You think of going to Cuba, and your mind probably starts to swirl with thoughts of colorful and crumbling colonial buildings, charming cobblestone plazas, classic cars, cigars, live music, and rum. But Cuba is also home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean. So if you want to pair Old World architecture and vibrant art and music scenes with relaxing beach time, here are the top beachfront places to stay on the island.
This adult-only all-inclusive is situated on Cayo Coco, an island off Cuba's northern coast and part of the Jardines del Rey chain. It's known as a resort key, populated with lots of all-inclusive properties taking advantage of the beautiful white-sand beaches. Melia Cayo Coco is on the island's north coast, and its position at the end of the road and near a small peninsula gives it a private, tucked-away feel. Melia's beach is a lovely stretch of shore with azure waters and white sand. A number of water sports are available here, including pedal boating, diving, fishing, windsurfing, and yacht trips. On-site bars include beach and poolside ones, a lobby piano bar, and a music bar with a dance floor.
The beach at this 404-room luxury all-inclusive is phenomenal. The massive stretch is 600 meters long, and 80 to 100 meters deep depending on the tide. The water is turquoise and the temperature is perfect -- refreshing but not cold. There are plenty of loungers and palapas to go around. Loungers are of the blue mesh and white plastic variety, and there's a beach bar where guests can snag drinks. Non-motorized water sports are included in the hotel rates, as are a scuba lesson and the first scuba dive immersion. Guests can also participate in volleyball competitions. Diamond Club guests have their own dedicated (and guard-enforced) section with a separate beach bar and daybeds, some suspended from ropes.
The 340-room, adult-only Melia Las Americas is located right on Varadero’s beautiful beachfront, often considered Cuba’s loveliest. It also backs right up to the Varadero Golf Club, a tournament-level course that’s a major draw for many travelers. (Guests get discounted entries.) The star feature of the resort is the beach, though -- a spacious stretch of white sand furnished with white plastic loungers covered in cobalt-blue cloth facing the calm cerulean waters. Palapa-topped umbrellas provide shade and a beach bar provides refreshments. Pedal boats and catamarans are free to use, and beachside massages can be arranged.
Paradisus Princesa del Mar is a rare resort -- a true luxury property in Cuba. The beachfront property is set out on the peninsula of Varadero with gorgeous white-sand beaches, but little else in walking distance. The beach is outfitted with cobalt-blue loungers, palapa umbrellas, and a handful of daybeds. Lifeguards are on duty to watch over swimmers and an open-air beach bar on a wood platform above the sand awaits drink orders. The entire property has a decidedly romantic air, with most guests being international couples on a getaway. Note that the property is for adults only and doesn't admit children.
The 794-room Paradisus Varadero is one of the area's top luxury resorts, and delivers plenty of wow factor, thanks in large part to its big and beautiful white-sand beach. The beach is stunning -- fine white sand, calm turquoise waters, and a particularly deep stretch with plenty of loungers and palapas. Because the beach is along a calm cove, we did see a bit of seaweed along the shore, which we hadn't noticed at other resorts -- but it wasn't enough to be a nuisance. One scuba diving immersion is included in the hotel's rates, and non-motorized water-sports equipment, such as kayaks and catamarans, can be used for free. A nearby beach bar serves drinks and lunch. The private stretch of beach for Royal Service guests is coral, so most will want to head to the sandy stretch in front of the main resort area.
The upscale, 490-room Melia Varadero has a lovely beachfront location half way up the peninsula of Varadero -- what is widely considered some of Cuba's most lovely coastline. It's surrounded by other resorts, with the Melia Las Americas right next door. A beach path winds along the shore, offering seating areas with stunning ocean views. The beach itself is white sand and outfitted with blue fabric loungers and umbrellas. Non-motorized water sports are included in the rates. Outdoor showers are located nearby to shower off seawater before returning to the resort grounds. Beachside massage treatments in a white open-air hut can be arranged for a fee.
The 608-room Sol Palmeras is a colossal resort with loads of family-friendly activities, many of which are centered around the resort's several pools and the beach. The beach, a long beautiful stretch of white sand, is outfitted with white plastic loungers in cobalt-blue fabric, palapa umbrellas, and outdoor showers. Kiosks by the beach sell local artisanal goods such as handmade sandals, crocheted dresses, and carved woodwork. A volleyball court is on the beach, and water-sports equipment (like pedal boats, kayaks, and catamarans) is free to borrow. Diving lessons are also free.
The 350-room, mid-range resort is rather dated, but most guests don't seem to mind, as they are mostly spending their time outdoors. Many follow the animation team, spending their mornings at the hotel's excellent beach with white sand and turquoise water, and afternoons at the pool. The beach here is one of the highlights. At 100 meters long, it's roomy, if not as large as the 600-meter beach at the Royalton Hicacos (to be fair, the Royalton's stretch is probably the biggest in Varadero). When we visited in the morning most of the palapas for shade had already been snagged and an intense game of beach volleyball was underway. Non-motorized water sports and even a free scuba diving lesson are included in the rate. There's a beach bar with an adjacent grill where beef, chicken, and pork are cooked up. Daily guided snorkeling trips can be arranged for a fee.
Most guests spend their days lazing on the beautiful beach (where the animation team leads volleyball matches and other entertainment in the morning), hanging by the swim-up bar in the big freeform pool, drinking iced coffees at the excellent coffee bar, and munching on snacks at the a la carte beach restaurant with ocean views. The beautiful white-sand beach is a highlight (expect way more guests here than at the pool), and there's a long stretch with a volleyball net at one end, 350 loungers (more in high season), and a good number of palapas. Water sports equipment such as kayaks and catamarans are included, and there is a palapa-topped beach bar serving mixed drinks. There's a ledge in the sand -- something we didn't notice as other area beaches -- but it's a minor inconvenience.
Melia Jardines Del Rey is a family-friendly whopper of an all-inclusive resort, spread out across sprawling beachfront grounds like a private island compound. At the resort's shore, expect pristine white sand and aqua water. There are white plastic sunbeds set in rows under shade palapas, though some guests drag their sunbeds into direct sun. A colorful lineup of pedal boats, kayaks, and sailboats (free) are lined up at one end of the sand, and most guests move between the lake-calm aqua water, the beach bar, and their deck chairs during the day. Snorkeling is free, and scuba diving and motorized water sports cost extra. Note that Playa Pilar, arguably the region’s most beautiful beach, and home to North America’s possible largest colony of pink flamingos, is roughly a 30-minute drive away.
Opened in 1993, Hotel Colonial was the first resort to set up shop on Cayo Coco. While many other all-inclusive resorts have since joined the fray, this one remains totally unique with its distinctly colonial flavor and timeless charm. The property unfolds in either direction along a seemingly endless stretch of pristine beachfront that makes for a wonderful natural contrast to the Old World architecture. The beach itself has snow-white sand, teal water, and a choice of water sports. The animation team's beach activities range from stretching and dancing classes to petanque and volleyball.