Cuba is known for many things – rum, cigars, and revolution. But by far, the best thing Cuba is known for? The jaw-dropping beauty of the white sand Cuban beaches you’ll find across the island. From major beach resort towns in Cuba to tiny cays with impossibly white sand just off the shore, there are plenty of beaches in Cuba to choose from.
This is our ultimate guide to the best beaches in Cuba. There are many beautiful Cuban beaches that aren’t on this list – after all, the island is known for having some of the best beaches in the world, so narrowing down the list to just 12 is a feat. However, these are the beaches not to leave off of your Cuba itinerary!
The best beaches in Cuba range from thriving resort towns to tiny, far-flung islands that sit off the coast of Cuba. You’ll find deserted swaths of sand and well-tended beaches in front of resorts. Whatever you’re looking for as a traveler, there is a perfect Cuba beach for you.
We’ve created an interactive map of the top 12 Cuban beaches for your reference as you read through the article. Click around and check out some of the best beaches in Cuba and how to reach them on your next Cuba trip.
Best Beaches in Cuba
1. Varadero Beach
Named one of the best beaches in the world by TripAdvisor, Varadero Beach on the Hicacos peninsula in the province of Matanzas is one Cuban beach you just can’t miss. Varadero is the closest nice beach to Havana – if you have more than an hour to spend traveling from Havana for a great beach, Varadero is your destination.
Varadero is also the resort capital of Cuba. Here you’ll find plenty of options for accommodations at all price ranges – from luxury to basic rooms for rent. There are at least a dozen all-inclusive hotels here, popular with Cubans and foreigners alike.
While Varadero is a resort town and has all you’d expect from one – plenty of restaurants, cafes, and bars, plus more tourists and higher prices, don’t count it out because of that if this isn’t your style of travel. There is plenty to see and do in Varadero!
The beach at Varadero is long – over 16km of white sand – and mostly public, so it’s quite easy to find a relatively empty spot. When I’ve traveled here, even during high season, I’ve found spots with a bit of privacy away from the tourist crowds in front of and near the resorts.
Varadero has something for everyone. With the ease of getting here from Havana, its own international airport, buses to and from cities around the country, and a range of accommodation, food, and activity options, this beach is one of the best.
2. Playa Ancón
Located just outside of Trinidad, Playa Ancón is one of the most famous beaches in Cuba. It is also widely considered the nicest beach in Cuba on the south coast of the island – most of the other best beaches in Cuba are on the northern coast and on remote, sparsely-populated cays in Cuba.
If you’re looking for a combination of a beach vacation and an engaging cultural/historical trip through one of Cuba’s nicest cities, spending several days in Playa Ancón and Trinidad is a perfect choice. You can also choose to stay at one of the area’s resorts or at a nearby casa particular and make trips into Trinidad if you prefer.
Proximity to Trinidad means Playa Ancón is very easily accessible from the rest of Cuba, as Trinidad receives frequent bus and shared taxi service from other popular cities like Cienfuegos, Viñales, and Havana. It also means you’ll find all the beach amenities you’ll need for an easy trip – places to eat, resorts where you can rent daybeds, and more.
In addition to having crystal clear water and gorgeous white sand, Playa Ancón also has reefs offshore that make it a snorkeling destination as well.
While you can easily snorkel from the beach, head to nearby Cayo Blanco, a small offshore island, for some of the best snorkeling – you can even snorkel on some shipwrecks. TriSub offers snorkeling and diving trips, including to Cayo Blanco, for everyone from beginners to more experienced divers.
Read More: 10 Best Things To Do in Trinidad, Cuba
Well known for having some of the best Cuban beaches, the Holguin province is home to many beaches you wouldn’t want to pass up, and Guardalavaca is by far the jewel. Guardalavaca has pure white sand and turquoise water and is surrounded by natural beauty – it’s no wonder it’s considered one of the best beaches in Cuba by locals and visitors alike.
Guardalavaca beach and its sister beaches, Playa Pesquero and Playa Esmeralda, have turned the Holguin province into one of the most important and highly-visited areas in Cuba. With the Holguin airport just about an hour away, it’s an easy choice if you’re looking for a convenient beach break.
