CUBA BEACH VACATION TIPS
When looking for a tropical holiday destination, consider a Cuba beach vacation! This picturesque island is becoming increasingly popular among tourists from all over the world. It offers a vast array of features that entice visitors, such as the culture, history and natural wonders including the country’s most attractive attribute, Cuba’s beaches that boast endless white sands, crystal clear blue waters on the sun-drenched coast of the Caribbean Sea.
Cuba Quick Info Guide
Capital city: Havana
Currency: the national currency is the Cuban Peso CUP, but in the tourism sector CUC is used (known as Peso Convertible, worth about one USD)
Visa: Travel to Cuba has become increasingly easier and safe in recent years. Starting in the 1960s, American leaders began to restrict travel to Cuba as a result of Fidel Castro’s rise to power. In the early 2000s, government officials worked to repair the country’s relationship with Cuba. In 2016, travel for United States citizens was restored. It is required for Americans to have a valid passport with at least 6 months validity at the time of travel along with a round-trip ticket. Additionally, passports must have 2 empty pages for entry and exit stamps, moreover you need to have travel insurance. The last step of travel is acquiring a travel visa, the tarjeta de turista that can be arranged through the Cuban consulate, or a travel agent. Non-US travelers have similar entry requirements, but you need to check them according to your nationality/residency.
Safety: Cuba is a relatively safe country to visit even for single women as well as for families with kids, but travelers should take precautions during their trip. Criminality rates are low and individuals are not likely to be exposed to major crimes, they could fall victim to minor crimes such as currency scams, pickpocketing and theft of personal belongings and money from suitcases. Additionally, other threats to one’s health consist of unsafe tap water, mosquito-borne illnesses and dangerous driving conditions. While these safety issues exist, they are relatively avoidable if tourists take preventative action and are aware of their surroundings when vacationing in Cuba.
Why is Cuba perfect for a beach vacation?
The entirety of the country is beautiful with a varied landscape that includes impressive historical sites, mountains, pine forests and tobacco farms, but the most enticing aspect of Cuba are definitely the beaches. No doubt why people travel from all over the world to experience them.
A beach vacation in Cuba is restful for a variety of reasons. Spending time at Cuba’s best beaches is a wonderful opportunity to experience nature no matter you relax under palm trees, play in the soft sand, or explore the undersea world while snorkeling in the clear, warm waters of the Caribbean Sea.
What tourist love the most about Cuba’s beaches that there are many beautiful places to go so everyone can find the perfect spot, one just need to decide what he/she prefers: a remote place with privacy or a vibrant shore with activities and facilities. For anyone who is looking for an escape, a Cuba holiday is a fantastic choice!
Cuba’s best 5 beaches
This paradise island offers endless beaches for travelers to visit. Some of Cuba’s beaches like the famous Varadero or Paradise are often mentioned among the world’s best ones with good reason. The ‘best beaches in Cuba’ list is endless because they are all special and unique in a certain way, but let’s start now with the 5 most beautiful ones!
Stretching along the Peninsula de Hicacos on the north coast, Varadero Beach is a popular palm-fringed strip with magnificent white-sand that draws visitors from around the world including rich high-rollers.
In addition to a breath-taking coastline, there is a nature reserve here (Parque Natural Punta Hicacos), large parks, caves to explore, opportunities to go snorkeling and diving and an abundance of museums for history lovers. One notable attraction is the Havana 60 Classic Car Tour. Additionally, there are great restaurants in the location too where you can taste the fantastic Cuban cuisine. Varadero is truly a place to be!
Playa Paraiso on the island of Cayo Largo del Sur (known as Paradise Beach too) is a not-to-miss-out spot when on a Cuba beach vacation. Like Varadero Beach, this area has powdery white sand and baby-blue waters too, but is a bit more secluded and truly a sun seeker’s destination.
There is an abundance of natural views to explore and even a sea turtle hatchery to visit. There are not so many restaurants nearby, so be prepared to bring a packed lunch and cold drinks. This beach is a wonderful area to have a picnic with your beloved one or with your kids.
Cayo Blanco Beach
When on this Caribbean island, make sure to add sailing to Cayo Blancos to your Cuba beach vacation itinerary. This small island near Varadero is such an idyllic place with its white sand shores and clear blue waters.
Cayo Blanco Beach offers opportunities for boat trips and chances to interact with sea life, such as dolphins. Additionally, restaurants in this area offer fresh lobster and delicious pina coladas served in fresh pineapples. Cayo Blanco Beach does not have a lot of attractions outside of the beach, however the beautiful views are more than enough to have a great day.
