By Mayté Solano Gómez
Cuba is, par excellence, a sun and beach destination. The weather, almost always warm and sunny, is favourable for nautical activities practically all year. Bathing at the beautiful beaches of the island is really something that every foreign visitor should do.
Join us in this publication and learn about the best beaches in Cuba.
Map of Cuba Beaches
Santa Lucia Beach
Located in the city of Camagüey, in the centre of Cuba, Santa Lucía beach is one of the main tourist destinations for sea and sun in the country. Nestled in a practically virgin environment, its calm waters are ideal for nautical activities, such as diving, snorkelling, kite surfing and fishing. Even underwater photo-hunting is possible.
As this beach is on the north coast of the island, it shares with the other keys in the region the protection of the second largest coral reef in the world, after the Australian one. Hence, enjoying the marine fauna is a spectacle that is really worth experiencing. Other examples of wildlife that can be spotted on the beach are flamingos, pelicans and iguanas.
For the accommodation of tourists, there are 6 hotel facilities in the area, 3 and 4 stars. Also, if you prefer to be in direct contact with Cubans, or perhaps save money, staying in a private house in the city is the best option. From them, you can arrange transportation to and from the beach, which is located about 109 km from the city of Camagüey.
Esmeralda Beach, Guardalavaca
Another of the best beaches in Cuba is located in the east of the island, in the province of Holguín. It is Esmeralda beach, in Guardalavaca. The name of this beautiful natural reserve comess from the light green colour of its waters, which resembles that of this precious gem. Surrounded by cliffs, steep slopes and a large variety of vegetation, this is also an ideal place to enjoy sailing, diving and snorkelling.
However, to enjoy these warm waters, you must stay in one of the hotels there, 4 and 5 stars. To get there, you go through the Holguín international airport, just 72 km away.
Rancho Luna Beach
Located in the central province of Cienfuegos, this beach is very popular with national and foreign tourists during the vacation period in Cuba, in July and August. However, it is well worth bathing in these crystal blue waters, as well as diving and enjoying the concentrations of corals and sunken ships in the area. It is also possible to admire the largest columnar coral in the entire American continent, 5 m high, called “Notre Dame”.
The Hotel Club Amigo Rancho Luna is a very good option, although if you prefer to save money and also be in direct contact with the local population, you can stay at the casa particular Casa Prado Center. Its owners will help you to book transport to visit the beach or to take other excursions to places of interest in the area.
Just 10 km from the city of Trinidad is Ancón beach, known as one of the best beaches in southern Cuba. This wonderful beach offers excellent opportunitie to explore the coral reef. The area, ideal for lovers of snorkelling or diving, has more than twenty dive sites. In addition, it has an important archaeological reserve in which there are countless ships and galleons from the colonial era, when corsairs and pirates prowled the sea off nearby and tried to attack the town of Trinidad.
From the city, you can go to Ancón beach by private taxis, using the help of the owners of the private houses. In this sense, although the Ancón Hotel is also located on this beach, the best option if you want to know the town, a Cultural Heritage of Humanity, is to stay in private houses. Many of them colonial, such as Hostal Casa Cofradía, bear testimony to the architecture of the time of Spanish colonization.
I must also tell you about the keys of Cuba. For many of those who have visited the island, these are a true paradise on earth. For this reason, the beaches of many of these keys are among the best beaches on the island, in the Caribbean and even in the world.
In the north-western area of Cuba, near the province of Pinar del Río, by the Viñales Valley, lies Cayo Jutías, which has some of the most unspoilt beaches in the region, with white sands and transparent turquoise waters. As there are no places for lodging in the key, visiting it involves round trip, from any private house in the vicinity. Despite this, diving, snorkelling and riding water bikes are some of the recreational activities available in this paradisiacal key. The lighthouse, one of the oldest in Cuba, is another attraction.
As for the beach, the main area of the key is usually rather crowded and does not represent an extraordinary landscape. However, after about an hour’s walk along the coast, you can find the place that justifies this key’s place on the list of the most beautiful beaches in Cuba. On the way and on this beach, a wide variety of flora and fauna can be observed, from mangroves and pines to crabs and starfish.
The key and the mainland are linked by a pedraplén (a road built on a base of rocks deposited on the seabed). The famous collective taxis that make it so easy for tourists to get around, will take you there and back, for a reasonable price. If you are staying in a private house like Casa Marcelito, the owners will help you to book this transport safely. In any case, you must bear in mind that the access road to the key is really in poor condition.
Cayo Levisa & Punta Arena beach
Also close to Viñales is the unspoilt Cayo Levisa. The link between the big island and the key is by a ferry. Although there is a hotel for the exclusive accommodation of international tourists, you can also visit it by organizing a day trip. Among the fauna and flora of the place you can see small forests of pines and mangroves, pelicans and other large birds. Diving is also possible, to enjoy the beauty of the marine habitat.