The beautiful Guardalavaca beach and the hotels that have sprouted up around it bring visitors from around the world looking for a relaxing getaway, so if you’re looking for a beach vacation this might be the perfect destination for you.
If you’re looking to take a break from the sun and sand while visiting Guardalavaca, head a few miles to the west of the beach and you’ll find the Parque Nacional Bahia de Narajo. This is a major ecotourism destination in Cuba. Here you’ll find several types of endemic birds and other species. You can also swim with the dolphins along the shoreline!
4. Playa Pesquero
Yet another beautiful beach in Holguin, Playa Pesquero is only about 15 minutes away from Guardalavaca, making it another impressive place to visit in Cuba when you’re on this special side of the island.
Protected in a curved bay, Playa Pesquero’s white sand and shallow, clear water will make you feel like you’re swimming in a swimming pool rather than an ocean. It’s a Cuba beach almost too beautiful to believe!
While Guardalavaca maintains a strong “local” feel and presence, Playa Pesquero is quite built up with resorts. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing! You’ll enjoy an unending array of beach activities, gear for water sports, and much more.
Choose from hotels and resorts like Hotel Playa Pesquero, Hotel Playa Costa Verde, and the Iberostar Selection Holguin, which is technically located just across from Playa Pesquero on the smaller Playa Estero. The beach is public, so even if you’re not staying here, you can enjoy it.
What to Pack for Cuba
Check out our Ultimate Cuba Packing List to help you pack for your trip – we’re sharing exactly what to bring to Cuba and what we never travel without.
5. Playa Esmeralda
Just a few miles away from Guardalavaca, Playa Esmeralda is another unmissable beach in the province of Holguin. Much more laid back than Guardalavaca beach, Playa Esmeralda is arguably even more beautiful than its more famous neighbor.
This is the perfect Caribbean beach you’ve pictured, with a massive stretch of white sand and perfectly flat, crystal water. While this beach is almost entirely surrounded by large resorts, the beach remains public and anyone can use it. You’ll need to be a guest at the hotel to make use of the beach’s amenities, but it’s a mostly quiet and relaxing spot well worth a visit.
Off-shore reefs attract plenty of fish which makes snorkeling popular here and guards the beach from waves. Swimming here feels more like you’re in a swimming pool than the ocean. The beach is closed in on either side by craggy rocks, which makes for a stunning outline for sunsets.
Don’t skip Playa Esmeralda’s tiny neighbor Playa Las Caletas. Located along the edge of the Parque Nacional Bahia de Naranjo, it feels much wilder than built-up Playa Esmeralda, and boasts just as stunning white sand and blue waters.
6. Cayo Jutias
If you’re looking for a wild, undeveloped beach in Cuba, consider Cayo Jutias among the best destinations for you. While many of the other most beautiful Cuban beaches are starting to be developed for the country’s most luxurious resorts, Cayo Jutias remains off the beaten path, free of even a single hotel.
One of the northern cays extending into the Gulf of Mexico from the western Pinar del Río province, Cayo Jutias seems to be rimmed with some of the best beaches in Cuba. Between this cay’s main Playa Jutias and the famous Playa de las Estrellas (named for its abundance of starfish!) you could easily spend a few days just beach-hopping here.
Wild camp on the beach, or stay at one of the small towns near the bridge connecting Cayo Jutias to the mainland. While accommodations are basic, spending a few days disconnecting in the paradise of Cayo Jutias is well worth it.
About an hour and a half away from Viñales, Cayo Jutias is a great addition to an itinerary including this must-visit Cuba destination. While there aren’t direct buses between these popular destinations, you can easily find private transportation for this short journey in Viñales.
The road to get here is quite bumpy, but you’ll be rewarded with mostly empty beaches, pure white sand, and crystal-clear water, perfect for swimming and snorkeling.
7. Cayo Coco
Cayo Coco is located along Cuba’s northern coast and is arguably Cuba’s most famous cay. Home to some of the best beaches in Cuba, Cayo Coco has long been one of Cuba’s premier beach destinations, home to a number of resorts. With its incredibly fine white sand beaches, it’s no wonder that it’s so popular with visitors from around the world.
