Most Cuba-bound travelers are in search of its timeless colonial and revolutionary history, its famously warm culture, vintage cars, sultry salsa music, and weathered architecture. For those looking to relax, the beaches are the cherry on top. Cuba’s 3,570 miles of coastline are sure to fit the image you’ve conjured of a classic Caribbean paradise: sugar-white sand, clear water painting itself shades of emerald and sapphire, a peppering of palm trees and clumpy cumulus clouds drifting overhead. Here are the six best Cuba beaches:
Playa los Pinos
Located on Cayo (key) Sabinal, Playa los Pinos is one of the most well-kept secrets on the island. However, getting there isn’t for the faint hearted — you’ll have to really want that slice of paradise. There’s no public transportation and the dirt access ‘road’ winds through tropical jungles, marshes, and wild animals. Keep an eye out for the white signpost and head for the sand. Again — this is as remote as it gets for Cuban beaches, so be sure to bring enough water, food, and any snorkeling gear to explore the untouched coral reefs. The journey is well worth it to lie on one of the best beaches in the country.
Cayo Santa María
The Jardines del Rey is an archipelago that parallels the northern coast of Cuba, and Cayo Santa María is an idyllic little gem located at its northern tip. Connected to the mainland by just a narrow mangrove-lined causeway, approaching the beach is a gentle introduction to its lifestyle. You’ll pass by fields of sugar cane, cattle, palms and tobacco plants, as well as cowboys, horse-drawn carts, and antique Chevrolets. The beach and town are fairly built-up with lots of options for all-inclusive resorts. The fine white sands and turquoise waters at Santa María are almost laughable; you’ll be pinching yourself to make sure this is still real life.
Ernest Hemingway had it right: once you reach a certain age, the best thing to do is pack your bags and move to a far-off Caribbean paradise. Around 1940 he set up shop in Cuba and frequented Cayo Levisa — so you know it’s been pre-approved by a romantic novelist. Today, Cayo Levisa is a nice middle ground between a deserted island and overdeveloped tourist trap. The paradise is dotted with beach bungalow-style hotels, a few restaurants, and a pretty impressive diving center. It’s not connected to the mainland, so getting there involves a beautiful 35-minute ride from Palma Rubia.
Off the southern coast of Cuba’s mainland lies Cayo Largo, another postcard-worthy stretch of sand with Playa Sirena at its western edge. While most of the hotels’ private beaches have limited palm trees and are not protected from wind and surf, Playa Sirena is a beautiful outlier. Lounge in the shade, make the most of the island-vibe restaurants, and rent some toys at the water sports center. If you’re looking to meander around in the buff, the beaches to the east of Playa Sirena are clothing-optional.
Sometimes it feels counterintuitive to travel to a different country only to tuck yourself away on manicured resort beaches. You’re traveling to Cuba, after all, so why not experience its culture? While Playa Ancón is one of the southern coast’s finest stretches of sand, its primary pick-up is its proximity to Trinidad, an ancient colonial town where time has stood still since 1850. Stroll along colorful side streets, lounge in the bustling-but-not-too-bustling central park, and strike up a conversation with friendly locals for tips on where to find the most delicious seafood. Playa Ancón is certainly the best beach for an authentic Cuban experience.
Two hours east of Havana along the northern coast is Playa Verdadero, one of the most popular and well-established beaches on the island. It wouldn’t exactly be characterized as a traditional Cuban destination due to the influx of tourism, but it’s a great spot if you’re looking to have an active vacation by the beach. There are over 30 dive sites around the peninsula and opportunities for sailing, snorkeling, fishing, and glass-bottom boat tours. When you’re sufficiently sun-soaked, head into town and explore the museums, art galleries, bars, and cafes.