Best Cuba Beaches

Varadero beach, along with one of the many all-inclusive hotels lining the sands. Photo by laslovarga

Cuba Beaches overview

Cuba’s best beaches are hugely long Varadero (2 hours from Havana) and Guardalavaca (3 hours from Santiago de Cuba). Otherwise the best beaches are mostly on offshore islands (Cays)  well away from Cuban culture – which is a great pity as the lively, colorful culture is what makes Cuba so special in the Caribbean.

*** Varadero  beach on Cuba’s north coast occupies most of a 21 kms (13 miles) peninsula with soft, clean, light brown sand and  warm clear water averaging a warm 25C/77F and shelving gently. Large comfortable beach resort hotels – efficient and good value –  line the entire stretch. Varadero air temperatures are also pleasant ranging from 24-30C/67-86F in summer and around 21C/70F in winter with cool breezes from the Gulf of Mexico taking the hot edge off.
Stay away during the storm season August-October as this means not only rain and wind but also cloud, seaweed in the sea and on beaches, cloudy waters and more mosquitoes.
In October 2016 a massive Category 4 hurricane  left a trail of destruction  across the country including storm surges along Cuba’s north coast all the way to the Cayo Coco resort area.

Trivia: Al Capone, USA’s most famous gangster, is supposed to have owned a holiday home in Varadero, and in fact there is a good seafood restaurant called ‘La Casa de Al‘. But though Al ran many prohibition-era operations in Cuba and frequently visited, he almost always stayed in a suite at the Sevilla Biltmore, an elegant hotel in Old Havana which still marks a suite on the 6th floor with his name.

And BTW, Varadero town is quite dull, with few restaurants, clubs or bars of any interest since the beach resorts are keenly all-inclusive, providing most facilities and activities that tourists require.

**Guadalavaca. Excellent beach and resort facilities but very package tour oriented.

**Maria La Gorda. A good beach, especially for divers, but far from anywhere and tough to get to.

Bay of Pigs (Playa Larga, Playa Giron), untidy but useable and plenty of history and an interesting invasion museum – Museo Girón – nearby.

*Ancon beach on the south coast, near Trinidad, is small and reasonably pleasant with a few sad hotels and many happy sand flies.

***Cayo Largo del Sur, a 25km island off the southeast coast of Cuba hosts two incredible, broad, fine white sand beaches, Playa Paraiso and Playa Sirena.

Weather

Cuba has a comfortable tropical climate with best weather from November-April. The average low temperature in this season is 18C (64F) and average high of 28C (82F) with low rainfall.
Worst: June to October (frequent thunder storms, high rainfall and humidity). Average highs of about 30C (86F) and lows of 23C (73F).

Varadero

Varadero beach with a not-unusual storm cloud passing by. Photo by emmanuel huybrechts

Varadero beach with a not-unusual storm cloud passing by. Photo by emmanuel huybrechts.

Varadero is a no-town, no culture, no excitement, no interest peninsula but it’s coast is packed with a range of efficient, good vale, all-inclusive resorts that cater to any beach-lover’s whim except culture – which can be found in Havana just two hours drive away to the east.

Varadero’s beaches are broad, 20 kms (12. 5 miles) long and pleasantly carpeted in medium-grain light-brown sand. They cannot compete with Cuba’s keys such as Cayo Coco, Cayo Guillermo and Cayo Largo for superb fine, white sand beaches and unspoiled hinterland but the keys are not easy to get to, either requiring a long drive or a domestic flight of an hour or so.

Varadero beach hotel, Cuba

A typical 3-star all-inclusive Varadero resort, Hotel Kawama.

Package deals of a week’s holidayare usually split into 3 days in Havana and 4 in Varadero, or vice-versa, as any longer in Varadero and you’d go mad with boredom. Havana is 85 miles (140 kms) away.

Playa Ancon

Playa Ancon resort, Cuba. Photo by esteban de sousa

Playa Ancon is a fair stretch of white sand and calm, clear water near quaint and colonial Trinidad. It offers decent scuba diving on a coral reef  via a catamaran trip and no development, in other words not at all like Varadero, but hotel quality and other services are very iffy.

The beach enjoys a small snack bar serving burgers, ice-cream and drinks but the public toilets are erratically cleaned and frequently disgusting so consider paying a small fee/buy a drink to use Playa Ancon Hotel facilities. Loungers and parasols are generally available depending on the season.

Beware biting sand flies in the early morning/evening and mosquitoes appearing around sunset.

Getting there/back from Trinidad is easy enough via a short ride on a bus/shuttle bus or if there are more than two visitors it’s not expensive to hire a taxi.

Cayo Largo del Sur beach

Cayo Largo, Playa Sirena.

Cayo Largo (del Sur)

This small, 25km-long (16 miles) island off the southeast coast of Cuba hosts two incredible, broad, fine white sand beaches washed by clear waters (tho’ not much in the way of fish life), Playa Paraiso and Playa Sirena. The beaches are a kilometre apart but you can only walk from one to the other at low tide. Paraiso is more of a nudist beach while Sirena offers the usual tourist facilities but is still mostly unspoiled.

The two beaches are on the south side of Cayo Largo. The north side is home to mangroves, salt flats and cloudy water so may make an interesting visit but it’s not a beach destination.

Both beaches are serviced by beach resort hotels with varied marine activities on offer.

A shuttle train transports people to the beaches from resorts. Basically this is a beach experience island unrelated to Cuban cultural life.

Cayo Ensenachos

Cayo Ensenachos in Cayeria del Norte embraces two spectacular beaches, Playa Ensenachos and Playa Megano, with crystal clear waters and a very gentle drop but they’re private and day entry is expensive unless you stay at the first class hotel Occidental Royal Hideaway Ensenachos.

Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo

Playa Pilar on Cayo Guillermo, Cuba. Photo by jt72

Playa Pilar on Cayo Guillermo. Photo by jt72

These are both accessible by driving from the north-central Cuban mainland on a 27km causeway. The islands are still fairly wild in spite of the construction of an airport and a dozen international all-inclusive resorts. Beaches are beautiful, reasonably unspoiled and offer a wide range of water sports including superb coral snorkelling and diving off the north coast.

Guardalavaca

Esmerelda beach, Guardalavaca, Cuba. Photo by blog-thomascookairlines-com

Guardalavacain far northeast Cuba’s Holguin province encompasses plenty of massive and sophisticated beach resorts, excellent fine white sand up to a kilometre long on the main beach and an enjoyable promenade dotted with palms and flowers. A minitrain connects the main beach with dazzling Esmerelda beach.

Varied water sports are available including swimming with dolphins, coral diving, snorkeling and catamaran cruises, but the area is distinctly lacking in authentic local culture and a long way from city culture. December to April is the best weather and peak season and most tourists fly in to Holguin airport

Santiago de Cuba is Cuba’s second best city and is 3 hours drive from Guardalavaca so it’s a long day trip or better to stay overnight. Not dissimilar to Havana, Santiago is a vibrant and music-loving port awash with old cars and older buildings including an impressive fort.
Tourists needing a break from working out on Guardalavaca’s beaches could do worse than getting a look at real Cuban culture in Santiago de Cuba, though if a Havana trip is already planned too then Santiago tourism is hardly necessary.

Playa Giron

Playa giron, Bay of Pigs, Cuba

Playa Giron, Bay of Pigs, the CIA’s least favourite beach resort. Photo by Ji-Elle.

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