The best beaches in Cuba

written by Rough Guides Editors

updated 7.06.2023

Conjure up an image of the perfect Caribbean beach and you'll find Cuba's generous shoreline fits the description perfectly: stretches of powdery, bone-white sand – often freckled with shady palm trees – and limpid, turquoise waters. Here is our pick of the best beaches in Cuba – there's one to suit every need.

The information in this article is inspired by The Rough Guide to Cuba, your essential guide for visiting Cuba.

1. Playa Los Flamencos: an all-inclusive beach

With 22km of creamy-white sands and cerulean waters, Cayo Coco has some of the best beaches in Cuba, hands down, and effortlessly draws holidaymakers to its shores. The best beaches are clustered on the north coast, dominated by the all-inclusive hotels whose tendrils are gradually spreading along the rest of the northern coastline.

Cayo Coco’s big three beaches are home to the all-inclusive and packed with boisterous activities. They are located on the narrow easternmost peninsula jutting out of the Cay’s north coast. For a pocket of tranquillity, escape the main beaches and head to Playa Los Flamencos. The beach offers 3km of fine sands and transparent waters where tangerine-coloured starfish float through the shallows. There’s also good snorkelling out to sea.

    Our favourite tailor-made trip:

  • Complete Cuba - Nature, Tradition and Sights of the Revolution. Arrive in Havana and make your way all throughout the island with stops in Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Cayo Coco, Camaguey and Santiago before returning to Havana.
Bridge over the green water of Cayo Coco © Shutterstock

Bridge over the green water of Cayo Coco © Shutterstock

2. Playa Pilar: for a serene nearly private oasis

A more serene retreat than its rowdier neighbour Cayo Coco, tiny Cayo Guillermo boasts 4km of stunning near-deserted beaches. With such an abundance of largely untouched sand, there’s no shortage of options for a bit of solitude but one of the beaches in Cuba that shouldn’t be missed is the gorgeous Playa Pilar.

On the western tip of Cayo Guillermo, Playa Pilar is named after Ernest Hemingway’s yacht, Pilar, and was the author’s favourite hideaway in Cuba. With limpid clear shallows and squeaky-clean beaches, it is, without a doubt, the top beach choice on Guillermo, if not in the entire cays.

If you are staying in Havana and don't want to venture too far, check here for the best beaches close to Havana.


Cayo Guillermo © Shutterstock

3. Playa Perla Blanca: for turquoise waters

Needless to say, visiting Cuban beaches is one of the best things to do in Cuba. The northern cays, a network of small islets, interspersed by turquoise waters and mangrove colonies, form one of Cuba’s newest tourist resorts. The cays are linked to the mainland by an impressive 48km causeway making the trip here all part of the adventure.

At the far end of the chain lies Cayo Santa María, home to Playa Perla Blanca, one of the best beaches in Cuba. Its charm lies in its remote, untouched feel: it’s accessible, yet it has no facilities and is a bit of a trek to get to. But the journey, a total of 52km from the mainland, is worth it: the sand is as fine as it gets in Cuba.

    What to do:

  • Explore Cayo Santa Maria and the coastline in your own speedboat - you will get a short introduction on how to drive it before setting off to explore. Admire white sandy beaches, stop to go snorkelling and be amazed by the diverse wildlife.
The white beach of La Perla Blanca, Cuba © Shutterstock

The white beach of La Perla Blanca, Cuba © Shutterstock

4. Playa Varadero: one of the top beaches in Cuba

Varadero is undoubtedly the package holiday resort in Cuba and the glut of all-inclusive hotels, restaurants, and tour operators are all here for one reason: the beach – one of the longest and one of the best beaches in Cuba. It may be popular but thanks to its sheer size there’s enough space for everyone to indulge in a few days of stress-free sloth.

Stretching almost the entire length of a 25km peninsula that shoots out from the mainland, Varadero fits the classic Caribbean image: downy sand that forms a runway between palm trees along one edge and unruffled, sparkling waters along the other.

    What to do:

  • Go off-road across rivers and small communities on this Jeep tour in the Yumuri Valley. It also includes a visit to the province capital Matanzas and some free time at Coral Beach.

    Our favourite tailor-made trip:

  • Cuba: a feast for the senses - take 10 days to discover Havana in depth before heading out to Cienfuegos and Trinidad. Varadero will be the end highlight of your trip, relaxing in one of the top hotels.

