Cuba’s stunning and pristine cays – known as Los Cayos de Cuba – are some of Cuba’s most impressive destinations and most precious hidden gems. While cays, large and small, can be found around the perimeter of Cuba, the country’s most impressive cluster of cays lay just north of the mainland and are some of Cuba’s favorite beach destinations.
Our ultimate guide to the cays of Cuba has all the info about Cuba’s hundreds of cays, including how to plan a trip to these impressive spots.
With long, pristine stretches of white sand shaded by palms, desolate dunes rolling into crystal clear water, and some of Cuba’s most impressive hotels and resorts, Los Cayos are truly a sight you have to see to believe.
Los Cayos de Cuba – the Cuban cays – account for a huge number of the over 4,000 islands and islets that comprise the country of Cuba. Also known as barrier islands or “keys,” these islands are often just yards or miles off the shores of the mainland, though Cuba has its fair share of cays that are quite a distance away.
Cuba has a group of particularly well-known and frequently-visited cays known as the Jardines del Rey, just north of the central Cuban provinces of Sancti Spiritus, Ciego de Ávila, and Camaguey provinces.
Boasting some of Cuba’s best beaches and nicest resorts, this archipelago of ten cays is the undisputed most popular destination for travelers looking to experience Los Cayos. These include the following:
- Cayo Santa Maria
- Cayo Las Brujas
- Cayo Coco
- Cayo Guillermo
- Cayo Frances
- Cayo Ensenachos
- Cayo Romano
- Cayo Sabinal
However, don’t overlook the rest of Cuba’s cays. They’re found all around the mainland, and each has something special to offer travelers willing to search them out. Some of our favorites are those that few other travelers get the chance to visit.
How Many Islands and Cays Are Part of Cuba?
Surprised to learn that the country of Cuba is actually made up of so many islands? Cuba is more than just the mainland and comprises over 4,000 islands, islets, and cays.
While some of these spots are little more than tiny spits of sand that barely peak about above the waves, plenty of Los Cayos are well worth a visit and are home to some of Cuba’s most impressive natural destinations.
Which Cayos in Cuba Are Most Famous?
Cayo Coco and its little sister Cayo Guillermo are the most famous cays in Cuba. Home to a number of large resorts and some of the most impressive beaches in Cuba (and most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean!), it’s easy to see why they’re so well known.
Their pristine beauty has been immortalized in movies and even literature; Cayo Guillermo even appears in Ernest Hemingway’s novel Islands in the Stream.
Which Cayo Is the Best in Cuba?
The best cay in Cuba is very much in the eye of the beholder! With large cays with luxurious resorts and tiny cays that barely see more than a sprinkle of visitors, you’ll find a huge range of cays in Cuba no matter what you’re looking for.
This being said, visitors tend to adore Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo if they’re looking for a beach vacation at a resort, and Cayo Saetia and Cayo Jutias in the country’s western Pinar del Rio province for a more “desert-island” type cay.
Cayo Largo del Sur, though a bit more challenging to get to, can be a great combination of both, more off the beaten path yet with plenty of resorts and amenities for a comfortable vacation.
Read More: Cayo Coco: Ultimate Traveler’s Guide
Map of Cays in Cuba
With over 4,000 islands and cays that make up the country of Cuba, you’ll never find a totally exhaustive list of all the cays, especially for travelers likely just looking for a few great choices to add to their itinerary.
Our map of Los Cayos de Cuba includes the most popular and well-known cays around the island, and our favorite recommendations for travelers looking to experience the best of the cays.
Cays of Cuba
The cays along Cuba’s central northern coast, principally the cays that form the Jardines del Rey area, are the most famous and most frequently visited of all of Cuba’s cays. With an unending selection of beaches to choose from, both untouched and built-up, you’ll easily find what you’re looking for in a Cuban beach getaway here.
Accessible via either the Jardines del Rey airport on Cayo Coco or the Pedraplén (causeway) that connects the cays to the mainland, you’ll have your choice of options for accessing these stunning cays.
