Bring some refreshments – although the word on the street is that there are some bars and snack shops open to public now, when I was there I had no such luck. Still, if you’re in the neighborhood it would be a shame not to visit the beach that even Lonely Planet calls ‘the most beautiful white, sandy ribbon on Cuba’.
Playa Tortuga, Cayo Largo del Sur
Turtle beach, or Playa Tortuga, is a natural extension of Playa Blanca on the Cayo Largo del Sur. This island, located south of the mainland and east of the Isla de la Juventud, has kept its natural, under-developed beauty because it’s pretty difficult to reach. Playa Tortuga is covered with fine, white sand and it’s a place that thousands of turtles choose as a nursery.
The eggs, which they deposit into the warm sand, are later collected and incubated at a turtle farm. If you want to witness a true miracle of nature, make sure to visit Playa Tortuga anywhere between May and October and watch these great sea chelonians spawn.
Maria la Gorda, Guanahacabibes
Maria la Gorda beach is located on the westernmost tip of Cuba (almost, because there’s another tip jutting out a bit more right next to it), in the Guanahacabibes Biosphere Reserve which encompasses the whole area.
Getting there is an adventure – personally, I hitchhiked, took the bus, AND paid for a taxi fare before reaching it.
However, it’s totally worth it if you’re looking for a secluded spot surrounded by beautiful nature. Make sure you do some snorkeling and diving while there, but don’t expect any wild parties.
Cayo Levisa, Pinar del Río
Cayo Levisa is located about two hours west of Havana, in the province Pinar del Rio. This small island gem can be reached from the port in Palma Rubia and it’s still very much under the radar. Thanks to its secluded location, Cayo Levisa is a perfect getaway for all who are looking for some peace and quiet under the sun, while at the same time marveling at the untouched nature and the clear, blue Caribbean sea.
Cuban Beaches – Waaaay Too Many to List Here!
So there you have them – my absolutely favorite beaches on Cuba. Now, this is just a nice mix of beaches across the whole island. As I mentioned, there are over 300 of them in Cuba so it would be pretty impossible to list them all here. And anyway, I didn’t really get a chance to visit them all yet. But, I’ll tell you what – if, in your opinion, I’ve missed the best beach in Cuba, by all means, drop down to the comments section and give me a shout. I’ll make sure to visit it when I’m in the neighborhood and it just might make the cut and get included into this list!