I heard a lot about Cuba beaches before I came here and it was all true. The island is located in the Mexican Gulf, its shores are splashed by the Caribbean Sea, so you can immediately picture its landscape – the blue sky, beautiful horizon, crystal clear waters, white sands, and that incredible turquoise sea color.
Maybe a coconut cocktail with a straw? Sure, why not, it’s all there.
If you are booking a hotel in Cuba, chances are that you will probably be situated in Varadero, the small peninsula all packed with a variety of accommodations for international visitors. The area is beautiful, it’s not that far from Havana, and Cuba beaches here are lovely.
But if you are looking for the authentic feel of Cuba, this isn’t even close. There is a small settlement in Varadero, but it’s relatively new. One of the reasons it sprung up there is because it’s “close to work” since a lot of Cubans work in tourism (and those hotels) while the public transportation around the island is still not that reliable.
People nowadays rent apartments mostly in Havana but have in mind that buildings in the city are often neglected, and you might find yourself living in a room with plaster peeling from the walls, a lot of humidity, and old furniture. It might be fine, of course, since Havana also offers a wide range of new and modern accommodations. But just be prepared for both options and think twice if you plan to “live like a local”.
For me, a hotel in Varadero was a good choice. It wasn’t hard to go around the island from here, it was possible to book tours with Cuban operators or go by myself. It’s totally safe, people are amazingly friendly and nice.
(And I still can’t grasp the fact that there were people who stayed at Varadero hotels all the time, they didn’t go out ever. It’s such a pity not to see Cuba, not to meet its people, and learn about the culture. I mean, wasn’t it easier for them to book a hotel somewhere closer and to stay there all day, every day? Why did they bother to travel that far and spend all that money on the trip? They “were” in Cuba, but they didn’t see it.)
When I traveled to Cuba, locals were not allowed to come into hotel areas if they were not employed there, so those Cuba beaches were only reserved for foreigners. Public beaches were different.
I was puzzled at the time by such regulations since if you go to “touristy” places, including hotel areas, you were only able to see international tourists and there were no Cuban families on holidays. (It was way before my numerous trips to the Middle East and North Africa that I came across more restrictions on the matter.) Okay, Cubans couldn’t afford accommodations as such anyway, but still, this was such an unpleasant distinction forced upon you everywhere you go.
Anyway, there are ways to take small excursions and visit popular places on the island with breathtaking landscapes. As I mentioned earlier, you can book a tour or rent a car and head out there yourself. (More about the means of transportation in another Glimpse.)
But you can also visit a few small islands. There is the famous Cayo Coco in Central Cuba, the natural reserve for flamingos. Or Cayo Largo del Sur on the other side, a small Cuban island with splendid Cuba beaches on the shores of the Caribbean Sea.
A day cruise
The truth is that Cuba beaches are so beautiful and that the main island has so much to offer, that you might not have time to consider visiting small islands. Nevertheless, a day cruise is always a good idea. So, I booked one as well.
A big white boat was sailing along the coast and there were so many small areas of sand and greenery on the way. Of course, when going on a trip like this with Cubans, expect a full-day party on board. Music was playing, our guides were dancing, rum was served, and we were sailing through such calm waters. If you are lucky, you might also see dolphins from the deck.
And so, we stopped at a bay of one beautiful small island with white sands, lush tropical trees, and incredible sea color. The time has come for our lunch break. The beach was gorgeous and we strolled around these untouched parts of white sand, unspoiled by the modern age. A band was already playing at the restaurant, with lovely traditional Cuban songs, and there was a range of seafood to choose from.
I ordered my meal, sipped a soft cocktail, and there, my lobster was served. It was probably the biggest I have seen ever since (and the cheapest).
Attacked by – a fish
Spending time at the beach is always fun. I went kayaking, took a small catamaran cruise at the hotel, etc. I even tried to start my day with an early swim, which I often do when going on summer trips. I got to the beach before 8 am. It was empty. Everything here started according to “the Cuban time”, which means – certainly not before 9. I was a bit distracted by mosquitoes that I didn’t expect at all.
And so, I plunged in. It was beautiful, only the sea and myself. And then something swam right next to me, I wasn’t able to see what it was. I stopped and said to myself that I was probably imagining it.
But there it was again! I could see that it was a fish, not a small one either, since I tried to push it away, and it felt strong. I remembered even that they said there were barracudas in shallow waters in the morning, feeding. “It can’t be a barracuda, it has teeth,” I thought and ran out of the water like crazy.
By then, there was a Cuban beach guard. He came to work, strolling around. I ran out to him, panicking, explaining what happened. The fish probably thought parts of my swimming suit were eatable, he said.
As I was going on and on about how the fish came back numerous times, that it was so persistent swimming around me, Cuban guy just looked at me and said:
“Oh? Then it had to be a male fish, I’m certain!”
The full Cuba SERIES