With its pristine beaches and an array of beautiful resorts, Cayo Coco is one of Cuba’s most well-known cays. With nearly flawless, powdery white beaches and shallow, clear waters, it’s easy to see why Cayo Coco is a true tropical paradise.
Hotel options are seemingly unending, though favorites include Pullman Cayo Coco and Melia Cayo Coco. You’ll find a few casas particulares on Cayo Coco as well, though most travelers choose an all-inclusive package at a resort when visiting this cay, which seems better suited for this type of travel.
Cayo Coco is also home to the Jardines del Rey International Airport, which makes it one of the most accessible cays for travelers. Flights from across Cuba and internationally serve this small airport regularly, though Cayo Coco is also accessible via causeway to the mainland near Morón.
Accessible by a causeway from Cayo Coco, Cayo Guillermo is the tiny little sister of the more famous Cayo Coco, though that doesn’t mean it’s any less impressive. In fact, Cayo Guillermo is home to Playa Pilar, considered by many to be among the best beaches in the Caribbean.
This beautiful cay and its principal beach are so beautiful, in fact, that they’re captured in Ernest Hemingway’s Islands in the Stream; you’ll even see a statue of Hemingway along the causeway to access the island. The author called this cay the most beautiful place he’d ever seen.
Cayo Guillermo is home to a number of Cuba’s most exclusive resorts, including the brand-new Cayo Guillermo Resort Kempinski, which has made a splash for its overwater villas extended over the clear waters of the lagoon, truly a sight to behold.
Read More: Cayo Guillermo: Ultimate Traveler’s Guide
Cayo Santa Maria
Cayo Santa Maria is yet another of the cays of Jardines del Rey that you won’t want to miss. Connected to the mainland via the causeway from Caibarien, it has a huge concentration of some of Cuba’s most impressive hotels and resorts, including some of Cuba’s best – Royalton Cayo Santa Maria and the impressive Paradisus Los Cayos.
Despite being relatively smaller in size, Cayo Santa Maria has a large number of beaches and even its own nature reserve on the island’s east end. Plus, the delfinario is perfect for those looking to cross swimming with dolphins off their bucket list!
Cayo Las Brujas
With its own small airport and access to the mainland via the causeway from Caibarien, Cayo Las Brujas is an easily accessible yet pristine cay well worth considering as you make your itinerary for visiting Los Cayos.
There’s a lot to do in Cayo Las Brujas other than just enjoying the island’s principal beach, which is a stunning stretch of pristine sand over a mile long.
There are plenty of opportunities here for excellent snorkeling and diving (the island’s dive center is fantastic, with warm and knowledgeable staff), as well as catamaran rides to the other surrounding cays, including Cayo Frances, which has its own beautiful dive sites.
A tiny cay just south of Cayo Santa Maria, Cayo Ensenachos boasts beautiful beaches and stunning natural beauty in a small package. Home to Playa Megano, one of Cuba’s most beautiful beaches, it isn’t just a destination to be overlooked on the way to its larger neighbors.
Accessible via the causeway that connects Cayo Santa Maria to the mainland, it’s quite an accessible cay and an increasingly popular destination. You can drive in from the mainland or fly from across the island to the nearby airport on Cayo Las Brujas.
Cayo Blanco is a bit distinct from the other cays off the northern coast of Cuba’s central provinces. This tiny cay sits off the shore from the mainland of the province of Matanzas, and while there isn’t much to see or do on this uninhabited cay, its fame comes from its proximity to Varadero, easily Cuba’s most famous beach resort town.
You’ll find tour and excursion providers in Varadero offering catamaran trips to Cayo Blanco, a highlight of a trip to Varadero if you’re looking to explore beyond the beaches in town!
Read More: Varadero, Cuba: Ultimate Travel Guide
While the southern coast of Cuba has few impressive cays to rival those of the island’s northern shore, a few options (like Cayo Blanco off of Trinidad‘s Playa Ancón) and tiny, hidden spots boast a fair amount of white sand beaches still to be popularized for travelers. However, one of Cuba’s most impressive cays stretches east off of Cuba’s Isla de la Juventud, and it’s quickly becoming one of the most popular beach destinations in the country.
