Havana beaches are the best of both worlds. All the perks of being in Havana with the escape of sun and sand.
When they named Cuba the pearl of the Caribbean they weren’t kidding. In the last year living in Havana I have felt intense moments of love and despair for the city.
I love being in Cuba but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I probably cry once a week in frustration.
My lowest points usually involve trying to get internet in Cuba on days when it’s raining or windy when I already know wifi will be slow.
Why do I punish myself this way?
But some of my favourite moments have been at the Havana beaches. I’m a city girl but I also grew up in the Maritimes so I thrive on being close to water.
Wait, There are Beaches in Havana?
Well the beach isn’t quite in Havana, but it’s only 30 minutes outside to a gorgeous day of sun, white sand and turquoise water. When things get tough, I get to the beach.
Cuba may have the best beaches in the world. There are over 300 beaches on this island. But many people think they need to choose beach holiday OR Havana.
And that’s because most first-timers go to Varadero – which has a beautiful beach and enough Cuba libre cocktails to make the cold winter seem like a far away memory. But Havana is also far away, well 2-3 hours away and that’s too far away in my opinion.
This is why I love Havana. You don’t need to decide between the beach and the city. Because the Havana beaches are some of the best in Cuba.
And you’ll actually see Cubans at the Playas del Este beaches – unlike Varadero where the only Cubans you’ll see are working.
But enough of that rant, let me give you more details about the beach.
Where are the Havana Beaches?
Also known as Playas del Este, the name literally translates to the east beaches. I’ve heard it described as the Havana Riviera, which may like a long stretch.
It’s not nearly as developed as the Riviera but some of the beaches are just as beautiful. Located in Habana province, it is an easy day trip from Havana.
Playas del Este includes a series of beaches on a 15 mile / 24 km strip half an hour outside Havana:
- El Mégano
- Santa María del Mar
- Boca Ciega
- La Veneciana
- Brisas del Mar
Hotels at the Havana Beaches
Playas del Este are close enough that if you want to just go for the day it’s very manageable.
But instead some travellers prefer a base at the beach and take the bus into the city.
But most of the hotels in Playas del Este are concentrated in Santa Maria del Mar and may also have pools.
How to get to Playas del Este?
Bus from Old Havana to Playas del Este:
The main beach, Santa Maria del Mar, is a stop on the hop-on, hop-off Havana Bus T3 tour trail that runs through Old Havana. It leaves Parque Central every 30 minutes, with the last bus leaving the beach at 6pm. It costs $5 and takes one hour to reach the beach.
The #400 bus, aka the guagua, will take you to Guanabo. You can also check out Guanabo first and then take a local bus (#400 or #464) that runs to Santa Marta or you can catch a local cab.
My friends hate the guagua because (they say) it’s super crowded, there are pick pocketers and women may be groped. I’ve only taken it with them in off hours when it’s empty and never to the beach so I can’t comment on that. But I see the bus during the day and it’s packed like sardines.
But they showed me the video above of people trying to get in through the windows and stressed that I was not fit to do that.
By Private Taxi to Havana Beaches:
It’s about 20 minutes from Havana when you take a taxi. A taxi is a bit more expensive as not all taxis can go to the beach. You’ll need to negotiate a price with the driver. The best we’ve had when one of my Cuban friends were negotiating was $17 to the beach.
Havana hotels also offer to arrange this transfer but if you speak a bit of Spanish you’re likely to get a better rate than a Havana hotel.
Taking a cab also allows you to stay later as the sun sets much later than 6pm in the summer. However, once it becomes dark the mosquitos are fierce and the competition to get a taxi colectivo (shared cab) can become a bit hectic.
By Taxi Colectivo:
There is one shared taxis, or alemendron, route that runs from Old Havana to Guanabo beach. You can catch it at a taxi stand on the corner of Agramonte and Mision.
If you want to go to Santa Marta or the other beaches before Guanabo let the driver know and he’ll stop along the way (you may need to walk a bit).
Again my Cuban friends do not like this option, sometimes I think they are bougie but they think I’m crazy for always wanting to take the cheapest option because it’s usually the most uncomfortable.
They say it takes far too long to get to Old Havana from our neighbourhood of Vedado then wait for a collectivo to fill. And on a beach day it’s just worth paying the extra money for the extra time in the sun.
They take colectivos all the time but will not budge on taking one to the beach. But hey if you’re already in Old Havana and speak Spanish go on an adventure!
As well, rates for almendrons across the board have been increasing as taxi drivers are faced with increasing. costs and regulations.
I do not recommend driving in Cuba. Not only is it expensive and a hassle to try to rent a car, the laws here are different and so if you get into an accident you may not realize you’re at fault.
Gas is also expensive and if you don’t speak Spanish finding where you want to get to can be difficult with limited signage.
Taxis are cheap enough and everyone knows how to get to the beach in Havana. Driving is really not worth it.
Where is the Best Beach in Havana?
It really depends on what kind of beach day you want to have. Some of the Havana beaches are a huge party with lots of regaetton and drinking and others are more tranquil and better suited to let small children build sand castles.
Here are the ones I like:
The first time I visited Cuba for four days this beach was the most often recommended by locals for being the most beautiful.
It’s the first nice beach on the Playas del Este strip and next to a housing complex from the 1940s for well to do Cubans. But after the revolution it was turned over for government use and has housed everything from camps to a health centre for children exposed to the Chernobyl accident.
Today there are restaurants, bars, pools and shopping for visiting tourists. It feels most like a retro bungalow beach resort.
A good option if you want to rent chairs and an umbrella but don’t exactly want the beach party.