Varadero – one of the best beaches in Cuba © Shutterstock

5. Playa Los Pinos: for isolated bliss

Astoundingly beautiful and yet still deserted, Cayo Sabinal is so paradisiacal it’s almost eerie. It’s remained untouched thanks to it’s geographical isolation: to get here you have to drive 7km down a very bumpy dirt track, some of which is a causeway, a journey that no public transport and very few cars bother to make.

A number of beaches await you at the north side of the 30km-long coral key – the longest of which is Playa Los Pinos, a blindingly white beach that’s perfect for a few days of complete tranquillity. Here sugary sands stretch out to meet the transparent waters, while wild horses and deer roam through the woodland that borders the sand giving the beach an almost magical feel.

6. Playa Ancón: for a dazzling beach

Playa Ancón is often touted as one of the best beaches in Cuba and it’s easy to see why: it’s one of the longest in the area and boasts a dazzling sweep of sand that arcs around glittering turquoise waters. The beach may have put the area on the tourist map, but it has managed to keep a natural feel, with trees and shrubs creeping down to the shoreline.

It’s a good jumping-off point for snorkelling and diving in the reefs around the shoreline, plus Trinidad, Cuba’s colonial gem is just a stone’s throw away.

    What to do:

  • Take an e-bike ride along the coastline and the Valley of Sugar Mills to explore Trinidad's countryside. Afterwards, return to the city to learn more about Trinidad's history and culture.

    Our favourite tailor-made trip:

  • If the idea of taking an e-bike for longer than a day excites you, take a look at our Western and Central Cuba e-bike trip: 13 days of exploration and adventure await.

Playa Ancón is often touted as one of the best beaches in Cuba © Anna Jedynak/Shutterstock

7. Playa Turquesa: for a shallow bay with golden sand

Simply translated as “turquoise beach”, it comes as no surprise to find that Playa Turquesa is one of the most beautiful beaches in the region. Filled with golden sand and bordered by mangrove forest at its eastern boundary, the shallow bay has a small coral reef a short swim offshore, while a strip of dense forest between the hotel Riu Playa Turquesa and the beach makes it feel perfectly undiscovered.

8. Playa Esmeralda: for a beach nearby luxury hotels

Some 5km west from Guardalavaca, picture-perfect Playa Esmeralda (also known as Estero Ciego) boasts clear blue water, powdery sand speckled with thatched sunshades and two luxury hotels hidden from view by thoughtfully planted bushes and shrubs. If you want unashamed hassle-free luxury, where the intrusion of local culture is kept to a bare minimum, this is the place for you.


Playa Guardalavaca © Shutterstock

9. Playa Guardalavaca: for visiting reefs

The resort of Guardalavaca is popular for good reason: a succession of gorgeous beaches sweeping around sheltered reefs, backed by a surrounding landscape of gentle hills and fields of sugar cane. One of the best beaches in the area is delightful Playa Guardalava, a 15000m stretch of dazzlingly white sand that draws both Cubans and tourists alike.

Running along the centre of the beach, a strip of palm and tamarind trees provides a cool walkway and dapples the sand with shade, while a number of stands are on hand to rent out snorkelling equipment.

On Isla de la Juventud’s most remote upturned hook of land, lies Punta Francés, where you’ll find the island’s top beach, Playa Francés. There is over 3km of beach in all, split by a sandy headland into two broad curves of soft, silver shore ringed on one side by the lush green of a woody, palm-specked thicket and on the other by the glassy Caribbean Sea.

The deserted tranquillity of this private world is all part of what makes it exceptional, though this is sometimes destroyed by hordes of cruise-ship visitors. Equally attractive are the nearby reefs; the beach lies within the island’s ecologically protected area, which is renowned for its superb diving.

Tropical beach in Cayo Largo Paraiso beach, Cuba © Shutterstock

Tropical beach in Cayo Largo Paraiso beach, Cuba © Shutterstock

11. Playa Paraiso: for bikers

East of Nueva Gerona, and an easy bike ride from town, Playa Paraíso beach is popular with locals, who call it “El Mini”. The small hoop of rather grubby, seaweed-strewn sand is somewhat redeemed by its friendly atmosphere and a striking hill behind, whose shadow lengthens over the beach in the afternoon.

Find some useful information in our list of tips for backpacking in Cuba.

    Our favourite tailor-made trip:

  • Bike Cuba - A moderately challenging cycling holiday through the Cuban countryside visiting the tobacco fields of Viñales Valley and a pristine Caribbean beach in Cayo Jutias.

