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.