One of the first beaches in Playas del Este, its benefit is that it is the closest but it is far from the best. While the sand isn’t quite as fine as the other beaches, people don’t come for the sand.
Playa Bacuranao is probably one of the best beaches in Havana for snorkelling as there is a coral reef. But most of the beach-goers here are locals from La Habana.
Santa Maria del Mar
Your best bet is to spend time on what is considered to be the main beach. Santa Maria beach stretches 9km and is the largest of the beaches in Havana.
We most often go here because it’s easy to rent umbrellas, chairs, sea kayaks and whatever you want from the punto náuticos.
There’s a convenience store to buy rum, water and snacks. As well there are so many vendors selling cajitas of Cuban food in CUP prices that you can easily spend a day at the beach for not too much money.
But even though it’s the most developed, it’s far less from what you’ll find in Varadero or Holguin.
There are also little spots selling dishes for under $10 and various Cuban cocktails, although we’ve never splurged on that.
We usually get a bottle of rum from the convenience store. Curse because we forgot to bring glasses yet again then stop off and get a cold beer before crossing the boardwalk to the beach.
Beer is relatively cheap at the beach. You can buy beer here for $1.50 each. But first ask if it’s cold or esta fria? which is the most important aspect for Cubans. I’ve seen servers climb far back into the back of a fridge just to make the sale, no one wants a warm beer on a hot day.
A good shop will tell you if it’s not cold but ask first and hold it before opening it.
Along the beach there are plenty of vendors selling everything from 3 year old rum in a coconut to polaroid photos to commemorate the day – which we oddly did once even though we all have smart phones.
Punto Náutico: Beach Rental Prices
In peak season you’ll need to get to the beach not much after 11am to get an umbrella and chair. You can also go later afternoon hoping people have left. Beach rental prices are very reasonable, remember 1 CUC = 1 USD.
- Beach umbrella $2
- Lounger $2
- Beach chair $1
- Table $1
- Gazebo-like tent $10
Activity Rental Prices
- Pedal powered boats $2-4 depending on how long
- Kayaks $2-4 depending on how long
- Catamaran $12
- Banana ride – I believe it’s $8/person on a jetski driven banana. It’s SO much fun.
If you rent any of the kayaks or pedal boats you have to stay within a specific area. The vendors will whistle to you or come out to get you if you go too far.
Playa Boca Ciega
If a rum-fuelled regaetton party is the last thing you’re looking for in a beach in Havana then this is the beach for you.
Although there are no stores and no beach rentals, there are also no crowds in Boca Ciego.
We’ve visited with children and there’s room for them to run around without fear of bothering neighbours. But we’ve also just visited later in the afternoon to just sit and chill out. You’ll need to bring your own music, or simply just listen to the ocean.
It’s also unofficially known as Havana’s gay beach, although I didn’t notice when I was there. It’s not a party scene, just people quietly hanging out.
Perfect if you want a bit more than just a beach, Guanabo is home to 15,000 locals and the main street runs parallel to the beach. There are some great markets and local food restaurants.
This is not the best beach in the area by far. It was once beautiful but Hurricane Irma washed much of it out and left it stony. But you come for the experience, this is definitely not a typical beach town, but instead a town that happens to have a beach.
It’s less than 30km from Havana but it feels very different with lots of horse drawn carriages alongside bicycles and some cars.
We’ve stopped here often to eat and once stayed the night as there are many casa particulares in town – although I don’t recommend showing up late at night like we did as there weren’t that many options.
Havana Beach Packing List
A beach packing list may seem obvious but these five things make a day at the beach in Havana much more pleasant.
Sunscreen: This seems silly but so many foreigners come here and burn the first day because it doesn’t seem hot. It may not be hot but the sun is strong. You cannot find sunscreen in Cuba so bring lots.
I like this reef safe sunscreen, which is a better choice for the environment.
Aftersun Cream: You will probably ignore my first piece of advice above and burn. You cannot buy this in Cuba so bring your own.
Water bottle: Some Cubans say you can drink the water but none of my Cuban friends will drink from the tap so I won’t either. This XXXX water bottle may seem like a bit of an investment but you’ll make it back on this trip alone.
Reuseable cups: It’s common to just pick up a bottle of rum and to share it with friends but no one ever has plastic cups.
Spork: So many tourists complain that when they buy a cajita or a box of food, there is not cutlery. That’s because Cubans tear off a piece of the top and use it to scoop out the food. If you’re not down with that a spork is always a good idea.
When is the Best Time to Visit Playas del Este?
My opinion on when to visit Cuba in general is a bit controversial. My favourite time has been when it’s 40C every day. It’s often too hot and humid for most people, and that’s why it’s considered low season in Cuba.
My Cuban friends won’t visit the beach outside May through September. If the water is a degree or two below bath water. They may consider the pool but they won’t go to the beach.
But in the hottest months, June through August, Havana beaches are one giant beach party. Most of the tourists are gone and it’s only Cubans on the beach.
I love to people watch and this is the best beach day for me.
You don’t need to bring your own music because everyone around you has a giant speaker playing it far too loud. Cubans bring coolers of food, plenty of rum and it’s my favourite time to visit.
That said, you need to get here before 11am or else it will be difficult to get a beach umbrella and lounge chairs, which you desperately need to combat the Cuban summer sweat.
Those looking to commune with nature should visit Tarará Beach, where diving opportunities are plentiful, while locals can be found frequenting nearby Guanabo.
Havana Beaches Map
If you have any questions about Havana beaches let me know and I’m happy to reply quickly in the comments.