Playa Pilar is another exotic beach in the Cayo Guillermo Province. If you happen to be on Cayo Coco, take a few hours to visit this wonderful area that is said to be one of the best beaches in Cuba with good reason. The area is a national park (Parque Nacional de Cayo Guillermo) so the wonderful view and amazing waters are guaranteed.
There are a few great hotels around and also good restaurants. The most popular is the Ranchon Cuba Libre that offers generous portions at affordable prices. Coco Loco is a nearby bar that serves a wide variety of cocktails that are perfect for enjoying while lounging on the beach. Additionally, there is a water sports center where tourists can rent equipment for excursions.
Cayo Santa Maria
The small island of Cayo Santa Maria can be found off the north central coast and connected to the main island by a bridge. Usually Cayo Santa Maria refers to the resort area, but also to the beautiful white sandy main beach.
This picturesque place features some of Cuba’s best beach hotels like the Playa Cayo Santa Maria or Melia Buenavista, therefore it is a top spot for a beach vacation in Cuba with spas, restaurants and activities for the whole family. No matter how you choose to spend the day, there are endless options for each person.
Beach activities in Cuba
Thanks to the year-round superb weather and warm sea temperatures, you will have the opportunity of enjoying various water sports when vacationing in Cuba. Let’s see now what beach activities not to miss out!
Who doesn’t love swimming among colorful fish and observing interesting sea creatures? Well, in this country you will be in the right place to explore the beauty of the undersea world! There are many beaches in Cuba that offer excellent offshore snorkeling with crystal clear waters and beautiful coral reefs, but if you feel like, you can sign up for a half-day or full-day boat snorkel trip too!
Should you wish to go deeper, then make sure to go diving too! Cuba is famous for its excellent dive sites with shipwrecks, caves, sharks and rare black corals to see. Diving centers can be found along all main beaches where not only trips but also equipment rental as well as courses are offered. The incredible Cuban marine life is waiting for you to explore it, let’s dive in!
Fishing got increasingly popular in Cuba lately. The Caribbean Sea provides a variety of catches that is different in each season depending on the migration patterns. Moreover, visitors can try freshwater fishing in the country’s rivers and lagoons which is also a fantastic outdoor activity.
Who said that Cuba can’t be visited in the hurricane season? Although direct hits are rare (the island gets hit once every 4 year) and only partial as most hurricanes move from south to north affecting only some parts of Cuba, the weather is often windy at this time that creates ideal conditions to get on a board! However, surfing is not too popular yet, but is slowly taking off so it can happen that in a few years, Cuba will become a surfing paradise!
Best time for Cuba beach vacation
The country can be visited in any season depending on what activities you look for and which part of the country you like to visit. Cuba’s climate is tropical with a relatively cool dry season from the end of November to mid-April, and a rainy season that runs from late April to early November. This is when the daytime temperature exceeds 33°C/93 °F, there is often intense rain that causes muggy heat everywhere.
From August to October, the risk of hurricanes is the highest, however they are not frequent, usually only thunderstorms form that affect the eastern part.
Generally, the weather is more beach vacation friendly in the dry season, this is when you can expect to have clear skies and calm water. The sea is a bit cooler (but not cold at all) during this time, so pack a 3 mm snorkeling suit if you easily get cold when swimming. If you are planning a beach vacation, in the first few months of the year (until March-April) we recommend choosing the northwest coast, while consider heading to the south-eastern in you arrive in winter.
To check the current water temperatures, visit seatemperature.org.
Cuba beach vacation costs
Cuba is one of those Caribbean islands that is known to be affordable. Naturally, the cost of a beach vacation in Cuba depends on the resort you stay at and the activities involved, but here it is easy to find places and programs that fit any budget, so if you ask if Cuba expensive to visit, we say it can be done on a budget, but it is not difficult to find luxury that here actually costs less than at other places.
Of course, the popular resort areas work with high ‘tourists’ prices’ no matter it is accommodation or food, so expect to pay more if you decide to stay there. Should you go for the budget option, stay at family-owned bed and breakfasts and eat in local restaurants where you can taste more of the diverse Cuban cuisine.
Note that there are almost no ATMS in Cuba. Moreover, American credit and debit cards often do not work. Therefore, be sure to bring lots of cash for any expected or anticipated purchases. Tipping is another important aspect of Cuban life. Always be sure to tip Cubans who help you during your Cuba beach vacation.
See below a rough guide on the daily budget per person (including accommodation and meals but excluding flights and transportation):
Places to stay in Cuba
Cuba is a destination that features top beach resorts and decent hotels, but staying at private homes is also very common and gives a more authentic holiday experience. These so-called casas particulares (usually a double room with a private bathroom) are more personable, allow tourists to see the real Cuban lifestyle, moreover cheaper than hotels and on top of this, for a small price you can get meals included too.