Among the local beaches, Punta Arena is considered one of the best beaches in Cuba. Fine white sands, starfish and amazingly clear and blue-green waters characterize this place, not too frequented by tourists.
In the eastern part of the country, close to Holguín province, is the Cayo Saetía natural park, linked to the big island by an animal control bridge. Zebras, water buffalo, wild boar, ostriches and different species of antelope and deer can be seen roaming freely. Jeep excursions to the reserve can be organized, from the tourist facilities, including the 3-star resort that the key has for the accommodation of its visitors.
The waters that surround the key are great for activities such as diving and snorkelling so that you can enjoy the wonderful experience provided by the beautiful reefs and coral banks. The calm and crystalline waters of the beaches, together with the other natural attractions, make this key one of the best in Cuba to enjoy.
Cayos Santa María, Las Brujas & Playa Mégano, in Cayo Ensenachos
In the central region, on the north coast of Villa Clara, there is a group of small islands, among more than 500 scattered islets. Some of them are the Santa María, Las Brujas and Ensenachos keys, right next to the second largest coral reef on the planet.
For lovers of nature and virgin landscapes, both the marine and the terrestrial flora and fauna show the richness and natural variety of these keys, which the authorities of the country try so hard to preserve. So, while you walk the beautiful beaches, in addition to enjoying the fine white sand and the crystal clear and calm waters, you will see many varieties of amphibians, reptiles, fish and birds.
The main route to get to these keys is along a 48km pedraplen, an enjoyable trip, since it has 46 bridges that allow the normal flow of waters and marine fauna to be maintained, thus avoiding causing damage to marine ecosystems.
In terms of accommodation, there are no private houses within the keys, but high-comfort hotel facilities and top-quality services. However, taking into account the proximity to Caibarién, in the province of Villa Clara, it is possible to stay in private houses in the region and, from there, make excursions to the beaches of the keys.
Cayo Santa Maria
It is the last to be reached from the mainland and the largest. Its beaches are more popular with tourists, so the recreational activities are more varied. The high season surge here is usually higher than in the rest of the keys, although it does not disturb the excellence of the beaches at all. It has some 4 and 5-star hotel facilities, including bungalows, with various bars and buffet and specialized restaurants, swimming pool, gyms and tennis courts, and facilities for snorkelling, diving and other nautical activities. Options for children are also guaranteed.
Cayo Las Brujas
It has a Marlin Marina and an international diving centre, with certified instructors, making it an ideal destination for water sports. It also has an operational airport with capacity for small and medium-sized aircraft. For the accommodation of its visitors there is Villa Las Brujas, recognized as one of the most beautiful hotels in the country, with 3 stars category bungalows very well integrated into the landscape.
It is the smallest key, but it contains the best beaches in the region. One of them, Mégano beach, is among the best beaches in Cuba. Under the motto “One island, one hotel”, there is only one facility of this type, a 5-star category hotel, for adults only, but with all the comfort and luxury that one could wish for. Playa Mégano, another of the best beaches in Cuba, offers more service alternatives as it is close to restaurants and hotel complexes. Also close to a diving centre, it offers the chance to try lot of nautical activities.
Cayo Largo del Sur and Punta Mal Tiempo beach
In the western and southern region of Cuba, near the Isla de la Juventud, is Cayo Largo del Sur, by some considered the best key on the island. It also has some of the best beaches in Cuba and the entire Caribbean.
With a rich variety of flora and fauna, in any of the places in this key, you will be able to see iguanas, flamingos, turtles and pelicans. If you snorkel or dive, you will enjoy the beauty of the coral reefs and the sealife. There is also a sea turtle rescue centre, which contributes to the breeding and conservation of this species.
Cayo Largo can be reached, from Havana or Varadero, by air. There are no private houses to stay here either, only hotels. But if you stay in private houses in Havana, you can organize daily excursions, which include the roundtrip flight and a catamaran tour of the different beaches and islands in the area.
In Cayo Largo, one of the top beaches is Playa Punta Mal Tiempo, an unspoilt beach located between Playa Blanca and Playa Paraíso. It is made up of small coral reefs and natural pools where you can see fish, starfish and other marine species in the crystal-clear waters.
Sirena Beach, in Cayo Largo del Sur
Also in Cayo Largo is Playa Sirena, ranked among the best beaches in the Caribbean. Along with others located on the same key, such as Playa Tortuga and Cayo Iguana beach, this natural, almost virgin paradise is the ideal place for lovers of nudism and toplessness.