Cayo Coco is also one of the most developed cays in Cuba, with its own international airport – Jardines del Rey Airport – and causeway connecting it to the mainland, as well as neighboring cays Cayo Guillermo and Cayo Romano. This makes planning a visit and arriving a breeze.
With so many beautiful beaches lining the shores of Cayo Coco, it makes it difficult to narrow down just one in particular to make this list.
The longest beach, Playa Larga, is a definite contender for the best on the island, and well worth a visit if you find yourself here. Another, Playa Flamenco, is memorable for being home to flocks of pink flamingos. While you won’t always catch them here, the beach is always worth a visit.
Take your pick from countless resorts on Cayo Coco. While resorts populate most of the beaches, you’ll find beachy spots all along the island, many of which remain relatively untouched.
Read More: Cayo Coco: Ultimate Traveler’s Guide
8. Cayo Santa Maria
Not to be confused with Playa Santa Maria – part of the Playas del Este beaches just a few miles east of Havana – Cayo Santa Maria is a serene island lined with some of Cuba’s best beaches along the island’s north shore.
Boasting the same impressive white sand, you’ll find on many of Cuba’s northern cays, Cayo Santa Maria is a perfect choice for a resort getaway, though it offers more affordable accommodations as well.
Cayo Santa Maria is actually the largest of a chain of smaller cays – including Cayo Ensenachos and Cayo Las Brujas connected to the mainland by a singular causeway, the Pedraplén. These cays all share similarly stunning beaches and are home to a variety of resorts, bed and breakfasts, and casas particulares.
If you’re looking for even more to do while in Cayo Santa Maria, consider taking a catamaran to the nearby Cayo Francés. Catamaran excursions here are very popular day trips and let travelers snorkel at the popular Crucero del Sol dive site on the south side of the cay.
Read More: Cayo Santa Maria: Ultimate Traveler’s Guide
9. Playa Pilar
While all the Cuban beaches on this list are impressive, there is perhaps no more beautiful beach than Playa Pilar on Cayo Guillermo, one of the northern cays in the Ciego de Ávila province. Regularly chosen among the best beaches in the world by TripAdvisor, its accolades and awards speak for themselves: Playa Pilar is truly exceptional.
Playa Pilar was made world-famous in part by Ernest Hemingway, who wrote about this particular beach and all of Cayo Guillermo in his Islands in the Stream. In fact, the beach is even named in honor of Hemingway; his boat was named Pilar.
While neighboring Cayo Coco is probably Cuba’s most popular northern cay, Cayo Guillermo isn’t far behind; Cayo Guillermo is growing in popularity, and quickly! One of Cuba’s most luxurious resorts, Cayo Guillermo Resort Kempinski, sits along Playa Pilar, boasting impressive new installations and even overwater bungalows!
Easily accessible via the Jardines del Rey international airport, about 45 minutes away on Cayo Coco, it’s always quite easy to reach Cayo Guillermo and the stunning Playa Pilar. While the cay does boast other white sand beaches in addition to Playa Pilar, none are as impressive or famous as this slice of paradise.
With more than six miles of reefs that line the coast, you’ll have plenty of opportunities for snorkeling as well as enjoying the pristine sand and warm waters, whether you’re headed for Playa Pilar or any of Cayo Guillermo’s other impressive beaches.
Read More: Cayo Guillermo: Ultimate Traveler’s Guide
10. Cayo Largo del Sur
Playa Ancón may be the most beautiful beach on the south side of mainland Cuba, but Cayo Largo del Sur is home to some of the best Cuban beaches off the coast. This southern cay is one of Cuba’s hidden gems: a pure white sand paradise that boasts a number of the best beaches in all of the Caribbean.
While Cayo Largo del Sur is quite a small island, it boasts multiple beaches. Every corner of this cay seems to be rimmed with some of the most beautiful beachfront you’ve ever seen, which makes it difficult to narrow down one beach here as being better than any of the others.