Cayo Largo del Sur
Fly from the shores of Cuba’s Isla de la Juventud eighty miles east over crystal clear waters until you hit Cayo Largo del Sur, an isolated yet idyllic cay that boasts several of the most beautiful beaches in all of Cuba. Don’t simply overlook Cayo Largo del Sur because it’s a bit further from Havana; this cay is a true paradise that few travelers have yet to enjoy.
Cayo Largo del Sur is home to both Playa Sirena and Playa Paraiso, which are among the most impressive beaches in Cuba, both with powdery white sand and immaculate shores. Beyond just having gorgeous beaches, the cay sits along some of Cuba’s most pristine reefs, home to sea turtles, dolphins, and what seem like endless tropical fish.
You’ll have your fair share of accommodation options here; Memories Cayo Largo and Starfish Cayo Largo are the largest and nicest options, while Hotel Pelicano and Bella Isla are more affordable options.
Flights are available directly to the island from Havana, though you’ll also find some direct flights from Canadian cities, who seem to be the travelers best acquainted with this stunning spot.
Read More: Cayo Largo del Sur: Ultimate Travel Guide
While the most impressive and beloved cays in Cuba are towards the center of the country’s northern coast, you’ll find some impressive cays towards the west of the island as well. If you’re choosing between Culebra vs. Vieques in Puerto Rico, why not consider these untouched cays instead?
Popular day trips for travelers staying in Viñales, Soroa, or Pinar del Rio, these cays are much more undeveloped than the cays you’ll find in the rest of Cuba.
Expect just a few guest houses and small restaurants and not much else. For the traveler looking for a truly off-the-beaten-path getaway – a slice of untouched white sand you just can’t find in the Caribbean anymore – these cays are a dream.
Cayo Jutias is one of our very favorite off-the-beaten-path destinations in Cuba, and we recommend it all the time! This tiny cay is a white-sand gem, with calm waters and endless space to stretch out and enjoy one of the best beaches in Cuba.
You won’t find much here apart from a small dive shop with gear to rent for snorkeling and a basic (yet delicious!) local restaurant. All the better for living out your deserted island vacation dreams.
Unlike neighboring Cayo Levisa, Cayo Jutias is connected to the mainland with a causeway, making getting here much, much easier for travelers. This is especially convenient for travelers just making the day trip from Viñales.
Read More: Viñales, Cuba: Ultimate Travel Guide
Jump on a ferry in Palma Rubia for a 30-minute ride to the shores of Cayo Levisa, widely regarded as having the best beaches in the province of Pinar del Rio. While Cayo Jutias is another strong contender for that title, Cayo Levisa makes for the better overnight beach getaway, with its tiny hotel allowing for overnight visits and lazy days spent on the powdery sand.
While Cayo Levisa is harder to reach than Cayo Jutias, it’s a bit more popular if for nothing more than its hotel. You’ll find stunning reefs just offshore with incredible corals and endless swarms of colorful fish; it’s truly a gem for snorkeling and divers alike, with the island’s dive shop providing everything you’ll need for an excursion.
On the eastern end of Cuba, you won’t find much in the way of cays. Though the far eastern edge of the island stands out for its historic towns like Baracoa and a few stunning beaches, the only real cay to speak of is Cayo Saetia, near the Bahia de Nipe and Bahia de Banes in the province of Holguin.
Read More: Baracoa, Cuba: Ultimate Travel Guide
Just because Cayo Saetia is among the lone cays on the far eastern end of Cuba, don’t overlook this spot if you’re dreaming of an off-the-beaten-path getaway and a truly unforgettable beach escape. With its interior covered with a lush, protected national park and its shores rimmed with stunning beaches, it’s a jewel that makes for a great day or two while in Holguin.
On land, you’ll find tour providers offering safaris through the national park – you’ll see buffalo, ostriches, antelopes, deer, and even zebras! It’s not an experience you might expect in Cuba, but it’s a great way to spend an hour or two before hitting the beach.
White sands with deserted shores await, and providers offer catamaran rides and snorkeling excursions for a beach day you’ll wonder why more travelers have yet to enjoy.
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.