Sun, sea & sugar-soft sands: 5 of Cuba's very best beaches
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Some 3,000 gorgeous beaches surround the Caribbean island of Cuba*, but many aren't that easy to get to. Here, we share where to wander for everything from jam-packed stellar beach hit Varadero to no-frills escapes with quiet, secret snorkelling bays and really wild spots for pristine wildlife.
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Cuba's star beach pin-up is Varadero*, a slender finger of sand bathing in the warm waters off the Caribbean island's north coast. It regularly wins 'best in class' in the world's top beach awards. It doesn't take much to see why. Miles of sugar-soft sand shelve ever so gently into the shallow, turquoise Atlantic.
Where to lay your towel? Across this 13-mile stretch of beach, Cuba's longest, you'll find all-inclusive hotels ranging from five-star butler-serviced resorts to more modest family-run B&Bs, known as casas particulares.
Broadly speaking, the further east you go along the peninsula the more sumptuous the hotels. And while you'll get a luxe feel on these eastern stretches, you're more isolated from Varadero's bars, restaurants and shops. Central and western areas are where you'll find the cluster of restaurants, craft markets, bars and the small town of Varadero.
Fancy a cruise on a catamaran with an open bar, snorkelling, diving and taking Jeep tours into the countryside? Tourism bureaux at all the resorts can hook you up with the right agencies offering trips.
Want something closer to your beach towel? All Varadero's top beach resorts run sailboats, kayaks and Hobie Cats via watersport centres on the beach. Those wanting to channel their inner Hemingway can organise a fishing trip.
Travelling with kids? Beyond bucket and spade playtime, book into a resort with kids' playgrounds and attractions or the one resort with a water slide.
Varadero is very easy to get to. East of Havana, it's two hours from the capital by car and three hours by coach.
Cuba's beaches are either sprinkled with resorts or empty, pristine stretches of dazzling sand. One beach in particular in Cuba, though, is a happy mix of the two.
Caletón, a small fishing community, basks in the sun on the fringes of a crescent of biscuity sand on Cuba's Caribbean coast. Come for the boho vibe and seafood dinners, stay for some of the best diving, snorkelling and wildlife viewing opportunities in the country.
Caletón lies on the southern fringes of the Zapata swampland, the largest wetland in the Caribbean. Cuban crocs, flaming pink flamingos, silvery bonefish, jumping tarpon, pygmy owls and the world's smallest bird live amid the mangroves, marshes, gin-clear shallows and sawgrass plains.
Bring your own binoculars and hire a guide from the national park office to get out and bird and wildlife watching. Alternatively, bring a snorkel mask and roam the coastline in search of sun-splashed Caribbean bathing, snorkelling spots and sinkholes to swim in.
Caletón, next to Playa Larga on the Bay of Pigs, can be reached from Havana by coach, or from Varadero on a tour or by taxi.
Only one low-key, adults-only resort sits on the white-sand crescent at Jibacoa*, so it's never very busy and feels like your own secret sunspot.
The Memories Jibacoa Resort* on Arroyo Bermejo Beach is sheltered by a towering limestone ridge dense with lush palms and vibrant green forest.
Birds fly overhead and, out at sea, just offshore in the midnight blue, a coral reef is busy with colourful fish. Sign up for a snorkelling trip or just kick back by the beautiful large pool or in the hot tub at the spa.
Jibacoa is an hour west of Varadero's airport and only an hour east of Havana making it a favourite beach for holidaymakers wanting to combine a Caribbean beach break with the bright lights and music nights of Havana when the mood takes.
Few cities in the world can lay claim to picture-postcard, undeveloped beaches just next door to gorgeous palaces, mansions and muscly fortresses. But Havana does!
Just 20 minutes from the castles built to defend the harbour of Havana from pirates and the invading British are a series of named beaches each with their own distinct appeal. Your best bet is Playa Santa María del Mar, a swathe of custard-coloured sand backed by lean palms.
Catch the regular hop-on-hop-off HabanaBusTour that leaves from Havana's central park to the beaches or hire a vintage American convertible in candy colours to motor out along the Atlantic highway.
You can grab pizza, beer and piña coladas served up in coconut shells from kiosks either on or behind the beach. Looking to burn a few calories? Take a catamaran out or learn to kite-board for the day.
Most beachgoers here are locals and foreigners topping up their Vitamin D for a few hours, close to home. Come in the week and it's practically all yours for the taking.
Cayo Jutías can get crowded but it's all about the fun with just one restaurant, a couple of BBQ pros smoking lobster on the sand and the friendly staff at the watersports centre offering up helpful tips.
Named after Cuba's whiskered, rabbit-sized tree rodent, Cayo Jutías is no longer an island as it's connected to the mainland - by an appalling road.
But those who make the bumpy journey are rewarded with butter-soft sand, sapphire seas and the area's best-kept secret - a chance to walk or boat ride down to the island's tip to see dozens of neon orange starfish settled in the shallows.
Cayo Jutías is tantalisingly close to Cuba's tobacco lands in western Cuba and its famous limestone valley at Viñales where green haystack mountains dot a valley peaceful with royal palms, farmers on horseback and oxen ploughing the fields.
Visit the town small of Viñales where the small cluster of restaurants and bars come to life at dusk. This beautiful region is only three hours from Havana.
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