The largest of all Caribbean islands, Cuba is a magical country located south of Key West, Florida. The enchanted country is a part of almost all bucket lists and how can it not! The colonial cities of Cuba haven’t changed much with time, yet they feel as magnificent as ever with shabby facades covering an occasional gold dust.
Traveling to Cuba can often feel like you are trapped in a time warp with grandiose architecture and cobbled streets that tell tales of the times when pirates stalked the Caribbean.
‘Guagas’ or Cuban buses are a popular option of traveling inland from one point to another, while you can also hire a cab or rent a car to travel in style and comfort.
If you are a backpacker on a budget or a traveller who is in desperate need for excitement, hitchhiking is not only the most economical way to travel around the island country, it may also be the most intriguing one.
Funnily, the country has two currencies – the National Peso (26 pesos per dollar) and the Convertible Peso (1 to 1 per dollar).
When in Cuba, take time to spend the night at the Malécon, indulge in some sinfully delicious street food, groove to the tunes of live Cuban jazz music and oh! while you are at it, don’t forget to pay your homage to Ernest Hemingway by visiting his house (now a museum) at Finca Vigía.
Let us now explore some of the best beaches of Cuba – the actual jewels of the country besides its timeless beauty.
1. Playa Paraiso
Playa Paraiso, also known as the Paradise beach is a beautiful, almost untouched beach known for its pristine white sandy coastline and sparkling turquoise water.
Voted as the third most beautiful beach in the world in 2016 by Traveller’s Choice, Playa Paraiso is famous for some of the calmest waters in the island country of Cuba.
Though most of the adventures lay in Playa Sirena, a 20 minutes’ walk from Playa Paraiso, the beach line at the Paradise beach offers a tranquil atmosphere and a perfect getaway from the otherwise hustle and bustle of a usual Cuban beach town.
Don’t expect a fancy hospitality service here but you can enjoy a glass of fresh juice or a bottle of beer at the snack bar.
The hotels are located far away from the serenity of the beach waters but taxis, scooter and jeep rentals, and shuttle services are available to travel back and forth between the hotel zone and the beach.
2. Varadero Beach
One of the most popular beaches in Cuba is the Varadero beach which is known as the complete package deal in terms of a rejuvenating Cuban beach holiday. The splendid, almost-straight 25 km stretch of white, sandy beach runs across the entire peninsula.
Combination of blue and green waters create an exquisite boundary between the mainland and the Florida Straits. And, to top it all, the narrow width of the peninsula ensures that the beach is always just a few steps away.
Though Varadero can’t be called a traditional Cuban place, all because of the extreme influx of tourists and abundance of tourism-related activities, come July and August, the island sees as many native tourists as westerners.
There are over thirty diving sites around the peninsula. If not diving, you can indulge in other water sports such as sailing, snorkelling, fishing, or taking a boat ride in a glass-bottom boat.
To take a break from beach activities, visit the numerous museums and art galleries, spend an evening at the cabaret, and make friends at the bars and cafes.
3. Playa Los Flamencos
Also known as Cayo Coco beach, Playa Los Flamencos is best known for its lavish, all-inclusive resorts. The island is in central Cuba and is a part of Jardines del Rey group of islands.
Named after the coco (white ibis) birds, the island’s 22 km long white sandy beach and sapphire waters are every beach lover’s dream. To find the best beaches of the island, you need to be at the northern coastline where you can also find the best resorts.
Cayo Coco is linked to Cayo Guillermo to the west and Cayo Romano to the east.
The island also has its own international airport – the Jardines del Rey airport. The earlier Cayo Coco airport has been transformed into a natural park.
The 3 km stretch of fine sand and starfish filled clear waters provide a good option for snorkelling.
4. Playa Pilar
Cayo Guillermo or Playa Pilar, a sleepy, laid-back island west of Cayo Coco, is a quieter beach option for those wanting to relax and indulge in fishing and diving.