12. Playa Sirena: for an unforgettable holiday

The tiny islet of Cayo Largo del Sur, a narrow ribbon of land flanked by pale downy sands, is separated from Isla de la Juventud by 100km of sea. With no permanent population, it’s entirely geared to holiday-makers who are drawn here for the irresistible beaches and various watersports.

Protected from harsh winds and rough waves by the offshore coral reef, and with over 2km of stunning white sands, Playa Sirena, at the western tip of the cay, enjoys a deserved reputation as the most beautiful of all the beaches on Cayo Largo del Sur (if not in all of Cuba).


Playa Sirena sands © TravnikovStudio/Shutterstock

13. Playa Coral: one of the best beaches in Cuba for shore snorkelling

There are far superior dive sites around Cuba than the ones on the Varadero coast, but with several diving clubs on the peninsula, this is one of the best-served areas for diving. The clubs can offer diving equipment and instruction and can arrange excursions elsewhere in the province, commonly to the Península de Zapata in southern Matanzas.

Most of the local dive sites are on the coral reefs around the offshore cays to the east of Varadero, such as Playa Coral, with a coral reef just 30m from the shore along the coast towards Matanzas. As well as the standard coral reef visits, clubs usually offer night- and cave dives.

14. Playa Santa Lucia: for shark feeding adventures

Hemmed in by salt flats on the northern coast, 128km from Camagüey, Santa Lucia is one of Cuba’s smaller beach resorts. Much more low-key than the packed resorts at Jardines del Rey, it’s perfect if you want to park yourself on the sand for a fortnight, soak up some rays and indulge in a few watersports.

The resort, such as it is, consists of little more than the beaches. The most famous of the beaches here, Playa Santa Lucia, is famous for having the rather thrilling experience of swimming with bull sharks. Remember, however, that shark diving is not for amateurs and you need to contact the Sharks Friends Dive Centre on the beach for a supervised shark dive.

    Our favourite tailor-made trip:

  • Cuba Completa - Off the beaten track - Explore the birthplace of Fidel Castro, relax on Cayo Saetia, an island that used to be Fidel's private holiday home, and explore the Eastern part with Santiago de Cuba.
Santa Lucia beach, Camaguey Province, Cuba © Shutterstock

Santa Lucia Beach, Camaguey Province, Cuba © Shutterstock

15. Playa los Cocos: for a swim with views

The southern coast of Cayo Largo del Sur boasts some of the very best beaches in Cuba, with warm, shallow waters lapping onto a largely narrow ribbon of pale downy sand. For real solitude, you need to head off to the eastern beaches.

The lovely Playa los Cocos is seemingly endless and is one of the most beautiful beaches in Cayo Largo. It offers stunning views, white sands and peaceful settings. It is characterised by swaying palm trees and the presence of coconut palms, which probably gave the beach its name.

Clean beach Caribbean Sea. Playa los Cocos. Cayo Largo. Cuba © Shutterstock

Playa los Cocos. Cayo Largo. Cuba © Shutterstock

16. Playas del Este: for a weekend getaway

Fifteen kilometres east of Cojímar, the Vía Blanca reaches Havana’s nearest beaches. Playa Santa María del Mar, Playa Boca Ciega and Playa Guanabo, collectively known as the Playas del Este are one of the best beaches in Cuba. Hugging the Atlantic coast, these three swathes of fine sand form a long, twisting ochre ribbon that vanishes in the summer beneath the crush of weekend Habaneros and tourists.

Because of its proximity to Havana, Playa Santa María del Mar, usually just called Santa María, is the busiest and trendiest of the eastern beaches, with boombox reggaeton, watersports and beautiful bodies on sun loungers. Arguably the most attractive of the three beaches, with golden sands backed by grassland and a few palm trees, it’s also the most touristy and can feel a bit artificial.

Cuba is one of the best places for a family holiday. In our guide to the best places to go with kids, you will find other attractive family-friendly destinations.

    Our favourite tailor-made trip:

  • Havana: History and Hemingway - Spend a few days exploring Havana, including the old town, Ernest Hemingway's favourite cigar-smoke-filled jazz club, and a tour of the city in a classic car!
Cuba - Caribbean beach Playa Megano in Playas del Este part of Havana Province © Shutterstock

Cuba - Caribbean beach Playa Megano in Playas del Este part of Havana Province © Shutterstock

Ready for a trip to Cuba? Check out the snapshot of The Rough Guide to Cuba.

If you prefer to plan and book your trip to Cuba without any effort and hassle, use the expertise of our local travel experts to make sure your trip will be just like you dream it to be.

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Rough Guides Editors

written by Rough Guides Editors

updated 7.06.2023

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