The Most Beautiful Beaches in Cuba

Pristine Playa Pilar beach in Cayo Guillermo, Cuba
Pristine Playa Pilar beach in Cayo Guillermo, Cuba | © Image Professionals GmbH / Alamy
Photo of Claire Boobbyer
22 October 2021

The palm-strewn, powdery beaches of Cuba are world-famous. Whether you’re searching for blissful isolation on the rugged Atlantic coast or coral cays in the Caribbean Sea, the best way to explore is by sailboat. Read on to discover our rundown of the finest sandy coves.

Ditch the tourist mob by hiring a yacht with SamBoat to discover these spectacular cays.

Unwind on the white sands of Varadero on the Hicacos Peninsula

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Varadero beach with a small palm tree, Cuba, Caribbean
Photo by Lynda Hinton on Unsplash
Varadero is Cuba’s beach pin-up. 13km (8mi) of buttery sand unfurls along the Atlantic shore shelving into the shallowest of blue seas. Some mornings the sea is so calm, the sky is perfectly mirrored in the water. Varadero is 145km (90mi) east of Havana and is lined by large numbers of isolated all-inclusive resorts. From luxury to more modest, you’ll find plenty of choices. The town of Varadero, west of the resorts, is busy with shops, B&Bs, craft stalls, restaurants and bars.

Kick back in paradise on Playa Esmeralda near Guardalavaca

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Cuba, Holguin Province, View of Playa Esmeralda and Hotel Sol RA­o De Luna y Mares
© Jon Arnold Images Ltd / Alamy
Playa Esmeralda is a gentle curve of flour-soft white sand found in eastern Cuba. Lounge under thatched umbrellas in this secluded haven that faces turquoise and indigo seas, then discover the best part of the region: its secret coves. Live that castaway fantasy on semi-private tiny beaches, shaded only by the branches of wild sea grape trees.

Dive into the turquoise waters off Playa Larga in Jardines del Rey

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Playa Larga, Bay of Pigs, Cuban Missile Crisis, Zapata peninsula, Matanzas Province, Cuba, Caribbean
© Clive Horton / Alamy
Cuba’s Gardens of the King are a necklace of offshore coral islands, bathed in periwinkle blue waters. Dozens of all-inclusive hotels stretch along its white north coast beaches. Travelling with kids? Pitch bucket and spades on Playa Larga, an eastern sweep of picturesque sand with a small limestone headland. Kids love to splash about in this shallow sheltered corner.

Escape to a sandy crescent on Cayo Levisa near Palma Rubia

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Couple walking along the beach, Cayo Levisa, Pinar del Rio Province, Cuba, Caribbean
© imageBROKER / Alamy
Looking for a small island paradise? Cayo Levisa’s perfect swathe of virgin sand is one of two popular islands off the western coast of Cuba. Backed by mangroves and lined by palm trees, it attracts sun-seekers looking for a remote getaway and divers who discover its underworld first explored by writer Ernest Hemingway in the 1940s. Take a day trip by boat, easily arranged from Viñales.

Grab your scuba diving gear and head for Punta Francés on Isla de la Juventud

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People on the pier at Punta Frances Parque Nacional with cruise ship MS Deutschland (Reederei Peter Deilmann) in the background, Cuba, Caribbean
© Image Professionals GmbH / Alamy
Curving like a prawn’s tail out of the base of the Isle of Youth is the outstandingly beautiful Punta Francés. Snorkel or dive with rays and turtles offshore, find the nests of American crocodiles in the forest fringes of the beach, and search the limestone coves for the ancient lairs of pirates. Fought over and then largely forgotten, Cuba’s Treasure Island is isolated and travelling to this sandy speck is a challenge from the mainland. The beach is only accessible by boat.

Dig into fresh seafood on Playa Maguana, north of Baracoa

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People enjoying the beach in Cuba, Guantanamo, Baracoa, Playa Maguana, Caribbean
© Widmann/CHL / Alamy
If you love good food, make a beeline to Playa Maguana in the wild east of Cuba. Right on the custard-coloured sand is a beach hut serving up cocktails and fresh snapper. Tuck in while relaxing in Adirondack chairs. Still hungry as you gaze at the teal-green Atlantic? Hawkers will sell you a local candy – cucurucho – mashed coconut, almonds, sugar and honey, wrapped in a palm-leaf cone.

Stroll along Playa Pilar in Jardines del Rey

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Playa Pilar, Cayo Guillermo, Jardines del Rey, Ciego de Avila Province, Cuba, West Indies, Caribbean beach
© robertharding / Alamy
Playa Pilar widens along the far western tip of Cayo Guillermo in Cuba’s Gardens of the King. No longer a virgin beach but no less beautiful: scudding clouds, royal-blue skies, terns hanging on the breeze and soft sand slip into a shallow, shimmering sea. After fishing like Hemingway in the ocean blue, searching for birds, or soaking up the sun’s rays on the sand, head to the cute beach bar for piña coladas.

Disappear off-grid on Cayo Rico, just off Cayo Largo

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Iguana (Iguanidae), Cayo Rico, Cuba, Caribbean, Americas
© imageBROKER / Alamy
Climb aboard a catamaran and sail through transparent seas, wrinkled with tiny sandbanks, to Cayo Rico, cast adrift from Cayo Largo in the coral-studded Caribbean Sea. It’s a mini nature reserve: you’ll spot stingrays, iguanas, jutías (large whiskered tree-loving rodents), birds of prey and orange starfish in the shallows. After your sun-soaked safari, grab beers from the only bar on the island, and slumber on sunbeds at the water’s edge.

Sail across to Cayo Saetía from Guardalavaca

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Cayo saetia beach in Cuba, Caribbean
© Tristan Deschamps / Alamy
In a tiny corner of eastern Cuba, you’ll find animals of the African plains. This curious Noah’s Ark of ostrich, zebra and antelope roam the feathery grasses of Cayo Saetía. Join a safari in an army jeep to spot the wild creatures, then head to the island’s best little beach with a welcome thatched bar and restaurant. No wheels? Jump aboard a yacht and sail into the bay where Cayo Saetía’s beach and the sapphire sea is bookended by giant limestone boulders.

This is an updated rewrite of an article originally by Jack Guy.

These recommendations were updated on October 22, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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