The island is best known for its colony of 12,000 flamingos which gather here to feed and is a bewitching sight that most visitors come here for. The waters of Playa Pilar are home to abundant marine life such as fish, notably marlin, and is great for deep-sea adventures.
Even though the cay is much smaller as compared to its counterparts, the deserted beach stretch of 4 km gives it a rather infinite feeling.
While the majority of the island’s beaches remain untouched, most of the hotels are clustered around Playa El Medio and Playa El Paso.
Get a day pass to any of the all-inclusive hotels and unwind yourself here.
5. Cayo Las Brujas
Located the nearest to the mainland, Cayo Las Brujas houses the only marina in the area and is home to the least expensive hotels and beach, making it both economical and accessible.
As you arrive at the causeway, the first left turn takes you to the marina via the Villas Las Brujas hotel where only guests and day pass holders are allowed and can access the beach from here provided they are asked to show their passport. Others take the second left turn and end up at the eastern end of the same beach, though the one by the hotel is slightly better.
The island is small, only 7 square kilometres, but along with its two neighbouring cays, Cayo Ensenachos and Cayo Santa Maria, it forms a pleasant resort destination often known as Los Cayos de Villa Clara.
Cayo Las Brujas is known for its stunning beaches, the fine white sands, and clear turquoise water, which all contribute to making it a world-class fishing spot.
6. Cayo Santa Maria
A dolphinarium, two cays – Cayo Las Brujas and Cayo Ensenachos, and several beaches beyond lays the stunning 15 km stretch of white, shiny sand and clear waters of Cayo Santa Maria.
All part of a larger archipelago, Jardines del Rey, Cayo Santa Maria is home to one of the most untouched beaches of northern cays, Playa Perla Blanca.
Though getting to Playa Perla Blanca is a bit of a trek, but the beauty of this stunning beach is open for all to see and enjoy and soak in the magnificence around you while resting on its smooth sand.
Fidel Castro, former prime minister of Cuba, reportedly claimed Cayo Santa Maria to be better than Varadero beach.
7. Cayo Sabinal
A deserted white, sandy beach cay located 25 kilometres west from Santa Lucia, Cayo Sabinal is a class apart from your usual Cuban beach town. The vibe here is so serene and ethereal that it feels almost unreal and supernatural.
Tucked away at the far end of a bumpy dirt track that stretches over 7 km, Cayo Sabinal is still unknown to hybrid commercialism and hence, has its virginity and beauty intact – a characteristic that can’t be associated with too many beaches around the beach country of Cuba.
All the beaches of Cayo Sabinal are on the north of the cay and are marked by signposts visible on the main road approaching the beach area.
Playa Los Pinos is the longest beach in the cay and is manifested by its clear, turquoise waters and wild horses and deer roaming the surrounding woodlands.
8. Cayo Largo
Cayo Largo del Sur, also known simply as Cayo Largo or the ‘Long cay’, is your very own Robinson Crusoe island – deserted and paradise-like. Almost virgin and completely natural, the island of Cayo Largo is far away from commercialization and mass tourism.
One of the very few places in Cuba to have gay-friendly, naturist-friendly, and clothing optional (a section) beaches, Cayo Largo has a laid-back, friendly atmosphere that welcomes one and all with an open heart.
Diving is a popular sport among visitors here and other activities include deep-sea fishing, day boat adventures, dolphin swimming and sunset cruises.
Though the island doesn’t see many tourists as compared to other, more-commercialized islands, a recent survey claims that 75% of the tourists here are repeat visitors.
9. Playa Ancon
Often proclaimed as the best beach in Southern Cuba, Playa Ancon is the largest and the longest beach in the area and boasts clear turquoise waters arched around glistening golden sand.
The beach may be the primary source of attraction in the area, however, Playa Ancon has reserved its natural exquisiteness as best as it could. Trees and shrubs adorn the shoreline and the reefs are totally gorgeous.
Diving in the reefs is quite popular, while Cuba’s colonial jewel, Trinidad is just a stone’s throw away. Fishing excursions such as trolling for the big game, deep-sea fishing adventures, and bottom fishing are also quite prevalent in the area.
