By the middle of February, most of us begin to feel just a little bit desperate for a good beach holiday. Soft, white sand, water as turquoise as it is crystal clear, palm trees silhouetted against the horizon, balmy breezes... For those who are on the verge of booking a spontaneous Caribbean holiday, consider stopping off in Cuba. After dosing up on culture in Havana, you can make an escape to one of these top 10 paradisiacal spots. From remote diving coves to unspoiled island getaways, the best beaches in Cuba are certain to cure any lingering mid-season malaise.
1) Playa Maguana and Playa Nibujón, Baracoa
Located on the remote, tropical eastern edge of Cuba, Baracoa is well off the main tourist track. It isn’t exactly simple to get here – expect to spend hours driving along foothills and lush nature before you greet the sea – but once you do, the rewards are manifold. Bursting with wildlife and cocoa trees, Baracoa is also home to a number of lovely beaches. Playa Maguana is more developed, while Playa Nibujón is a popular with locals.
2) La Boca and Playa Ancón, Trinidad
Falling roughly in the middle of Cuba along the southern Caribbean Sea coastline, the city of Trinidad is a lush UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s also home to a number of glorious beaches. La Boca, a tiny beach town in the region, is as quiet and authentically Cuban as they come. The beach is relatively petite, but the swimming, the local parties, and the music means it always feels vibrant. Those after a more bustling, international scene, meanwhile, can head to the nearby Playa Ancón to get their kicks.
On Cuba’s northern tip, and just 140 km from Havana, Varadero is one of the country’s most popular beach spots for tourists, lined as it is with expansive resorts. Despite the crowds, it’s still very possible to have a chilled out time here. The 20 km beach is a pristine stretch of fine white sand, peppered with beach bars and restaurants that can cater to your every need.
4) María la Gorda
Far out in western Cuba, María la Gorda is famed for having some of the finest scuba and snorkelling conditions in the whole country. Situated within the Peninsula de Gunanahacabibes Nature Preserve, the area is host to dozens of diving points, and a wide array of creatures that call the coast (and its thriving coral reefs) home. After a diving session, wind down with some beach time on a nearby stretch of deserted sand.
5) Playas del Este
For visitors hoping to stay in the vicinity of Havana, not to worry: the Playas del Este beaches are located within easy reach of the city. Comprising six separate beaches, this 24 km piece of coastline is popular but less built up than some of the country’s main resort destinations. Those looking to commune with nature should visit Tarará Beach, where diving opportunities are plentiful, while locals can be found frequenting nearby Guanabo.
6) Isla de la Juventud
While this small island, located off the Cuban mainland, isn’t actually an ‘Island of Youth’ as its name suggests, we think its uncrowded beaches and wild nature combine to make travelling here a truly restorative experience. Relatively free of tourist infrastructure, this beautiful little spot is one of Cuba’s least-trodden corners. Go diving for treasure (rumour has it that buccaneers used to call this part of the world home, at least for a time), before settling into the island’s uniquely languorous pace.
7) Cayo Levisa
A teeny tiny island that’s only accessible by boat, Cayo Levisa is the definition of secluded. Given its petite size, the majority of the islet is made up of glittering beaches. Part of the Los Colorados archipelago, the water here is crystal clear and shallow, making it ideal for wading and snorkelling. See as well if you can schedule a daytrip to nearby Cayo Paraíso, which was a favourite of Hemingway’s.
8) Cayo Largo
While Cayo Largo is a popular resort destination, the fact that the small island lies off the southern coast of the Cuban mainland means that the numbers of visitors are kept in check. It’s eminently possible to soak up the best luxury offerings here, while also having free rein to scuba dive, try your hand at deep-sea fishing, and even explore the beaches on horseback. Just note that the island is also home to a handful of designated nudist beaches.
9) Marea del Portillo, Granma
Wild Marea del Portillo, located in the remote Granma region of southern Cuba, is a beach unlike any others. Its dark sand, frothy waves and windswept appeal make it feel rugged and secluded – perfect for bodyboarding, horseback riding, and other more active pursuits. The picturesque Sierra Maestra Mountains in the backdrop complete the scene.
10) Playa Ingles
Between Cienfuegos and Trinidad, Playa Ingles is one of those most coveted of finds: a near-deserted Cuban beach. Well off the tourist path (the coastline area is only accessible by car), the locals-preferred spot is often empty of all visitors. Take in the tranquillity of the beach and, if there’s time, explore the surrounding inlets. Odds are you won’t see another soul.
Have you explored any of the best beaches in Cuba? Which is your favourite? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.
Written by Claire Bullen
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About the author: ClaireBullenClaire Bullen
Claire is a born globetrotter: before relocating to London, she spent time in New York, Paris, Philadelphia, Chicago, and San Francisco. When she's not in pursuit of the next exciting meal, she can be found haunting indie bookstores and sketching outdoors. Follow Claire @ClaireMBullen