Cuba boasts glorious beaches. Most are scattered along the north shore, with concentrations immediately east of Havana; in Varadero; Cayo Largo; the Jardines del Rey (Ciego de Ávila and Camagüey Provinces); and Holguín. The south coast has relatively few noteworthy beaches. Swimming requires caution, as many beaches are known for riptides. Arrive with plenty of mosquito repellent, and avoid most beaches at dusk, when minuscule but ferocious no-see-ums are active.
Playas del Este
This series of lovely beaches is within a 30-minute drive of Havana; they get lively with habaneros on weekends. The best sections are Tarará and Playa Mégano.
Varadero’s main beach has silvery sands that run unbroken for five miles or more. Although it’s lined with hotels and thatched restaurants the whole way, you can still find quiet spots all to your lonesome.
Playa El Francés
Tucked at the very southwestern extreme of Isla de la Juventud, there’s a reason this white-sand beach draws big cruise ships. It’s a beauty, with turquoise waters for snorkeling. You’ll need an obligatory EcoTur guide in Nueva Gerona to get here.
Reached by a sandy unpaved road, this stunning beach is the best that Cayo Largo (and Cuba) can offer. The turquoise waters must be seen to be believed — but the waters shelve deeply and are not safe for children.
If you tire of wandering the cobbled streets of Trinidad, explore this beach just a few minutes away. The scuba diving here is superb, and there’s a dive shop at the Hotel Playa Ancón; you can use the recreational services for a fee.
The miles-long, palm-shaded, white-sand beach at Cayo Coco is lined with all-inclusive resorts, all with water sports.
The high point of Cayo Guillermo, this beach is backed by sand dunes and has a rustic seafood restaurant.
Playa Los Pinos
Sugar-white sand dissolves into turquoise shallows that stretch as far as the eye can see. Magical! It’s just you and whatever day-trippers call in on excursions from Playa Santa Lucía. Bring your snorkeling gear to explore the coral reefs farther out.
Excerpted from the Sixth Edition of Moon Cuba.