Snorkelling to Cayo Blanco is a highly popular excursion among tourists here.
10. Playa Guardalavaca
It is said that Christopher Columbus described Guardalavaca as the most beautiful place he has ever seen in his life. Though we can’t blindly trust his wisdom, Playa Guardalavaca is definitely a sight to behold.
1500 meter stretch of sparkling white sand and rolling hills and green fields full of palms, sea grapes, and tamarind decorating the beach’s backdrop makes the Playa beautiful and equally natural.
The beach is popular among the natives as it is among tourists which provides the entire area a nice and surreal Cuban feel, unlike other tourist-oriented beach towns.
Snorkelling equipment is available for rent around the beach, and hotels and beach resorts are in abundance.
11. Playa Larga
Renowned for the Bay of Pigs invasion, Playa Larga is undoubtedly one of the best beaches in Cuba for economical water activities such as snorkelling and diving.
The dive sites around Bay of Pigs are best suitable for amateur and budget diving enthusiasts. The sites along the shoreline from Playa Larga to Playa Giron are excellent sites for such water excursions. And, most agencies offer equipment and transportation for as low as CUC$25.
The pristine waters of Playa Larga are smooth as glass in the morning while gentle waves roll as the day takes over.
Ample amount of trees around the shoreline offers plenty of shaded area to rest or sunbathe without being sunburnt.
12. Playa Santa Lucia and Playa Los Cocos
Playa Santa Lucia may not be as modernized as the other beaches in Cuba but it is definitely worth a visit because of its excellent diving and shark hand-feeding adventures.
The water here is pleasantly warm and you can walk at least 100 meters out in the sea before you swim.
Though the beach area lacks serious tourist infrastructure, staying at one of the many all-inclusive beach resorts is surely the way to enjoy this paradisiacal town.
Playa Los Cocos in La Boca, although more remote, is undoubtedly a superior beach and one of the best in the country. As compared to the 10-metre-wide coastline of Playa Santa Lucia where you may have to lay in the water if you want to sunbathe, there is actually a beach with fine sand here.
Don’t miss the flamingos on your way to Playa Los Cocos.
13. Playa Coral
As the name suggests, Playa Coral is best known among tourists for its corals and hence, is a highly popular diving site for amateurs and professionals alike.
Located in the Varadero area, Playa Coral is your best bet for shore snorkelling.
There are three options to snorkel at Playa Coral – at the Flora and Fauna Reserve, snorkelling from Playa Coral, and snorkelling before the reserve.
Though you can snorkel yourself from the Playa, the safest option is to do it at the reserve which offers access to the protected section, all equipment, a guide, and an easy entrance to the water for only $10.
Reportedly, there are around 300 species of fish and are easily visible within 10 to 20 meters of dive.
14. Cayo Levisa
Still under the mass tourism radar, Cayo Levisa is considered among the most beautiful beaches of Cuba.
Located approximately from the capital city of Havana, the island can be easily reached from Palma Rubia port, even though the most preferred and stylish way to make your way into the island is on a private yacht.
Cayo Levisa is in the Pinar del Rio province and is best known for its rich black coral habitation, white sandy beaches, and sapphire waters. The island is also a popular site among snorkelers and divers.
The island has one bungalow style hotel (with 20 cottages), a modest restaurant, and a diving centre. There is no causeway here which is why the island is only accessible via boats.
15. Playa del Este
If your idea of heaven is striking sandy beaches, deep blue sea waters, and a vibrant sunset by the beach, you are probably imagining Playa del Este as your heaven.
Located on the eastern side of Havana, Playa del Este is a chain of gold-studded beaches running to a total length of around 10 km.
Budget as well as luxury hotels and resorts décor the shoreline. The region is quite popular among tourists and thus, is well-equipped with all the necessities of a tourism-oriented beach town.
In spite of the influx of tourists, Playa del Este maintains a rustic and time-warped feel which is a breath of fresh air among the otherwise tourist-packed coastlines of Cuba.