It is the most famous beach in Cuba and also the best known internationally. What most distinguishes it, in addition to its natural attractions, is the wide range of luxury hotels, mostly belonging to the Iberostar and Meliá hotel chains.
However, these facilities are located in a limited part of the extensive area (22 km) encompassed by the beaches of Varadero. This means that, if you walk along the coast, you can find quieter paradisiacal beaches, without buildings. Visitors can also go diving and enjoy marine life and sunken ships in this area.
Other conveniences of Varadero are the proximity to Havana, just 2 hours away if you travel by private or collective taxis and the existence of an international airport. In the case of the proximity to the capital, this could also be an inconvenience, since it also means a greater influx of Cuban tourists who also seek to enjoy the sun and the beautiful and refreshing waters of this beach.
Playa Larga, in Cayo Coco
Cayo Coco is considered one of the best keys in Cuba, with multiple virgin beaches and a rich flora and fauna. Located on the north coast of the central province of Ciego de Ávila, it has several beaches. The best known in the region are Playa Larga, Las Coloradas, El Paso and Playa Flamencos.
Other attractions of the key, in addition to the all-inclusive resorts on the north coast, are the natural features, which include lagoons and swamps, where you can see, among many other animals, a native colony of pink flamingos, one of the largest in America.
In Cayo Coco, there are high-comfort hotel facilities, we recommended enjoying at least 2 days here. They have artificial lakes and a wide range of recreational facilities. However, it is also possible to stay in private houses in the city of Morón and, from there, visit the key.
Playa Larga has been included in lists of the best beaches in the world, ranking even in recent years in better positions than Varadero beach. The white sand beaches and exceptional coral reefs mean you can dive and immerse yourself in its waters, enjoying the beauty of the marine flora and fauna, a well as the sun and tranquility of the surroundings.
El Pilar Beach, in Cayo Guillermo
Considered one of the best beaches in Cuba, El Pilar is another world famous beach. Located in Cayo Guillermo, the environment is particularly unspoilt. It is protected by an immense sand dune and the waters are so limpid and transparent that you can see the marine life with the naked eye, such as starfish and fish of multiple colours and coral.
Cayo Guillermo is located in the Jardines del Rey archipelago, north of the province of Ciego de Ávila. Close to Cayo Coco, it is also accessed by the same pedraplen that borders the north of this key. With an area of only 13 km2, it is one of the smallest keys with tourist facilities in the area, but it is home to the highest sand dune in the Caribbean. The varied flora and fauna that characterize the keys of this region of Cuba can also be appreciated here, either with the naked eye, while walking on the sand or through the water, or if you decide to dive or go snorkelling along the extensive strip of coral reefs bordering the coast.
For the accommodation of tourists, the key has high-comfort hotel facilities, on an all-inclusive basis, including hotel chain resorts such as Meliá and Iberostar. The first Gay-Friendly LGBT hotel in Cuba is also here. For cheaper accommodation options that will allow you to be in direct contact with Cubans, you can stay in private homes in the province of Ciego de Ávila and go on excursions to the key. Other beaches in Cayo Guillermo where you can enjoy the warm and pristine waters are Playa del Paso and Playa del Medio.
In the case of Playa El Pilar, it bears the same name as the boat of the famous North American writer and Nobel Prize winner Ernest Hemingway, who was a regular visitor to this island and for whom this was one of the most beautiful beaches in Cuba and the Caribbean.
Playa Paraíso, in Cayo Largo
It is definitely for many the best beach in Cuba and also tops the list of the best beaches in the world. No comment … I will let the images do the talking.
What to keep in mind when visiting the beaches of Cuba
To finish, I think it is important to share some useful tips for when you visit the beaches of Cuba.
- Avoid sunbathing between 12 noon and 4 in the afternoon. It is the moment when solar radiation is most intense. And in Cuba you do feel the heat. In any case, always wear sunscreen, the higher the sun protection factor, the better.
- Always carry repellent for mosquitoes and insects. In Cuba these animals are very common, especially in coastal and beach areas and, although most of them do not cause diseases, you can suffer a lot from itching.
- Get yourself a tent, either to protect yourself from the sun at the hours when it shines brightest or to spend the night on the shore of the beach.
- Always carry bottled water with you, never from the tap. On the beaches and keys you can walk long distances to enjoy all the natural beauties, but you must constantly hydrate and you will not always find somewhere to buy water.
- It is not necessary go to the beach with a passport, visas or other official documents. You won’t need them unless you need to withdraw money from a bank. If you want to feel more secure, just having a photocopy of your identification document will be enough, and thus you avoid losing them.
- If you go to the beach, wear light clothes.
Well, nothing more. I hope if you visit Cuba you will not miss some of the best beaches on this beautiful island.
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