Some of the most popular and impressive beaches on Cayo Largo del Sur include Playa Blanca, Playa Sirena, and Playa Paraiso – they’re all just about as close to perfect as you can get!
Of course, to make the list of the top Cuban beaches, you know there is stunning clear water and white sand here, but Cayo Largo del Sur has so much more to offer. Visitors can also go deep-sea fishing – some of the best charters in Cuba leave from this tiny island.
Or learn about the turtles that nest here at the Centro de Rescate de Tortugas Marinas, and watch babies hatch from a respectful distance.
Despite being quite isolated geographically, this skinny strip of land near Cuba’s Isla de la Juventud is home to several resorts and an international airport, which makes visiting a breeze. Direct flights from Havana and international destinations, while not incredibly frequent, are more than sufficient to plan a great trip to the stunning beaches of Cayo Largo del Sur.
11. Playa Maguana
While the small eastern town of Baracoa – the first city in Cuba founded by the Spanish – might be best known for its historic monuments and streets, it isn’t without its own white sand Cuba beach destination worth traveling for.
Located about 30 minutes north of Baracoa, Playa Maguana is a white sand spot popular with locals and travelers alike. While you won’t find many beach amenities here (though there is one small hotel!), you’ll love how hidden it feels. A favorite with travelers to Baracoa, you’ll find frequent shared taxis departing Baracoa, making transport a breeze.
Nearby coastal reefs protect it from getting too wavy, making for perfect conditions for swimming and snorkeling. Rent snorkeling gear nearby or come prepared from Baracoa – you won’t want to miss this!
Read More: Baracoa, Cuba: Ultimate Travel Guide
12. Cayo Levisa
If you’re looking for the most beautiful beaches west of Havana, Cayo Jutias isn’t your only choice! Located between Havana and Viñales, Cayo Levisa is among the most impressive of the northern cays in Cuba’s Pinar del Rio province and a favorite excursion from either nearby travel hotspot.
While Cayo Jutias has the benefit of a causeway connecting it to the mainland, this impressive Cuban cay is only accessible via ferry from the Cuban mainland. This might make you think it’s far less popular than Cayo Jutias, but it actually boasts more beach amenities than its neighbor and seems to be just as popular, if not more so.
While Cayo Levisa can be a bit difficult to access, its small hotel (Hotel Cayo Levisa) and dedicated dive shop make it a haven for travelers looking for an off-the-beaten-path beach getaway that is impossible to forget. Despite its growing popularity, it’s still thoroughly off the beaten path – you’ll love this laid-back, wild Cuban beach.
Honorable Mention: Playas del Este
Sometimes the best beach is just the one that is closest to you. In the case of the Playas del Este – in English, “the beaches of the east” – this is their main appeal. Located to the east of Havana, these beaches are the closest to the city and the most accessible to travelers working with just a short Havana itinerary.
If you’re in need of a quick escape from Havana and don’t have time to head to Varadero, Playas del Este is a great choice. Playas del Este comprises a few beaches, including these:
- Santa Maria del Mar
- Boca Ciega
The most popular – and busiest – of the beaches in the Playas del Este area are Guanabo and Bacuranao – these beaches are super popular with Cubans, though I generally wouldn’t recommend them for travelers.
The nicest beaches in the area of Playas del Este are Marazul or Santa Maria. These beaches have the nicest sand and clearest water. With a good amount of transportation options to get you here from Havana and great places to eat, and even accommodations nearby if you want to spend the night, they’re the perfect beach day (or long weekend) getaway.
These beaches don’t rise to the level of the best beaches in Cuba – after all, this island is known for having some of the most pristine beaches in the world, so that’s a pretty high bar. However, you’re still bound to have a fantastic beach day here.
Carley Rojas Avila is a bilingual travel writer, editor, content marketer, and the founder of the digital travel publications Home to Havana and Explorers Away. She is a serial expat and traveler, having visited 40+ countries and counting. Carley has written for publications like Travel + Leisure, MSN, Associated Press, Weather Channel, Wealth of Geeks, and more. Find her front row at a Bad Bunny concert, befriending street cats, and taste-testing every pizza in Havana.