Most tourists tend to choose hotels over local homestays for a simple reason: Cubans work mostly via phone and only a few casas particulares are listed on booking sites, therefore making a reservation is difficult, but not impossible. The easiest is asking contact information from people who already visited Cuba and stayed at such places, or find recommendations on forums then email or call the owner.
The cost of the accommodation is always the biggest part of the holiday budget, so if you want to get value for your money, you are on the right place in Cuba. Of course, the popular areas have the highest accommodation prices, but they are still better than in other popular Caribbean islands. Generally, Havana and Varadero are the most expensive along Trinidad and Santiago, while Baracoa and Cienfuegos are cheaper.
Average accommodation prices per night in Cuba:
Private room/casas particulares: 20-30 USD
Average hotel: 80-140 USD
5-star resort/luxury hotel: 200-350 USD
Since internet access is not common in Cuba yet, it is highly recommended booking your accommodation in advance. To do this, choose a reliable booking website with 24/7 customer support so you can get help if needed! (We have good experience with Booking.com)
Beach etiquette in Cuba
It is important to be aware of the local etiquette to have a pleasant vacation in Cuba. The dress code is casual, shorts and bikinis are commonplace at the beach, especially in areas with lots of tourists and resorts. There isn’t so much information from the government-side regarding clothing-optional sunbathing in Cuba, but Cubans don’t do it. However, at some places, like in areas of Cayo Largo, Cayo Ensenachos, Cayo Santa Maria it is accepted to go topless or even nude, but always check the rules on the spot.
Be sure to wear modest clothing when not at the beach. Additionally, Cubans are highly courteous and value restaurant etiquette. It is important to not wear your hat or swimsuit at the dinner table! Women should dress up moderately, not provocative.
When visiting Cuba beaches, help to keep the environment clean and pick up garbage, glass or cigarette butts around your lounge chairs. Do not hog your lounge chairs or take photos of other people on the beach.
Cuban specialties to eat and drink
If I had to describe how is the food in Cuba with two words, I would say it is good and cheap! Cuban cuisine has many dishes of Spanish origin but prepared in the Cuban way, which means the chefs always add some extras so the result is a lot tastier, always unique making with very fresh ingredients.
If you want to experience the best Cuban dishes along with the most delicious drinks, our tip is skip on the state-owned restaurants and eat in paladares (private owned eateries) that are a lot cheaper, the portions are bigger and the money goes directly to local families.
Churros: this deep-fried dough found anywhere in Cuba and can be savory and sweet too. Typically, it is served sprinkled with sugar as a desert, but also for breakfast along with a cup of hot chocolate. Such a perfect way to start the day!
Cuban sandwich: can you imagine something more authentic than having a real Cuban sandwich when in Cuba? Although it is similar to what you can buy in Miami Florida, but the fresh local ingredients (Cuban bread filled with ham, sliced roast pork, cheese, pickles, and mustard) make it super delicious!
Tamales: it is one of the simplest yet delicious Cuban food you must try! Stuff ground corn and seasonings in corn leaves, cook and serve, that’s it! Using just these few fresh ingredients, Cuban know very well how to turn a few simple ingredients into a tasty snack!
Paella: Cubans have their own version of the famous Spanish dish, paella. It has saffron-flavored rice with meat (chorizo, chicken, ham) and seafood (shrimp, lobster, shellfish). In Cuba, paella is usually served in ceramic dish not in flat metal pan like in Spain.
Seafood in coconut sauce: this Cuban dish is typical in Guantanamo Province, Baracoa. Seafood (usually shrimp, but can be lobster too) is cooked in a tomato-coconut milk sauce and served with rice. Yumm!
Yuca con Molo: one of Cuba’s national dish is the cooked and sautéed cassava, the Yuca con Molo that is usually the side dish of roast pork. After peeling the yuca (cassava), they cook it with garlic. When it’s ready, they mash it then mix it with salt, pepper, butter and milk until they get a creamy result.
Mojito: you might think it is easy to find a good Mojito anywhere in the world, but nothing is as good as a real Cuban Mojito. This popular cocktail is made up of rum, lemon or lime, mint and mineral water. Originally it was made a predecessor of rum, a cane brandy and its story goes back to the 16th century. At that time, it was named El Draque after Francis Drake English pirate. The name Mojito came in the 19th century when a ‘little mojo’, pieces of lime were added to the recipe. There is no doubt, drinking a Mojito (or 2-3) is must be on among your Cuba beach vacation things to dos!
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